Only one animated series was, and still is, the most inspirational and life-learning stories that I have ever had the blessing of watching.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is an American animated TV series produced by Nickelodeon Animation Studios. It is set in a world where a number of people can telekinetically manipulate one of four elements – water, earth, fire, or air – through practices known as “bending,” inspired by Chinese martial arts. The Avatar is the only individual who can bend all four elements, and thus has the responsibility of maintaining balance amongst the world’s four nations as well as serves as the bridge of both the spirit and physical world.
The story focuses on Aang, the current Avatar and the last survivor of his nation, the Air Nomads, along with his closest friends, Katara and Sokka, and later Toph, as they navigate their way through the nations in order for Aang to master the other three elements while helping those who were impacted by the war along the way. There is also a focus on Zuko, the Fire Nation’s exiled prince, accompanied by his Uncle Iroh, who is set on capturing Aang in order to restore his honor.
I love this series. As a child, I thought it was entertaining, funny, and full of lessons that were easier to understand. As an adult, those lessons are much more hard-hitting and relatable in many ways.
Memorable Advice from Avatar: The Last Airbender
“If I try, I fail. If I don’t try, I’m never going to get it.” —Avatar Aang
“Look, you’re going to fail a lot before things work out. Even though you’ll probably fail over and over and over again. You have to try every time. You can’t quit because you’re afraid you might fail.” —Prince Zuko
“It is important to draw wisdom from different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.” —Uncle Iroh
“Sometimes the best way to solve your own problems is to help someone else.” —Uncle Iroh
“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.” —Uncle Iroh
“I know sometimes it hurts more to hope and it hurts more to care. But you have to promise me that you won’t stop caring.” —Katara
“There’s no different angle, no clever solution, no trickety trick that’s gonna move that rock. you gotta face it head-on.” —Toph
“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.” —Avatar Aang
“The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation. Things you think are separate and different are actually one and the same.” —Guru Pathik
“The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void, but always yields to purifying light.” —The Ancient Lion Turtle
Why I'm Inspired by Avatar Aang
He is one of the most gentle, empathetic, and compassionate individuals.
He is highly playful, charismatic, and light-hearted.
He is compassionate and often willing to give people a second chance.
He has an observant and insightful personality, making him extremely wise for his age.
He is protective and loyal towards his loved ones.
He has the will and excitement to learn new things.
He possesses a deep respect for life and freedom.
Why I'm Inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender
The characters are the epitome of natural humor, with a lot of them being more understandable and relatable as an adult, looking at Sokka and Zuko. Aang has that innocent and childlike humor. Toph has those honest remarks kind of humor. And then Sokka and Zuko have those sarcastic, dad jokes, and relatable adult complaints humor. Many of them happen within their banters and also reflects on the relationships between the characters. With everything going on in the series, it was a joy seeing these characters create a light atmosphere every now and then.
MULTIPLE CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, AND ANIME INFLUENCES
There is heavy East Asian art and mythology throughout the series. The character designs are influenced by Chinese art and history, Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, and Yoga. The Earth Kingdom city of Ba Sing Se was inspired by the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China in Beijing, whereas the Water Nations were inspired by the Inuit and Sireniki cultures.
The bendings were derived from Chinese martial arts – Waterbenders used the movements influenced by T’ai chi, Earthbenders used the firmly rooted stances and powerful strike movements influenced by Hung Gar, Firebenders incorporated the strong arm and leg movements of the Northern Shaolin, and Airbenders used the dynamic circular movements of the Bagua Zhang.
In an interview with IGN, co-creators, Bryan and Mike, mentioned: “Our love for Japanese Anime, Hong Kong action & Kung Fu cinema, yoga, and Eastern philosophies led us to the initial inspiration for Avatar.” “Bryan and I love the films of Hayao Miyazaki. The stories and emotional depth of Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke were big inspirations for us when we began creating Avatar. Also, the character design and animation of Fooly Cooly from studio Gainex was influential as well.”
