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Keim Time: The Last Airbender and the art of balance

Brian Keim
Opinion Editor Brian Keim reflects on some aspects of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” that make it his favorite show of all time.

“Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.”

The above words are ingrained within the minds of fans of all ages from around the world as the beginning of the opening narration of the classic animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Despite being the launching point for a sequel series, comics, novels, upcoming movies and two live-action adaptations (neither of which deserve much attention), it’s the original three-season series that sticks out in my mind as my favorite television show of all time.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” is an American animated series with anime influences that aired from 2005 to 2008 on Nickelodeon, but obviously it’s so much more than that. It’s a story, a journey, a world, an experience. Exploring topics from generational trauma and the impact of war all the way to secret tunnels and penguin-sledding, it has a little something for everyone.

I have some memories of watching and enjoying the show during my childhood, but it wasn’t until high school that I began to fully appreciate “Avatar” for all that it was. After rewatching the entire series with a DVD box set (this was late 2019, a few months before the show came to Netflix), I fell back in love with the show that had enamored me since childhood.

The series follows Avatar Aang and his friends on their quest to defeat the sinister Fire Lord Ozai, finally bringing peace to all people and balance to the world. Though the gang often gets sidetracked and even the main story is more complex than that one-sentence summary suggests, I love the fact that the show keeps its central conflict throughout its run and ends with its conclusion. Instead of being cut off prematurely or, worse, continuing after its story has a purpose, “Avatar” has an overarching plot that tells the story to its fullest— nothing more, nothing less.

At the heart of the story is a wide array of characters who range from endearing to downright terrifying, and keep in mind that those traits are not mutually exclusive. The protagonist Aang, a 12-year-old gifted with the ability to control all four elements, strikes a perfect balance between the innocence of a child and the wisdom of a monk, both being critical attributes of his personal history.

However, there are times when Aang’s friendly demeanor sheds temporarily and the horrific level of power he wields becomes apparent. The abilities of the Avatar are infinitely above any other force in the show’s world, a lot of power to be placed in the hands of a goofy 12-year-old. On rare occasions when Aang’s friendliness is tested, his power unleashes and horror unfolds. Though harm done to humans is kept to a minimum (the show aired on Nickelodeon, after all), the danger of the situation is obvious enough to put fear into the audience, the characters and even Aang himself. Trying to contain godlike powers while maintaining a pacifistic lifestyle is one of the greatest challenges he faces in the series.

The length of this article does not allow me to do justice to every character in “The Last Airbender,” but I would be doing the show itself a great disservice if I didn’t bring up my two favorite characters: Prince Zuko and his uncle Iroh. Though many of my favorite moments between the two constitute major storyline spoilers, the characters are phenomenal both as individuals and a pair. Zuko, the disgraced son of the Fire Lord, has dedicated his life to capturing the Avatar and restoring his honor, while Iroh is more concerned with drinking tea and playing board games; but behind his jolly exterior hides a great deal of emotional weight.

The interactions between the two range from hilarious to heart-wrenching and the way both of their stories develop over the course of three seasons is a masterpiece of storytelling that I regrettably can not divulge at this point. If you have not seen the series in its entirety, it would be a horrible sin for me to spoil any aspect of the wider storyline.

Out of respect for the time of my readers, I will now tone down my fanboy gushing. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a spectacular series that is well worth a watch from any viewer. With many more stories on the horizon, I am ecstatic to see where this world goes in the future. With emotional intelligence and rich themes, this show surpasses all others and leaves an unforgettable mark on the audience.

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About the Contributor
Brian Keim
Brian Keim, Campus Editor
Brian Keim is the Campus Editor for The Carroll News, hailing from Medina, Ohio. He is a sophomore at John Carroll University, majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and minoring in communications with a concentration in digital media.
Often referred to as a “person” who “exists,” Brian is also involved in the JCU Improv Troupe and Blue Streaks on the Run. In his free time he allegedly considers film-watching and book-reading to be two activities that are enjoyable as well as life-changing, if you know where to look.
To request biased film opinions, haphazard Academy Award predictions, or otherwise contact Brian Keim, he can be reached at [email protected]

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