Paramount // 2007 // 123 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Denise Louis (Retired) // February 21st, 2007
Aang: "...I was outside my body watching myself. It was scary. I was scary."
Well you know what scares me? Bad dvd releases of great shows.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is arguably the best thing to come from Nickelodeon television in a couple of years. The maturity, subtlety and humor contained in this show is something I simply haven't seen from any Nickelodeon cartoon in quite a while. While it certainly had it's low points in Season One, the creators and writers of the show really seemed to pull it together for an almost seamless Season Two. I only wish that the effort put into the show was truly matched in its DVD releases. The show has a large fan base, many of whom are outside it's target demographic of 6-11 year olds. And while I understand that the intended demographic may not need more than a couple of episodes on the DVD, it's the parents and older fans like me who actually buy them. We'd appreciate a little more bang for our buck.
Katara: "Water...Earth...Fire...Air. Long ago, the 4 nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all 4 elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he still has a lot to learn before he's ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world..."
In order to bring the world back into harmony and end the war that the Fire Nation started, Katara (Mae Whitman, State of Grace) and her brother Sokka (Jack DeSana, All That) travel with Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen, The Ant Bully) in order to find people who can teach him how to bend each of the four elements.
Since Aang is already a master airbender, and Katara has learned enough to teach Aang waterbending, the gang is now heading to the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu in the hopes that Aang's good friend King Bumi will teach him earthbending. Meanwhile Zuko (Dante Basco, Hook), the exiled Prince of the Fire Nation, is still looking to regain his honor by capturing Aang with the help of his reluctant but supportive uncle General Iroh (the late Makoto Iwamatsu, The Sand Pebbles,Conan the Barbarian ). But all five of them are in for a big surprise as Zuko's father, Fire Lord Ozai, has tasked a new person with capturing them all: Zuko's sister Azula (Grey DeLisle, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy).
A more cynical fan of the show once suggested I label all of the episodes on this disc besides the premiere as filler. I have to admit, at first it seemed reasonable: the plots of these four episodes don't end up being very important in the rest of this season, if they are brought up again at all. But to label them all filler means I would have to completely ignore the storytelling, character development (and the important lack thereof) of the characters in each story. Let's start with the beginning...
The Season Two premiere starts off with a bang -- or a whoosh, burn, and a splash to be exact, as Aang dreams of all the times he's been in the Avatar State so far. It is a preview for an important theme in this episode and later in the series as Aang further grapples with the rather large amount of power he has as the Avatar, and his inability to truly control it. This season also becomes more consistent with it's secondary focus, Prince Zuko. He is forced to go on the run from his sister as he is now considered a fugitive of the Fire Nation, and must deal with the very real possibility that's he will never capture Aang and regain his honor. Ultimately he must decide if having his honor back and following his father's footsteps is what he truly wants or what he's been brainwashed into believing he should have. And so Season Two begins.
* "The Avatar State"
With loads of foreshadowing, humor, and action, this is a pretty solid premiere for the second season. The only real flaw it has is feeling a bit rushed. The conflicts here felt like they could've been fleshed out a little more and Zuko goes into a little monologue explaining all of his feelings that feels completely out of character, but ultimately these are small complaints. Most of the episode flows really well all things considered, with some nice moments in between. My personal favorite is at the end of the episode where Zuko and Iroh physically cut their hair after finding out they're both fugitives. No explanation is given, but it's clear to the viewer that the top knots they wore throughout Season One represented their connection to the fire nation. It's always nice when a show assumes you are intelligent enough to figure things out, and it's just that much more appreciated when it comes from a "kids" cartoon.
* "The Cave of Two Lovers"
"The Cave of Two Lovers" is centered around the gang's journey back to Omashu, where they plan to reunite with King Bumi so that Aang can learn earthbending. Meanwhile Iroh and Zuko are adjusting and not adjusting respectively to their new lives as fugitives.
As superfluous as much of this episode is, it still feels necessary. Seeing as a good deal of this series has to do with traveling within time limits, I don't consider episodes centered around...well...traveling within time limits to be filler. The gang meets a small group of hippies along the way that provide most of the humor (which includes a nice recurring gag of Sokka smacking himself in the head). However it also includes what feels like a clunky and tacked on subplot of the possible romantic feelings between Aang and Katara. The secondary storyline where Iroh and Zuko are forced to get help from a girl named Song when Iroh becomes sick is also okay but not without some cliche. I mean Zuko has a huge burn on the side of his face and fought multiple enemies from the Earth Kingdom, Water Tribe and Fire Nation in Season One. Am I honestly supposed to be believe he'd be surprised to see someone who'd been burned by a firebender? Overall though, the episode has a lot going for it. The humor doesn't seem forced, what cliche there is is kept to a minimum, and it's also the debut of Zuko's new hairstyle (give me a second to fight off the rabid fangirls).
