Avatar: The Last Airbender
Book One: Water
1.01 Chapter One: “The Boy in the Iceberg”
Written by: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, and Eddy Fan
Tocsin: Spoilers Below.
Thoughts on the Show in General:
Avatar is probably the best animated show on television right now. There are a lot of things going for it. My first thought on hearing about it was, “An American cartoon imitating the Japanese style? Yeehuuck!” But I’m going to have to admit that I was very wrong about how I prejudged the show. It’s brilliant. The animation quality is better than most anime with a similar budget, the characters are well realized, and the show avoids most of the awful pitfalls and clichés of other cartoons. It also doesn’t talk down to kids. The show is also full of pokes at culture, like an episode featuring hippies and one that makes fun of pro-wrestling. There are also a lot of references that adults will catch but not children. The only gripe I had (note tense) is that since the show is on Nickelodeon, no characters can die on screen. This means that in the first season a lot of Fire Nation soldiers fall off of boats and into water where they splash around helplessly. By the third season the show is absolutely masterful at not killing characters. Things like tanks being destroyed, but the crews living barely make you blink.
Thoughts on the Episode:
A first episode has a lot to juggle. It must first set up the world, the characters, and the plot very quickly or risk losing interest. “Boy in the Iceberg” does this very well.
Each of the characters is flawed (with the exception of Iroh, and the flat characters of the village) but has room to develop. Even the villain, Zuko, is rounded enough that he isn’t just “bad” or “evil”. One of the best qualities about Avatar is that smart characters appear smart through action and are not just explained as being smart with very little evidence. Zuko is shown as smart, but his intelligence is crippled by his lack of control. Iroh seems to understand this and cautions Zuko repeatedly not to rush to conclusions.
The Water Tribe's culture appears to be based on the Inuit people. Like most of the bending abilities in Avatar, Waterbending is based on real martial arts. The stances are reminiscent of Tai Chi.
Almost all animals in the show are doubled or mixes of other animals. The penguins in this episode have two tails and two flippers. Appa the sky bison has six legs. There are turtle-ducks and plata-bears later in the series. A weird idea that works very well.
The first show starts off with a longer version of Katara’s introductory speech featured in the beginning of each episode. The prologue states that the four kingdoms: the Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, Water Tribes, and Air Nomads; all used to live in peace until the Fire Nation betrayed them. The Avatar, master of all four elements, was supposed to be the insurance that no one kingdom dominated over the others, but when the Fire Nation attacked he vanished. A hundred years has passed and the Fire Nation has almost won the war. The southern Water Tribe has sent all its men to help the Earth Kingdom in the war leaving Katara and her older bother Sokka to look after the women and children. Katara ends her speech stating that she still has hope that the Avatar will return, despite most people’s belief that he was never reincarnated and the Avatar cycle was broken.
After the intro, we see Katara and Sokka fishing out in the middle of a sea of icebergs. Sokka is a bit of an over confidant goofball who doesn’t put much stock into Katara’s waterbending skills (calling it “magic” even after she rebukes him). They get into an argument over Katara’s “playing with magic water” and Sokka lets the boat get caught in a fast moving stream of water before crashing on a floating ice-sheet. Katara loses her temper and ends up breaking an iceberg behind them apart. This causes the bottom of the berg to float up revealing a boy trapped in the ice. Katara breaks apart the rest of the ice releasing a giant column of energy into the sky.
Far away, a Fire Nation ship patrolling the icy waters spots the light. On it, Prince Zuko, a banished prince of the Fire Nation, realizes that only the Avatar could create such a powerful surge of energy. He believes capturing the Avatar will restore his honor and allow him to return to the Fire Nation. His uncle Iroh, also on the ship, tells him that it’s probably just the Celestial Lights and not to get worked up over it.
Back at the iceberg, the boy wakes up and so does his giant six-legged bison he was trapped with (I’ll note here that Appa, the bison, is probably the most ridiculous yet adorably cute thing I have ever seen) . The boy claims the bison can fly. Sokka doesn’t believe this and claims the boy must be a Fire Nation spy. Katara overrides him.
The boy introduces himself as Aang and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s an Airbender, the last of which was seen a hundred years ago (the Fire Nation killed them all off). Katara asks if Aang knows what happened to the Avatar, but Aang says he didn’t know the Avatar. We can tell from his expression after Katara turns away that he’s probably lying.
When they get to the village (it’s population appears to be around twenty-one people, plus a dog), Aang is introduced to everyone but the villagers are a bit shy because, as Katara’s grandmother explains that there are no more airbenders left (Aang doesn’t quite believe this). Aang quickly earns the villagers trust by demonstrating his skills as an airbender. Only Sokka is still suspicious.
Aang and Katara go penguin sledding but run across a scuttled Fire Nation ship. Katara explains that the ship attacked years ago and Aang learns about the war that’s been going on for the last one hundred years, but he claims he could have only been in the iceberg for a few days. Aang decides to explore the ship despite Katara’s warning of booby traps. Naturally enough, he triggers a signal flare which alerts Prince Zuko to their location. The episode ends with a cliffhanger as Zuko looks through a spyglass at the village exclaiming that he’s found the Avatar and his hiding place.
Zuko (upon seeing the towering column of light): Uncle, do you realize what this means?
Iroh: I won’t get to finish my game?
Katara: In this episode, she is far more the protagonist than Aang. She hopes Aang can help her learn waterbending, as she can’t progress without a teacher. Her skills are weak. She is more trusting than her brother and not as skeptical.
Sokka: Sokka is a rare type of character in fiction, he functions as comic relief but he’s also dead useful. Even without bending he shows himself to be quite capable, though in this episode he mostly is skeptical, mistrustful, and very worried about his self appointed role in defending the village.
Aang: Childish, but with a strong sense of justice, Aang lacks confidence in himself. He is the Avatar, but he often feels lost. This caused him to run away from his home in the air temple. When he got caught in a storm he nearly drowned, freezing himself to stay alive.
Zuko: Zuko is shown to be impatient and prone to outbursts. When running through firebending exercises on his ship, he gets impatient and demands his uncle teach him more advanced techniques. He is shown to be a fairly capable villain if not necessarily all that in control of himself. His motivation is the restoration of his honor which he is sure he can restore if he captures the Avatar.
Iroh: An old man who likes his creature comforts. He is remarkably patient with his nephew, but seems to care little about capturing the Avatar and more about tea and card games.
Appa: Throughout the episode Aang insists the bison can fly. Nobody believes him.
See the sources at their sites!: http://www.tv.com/avatar-the-last-airbender/show/28841/summary.html http://www.avatarchapter.com/episodes.html http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417299/