Airspeed Prime back again with some Avatar The Last Airbender Episode Reviews. Today I will review not 3, but 4 episodes, then 4 next week leaving me with the 3 Northern Water Tribe finale episodes to finish out Book 1 Water.
I will review 110 Jet, 111 The Great Divide, 112 The Storm and 113 The Blue Spirit.
Written By: James Eagan
Directed By: Dave Filoni
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: May 6th 2005
This episode has at the same time a brilliant part and a not so great part. The amazing part of course is Jet and the Freedom fighters being introduced and driving the episode while the not good part is the way Aang and to a lesser extent Katara are characterised. More on both of these later. The episode itself is actually very good, but with the short time deadline the heroes have and this occurring after an episode where their little time was addressed makes this come across as a bit filler-ey, they suddenly take a break to have fun in Jet's treehouse when Aang needs to learn the elements and get to the NWT.
The best part of this episode simply put is Jet and the little we get in terms of characterisation from the other freedom fighters. In Jet we have the opposite mentality of Katara, both have had their families affected badly by the fire nation, but both are doing very different things in response to this. Katara is helping The Avatar to stop the threat, not out of revenge, just a want to help the world while Jet has his freedom fighters, all kids in similar positions to his and at first they were actual Freedom Fighters, but as we see they are becoming warped by Jet's quest for revenge against the fire nation as they follow him almost blindly as he is a good leader and helps them. We are introduced to Jet as a hero character, but even before we find out about his plan we get a sense there is a bigger hatred of the fire nation within him, case in point his final words when he gives his speech "They are DEAD WRONG" he looks evil at this point.
On the same basic point we see Jet as a manipulator, he uses Katara's crush on him to keep her on his side and not believing a suspicious Sokka. When Katara and Aang do find out about the plan, which itself is pure evil and rivals Ozai's Burning Earth plan in terms of the destruction it would cause, he claims to be a freedom fighter yet is willing to kill all the people they are fighting for in the village just to get one over on the fire nation, we see that Jet tries to use Katara's mother to get her on his side, but Katara here understands that revenge is never the answer, we see the strength of her character. This even comes up again in 316 when Sokka compares an Angry Katara wanting revenge to Jet.
Overall Jet is the highlight of this episode and makes up for this episodes negatives. The fact that he comes back later on in the series and gets a bit of a character arc is also great.
Now onto the other Freedom fighters: The Duke, Pipsqueak, LongShot, Smellerbee and Sneers all very well designed and interesting with their weapon specialities. Just seeing that these are all the orphans of the war, that they have grouped together and despite their tragedies they are trying to help.
The negatives of the episode in my opinion are mainly the way Aang is portrayed in this episode and Katara to a lesser extent. Aang reverts back to how he was in episode 1, almost forgetting that he is the Avatar and has a huge task to accomplish, that is the main issue here, they just seem to forget they are in a rush. Yes you can say that he is in his fun loving element in the treehouse, but his development this far was about him becoming a bit more serious and wanting to be the Avatar and take on the role. Instead we see him throwing fun snaps at Momo and swinging around like a monkey. He makes up for it at the end of the episode with a great fight with Jet, but just that he does not believe Sokka because he is having fun with the Freedom Fighters, I did not find good at all. It by no means ruins the episode, but this show is such high quality that having a character be a bit out of character for an episode really stands out.
Katara in this episode for me is a bit oddly portrayed also, we see her just lose herself in her crush on Jet. I think the way we are meant to take it is that Jet is one of the first boys around her age that she has met, and definitely the first with the confidence and swagger of Jet, so she naturally falls for him with having Sokka be the only boy she has known for so long. But it is how much she is affected by it that is the issue, to me Katara from what we are presented with before is not the type of character to act that way, also she never acts like that with any other guy in any episode after this , she just became Brock from Pokemon for an episode, lol. It is clear to see that both Aang and Katara for the plot to work have to not believe Sokka, which explains why they act as they do in this episode, but it comes across as a bit of lazy writing when instead of writing a reason to not believe Sokka they just change Aang and Katara for an episode.
Sokka in this episode gets some amazing development, we see that his instincts are true and that he sticks to them because he knows he is correct, Korra does something very similar in episode 7 of Korra when she sticks to her guns over Hiroshi Sato, must be a SWT thing. All this with his sister and friend not believing him, he also shows some development as a leader and warrior, in little things like how he escapes from Pipsqueak and Smellerbee, using his knife to detect vibrations as Toph will do when she is introduced. Then how his own lack of wanting revenge against the Fire Nation comes back to help him in evacuating the village in time, subtle stuff, but it helps him going forward. Sadly Sokka gets no real apology from Katara and Aang, just more insults :(.
