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With Netflix’s live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender set to premiere later today, Thursday, 22 February, fans are holding their breath with tentative high expectations.
Avatar: The Last Airbender needs no introduction for many, but to summarise, the animated show made its debut on Nickelodeon back in 2005. Centered around a deadly war between four nations that can bend Water, Earth, Fire, and Air, this conflict can only be stopped by a young ‘Avatar’ named Aang, who has the unique ability to manipulate all four elements.
The series resurfaced in fame in May of 2020 when it was added to Netflix and was made easily watchable during pandemic times. But the reason why fans praise the series is not just because it has become a cultural phenomenon, it is a well-written show that tackles the serious realities of war, culture, powers, and responsibility.
A BELOVED SHOW IN THE HANDS OF NETFLIX
When it was announced that Netflix was set to release eight episodes for their new retelling of the beloved series, fans were apprehensive at first. It seemed the consensus was that this could go one of two ways: surprisingly amazing, or terribly wrong. With many fans having their trust wounded by previous unfortunate adaptations which shall not be named, they were slow to trust that Netflix could deliver the level of excellence associated with the original series.
And with the original creators of the series Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, who were originally part of the development having left the adaptation due to creative differences, it left the initial purpose and excitement around the Netflix series up in the air for some time. But it seems that recent trailers and other clips have brought some welcome excitement to the new live-action show once more.
A recent promotional trailer has fans bustling in wary excitement. It featured all the much-adored familiarity of the original show, with agile element bending, faithful costuming, beloved characters, flying sky bison, thrilling music, and strong cultural influences. We can see just how closely the new show seems to be staying true to the original series, breathing new life into a childhood classic. However, there will be some differences. Showrunner Albert Kim told Entertainment Weekly: “This is Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it is our version of Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE NEW SERIES?
Aang (Gordon Cormier), Sokka (Ian Ousley), Katara (Kiawentiio Tarbell), and Zuko (Dallas Liu) each made an appearance in this new trailer, joined by Uncle Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), Azula (Elizabeth Yu), Firelord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim), Suki (Maria Zhang), and so many more. With eight episodes set to release, it is unclear at this time if the series will follow the same three-season structure the original did. It has been speculated that because there are only eight episodes, each will likely be around the 60-minute mark.
The creators of the new series have shown a strong dedication to diverse casting, with showrunner Albert Kim saying the series is “a chance to showcase Asian and Indigenous characters as living, breathing people. Not just in a cartoon, but in a world that truly exists, very similar to the one we live in.” And with the original series taking so much inspiration from Asian and Indigenous culture, this is practically a requirement.
It has already been shown that parts of the new show will deviate from the original plot, cutting some of the smaller events in favor of focusing on important moments like the Fire Nation wiping out the Air Nomads. However, it is clear from the live-action show’s description that they will be closely retracing the animated series, with the trailer showing key moments like Aang’s visit to Omashu and the taming of the black and white spirit, Hei Bai.
WHAT MADE THE ORIGINAL SO AMAZING?
Avatar: The Last Airbender is often praised as the perfect example of how to make a TV series for kids. It can be difficult to find an animated kids show that has such a spectacularly written overarching plot, well-rounded characters, stellar world-building, and doesn’t dumb itself down to appeal to children. The original animated Avatar: The Last Airbender doesn’t misjudge its audience. For many, including myself who first watched it as a young child, the show was so gripping because it felt like watching something that took both itself and me as a viewer very seriously. And that’s not to say the series didn’t have its comedic moments – because those anime-style gags were also a welcome and memorable reprieve from the dire plot (secret tunnel, anyone?).
Fans can hope that the new live-action will bring the same emotional beats, immersive world-building, and loveable characters. Avatar will always be a show centered around how war affects and harms young people, and it will always have a strong influence from Asian and Indigenous culture – which was rare to find at the time it first came out. We can hope that these central themes remain at the heart of the new show, and it seems from what we’ve seen so far that they will be.
GET READY TO RETURN TO THE FOUR NATIONS
We hope that the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender lives up to the nostalgia and magic we all remember fondly. Hopefully, we get further seasons and introductions to even more beloved characters like Toph! We anticipate this being the third wave of popularity for Avatar, as the original creators are already teasing much more in the works for the ever-popular franchise. Until then, get ready for the new live-action series to drop later today on Netflix worldwide.
Lead image: Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka in season one of ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023