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Avatar: The Last Airbender (also known as Avatar: The Legend of Aang) is an American animated television series that aired for three seasons on Nickelodeon and the Nicktoons Network. The series was created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who served as executive producers along with Aaron Ehasz. Avatar is set in an Asian-influenced world of martial arts and elemental manipulation. The show drew on elements from East Asian,Japanese and Chinese culture, making it a mixture of an anime like and US domestic cartoons.

The series follows the adventures of the main protagonist Aang and his friends, who must save the world by defeating the evil Fire Lord and ending the destructive war with the Fire Nation.The pilot episode first aired on February 21, 2005 and the series concluded with a widely-lauded two-hour television movie on July 19, 2008.The show available from the following sources: on DVD, the iTunes Store, the Zune Marketplace, the Xbox Live Marketplace, the PlayStation Store, and its home on Nickelodeon.

Avatar: The Last Airbender was popular with both audiences and critics, garnering 5.6 million viewers on its best-rated showing and receiving high ratings in the Nicktoons lineup, even outside its 6–11-year-old demographic.Avatar has been nominated for and won awards from the Annual Annie Awards, the Genesis Awards, the primetime Emmy awards and a Peabody Award among others. The first season's success prompted Nickelodeon to order second and third seasons. The first part of a movie trilogy titled The Last Airbender is expected to be released on July 2, 2010.

Merchandise based on the series includes scaled action figures, a trading card game, three video games based on the first, second, and third seasons, stuffed animals distributed by Paramount Parks, and two LEGO sets.

Series synopsis

Setting

One hundred years before the start of the series, a 12-year-old Airbender named Aang learns that he is the new Avatar. Fearful of the heavy responsibilities of being the Avatar, coupled with the coming separation from his beloved mentor Monk Gyatso (to complete his training), Aang flees from home on his flying bison Appa. Caught by a fierce storm, they crash into the ocean, and Aang's protective Avatar State freezes them in a state of suspended animation inside an iceberg.

Season One (Book One: Water)

After being frozen in an iceberg, Aang and Appa are awoken a hundred years later by two siblings of the Southern Water Tribe, Katara and Sokka. Aang learns that the Fire Nation started a war a hundred years ago, just after his disappearance. The Fire Nation launched a genocidal attack on the Air Nomads, starting the war and driving Aang's entire nation to extinction making him "The Last Airbender". He realizes that he must fulfill his destiny of becoming the Avatar and return the balance to the world by defeating the Fire Nation army. Aang sets out to master the other three elements: Water, Earth, and Fire. With Katara and Sokka, Aang decides to head to the North Pole to find a Waterbending master for himself and Katara, the only Waterbender in the South Pole.

Aang travels to a Crescent Island in the Fire Nation after contacting Avatar Roku's dragon animal guide in the spirit world. Following the instruction from Roku's dragon, he travels to the Crescent Island to a Fire-Sage temple wherein he contacts Roku on the winter solstice. Roku tells Aang that he must master all four elements and end the war before the next summer, as Sozin's Comet will pass the world after a hundred years. Fire Lord Ozai will end the war using this comet, an additional power source that will make the fire benders even stronger. The comet was named after Ozai's Grandfather, Sozin, who also used the coming of the comet to start the war, and deal a deadly first strike to the other nations.

For most of their journey to the North Pole, the group is pursued by Zuko, a banished Fire Nation prince and son of Fire Lord Ozai, and by Commander Zhao, an ambitious naval officer who also wants to capture the Avatar to further his own ambitions. Zuko is obsessed with capturing Aang to restore his honor and his place in line for the Fire Nation throne; he was banished for speaking out of turn in a war meeting and refusing to fight his father in an agni kai (literally a 'fire duel'). Zuko was accompanied by his uncle,General Iroh, a wise and kindly general who was supposed to be the successor to the Fire Nation throne before it was usurped by his younger brother Ozai. Zuko and Iroh were the first to discover that the Avatar is still alive, but decides to keep this information secret from Commander Zhao. Their suspicious actions piques the interest of Zhao, who also discovers that the Avatar is still alive. Zhao prevents Zuko and Iroh from pursuing the Avatar while starting a search of his own. The Fire Lord, seeing Zhao's zest in the pursuit, promotes the commander to Admiral status, making him in charge of the operation to capture the Avatar.

When the Avatar reaches the Northern Water Tribe along with Sokka and Katara, he and Katara are trained in the art of waterbending by Master Pakku. When the Fire Nation attacks the North Pole, Aang enters the Avatar state and destroys their fleets of ships after restoring balance to the stolen Moon Goddess. The Season ends with the group having destroyed Zhao's attempts at conquering the North Pole.

