So, it wasn’t that long ago that I went through Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was 2020, and like a lot of people stuck at home, I discovered a show I was probably a little too old to enjoy when it was new, and it was fantastic.
Naturally, I decided to go again with my chat partner Jimmy Impossible because, well, it’s fun to chat with him and introduce him to something he hasn’t experienced before.
“The Boy in the Iceberg”
Siblings Sokka and Katara of the Southern Water Tribe find a boy and his pet air bison frozen in ice. Is this the long missing Avatar?
jimmy: The last beer Bender:
tomk: Well, that’s one way to react to a pilot episode.
jimmy: C’mon, that was clever.
jimmy: Lousy judges.
tomk: You just lost a gold star.
jimmy: Not off to a good start.
tomk: Well, neither is Aang. He’s been frozen in ice for over a century.
jimmy: Or just a few days according to him.
tomk: Too bad they didn’t also find Steve Rogers.
jimmy: We just finished that show.
tomk: Yes, but he also missed a lot of time frozen in ice only to be found by people who would become his greatest allies.
jimmy: Does Aang also get replaced by Skrulls?
tomk: No. All similarities end there.
jimmy: Ah. Makes sense.
tomk: Steve, for one, had more hair. Aang is actually older than Steve too.
jimmy: And Steve was only in the ice like 20 years originally.
tomk: Aang missed the war. Steve missed the peace.
jimmy: And Steve’s partner couldn’t fly.
tomk: He was the last time Steve saw him before freezing.
jimmy: Too bad Steve couldn’t bend air.
tomk: Yeah, well, most people can’t in Aang’s world.
jimmy: He’s the last one.
tomk: Good. You noticed the title. Get your gold star back.
And no one was a blue alien.
tomk: The Water Tribe tends to wear blue.
jimmy: Do they look like this?
tomk: The Water Tribe are the people who found Aang and took him in. You tell me.
jimmy: Well, no.
tomk: Now you know there’s another way of the water.
jimmy: When they were recapping the avatars it was reminding me of Raya and the Last Dragon.
tomk: There are probably some similarities. But this came first. And it does point out that the people who created this show actually did a very good job of creating a universe from scratch for a kids cartoon. The opening recap, an abbreviated version of which serves as the opening credits, tell you all you need to know. There are four countries: the Water Tribe (technically two tribes), the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Select individuals from each country can “bend” their country’s element. The Avatar comes along once per generation, and the reincarnation works on a rotation. The current Avatar comes from the Air Nomads, but when the Fire Nation started their war, they pretty much wiped out the Air Nomads. Now, the sequel series The Legend of Korra follows Aang’s Water Tribe successor, and this series will reveal the previous Avatar came from the Fire Nation. But since Aang was gone for a century, there really wasn’t much that could stop the Fire Nation.
As for the different peoples, the series modeled the Fire Nation after Japan, the Earth Kingdom after China, the Water Tribes after the Inuit, and the Air Nomads from the Tibetans. They also tend to wear color-coded clothing: blue for water, green for earth, red for fire, and orange for air.
jimmy: I thought the main characters looked Inuit.
tomk: That was deliberate.
Aang should look a bit like a Buddhist monk.
jimmy: With arrows.
tomk: He’s emulating your favorite Avenger, Stingray.
jimmy: He is!
tomk: Will this be the last Stingray reference for this series chat? Only time will tell.
Actually, this show came out with a three season plan, and they stuck to it to tell one story.
jimmy: I love it when a plan comes together.
tomk: And in the meantime, you can go sledding on seals with extra flippers.
jimmy: They were penguins.
tomk: With seal-like faces. The world of Avatar often has animals that mix and match two different species.
tomk: Hey, that’s one thing that Disney beat them to.
jimmy: I kind of remember that.
tomk: Well good. Do you remember Samurai Jack?
jimmy: I do.
tomk: Then did you recognize the voice of Prince Zuko’s Uncle Iroh?
jimmy: I’m guessing it was Samurai Jack?
tomk: Um, no.
jimmy: But someone on that show which I don’t think I ever watched?
jimmy: Exactly the way I order pizza.
tomk: With flaming eyebrows?
tomk: Sounds like a serious problem.
jimmy: It is.
