Overview: Welcome to the world of the Avatar, a world of elemental powers, strangely mixed animals, and fairly simple geography. In this first season we meet the Avatar, Aang; a twelve-year-old boy who has been trapped in an iceberg for 100 years. Along with Aang are his rescuers and best friends, Katara and Sokka; a brother and sister team who stumble upon the frozen boy while fishing in the tundra. We get to know these characters, get a glimpse of their pasts, their families, their strengths and their foibles. As far as growing is concerned there is very little to speak of. Mostly it’s just a “Hi my name is- and I’m-” kind of season.
World: For those of you who don’t know, this is not our earth. This planet is divided into four nations, the Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, Water Tribes and Air Nomads. Each country is identified by its single colored clothing, red for fire, blue for water, green for earth and uh, orange for air… yeah, no clue. I guess they just wanted him to stand out, or maybe they’re based off of the Shaolin monks. Anyway, the geography goes something like this: Fire Nation – made up of islands to the west, most likely based on Japanese culture. Earth Kingdom – largest of the countries, makes up entire center of the map, probably based on Chinese culture. Water Tribes – made up of two tribes, one in the north and one in the south, probably based on the Inuit people. And finally the Air Nomads – made up of four temples on four islands one on each side of the map; north, south, east and west. They’re a people made up of monks as far as we can tell. My guess would be they’re based off of Shaolin monks, but that’s just a guess.
Aang: Aang is the Avatar. He was born one hundred, twelve years before our story begins into the Air Nomads. He was raised by monks until he was twelve when they told him he was the Avatar. After learning t his news he tried to run away and was caught in a storm and trapped in an iceberg until Katara and Sokka found him one hundred years later. Aang is your average twelve-year-old boy. He likes to have fun an do stupid things for the thrill of it. Small things amuse him and he’s sometimes easily distracted. For the most part of this season, Aang is learning what it means to be the Avatar and the responsibility it carries with it. He wants to be a normal kid, play with his friends, and worry about nothing. But he understands that he has a sacred duty to the people to protect them and set the world right.
Towards the beginning of the war, the Fire Nation wiped out the Air Nomads to get rid of the Avatar. This happened after Aang disappeared, making him the Last Airbender. This is something he has to come to terms with. He feels guilty for not being there to help, angry that it happened, and sad that he left the way he did. He also struggles to deal with the huge responsibility that has been dropped on his shoulders. He knows he has to help the people, fight the Fire Nation and right the wrongs, he just doesn’t know how, and a lot of times, it gets to be too much for him. Even his powers weigh on him as he struggles with the Avatar State. But despite all that, he still manages to keep his childishness and good humor, and balance out the serious with the less serious.
Katara: Katara is the last waterbender in the South Pole. Her mother was killed by in a Fire Nation attack, which led to her father going off to war, leaving her and her brother Sokka in the hands of her grandmother Gran Gran. With no one to teach her waterbending, Katara mostly taught herself, until she found Aang in the iceberg. Katara is usually the voice of reason in the group, encouraging them to stay on track, keep moving and not do anything stupid. But sometimes her heart runs away with her and she’s carried away by her passion for doing what’s right and getting what she wants. She won’t admit it, but she’s as pigheaded as her brother. She’s a strong female character and Aang’s love interest. It’s fairly underplayed in this season, childish crush in its beginning stage. Any advances made by Aang are usually thwarted by Katara’s insistence that he’s just a cute little kid, even comparing him to Momo at one point.
Katara struggles mostly with her sense of justice and the loss she still feels from losing her mother. She wears her mother’s necklace but is constantly saying that it’s not enough. Her mother’s murder fuels her determination to stop the Fire Nation and make sure what happened to her doesn’t happen to anyone else. She sometimes lets her passion for justice get out of hand and her temper flair out of control, but usually she can keep a level head, especially when needed. Her leading characteristic is her optimism. No matter how dark things seem she’s always hopeful that things will turn out for the best, and is the first to believe anything is possible.
