Avatar: The Last Airbender, Book 3, Part 3 (US - DVD R1)
Gabe is back to his unhealthy Avatar obsessing after skipping a few releases.
As before, to gather my full thoughts on the overall series, please see my original season two, disc one review. I didn’t personally purchase the first two disc in Book Three (I’m waiting for the box set), but the Nick folks have sent me disc three, so here are my thought (maybe if I’m polite I’ll get that box set).
Season three promised to be the darkest, but started with some surprisingly light hearted episodes. The purpose of these early Book Three episodes seems to have been to set up the fact that the Fire Nation isn’t a nation of monsters, it’s simply run by monsters. These early episodes also set up former villain Zuko as listless in his Book 2 choice to join his evil sister and fight the Avatar. What follows is a rundown of the five episodes adorning this disc. Two of these episodes have not yet aired, and I don’t believe they will be airing until July, so please be aware of spoilers. And I’m sorry about the fan-boy speak, Chris.
The Day of Black Sun Part Two: The Eclipse
Unfortunately, the episode order, and Nick’s decision to put five episodes per disc has split the faux-climatic battle we’d been building up to for two and a half seasons. In part one, the good guys started an attack on the Fire Nation with the advantage of a full solar eclipse, after Sokka discovered that Fire Benders couldn’t bend when the sun is blotted out. As Earth and Water Kingdom forces advance on the Fire Nation capital, Aang was sent to fight the Fire Lord in his weakened state, only to discover that the bad guy was ahead of them, and in hiding.
With mere minutes left in the eclipse, Aang, Sokka and Toph venture out to find the Fire Lord’s hiding place, only to meet up with Azula and a group of evil Earth Benders, who waste their time until the eclipse is over. Defeated, the adult leaders of the resistance decide to send the children away on Appa the flying bison, and give themselves up peacefully.
Avatar is so good because it plays with its own predictability. We all know Aang is going to defeat the Fire Lord and bring balance to the world because we’ve seen Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and any other of the thousands of ‘hero’s journey’ fantasy stories. The series' writers play against the tropes with the flare of the most addictive Soap Operas, and our heroes losing the would-be climactic battle is a prime example of the series prowess.
This episode also marks the final turn of arch villain Zuko, who at least the adult fans knew had to join the good guys eventually, even if season two betrayed those expectations in its final moments. By taking their time in turning Zuko, the creators have insured that he’s one of the most thickly drawn characters in television animation, even though he regularly fulfills the predictability of age old tropes. The loss of the battle is an emotional moment, if you’ve allowed yourself to become attached to these characters, but the episode crescendo of Zuko following Aang into the air was one of the most satisfying moments of television I can remember in a long time.
The Western Air Temple
This is the awkward stage of Zuko’s transformation, where he has to confront the people he terrorized and then betrayed at the end of season two. At first Aang, Sokka and Katara outright refuse to let their former enemy join their ranks, but Toph, the one member of the group that hasn’t ever been directly affected by Zuko wants to give him a chance. Eventually Zuko proves himself by fending off the ‘Combustion Man’ that he originally paid to kill the Avatar.
Though things wrap up rather quickly in this episode, and though it sometimes feels like a necessary episode the creators just wanted to get out of the way, The Western Air Temple still provides plenty of thrills (courtesy of Combustion Man) and laughs (mostly courtesy of Sokka). The episode ends on a deliciously grim note as Katatra, who feels the most betrayed by Zuko, and who has recently learned to bend blood, warns the former Fire Nation Prince of the consequences of a second double-cross.
The Firebending Masters
So it goes that Zuko is welcomed (kind of) into the fold, and he takes to teaching Aang Firebending, but when it comes time for action Zuko is unable to produce any fire. Realizing that previous to his good-guy turn he used only his anger and hate to bend, Zuko realizes that he needs a refresher before he can teach Aang anything. He and Aang journey to the ruins of an ancient civilization of Firebenders known as the Sun Warriors.
