Avatar: The Last Airbender (also known as Avatar: The Legend of Aang) is an American animated television series that aired for three seasons on Nickelodeon. The series was created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who served as executive producers along with Aaron Ehasz. Avatar is set in an Asian-influenced world of Chinese martial arts and elemental manipulation. The show drew on elements from traditional Asian culture, blending the styles of anime and US domestic cartoons.
The series follows the adventures of the main protagonist Aang and his friends, who must save the world by defeating the evil Fire Lord and ending the destructive war with the Fire Nation. The pilot episode first aired on February 21, 2005 and the series concluded with a widely praised two-hour television movie on July 19, 2008.
Avatar: The Last Airbender was popular with both audiences and critics, garnering 5.6 million viewers on its best-rated showing and receiving high ratings in the Nicktoons lineup, even outside its 6–11-year-old demographic. Avatar has been nominated for and won awards from the Annual Annie Awards, the Genesis Awards, the primetime Emmy awards and a Peabody Award among others. The first season's success prompted Nickelodeon to order second and third seasons.
In other media, the series has spawned a live-action film titled The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, scaled action figures, a trading card game, three video games based on the first, second, and third seasons, stuffed animals distributed by Paramount Parks, and two LEGO sets. An art book was also released in mid-2010. Furthermore, a sequel series titled The Legend of Korra premiered in 2012. In Autumn of 2018, Netflix announced that an new live-action TV series adaptation was in production in partnership with Nickelodeon, with series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko running the project.
- 1 Production
- 2 Cultural Influences
- 3 Characters
- 4 Series synopsis
- 5 Reception
- 6 Broadcast history
- 7 Other media
- 8 Videos
- 9 References
According to Bryan Konietzko, the program was conceived in the spring of 2001 when he took an old sketch of a balding, middle-aged man and re-imagined the character as a child. Konietzko drew the character herding bison in the sky, and showed the sketch to Mike DiMartino. At the time, DiMartino was studying a documentary about explorers trapped in the South Pole.
The show was first revealed to the public in a teaser reel at San Diego Comic-Con International 2004, and aired February 21, 2005. In the United States, the first two episodes of the series were shown together in a one-hour premiere event. A second twenty-episode season ran from March 17, 2006 through December 1. A third and final season, beginning September 21, 2007, featured twenty-one episodes rather than the usual twenty. The final four episodes were packaged as a two-hour movie.
Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a fantasy world that is home to humans, fantastic animals, and spirits. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation. Each nation has its own natural element, on which it bases its society. Within each nation exists an order called "Benders" who have the innate power and ability to control and manipulate the eponymous element of their nation. The show's creators assigned each bending art its own style of martial arts, causing it to inherit the advantages and weaknesses of the martial arts it was assigned. The four types of bending are Waterbending, Earthbending, Firebending, and Airbending.
Each generation yields one person who is capable of controlling and manipulating all four elements, the Avatar, the spirit of the planet manifested in human form. When an Avatar dies, he is reincarnated into the next nation in the Avatar Cycle. The Avatar Cycle parallels the seasons: autumn for the Air Nomads, winter for the Water Tribe, spring for the Earth Kingdom and summer for the Fire Nation. Legend holds the Avatar must master each bending art in order, starting with his native element. This can sometimes be compromised when the situation requires it, as Aang demonstrates in the show. For the Avatar, learning to bend the element opposite his native element can be extremely challenging and difficult. This is because opposing bending arts are based on opposing fighting styles and disciplines. Firebending and Waterbending are opposites, as are Earthbending and Airbending.
The Avatar possesses a unique power and ability called the Avatar State; a defense mechanism which endows the Avatar with all of the knowledge, powers and abilities of all of the past Avatars and acts as a self-triggering defense mechanism, although it can be made subject to the will if the user opens his bodily Chakras. If an Avatar is killed in the Avatar State, the reincarnation cycle will be broken, and the Avatar will cease to exist. Through the ages, countless incarnations of the Avatar have served to keep the four nations in harmony, and maintain world peace and order. The Avatar also serves as the bridge between the physical world and the Spirit World, allowing him or her to solve problems that normal benders cannot.
