ATLA Episode Reviews 101-103
Airspeed Prime here, as some of you may know, I am the sites reviewer of ….things like Korra episodes and comics. And while the site now has reviews of all the comics so far and Korra, we do not have reviews for ATLA episodes.
On the podcast we are going through the episodes randomly and discussing them indepth. But I think written reviews of the episodes are needed for a good review back catalogue.
So with that in mind I will be going through the episodes in order and reviewing them, not in as much depth as the Korra episode reviews, but still in detail. And so the news stream is not clogged up with 61 posts, I will be doing multiple reviews per post. The number will vary depending on multi part episodes and so on.
So I will begin with the opening 3 episodes, which are very much our 3 introductory episodes.
101 The Boy In The Iceberg
Written By/ Mike and Bryan
Directed By/ Dave Filoni
Animated By/ JM Animation
First Aired/ February 21st 2005
The first in canon episode of Avatar The Last Airbender, the first produced episode of course being The Unaired Pilot which was more of a test to show nick that the show could work. It is very interesting first of all to look at this episode after seeing that one and see the design changes, voice actor changes and even the animation style change with the move from Tin House to Jm Animation. I really do not think Avatar would be the same show had they stuck with many of the things from the unaired pilot, the changes made were perfect.
The episode itself does an amazing job of introducing us to this whole new world and the concept that people can bend and what The Avatar is. The extended intro only on this episode is so well done with the narration from Katara, even the little detail of Aang not being there on the cliff in the opening yet he is there in every other episode is great to see. Back to how this episode introduces us to a whole new universe, why it works so well is that we start off in a very isolated place, we see 1 bender for the first few minutes of the episode and she is a beginner, we see that not everyone is a bender. Starting off in The Southern Water Tribe was a fantastic way to start the show, a place we later find out is the way it is because it has been devastated by the big War going on, for our main hero lost in time to be found here of all places is such a nice opening.
Aang himself is also introduced very well, the difference in personality between all the water tribe people and Aang, an Air Nomad is clear to see. He is upbeat, playful and fun loving which turns out to be exactly what Katara needs, as she has lost a lot of her fun side due to her responsibilities.The way he is younger than both Sokka and Katara, yet is more knowledgeable of the world as a whole from travelling is also touched on well. Some of his first words tell you all you need to know about Aang “Will You Go Penguin Sledding with Me ?”. Then we come to Zuko and Iroh, introduced as
the villains of the show, we can see straight away that there is more to Zuko especially than meets the eye, while Iroh is just their to help Zuko. The scar, The aggression and drive and of course The Honour. It makes him interesting from the start.
The episode itself, there is not a whole lot to say as far as plot goes. It is a great opening episode, we are introduced to our main characters very well and just get into some plot before the end. As an episode on it’s own there is not that much too it, but it is the opening episode and it does what it needed to do well.
Favourite Moment/ Aang revealing to Sokka and Katara that he is an Airbender by sneezing and flying into the air.
Favourite Line/ “Will you go Penguin Sledding with me?” – Aang
102 The Avatar Returns
Written By/ Mike and Bryan
Directed By/ Dave Filoni
Animated By/ JM Animation
First Aired/ February 21st 2005
While not said to be a part 2 to 101, this is very much the second half to that episode. The drama had just started to get going and this episode really shows us what this show is going to be about. The main drama of course being that The Fire Nation now know the Avatar is in the southern Water Tribe a place in no state to defend itself, the danger is palpable going into this episode as an eager Zuko approaches.
A key part of this episode is what was done in episode 1, that being that Aang never once mentioned he is the Avatar and didn’t want to say anything when asked. We see straight away that he is the reluctant Avatar, we are not quite sure exactly why, yet, but it makes him such an interesting character as the show goes on and even just this episode to see him take on his role. Despite his reluctance, we see that Aang is a hero at heart and despite being banished he returns to save the tribe. Even more than this he gives himself up and reveals he is the Avatar to save the tribe, he is selfless and brave too.
Which brings me on to Katara who is very interesting in this episode in that Aang has brought out this new side to her, he has told her that she can come with him to learn Waterbending, you can tell Katara herself is unsure of her own path at this point: Stay and help her tribe or go and master waterbending, we know which one she wants to do, but her responsibilities in a way forced upon her with the death of her mother get in the way. It was fascinating to see how emotional she was when Aang was banished and how much of a connection she has made with him, it is only the closeness of The Water Tribe that keeps her there. But in the end her Hopes turn out to be correct the Avatar is back and it is she and her brother who found him, a great moment is when Kanna realises that this is Katara and Sokka’s real destiny, to help Aang and develop themselves too. Even Sokka doing a complete 180 on Aang because he sacrificed himself for the tribe, a real warriors way of looking at things was well done.
The best part of this episode has to be the final few minutes with Aang on Zuko’s ship and his attempt to escape and the many fights. It is so good because it shows us immediately in the first bending fight of the series the contrast of styles between Firebending and Airbending and also that with Aang being the last Airbender the firebenders have no idea how to deal with an Airbender. Aang’s use of speed and cleverness is so fun to watch as he easily escapes the aggressive guards. It is only a crazy dive off the top of the ship from Zuko that stops Aang from escaping, which shows us how desperate he is to capture the Avatar. Then the fight between Zuko and Aang shows us that the more aggressive and powerful firebending over powers Aang’s defensive Airbending. We get a shocking moment of Aang falling injured into the icy water with Katara and Sokka approaching seeing it happen. We then get the most epic moment of the episode, the music rises, Aang rises Eyes glowing powerfully waterbending after we had been told he can’t waterbend and just annihilating a terrified Zuko.
