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Virgin take on Book Three of Avatar: The Last Airbender

This is it guys … this is the third and final book of Avatar: The Last Airbender and arguably the best yet. What the Third Book of Avatar: The Last Airbender does is double down on the emotion and raw visceral nature of its action and characters and deliver a wholly satisfying conclusion and climax to this vast and adventurous story and world.


OPENING THOUGHTS

I was wrong

Before we get into specifics, I want to address something I predicted in my review of Book Two: Earth. In the review, I made the point that when it comes to trilogies, the second instalment is the best. My thinking being that when storytellers have three blocks to tell a story they must start it with the first and end it with the third. This means that they can have fun with the second instalment. In other words, the second instalment is a wildcard. You can have fun with the characters and pull them whichever way you want. Having said that and stuck by it, I was completely wrong. I think the third season not only outdoes the first and the second, it is one of the most respectful, well-rounded and rewarding seasons of cartoon that I have ever seen.

There is a small time jump from the end of Book Two and the start of Book Three and it was a little jarring, as was its’ intentions, but very quickly, Book Three catches up and delivers some really thought-provoking stories via the engrossing characters of Iroh, Zuko, Toph, Sokka, Katara and, of course, Aang.

ASSESSING THE CHARACTERS

Iroh and Zuko Hug in Avatar - The Last Airbender - Book Three

When all is said and done, Zuko and Iroh still remain my absolute favourite characters on the show. It is too simple to say that the joyous and ultimately childlike altruism of Aang elevates him above the rest but, as I’ve said before, I love broken and misguided things. Zuko is the epitome of broken but seeing him transform from the opaque and relentless villain in Book One into the peaceful Fire Lord and nephew in Book Three was fascinating, captivating and something akin to adult story telling. The emotion this show pulled from Iroh and Zuko, who barely talk or even interact in Book Three, was fantastic and seems impossible on paper. But the relationship was handled with such care that when it finally fuses back together, with Iroh yanking Zuko in for a hug, the tears were so real.

Sokka and Toph do take a back seat this season, and rightly so considering that much of their character building has already been done, but that does not mean they’re forgotten. Sokka has an episode here to find his role in the team and an episode there to find his place in his family. Toph has an episode finding herself with Katara and spends the rest of the time being the resident badass.

I also adored the final moral fight that Aang faces in Book Three. It is undoubtedly dynamite every single time Aang starts to bend or every single time Aang enters the Avatar State, but when he’s wrestling with the idea of killing the Fire Lord, the show got dark and it started to treat its audience the way all media geared towards children should: with respect.

EPISODE-BY-EPISODE REVIEW

Right, so that’s characters done. Let’s jump into specific episodes and deliver a single sentence review of each one before my final thoughts.

  1. The Awakening: A time-jump and contrast to the series finale sets up a thrilling final act.
  2. The Headband: A fun Fire Nation caper by the gang and a solid character piece for Zuko and a silent Iroh.
  3. The Painted Lady: It’s Katara’s time to shine with a standard story of charity and good-will.
  4. Sokka’s Master: The appreciate Sokka episode that only makes us an audience love him more and his friends actually come to see his immense value.
  5. The Beach: A surprising character study of the ‘villains’ that shows how respectful these writers of their audience.
  6. The Avatar and the Firelord: A world-building exercise that catapults Aang and Zuko towards each other and a fulfilling conclusion.
  7. The Runaway: Toph and Katara do battle in a middling episode that is otherwise forgettable.
  8. The Puppetmaster: A truly creepy episode that does wonders for the Katara’s character.
  9. Nightmares and Daydreams: The fractured Zuko wrestles with his welcome back whilst Aang wrestles with his destiny, both are as captivating as each other.
  10. The Day of Black Sun: Part 1 – The Invasion: A small glimpse of the awesome that is to come but a thoroughly entertaining fight of an episode.
  11. The Day of Black Sun: Part 2 – The Eclipse: Everything falls apart as Aang learns that the task isn’t as easy as it seems in a necessary and important episode.
  12. The Western Air Temple: The point where Zuko turns from bad with good in him to wholly good feels natural and welcome in this terrific and funny episode.
  13. The Firebending Masters: Another world-building exercise that shows that this isn’t just Aang’s story but also Zuko’s.
  14. The Boiling Rock: Part 1: A fun side-story for Sokka that gives him a chance to shine and gives Zuko a chance to prove himself.
  15. The Boiling Rock: Part 2: Another fun side-story that reunited Sokka and Katara with their father and gives Zuko hope through a touching love story with Mai.
  16. The Southern Raiders: Zuko pushes Katara towards something that she is not but the episode ultimately highlights the clean-heart in Katara’s chest.
  17. The Ember Island Players: A fantastically meta-episode represents the calm before the storm but may just be the standout this season.
  18. Sozin’s Comet: Part 1 – The Phoenix King: The end is nigh and the show explores that through Aang’s morality in a ballsy character piece.
  19. Sozin’s Comet: Part 2 – The Old Masters: The show doubles down on Aang’s moral standings and delivers a great series of recounts through Aang’s questions.
  20. Sozin’s Comet: Part 3 – Into the Inferno: The show’s terrific and inventive style of action and animation comes to the fore as Aang and the Firelord do battle.
  21. Sozin’s Comet: Part 4 – Avatar Aang: A near perfect ending to Avatar: The Last Airbender that does every character justice in the way that it should whilst satisfying every narrative thread.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is a case of a show that lives up the hype and the love. A couple of weeks ago I was the guy that knew everyone loved Avatar: The Last Airbender but I didn’t know why. Now, I’m one of the people that love Avatar: The Last Airbender and I know exactly why. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a mature show for children that has fun, that giggles and that can be silly but at its’ core it is a relatable human story told through fantastical and magical settings with characters that other shows can only dream of creating.

Up Next: The Legend of Korra – Book One!

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