Avatar is notable for borrowing extensively from Asian art and mythology to create its fictional universe. The show's character designs are heavily influenced by anime; the show, however, is not considered an "anime" because of its origination in the United States. Explicitly stated influences include Chinese art and history, Japanese anime, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Yoga. The production staff employs a cultural consultant, Edwin Zane, to review scripts.
Traditional East Asian calligraphy styles are used for nearly all the writing in the show. For each instance of calligraphy, an appropriate style is used, ranging from seal script (more archaic) to clerical script. The show employs calligrapher Siu-Leung Lee as a consultant and translator.
The choreographed martial art bending moves were profoundly affected by Asian cinema. Western film series such as Star Wars, and literature series such as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, were a heavy influence in developing the story ofAvatar. In an interview, the creators revealed that they wanted to tell their own epic "legend & love story."
The term "Avatar" comes from the Sanskrit word Avatāra, which means "descent." In Hinduism, the gods manifest themselves into Avatars to restore balance on earth, usually during a period of great evil. The Chinese characters that appear at the top of the show's title card mean "the divine spiritual medium who has descended upon the mortal world."
When Aang was young, he unknowingly revealed that he was the Avatar when he chose four toys out of thousands, each of which were the childhood toys of the previous Avatars. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a similar test for reincarnations of a Tulku Lama. In Magic and Mystery in Tibet, Alexandra David-Neel writes that "a number of objects such as rosaries, ritualistic implements, books, tea-cups, etc., are placed together, and the child must pick out those which belonged to the late tulku, thus showing that he recognizes the things which were theirs in their previous life." Each successor is expected to show signs of continuity with the previous Avatar, such as being born within a week of the previous Avatar's death.
Avatar draws on the four classical elements common to most ancient philosophies (rather than the five classical Chinese elements) for its bending arts: Water, Earth, Fire and Air. Although each has its own variation, most ancient philosophies incorporate these four elements in some way: examples include the classical Hindu, Buddhist, Greek and Japanese elemental traditions.
The fighting choreography of the show draws from martial arts; the fighting styles and weaponry are based on Chinese martial arts, with each bending art corresponding to a certain real-world style. The creators referred to Ba Gua for Airbending, Hung Gar for Earthbending, Northern Shaolin for Firebending, and Tai Chi for Waterbending. The only exception to this is Toph, who employs a Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis style. The series employed Sifu Kisu of the Harmonious Fist Chinese Athletic Association as a martial arts consultant.
- → Main article: List of Avatar: The Last Airbender characters
- Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen) is the fun-loving Airbender, one hundred and twelve-year-old protagonist of the series, who is biologically twelve year old but was frozen in an iceberg for one hundred years. He is the current incarnation of the Avatar, the universal spirit entity of the planet in human form. Aang is a reluctant hero, who would prefer adventure over his job as the Avatar and making friends over fighting the Fire Nation.
- Katara (Mae Whitman) is a fourteen-year-old female Waterbender of the Southern Water Tribe. Katara discovers and frees Aang from an iceberg in which he had been trapped for a hundred years. With her fifteen-year-old brother Sokka, she accompanies Aang on his quest to defeat the Fire Lord, and bring peace to the world. In the original unaired pilot episode, Katara's name was Kya; this later is implied to be her mother's name.
- Toph Bei Fong (Jessie Flower) is a twelve-year-old blind Earthbender. In the second season of the show, she leaves her wealthy family and comfortable home to join Aang on his quest, with a plan to teach him Earthbending. Though blind, Toph "sees" by feeling the vibrations in the ground through her feet. She becomes the first Earthbender to learn to bend metal, and is considered one of the most powerful Earthbenders.
