An animated show on Nickelodeon that has developed a strong following (and will reportedly be turned into a live-action movie soon, helmed by director M. Night Shyamalan), "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is an animated series with Asian influences that started in 2005. The show focuses on a world where people are in control of different elements: Air, Fire, Water and Earth. When the Fire Nation attempts to achieve dominance over the other elemental tribes, a young boy named Aang is found by Katara and Sokka, and thought to be the chosen one who can master all four elements. Despite being immature, his potential ability to manipulate all four elements could lead the people of the world.
This is my introduction to the series, and I was incredibly impressed by it, especially given the kind of children's programming that is offered today. The series offers imaginative stories, doesn't condescend to its audience and boasts a rich mixture of action, adventure, mystery and humor. The martial arts sequences, of which there are quite a few in every episode, are genuinely exciting. Despite all the action, the series still remains wholesome and appealing for a wide variety of viewers, starting with older children (the youngest viewers may find the series a bit frightening.) The animation is certainly above-average for a children's TV series, as well, with striking style and detail. While I am certainly not comparing the two, I was occasionally reminded of some of legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki's work while watching this series.
This volume of the series includes five episodes that follow Aang as he attempts to learn how to master another element: Earth. Episodes included are: "The Blind Bandit", "Zuko Alone", "The Chase", "Bitter Work", "The Library".
The next volume arrives on DVD 5/22/07.
VIDEO: "Avatar" is presented by Paramount in the show's original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. Image quality throughout the episodes was terrific, as every detail of the show's gorgeous animation was shown off splendidly. The image remained consistently sharp and detailed throughout, with no softness or other issues. No pixelation, shimmering or other flaws were seen. Colors remained bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other concerns. No complaints to speak of here, as this was simply a lovely presentation.
SOUND: Crisp, clear stereo soundtrack with well-recorded dialogue, score and effects.
EXTRAS: Co-creator Nick DiMartino and members of the cast and crew provide commentaries for "The Blind Bandit" and "The Chase".
Final Thoughts: I'd heard of "Avatar" before viewing it on DVD and remain pleasantly suprised that it certainly meets the hype and more. Funny, exciting and beautifully animated, this is a great show for both adults and children alike. It's too bad that the series is not being made available in full season sets, but it's still recommended.