Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender delivers an enjoyable watching experience despite lacking the magic of the original

Piyush Singh
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Netflix's live-action series, Avatar: The Last Airbender reimagined the beloved classic but fails to bring out the same appeal as the original.

We have all watched and loved the story of Avatar: The Last Airbender as kids and when Netflix announced its adaptation, we were eager to see the outcome. And the 8-episode-long Netflix live-action series reimagines the world of Avatar through a different lens. This adaptation takes a different approach as it delves deeper into character development and thematic exploration rather than sticking to the fun vibe of the original. It focuses more on adding depth to its characters and exploring major themes more extensively. Despite its varied approach, it succeeds in these aspects, outweighing its shortcomings and making it a good enough reinterpretation of the beloved series. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in a fictional world where certain people, known as "benders," can manipulate the four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. Four nations used to live in harmony until the Fire Nation started a war. The story follows Aang, the last surviving Airbender and the Avatar, who is tasked with mastering all four elements and bringing balance to the world. Alongside his friends, Aang goes on a journey filled with adventure, self-discovery, and conflict, as they face off against the tyrannical Fire Nation and its ruthless ruler, Fire Lord Ozai. Throughout the series, themes of friendship, redemption, and the consequences of war are explored, making it a beloved and enduring classic. 

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Fans know that Avatar is not just supposed to fight in the wars, but also act as a diplomat, and peacemaker inspiring harmony within communities. Despite it being too much to ask from a kid, Aang does his best when the situation demands it. In the animated series, Team Avatar travels the world, witnessing the war's horrifying consequences and striving to improve situations wherever they can. Despite dealing with complex political tension, the animated series maintained a light, entertaining, and fun tone. The Netflix's adaptation, however, works in contrast and adds dramatic depth to the characters and their situations.

Each character has been profoundly affected by the war, influencing their actions, which works well for a series exploring the themes of political tension. As the main characters travel from one place to another, they encounter diverse communities, each bearing the scars of war in different ways. Some seek vengeance, while others resign themselves to lives of fear. This adds meaningful layers to the story and gives answers to why the world of Avatar has been pushed into such hopelessness. Even Aang carries an emotional burden, filled with regret for fleeing when the world needed him most. The show provides ample time for him to reflect on his actions, face their consequences, and make peace with them. Both versions offer distinct appeals.

Even as they explore more of the horrifying consequences of hate within nations, the live action lacks the fun tone of the animated series that we are accustomed to, but the actors manage to pulled it off. The way Gordon Cormier captured the playfulness of Aang’s character and delivered his ideas of anti-war philosophy is truly amazing.

Regarding the duo of Uncle Iroh and Prince Zuko, there have been some additional scenes to the storyline, adding more dimension to the bond they share. Dallas James Liu as Zuko is powerful and full of anger and desperation as we know him to be. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Uncle Iroh is funny, interesting, and wise on screen as we expect. But Appa and Momo, unlike the original series, do not get enough screen time to shine; they don't support the story too much. And unfortunately, they end up being nothing more than loyal pets.

If you were disappointed by M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action movie, especially when it came to how they animated bending styles, you can appreciate how it's done in this show. The show also managed to make the setup of different cities look amazing. Everything from props, makeup to costumes, looks beautifully accurate to its original source, succeeding in its attempt to bring the animated world to life.


However, the series lacks the original elements of the show which made the animated version of it super likable, the gradual worldbuilding. The series version, reveals many major aspects like the genocide of the Air Nomads, Aang's relationship with Gyatso, the inner conflict Aang feels as the Avatar, and why Zuko is desperately searching for the Avatar, in the first episode. This takes away the element of thrill for those experiencing this worldbuilding for the first time.

The pacing felt a bit rushed, keeping us from exploring more of the characters like Katara and Sokka. While Sokka is the funniest in the cast as we expect him to be, Katara’s character falls flat in some situations. The character of Azula doesn't feel as “evil” and “manipulative” as one would expect. The show has also skipped the part where they showed the bitter relationship between Zuko and his sister. Apart from that, it seemed as if Lord Ozai is more inclined towards liking Zuko and Azula has to work hard for his attention, which is the exact opposite of what happened in the original series. Having to  explore this vast storyline in a limited number of episodes, may have led to some characters being underdeveloped.

In the animated show, team Avatar dealt with the problems together with their unique abilities while in the live action, Aang seems to be the one taking care of major challenges including communicating with Avatar Roku, dealing with King Bumi, traveling to the Spirit World to make a deal with Koh, protecting Kyoshi Island on his own. Aang’s friends and companions play little to no role in helping him navigate through all this. The previous Avatars like Kyoshi, Kuruk, and Roku tried to get Aang to believe that as an Avatar being surrounded by people they love could be a weakness. Though Aang's friends challenge the belief, in the end, it looks so shallow compared to their teamwork in the animated series. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender is now streaming on Netflix

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