Whoever’s Running the Show Over at Netflix: You’re Doing Great Sweetie

Two weeks ago, Netflix finally did it and saved quarantine. No longer do I sit in the kitchen watching CNN, count the number of times news anchors say “unprecedented” and consider taking a sip of my drink every time President Trump says something problematic. Instead, I can finally watch my favorite show of all time without risking the life of my computer through illegally watching Avatar. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender is the greatest show of all time, and here’s why. It’s all about the narrative. This anime is different from its contemporaries — e.g. Naruto, One Piece, Dragon Ball Z — because if the screenplay were published, it would be an essential work of the literary canon. Simply, all “good” literature addresses a few themes or motifs, and although Avatar is a kid’s show, I find myself analyzing the show like text. When watching the series, I ponder themes such as identity, fate versus predetermination, humans versus nature, power structures, inequality, violence, genocide, and war among others. 

The show is one of a kind. It appeals to its audience through something so unnatural yet so mesmerizing. The ability of humans to manipulate nature — water, earth, fire, and air bending — is magical and attractive, and this alone has shaped so many kids’ lives including my own. However, do consider the fact that this show is doing more work than just magic tricks.

In the first episode, and I mean not even past the first 10 minutes into this series, Katara runs the show despite comments from her misogynistic brother. She is fearless, passionate, wildly smart, one of the strongest waterbenders, and she is a fighter. She never lets a stupid sexist comment slip from Sokka’s mouth without correcting him. And eventually, Sokka comes to realize that women should not be confined to any patriarchal societal standards.

This is a kids show done right. Katara’s character remains this intense for all 61 episodes despite all that happens — no spoilers for those who haven’t watched it. After revisiting this series, it becomes clear that these characters played such important roles in my development as a child. Despite my youthful innocence, this show was educating me in ways separate from school, my parents, or babysitters. 

May I repeat, this is a kids’ show, and not only are the characters doing critical work, but the entire Avatar universe is. All of the animals, martial arts, traditions, and even the graphics of the show exhibit a motif of fusion. Countless attributes of the show display a point of intersection — Avatar Aang is the bridge between the spirit world and the four nations — and this show, anime made for an American audience, conveys the complicated implications of globalization. From the mass genocide of the air nomads to the 100-year war, to the defeat of the fire nation, Avatar: The Last Airbender follows the journey of Team Avatar’s battle against societal standards. This kids’ show needs to be recognized for more than just a bald boy with an arrow tattoo. 

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