Episode 2: The Avatar Returns
An accident results in Aang’s expulsion from the Southern Water Tribe, and the villagers soon find themselves beset by sinister Prince Zuko.
If the first episode introduces the hybridization of American and Japanese animation, this one solidifies it. Not only with the character designs, but also in its execution of action sequences blending American camera and editing techniques with Japanese superpowered choreography and facial expression, plus the touches of slapstick is a combination of both. And when Aang goes super saiyan? *chef kiss*
The visual payoff of this episode is not jaw-dropping by any means, but provides the basic understanding of Aang’s and Katara’s limited skill set but exceptional levels of ingenuity. In contrast, it also shows Zuko’s unlimited skill set but lack of ingenuity. It’s the perfect setup for especially Aang and Zuko to one day eventually learn something from the other.
The writing here is as sharp as it can be, but of course this episode lends itself more towards fast-paced spectacle than slower dramatic moments (not that it calls for the latter). Now that the four major players have met, all the pieces have truly been set for further development of their chemistry, be it action or humor.
Also, Aang wants to ride a lot of animals and he knows for certain one of them doesn’t like humans riding them. Animal cruelty confirmed?
Episode 3: The Southern Air Temple
Aang returns to his childhood temple, hoping to find evidence that his people still thrive in the region, but he makes a shocking discovery.
GENOCIDE! I know they referenced it in the past two episodes, but I wasn’t expecting a Nickelodeon cartoon to show us the leftover skeletons (but at least we have Momo now to balance things out)!
Anyways, this episode is fantastic, especially Zuko’s scenes as we’re introduced to his father, more of the fire nation, and Zuko’s place in all of it. It’s a fantastic establishment for the journey of a sympathetic villain who will (hopefully) one day shed off his vices, whereas Aang’s adventure so far establishes his journey of strengthening his virtues. With these two characters burning the ethical candle at both ends, Katara and Sokka are caught in the middle and I presume will one day learn from those characters, and maybe those characters can learn a thing or two from Katara and Sokka.
But hey, we’re only three episodes in.
As for Aang, Katara, and Sokka’s visit to the Air Temple, it’s necessary to show the devastation of the fire nation's abuse of power and strengthen Aang’s motivation to learn and master all four elements. Although I think Katara and Sokka use the word “family” too soon to have a real impact (they really have only just met him), it's a kid show and I’d rather story beats be to the point instead of coy any day.
Episode 4: The Warriors of Kyoshi
Aang, Sokka, and Katara go to the island of Kyoshi, where they receive a chilly reception. After Aang proves he’s the Avatar, he becomes a celebrity.
Sokka overcomes his own sexist prejudices! Aang does an air marble trick and a guy froths at the mouth! Aang can run on water! And that’s only a few of the thrills this episode brings.
This is the first episode where we see a real clash of character dynamics with our protagonists, Sokka going through his own storyline to right his wrongs of stereotyping women, Aang dealing with fame and pride, and Katara trying to be the voice of reason (although, she’s more of the B-story character to Aang’s storyline).
Though it feels a bit slow at the start, the payoff is absolutely excellent when Zuko arrives at Kyoshi and starts terrorizing the village. We have more action, more firebending, and we see more of Aang’s skills and strength (notably when he wields fans). The score shines here as well compared to the last three episodes, possibly was even an inspiration for Kubo and the Two Strings’s score.
Another great episode all around! The animation seems to be getting a bit smoother, too. The short bursts of action sequences are slick as usual with kinetic movement to visually pack a punch, but also the slower and even comedic moments are executed more expertly.
Also, they’re really going through with this whole “Aang wants to ride every animal idea” thing. Not even the fish are safe.