Touched on sensitive issues rarely seen in youth entertainment
It was not as easy to notice these themes as a child, but as an adult, they hit us right in the face. All of the themes were brilliantly executed in ways that illustrate the gravity of each while staying true to the young censorship of the series.
The darker themes include: war, genocide, imperialism, colonialism and totalitarianism, gender discrimination, and marginalization and oppression. On the other hand, there are the beautiful themes of women empowerment, fate, destiny, and free will.
The show also included themes with physical and societal limitations, such as Toph being blind, or Teo being in a wheelchair. Or that Katara wasn’t originally allowed to be taught waterbending in the Northern Water Tribe due to her being female, and Sokka not originally accepting the strength of the all-female Kyoshi warriors.
CHARACTERS' GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
What I often forget is that the entire series essentially takes place within one year. The main characters are only between the ages of 12 – 16, or 112 if you count Aang’s biological age. But within this one year, all of the characters have organically grown emotionally and mentally. The characters went through forgiving, abandonment, healing, going out of their comfort zone, death, friendship, finding their own skill, betrayal, reflecting, and even changing their overall perspective and outlook on life. They went through one heck of a ride, and I love and appreciate that we get to see them come out victorious.
I would like to highlight the characters, Prince Zuko and his Uncle Iroh. Their relationship is one of a kind and there are truly no other characters that I have seen that have managed to have a bond and character background as they have. Prince Zuko, a teenage boy who had always thought it was his destiny to gain back his honor from the very same father who banished him years ago until he manages to capture the Avatar had gone through the most well-developed character growth I’ve ever seen. And it wasn’t in an instance, we see him struggling through multiple episodes about who he is and what he wants to make of his life.
Uncle Iroh. I love him. A man who takes life with just a cup of hot tea, smiles his way through many obstacles and is an encyclopedia for wisdom. No one would think that he had gone through such a heartbreaking situation years prior but still manages to keep his pain aside and find the brighter side of things.
STRONG PHILOSOPHICAL AND SPIRITUAL MESSAGES
Watching the series, I’ve always felt like their mentors are also my mentors. Whatever they would teach to Aang and his friends, or the lessons that the group had learned themselves, I did my best to remember and allow these lessons to be part of how I live my life. Through their normal conversations and banters, there would often be a hidden, meaningful message that can be significant to anyone of any age.
Amazing illustrations and powerful musical score
Watching the series back then, it was clear that the animation was nothing like the other Nickelodeon cartoons. It definitely touched on the anime-style animations, and I love how it turned out to be. The characters look amazing, the animals are intriguing, and the nations look phenomenal. The score was done through a variety of instruments, such as the guzheng, pipa, and duduk to incorporate their Asian inspired setting. I think it adds to the emotional impact of the narrative and is executed well enough to relate it directly to the show.
DEEP AND RICH NARRATIVE
I can’t help but be in awe of the intricate world of Avatar: The Last Airbender. A world divided into four nations of the most classical elements where certain individuals can be able to manipulate them through bending? Not only do we explore these nations, but we get a feeling of their historic developments, governing societies, and witness the war from those who are in the middle of it, though have not asked for it. We see moments of life being taken away, and life is born. We witness the growth and spiral of each and every main character every step of the way. From the inspiration to the themes, the writers of this magical masterpiece had brought a different world mixed with reality and hope.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a legend of its own.
It comes into my life whenever I need their lessons the most and I will always cherish the stories it has given me. Aang and his friends taught me a lot, and the two things they inspire me to do each, and every day is to: continue to have hope – hope in the world, hope in others, and hope in myself; and the key to life is balance. It was revealed in the introduction that the role of the Avatar is to keep the four nations in balance, and we see this theme play throughout the series with Aang learning to open his chakras to learning in the first season that the original water benders are the Yin Yang spirit.
You can watch all Avatar: The Last Airbender Seasons and its Sequel, The Legend of Korra, on: Netflix.
Have you seen Avatar: The Last Airbender? If so, what are your favorite characteristics of the show and/or storyline? If not, what are some animations that you love?