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Avatar The Last Airbender - Book 2 Earth, Vol. 1

Paramount // Unrated // January 23, 2007
List Price: $16.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted January 9, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The story so far: an ancient land of four nations representing the four elements - earth, air, water, fire - was at peace, until the Fire Nation attacked their neighbors. Only the Avatar, the lone person with the ability to control all four elements, could stop them, but he suddenly disappeared. One hundred years later, two young siblings from the Water Nation, Katara and Sokka, stumbled upon Aang, a boy frozen alive in an iceberg. Aang, it is revealed, is not only the last survivor of the Air Nation, but he is also the reincarnation of the Avatar. Before he can help defeat the Fire Nation and restore harmony to the world, however, he must master all the elements. With Katara and Sokka at his side, Aang has mastered the art of waterbending, and now the Last Airbender must set out to the Earth Kingdom...

The first year of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" was one of the most pleasant surprises in the recent animation renaissance. Debuting on the Nickelodeon cable channel in February 2005, the show has grown to tremendous popularity rather quickly, all of it well deserved. Although the series was geared toward younger viewers, older fans took to it just as easily. This is due to the series' continued insistence to treat its viewers with intelligence and respect. Indeed, the best part of the current wave of TV animation is that for the most part, the shows refuse to talk down to children, to simplify things on their behalf. And "Avatar" is perhaps the best example, a show that rewards viewers of all ages for staying with an epic story arc. While plots wrap up at the end of each episode, the individual shows are treated as part of a greater picture. Stick with it for the whole run, the series tells us, and you'll be in for some grand treats.

This format is part of the series' homage to anime, which delivers continuing storylines while American cartoons would remain a set of generic one-offs. "Avatar" goes so far as to divide its seasons into "books" - year one was "Book 1: Water," year two was "Book 2: Earth," and year three, set to begin later this year, will be "Book 3: Fire."

The anime influence is everywhere in "Avatar," and "Book 2" continues with the series' energetic blend of Asian folklore, martial arts action, fantasy adventure, and light comedy. Fans of the series (those who didn't already watch the second season already) will be pleased to discover that the quality - both in storytelling and animation - is still top notch; the show's producers have not let popularity slow them down. This is among the very best animated shows on television, and it continues to impress with every episode.

The DVD

Paramount and Nickelodeon have collected the first five episodes of season two in "Book 2: Earth - Volume 1." This continues their trend of releasing pieces of a season over the course of a year, followed by a complete season set. This is obviously annoying to fans who want to own the show right away but are weary of the double dip.

Included in this collection are the following episodes:

"The Avatar State." In the season opener, Aang, Katara, and Sokka meet General Fong, an Earth Nation leader who hopes Aang will use his Avatar abilities to crush the Fire Nation. Aang faces a tough choice: if he acts now, he will save many lives, but he has not completed his training.

"The Cave of Two Lovers." A band of hippie-dippy nomads get Aang and friends lost in a mystical cave in this comedy-heavy episode.

"Return to Omashu." Aang arrives at the city of Omashu in search of the powerful earthbender King Bumi, only to discover he had surrendered to the Fire Nation. While Katara and Sokka discover the group of rebels, Aang learns a few lessons on bending.

"The Swamp." Something in a massive swamp is calling to Aang, and when the group lands to investigate, the swamp itself seems to be alive.

"Avatar Day." A city's Avatar Day holiday turns out to be a chance to blame the Avatar for a crime committed long ago. Aang lands in prison, and Sokka and Katara wind up trying to solve the mystery.

Video & Audio

One of the show's greatest assets is its eye-popping animation, and its presentation here is on par with previous releases. Colors pop, lush backgrounds shine. A few instances of line pixilation were noticed, but only very briefly, not enough at all to distract from the final product. Presented in the original 1.33:1 broadcast format.

Dolby stereo is offered for the soundtrack, which carefully balances the dialogue and action segments. French and Spanish dubs, also in stereo, are offered, but no subtitles are provided.

Extras

The only extra on the disc itself is the complete animatic (a moving storyboard) for "The Avatar State." As the animatic plays out, the finished episode is visible in the lower right corner.

Packaged with the disc is an "Avatar" comic. In a sneaky move, the comic is the first in a four-part miniseries; all four comics will be exclusive to the "Book 2" DVD volumes. This is an attempt to keep fans from holding out until the season collection hits store shelves - you want the comic, you have to double dip. As it's only four pages of actual comic (two more include sketches from "Avatar" co-creator Bryan Konietzko), it's not really worth it.

Final Thoughts

In any other case, this disc would be Highly Recommended without a second thought. "Avatar" is a brilliant mix of fantasy and action, and the episodes presented here are perfect examples of what makes the series so notable. And to those new to the series, this volume is as good a starting point as any. However, a second season box set is bound to arrive later this year, which will have these episodes and a handful of bonus features not available here. The smart thing to do is to just hold off. Rent It to fill your Aang fix if you can't get around to catching the reruns Nickelodeon airs daily.

Click here to check out DVD Talk's reviews of previous "Avatar" releases.
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