Bending the Rules: How ‘Avatar: the Last Airbender’ Remains Timeless

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Kelthie Truong

Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) revolves around a world where characters have the ability to control, or bend, one element—water, earth, fire or air—with the exception of the Avatar, who can control all four elements. The show is particularly captivating due to the friendship between the main protagonists: Aang, the Avatar; Katara, a waterbender; Sokka, Katara’s brother; Toph, an earthbender and Zuko, a firebender whose goal is to capture the Avatar.

Charlotte Cao and Claudia Lin

Long ago, in 2005, the landscape of animated children’s shows was barren in its inclusivity. Then, everything changed when “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (ATLA), an animated show created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, aired on Nickelodeon for the first time. Audiences became enraptured by the fantastical world inspired by Asian and Indigenous cultures and found solace in watching beloved characters develop over the show’s three seasons. 

“It’s my favorite show, not only because of the representation it gives to many cultures around the world but also for the depth of the characters and the value of the story itself. I feel like each episode teaches its own little lesson,” senior Ali Dada said. 

When Netflix released ATLA on May 15, the show gained a nation of new followers, and old fans rejoiced over the prospect of rewatching nostalgic scenes. In other words, the fan base of 2005, which was mainly composed of children, has now grown up and expanded. With age comes new perspectives; many are now realizing that the show is more complex than a typical children’s show as it references topics like imperialism and genocide. 

“It was kind of like the Fire Nation was that terrorizing force that was taking over … I think that it’s really important for kids to see and [also for] us too, because it helps us connect to those moments of the past that we’ve seen not only in American history, but also in any history in any part of the world,” junior Puneet Singh said. “You see people coming and conquering and trying to take over with this power…. In the show, that power was fire bending; in reality, that power could be military or even just political control over an area.”

I think that it’s really important for kids to see and [also for] us too, because it helps us connect to those moments of the past that we’ve seen not only in American history, but also in any history in any part of the world.”

— Puneet Singh

Netflix has plans to create a live-action version of ATLA, which many fans expressed optimism about after learning that the showcreaters would be involved. However, on Aug. 12, DiMartino and Konietzko released statements that said they would be leaving the live-action production of ATLA. 

“I realized I couldn’t control the creative direction of the series, but I could control how I responded,” DiMartino said in a post on his website. “So, I chose to leave the project. It was the hardest professional decision I’ve ever had to make and certainly not one that I took lightly, but it was necessary for my happiness and creative integrity.”

According to the Independent, some fans were furious at this news, claiming that they would boycott the live-action version, while others remained hopeful. 

Although the state of the ATLA live-action movie may be uncertain, ATLA fans should turn to the character Uncle Iroh and remember that, “Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving you will come to a better place.”