“Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world.”
If you search “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on Google, you probably won’t think it’s anything special. A group of unseemly kids and a “chosen one” going against an undefeatable force isn’t anything new, but that’s just the basic premise. Beyond the fantastic storyline and the incredible bending of elements, this cartoon kids’ show involves friendship, important lessons, and feminism.
Within the first 5 minutes of the very first episode, one of the main characters, Katara, goes on a feminist rant. Without this rant, the show wouldn’t have even been possible. It’s what sets up the entire series, and how Aang (the Avatar) gets introduced. Her brother, Sokka, blames her for getting them stranded in the freezing water because she’s a girl. She calls him out for being sexist and immature, and consequently unleashes Aang from an iceberg. This is just one of the many instances where feminism was portrayed in the show, but because it comes so early on it really sets up the tone for the rest of the series.
“You are the most sexist, immature, nut-brained… I’m embarrassed to be related to you! Ever since Mom died, I’ve been doing all the work around camp, while you’ve been off playing Soldier!”
Besides the various examples of feminism portrayed throughout the show, the female characters in ATLA* are all unique, strong, and impactful. Katara is a strong woman, who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. She’s one of the best water benders, and knows not only how to fight, but how to heal. She’s feminine, but that doesn’t lessen her abilities. There’s also Toph, the confident tomboy, who just happens to be one of the most powerful earth benders. Oh, and she’s blind. In a lot of ways, she’s the complete opposite of Katara, but they’re both still so extremely strong. There’s Azula, the badass, determined antagonist who manages to kick butt every episode she appears in, but also somehow has a heart. With Azula, there’s her two friends, Mai and Ty Lee. Mai is quiet and seems to be emotionless, while Ty Lee is flirty and spunky. Together they make an unbeatable team no matter who they go against. Lastly, I want to talk about Suki. Suki isn’t a bender, but continuously proves that she can beat men, even though she’s a girl. She made Sokka realize that women are powerful, and strong, and can fight just like men. Each of these women are so diverse and unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses. They prove that girls have contradictions, and are completely different to one another, just like every human.
“I’m a warrior… but I’m a girl too.”
Avatar: The Last Airbender is undeniably based around Asian cultures and themes. Because of this, the characters are not all completely white (note: there’s nothing wrong with being white). This is so incredibly important, especially for little kids of color who may watch this show. As humans, and as kids, we look in our media for representations of ourselves. We love to see ourselves in other characters and be able to relate to them in some way. Obviously this is a cartoon, and they’re not real people, but it’s significant for little kids to see themselves in the media that they consume. ATLA shows diversity in the race of their characters, in the cultures that are portrayed, and in each individual’s identities. I mentioned before how amazing the female characters are, but each character in this show is truly phenomenal. They’re complex, and well-developed, and feel like real people. There’s a character for everyone to love and relate to.
It’s obvious that I really love the characters in this show, but I think it would be a shame if I didn’t talk about the other aspects of this series as well. The show has humor, and heart, and great action scenes. You get to grow and learn with each and every character. Every episode teaches great lessons that don’t hold back. The themes in ATLA don’t only apply to children, and the show doesn’t dumb itself down for kids to understand. I think no matter what age you are there is something to be learned from this cartoon. It is a show for any age- whether you’re 8 or 20.
*Avatar: The Last Airbender