- Zuko (Dante Basco) is the sixteen-year-old exiled prince of the Fire Nation and original antagonist of the series. As well as the Firebender... Due to events in Zuko's past, his father, Fire Lord Ozai, deems him a complete failure, and Zuko feels he must capture the Avatar to regain his honor. Over time, Zuko struggles to deal with his anger, self-pity, and familial relationships; meanwhile, he grows sympathetic to the peoples his nation has terrorized. In Book Three, he defects from the Fire Nation, and joins Aang and the team in order to teach Aang Firebending. At the end of the series, he is crowned ruler of the Fire Nation.
- Sokka (Jack DeSena) is a fifteen-year-old warrior of the Southern Water Tribe. With his sister Katara, he accompanies Aang on his quest to defeat the Fire Lord. The joker of the group, Sokka describes himself as "meat-loving" and "sarcastic". Unlike his companions, Sokka cannot bend an element, but the series, though it often makes him the victim of comedy at his expense, frequently grants him opportunities to use his ingenuity and weapons, including his trusty boomerang and a sword he forged from a meteorite.
- Iroh (Mako in Books 1 and 2, Greg Baldwin in Book 3) is a retired Fire Nation general, known as the Dragon of the West, and Prince Zuko's uncle and mentor. Iroh was the original heir to the Fire Nation throne until his brother usurped the throne after Fire Lord Azulon's death. On the surface, Iroh is a cheerful, kind, and optimistically eccentric old man, but he still remains a competent warrior and a devoted surrogate parent to Zuko. Iroh is a Grand Master of the Order of the White Lotus, a secret society of men from all nations and helps retake Ba Sing Se during the series finale. Unlike most Firebenders, Iroh does not use fury as the source of his strength; instead he uses the original Firebending skills learned from the Dragons. He too is one of the few Firebenders with the rare ability to shoot lightning.
- → Main article: Avatar: The Last Airbender episode list
One hundred years before the start of the series, a 12 year old Airbender Aang learns that he is the new Avatar. Fearful of the heavy responsibilities of stopping an impending world war and with the impending separation from his mentor Monk Gyatso, Aang flees from home on his flying bison Appa. During a fierce storm, they crash into the ocean, and Aang's Avatar state freezes them in a state of suspended animation inside an iceberg.
- → Main article: Avatar: The Last Airbender (Season 1)
Aang and Appa are awoken a hundred years later by two siblings of Southern Water Tribe origin, Katara and Sokka. Aang learns that the Fire Nation started a war a hundred years ago, just after his disappearance. The Fire Nation's opening move in its campaign for global conquest was to launch a genocidal attack on the Air Nomads which drove Aang's entire race to extinction, thus making him "the last Airbender" left alive. He realizes that he must fulfill his destiny of becoming the Avatar and return balance to the world by defeating the Fire Nation. Aang sets out to master the three unlearned elements: Water, Earth, and Fire. With Katara and Sokka, Aang decides to head first to the North Pole to find a Waterbending master.
Aang soon discovers that Sozin's Comet, which Fire Lord Sozin used as a power supply to start the war, will return in the coming summer, giving the Fire Nation enough power to ultimately accomplish victory. Aang realizes that he must master all four elements and end the war before this time. For most of their journey to the North Pole, the group is pursued by Zuko, a banished Fire Nation prince and son of Fire Lord Ozai who is obsessed with capturing Aang to restore his lost honor.
- → Main article: Avatar: The Last Airbender (Season 2)
After leaving the North Pole and mastering Waterbending, Aang travels to the Earth Kingdom to master Earthbending. There, the group meets Toph, a blind Earthbending prodigy who becomes Aang's second teacher. The heroes discover information about an upcoming solar eclipse which would leave the Fire Nation powerless and open to invasion. They struggle to reach the Earth King with this vital information, but are detoured by Appa's kidnapping. The psychologically self-tormented Zuko, his sister Azula, and her two friends Mai and Ty Lee chase the group as they struggle to reach Ba Sing Se. Azula engineers a coup from within that topples the Earth King and destroys any hope of a large-scale invasion of the Fire Nation.