Season Two (Book Two: Earth)

After leaving the North Pole, Aang finishes mastering Waterbending under the instruction of Katara, who has mastered the element faster than he. Aang and friends travel to the Earth Kingdom to master Earthbending. Their initial plan was to learn under Bumi, king of the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu, but discover that he and Omashu have been captured by the Fire Nation and Bumi is waiting for the right time to strike. Searching for a new Earthbending teacher, the group meets Toph, a blind Earthbending prodigy who becomes Aang's second teacher. The heroes discover information about an upcoming solar eclipse which would leave the Fire Nation powerless and open to invasion. They struggle to reach the Earth King with this vital information, but are detoured by Appa's kidnapping. Azula, Zuko's sister, and her two friends Mai and Ty Lee chase the group as they struggle to reach Ba Sing Se, the Earth Kingdom capital. Azula engineers a plan that allows the Fire Nation complete control over Ba Sing Se and the rest of the Earth Kingdom, and destroys any hope of a large-scale invasion of the Fire Nation. Azula is believed to have killed the Avatar using lightning while Aang was in the Avatar state, and there is no hope left. In reality she disaligned his seventh chakra, thus blocking the Avatar state.

Zuko deals with internal conflict as he and Iroh secede from the Fire Nation, settle in the Earth Kingdom, and disguise themselves as refugees. After a brief period of reformation, Zuko helps Azula defeat Aang and is allowed to return back to the Fire nation as a re-instated prince.

Season Three (Book Three: Fire)

The group recovers from the fall of Ba Sing Se, and from Aang's injury, travel to the planned invasion site. On the day of the solar eclipse, Aang's group and a smaller band of warriors launch a smaller invasion, which ultimately fails. Zuko confronts his father and defects from the Fire Nation. After a series of events, he manages to gain the trust of the protagonists and becomes Aang's firebending teacher. Aang and Zuko unlock the firebending secrets of the "Sun Warriors", Zuko helps Katara find the man who killed her mother, and Sokka and Zuko travel to a Fire Nation prison to rescue Sokka's father and Suki.

On the day of Sozin's Comet, Fire Lord Ozai harnesses the comet's power to start a genocidal campaign to destroy the rest of the world. Aang and his friends face the self-proclaimed "Phoenix King" Ozai, Azula (now promoted as the new Fire Lord by Ozai), and the Fire Nation army. Aang confronts and defeats Ozai while the Order of the White Lotus takes back Ba Sing Se from the Fire Nation. At the same time, Zuko is incapacitated by Azula (while protecting Katara), whom Katara then defeats. Aang battles with Ozai, and, in the Avatar State, almost kills him before restraining himself and instead calls upon the lost art of Energybending to remove Ozai's bending abilities. Zuko becomes the next Fire Lord, and, alongside Aang, brings harmony to the world.

Production

Avatar: The Last Airbender was co-created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank, Californiamarker. According to Bryan Konietzko, the program was conceived in the spring of 2001 when he took an old sketch of a balding, middle-aged man and re-imagined the character as a child. Konietzko drew the character herding bison in the sky, and showed the sketch to Mike DiMartino. At the time, DiMartino was studying a documentary about explorers trapped in the South Polemarker.

Konietzko described their early development of the concept: The co-creators successfully pitched the idea to Nickelodeon VP and executive producer Eric Coleman just two weeks later.

The show was first revealed to the public in a teaser reel at Comic-Con 2004, and aired February 21, 2005. In the United States, the first two episodes of the series were shown together in a one-hour premiere event. A second twenty-episode season ran from March 17, 2006 through December 1. A third and final season, beginning September 21, 2007, featured twenty-one episodes rather than the usual twenty. The final four episodes were packaged as a two-hour movie.

Premise

Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a world that is home to humans, fantastic animals, and spirits. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation. Each nation has its own natural element, on which it bases its society. Within each nation exists an order called "Benders" who have the ability to manipulate the eponymous element of their nation. The show’s creators based each Bending art on a style of martial arts. The Bending types are Waterbending, Earthbending, Firebending, and Airbending.

The world yields one person who is capable of bending all four elements, the Avatar, the spirit of the planet manifested in human form. When an Avatar dies, he or she is reincarnated into the next nation in the Avatar Cycle. The Avatar Cycle parallels the seasons: autumn for the Air Nomads, winter for the Water Tribe, spring for the Earth Kingdom and summer for the Fire Nation. Legend holds the Avatar must master each bending art in order, starting with his native element. This can sometimes be compromised when the situation requires it, as Aang demonstrates in the show. For the Avatar, learning to bend the element opposite his native element can be extremely difficult. This is because opposing Bending arts are based on opposing fighting styles and disciplines. Firebending and Waterbending are opposites, as are Earthbending and Airbending.