This episode is gorgeously animated, one of the best of the whole series and it is only episode 10. The forest backgrounds, with the lovely brown and greens as well as the Airbending being probably the best animated of all Avatar we have seen thus far. JM Animation outdid themselves on this episode.
Overall a great episode made by the newly introduced characters especially Jet, brought down a bit by some odd characterisation of Aang and Katara and a lack of awareness of the time deadline we were presented with 2 episodes ago.
Favourite Moment/ The Aang Vs Jet fight in the trees, an amazing bender vs non bender fight. Gorgeous animation and choreography
Favourite Line/ "No, Jet. You became the traitor when you stopped protecting innocent people" - Sokka
111 The Great Divide
Written By: John O' Bryan
Directed By: Giancarlo Volpe
Animated By: DR Movie
First Aired: May20th 2005
Ah The Great Divide, the least liked episode of ATLA by most and one of the only episodes that I see many fans actively despise with cries of "I have seen this episode once, no need to see it again". So I assume most expect me to also dislike this episode, but no, I actually really like this episode and it is not my least favourite episode of ATLA. Now that I have your attention let me explain why this episode is not as bad as you think.
Many call this episode the king of filler episodes, but it is not a filler episode. It advances the plot by the Gaang getting past the largest Canyon in the world, we see that even with the war going on there are still other conflicts that are not related to the war and we see Aang try to resolve this one and step up as the Avatar. They have to get to the SWT and on the way they encounter a problem that they can help resolve, they help the elderly and sick travellers cross the canyon.
The episode introduces us to yet again more new characters, The Canyon Guide, and the Zhang and Gan Jin tribes. The Canyon Guide is another older and wise character and the big thing here is the advice that he gives to Aang based on his own experiences of having to be impartial to everyone he helps. He does not clearly give Aang advice, but sparks the idea of having the two tribes work together to help everyone get out of the canyon. The two tribes and how Sokka and Katara interact with them really make for an interesting conflict throughout the episode, the two tribes beyond some habits are much the same in that they both care for their sick and elderly, both respect fellow warriors and tradition, but an even more interesting comparison is that the conflict between The Zhangs and The Gan Jins and that between Sokka and Katara, in that Sokka and Katara argue over more or less the same issues as the tribes, but in the end they both realised how petty the differences were while the tribes could not. It was funny that you expected the tribes to bond after fighting with each other as many other shows do, but instead Aang is forced to lie about their history to them to get them working together, which is not as bad as you would think seeing as neither tribe actually knew the story.
The strength of this episode for me is the character interaction and how the episode makes this happen, we have all the characters together arguing, then they are split up and we see them talk honestly about how they feel about the other tribe and then we go back to them together, the tension between the tribes and how this then makes Sokka and Katara tense is great.
The visual side of this episode is also a highlight, in that the backstories of the tribes are all told using different animation styles and I loved how each tribe had a different style that suited their unique traits and Aang telling the story then had the chibi style which suits his fun loving nature. All styles were animated well and fit seamlessly into the episode.
In the end there is not a whole lot to the episode and it definitely is not one of the best episodes, but it is nowhere near as bad as some fans say. If you have been staying away from watching this episode again, then I suggest you open your mind and try again. Some very funny moments and a nice tense trip story make it an interesting episode. I feel this episode perhaps should have had a Zuko plot in it too.
Favourite Moment/ The made up backstory told by Aang, it was so clever that he made it up on the spot and had both tribes believing it. And the Chibi visuals were great.
Favourite Line/ "So hungry... is that...egg custard in that tart?" - Aang
112 The Storm
Written By: Aaron Ehasz
Directed By: Lauren MacMullen
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: June 3rd 2005
This episode was the perfect episode to have after 2 fun, but lower quality episodes in the grand scheme of the series. Zuko returns to the story and we get an enthralling backstory episode that tells us about why Aang and Zuko are where they are as we start this series. At the same time we have both in this episode show that they have grown in some way from their past experiences. It is a very well written and constructed episode, because while the two stories really only overlap for a brief moment you can see straight away the similarities in the stories of Aang and Zuko and that despite the events being different both have affected them as they are now.
