Avatar: The Last Airbender
Book 1: Water
I don't know why it's taken me so long to write a review of a series I've loved for years now, but I figure it was the proper time, considering the last season of Legend of Korra is currently airing.
For those not yet introduced to this series, I will have to say this: watch it. Yes, it's an animated cartoon. Yes, it was geared specifically for a Nickelodeon audience (which, if you knew anything about Nickelodeon, means a demographic of children). Yes, it probably is for children. But who cares?
General reviews of the series itself puts Avatar: The Last Airbender as one of the very few animated shows that can capture audiences much older than its target viewers. Heck, I started my adventure in ATLA when I was in college, finished the series a couple of years after I graduated, and have been a big fan of the show, as well as its sequel, since then. And I'm in the middle of my third re-watch of ATLA. It's just that good.
Since I can't exactly encompass my entire review on both ATLA and Legend of Korra, I'm going to break them up season by season. That means starting from the basics, which is "Book 1: Water".
ATLA's first season introduces us to the world of the Avatar, a world rich in Asian-influenced cultures and a world that has seen the suffering of a hundred-year war, starting with the fall of Sozin's Comet. In the span of a hundred years, the Avatar--the world's maintainer of balance--has disappeared. For a hundred years, it was believed that the Avatar might even be dead. Up until two siblings from the Southern Water Tribe find him encased in a glacier, and subsequently freed him from his trappings.
Already, "Book 1" starts off strong, giving us characters young and old who are dealing with their situations as best they can. Katara and Sokka are sister and brother of a dwindling nation, the Southern Water Tribe, whose villagers have lost all of their water benders to the cruel persecutions of the Fire Nation. Well, all save Katara, who is a burgeoning Waterbender in her own right. It is because of her that Aang, the last Airbender (and the Avatar), is freed from his icy slumber. Unfortunately, finding the Avatar is only part of a solution to the war against the Fire Nation. The problem is that Aang is only a master at Airbending; he has yet to learn any of the other three bending abilities and thus is not a fully realized Avatar. Together, Aang, Katara, and Sokka must journey toward the Northern Water Tribe in hopes of finding a Waterbending master to train Aang--and, in conjunction, Katara.
Running parallel to Aang's journey is Zuko, a Firebender and a member of the Fire Nation's royal family--except that he's been banished, and the only way he can return to his home with honor is to capture the Avatar. With Zuko in his travels is Uncle Iroh, perhaps one of the most singularly beloved characters of the show (unless you count Appa, that is...). Personally, I couldn't imagine Zuko or Iroh without the other; the two characters go through so much character growth--especially Zuko--that it's hard not to love them by the end of the series (but more on that later).
The characters already give off a strong showing within the series, but if that wasn't enough, the world of the Avatar is filled with so much mythology and history. The Avatar line has existed for ten thousand years at this point, and so much has happened within the mortal world since then. Throughout Team Avatar's adventures, we see the world as it has been affected by the Fire Nation. Aang himself is the only Airbender left, and the Air Nomad temples are in ruins. The Earth Kingdoms are practically the only standing defenses against the Fire Nation (for now), and the Northern Water Tribe has gone into isolation.
As I've said, "Book 1" is an introductory season. Most of the focus is on the multitudes of character interactions in several places, as well as the workings of the world and the bending abilities of each nation. We learn that the Avatar is not only a bender of all four elements, but that he is also the bridge between the spirit and human world. The characters in themselves also learn this as they go along, and throughout the season, Aang, Sokka, and Katara learn their way around each other and begin to trust.
Only time will tell where Zuko falls into the relationship of Team Avatar, but with Iroh there to guide him, there's lots of hope to be had, right?
So, as I said, if you haven't already started the show, watch it. I promise that things only go up from here.