Sunday, December 10, 2006

Avatar

Hello, my name is Spak. And I am an Avatar fangirl. The season 2 finale has solidified that fact. How can I not like a show with kung fu, pirates, hippies, psychics, goths, cheerleaders, psychotic Queen Bees, flying lemurs that act like cats, geeks who get the girl, and mysterious villains voiced by Mark Hamill? One of the reasons for blog neglect over the last couple of weeks is that I’ve have been writing in the TWoP Avatar forum instead (guess which screen name is me. Hint: sheepofdoom was already taken). And writing fanfiction. Fanfiction, people! It was a meeting of the Angst-Ridden Characters Society, so it involved characters from more than just Avatar. And I haven’t published it. But still. Fanfiction! I haven’t read or written fanfiction since college!

(Spoilers ahead! You’ve been warned!)

Strangely, I didn’t like the first episode all that much. If you’ve ever seen Anime, fantasy, kung fu movies, or children’s adventure shows, you will recognize all of the archetypes. The boy who would save the world but just wants to be a kid (Aang). The idealist who becomes his confidence in times of self-doubt (Katara). The skeptic who tags along if only to keep them out of trouble (Sokka). The antagonist who spouts about honor and destiny (Zuko). The tea-drinking, fortune-cookie-philosophy spewing old Asian mentor (Uncle Iroh). Other than adding control of specific elements (like fire. hehe. fire!) on top of the martial arts in fight sequences, it seemed cute but not extraordinary.

But wait! By the second episode, you are already being asked to cheer for the antagonist, Zuko. Not against the hero, but against the power-hungry Commander Zhoa. What’s the deal? You’re not supposed to have shades of gray in a kid’s show! As the season progresses, a seasonal arc becomes apparent. The characters grow and their fighting skills improve. Zuko and Aang’s stories are obviously meant to parallel each other. It is revealed that Aang has made mistakes that may have (at least indirectly) put the world in its current state of jeopardy and Zuko used to be an eager, sweet-hearted kid instead of the angst-ridden pursuer of the Avatar. Let's just say the story behind that scar ain't pretty. *shudder* The characters are flawed. The good guys aren't always good and the bad guys don't always have purely evil motivations. Season 1 ends with a victory for the hero and a few loose ends that you don’t even realize are there.

In season 2, what seemed like throw away lines and characters from season 1 come front and center. The series arc comes into better focus (the series was meant to last 3 seasons, according to the creators – fans, of course, are pushing for 4 – four elements, four seasons. Come on!). Existing characters go through big changes. New characters are added. The episodes are darker (season 1 episodes rarely ended on a downer. About half of season 2’s episodes do). And the fights are awesome. The characters’ skill levels are way up, paving the way for more impressive fight sequences. There were so many times that I saw a setup for a big fight and wondered if they would go through with it or drag out the drama (some Anime has a tendency to have people stand around taunting their opponents or giving you a freaking play by play and only showing the occasional blow. A single fight can drag out for several episodes, yet only feature ten moves. So annoying!). Then, they not only show the fight, it is better than I could have hoped (see the Mexican bending standoff in “The Chase” as a prime example. I expected a Zuko vs Aang vs Azula fight. I got that and so much more!).

Then there was the season 2 finale. There was so much awesome (Toph rescues herself! Long Feng gets a verbal smackdown from Azula! Katara has a Very! Bad! Day! Toph and Iroh together again!), but it kind of got overwhelmed by the last five minutes. Did they dare end season 2 with Zuko practically pulling a Snape? Did they dare end with a good guy defeat? And not just a defeat, but the near-death of the title character and the fall of the largest Earth Kingdom city into enemy hands? Yes. Yes they dared. And now there is no escaping. I am an Avatar fangirl.

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