- → Main article: Avatar: The Last Airbender (Season 3)
The group recovers from the fall of Ba Sing Se, and travel to the planned invasion site. On the day of the solar eclipse, Aang's group and a smaller band of warriors launch a smaller invasion, which ultimately fails. Zuko confronts his father and defects the Fire Nation. After a series of events, he manages to gain the trust of the protagonists and becomes Aang's Firebending teacher. Aang and Zuko unlock the true secrets of Firebending from the ancient "Sun Warriors", Sokka and Zuko later travel to a Fire Nation prison called the Boiling Rock to rescue Sokka's father and Suki, a warrior from Kyoshi Island.
On the day of Sozin's Comet, Fire Lord Ozai harnesses the comet's incredible power and energy to start a genocidal campaign to destroy the rest of the world. Aang and his friends face the self-proclaimed "Phoenix King" Ozai, Azula (now crowned as the new Fire Lord by "Phoenix King" Ozai), and the Fire Nation army. Aang confronts and defeats Ozai. At the same time, Zuko is incapacitated by Azula, who is then defeated by Katara. Zuko becomes the new Fire Lord and promises to help the world rebuild from one hundred years of war and suffering.
When the show debuted, it was rated the best animated television series in its demographic; new episodes averaged 1.1 million viewers each. A one-hour special showing of "The Secret of the Fire Nation" which aired on September 15, 2006, consisting of The Serpent's Pass and The Drill, gathered an audience of 4.1 million viewers. According to Nielsen Media Research, the special was the best performing cable television show airing in that week. In 2007, Avatar was syndicated to more than 105 countries worldwide, and was one of Nickelodeon's top rated programs. The series was ranked first on Nickelodeon in Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Belgium, and Colombia.
The series finale, Sozin's Comet: The Final Battle, received the highest ratings of the series. Its July 19, 2008 premiere averaged 5.6 million viewers, 95% more viewers than Nickelodeon had received in mid-July 2007. During the week of July 14, it ranked as the most-viewed program for the under-14 demographic. Sozin's Comet also appeared oniTunes' top ten list of best-selling television episodes during that same week. Sozin's Comet's popularity affected online media as well; "Rise of the Phoenix King", a Nick.com online game based on Sozin's Comet, generated almost 815,000 game plays within three days.
Awards and Nominations
|2005 Pulcinella Awards:|
|Best Action/Adventure TV Series||Won|
|Best TV Series||Won|
|33rd Annie Awards|
|Best Animated Television Production||Nominated|
|Storyboarding in an Animated Television Production (The Deserter)||Won|
|Writing for an Animated Television Production (The Fortuneteller)||Nominated|
|34th Annie Awards:|
|Character Animation in a Television Production (The Blind Bandit)||Won|
|Directing in an Animated Television Production (The Drill)||Won|
|36th Annie Awards:|
|Best Animated Television Production for Children||Won|
|Directing in an Animated Television Production (Joaquim Dos Santos for Into the Inferno)||Won|
|2007 Genesis Awards:|
|Outstanding Children's Programming (Appa's Lost Days)||Won|
|Primetime Emmy Awards:|
|Outstanding Animated Program (City of Walls and Secrets)||Nominated|
|Individual Achievement Award (Sang-Jin Kim for Lake Laogai)||Won|
|Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards 2008:|
|TV series (Joaquim Dos Santos for The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse)||Nominated|
|56th Golden Reel Awards:|
|Best Sound Editing in a Television Animation (Avatar Aang)||Nominated|
|2009 Peabody Award:|
|Unusually complex characters and healthy respect for the consequences of warfare.||Won|
Anime or Cartoon
The debate over Avatar being considered an anime is a controversial one; one reviewer commented that "Avatar blurs the line between anime and (US) domestic cartoons until it becomes irrelevant." Avatar has many features typical of anime, such as a color palette distinctive from most American cartoons.