The Avatar possesses a unique power called the Avatar State, which endows the Avatar with the knowledge and abilities of all past Avatars and acts as a self-triggering defense mechanism, although it can be made subject to the will of the user through various methods, such as extensive trial and training (such as Avatar Roku), or if he/she opens his/her bodily Chakras. If an Avatar is killed in the Avatar State, the reincarnation cycle will be broken, and the Avatar will cease to exist. Through the ages, countless incarnations of Avatar have served to keep the four nations in harmony, and maintain world order. The Avatar serves as the bridge between the physical world and the Spirit World, allowing him or her to solve problems that normal benders cannot.

Cultural influences

Avatar is notable for borrowing extensively from Asian art and mythology to create its universe. The show's character designs are heavily influenced by anime; the show, however, is not considered an "anime" because of its origination in the United States. Explicitly stated influences include Chinese art and history, Japanese anime, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Yoga. The production staff employs a cultural consultant, Edwin Zane, to review scripts.

Traditional East Asian calligraphy styles are used for nearly all the writing in the show. For each instance of calligraphy, an appropriate style is used, ranging from seal script (more archaic) to clerical script. The show employs calligrapher Siu-Leung Lee as a consultant and translator.

The choreographed martial art bending moves were profoundly affected by Asian cinema. In an interview, Bryan revealed that, "Mike and I were really interested in other epic 'Legends & Lore' properties, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but we knew that we wanted to take a different approach to that type of genre. Our love for Japanese anime, Hong Kong action and kung fu cinema, yoga, and Eastern philosophies led us to the initial inspiration for Avatar."

Avatar

The term "Avatar" comes from the Sanskrit word Avatāra, (Sanskrit: ), which means "descent"; its roots are ava, "down," and tri, "to pass." In the Hindu scriptures, avatara signifies the descent of Divinity into flesh. One who attains union with Spirit and then returns to earth to help humanity is called an avatar. The Chinese characters that appear at the top of the show's title card mean "the divine medium who has descended upon the mortal world."

When Aang was young, he unknowingly revealed that he was the Avatar when he chose four toys out of thousands, each of which were the childhood toys of the previous Avatars. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a similar test for reincarnations of a Tulku Lama. In Magic and Mystery in Tibet, Alexandra David-Neel writes that "a number of objects such as rosaries, ritualistic implements, books, tea-cups, etc., are placed together, and the child must pick out those which belonged to the late tulku, thus showing that he recognizes the things which were theirs in their previous life." Each successor is expected to show signs of continuity with the previous Avatar, such as being born within a week of the death.

Elements

Avatar draws on the four classical elements common to most ancient philosophies (rather than the five classical Chinese elements) for its bending arts: Water, Earth, Fire and Air. Although each has its own variation, most ancient philosophies incorporate these four elements in some way: examples include the classical Hindu, Buddhist, and Greek elemental traditions.

In the show’s opening, each element is accompanied by two Chinese characters: an ancient Chinese seal script character on the left, and a modern Chinese character on the right:
  • Water ( ) is associated with benevolence and adaptivity( ).
  • Earth ( ) is associated with strength and stability( ).
  • Fire ( ) is associated with intensity and passion( ).
  • Air ( ) is associated with peace and harmony( ).


Fighting styles

The fighting choreography of the show draws from martial arts; the fighting styles and weaponry are based on Chinese martial arts, with each bending art corresponding to a certain real-world style. The creators referred to Ba Gua for Airbending, Hung Gar for Earthbending, Northern Shaolin for Firebending, and Tai Chi for Waterbending. The only exception to this is Toph, who employs a Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis style. The series employed Sifu Kisu of the Harmonious Fist Chinese Athletic Association as a martial arts consultant.

Each fighting style was chosen to represent the element it projected:
  • Tai Chi focuses on alignment, body structure, breath, and visualization. This technique is the foundation of "Waterbending" in the series.
  • Hung Gar was chosen for its firmly rooted stances and powerful strikes to represent the solid nature of earth. This martial art is the basis of "Earthbending" in the series.
  • Northern Shaolin Kung Fu uses strong arm and leg movements. This technique is the foundation of "Firebending" in the series.
  • Ba Gua uses dynamic circular movements and quick directional changes. This technique uses centripetal force to generate power, and uses nearly constant circular movement to create angles between the combatants. This martial art is the basis of "Airbending" in the series.


