Since I discovered Avatar the Last Airbender via the complete collection of the first season almost two years ago, the Nickelodeon animated action serial has been one of my favorite shows on television. It transcends any prejudice about cartoons or children's programming, and is just one of the best action series on the tube. Period.
Avatar the Last Airbender - Book 3: Fire, Vol. 3 is the penultimate disc in the show's final season, and this closing Book is turning out to be the best of the series so far. (For a bit of background of what the overall series is about, hop over to my review of the second volume of season 3 here.) As with the other individual DVDs in the series, this one collects five episodes, in this case entries 11 through 15 of the third season. Having ended Book 3: Fire, Vol. 2 on a cliffhanger, episode 11 throws us right into the action, and as the midpoint of the season, the DVD never lets up from there. All of the episodes have major developments, with the story shifting in important ways leading us toward the final confrontation between Avatar Aang's rebel crew and the Fire Nation dictatorship.
Be forewarned, if you read the episode descriptions, you will find yourself amidst *** SPOILERS ***. I am going to try not to go into massive detail, but some bits are unavoidable. Then again, if you're unfamiliar with the series, why are you reading about a disc this far into the trilogy? Instead, might I suggest you read my reviews of The Complete Book 1 and The Complete Book 2.
* Chapter 11: The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse: Halfway through their major offensive against the Fire Nation, the attacking army discovers they may have been duped. The search is on to find the Firelord before the Eclipse comes, though someone else has already found him and the tyrant discovers an enemy he was not aware he had. The war sequences in this episode are exciting, and the tough choices the kids have to make come with some real consequences. As a midseason climax, it's a great set-up for the final run of shows to come.
* Chapter 12: The Western Air Temple: Aang and crew retreat to the Western Air Temple to regroup. A surprise comes, though, in the form of a new ally--that unexpected enemy of the Firelord--who will also serve as Aang's teacher to learn firebending, the last elemental skill he needs to learn to fulfill his destiny. A cool battle closes the show, with the final confrontation with Zuko's hired assassin, the being known as Combustion Man!
* Chapter 13: The Firebending Masters: Aang and his new teacher--okay, it's Zuko--travel to the source of the original fire, the Temple of the Sun Warriors, in order to get better in touch with their abilities. There, they must meet and be judged by the original Firebending Masters. This episode is a lot of fun, designed a little bit like an Indiana Jones story, complete with hidden cities, booby traps, and expertly animated stunts.
* Chapters 14 & 15: The Boiling Rock, Part 1 and Part 2: Sokka and Zuko go on a secret mission to break Sokka's father out of jail. Once inside the high-security prison, they find more than they bargained for, running into friend and foe alike. Solid character episodes that see both boys confronting their pasts, including how they relate to their family and their romantic successes and failures.
As always, the animation on Avatar the Last Airbender - Book 3: Fire, Vol. 3 is fantastic. The designs of the characters and the environments are truly amazing, with the Western Air Temple being particularly creative. There are several animation highlights on this disc, with the pinnacle being the many spectacular sequences in episode 13.
Avatar the Last Airbender is a new TV show, and as a result, the DVD transfers have all the spit and polish one would expect. The colors are gorgeous, and the fullscreen presentation is free of any visual slip-ups.
Episodes can be played all at once, or chosen one at a time.
Only one English soundtrack is available, a fairly effects-heavy and well-balanced Dolby Digital stereo track.
As with previous installments, two paper inserts come with Book 3: Fire, Vol. 3: a single-sheet giving an episode guide on one side and advertising other Avatar DVDs on the other, and a six-page color comic book exclusive to the DVD releases. The comic in this installment is the third of four parts, so the story will be complete when you have all four of the Book 3 discs.
Episodes 11 and 12 both have commentaries featuring show creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. These are always fairly fun and detailed talks from the main architects of the show. The commentaries can be accessed either through the special features menu, or you are prompted to choose them if you watch the episodes individually.
Nickelodeon trailers play as the DVD loads, and they can be bypassed using your "next" button.
Avatar the Last Air Bender - Book 3: Fire, Vol. 3 continues this cartoon's amazing winning streak. This final season in the trilogy is turning out to be the best, and this third disc of episodes is the most impressive so far. At this point in the story, major things are happening, with the characters going through changes and the various plot elements coming together. Thankfully, the show creators never rest, and the quality control is top-notch. The writing is smart, and the animation always impressive. Highly Recommended.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.