So, that’s the uncle on the boat right? I can’t keep anyone’s name straight yet.
tomk: Ok, I can help there.
Iroh is the old uncle on the boat and one of the best characters on the show.
His nephew Zuko is an exiled prince of the Fire Nation.
The two siblings who found Aang are Sokka and Katara. Katara can waterbend a little, and her brother Sokka can’t bend at all.
Watson is your archenemy. Jenny swipes your donuts. The Moose is probably your oldest friend. Minka Kelly is Cousin Minka. And the Beaver just causes trouble.
jimmy: I better sceenshot all this.
tomk: I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it.
I mean, we didn’t get to the Cabbage Man yet.
jimmy: I hate him already.
tomk: You shouldn’t.
You’ll find out why later.
tomk: You’ll find out later.
No one is force feeding you sauerkraut.
jimmy: Thank God.
tomk: Yes, the Moose stopped Watson at the door when he came by with a big bowl of the stuff.
jimmy: Atta boy.
tomk: But you probably have a good grasp on these characters already.
jimmy: Fire bad.
tomk: Sometimes. Iroh seems harmless.
jimmy: Just the jerky nephew.
tomk: You mean the guy who isn’t allowed to go home until he completes an impossible mission?
jimmy: Yeah, that guy.
tomk: So, you’re not thinking there might be something to that burn scar around his one eye?
jimmy: Oh, I’m sure there’s something to it. Probably involving an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.
tomk: I don’t really see any guns.
tomk: Ok, what about Sokka and Katara?
jimmy: They don’t need guns.
tomk: That’s all you have to say about the girl Aang might have a thing for and her kinda doofy brother?
tomk: He is only 12.
jimmy: And the siblings are?
tomk: A little older. Katara is probably 13 and Sokka 15 or 16. Zuko is also a teenager.
jimmy: Yeah, they all seem like young teens.
tomk: I mean, technically, Aang is 112.
jimmy: I was going to say that too.
tomk: But you didn’t. I got it in first. But you wanted to, so you can have a chocolate chip cookie.
jimmy: I need it. My sugars are low.
tomk: Then take four more.
jimmy: All right, all right, all right.
tomk: We can’t have you passing out or something.
jimmy: No, we’re just getting started.
tomk: I mean, you’ve probably seen enough cartoons to know Sokka is probably a comic relief fool who will constantly screw up as he tries to be the warrior that needs to protect the women and children of his village.
jimmy: I do now.
tomk: Yeah, might want to keep that in mind.
jimmy: And Katara is the young girl that everyone dismisses and underestimates.
tomk: Except she can waterbend…a little.
jimmy: Sometimes a little is all you need.
tomk: She better be good enough with a Fire Nation ship headed their way, probably full of firebenders.
jimmy: Fire bad.
tomk: Still on that, eh? You like cold food?
jimmy: Does the microwave count?
tomk: Not in this world.
jimmy: Then cold food it is.
tomk: Also, might want to sleep somewhere warm.
jimmy: Fine, fire not always bad.
tomk: Fire is like a tool. It’s only as bad as the person using it.
jimmy: Fair enough.
tomk: I mean, you can drown in water.
jimmy: Anything can kill you.
tomk: Even love?
jimmy: People get killed over love all the time.
tomk: Well, that’s depressing. Maybe it will go better on the show when Zuko arrives at the village.
jimmy: I have a feeling, no.
tomk: You sure are a ray of sunshine.
jimmy: I call’em like I see’em.
tomk: Any final thoughts on the first episode then?
jimmy: The story is good. I think it might take a little time for the animation to grow on me, as I’ve never been a big fan of the style.
tomk: I think you’ll be pleased as we go along. You might want to keep your assumptions about certain characters in mind, particularly Sokka and Zuko.
jimmy: If I can remember who’s who.
tomk: Sokka is Katara’s brother. Zuko is the Fire Nation prince.
jimmy: Sure. I remember it now…
tomk: You got that screenshot from earlier?
jimmy: I do!
tomk: Then don’t lose it.