Avatar creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino confirmed a particular anime influence in a magazine interview:
"The best anime balances great action sequences with humor and emotion, something we try to do on Avatar. We love all the films of Hayao Miyazaki, especially Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Both movies deal with spirituality and the environment in an entertaining way. Also, there's a lot of great animation." According to an interview with the artists of Avatar, Appa's design was based on the Catbus in My Neighbor Totoro, due to the peculiar task of creating a mammal with six legs.
Avatar draws inspiration from Shinichiro Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, as well as FLCL (Fooly Cooly) of Gainax. Other various studios from which inspiration was drawn include Studio 4 °C, Production I.G, and Studio Ghibli. Bryan has commented that some of his most cherished Watanabe fight scenes were the fight between Bebop's Spike Spiegel and a drug smuggler in "Asteroid Blues" as well as the duel between Mugen and a blind female Jojutsu-user in the Champloo episode "Elegy of Entrapment (Verse 2)." Avatar director Giancarlo Volpe also claims the staff "were all ordered to buy FLCL and watch every single episode of it."
- Nickelodeon (original run, February 21, 2005-July 19, 2008; reruns, July 20-28, 2008, August 16, 2020)
- NickToons (March 6, 2006-August 28, 2020)
Promotion and merchandising
Avatar's success has led to some promotional advertising with third-party companies, such as Burger King and Upper Deck Entertainment. Avatar-themed roller coasters at Kings Island and at Nickelodeon Universe in the Mall of America also appeared. During the show's runtime, Nickelodeon published two special issues of Nick Mag Presentsdedicated entirely to the show. Various members of the Avatar staff and cast appeared at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con International convention, while Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko appeared with Martial Arts Consultant Sifu Kisu at the Pacific Media Expo on October 28, 2006. Avatar also has its own line of t-shirts, LEGO playsets, toys, a trading card game, a cine-manga, and three video games. Also in September; Avatar: Legends of the Arena, an MMO, was released online.
The Mattel-produced action figure toy line generated some controversy with its exclusion of any female characters. Mattel came to release information stating that they have taken account of Katara's increased role within the program, and that she would be included in the figure assortment for a mid 2007 release. The figure ultimately went unreleased, however, as the entire line was canceled before she could be produced.
Nickelodeon executives have since released optimistic plans for upcoming marketing strategies in regards to Avatar. Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami openly stated her belief that the franchise "could become their Harry Potter". They expect consumers to spend about $121 million in 2007, rising to $254 million by 2009. The marketing plans are to be coincided with the release of the first live-action film based on the series in 2010, which will be the first film in a trilogy.
- → Main article: The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender, a live-action film based on the first season of the series, was released in 2010. M. Night Shyamalan directed the film, which starred Noah Ringer as Aang, Nicola Peltz as Katara, Jackson Rathbone as Sokka, and Dev Patel as Zuko. Dee Bradley Baker reprised his roles as the voice of Appa and Momo.
The film and 3D conversion was largely panned by critics and fans alike, and won five Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture in 2011. This killed the plans for sequel films adapting the second and third seasons.
- → Main article: Avatar: The Last Airbender (comics series)
Dark Horse Comics released an art book titled Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Art of the Animated Series, on June 2, 2010, which contains 184 pages of the original art and creation behind the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series. Several comic book short stories were published in Nickelodeon Magazine, and on June 15, 2011, Dark Horse released a collection of these and new comics in a single volume, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Lost Adventures.
Dark Horse also published a graphic novel series by Gene Yang that continues Aang's story after the Hundred Years' War. Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, published in three volumes in 2012, is about the fate of the Fire Nation colonies that eventually become The Legend of Korra's United Republic. A second set of three comic books, The Search, focuses on Zuko and Azula and the fate of their mother, Ursa. The third set, The Rift, shifts the focus to Aang and the process of creating Republic City, as well as Toph's relationship with her family.
