book two: Earth volume one
voice cast: Zach Tyler, Mae Whitman, and Jack De Sena
creators: Michael Dante, Brian Konietzko
Paramount Nickelodeon NTSC DVD Region 1 retail
reviewed by Trudi Topham
On the off chance that you weren’t aware, Avatar: The Last Airbender (aka: The Legend Of Aang) is Nickelodeon’s first foray into the muddy waters of American anime-style storytelling. What is perhaps surprising (Nickelodeon far more famed for slapstick humour, fart gags, and episodic format) is that it’s an excellent series with engaging characters, convincing plot twists, and an ongoing story.
The series follows Aang, a 12-year-old boy who is the reincarnation of the Avatar. With four nations each mastering control over a single element (fire, earth, water and air) the Avatar is the only person capable of mastering all four, and with the world at war, he’s now the only person capable of stopping it. Or so his travelling companions hope.
By the time Book Two begins, Aang has learned to control water to some degree, and the quest moves on to trying to find a suitable tutor to teach him Earth Bending. Volume one contains the first five episodes of season two. To fully appreciate what’s going on, you do need to have seen all of Book One: Water, but the newcomer to Avatar won’t be at too terrible a disadvantage. Book Two, Volume One spends most of its time showing how the world has changed since Book One, as well as shifting the focus from Prince Zuko to Princess Azula as the new primary antagonist. As with all episodes of any show where groundwork is being laid, the episodes on this DVD suffer a little with the sheer volume of information they have to relay to the audience.
That said, there’s only one episode here that’s below the usual Avatar standard. The Swamp is the fourth episode on the disk, and has a little too much padding in the script for it to be truly engaging. The age-old device of separating the protagonists from their means of transportation is handled somewhat ham-fistedly, and the Deliverance-esque Water Benders hunting Appa and Momo switch from disturbing goons to loveable… goons, too abruptly.
It’s easy to see why there are five episodes on one disc for the first time in Avatar’s release run: Book Two doesn’t really throw out the hooks until Avatar Day, the very last on this volume. There we learn that the Avatar State, for all its immense power, has a phenomenal drawback (which I won’t spoil). This is the first turning point of Book Two.
There are an ever-increasing number of characters to follow, too.
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While Aang is slowly becoming less of an irresponsible, reluctant hero, his companions are gradually improving their own abilities; Katara is juggling her own Water Bending practice with teaching it to Aang, and Sokka is becoming a very skilled young warrior. Prince Zuko is warily exploring his own humanity, guided expertly by his Uncle Iroh, whilst coming to terms with his exile. Princess Azula is shown to be ruthless where her brother is not, and a terrifyingly skilled Fire Bender. The team she assembles throughout Volume One include Mai, a dispassionate girl who is lethal with thrown, and Ty Lee, bouncy and enthusiastic, whose skill lies in disabling her opponent by targeting pressure points on their body.
With five episodes, and a lot of plot to get through, you get a good amount of entertainment on disc for your money. What, sadly, you don’t get are good extras. The only item of bonus material on here is an animated version of the storyboard for episode one, The Avatar State. Being animated at the rate of the episode itself, with cut-ins from the soundtrack and the occasional window onto the finalised episode in one corner, it’s of no real use to budding animators who may want to study the process of creating a storyboard. It’s not of any use to anyone who isn’t interested in how animation is created. It seems to have been tagged on in the belief that all DVDs must have something ‘extra’ on them.
Overall Book Two, Volume One is very good. Entertaining, comical, dramatic, and suitable for viewers of all ages. Only a slightly dud episode and poor extras let it down.