jimmy: I’ll put it with my picture of Watson “accidentally” getting tarred and feathered. I’ll never lose that.
tomk: Yeah, I can’t imagine who told that angry mob about Watson. I’m pretty sure the accusations weren’t even true.
jimmy: Some were.
tomk: …how did you know that, Jimmy?
jimmy: I’ve got eyes and ears everywhere.
tomk: Well, I do have one more note…
tomk: This episode was directed by one Dave Filoni. You know, the Star Wars guy.
jimmy: Oh really? Interesting. I didn’t notice that.
tomk: He directed a few in season one.
jimmy: He does love the animation game.
tomk: Regardless, you have had your first glimpse into an original world, not one based on an existing property, one that has spawned a sequel series, lots of fans, and a terrible live action movie where the only Asians in the movie played Fire Nation characters. One that cast Dev Patel as Zuko, but the experience was so miserable, Patel swore off making another big budget Hollywood movie, hence the reason you have no idea who Dev Patel is.
jimmy: But that’s way down the road.
tomk: For you maybe. I’m gonna hard pass on that movie.
jimmy: But if you watch the show…
tomk: I should watch a known bad adaptation of the first season?
jimmy: You’ll never know it’s bad until you try it.
tomk: You want to watch an M Night Shyamalan movie?
jimmy: In general, no.
tomk: Then let’s skip it. You have enough Avatar material as it is.
jimmy: Since we’ve only watched the first episode, yeah we do. 🙂
tomk: Ready for the second episode then?
tomk: Good. Because Aang never called himself the Avatar.
“The Avatar Returns”
Aang reveals his true identity in a very definitive way.
jimmy: Dave Filoni at it again.
tomk: The lightsabers were a giveaway.
jimmy: And the battle droids.
tomk: And I bet you done seen about everything when you saw a six-legged bison fly.
jimmy: I saw a five legged bison fly once. But six? I reckon I did not!
tomk: And Appa has a beaver’s tail.
jimmy: Well, how else is he gonna fly?
tomk: He can airbend?
jimmy: That probably makes more sense.
tomk: That, or Appa is full of helium.
jimmy: He wouldn’t be the first one in this chat that is full of gas.
jimmy: I didn’t say you.
tomk: The Moose then.
jimmy: Sure. The Moose.
tomk: He doesn’t say much anyway.
jimmy: He lets his antlers do the talking.
tomk: Well, that’s good. What observation did he (or you) have for the second episode?
jimmy: Aang might be more powerful than he let on.
tomk: Only when he goes into the Avatar State.
jimmy: Better than the Jerk State that fire bender operates in.
tomk: I want you to remember everything you are saying about Zuko for now for two reasons: he is not an unsympathetic character, and there are far worse members of his family still to come.
jimmy: Not surprising. The fire often doesn’t fall far from the embers.
tomk: Like his Uncle Iroh?
jimmy: He’s more a sleep bender.
tomk: He’s good for passing the buck. And he understands what truly matters in life.
jimmy: With age comes wisdom.
tomk: Aang seemed to feel bad for bursting into his room while he was napping.
jimmy: I feel bad waking people from their sleep too.
tomk: You’d make a great Avatar.
jimmy: I would.
tomk: But you’d make a terrible point guard.
jimmy: That’s true. I’m not a great ball handler.
tomk: But if you were the Avatar, you could zip around on a ball of air.
jimmy: Air you can see.
tomk: Dust and other particles caught in wind make it visible.
jimmy: Ah. That’s true.
tomk: See? Science comes into play in this magical world.
tomk: Ask any scientian.
jimmy: Can I ask Batman?
tomk: Batman’s a scientist.
jimmy: Not a scientian. My mistake.
tomk: Also not much of a dancer.
jimmy: The Batusi.
tomk: You say that like you have done it.
jimmy: I’m not Batman.
tomk: You aren’t the Avatar either, unfortunately.
jimmy: Luckily for the viewers.
tomk: But a kindly Canadian Avatar with a flying moose might be fun.
jimmy: That’s true. Maybe season four.
tomk: That would mean Aang was dead.
jimmy: Somebody’s got to be the next last airbender.
tomk: It’s sort of genetic. Aang needs to have kids or something.
jimmy: Maybe he’ll meet a nice Canadian girl and settle down.
tomk: Some kind of Jenny Impossible?
jimmy: You never know. Or he’ll end up with Katara or whatever her name is.
tomk: That is her name. Very good. Have a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels.
tomk: Yes, you are. You’re like Sokka with his boomerang.