Sokka: Sokka is Katara’s older, more skeptical brother. He isn’t a bender, but something of a warrior. When we first meet him he’s nothing more than a bumbling kid who wants to fight more than anything, to be as brave and strong as his father. When his father left for war, he made Sokka promise to take care of his sister, a promise he’s taken very seriously. He feels that it’s up to him to take care of the entire village because he’s the oldest boy left. Because of this, he’s far slower to trust than both Katara and Aang. Things are often very simple in his mind and he says often that he’s “just a simple guy with simple needs.” If you’re good, you’re good, if you’re bad, you’re bad. But there are always gray areas, even for him and he acknowledges that when there’s need for it.
Sokka may do the most growing in this season of our three protagonists. While they’re all developing in skills, Sokka is the one who really seems to learn. In the first four episodes we see him humble himself from his “warrior’s pride” to learn from girls he thought below him. He plays the comic relief character most of the time, but he’s not your average, useless, bumbling idiot. Sokka becomes a useful warrior over the course of the season, picking up styles here and there. He’s also good for tracking and reading battle signs, as well as navigating. He’s Katara’s counter balance, grounding them when she goes off on a justice kick, giving another view of something she thinks is black and white, or seeing something that she doesn’t want to see. He’s always good for a laugh, and he’s as stubborn as his sister, but he’s got a good heart and a strong will.
Zuko: Zuko is anti-hero. He is the banished prince of the Fire Nation, sent to capture the Avatar who isn’t supposed to exist. He was declared a disgrace by his father and has been questing to restore his honor for two years. Zuko is a very angry sixteen-year-old. He’s angry at his fate, angry with himself, and angry at the world, but he never seems to blame his father. In his mind, his father seems to be perfect, without flaw, and he only lives to please him. He’s impatient in his quest, wanting results and doing anything to get them. Despite his determination he rarely actually puts his search before the lives of the people around him. He’s a powerful firebender, and a skilled fighter, but his temper burns hotter than this fire. He’s quick to jump at any opportunity before thinking it through fully. Zuko begins the season as a villain but we very quickly begin to sympathize with him as we learn about his past, how his father disgraced him and gave him the scar over his left eye. He is extremely loyal to his father, his uncle and his nation.
Iroh: Iroh is the only constant adult character this season. He’s Zuko’s uncle and guardian as well as a retired general and the Fire Lord’s brother. He enjoys tea, pai sho, and roast duck. He always has a piece of wisdom to give when his nephew gets angry or distracted with the Avatar. He lost his own son in the war and thinks of Zuko as his own. Despite his bumbling ways and tendency to be a bit eccentric, Iroh is a cunning, competent warrior when needed. His one desire is to keep Zuko out of trouble and help him find some kind of peace. He acts as a buffer between Zuko and the people around him, more to protect the people than to protect Zuko. We learn very little about him through this season, but his character is amusing and amazing enough to keep us interested in him, despite lack of development.
Zhao: Commander Zhao is our main antagonist for the season. Unlike Zuko he’s only after the Avatar to further his personal gain. He’s out for glory for himself and his only real desire is power and a place in the history books, er, scrolls. He’s pretty much just a big douche. He’s always after Aang, and Zuko because he’s in the way, and he doesn’t care who he has to crush to get them. He uses everyone and his power lust, in the end, is his downfall. As far as villains go, though, he’s a pretty effective one. He’s not so much of a douche that you want to smack him around and tell him to STFU, and he’s an almost constant challenge for our protagonists.
Fire Lord Ozai: There isn’t much to say about the Fire Lord at this point. We know he’s a jerk because of what he did to Zuko. We know he’s ruthless and will stop at nothing to take over the world (OF COURSE). But we have yet to see his face. He’s a mystery, shrouded in flames for the most part. We only see him from the back through fire. This is part of what makes him so menacing, and what sets him up as a great villain.
