At one point, I was a huge anime fan stemming of course from my love of animation in general. At the same time I had this ‘American animation for the most part is childish and not really that good’ attitude.Then this one show on Nickelodeon came out called Avatar: The Last Airbender. I didn’t see it initially as I did not have cable at that time. One of my friends raved about the show and I heard from others how awesome it was. So I eventually borrowed a copy of Season 1 on DVD and I was blown away. The animation was top-notch, the world lore was amazingly well created, the design aesthetic was incredible, the writing was great and the story was exciting and interesting. By the end of Season 1, Avatar not only far-and-away became my favorite animated show ever, but also one of my favorite TV series in general.
Today’s Friday Five is all about my favorite scenes from the whole show. To be honest I could write down a whole batch of these because the series is filled with great moments and scenes. In fact, I could probably make a whole series talking about awesome moments in this show, but I won’t. If you have not seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, it goes to say I highly recommend doing so. Even if you don’t really like animation, I urge you give it a try. Best of all, the whole series is available on Instant Netflix. No excuses, go watch it. Anyways, today’s list is presented in each scenes order of appearance.
This Friday Five contains HEAVY spoilers for:
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Toph Lets Loose
from Book 2: Chapter 6: The Blind Bandit
Every fantasy team needs its brutish bruiser. Toph takes this role to a great place by not only being a 12 year old girl, but also by being blind. Her parents see her as disabled and frail, when in reality shes one of the best damn earthbenders ever. In her introductory episode, she participates in a earthbending competition akin to wrestling (complete with a cameo role portrayed by Mick Foley as “The Boulder”). Later, said wrestlers kidnap her and Aang. After a ransom is paid for Toph, and Aang still captured Toph decides to break the facade and issue one epic rock-tossing beat-down against a bunch of mooks. She single handedly beats 7 top-notch earthbenders and barely breaks a sweat doing it. This is a great moment because it truly gives you a sense of who Toph is and what she is capable of doing. Through the remainder of the series Toph continues to impress and kick-ass to a greater degree than this first fight, but the fight stands out because its a first impression of the character and one that works really well.
Sokka gets stuck in a hole
from Book 2: Chapter 8: Bitter Work
Sokka is easily one of my favorite animated characters of all time. He is goofy, sarcastic, skeptical and shows a definitive propensity for science in a world dominated by mysticism. What makes Sokka’s character is that he is certainly the comic relief of the group, but not in that ingratiating way that so many others in his role come off. As the series progresses, we watch Sokka evolve and become a valuable member of Team Avatar. Even though Sokka has a ton of great moments ranging from complete hilarity, to emotional loss and great triumph, my favorite Sokka moment however isn’t exactly a high point for the character. While hunting for food, he comes across a cute little Saber-tooth Moose Lion cub, which he will later name ‘Foo Foo Cuddlypoops’. He moves to attack and promptly gets stuck in the ground. What follows is a few moments where Sokka is at his funniest throughout the whole of the series. Stuck in a predicament he can’t escape, he ponders his place in the universe all while still desperately trying to kill his prey and make the best of a bad situation. At one point he offers to switch from being “Sokka the meat and sarcasm guy” to “Sokka the veggies and straight-talk fellow. Even though meat is so tasty.” Seconds later, Aang arrives to Sokka’s great relief. His first question to Aang isn’t “Can you get me out?” but rather a quick “Have you got any meat?” I honestly don’t know why I love this exchange so much, but it makes me chuckle every time. In fact every scene while Sokka is stuck in that hole makes me chuckle. That’s why its one of my favorites.
The Tale of Iroh
from Book 2: Chapter 15: The Tales of Ba Sing Se
In the episode Tales from Ba Sing Se, we are given short glimpses into the lives of the characters living in the Earth Kingdom capital. One of these focuses on Iroh, who makes his way through the city helping those in need. It highlights a character who is kind-hearted and truly sees the best in everyone and every thing. By this point we’d learned that Iroh was once a great general for the Fire Nation and a great tragedy puts his life into perspective. The Iroh we see during the course of the series masterfully hides the powerful firebender beneath a kind and gentle soul. At the end of the story, we at last see Iroh’s intent for the day. He arrives on a small hill overlooking the city to have a picnic. He sets up a small shrine and lights some incense. We then see that he has set up a small memorial in honor of his deceased son’s birthday and laments the fact that the one person he could not help, was the one that mattered most to him. Then we see one of the most powerful characters in the series start to cry. Its a truly touching moment that makes me tear up every time. The “Tale of Iroh” was dedicated to Mako Iwamatsu, who voiced Iroh, who had recently passed away. It makes the scene bittersweet, but it is easily one of the most touching moments in the whole series.
