When I first heard about AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, I dismissed it as another lame modern-day cartoon. For the past decade or so, cartoons haven't been up to snuff. I sorely missed the days of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, TRANSFORMERS, and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. After reading and hearing praise for AVATAR, however, I decided to give it a shot. I wish I had watched the series sooner. Not only is it the best animated action series on television, it's also a smart, well structured show with strong mythology.
Here's a rundown of the five episode on this disk:
1. "The Blind Bandit"- As Aang searches for an Earthbending master, the gang check out an Earthbending tournament where they discover the amazing Toph.
2. "Zuko Alone"- As Zuko helps out a family in an Earthbending town, he flashes back to his past where we learn about his character.
3. "The Chase"- An exhausted Aang, Sokka and Katana are chased by firebender Azula and her gang.
4. "Bitter Work"- Toph begins to teach Aang Earthbending, while Iroh teaches Zuko about lightning.
5. "The Library"- Aang and gang discover a massive library where they learn a vital secret about the Fire Nation. Meanwhile, Appa is kidnapped.
On disk 1 of Book 2, Prince Zuko's sister Azula was abruptly introduced. Having her character previously unseen in all of season one (except the last scene) made her intro seem forced and awkward. True, having a sister adds another dynamic to Zuko's character, but as of this point, she's a pretty one-sided character. Her appearances on this disk hasn't proven my stance wrong. All she does is chase Aang. Thankfully, a important new character (Toph) is introduced in disk 2. Not only does she teach Aang new bending techniques, but she's also spunky and likeable. Her interaction with Aang, Katana, and Sokka is refreshing as the writers could only do so much with those 3 characters together. Hopefully the writers will flesh out Toph's character. It would be a shame to see her wasted.
As for the episodes themselves, "The Blind Bandit" and "Zuko Alone" are stand outs. "The Blind Bandit" provides some truly riveting bending action. We really get to see what Toph is capable of. "Zuko Alone" contains great characterization of Zuko. I admire how the writers don't depict Zuko as an evil villain. He's a frustrated, complex character with a troubled background. The audiences can sympathize with him. The other three episodes are decent, but nothing worthy of acclaim.
As with many animated shows or films, the picture could be sharper, but I guess it's unfair to expect Pixar quality video.
The Dolby Digital brings the world of Avatar to life. The sounds of water, earth, fire bending give the sensation of being right there in a battle with Aang.
An audio commentary by creators, writers, and directors (Mike Dimartino, Ethan Spaulding, Josh Hamilton, Bryan Konietzko, Giancarlo Volpe) is featured on "The Blind Bandit" and "The Chase" episodes. Fans looking for insight into the show might be intrigued, but I felt it was a little uninvolving. Discussions about storyboards without seeing them isn't what I'd call exciting. Issue 2 of the 4 issue comic book is also included with the disk. I think including a comic with a new story inside each disk is a fun idea. The usual previews for other Nickelodeon products are also on the DVD.
With the addition of new characters and a new story arc, Avatar fans should no doubt buy the disk at once. For casual fans or those interested in the series, I suggest starting with the first season (AKA Book One).
Film and television enthusiast Nick Lyons recently had his first book published titled "Attack of the Sci-Fi Trivia." It is available on Amazon.com.