“Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.”
If you’ve seen the excellent series Avatar: the Last Airbender, you already know the basics. If not, here’s a quick synopsis. The world is comprised of four nations: Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Among each group are Benders, those who are able to manipulate their native element. Only one – the Avatar – can wield all four elements. As an Avatar dies, their soul is reincarnated so that the world will always have someone to maintain balance. One hundred years prior to the start of the series, Fire Lord Sozin began a campaign of conquest. When the world needed the Avatar the most, he vanished.
12 year old Aang, our titular character and today’s choice of Fictional Favorite, is found by young Waterbender Katara and freed from the iceberg that had held him for the past 100 years. In a world all but conquered by the Fire Nation, Aang must learn to master his non-native elements and bring peace and balance back to the world.
Now, A:tLAB is a kids show. There’s a fair amount of silliness. Aang’s first order of business upon being defrosted? Penguin sledding. Solid choice, buddy. Aang is a goofball.
He has a flying bison. I really want a flying bison.
He knows what the kids really want.
Balancing the lightheartedness, there’s a richness to the show, to the storytelling, and the world building. That’s reflected in Aang. He balances tremendous power with boundless empathy. He’s focused and capable, but he gets frustrated. He makes plans that succeed, and some that fail horribly. He sees allies imprisoned, loved ones in danger.
Upon returning to the Southern Air Temple, he finds that not only is everyone he knew gone, but that Fire Lord Sozin had the entirety of the Air Nomad people slaughtered. He finds the remains of his mentor, Monk Gyatso, surrounded by the bones of dozens of Fire Nation soldiers. Heartbreaking.
Zuko, the current Fire Lord’s son, has been tasked with hunting the Avatar down. Following an unlikely (and brief) alliance, Aang wistfully wonders if under other circumstances they might have been friends.
There’s a whole lot of darkness around this lad. Even in that darkness, even as knows he must end a tyrant’s reign, he seeks a better way. His first choice will always be kindness. It will always be protection. It will always be light.
That’s a lot to hang on a 12 year old child, but Aang finds his way. Well done, show.
Honorable mention: Ahsoka Tano