ATLA 1-1: The Boy in the Iceberg

Katara and her big brother Sokka discover the titular boy: Aang.

To kick off July (and to feel better after watching Olympus) I will start reviewing Avatar: the Last Airbender.  I am acutely aware that several other people have done so, among them Doug Walker and Mark Oshiro, but it can’t hurt to add in my two cents as well.  Besides, it’s a superb show that deserves all the attention it gets.  I have watched all three seasons before (and while I only have Air for Legend of Korra, I am mostly aware of what happens in the next three seasons[especially the finale]) so I’ll know the arcs and foreshadowing ahead of time.

Of course, the episode kicks off with some world-building.  There are four cultures in this world: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads.  But a hundred years ago, the Fire Nation began attacking the other three and the war is still on-going with victory nearing for the aggressor.  Two years ago the men of the Southern Water Tribe left to help the Earth Kingdom.  There is one person who keeps the world’s balance and can use all four elements: the Avatar, who disappeared a century ago.

Instead of seasons the show (and its sequel) has ‘books’ with ‘chapters’ rather than ‘episodes’.  Also, I have the art book for this series, so I’ll be using that as a secondary source in these reviews.

A Sibling Squabble Saves the World

Sokka and Katara are in a canoe out among ice floes.  He’s fishing while Katara is practicing her water-bending.  When his spear’s blunt end pokes her water orb, Sokka gets soaked and is promptly annoyed about his sister’s weird “magic water”.  A mostly good-natured squabble breaks out… at least until they get caught up in a current.  They end up stuck on an ice floe with no canoe, far from home.

1AngryKatara

Katara starts raging at her brother, fed up with his sexist opinions, unaware that her actions are causing her powers to crack the glacier behind them.  With the last sentence of her rant, Katara accidentally breaks apart the glacier.  And then a giant glowing ice orb rises out of the water, with a motionless Aang and Appa within.  According to the book, “We never imagined Aang and Appa were frozen solid inside the iceberg.  Rather, we envisioned them floating within a hollow pocket of spiralling energy.  We would have loved to show them rotating within the iceberg, but that would have been too difficult to animate.”

Then the boy’s eyes open to their surprise.  Grabbing Sokka’s battle club, Katara goes over to break open the ice orb.  When the ice cracks open, a pillar of light shoots up high into the sky.  This leads to the introduction of Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation when he sees the beam.  He’s correctly certain that this is evidence of where the Avatar is.  His uncle, Iroh, is unamused by his nephew’s obsession and continues his game (a tile variant of solitaire, I think) and enjoys tea.

Zuko’s establishing character moment comes moments later when he shouts at Iroh that “I don’t need any calming tea!”  He then commands for the metal ship they’re on to go in that direction.

Aang’s Arrival

Back at the broken iceberg, the gusts die down but there is still lingering Southern Lights in the sky.  Aang collapses down at their feet as they die down, leading Sokka to poke at the younger boy repeatedly with the blunt end of his spear.  Katara tells him to knock it off as Aang wakes back up.  Finding Katara cute, he asks if she wants to go penguin sledding with him.

Sokka is very confused at this point.  Aang goes back to check on Appa.  Both siblings are astonished by the creature.

Aang: This is Appa, my flying bison.

Sokka: Right.  And this is Katara, my flying sister.

Appa then sneezes, getting green gunk all over poor Sokka.  Katara introduces Sokka, but Aang sneezes, flying at least ten feet into the air before landing safely, before he says his name.  Katara realizes that he must be an Airbender; Sokka, however, just wants to go home and recover from this “midnight sun madness” he has to be suffering from to be experiencing all of this.

Aang offers them a ride back on Appa.  Katara accepts first and points out that Sokka doesn’t exactly have any other options.  Appa belly-flops into the water instead of flying.  Katara is bemused when Aang smiles at her; Sokka is just fed up with the world at this point.

1Iroh&Zuko

Back on the metal ship, Zuko is agitated.  Iroh wants to go to bed and wants his nephew to get some sleep as well.  The older man points out how three generations of their family have failed to find the Avatar, making this quest futile.  Zuko points out that unlike them, his honor hinges upon finding the Avatar.

Southern Water Tribe

The trio is riding Appa back to the Southern Water Tribe.  Aang lies to Katara about not knowing the Avatar.  As he sleeps, Aang has a nightmare about how he and Appa ended up in that iceberg: they were flying during a storm and started to sink into the water when the Avatar State was activated and entrapped them as a survival tactic.  When he wakes up, Aang is in a tent as they’ve reached the village.