The revelation of this episode actually doesn’t come as much of a revelation considering the previous Book Three episodes humanization of the Fire Nation. Still, Aang realizing that Fire is not only not evil, but actually the element of life is sort of like Luke Skywalker discovering that the Dark Side was originally a force of good. The episode works better as a further study of Zuko’s newfound benevolence, where he learns that ‘Light Side’ Firebending is actually more powerful then ‘Dark Side’ Firebending. This episode also features some glorious animation during the ‘dragon dance’ sequence.
The Boiling Rock, Part One and Two
After sitting on the sidelines as comedic relief for a couple episodes, Sokka prepares to regain his honour. He asks his new alley Zuko for the location of the Fire Nation’s most high security prison, hoping to free his father and the other Water Tribe warriors that were taken captive at the end of the failed attack on the Fire Nation capital. Zuko figures out what Sokka is planning, and in an act of good faith demands to come along. The awkward pair embarks on a suicide mission to the Boiling Rock, metal prison set in the center of a water filled volcano.
Detractors might accuse the series of grinding its gears a bit at this point rather then simply pursuing its climax, but these slow reveal episodes are part of what makes the show so special. Sokka and Zuko actually make a good team, and the reformed Prince puts himself in grave danger to help Sokka’s clause. Of course things are never as easy as they should be. Sokka’s father isn’t on the island, but his ‘girlfriend’ Suki is. The team’s initial escape attempt is abandoned later when Zuko catches word of a second shipment of prisoners.
Of course Sokka’s father is part of the second shipment, but what seems a pointless exercise in suspense leads to the most exciting moment on the disc. Zuko’s accidental incarceration gives away his whereabouts to his ‘girlfriend’ Mai, who comes looking for answers. Not far behind her is Zuko’s evil sister and her other sidekick Ty Lee. I’ll avoid spoiling further, and simply say that the episode ending battle holds one big shock that we all knew was coming, but weren’t sure we’d ever see.
So far Season Three doesn’t suffer the high compression issues of the beginning of Season One, and The Serpent’s Pass episode of Season Two, which were filled with blocky details, high levels of edge enhancement, muddy colours, and maddening interlacing effects. This disc is comparable to most of the Season Two releases. There are minor problems throughout. Some warm colours still dance with blocking and low-level noise, especially reds, and edge enhancement is still a noticeable offender. Details are pretty sharp, as they should be for a cell animated series, and colours knock out well, but compression noise and occasional interlacing effects are still issues
I’m positive that some day in the not so far future, there will be a Blu-Ray release of the entire Avatar series, and it will be remixed into an effective and aggressive 5.1 mix. These Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes just aren’t enough. Everything is clean, there is not discernable distortion, and centered effects work well, but the surrounds and general LFE impact are lacking, making the show sound too made for television (which of course it is, but that’s not the point). This is the first time I’ve noticed a lack of new music in a collection. The recycling of themes, which must be done based on the show’s budget, is beginning to rear its head. Fans know that the end title theme isn’t the same song that the Sun Warriors would use during a ceremony (*pushes glasses up nose).
Somebody quick, get these guys a moderator. Avatar creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko aren’t the best commentators in the business, and with each release their chats become more and more awkward. The team supplies two commentaries for this set, and neither is particularly enthralling, save a few moments here and there where they reveal just how well though out this series was. The disc’s only other extras are some Nick Toons trailers and a tiny comic book.
I know it isn’t cool for full grown men to rave so enthusiastically about something aimed at children, but Avatar: The Last Airbender is honestly worthy of such praise. For some reason the TV and DVD schedules aren’t lining up, and I don’t think the last two episodes on this disc are going to air before its release, so if you can’t wait for July this is your chance to take in a couple new episodes. Otherwise I’d recommend waiting for the Book Three set, which will likely be released sometime in the last quarter of this year.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 6th May 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Surrond 2.0 English, Dolby Surround 2.0 French, Dolby Surround 2.0 Spanish
Extras: Creator Commentary, Comic Book
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Zach Tyler, Jack De Sena, Mae Whitman
Length: 110 minutes
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