Why Avatar: The Last Airbender? In short, because it’s a series I appreciate, and it happens to be fairly popular to boot. There are several virtues that are particularly noteworthy, but foremost it is a visually beautiful show. The creators not only take pride in the artistic quality of the show, but they love the world that they’re creating and invite us to do the same vicariously through the characters.
And the characters clearly appreciate what they have, as when Aang rides his ball of air while cheering with glee as he finds creative paths around obstacles, the beauty of the elements being moved through bending, or simply the attention to detail of characters, costumes, animals, and vegetation. Especially in the light moments of pure delight – riding penguins, the joy of flight, or the use of mystical powers for cheeky fun.
The music is also remarkable for its attention to style and pairing with the changing themes of an episode, the various characters, and of course, the different states of the Avatar himself. It’s a shame that Nickelodeon hasn’t released the soundtrack to this series: it would make for great listening even outside the context of the show.
There are some caveats, and the most obvious one is the Eastern mysticism that undergirds the show. While not explicitly religious, it’s not hard to see how the show takes many of its cues from Tibetan Buddhism and lamas, particularly the Dalai Lama. Eastern influence also informs Avatar’s understanding of life force or chi. This comes up in conversations about ‘bending’ or about the body, usually with various explanations of how both have something to do with working with one’s life force or the forces in the world.
We can licitly appreciate and enjoy things with elements contrary to our own faith, provided that we are not confused about what it and isn’t true, and that what we are watching is not objectively immoral (as would be the case with, say, pornography). I would encourage any parent to watch this show with their child(ren) and discuss these (and other) potentially confusing elements with them. Why don’t we believe in reincarnation? What do we believe about the body, soul, and spirit?
The real value of a show, however, isn’t in what it does poorly or in the trappings that surround the story – it is in the world-building, character development, and lessons learned along the way. This show has that in spades, and I look forward to reflecting on them. I’m not a professional reviewer, nor an experienced commentator (beyond expressing my own opinion), and I hope that my amateur efforts don’t put you off from the content. I’m fairly confident that you won’t regret giving this show a chance – I certainly don’t!