This episode also shows the amount of detail that the writers and creators
put into the show. Zuko is forced to make up names for himself and Iroh when
they meet Song and her family. Since he is wearing a coolie hat (the Chinese
word for which is Li) Zuko calls himself Lee and since Iroh still looks very
sick from his infection he calls him Mushi (Chinese for "grave
corpse"). Who can fight with that logic?
* "Return to Omashu"
I hadn't seen this episode in quite a while and when I finally saw it again it was amazing how much of this episode has a subtext. Besides introducing the love em' or hate em' characters of Mai and Ty Lee, it also shows how many of the people in the avatar world think. Azula shows how manipulative she can be, Mai shows how she seems to be a bit of sociopath what with her lack of concern over her brother, and Sokka begins to show how the war has affected his views on other people. There almost seems to be a bit of discrimination in how he treats the baby of a fire nation nobleman (I admit I could be looking too deeply into this). The entire episode is entertaining enough to warrant a more than respectable score.
* "The Swamp"
This is the only episode on the entire disc that I would classify as a proper filler episode. That is, the entire episode could've been scrapped as part of the continuity and none would be the wiser. Not that this should imply that there isn't any fun to be had. There's some decent character development (Zuko and Sokka in particular have interesting moments), a preview for an upcoming episode and the ever-present humor that the Avatar series is known for. All in all, a decent episode.
* "Avatar Day"
Here's where the writers get a little more creative than they were last season. As I mentioned earlier, most of last season focused solely on Aang and his storyline. Episodes with a dual focus on Aang and Zuko were the minority. While this worked for the most part, episodes with two storylines running side-by-side always flowed better. This became painfully obvious during filler episodes of the first season like "The Great Divide," which I easily the worst episode of the Avatar series.
The alternative used here works better. They've left the filler material in
one storyline while having important character development/conflict in the
other. While Aang, Katara, and Sokka stop in a town that hates avatars (in a
storyline filled with a lot of forced humor and a rather ridiculous premise),
Zuko dons his infamous Blue Spirit mask and begins stealing food and trinkets
for himself and Iroh. While the format stops this from becoming filler it leaves
an obvious flaw, I sat through a good deal of the episode just waiting for Zuko
to reappear. The good news: Zuko's storyline is interesting enough to bump up
the grade and this is literally the only filler-ish episode in the entire second
season. The bad news: it leaves the entire collection of episodes a few elements
short of an Avatar (sorry, couldn't resist).
Ironically enough, most of what I say about the episodes is moot if you're planning on buying this DVD. The reruns of the show on tv and online have made it nearly impossible for you to not have seen these five episodes already. Besides I have to assume you liked them enough to consider buying the DVD. If that's the case, then "to buy or not to buy" depends on the extras. Herein lies the problem.
Last year someone had the brilliant idea of releasing the first season of Avatar in five volumes before releasing a box set with a sixth disc for extras towards the end of the year. The problem here was that the extras on those five volumes ranged from minimal to dismal, and the people who bought all five had no idea there would be a box set released later. Needless to say those people were more than a little angry, many of them saying they'd refuse to buy any of the Season Two volumes. I assumed that Nickelodeon and Paramount had a similar plan this year so I was expecting a nearly-bare-bones volume one disc for Season Two -- and I was right. The extras consist of an animatic for episode 1, "The Avatar State." That's it. Nothing else. That's all.
But Judge, what of the collectible comic book that was supposed to come with each DVD volume? You mean that dinky little four page comic? That only had three panels per page? The one that took me all of 90 seconds to read?
And I have to say, this would all be much less infuriating if the advertisements for this DVD hadn't promised commentary by the cast and crew.
I don't think I've kept secret how much I like this series. I've seen the second season and it is a great ride. However, there are just far too many reasons for you to not buy this DVD. First and foremost you're not really getting anything for your money here besides the episodes. Second there are at least three different and cheaper ways to obtain these episodes (itunes will let you download them for a $1.99 each for example). And third, there will more likely than not be a box set released later in the year with all of the episodes and more extras.
Unless you are one of those rabid fans I fought off earlier, or you absolutely can't wait to see these episodes without that nagging Nickelodeon logo, I just can't think of a good motivation to buy this DVD. It's sad really; if all those pesky other options didn't exist, I'd recommend this dvd.
Azula: "Almost' isn't good enough!"
You're telling me.
Guilty of marketing deception and a practical lack of extras, Avatar is sentenced to sit on my nephew's shelf until the box set comes out.
Review content copyright © 2007 Denise Louis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Original Uncut Animatic
* Exclusive Mini Comic Book Divided We Fall