It’s only a small village after a hundred years of war and then the men leaving a few years back.  I’m not sure whether or not this village is all that’s left of their entire culture on this pole.  There are only women (both elderly and maternal) and a group of small kids left besides the pair of siblings.  Aang reveals how his staff can become a glider to use alongside air-bending.

Sokka is not amused when Aang ends up crashing into his snow watchtower.  As he starts on repairs, he grumbles about both Aang and Katara having weird powers.  Gran-Gran reminds Katara about her chores and tries to tell her not to invest all her hopes in him.  Katara refutes that she senses wisdom in the younger boy… cut to him deliberately sticking his tongue on his staff to amuse the kids.

Back on the ship, Iroh is supervising Zuko’s fire-bending training session with two masked soldiers.  The teenager thinks he’s ready for the next but Iroh dismisses the idea.  At this point Zuko believes the Avatar has had a hundred years to train/prepare and thus he needs to learn the advanced set in order to stand a chance.  There’s a title drop of Zuko calling him “the Last Airbender”.  Iroh wants to finish his “roast duck” before teaching Zuko the next set of fire-bending.

Sokka is trying to train a bunch of young boys as warriors when they need a collective potty break.  Aang is amused by their bathroom and lets the boys use Appa as a slide.  When Sokka brings up the war, it’s revealed that Aang doesn’t know about it.  The conversation is cut short when he sees a penguin.  Please note that in this world the penguins have four flippers.

Katara finds him trying to get a penguin to sled on.  She wants Aang to teach her bending as she’s the only water-bender left in the Southern Tribe and they long ago lost contact with their sister tribe at the North Pole.  Katara has never gone far from her home.

Undercurrents

1PenguinSledding

The two go penguin sledding, leading Katara to laugh, “I haven’t done this since I was a kid!”

“You still are a kid,” Aang points out.  Yeah, there’s a recurring element in this show about how our main characters ending up growing up fast due to the war.  After sledding through an ice tunnel, they see a Fire Navy Ship stuck in the ice nearby.  Katara doesn’t think they should approach it as it could still be booby-trapped.  But Aang convinces her by pointing out that Benders shouldn’t be limited by fear (well, that’s the gist of his comment).

As they start exploring the ship, Katara reveals it was part of the first attacks on the Southern Water Tribe back when Gran-Gran was a little girl.  Aang reveals he has friends all over the world and has no clue about any war.  Katara is worried that he’s been in that iceberg for a hundred years.

Initially wide-eyed, Aang perks up when he recalls that he got to meet Katara.  Tripping over a line, Aang triggers a booby trap as a rocket flares up into the sky.  Aang gets them out via a hole in the ceiling.  Through a telescope, Zuko doesn’t get a good look at Aang but does see him using air-bending to get himself and Katara off the ship before they start running towards the village.  So Zuko knows where his “hiding place” is.

Conclusion

Despite looking like an anime and having an all non-white cast, this show is American and was created by Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko.  However, they did want a more Japanese feel to the animation which accounts for the show’s style.  All the art is gorgeous in this show.  Plus there’s already an impressive chunk of world-building without feeling like an info-dump.  It hasn’t been officially revealed yet that Aang is the Avatar.

The cast of characters is already great.  Aang (Zack Tyler Eisen) is a good-natured kid out of time; Katara (Mae Whitman) is hopeful and is trying to master her powers; Sokka (Jack Desena) is snarky, stubborn, somewhat sexist, and mistrusts strange abilities; Zuko (Dante Basco) is determined to find the Avatar to restore his honor; and Uncle Iroh (Mako) is a laidback guy doing his best to temper his nephew’s stubbornness.  Plus, Dee Bradley Baker ‘voices’ Appa.

And of course, Sifu Kisu has to be mentioned.  He’s the show’s martial arts advisor.  Even though I’m largely clueless on the subject, I’m reasonably sure I can tell on some level that each style of bending is indeed unique from the others.  Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found the specific divisions in the book (I half-suspect that tidbit in somewhere in the DVD special features).

A polar bear dog is seen and briefly discussed in the Early Development chapter of the art book.  By now we all know how the creators decided to bring back that particular idea in the sequel series.

 

Next time on Avatar: Zuko arrives in the Southern Water Tribe.

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