Have you heard about Avatar: The Last Airbender? Originally launched in 2005 on Nickelodeon this animated series with a target demographic of six to eleven year olds hit the cartoon world in a big way. Fueled with action, mysticism, and some incredible artistic design, the series absolutely jumped from the TV. It helped that the plot was rich and the characters were well-developed as well. This lent itself to its expanding popularity beyond its demographic and helped the series get signed for another year.
The show has enjoyed success in the DVD world as well with individual volumes and season sets with additional bonus material both available. The complete third and final season collection has just been released and in case you missed out on the regular volumes, this is the one to check out. Then again, chances are good that you're new to the world of Benders and elements. If that's the case, then let me be the first to welcome you to the world of the Four Nations.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender the world is made up of four nations which revolve around elements. Fire, Wind, Water, and Earth are what you're going to find here and each tribe's people uses the elements to their fullest extent. Each nation also has a group that is capable of possessing the powers of their element. They have become known as Benders and it's through them that life flourishes and wars are waged. In an effort to bring balance to the world an Avatar is selected ever generation and it's their responsibility to bring peace to the world and unite the tribes. After all they are basically the physical representation of the planet's will. Like Benders, the Avatar has the ability to utilize elemental powers, but unlike the tribes they can control all of the elements.
The most recent Avatar is a kid named Aang, but due to a series of events the young warrior was frozen for 150 years. In that time the Fire Nation has risen to dominance and they basically hold the other nations in check. It's up to Aang to learn how to bend the other elements and knock the Fire Nation down a peg in order to restore balance to the world. At first he's reluctant about being the Avatar, but he eventually accepts his role and becomes the being that the planet and nations needed him to be.
Over the course of two season Avatar: The Last Airbender has introduced many characters and has taken them on many adventures. Rather than go through the sizeable list of whose who in the world of Avatar I will say that the third season shakes things up a bit. As the show draws to its close old enemies become trusted allies and the battles heat up as the final confrontation with the Fire Nation gets underway. This being the final installment of the series (aside from the movie which is coming out in 2010) you'd expect things to be grandiose; trust me when I tell you that Avatar doesn't disappoint.
This season starts out slowly with the writers obviously clamoring to build up to something much greater. Aang has been unconscious for a while now and when he comes to he learns that his friends have already come up with a plan to take on the Fire Nation. In order to get in close Aang uses the fact that he grew hair as a disguise and he enrolls in a Fire school. There are a few standalone episodes after that and it's not until the second disc that the ball really gets rolling with some nice history lessons and plot exposition. Oh, there are a few really cool battles in between as well, so that's definitely a plus!
Through the course of these episodes Aang gets a new teacher in the ways of Fire Bending and from there the final leg of the show's journey begins. Events are set into motion that will change the course of history for the Fire Nation and its downfall comes from one of its own people. This all leads up to an epic four-part ending which answers just about every question you could have had from recent events. This final leg of Aang's journey also contains some of the best moments in the series with some outstanding action and emotional character development.
The thing about Avatar that has always impressed me was the manner with which it approached its material. It never really talked down to the audience and though some of the episodes were silly, each plot had a moral and made you think. That's quite a statement from a show that's aimed towards young kids and because of that it's a series that is perfect for families, or even adults, to enjoy. This show is rock-solid entertainment from start to finish and it's not to be missed by anyone who loves a good cartoon. Don't let the Nickelodeon label fool you; this one doesn't disappoint in the least.
Avatar: The Last Airbender comes with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The quality of the transfer is very good and in all honesty the DVD looks slightly better than broadcast. The picture is vibrant, sharp, and clean with very little in terms of digital flaws. There are some moments where aliasing is noticeable and the occasional compression artifact can be spotted from time to time, but otherwise the overall image is solid and beautiful.
This is a series that absolutely cries out for a 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation, but all it has received is a 2.0 stereo mix. What's here really isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's just that with the amount of action and sound effects this show would have been far more impressive with a greater sense of immersion. As it stands the front channels do a fine job of presenting the show.
The individual volumes of Avatar offered audio commentaries for some of their episodes and thankfully those have been left intact for the boxed set release. This collection includes all eight original commentary tracks with the co-creators and some of the production team. Your mileage will vary depending pending on the episode as there are a lot of dead spots, some dry discussion, and spoilers for folks who haven't seen the whole series. Otherwise the commentaries are good with a wealth of information from the drawing board to final product. The crew has some good banter as well and fans of the show looking for more background will definitely want to check them out when they're done with the season. In addition to those commentary tracks there are also four additional ones included in this boxed set for the final episodes of the series. That brings the commentary track count up to twelve, which is impressive to say the least.
The Book 3 Collection also contains a fifth exclusive disc with bonus content that wasn't available with the individual volumes. The last disc includes a feature entitled "The Women of Avatar: The Last Airbender" (18:46). This entertaining look at the female cast of characters includes commentary from the creators as well as from voice actors and fans. There's very little in terms of revolutionary information here, but there is some nice discussion about how the characters were created and such. "Book 3: Finale Pencil Test Animation" (11:18) is a fascinating look at some of the hand-animated moments from the season. With animated pencil sketches to a comparison with the final product, this one is a sight to behold for lovers of animation. Closing out the final disc is a video from the 2007 Sand Diego Comic-Con (36:30) where the Avatar panel showed off some of the third season and talked about the show.
Avatar: The Last Airbender was a phenomenon that reached cult status before it came to a close. It was a very popular show for Nickelodeon and has a legion of fans outside its target demographic. There are plenty of reasons for that, but probably the most significant is the show's scope. This is an epic animated series with an engrossing storyline, memorable characters, and some incredible animation. If you are in the market for a solidly produced cartoon that will leave an impression then this is the one to see. The third season doesn't disappoint in the least and Avatar is a show that begs multiple viewings. This may just be one of the best animated shows to come along within the past decade. Highly Recommended.
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