After I reviewed The Nutshack, one of the worst cartoons of all time, I said I’d talk about a good cartoon in my next review. There are so many great cartoons that it’s taken me quite a long time to decide which of them I should discuss first. My first thought was to talk about my favourite cartoon airing today, but reviewing that would require more context than I wanted to give in this article. Therefore I decided to start by reviewing my favourite cartoon—my favourite show, in fact—of all time!
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Where do I start with this show? Everything about it is exceptional! Perhaps the most important thing about it is that it was planned out from the beginning, so it doesn’t have the sort of problems that most shows have. The show’s arc essentially follows a three-act structure over the course of its three seasons, making it the best-paced show I’ve ever seen, and each season is even better than the one that preceded it. The only thing I can find wrong with it is that M. Night Shyamalan decided to make a movie based on its first season, but even that only serves to increase one’s appreciation for the show.
It’s Not Magic. It’s Waterbending!
“Water, Earth, Fire, Air… My grandmother used to tell me stories about the old days, a time of peace, when the avatar kept balance between the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads… But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked.”
Avatar, as you might have guessed from the quote above, is a high fantasy epic. To each of the four nations are born some individuals who have the ability to control their nation’s corresponding element, referred to as “bending” the element, through martial arts. The reincarnating avatar is the only person who can bend all four elements, and he bears the responsibility of keeping balance between the four nations.
The bending is what makes the action scenes in particular so breathtaking. Each of the four styles of bending is based on a different martial art, making each one totally distinct from the others, and the choreography is phenomenal! The animation is one of the first things you notice about a cartoon, and the animation in Avatar is amazing.
What’s even better than the action, however, are the characters. I don’t even want to talk much about the individual characters in this article for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t yet seen the show. The characters in Avatar are what really keeps you glued to the screen; the main characters are all complex, compelling, and likeable. Aang, Sokka, Katara, Toph, Zuko, Iroh, and Azula are all some of storytelling’s most unforgettable characters. Over the course of the show, each of the chief characters grows and develops, as do their relationships with one another. Even many of the less prominent characters like Jeong Jeong are unforgettable!
Of course, with a show this great, it goes without saying that the voice-acting is great. Iroh, for instance, is voiced by the late great Mako. Another great thing about the casting is that the younger characters are voiced by actors who are the same age as their characters, and you can hear them gradually getting older over the course of the show. At the same time, the drawings become gradually more mature, although both these changes are imperceptible unless one watches two episodes side-by-side from the beginning and end of the show. This makes the characters even more dynamic and makes them feel even more real.
Drama, Comedy, and Martial Arts
“I’m just the guy with the boomerang. I didn’t ask for all this flying and magic!”
From beginning to end, Avatar is the only show I know of to never have had a single bad episode in three seasons. The stunning anime-style animation allows for great subtlety, and emotions can be conveyed with a glance alone. In addition to its beautiful moments of intense emotion, Avatar also benefits from clever humour, and the show always knows precisely how seriously it should take itself at any given moment.
As the character names suggest, the world of Avatar draws massive inspiration from various cultures throughout Asia, with the Earth Kingdom resembling China, for example. The iconic score incorporates various Asian instruments and fits the tone of the show perfectly.
Best Show Ever!
I don’t care if you’re not into anime—you need to watch this show! No other show, animated or otherwise, has ever come close to Avatar’s greatness. Great morals and conflicts—both internal and external—only add to the action, comedy, and emotion. This is the kind of show where you can’t watch an episode partway through; you have to start at the beginning and watch this masterpiece in its entirety. When I neared the four-part series finale, I was afraid to continue for fear that one of the characters I had come to regard as friends would be killed, so invested does the viewer become. Every moment of Avatar: The Last Airbender is incredible! It is, in my opinion, the greatest television show of all time.