In honour of the 10th anniversary of Avatar: the Last Airbender, I"m sharing my reasons why the show Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel series, Legend of Korra, is awesome. If you haven"t watched it yet, get on it! Even if you are one of those close-minded people who thinks cartoons are for kids, watch it! (But not that horrid live-action version. That is trash.) Even at 10 years old ATLA and LOK are truly progressive shows that put even the most Oscar nominated dramas to shame. This is why you should be watching them:
1) Using Cultural Diversity to Enrich Story Telling
What other North American show features three non-white main characters? Two of the three are based on Inuit cultures and the title character is based on Tibetan monks. The Avatar world has four distinct cultures and all four are included fairly equally. Even when the fire nation are considered the aggressors, the writers don"t lazily make every fire bender evil. They write about good and evil in all cultures and no one is depicted as an offensive stereotype.
2) Treating People with Disabilities Like People
One of the main characters comes in halfway through the ATLA series but she proves pretty crucial right away. Toph has to be the most hardened character of the Avatar franchise. She is the best earthbender alive. She doesn"t take crap. She is completely emotionally stunted due to her warped upbringing. She is human. She is also blind, yet she is not treated like a token blind person meant only to say catch phrases or be a caricature. Toph is amazing because she is Toph and Toph just happens to be blind. The writers never try to make you feel sorry for her blindness and never treat her as untouchable because of it. They approach her in the same way as they do all the characters. They write from her context and the result is an amazing addition to the team who has become one of the most beloved of the characters.
3) Including Many Strong Female Characters
Katara, Toph, Suki, Azula, Korra, Asami, Lin, Zhu Li, and Suyin are just the major female characters that come to mind that are pretty amazing. This doesn"t automatically mean they all know Kung Fu, which seems to be the shorthand nowadays for strong. Even being able to fight isn"t the only thing that determines their realism and strength as characters. It is their confidence and their determination that makes them amazing. It is that their flaws come from complex issues and not archaic concepts of hysteria. None of these women are held up as damsels of distress or de facto prizes to male heroes. That isn"t to say they are impervious to trouble or that there are no romance storylines but none of them just give up when trouble arises or turn into different people because a guy shows up. Their actions remain true to their characters and their situations and that is what makes them strong.
4) Exploring Serious Issues
ATLA is about genocide and war. LOK is about the struggles within the self in the face of oppression and, later in the series, outright PTSD. Because these shows were intended for younger audiences too, the writers had to be more creative. They had to gain the viewer's sympathy without showing gore-not that easy when war tends to be the worst of humanity distilled-yet they manage it. Artful direction combined with more great writing help illustrate the pain of war even without seeing the actual blows. I will never hear the term "soldier boy" again without humming and sobbing under my breath again. ATLA shows that realism isn"t necessarily how much blood you can show on screen but how well you can convey emotion.
5) Being unafraid to explore true moral dilemmas
I briefly referred to good and evil in ATLA before but I want to go into it in more depth here. Good and evil are not clean cut in real life and this fact is acknowledge in both ATLA and LOK. Aang is fighting against genocide. That would typically put a person firmly in the good camp of public opinion but Aang knows it is more complicated. To do what the world expects and needs from him, he would have to give up his fundamental moral code. He struggles greatly with this, much more than any superhero in a movie for grown-ups. Korra struggles with the issues of might and right and having to question who she is and asking herself if she might be the bad guy. By contrast, let"s look at Nolan"s Batman. Batman"s only struggle is whether he feels capable enough to complete the task but he has no qualms whatsoever about resorting to vigilante justice that include tactics such as hacking into personal cell phones of the masses to get information he wants. For Batman, the end justifies the means and he never feels the slightest guilt over that. Aang and Korra don"t get off that easily. They truly comprehend their situations and that their actions have serious consequences no matter what they choose. I love that, despite these shows not being strictly for adults, they are unafraid of confronting the hardest questions.
ATLA and LOK may be cartoons but they are also complex dramas including characters of depth that are rare in any medium.