Let’s only address the animated series Avatar, Last Airbender (2005-2008), and its sequel, Legend of Korra (2012-2014), created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. These series have left their mark with the complexity of their characters and story arcs. They went beyond the youth audience they were meant for, to capture an adult audience’s attention as well. When Netflix offered Avatar, the Last Airbender on its streaming platform in 2020, the series was the #1 most-watched of its category, fifteen years after the release of the first episode. It all started with a small budget and grew into a cult series, and one of the best there is.
In a world where some people have the ability to «bend» one of the four elements (fire, air, water, earth), the Avatar is the only one who can bend all four and keep the balance. When Avatar Aang, a young monk from the Air Nomad nation, awakens after a hundred years absence, the world is torn apart by the Fire Nation’s conquests. With the help of his friends Katara, Sokka and Toth, Avatar Aang undertake the dangerous quest to bring back balance and peace to the world, while keeping his integrity as the last airbender.
After Aang lived his life and died at an honourable age, the cycle of reincarnation of the Avatar goes to a young girl, in the sequel Legend of Korra. We revisit this beloved world that moved forward about fifty years. This sequel targets an audience that grew into adolescence. The stakes that Korra has to undertake are more complex, more political, darker and more dramatic. This series doesn’t hesitate to address topics like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
The story of Avatar, the Last Airbender spreads into three seasons: «Book One: Water», «Book Two: Earth» and «Book Three: Fire», with around twenty episodes each. On IMDb (Internet Movie Database), this series is rated 9.3 / 10 (250’000 votes), a high score rarely attain on this website.
Legend of Korra has four seasons of about twelve episodes each: «Book One: Air», «Book Two: Spirits», «Book Three: Change» and «Book Four: Balance». This series is rated 8.4 / 10 (100’000 votes) on IMDb.
The first episodes of Avatar, the Last Airbender start to grow old. They suffer mostly of their low budget (obvious with the visual quality, simplicity of the backgrounds and soundtrack, and poor digital compression).
When I started to watch the series for the first time, I had to hang on for a good dozen of episodes, before the story really takes off. Most of the series start with a pilot episod, longer than the others, which sets the story and the characters… which Avatar, Last Airbender is missing. I had the impression that some characters were not well elaborated in the beginning (for instance, Uncle Iroh, who becomes more defined and refined with each episodes, to become one of the most attaching characters of all).
Thankfully, when the story has the wind in its sails, I became attached to the characters and eager to know what was coming next. The visual quality improves along the way. The final of the first season is astounding. In Book Two: Earth, a new character makes her entry (Toph). And then, Book Three: Fire is even more breathtaking than the previous.
The series Avatar, the Last Airbender was so well received by its audience, Nickelodeon kept going with Legend of Korra. And then, with the high quality of the drawing, the animation, the soundtrack, the budget was clearly improved to elevate this sequel to its fair value.
So, what makes this series stand out so much?
Overall, it’s intelligent and different. It solves dilemmas like no others; it brings different and thoughtful solutions. It also includes a significantly high number of strong, involved and distinct female characters, like we love them.
In Avatar, the Last Airbender, the protagonists confront the same group of antagonists over three seasons. The characters are attaching and all have their place in the story. We even get along with few antagonists. And right here is a key point: all fans can confirm this. The antagonist Prince Zuko, with the acting voice of Dante Basco, is an incredible character; his story arc by itself is worth the trip. It is said that the best stories are the ones where the protagonist-antagonist duo is perfectly balanced, where one is as interesting as the other, where they are both irreplaceable to tell this particular story. Well, in Avatar, the Last Airbender, this is it!
In Legend of Korra series, every season has a different group of antagonists, so four different story arcs. It’s also a darker, more political, and more dramatic series, but always with the delicacy of bringing different solutions. Studio Mir, based in Seoul, South Korea, is behind the the concept art and animation of Legend of Korra, and brings a high quality visual aestheticism. Background images and animations are superb, the soundtrack is orchestral and magnificent, with several traditional eastern instruments that bring a fine touch of authenticity.
In conclusion, Avatar, the Last Airbender & Legend of Korra series are unmissable. I enjoy revisit them every few years. They have become my reference, setting the bar high, for comparing animated series.
Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think about these series, in the comments below!
(from left to right) Zhu-Li, Varrick, Avatar Korra, Bolin (behind), Assami, and Mako.