Zuko confronts Ozai
from Book 3: Chapter 11: Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse
In the middle of Book 2, we learn that a solar eclipse is coming. No sun means no firebending and thus a great time to invade the Fire Nation and confront the Fire Lord and end this war. So the heroes, after failing miserably in Ba Sing Se, fight with a ragtag group of friends and allies rather than the Earth Kingdom army. The heroes are having some trouble. The fight forces are stuck attacking the city. Aang, Sokka and Toph find Azula instead of Ozai and are distracted fighting her. One person however finds and confronts Ozai: Zuko. After Book 1 watching Zuko trying to capture Aang you dislike him. Then Book 2 where he nearly redeems himself and in the end rejoins Azula, you’re just pissed with him. The first part of Book 3 has Zuko truly questioning himself and his actions in Ba Sing Se. He’s home, he has everything he wanted and he still isn’t happy. After learning of his heritage from Avatar Roku, Zuko decides to finally get his emo act together. His dual-swords in hand, he comes face-to-face with his father and calls the old man out. A dash of “you’re going to listen to me” with a sprinkle of “you’re a horrible person” and heaping helping “this war is a sham” leads to perhaps one of the best villain-to-hero turn arounds I’ve seen. He tells Ozai he’s going to join the Avatar, teach him firebending and help put and end to this 100 years war nonsense. Then Ozai tries to bait him with information about his missing mother and once the eclipse is done, tries to blast Zuko with lightning, that Zuko redirects right back at Ozai. The room goes boom, Ozai is pissed and Zuko is gone. We watch Zuko start so low, climb so high and fall again and finally reach his triumphant moment. It’s cathartic to see him finally “get it” after Uncle Iroh tried to beat it into his head, and it almost makes you want to cheer. It’s puts a 2 and half season arc to rest. No more “will he, won’t he” nonsense. Zuko is now playing for Team Avatar, and after watching him be such a pompous ass, its truly great to see him on the right path because you felt it was the right place for him to be in the end.
Zuko and Azula’s Agni Kai
from Book 3: Chapter 20: Sozin’s Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno
This scene is a favorite for mostly for artistic reasons. In what is surely on of the most epic finales ever, Zuko and Katara confront Princess Azula as she is about to crowned the new Fire Lord. At this point Azula has slipped into insanity from the betrayal of her friends, and the stress of her (pending) new rule as Fire Lord. Azula challenges Zuko to Agni Kai, an honorable one-on-one duel of Firebending, in order to separate him and Katara. He accepts, noticing Azula is “off” and feels he can defeat her. With their firebending strengthened by the comet, the fight is epic to say the least. But what makes this scene great is not its place in the story, or even the fight itself (though it is one of, it not the best, in the series). Its the way it is presented. First of all, it is beautifully animated. The motion is fluid, the choreography is spot on and the action is exciting. The kicker however, is the sound. In an epic battle of immense flame and heat with explosions all over the place, the sound is subdued and muted to give way for an epic piece of music. Even the music is muted and subdued, but it such a way that increases the drama and tension making this scene one of the biggest emotional high points of the show. It is, simply put, one of the most beautiful fight scenes not just in animated television, but in the video medium in general. It is truly a great scene.
Although it is directly not part of the scene, I feel like mentioning the end when Katara defeats Azula. It is the close of one the most amazing character arcs ever. For two seasons, Azula has been one of the most amazing, cunning, capable and collected villians I’ve ever seen and you truly come to fear and despise her. At the end of her story, you actually feel sympathetic for her. When a story makes you feel sympathy for a villain you’ve hated to the core, that is a hallmark of a good story.
Honorable Mention: “Drink Cactus Juice”
from Book 2: Chapter 11: The Desert
Today we bring a first to the Friday Five, the Honorable Mention. Sometimes culling a list to five items is hard, especially when there’s so many great points to choose from. Today’s honorable mention goes a moment in the episode The Desert. All-in-all the episode is downer. Team Avatar has lost Appa, they’re stuck in vast desert and they’re on their last legs trying to get out of the place. Aang is pissed, Katara is trying to hold the group together and Toph is next to useless since she doesn’t have her “earth vision.” But what about Sokka? Sokka in all his scientific resourcefulness remembers that cacti contain thirst quenching water. Drinking some proceeds to lead him, and Momo, on some sort of hallucinogenic trip that is implied but not seen. We’re only privy to Sokka’s ramblings and boy are they funny. It offers a great moment of comic relief in an episode that needs it badly. It really only accounts for a few seconds but its a great moment with such classic lines such as “It’s the quenchiest.”, “Who lit Toph’s hair on fire?” and “It’s a giant mushroom. Maybe it’s friendly! Mushy giant friend!”