Just in time for the release of the live-action movie, Nickelodeon has reissued the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender. This popular series ran for three seasons in total with over 60 episodes. Before we get going with what this series is all about and what happens in this boxed set, it's worth mentioning that this Collector's Edition is basically a repackaging of the original release. It's basically same box and discs included in a new box that's shaped like a book. There's an extra bonus feature disc and an art book, but we'll look at those in the extras section of this review.
Avatar: The Last Airbender hit the airwaves in 2005 and was an instant success. The series blended humor, action, interesting characters, and an engaging storyline in a way that gelled from the very first episode. The concept was well-realized, and quite frankly that's one thing that holds many other shows back. Avatar knew what it wanted to be right out of the gate and it never let up on that vision.
Avatar takes place in a fascinating world where elements are what define the people. The nations of Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water are scattered all over the globe and those living in each nation have a natural affinity to that element. There's a subsection of people in these nations that can perform something known as bending, which basically means they can use elemental magic in a sense. The catch is that members of specific nation can only use their tribe's element, though the Avatar is something completely else.
As the show's history unfolds it's revealed that the Avatar is a person chosen from destiny who utilizes the power of all four nations to restore order in the world during a time of need. Things were going swimmingly until the Avatar disappeared and a century long war ravaged the world. The Fire Nation got it into their hot little brains that they were better than everyone else and set out on a campaign to destroy or enslave the other tribes. Things are looking bleak as the nations crumble under the might of Fire, but two Water Tribe members make a discovery that could change the fate of the world.
While out on a hunting excursion waterbender Katara and her brother Sokka come upon a mysterious globe of ice. Encased inside is 12-year-old Aang, who just so happens to be the last airbender in the world and the Avatar. News of the Avatar's arrival travels fast and soon enough the Fire Nation is breathing down Aang's neck. As he sets out on a journey to reconnect with the world and learn the bending techniques of the other nations, he is joined by Katara and Sokka. Together they fly around on Aang's magic bison and attempt to fulfill the role of the Avatar.
The main villain in the storyline is the exiled prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko. His motives are quite clear from the beginning, and his character receives tremendous development as the show progresses. He's a solid antagonist for Aang and is far beyond what we typically see in kid's shows. Then again, the same could be said for all the characters. The Katara, Sokka, and Aang we meet at the start of the show aren't necessarily the same ones we see by the end of this first season. They grow as people, their relationships become more complex, and throughout it all there's a real sense of progression.
There are twenty episodes in this first season, and for the most part they are relatively formulaic. This being a quest-driven show there are several stops along the way and each episode sees Aang and the gang helping out one village or another. While this may seem like it would become repetitive; it never does. The aforementioned character development takes the center stage and each story is well-thought out and meaningful.
Adding to the quality of the show is a consistency with regards to the scripts. The writers of Avatar nailed every line of dialogue and story perfectly. The series offers up an incredible sense of humor, more dramatic elements, and tons of emotion. This is the kind of show that adults will enjoy every bit as much as kids. It just holds universal appeal and affection for the series only grows as one continues to watch it.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is presented on DVD with its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. The show looks quite good with bright colors, fluid animation, and some very appealing designs. On the technical side of things the show's transfer is very good as well. There's hardly any grain and compression isn't an issue at all. The picture is crisp and clean, though it's not entirely perfect. There's some light edge enhancement and at points lines tend to be a little choppy. Despite these imperfections it's still a great looking transfer and the series stands out for all the right reasons.
The sound presentation in Avatar comes in the form of 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo. The quality of the audio is quite good with dialogue, music, and sound effects being as clean as one would expect. There's some disappointment with regards to presence on the soundstage, but that's par for the course. Ultimately the good outweighs the bad, however.
Considering this is a repackaging of the original boxed set, all the supplemental features included before are featured here. Each disc has something to peruse, and the first includes "Behind the Scenes Kung Fu", which looks at the martial arts utilized for the benders in the show. Disc two features "The Making of Avatar - From Real Life to Animation", which looks at the animation inspiration the artists had. The third disc presents "Behind the Scenes - The Voices of Avatar" and that should be fairly self-explanatory.
Disc four includes "Ask the Creators", which has the creators of the show answering questions from fans. There's also a storyboard piece for Chapter 15. The fifth disc features an audio commentary for each of the four episodes. This was definitely a surprise because, quite frankly, this is a kid's show and how many commentaries do you see on those? Disc six is the main bonus feature disc. Included here are the pilot episode with commentary, two more making of featurettes ("Inside the Sound Studios" and "Inside the Korean Animation Studios"), and a brief behind the scenes bit with the cast and crew.
For this Collector's Edition, there are some exclusive bonus features that you won't find on the previous boxed set. For starters there's a mini preview edition of "The Art of the Animated Series" art book. This is a tease of what you'll find in the final edition, and it's packed with information, artwork, and fantastic design sketches. All this preview does is make you want to buy the final production, which is the intended design I suppose. The new seventh disc (packaged in a sleeve separate from the rest of the discs) includes a 32 minute retrospective on the show with the creators, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. It covers a lot of ground from concept of the series to production and reception by fans.
Considering this is a re-release, the prospective buyers are split down the middle. If you do not already own this series, then by all means consider the show a must buy. It's downright awesome and totally worth every penny. On the flipside of that coin, if this collection is already on your DVD shelf, then the Collector's Edition really isn't worth the upgrade. The extra feature is nice to have, but the artbook is merely a preview, and the rest of the package is identical to what's already on the market. It's clear that this edition is for newcomers and those that will be introduced to the series via the live-action movie. That doesn't ding the overall quality of this boxed set, however, and ultimately it's highly recommended.
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