Characters

  • Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen) is the fun-loving, 12-year-old protagonist of the series, but was frozen in an iceberg with his flying bison, Appa, for 100 years. He is the current incarnation of the Avatar, the spirit of the planet in human form. Aang is a reluctant hero, who would prefer adventure over his job as the Avatar and making friends over fighting the Fire Nation.
  • Katara (Mae Whitman) is a 14-year-old Waterbender of the Southern Water Tribe. Katara and her brother, Sokka, discover and free Aang from the iceberg in which he had been trapped. With her brother Sokka, she accompanies Aang on his quest to defeat the Fire Lord, and eventually becomes his Waterbending teacher. In the original unaired pilot episode, Katara's name was Kya; this later is stated to be her mother's name.
  • Sokka (Jack DeSena) is a 15-year-old warrior of the Southern Water Tribe. With his sister, Katara, he accompanies Aang on his quest to defeat the Fire Lord. The joker of the group, Sokka describes himself as "meat-loving" and "sarcastic". Unlike his companions, Sokka does not have any bending ability, but the series, though it often makes him the victim of comedy at his expense, frequently grants him opportunities to use his ingenuity and weapons, including his trusty boomerang and a sword he forged from a meteorite.
  • Toph Bei Fong (Jessie Flower) is a 12-year-old blind tomboyish Earthbender that appears in the second season of the show. Not long after meeting Aang and his friends, she leaves her wealthy family and comfortable home to join Aang on his quest, with a plan to teach him Earthbending. Though blind, Toph "sees" by feeling the vibrations in the ground through her feet. She is the only Earthbender seen in the show to learn to bend metal and is considered one of the most powerful Earthbenders.
  • Zuko (Dante Basco) is the 16-year-old exiled prince of the Fire Nation and original antagonist of the series. Due to events in Zuko's past, his father, Fire Lord Ozai, deems him a complete failure, and Zuko feels he must capture the Avatar to regain his honor. Over time, Zuko struggles to deal with his anger, self-pity, and familial relationships; meanwhile, he grows sympathetic to the peoples his nation has terrorized. In season three, he defects from the Fire Nation, and joins Aang and the team in order to teach Aang Firebending. At the end of the series, he is crowned ruler of the Fire Nation.
  • Azula (Grey DeLisle) is the 15-year-old princess of the Fire Nation. She is Zuko's younger sister and one of the major antagonists of the series. Azula is a Firebending prodigy and is one of the few living Firebenders capable of casting lightning. She has no qualms about bullying and threatening her relatives or friends, reserving any familial loyalty for her father. She is first introduced at the end of the last episode of season one, although she appears in the background in an earlier episode.
  • Iroh (Mako in seasons one and until episode 15 in season 2. Greg Baldwin in season three) is a retired Fire Nation general, known as the Dragon of the West, and Prince Zuko's uncle and mentor. Iroh was the original heir to the Fire Nation throne until his brother usurped the throne after Fire Lord Azulon's death. On the surface, Iroh is a cheerful, kind, and optimistically eccentric old man, but he still remains a powerful warrior and a devoted surrogate parent to Zuko. Iroh is a Grand Master of the Order of the White Lotus, a secret society of men from all nations and helps retake Ba Sing Se during the series finale. Unlike most Firebenders, Iroh does not use fury as the source of his strength; instead he uses the original Firebending skills learned from the Dragons. He is the only shown character to both have the abilities of casting lightning and redirecting lightning attacks.


Response

Ratings

When the show debuted, it was rated the best animated television series in its demographic; new episodes averaged 3.1 million viewers each. A one-hour special showing of "The Secret of the Fire Nation" which aired on September 15, 2006, consisting of "The Serpent's Pass" and "The Drill", gathered an audience of 5.1 million viewers. According to the Nielsen Media Research, the special was the best performing cable television show airing in that week. In 2007, Avatar was syndicated to more than 105 countries worldwide, and was one of Nickelodeon's top rated programs. The series was ranked first on Nickelodeon in Germanymarker, Indonesiamarker, Malaysiamarker, Belgiummarker, and Colombiamarker.

The series finale, Sozin's Comet: The Final Battle, received the highest ratings of the series. Its July 19, 2008 premiere averaged 5.6 million viewers, 95% more viewers than Nickelodeon had received in mid-July 2007. During the week of July 14, it ranked as the most-viewed program for the under-14 demographic. Sozin's Comet also appeared on iTunes' top ten list of best-selling television episodes during that same week. Sozin's Comet s popularity affected online media as well; "Rise of the Phoenix King", a Nick.com online game based on Sozin's Comet, generated almost 815,000 game plays within three days.

