Episode 5: The King of Omashu
Sokka and Katara must again indulge Aang when he drags them to the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu, another favorite haunting ground of his youth.
Ah, so this is the cabbage guy the memes have spoken of!
I consider this to be the first filler episode so far, since everything that happens is self-contained within this episode and the biggest moment is just recapping what the goal of Aang’s adventure is. Not much to talk about here except for seeing earthbending alongside some more airbending, lots of jokes that fall flat, and perhaps an aspect of the magic system that we may not see again (the rock candy trap).
Honestly, it feels like a rushed tie-in anime film with a lackluster ending. Oh well, at least we have the cabbage guy now.
Episode 6: Imprisoned
Aang and the others find an Earth Kingdom mining town under the thumb of the Fire Nation, and Katara feels guilty when her actions lead to an arrest.
Much stronger than the last episode, even if it may be a filler. Katara has the spotlight here and there’s a strong use of dramatic narrative as well as jabs at shonen anime tropes (the fake earthbending and Katara’s inspirational speech). This is also the funniest episode so far with a handful of clever jokes sprinkled throughout.
I think the previous episode was made just to introduce earthbenders for this episode, which still makes it feel unnecessary as they reintroduce earthbending in the first half. This creates a mixed-bag feeling with this episode on whether or not you watch the previous one. If you do, this drags in the first half. If you don’t, this whole episode is pretty solid. It’s no gamechanger, but it’s a nice side adventure to understand more about our heroes, the world, and have a few laughs along the way.
There is also a return of the weirdly animated body movements. Why is Katara the only victim of this?
Episode 7: Winter Solstice: Part 1: The Spirit World
Aang takes on the task of defending a town from an interdimensional monster, but his untested skills and uncertainty could prove the town’s undoing.
So on top of bending the elements, we now have a spirit world? Groovy.
You can definitely tell there’s an energy missing when Sokka’s gone for most of the episode, but the writers make up for it with Aang going solo in the spirit world. It’s a nice little build-up to the next episode with a closed-in story about regrowth that parallels Aang’s journey in this two-parter a bit: that even though the forest (past Avatar) is dead, a new one can grow in its place and perhaps become even stronger because it was born through tougher conditions.
Too bad all Slayers die young.
Oh, wait, different show.
Episode 8: Winter Solstice: Part 2: Avatar Ruko
During the winter solstice, Aang must travel into the Fire Nation -- which wants to capture him -- to communicate with his predecessor, Avatar Ruko.
This episode is a little haphazard in its execution, but really pulls itself together in the end.
Sokka’s back to crack some jokes, Zuko’s back to kick some Avatar butt, and we continue to have Aang be the sole focus. Honestly, this is probably the episode that funnels down the story’s main focus, giving Aang the clear goal of needing to master all four elements by summer’s end (less than a year!). It was odd, though, that the trio somehow ended up in a dead-end that had the secret passageway they needed, but it’s a kid show.
A lot of this series feels like a kid-friendly version of what I’ve seen before, be it before and after the show’s original run, and I think that’s a testament to the show’s legacy. It’s like a cultural intersection of American and Asian animation (not just Japanese, since they regularly reference Chinese and Korean phrases), intertwining the two general cultures to form one coherent show. Then, I’m fairly certain, both cultures take inspiration from Avatar and create their own shows in the same vein.
Will these two cultures intersect again? Perhaps. I see it now in the Japanese anime My Hero Academia, combining America’s superhero culture with Japanese ideals of community. Almost a cultural flipped version of Avatar, where there is more of an American Chosen One narrative in a mythical Asian-aesthetic setting. In Avatar’s case, though, they’re going the pacifist route. Instead of trying to defeat the villains with brute force or cleverness, it’s more of a matter of escaping or nullifying the threat.
Ah, look at me babbling. Onto the next episode!