You try, and sometimes you still hit some jerk in the back of the head.
jimmy: I guess fire benders aren’t aware of how boomerangs work.
tomk: Hey, Sokka may be many things, but he didn’t even consider running from that fight. He’s no coward.
jimmy: No. And that was before the benders showed up to help.
tomk: And he didn’t argue at all about going after Aang despite not liking him very much.
jimmy: He knows it’s a good thing to have an all powerful Wizard around.
tomk: Avatars aren’t really all-powerful. They can just bend more than most. Individual benders might even be better than Aang in their individual skills.
jimmy: Like Beckham bends soccer, Posh Spice and possibly Keira Knightley?
But there might be some better Knightleybenders.
jimmy: And where does one sign up for such a job?
tomk: First, get the Ms to sign this permission slip for the Knightleybending School.
Maybe we should get back to talking about Aang.
tomk: Good idea. He can control his breath.
jimmy: Breathing is important.
tomk: And don’t stand behind him when he does.
jimmy: Are we coming full circle to the full of gas convo?
tomk: Air is a form of gas.
jimmy: So I wasn’t wrong!
tomk: You’re on a roll.
jimmy: Speaking of on a roll, Aang doesn’t want to be the avatar. (Ugh, that made no sense. Good job, Jimmy.)
tomk: You probably didn’t want to save the world at his age. You probably just wanted an ALF doll.
jimmy: I had one. 🙂
tomk: Did it talk when you hugged it?
jimmy: No. 🙁
tomk: Well, you are still a child of the 80s. And possibly a friend of Ryan Reynolds’s.
tomk: You aren’t a friend of Ryan Reynolds?
jimmy: I’d like to be.
He is Canadian.
jimmy: I’m just shocked that ALF is coming back.
tomk: He came back in a big way before…in pog form.
tomk: But the Aang Gang is on its way to go to lots of places Aang likes before he learns to waterbend because…well, it’s been 100 years. A few more months won’t hurt anything.
jimmy: I dunno. That fire guy seems pretty intent on ending this sooner than later.
tomk: He damaged his boat. Plus, maybe Appa can fly over a continent or something.
Hard to follow by boat over a mountain range.
jimmy: Have you never heard of portage Tom?
tomk: Sure. Sometimes it’s too hot. Sometimes it’s too cold. Sometimes it’s just right.
tomk: Zuko still has a damaged boat.
jimmy: Guess they need to find a wood bender.
tomk: Those don’t exist. And his boat is made of iron.
jimmy: Is there an iron bender then?
tomk: You’ll see.
tomk: Sometimes different benders realize that if you play with your native elements, you can bend other things. I mean, this world has lightening benders.
jimmy: Wait until the water benders realize people are 60% water.
tomk: Oh, some of them know.
jimmy: This could get dark real quick.
tomk: Oh, it can.
tomk: But that’s for later.
jimmy: Right now, we got Aang going into some kinda trance when summoning his other powers.
tomk: That may not be a good thing sometimes.
jimmy: He might not be easy to deal with.
tomk: Well, yes, if you want some mindless thing running around.
jimmy: And we don’t want that. Right?
That could be dangerous.
jimmy: And “danger” is not our middle name baby.
tomk: What is?
Jimmy Nearly Impossible?
jimmy: …I don’t seem to have one. You?
tomk: It’s a secret. Trying to prevent online identity theft.
tomk: But hey, how would you like to meet a firebender worse than Zuko? And another member of the Aang Gang?
jimmy: Sounds good.
NEXT TIME: Jimmy is still learning names. Will he figure out some more by the time he and Tom discuss the episodes “The Southern Air Temple” and “The Warriors of Kyoshi.”