Avatar, the Last Air Bender, a Review

Avatar, the Last Air Bender
The Complete Book 1 Collection: a DVD collection of the
anime cartoon series by Nickelodeon 2005
(Further DVD’s available for the rest of the series, through 2008)

Worldview: Moral, without an apparent higher power. Eastern flavor; spirits occasionally join the action.

My kids enjoy watching DVD’s of this set of anime animated tales. It’s popular among their peers. I think it’s time we took it apart.

One review pegs the creation of this series to the advent of Harry Potter, and a demand for more complex, fully-conceived children’s TV. This series has an overarching story and an eventual final episode that wraps up the loose ends. It has a well-formed story line.

It portrays a world where there are four nations. They are named after the elements: earth, water, air, and fire. The conflict is provided by the Fire Nation, which is trying to take over the other nations and has, at the beginning of the series, succeeded in wiping out the Air Tribe–with the exception of Aang, who has been sleeping in a iceberg for 100 years.

Certain individuals in each tribe have super abilities called “bending,” which involve ability to use the element special to their tribe for martial-arts style fighting, or for feats of superhuman strength. Others don’t have these abilities at all. Benders in the Water Tribe can gesture to throw ice crystals. Benders in the Fire Nation can throw fire. Benders in the Earth Kingdom can gesture to throw rocks and open cracks in the earth. Air Nomad benders can create winds. There is only one individual who can learn to bend all four, and that is the Avatar.

The Avatar is assigned the task of bringing peace among the four nations. It appears to be a position somewhat like the Tibetan Buddhists believe about the Dalai Lama. When an Avatar dies, his spirit goes to the spirit world, and another Avatar is soon born and identified. So it’s sort of a reincarnation cycle. The Avatar dresses like a young Buddhist monk.

The Avatar at any given time has the ability to travel to the spirit world and discuss things with his predecessors. Since he can learn all types of bending, he can become very powerful. But the Avatar in these stories is only 12 years old and has a lot to learn. This is Aang.

It is never discussed where the Avatar’s assignment comes from. Perhaps the writers of this series are assuming an Eastern sort of God, who isn’t a person at all but rather more of a life force. In one episode the Moon is shown to be a person, of sorts, or a goddess? It’s not clear. However, my kids aren’t out to worship the moon goddess because of watching this episode. They can tell it is fantasy.

I believe the Eastern idea of morality is really more a matter of tribal loyalty. Instead of a story with bad guys and good guys, there would be a story of Group 1 versus Group 2. The groups wouldn’t differ markedly except in their allegiances. (If I am wrong, please set me straight!)

But this set of tales is made by Nickelodeon, which is American. The writers are Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. These sound like American names, not Japanese names. I suppose this is why the bad guys, the Fire Nation, really do behave like bad guys. The primary bad guy Fire Lord Ozai is ruthless, even to his son. My kids told me they think that the Fire Nation behaves like the Japanese did in World War II, trying to take over the world.

So the Avatar is a tale with a moral compass. It is full of well-developed characters, including plucky kids who don’t give up. There is a satisfying happy ending. But the tale also has some Eastern mythology underlying it. You can decide whether to expose your kids to it.–Phyllis Wheeler

9 thoughts on “Avatar, the Last Air Bender, a Review

  1. Andrew

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  2. Emily

    I would just like to point out that in the series, there is no moon “goddess
    There is a moon spirit and there’s also many other spirits. There’s a spirit world. The avatar is the bridge between our world and the spirit world.