The way this episode opens is very interesting, the guilt Aang feels for being in the ice for 100 years comes back, which itself is great to see it is not just forgotten and that it does still weigh on Aang, it also hints at the exact events that led to him being trapped in the ice. On the Zuko side of the story we see how angry Zuko is, how much he focuses on his goal of capturing Aang, his uncle brings up the safety of the crew and Zuko says it doesn't matter, he is no intense that he is willing to bring down others with him, we begin to wonder what the exact events before Ozai burned him are.
Then we get two scenes on either side of the story that further emphasis these issues. With Zuko we have his confrontation with Lieutenant Jee, Jee calls Zuko up on his own attitude and Zuko demands respect, we find out here that the other crewmen are there more or less because they respect Iroh so much, then Zuko's hothead from 103 flares up again and him and Jee are seconds away from an Agni Kai before Iroh breaks it up. Again we see this incredible anger from Zuko and Jee unable to understand why, it also shows how wise of a person Iroh is able to diffuse a near fight in seconds. On Aang's side of the story it is when Aang and Katara talk with the old fisherman, he to Aang in what he says represents everyone, "You turned your back on the world" is what he says to Aang, as the scene goes on and Katara defends Aang we see the sheer amount of guilt Aang feels well up with meeting someone who he feels he failed, he runs off upset followed by a confused Katara. We are left with people on each side really needed to know about Aang and Zuko's past.
The backstories are also told in a similar way to above as we cut from one to the other. As the storm rages Aang flees into a cave and is followed by confused and concerned Katara, Aang's issue arise from the day he was told he was the Avatar and ultimately is an issue because his world changed completely with this one announcement, his friends would not play with him any more, he was kept away from Gyatso. Part of the problem definitely stems from the fact that because of the impending war they needed to tell Aang he was the Avatar before he was 16, so he did not know from a young age like Korra always knowing what was in store nor was he old enough to take that sort of an announcement properly. We are also presented in this flashback with Aang's big weakness/character flaw, that being that he is overly attached to those he loves, this is big in that he is not just an Avatar, but an Air Nomad who are not meant to have attachments anyway. We see Aang very briefly goes into the Avatar State when he tells Katara of the plan to take him away from Gyatso, we will see this on multiple occasions (201 with Katara, 211 over Appa). So Aang decided to run away from this responsibility and was caught in a storm, something he could not have expected, but something he blames himself for and beats himself up over. Aang is very much the reluctant Avatar.
With Zuko he is not present when the story is told, instead we see Iroh tell it to the crew so they can understand his nephew's intensity and anger. We see a younger Zuko with no scar eager to get involved in his first war meeting and start his path to the throne, he is allowed in by Iroh as long as he does not speak. In the meeting we firstly see the cruelty of the fire nation military, willing to sacrifice new soldiers to try and get an advantage, a shocking revelation at which Zuko speaks out and for the first time we see who Zuko really is behind the quest for honour and anger, he is actually a passionate person who cares about people especially weaker people like the men they plan to sacrifice, we realise right here that Zuko is not at all like recent cruel fire lords: Sozin, Azulon and Ozai, he is not at all like his father. Ozai does not take kindly to Zuko speaking out of turn and he challenges his son to an Agni Kai to teach him respect and despite Zuko not willing to fight, Ozai burns his face and inturn burns the true Zuko away and sends him on the quest to capture the Avatar, it is a very emotional and complex story. We instantly understand why Zuko is as he is, and we see that how Zuko really got his scar is not really known. His father burning Zuko for doing the right thing, horribly confuses Zuko, he from here on out really struggles to know right and wrong (this combined with his struggle to decide anyway as shown in The Promise Part 2 flashback), struggles to be his true self or the son Ozai wants. Both Katara and Zuko's crew now understand Aang and Zuko more after this.
After this we get the final two parts of the episode when Aang and Zuko both show their growth and that they are resolving their issues. Zuko's ship is hit by lightning and the helms man is in danger, it is Zuko who is the first to rush to his aid to Jee's shock, though he understands Zuko more now. Then they see Appa fly by, but instead of pursuing them in the storm, Zuko does put the crew's safety first. We see that some of the old Zuko is still in there, then Zuko despite his pride apologises to his Uncle for his earlier behaviour. With Aang we see him step up as the Avatar again and rush to save Sokka and the old fisherman, in a symbolic event, the storm is near identical to the same one that trapped him in ice, we see Aang and Appa fight through the storm and nearly suffer the same fate, until Aang activates the Avatar State, symbolic of him accepting the role unlike last time. The big thing is that the old man accepts Aang as the Avatar at the end, Aang has moved past his guilt for the most part and instead is focusing on doing his best to set things right.
