A cartoon for adults
Avery Wickersham (TheLorian)
There are certain shows that impact and resonate with children, even as they move into adulthood. One such popular show that many children from 1998-2003 watched was “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” From a quick glance, this show looks like a goofy, entertaining show for children. If one sits down and really watches it, though, they’ll find that “Avatar: The Last Airbender” or ATLA for short, is so much more.
ATLA’s premise surrounds a world in which some members can bend four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. The “avatar” is a special person who can bend all four elements, and is a symbol of balance. The main group of characters range from ages 12 to 16 with all variances of bending and skill. While they can be serious and lethal, they are also goofy, hormonal, and temperamental children. Over the three seasons of the show, each character goes through their own transformation by the series finale.
Many themes are highlighted in the series, including sexism, genocide, imperialism, and even redemption. These themes are harder for children to recognize, but teenagers and adults can see the effects of imperialism as one nation ravages and invades the other nations: taking prisoners, taking resources, and causing lasting harm on other nations. One nation is violently decimated as a result of imperialism and the hunger for power, and the lasting effects of genocide are seen on the sole survivor. Women are required to take on specific roles, especially as their husbands and sons are shipped off to fight against the imperialistic rule, though many fight back against these gender norms. One of the main characters, in fact, makes it her job to push back against gender stereotypes, even against her own brother and grandfather. This show is teaching girls to fight back and to fight for what they believe is right, even if it goes against the norm.
In a broader look at the writing, the overall pacing and layering of the show gets better with every episode. There are so many little details that connect families, heroes, and villains all together. Heroes and villains’ paths cross many times throughout the series, each at different checkpoints and maturity levels. The viewer is able to watch these characters grow up in their own, way but also learn how to find their own way and form their own opinions about each other, which often meant forgiveness (even when it seems impossible). Everyone can always use a lesson in forgiveness, no matter the age.
Ultimately, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” teaches many good lessons for children and adults alike. With the resurgence of the show, many more people have been able to enjoy the fantastic writing, the lovable characters, and all of the other aspects ATLA fans love, aspects that make the show so unique.