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    Updated on Sep 5, 2020. Posted on Aug 4, 2020

    18 Things "Avatar: The Last Airbender" Has That Most Adult Shows Don’t

    Time to rewatch it again.

    Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the best-written shows of all time.

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    Those who have seen it know.

    It's funny, intense, and heartfelt. But even more than that, it contains elements a LOT of teen or adult shows don't have.

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    Warning: Spoilers ahead.

    1. First of all, it gets better as it goes, and there are no bad episodes:

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    The first few episodes are a bit slow, but necessary to build up and establish the plot and characters. From that point on, it just continues to build, and every single episode feels better than the last. Even episodes that don't seem like they're that important at the time (even if they're entertaining) always come back later, and you quickly learn to trust that every episode is integral to the show. Each season gets better and better, and it feels like a good show should when it ends: leaving you satisfied, yet still wanting more.

    2. It has an amazing non-western-based magic system:

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    I feel like Harry Potter set a standard of what magic would look like in modern media, and some shows and films are still trying to get out from under that. But Avatar takes us back to the roots of elements and creates a system that is both simple and exciting. It feels deeply entrenched with a mythology and actual East Asian philosophies like Buddhism. It also has non-magic characters blended in seamlessly. It brings magic back to the body, and the way different movements and even philosophies were tied to the different elements brought so much more dimension to the world, making it feel fully fleshed out.

    3. It has redemption arcs and character development that is never abandoned:

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    The most obvious example is Zuko, who goes from a super angry kid hunting the Avatar to regain his honor to a man actively helping Aang take down his father and leading his nation to peace. But I would argue Iroh has just as strong an arc (albeit starting long before the events of the show): going from trying to conquer Ba Sing Se and become Fire Lord to liberating Ba Sing Se from Fire Nation soldiers. Aang gets a huge arc of going from a fun-loving kid to a true leader. Sokka also gets a great arc, going from a sexist prideful annoyance to a humble true warrior. Even more minor characters like Jet, Ty Lee, and Mai get them! Every character has an arc that feels earned and satisfying, and while there are times they take steps back, the show never just throws away arcs (cough cough, Jaime Lannister, cough cough).

    4. And proper backstories:

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    All of our characters' personalities feel completely natural based on their backstories, and we know where all of them came from. The campfire scene is a great example of a scene we didn't necessarily need in the show: Ty Lee and Mai were not huge characters. But it was such a great moment that showed the writers knew every character's backstory and why they were the way they were. This made their arcs even more believable.

    5. There's a well-written, consistent villain:

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    While the Fire Lord is obviously a large villain in the show, the more active antagonists are Zuko and then Azula. Azula's entrance is well-earned and paced, and her character's evil is truly explored over the course of Seasons 2 and 3, as well as her descent into (SPOILER ALERT) paranoid insanity. She is completely three-dimensional, and the fact that a character who is already so evil could be driven to pure insanity by something as simple as her two best friends standing up to her is so well done.

    6. ...But layered representations of villains in war:

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    While the show makes it pretty clear the Fire Lord (and likely Azula) are beyond redemption, its depiction of the Fire Nation as a whole is very layered. At first, the entire Fire Nation seems evil, with the exception of maybe Iroh (who we like, but isn't exactly stopping Zuko on his quest). But over the course of the show (like when they accidentally take a Fire Nation baby, or when Aang enters a Fire Nation school), we learn that the Fire Nation citizens are oppressed in their own way and are really not so different from everyone else. So many of our "villains" get redeemed/are likable, like Zuko, Ty Lee, and Mai. This is actually a really sophisticated message for a kid's show and I would argue a message missing from many movies, where the bad side is simply evil/inhuman.

    7. Also, it's very clear that there are bad people on both sides:

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    Like the Earth Kingdom soldiers who abuse their power that Zuko stops, or people like Jet, who attempt to wipe out an innocent village because it'll kill Fire Nation people, or Hama, who teaches Katara bloodbending. In the episode where they go to the library, the spirit there points out that while Aang and his friends think their violence/war is justified, most people waging war normally do. I don't think most war-based shows are quite as anti-war as Avatar, which is actually much more about trying to save everyone rather than win a war.

    8. And that even the "good guys" can be capable of horrible things like brainwashing their people and using a puppet ruler to carry out their own wishes:

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    The whole depiction of Ba Sing Se was done so well. Avatar was so good at showing different systems of oppression and government propaganda on every side. It felt so realistic and reflective of actual history, and I also loved how we saw that Aang wasn't able to beat it. In the end, the citizens never knew there was a war until the Fire Nation took over, showing that sometimes the harder villains to beat are the ones on our side. This is once again a super sophisticated message that many shows don't have.

    9. ...Which means that it doesn't sugarcoat things like war:

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    Even though it's a war show, it doesn't make you want to go to war. Horrible things happen, and the characters grapple with the intense responsibility they have on their shoulders. We see the terrible effects of war, from poverty to death to corruption to insanity, even from the start, like when Aang realizes his entire people have been wiped out. This is super different from other shows and films that seem to kill people casually (like Buffy or The Vampire Diaries) or even glorify violence and war (like American Sniper).

