After an action-packed season two finale, "Avatar The Last Airbender" has finally returned with the much anticipated season three. The question is, was it worth the wait?
Book 3: Fire Volume 1 contains 5 episodes. They are as followed:
1. "Awakening"- Aang (who now sports hair) has finally gained consciousness after being out cold for several weeks following his battle at Ba Sing Se. He quickly learns that Sokka and Katara have been on top of things and have come up with a plan to take down the Firelord.
2. "The Headband"- Aang enrolls in a Fire Nation school to learn more about the citizens and their lifestyles.
3. "The Painted Lady"- Katara masquerades as a local hero to help out a village run by the Fire Nation.
4. "Sokka's Master"- Sokka trains with a Fire Nation legend to become a master swordsman.
5. "The Beach"- Zuko, Mai, Ty Lee, and Azula take a vacation at Emerald Island which winds up becoming a therapy session for the group. Meanwhile, a mysterious villain attacks Aang and crew.
While "Awakening" is a fine catch-up/set-up episode to the new season the other 5 episodes seem to be stalling for time. Sure, it's nice that we get to see Sokka expand his role as a fighter and that we get a glimpse of ordinary Fire Nation villagers, but much of these episodes are stuffed with filler. Do we really need to see a lighthearted dance party, an annoying multiple personality villager, or Zuko playing volleyball? I realize the writers are building to a climactic showdown, but I doubt any fan wants to see pesky stand-alone episodes.
This batch of episodes does manage to have a few treats for fans. I found the addition of the Fire Nation assassin dubbed Combustion Man to be an exciting obstacle for Aang to face. As he is still recovering from defeat (and wounds), a battle with Combustion Man could prove to be the test he needs to prepare for a war against the Firelord. I also liked seeing the relationship between Zuko and Mai. Yes, the romance may seem a bit forced, but his relationship with her shows a gentler side and it may help resolve his anger issues in the long run.
Note: Some of you may notice that Uncle Iroh does not speak in these episodes. Mako, the voice actor of Uncle Iroh, tragically passed away last year. The character will soon be voiced by Greg Baldwin.
The fullscreen animated picture quality looked noticeably sharper than the previous two seasons. It seems the animators spent more time perfecting landscapes and 3D animation for this new season.
The Dolby Digital Stereo is spot on (as per usual). Great voice recordings and sound effects.
* Previews for various "Spongebob Squarepants" DVDs, "Nick Picks," and the "Avatar The Last Airbender: The Burning Earth" video game.
* Commentary by Mike Dimartino, Sifu Kisu, and Bryan Konietzko on "Sokka's Master." As I wasn't a huge fan of the commentaries I've heard from the Book 2 DVDs, it was nice to find that I actually enjoyed this particular track as the martial arts consultant Sifu Kisu brought much needed humor and insight to the commentary. His discussions of the action, the animated swords (that are modeled after his own) were fun little tidbits for Avatar fans.
* Commentary by Bryan Konietzko, Joaquin Dos Santos and Katie Mattila on "The Beach." The three mention everything from the John Woo reference, Azula's character weakness, and "The O.C." elements. Yes, you read that right.
* The first issue of a new ongoing comic series titled "Private Fire."
Book 3 Volume 1 is a decent start to the new season of "Avatar The Last Airbender," but it's time for the show to bypass the filler episodes and get down to business.
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.