An interesting thing to note is that this is the only episode we ever see Iroh attacking The Gaang when he helps Zuko launch a fireball. Which may show they were not entirely sure what way they were going with his character, it is completely sorted out next episode though.
Overall this is the action packed episode to the introductory episode of 101. It works very well to show us our first bending fights, hint at the power of the Avatar and show us the journeys all of the main characters are going to take. The best thing about this episode is probably the end scene of Aang admitting why he never told them he was the Avatar “Because…I never wanted to be”, he may have taken on the role in this episode, but it is something he is still not comfortable with.
Favourite Moment/ Aang rising up from the Water in the Avatar State to everyone’s awe.
Favourite Line/ “Because….I never wanted to be” – Aang
These two episodes very much work as Part 1 and Part 2, as single episodes they are not the best, but together they make for a stunning opening to a marvellous show.
103 The Southern Air Temple
Written By/ Mike
Directed By/ Lauren Macmullen
Animated By/ DR Movie
First Aired/ February 25st 2005
The first episode after the opening episodes, it would always need to follow them up very well and get the series going well, 103 The Southern Air Temple does that with ease. In my opinion this is probably one of the best episodes of the entire series as it just has a bit of everything: character reveals and development, action, emotions, all this while getting the balance right of it still being an early episode and keeping the focus right now on characters and not plot.
The big thing about this episode is that it makes you feel completely differently about Zuko, from the first 2 episodes you get the sense he is not all bad, here we are shown this and partly shown why he is this way. The key to this is Zhao and showing him as what the fire nation are really like, we are presented in Zhao with a villain who is not only a villain to our hero characters, but also to the character we thought was the villain in the opening episodes which just makes for a fascinating story. Zuko and Zhao both competing to capture the Avatar, with Aang and co not interested in fighting them at all. What truly makes you feel for Zuko is what is not fully stated here but hinted at, that it was his father who gave him his scar in an Agni Kai, you wonder what he could have done to deserve that and then you wonder why he is so eager now to please him after that, what makes it worse is that Zhao does not care in any way about Zuko’s quest to regain his honour and is happy to just steal Zuko’s “last chance at redemption” from him. So we now at the same time love Zhao as a character, but hate him for what he is doing to Zuko, who was presented as the villain last episode. That is good writing.
Onto the conflict between Zuko and Zhao, the interesting thing is that Zhao is as eager to get into Ozai’s good books as Zuko is. So him stealing Zuko’s quest understandably enrages Zuko to the point where he challenges Zhao to an Agni Kai. What is so well done here is the concern in Iroh’s voice and on his face, then the amazing shot that pans across Zuko’s face to his scar as Zuko says he will never forget how he got his scar in his last Agni Kai. This episode makes you cheer for Zuko, in the Agni Kai you love his drive and determination to win. You can see how much Iroh cares for his nephew, giving him advice. The fight is interesting in that we immediately see the contrast of styles again, Zhao is cocky and nothing but aggression and power, Zuko’s hatred of Zhao causes him to try and outmatch him in this way which fails, it is his uncles advice to “break his root” that works, to keep Zhao off balance and unable to do his power attacks. It shows that Zhao while a threat is actually not a great fighter. Then the moment after the fight where Iroh demonstrates his skill, easily catching Zhao’s sneak attack and sending Zhao flying back, you just know Iroh is an amazing bender, without him even doing much. What Iroh says to Zuko after this is a lovely scene.
Iroh:¬†Even in exile my nephew is more honorable than you.¬†(Zuko looks at his uncle in surprise at this comment.)¬†Thanks again for the tea. It was delicious.
Zuko:¬†Did you really mean that, Uncle?
Iroh:¬†Of course. I told you ginseng tea is my favorite.
Calling him honourable and then not making a big deal about it was the perfect way to up Zuko’s confidence. Finally When Zuko does knock down Zhao and has the chance to finish him, that is such an emotional scene, Zuko is fighting with himself about should he do it or not. He decides not to and through that we see part of who he is deep down, he is not cruel like Zhao or Ozai.
With how good that part of the episode is you almost forget about the other half, the title half. Aang is eager to return to his home, The Southern Air Temple, but Katara and Sokka both know the fate of the other Airbenders, all killed during Sozin’s Comet 1. What is so powerful about this half of the story is the emotions, from Aang’s unwillingness to accept his people are gone, to Katara and Sokka not wanting to upset him, but also not lie to him. This is the first time we really see Aang come to terms with the effects of being a kid 100 years out of time, the first time those missing years really affect him. Through this episode we get to see Aang’s character flaw, which in a way is also a strength, he is overly attached to those he loves, we see it throughout the series with Katara, Appa and here with his people, when he finds Monk Gyatso’s skeleton (a shocking thing in itself to see in a nick show, showing some of the remains of a genocide) the Avatar State Activates and in his anguish he nearly blasts his new friends off the mountain, nearly killing his friends in his emotional state. We see the first of many times Katara will have to calm Aang down, emotionally saying how Aang is their family now. Finding Momo, as the last Flying Lemur was an interesting way of giving Aang something left of his people, that great moment of Aang saying that he, Appa and Momo are all that is left of the Air Nomads. It really shows us the extent of this war, but the interesting thing is that Aang never harbours any revenge towards the Fire Nation, which is interesting for his character.
Overall an episode that follows up on the opening two parts amazingly well, it ends up being on of the best episodes out of all 61. It does so much to show Zuko in a new light and also make you really feel for Aang and the situation he is in.
Favourite Moment/ Zuko does his Fire Flare to get back in the Agni Kai and realises he has Zhao, as he grins amazingly
Favourite Line/ “I will Never forget” – Zuko
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