    10. The female characters are not sexualized, and there are strong feminist messages:

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    The female characters do not feel created/animated for the male gaze, which is a HUGE difference from many shows. However, they still combat sexism in a realistic way, especially when Katara is refused lessons at the Northern Water Tribe due to her gender. While part of the way she proves she deserves the lesson is through skill, it's also interesting that it happens through Katara losing her temper. Instead of this being scene as "hysterical," her ambition and anger is actually respected instead of made fun of. The Kyoshi warriors are another great example: their fighting style is very "feminine" and uses techniques that turn the enemy's weight and lack of control against them. It doesn't feel like the women have to "fight like men" to succeed. They have their own power and skills and advantages that are fully used, no matter how feminine or not they are.

    11. There are strong characters with disabilities:

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    Avatar felt really groundbreaking in that characters with disabilities were fully fleshed out and three-dimensional, but also in that these characters' disabilities actually caused them to innovate and learn to do things in a more creative (and sometimes better) way. Toph's earthbending is good because she learned how to do it while blind; Teo and his father's inventing skills enable him to do things those who can walk can't, like fly. These characters were never pitied or made fun of, yet their disabilities were also never forgotten (like Jamie losing a hand and it never affecting him, or Arya becoming blind only for a second in Game of Thrones).

    12. There's comic relief that isn't offensive or mean:

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    So many 2000s shows age poorly because many of the jokes are offensive or mean. It helps that this is a kids show, but it's unique in that unlike a lot of kids shows, the comedy is still funny for adults. That's because A) it's largely physical, which is an underused comedy type nowadays, and B) a lot of the comedy is actually sort of sophisticated: Sokka is the comic relief character, but not because he's stupid or incapable. Usually he's funny because he's making the jokes, but often he's funny because he's getting put in his place after being mean or sexist (almost like All in the Family). In that way, it never feels mean, and it clearly denotes when what Sokka is saying is okay and when it isn't; and he's still a fully fleshed-out, capable character who knows he is funny, unlike many two-dimensional characters from something like Parks and Recreation or The Office.

    13. There are great, consistent minor characters:

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    This is one of the things that is most different about Avatar. SO often, minor characters are completely forgotten in TV shows (like basically every teen drama I can think of). Entire storylines seem ignored, but in Avatar, characters always come back, sometimes seasons after we've seen them last. It's clear that although the story is about our main characters, other characters still have full lives and journeys outside of the main characters. Old storylines are continuously referenced and built upon. The writers have clearly done their homework.

    14. There's an amazing score and original music:

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    I would honestly compare the score to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. There are different scores for different characters and places — most notably for Azula. You know she's about to come out when they play the same creepy music that fits her brand of evil so well. Also, who can forget "Leaves from the Vine" and "Secret Tunnel"? While most might not notice the music of the show, that actually proves how amazing it is — it blends seamlessly and adds to the emotions of every moment.

    15. The show has great found/untraditional families:

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    Family can mean so many different things in Avatar. Sokka, Katara, Aang, and Toph truly become a family as many of them are missing parents or don't have a good relationship with them. Iroh and Zuko is also a great example of how sometimes the best people to guide us in life aren't our parents. So many kids grow up in nontraditional or even toxic families, and it's really important to show that we are able to make our own families that are equally valid...as opposed to shows where family is shown to be king, no matter how toxic.

    16. And wonderful spiritual messages/lessons:

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    The chakras episode was so interesting and educational, but it's not the only time East Asian ideas and philosophies were mentioned or taught on the show. The spirit world and the way the Avatar is reincarnated are just two examples of this. The air nomads in particular seem very influenced by Buddhism. There are also really great messages about what it means to be a man and also to be a hero, as well as what actually gives you honor.

    17. There's an epic final battle with all our characters:

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    Man, was this finale satisfying. We got an AMAZING battle between Aang and the Fire Lord, where Aang used all four elements, intercut with Sokka and Toph working together (such a huge moment!! Two characters who were historically suspicious of others/trusted only themselves had to trust each other so much!!) with Suki to take out the entire fire fleet AND Azula and Zuko having their epic final battle AND Iroh taking back Ba Sing Se. Every storyline ended exactly as it felt meant to: At first, I was worried Katara wouldn't get her moment, but having her ("a peasant girl") be the one to finally take down Azula through controlled skill (in contrast to Azula's unhinged fury) was so amazing.

    18. And finally, the show has the perfect ending:

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    Don't get me wrong, I ship Katara and Zuko all the way, but having the final scene with Katara and Aang did feel right. Iroh had his tea shop, Zuko and Aang stepped out to the Fire Nation as friends, and Zuko set out to find his mother. It felt like there was still story left to explore and their lives would go on, but the main story was done. While I would've loved the show to go on much longer, there is something beautiful about a show ending on its own terms.

    Alright, that's all I got. What are you waiting for?? Go watch Avatar!!

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