  3. Heather M. Glover

    The Avatar, is not only tasked with bringing back peace to the four nations, but he is also tasked
    with reuniting the nations and putting an end to Fire Lord Ozai’s ruthless reign. It was never discussed
    what Aang’s assignments were, simply because it was implied. Aang was taught while he was
    still at the Air temple, that all life is of value and that wrongs must be righted and justice has to prevail.
    The writers assumed that the typical viewing age would understand that and created the show around
    that fact.
    Princess Yue, was actually Sokka’s first love (again this was implied), and because of the siege
    at the Northern Water Temple, she gave up her life to keep the balance between Tui and La;
    which was Yin and Yang. After Yue’s birth, Arnook (Yue’s Father) asked the former moon spirit to
    save Yue’s life. So the moon spirit endowed her with some of her life force. Because the siege was
    getting out of control, Yue knew what she had to do to save her people. She gave her life and became
    the new moon spirit.
    All children should be exposed to this series. It is not harmful and will not delude your children.
    It has a lot of similar mythology to that of actual asian culture; ie: The Island of Kiyoshi, to Japan’s
    Kyushu Island. It also has the bending forms based off of actual martial arts styles. Earthbending
    is based off of Hung Gar; but the exception being Toph, who’s form was based off of Southern
    Praying Mantis or Chu Gar. Waterbending is based off of Tai Chi. Fire bending is based off
    Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, which also blends Xingyiquan and Southern Dragon Claw; and lastly
    Airbending was based off of Ba Gua.
    This is a great cartoon to let children sit and watch. They ask questions
    and they get answer. It goes far beyond the whole “hit on the head and still get up” tactic,
    that most cartoons have. When a character gets hit on the head, they simply die or are seriously hurt.
    Like the character Jet, that was battling his moral compass and agenda. Jet ends up getting killed
    under Lake Logai by Long Feng, whom had manipulated him. This series is a definite must watch.
    Not just for children but for adults as well. Also for anybody that likes asian culture and mythology.

  4. Jade

    Avatar:The Last Airbender is a really well-done anime show. The story plot was very well-done, and it was fun to watch. There is no god in the story, as eastern mystic stuff with spirits of nature and etc. come in sometimes. Overall it is really good. At some point in each section or part of the series, one or two characters always deals with some struggle, whether anger at an enemy, or finding their place as a leader, or choosing their destiny. There is a pretty fair balance of right and wrong. Some parents may not want their kids to watch this because of the spirit-stuff that’s thrown in on occasion, but its not evil. Two big thumbs up to Avatar!

  5. Rob Holding

    I’m sorry Phyllis but I cannot agree with your summation. Avatar is a tale of WORLDY moral compass. It certainly does not contain a Christian worldview nor is there anyplace in it for God (let alone Jesus). The spiritual message programs like this give to young impressionable minds is incredibly dangerous. It IS harmful and WILL delude some children. The Bible clearly tells us to have NOTHING to do with these things.

    And I’m intrigued by the use of a dragon on your page considering what the Bible has to say about dragon and Satan.

    Sorry, I think we give too much space to the enemy and his view of things.

    Parents, keep your kids AWAY from New Age/Buddhist traps like this, they will steal your children.

  6. Editor Post author

    Hi Rob,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your view. Anybody else have an opinion about the Last Air Bender?

    As for dragons, I think a picture of a dragon is harmless, personally. Now, if I’m thinking it’s a picture of Satan, it wouldn’t be harmless. So possibly that depends on the viewer.

  7. Pieter

    Dear Rob Holding.

    Why are you insulting children like this? You probably won’t believe this, but children are intelligent. They KNOW the difference between fiction and reality. The fact that you say that children will be stolen by the new age is absurd. Many children have read Harry Potter. Did those children become wiccans? OF COURSE NOT.

  8. Dylan

    *sorry for any typos I was writing this on my iPhone while waitin in line *

    Avatar the last Airbended is probably the most Christian thing I have seen on secular Television in the last 20 years. Obviously it is not a blatant retelling of Christianity or stories from the bible, but look at all the similarities to Christianity they have! Jesus coming to earth not as a grown mighty warrior but as a child of peace (Ang was a child from the air bending culture that practices peace and non violence). Zuko (the son of the evil fire lord charged with hunting down the avatar) has an amazing sin to grace story being consumed with anger and hate and trying to achieve heaven (capturing the avatar) on his own and always coming up short and only when he breaks down and begs for forgiveness does be change as a person and the Avatar comes to him ( realizing we are sinful and have no ability to impress God on our own and ask for forgiveness to be humble and full of grace through God)

    The list goes on and on. Where this show might not snag any non Christians it is more than useful to be a wonderful teaching tool to kids who are just starting to learn about Christianity.

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