Overall this episode is amazing and more than any other episode I have reviewed so far, when I have been writing and analysing the episode it got better and better, all the little things like how perfectly symmetric the two stories are and just how deep of an insight into the characters the flashbacks give. Stunning episode.
Favourite Moment/ Everything flashback related Young Zuko, Aang with his people, such powerful moments.
Favourite Line/ "I know it's meant to be this way. The world needs you now. You give people hope." - Katara
113 The Blue Spirit
Written By: Mike and Bryan
Directed By: Dave Filoni
Animated By: DR Movie
First Aired: June 17th 2005
The Blue Spirit, in a way Book 1 has 2 mid season finales, 108 as the one to start of the story and this episode as an amazing action packed episode with a big revelation at the end. Also this episode was also the last of the 13 originally aired episodes to test Avatar for popularity, it is hard to think that had Avatar not gotten good ratings that this would have been the last we ever saw of Avatar.
This episode cleverly avoids not ignoring the big issue of Aang's deadline by realistically having Sokka and Katara get a cold from the storm of last episode and Aang wanting to find a cure for them, this episode has a slow opening on Aang's side of the story, but on the other side we get to see Zhao again after a few episodes gone and he like Zuko is just as eager to pursue Aang and eventually after a promotion decides to use the Yu Yan archers to do just that. At the same time with his new position he is doing everything he can to stop Zuko's quest by not allowing his ship to leave. We see Zuko, not angry but concerned and saddened that if Zhao captures Aang first then his honour is gone.
An odd part of this episode would just be the surprising number of times that we go back to check up on Katara, Sokka, Appa and Momo, it makes for some very random scene changes, from intense action to crazy illness talk. I just felt that these scenes were not really needed.
Aang is indeed captured after finding out to catch some frozen wood frogs, we get a brief chase/fight scene with the Yu Yan archers who show how elite of a unit they are, it is a real pity we never see them again outside of Vachir of the Rough Rhinos. He is brought before Zhao, who actually properly meets Aang for the first time, we see Aang cruelly taunt Aang, bringing up the genocide of the Air Nomads to rile Aang, but Aang remains strong.
Now onto the title character of the episode The Blue Spirit, it is interesting in that you are never fully sure until the end if it is or is not Zuko, because we see The Blue Spirit overhear the conversation about the Yu Yan archers , the way the scene cuts are done very much make them seem like different characters. But it is actually Zuko, and that itself is interesting in that, you ask why does he do this? to get info on Zhao's plans secretly and then to save Aang anonymously for himself, you also wonder where on earth Zuko got the sword and stealth Skills from, and at least the sword skills are explained, in that he seemed very interested in the knife that Iroh sent him in the flashback that happens in "Zuko Alone" he may have begun his training with Piandao based on this. The stealth Skills are a mystery. In this rescue/capture for himself we get one of the best all out action sequences of the whole series, Aang and Zuko as the Blue Spirit working flawlessly together to fight off and escape from the fire nation fortress, it is just stunning choreography and animation like then using the step ladders like stilts to walk to the high outer walls, Aang using his staff like a helicopter propeller to fly, then the drama of the standoff between Zhao and The Blue Spirit, with him escaping using Aang as a hostage. Then the tension when you see Zhao about to give the Yu Yan archer the fire order, you know he won't miss and you know someone is going to be hurt, but when it is revealed to not just us but also Aang that it is Zuko who saved him from Zhao, it is a huge shock. The incredible risks Zuko took to save his honour, Aang repays the favour and saves Zuko fro being captured by Aang. It is here we have a very intriguing scene between Aang and Zuko who is regaining consciousness, "If we knew each other back then, do you think we could have been friends too?" is what Aang says, he wants to be friends with the person who has been trying to capture him, Aang sees the good in Zuko.
At the end of the episode we get some very interesting scenes, Sokka asks Aang if he made any new friends and Aang reluctantly admits he did not, still thinking about Zuko, confused. Then Zuko in a really symbolic moment looks the the fire nation insignia and then instantly turns away, he is starting to believe that people like Zhao and his father who run the fire nation are not who he ever wants to be associated with, a turning point for him as a character.
An excellent action packed episode with the only downside really being an odd little focus on Katara and Sokka ill.
Favourite Moment/ Aang and Zuko fighting and escaping together.
Favourite Line/ "How, Uncle? With Zhao's resources it's just a matter of time before he captures the Avatar. My honor, my throne, my country, I'm about to lose them all."