Awards and nominations

Awards Outcome
2005 Pulcinella Awards:
Best Action/Adventure TV Series
Best TV Series
33rd Annie Awards:
Best Animated Television Production
Storyboarding in an Animated Television Production (The Deserter)
Writing for an Animated Television Production (The Fortuneteller)
34th Annie Awards:
Character Animation in a Television Production (The Blind Bandit)
Directing in an Animated Television Production (The Drill)
36th Annie Awards:
Best Animated Television Production for Children
Directing in an Animated Television Production (Joaquim Dos Santos for Into the Inferno)
2007 Genesis Awards:
Outstanding Children's Programming (Appa's Lost Days)
Primetime Emmy Awards:
Outstanding Animated Program (City of Walls and Secrets)
Individual Achievement Award (Sang-Jin Kim for Lake Laogai)
Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards 2008:
Favorite Cartoon
Annecy 2008:
TV series (Joaquim Dos Santos for The Day of Black Sun Part 2: The Eclipse)
56th Golden Reel Awards:
Best Sound Editing in a Television Animation (Avatar Aang)
2008 Peabody Awards:
"Unusually complex characters and healthy respect for the consequences of warfare"


Other media

Promotion and merchandising

Avatar's success has led to some promotional advertising with third-party companies, such as Burger King and Upper Deck Entertainment. Avatar-themed roller coasters at Kings Islandmarker and at Nickelodeon Universemarker in the Mall of Americamarker also appeared. During the show's runtime, Nickelodeon published two special issues of Nick Mag Presents dedicated entirely to the show. Various members of the Avatar staff and cast appeared at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con International convention, while Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko appeared with Martial Arts Consultant Sifu Kisu at the Pacific Media Expo on October 28, 2006. Avatar also has its own line of t-shirts, LEGO playsets, toys, a trading card game, a cine-manga, and three video games, as well as an MMO.

The Mattel-produced action figure toy line generated some controversy with its exclusion of any female characters. Mattel came to release information stating that they have taken account of Katara's increased role within the program, and that she would be included in the figure assortment for a mid 2007 release. The figure ultimately went unreleased, however, as the entire line was canceled before she could be produced.

Nickelodeon executives have since released optimistic plans for upcoming marketing strategies in regards to Avatar. Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami openly stated his belief that the franchise "could become their Harry Potter". They expect consumers to spend about $121 million in 2007, rising to $254 million by 2009. The marketing plans are to be coincided with the release of the first live-action film based on the series in 2010, which will be the first film in a trilogy.

Feature film

The Last Airbender is an upcoming live action film directed by M. Night Shyamalan that is based on the animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The film originally shared the title of the television series, but it was changed to The Last Airbender because the producers were worried it would be confused with the James Cameron film Avatar. The Last Airbender will star Noah Ringer as Aang, Dev Patel as Zuko, Jackson Rathbone as Sokka, and Nicola Peltz as Katara. Iroh will be played by Shaun Toub and Firelord Ozai by Cliff Curtis.

Video Games

A video game trilogy about Avatar has been created. Avatar: The Last Airbender, the video game, was released on October 10, 2006. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Burning Earth was released on October 16, 2007. Avatar: The Last Airbender – Into the Inferno was released on October 13, 2008. The three games were loosely based on seasons one, two and three, respectively. Players can select characters and complete quests to gain experience and advance the storyline. Despite lackluster critical reviews, the games did extremely well commercially; for example, Avatar: The Last Airbender was THQ's top selling Nickelodeon game in 2006 and even reached Sony CEA's "Greatest Hits" status.

Avatar: Legends of the Arena, a video game for Microsoft Windows launched on September 25, 2008 by Nickelodeon. Each user is able to create their own character, choose a nation, and to interact with others across the globe.

Music

All music and sound used in the series was done by Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn, who form The Track Team. They made use of a wide range of different ethnic instruments (like a guzheng or a pipa or a duduk) to compose a background music that fits into this fictional world.

References

  1. A third season consisting of twenty-one episodes began airing on September 21, 2007
  2. David-Neel, Alexandra. Magic and Mystery in Tibet. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1971 (ISBN 0-486-22682-4), p. 124
  3. Avatar Trading Card Game


External links

  • (US)
  • (AUS)
  • (UK)
  • (ASIA)
  • (NL)



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