Story: Book one: Water, as the title suggests, is about Aang’s quest to learn water bending. The vast majority of the season, however, is spent in the earth kingdom as they try to make their way to the North Pole from the South Pole. It’s really a getting to know you season, showing us around their world and how things work. We meet some key characters, rather briefly who will play bigger roles in later seasons. Almost all of the characters we meet will come back at some point and for some rather important reason. In some ways it’s like a puzzle. Every time we meet someone we get another piece and by the end, we have a full picture.
Bending: Bending of any kind is a form of martial arts. Each bending style is based on a different martial art form. Water and air are soft forms; earth and fire are hard forms. Every action has a reaction. For every motion performed by the bender, the element moves with them. This is actually a pretty cool system. It’s not something everyone knows, but if you watched some behind the scenes videos you’d see exactly what forms they used. I’m really fond of the whole concept.
Spirit world and Magic: Despite all the bending that goes on in the series, there really isn’t any magic. It’s all somehow explained through chi or other means. While Sokka calls bending magic in the first episode, it’s clearly not magical at all. However, their world and the spirit world seem fairly connected. The Avatar is the bridge between the mortal world and the spirit world. As such, he can communicate with the spirits and even enter the spirit world completely. Also, due to the fact that he has been reincarnated a zillion times he can also speak with his past selves, especially Avatar Roku, his last life. Avatar Roku acts as a guide for Aang as he learns what it means to be the Avatar and gives him insight about what’s to come.
Showdown: So the final showdown of this season naturally takes place in the Water Tribes of the North Pole, our destination for the past eighteen episodes. In what will be the usual two-parter, the Fire Nation finally makes a move on the one country that’s somehow thwarted them for the past hundred years. The Water Tribes, being the badasses that they are, have it totally under control. The water benders get their power from the moon, which is nearly full at the time, giving the Fire Nation only the day light hours to attack. It’s a good thing they don’t have perpetual daylight. Admiral Zhao, who got a promotion half way through the season, has a rather devious plan to fix this, though. Somehow he stumbled upon a scroll that told him where the water and moon spirits are in the mortal world. We never learn why they’re in the mortal world, just that some hundreds of years ago they decided to leave the spirit world and live as fishes.
Zhao also thinks Zuko is dead since he blew up his ship in order to get him out of the way, and to get Iroh to join him in his conquest. Why, I’m not sure. He doesn’t listen to Iroh, so I guess he just wanted to rub it in his face, or something. He is a douche after all. At any rate, while Zhao is attacking the Water Tribes, Zuko is being a ninja and looking for Aang who is in the spirit world looking for the water and moon spirits for help. It’s all constructed so perfectly. They get Aang out of the way long enough for Zuko to capture him to get everyone else out of the way while Zhao gets in there to capture the fish, but not long enough for him to finish the job so they’re all there for the big moment.
In this we really see Zuko’s true colors. Yes, he kidnaps Aang, but he’s doing it for honor, not glory. He’s just doing what he needs to to get home. We see him recognize the fact that he’s a disappointment to his father, and feel his contempt towards his sister and for her natural talent. We also see his regard for life as he fights Zhao, who tried to have him killed. Yet, when it comes to the point where Zhao’s life is in danger, Zuko offer’s his hand to save him. Zhao rejects him, of course, but the offer is what’s important.
Aang pulls one of the most awesome Avatar States of the entire series for this showdown. After the moon spirit is killed he goes all glowy with the water spirit and becomes this giant water monster that pretty much wipes out all the Fire Nation troops inside the ice fortress and the Fire Navy ships. And it’s amazing! It scares the crap out of him, but it’s awesome.
Meanwhile, back with the dead fish, Sokka experiences heartbreak as Yue, who earlier revealed that she got her life from the moon, gives that life back and becomes the moon spirit. So Sokka’s heart is broken, Aang is kind of scarred for life, Katara is now a waterbending master and they finally get some small rest before the beginning of their next big adventure.