Airspeed Prime again, I said before that I would be doing a post about Book 1 as a whole in review. Here it is. The Aim with this post and the ones I will be doing for Book 2 and 3 once they come around is to compare the Books of Avatar and how the stories and characters developed throughout all the episodes of a book.
Book 1 Water
I am just going to go right ahead and say it, Book 1 is in my opinion in 3rd place out of the 3 books of ATLA. That is not to say that it is bad, definitely not, as you have read throughout my individual episode reviews, I liked every episode and some of them are my favourites. The issue with the book is how the 20 episodes it is comprised of work as Book 1 Water.
The plot for Book 1 Water is extremely limited, From the first two episodes the plan is to get to the Northern Water Tribe so Aang and Katara can learn Waterbending, this changes slightly due to the events of 108, where they are given a deadline and Aang needs to also learn Earth and Firebending in that time. But this does not affect the goal of heading to the Northern Water Tribe first. The issue is that most of the episodes are "New Town every episode" and especially after 108 when they do something in these twos that are not advancing the plot it does stand out as forgetting about what is the only main plot thread of the book, getting to the Northern Water Tribe. Episodes later on in the series cover distances that rival SWT to NWT, 316 being a prime example, which just add to the "Why did it take so long to get there" factor.
On the other side of the equation having less plot means that Book 1, the opening season can focus on the characters and their development which means we really get to know and feel for them and then we can get into the plot. Episodes like 104 The Warriors Of Kyoshi, 106 Imprisoned and 110 Jet do not add to the main plot, but what the characters learn in these episodes is carried with them going forward. Sokka learning to lead better in 110 is referenced again in the finale, his experiences the whole time with the fire nation come back also. The same passion Katara shows in 106 is in 118 when she deals with Pakku. Aang on multiple occasions took on his role as the Avatar and by the end of the book he was a pretty confident Avatar.
The key thing is striking a balance in Book 1 of making us care about the characters, which needs to be done early on while still keeping the story going so it is not just characters learning and them as a group going nowhere. This is what I think Book 1 suffers from, it has this balance askew to far on the side of character focus. A major point is 115 and 116 to episodes 1 after the other where Aang makes mistakes in dealing with his friends that nearly break their friendship, this happening 2 episodes in a row unbalances this part of the book and there was no need for it to happen twice, because I felt the second time erased the first time. In the end a brief description of Book 1 is "The Gaang travel to the NWT so Aang can learn Waterbending while visiting many towns along the way" the same short description cannot really be applied to Book 2 and 3 as they have a few different plots happening and not just due to different groups of characters.
Major positives from this Book include.
-The Zuko and Zhao conflict, Zuko's story in Book 1 would be nowhere near as interesting had Zhao not been part of his story. With Zhao we have a character that we hate even more than we hated Zuko in 101 and 102 for chasing Aang, this role is played so well that we grow to like him and as we learn about his past we grow to like him regardless of Zhao, though the conflict between the two remains as entertaining. It is Zhao's cruelty and lack of regard to Zuko's quest that makes to really detest Zhao, he just ruins any chance Zuko has of capturing Aang. When these two lock horns fireworks always happen, literally. The resolution in the NWT is an amazing scene as an enraged Zuko lays into Zhao, but this goes away completely and Zuko offers to help Zhao when he is captured, but Zhao in the only moment of the whole book that you feel any amount of respect for him, pulls his hand away and accepts his fate.
-Zuko's development itself. Had the creators not told us what happened to Zuko in 103 and more clearly in 112 so early in the Book Zuko may have been received a lot differently, as he can be overly EMO and whiny at times, but when we realise why, it is less whiny and him being overly emotional, but rather his beliefs, nit just his face scarred beyond recognition by his fathers actions. In 113 when he turns away from the Fire Nation insignia, when he saves his Uncle over chasing Aang, we have these moments where he is more like he is before he got his scar. He develops a lot, but there is much to come.
-Sokka's gradual progression from Thinking he is a great warrior to it actually being close to true. He is definitely never the most amazingly skilled warrior in Book 1, but in terms of his cleverness, instincts and leadership he does develop a lot and this all comes to fruition when Chief Arnook give him the respect of a warrior.
-Aang's transformation from the reluctant Avatar to understanding his role. Again subtly done, in that there is not major episode where the change just happens, but as he travels he helps out people and gradually, just does it without trying and understands the role well come the finale as shown when he reasons with Zhao.
-Katara becoming a better Waterbending, through out the book Katara became a better waterbender. She went from having a few moves she thought herself to actually being able to fight reasonably effectively against the Fire Nation all without any proper training. So her becoming a master waterbender by the end of the season was a perfect way to cap off the book for her and her having to really fight to be trained in the first place was perfect for her.
Negatives from Book 1 include.
-Plot, there was not enough of it this Book. I think what it needed was a 2 or 3 episode arc, or a story in the middle of the season that gave a reason for the group to temporarily get away from the beeline to the North Pole. Especially around episode 14/15/16, it felt like they needed to fill out a season, and while they are good episodes, if they were an arc of episodes it would have helped the book overall. The negative also would be that some of these visit a new town episodes just seemed to plain forget that there was a deadline, like 114 The Fortuneteller, a personal favourite of mine, but the amount of time especially Katara spent going to see Aunt Wu, just screamed at me about the deadline.
So overall, while one of the best Seasons of any show out there it does fall down compared against it's following 2 seasons. While the characters were developed well, this happened while very little plot was happening. Book 2 and 3 are better for what Book 1 does, we fully know our characters by the end of Book 1 and Book 2 and 3 can be more plot focused.
One final note about the concept of a first Season. Korra has finished it's first season, at this stage in my reviews I have reviewed Book 1 only. I notice a lot of fans tend to heavily criticise Korra for not having that much character development, yet none of them mention or seem to realise that it is 1 of 4 Books Korra is getting. Lets return to ATLA now, after Book 1 look at where our characters are, none of them are fully developed and all have a long way to go. You have to judge Korra by what we have seen not by what we have not seen, did we criticise Aang after book 1 for not knowing how to control the Avatar State? No, and look at what happened next episode, that very issue was addressed. My reviews have not been overly based on the events of Books 2 and 3, I have judged each episode for what it is, not making those assumptions. Same for the Book as a whole, I am judging the character for where they went this season only not criticising this season because they developed more or less in others. The book being light on plot is clear to see looking at it on it's own, not just because of Book 2 and 3.
So I urge anyone upset about Book 1 of Korra to remember we have seen less than 1/4 of the show, 12/52 episodes. Just like at this stage in Avatar we had seen 20/61 episodes, there was so much more to come and a lot of it was unexpected, same applies for Korra, have a little faith.