- → Main article: The Legend of Korra
A sequel series, The Legend of Korra, was announced at the Comic-Con in San Diego on July 22, 2010. It was written and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators and producers of the original series. Initially titled Avatar: Legend of Korra, then The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, it takes place seventy years after the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The first season of 12 episodes aired from April to June 2012, and a second season of 14 episodes aired from September 2013 to November 2013; a third season of 13 episodes aired from June 2014 to August 2014; and the fourth and final season ran from October to December of 2014.
Home video releases
- → Main article: Avatar: The Last Airbender videography
Unlike the random-episode compilations that most Nicktoons received at the time, Paramount Home Video released the series in chronological order on DVD from January 2006 to September 2008. Paramount would release each season across a select number of single-disc DVDs, and then re-release the discs in a full season set with a bonus disc containing extra bonus features. The first season was released across five DVDs, each containing four episodes, with the full set releasing on September 19, 2006. The second and third seasons were each released across four DVDs with five episodes each, with the second season's complete set releasing in September 2007 and the third season's full set in September 2008. Paramount later released the complete series on Blu-ray in 2018, making it one of the only Nicktoons to have any releases on that format (along with The Legend of Korra and, to a lesser extent, SpongeBob SquarePants).
A video game trilogy about Avatar was made during the show's run. Avatar: The Last Airbender, the video game, was released on October 10, 2006. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Burning Earth was released on October 16, 2007. Avatar: The Last Airbender - Into the Inferno was released on October 13, 2008. The three games were loosely based on seasons one, two and three, respectively. Players can select characters and complete quests to gain experience and advance the storyline. Despite lackluster critical reviews, the games did extremely well commercially; for example, Avatar: The Last Airbender was THQ's top selling Nickelodeon game in 2006 and even reached Sony CEA's "Greatest Hits" status.
Avatar: Legends of the Arena, a video game for Microsoft Windows launched on September 25, 2008. Each user is able to create their own character, choose a nation, and to interact with others across the globe.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Art of the Animated Series :: Profile :: Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse Comics. Retrieved on 2010-03-03.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Lost Adventures :: Profile :: Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse Comics. Retrieved on 2011-07-22.
- Sunu, Steve (25 June 2012). "EXCLUSIVE: Yang Continues "Avatar: The Last Airbender" in "The Search" ". Comic Book Resources. http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=39354. Retrieved on 25 June 2012.
- Phegley, Kiel (2013-07-24). SDCC EXCLUSIVE: Yang Takes "Avatar: The Last Airbender" To "The Rift". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved on 2014-07-29.
- Avatar: Legend of Korra Details at Comic-Con?. UGO Entertainment (July 8, 2010). Retrieved on September 5, 2010.
- "Nickelodeon Sets 'Last Airbender' Spinoff For 2011 ". USA Today. Associated (Gannett Company, Inc.). July 21, 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2010-07-21-legend-of-korra_N.htm. Retrieved on September 5, 2010.
- Nickelodeon Studios Staffing Up for New "Avatar the Last Airbender" Project. Toon Zone LLC (April 19, 2010). Retrieved on April 19, 2014.
- Animation News Discussion Cartoon Community – toonzone news. Toonzone.net. Archived from the original on August 5, 2010. Retrieved on 2010-08-03.
|Created by: Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko|
|The Last Airbender||Characters||Aang • Katara • Sokka • Toph • Appa • Momo • Zuko • Iroh • Azula • Suki|
|Episodes||Book 1: Water • Book 2: Earth • Book 3: Fire|
|Other media||Video releases • Trading card game • Roller coaster ride • Lego • Video games (The Last Airbender • The Burning Earth • Into the Inferno) • Movie • Comics • Live-action series adaptation|
|The Legend of Korra||Characters||Korra • Mako • Bolin • Asami Sato • Tenzin • Lin Beifong • Pema • Jinora • Naga • Pabu • Oogi • Tarrlok|
|Episodes||Book 1: Air • Book 2: Spirits • Book 3: Change • Book 4: Balance|
|Other media||Video releases • Video game • A New Era Begins • Comics|