Avatar: The Last Airbender, Book 3, Vl.4 (US - DVD R1)
Gabe promises that this will be his last Avatar review...until the book 3 boxed set
Frodo had to destroy the One Ring, Darth Vader had to kill the Emperor, and Moses had to lead his people to the Holy Land. Every epic has to come to an end, and for Aang the Avatar this is it. At the end of this disc there will be no more Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I’m torn between satisfaction and sadness. I haven’t invested myself in a serial adventure this fully since Deadwood, and I haven’t been this sad to see something go since Home Movies. For this review I’m continuing my tradition of running down each episode with pretty massive spoilers, so please beware.
In fact, if you haven’t seen the episodes yet, don’t even read this. Sorry Chris.
The Southern Raiders
Season three, or book three, whatever you want to call it, is all about closure, and emotionally there had been no closure between Zuko and Katara. Way back in season two Zuko betrayed Katara, and even though he’s proven himself an asset to the team, Katara is still unwilling to trust him. Zuko realizes that Katara has somehow tied her anger with him into her anger over her mother’s disappearance, and after some digging he decides to build a relationship with Katara by taking her to the people he assumes took her mother—the Southern Raiders.
This episode offers some brief back story on Katara and Sokka’s mother, and why she was taken when they were young (it’s also implied that she was murdered shortly after). Zuko and Katara get their closure, and in the end Katara makes the right decision and doesn’t resort to bloody vengeance, but the episode feels a bit like a last minute lock down on the characters before the big showdown. Like the rest of the final episodes, the pacing rush is jarring compared to the series’ normal tempo, but the Sokka comedy moments are some of the funniest in the show’s history (and pretty racy, as it’s implied that Zuko has inadvertently interrupted a romantic evening between Sokka and his girlfriend Suki), and the final moments where Zuko asks Aang how he plans on stopping the Fire Lord without killing him reverberate through the final episode. Pretty heavy stuff for a show that started with the hero riding Penguins.
The Ember Island Players
This is the closest Avatar gets to a clip show, apparently following the Anime serial tradition of having a wrap up episode, but it isn’t a skippable episode either. The team takes a trip to the theatre to watch a play about them and their journey, as put on by the Ember Island Players, a Fire Nation acting troop. Some facts are muddled or wrong (Toph is played by a giant man), and some of the mistakes hurt to consider (perhaps Katara really does love Aang only as a brother). Some of the drama plays out a bit heavy handed (frankly, Aang’s ‘more then a brother’ affection for Katara isn’t of much concern at this point in the story), but when the team has to watch their on-stage equivalents lose to the Fire Lord, the point of the episode finally rings true.
The episode offers the writers a chance to parody more then the normal clip show. The play’s version of the characters are super-simplified, like those of most children’s animation, and the simplified nature offers the ‘real’ characters a chance to comment on the simplicity, though mostly though complaints. The writers also poke fun at themselves. For example, the drill episode attack prattles on until the audience is asleep, and the death of Jet the rebel is unclear, admits Sokka.
Sozin’s Comet: The Final Battle (parts 1,2,3 and 4)
It all comes down to one final super-episode, where Aang and his friends finally confront their destinies. Fire Lord Ozai declares himself the Phoenix King in honor of the coming of Sozin’s Comet—the thing that will give him and the rest of the Fire Nation the power to burn the entire Earth Kingdom. Ozai declares Azula the new Fire Lord and leaves to incinerate his enemies.
But Azula, still shaken by the betrayal of her only two earthly friends, begins to go mad, and quickly banishes every one of her loyal subjects. So much of seasons two and three were spent setting Azula up as an almost invincible fighter and a brilliant strategist that this downfall comes as a pleasant shock. In the past Azula effectively took the Earth Kingdom capital, ‘killed’ the Avatar at the end of season two, and thwarted the attack on the Fire Nation capital so effectively in the middle of season three that her father’s apparent superiority was a nightmare. The creators craftily take away Azula’s most powerful asset, her confidence, at the last minute by turning her friends against her. This is simply another of a long line of trope inversions that make the series so wonderfully effective. Azula’s defeat at the hands of her ‘inferior’ but enlightened brother Zuko is arguably a more potent moment in the series finale then Aang’s defeat of the Fire Lord.
Meanwhile, Aang disappears for a large section of the finale. Disturbed at the prospect of having to kill the Fire Lord he struggles to come to terms with the idea, and finds himself adrift on a mysterious island. On the island Aang meditates with his past lives, who all agree he must commit an act of murder to save the world. Still not accepting violence as the answer, Aang realizes the island is actually a giant Lion Turtle, who shows him how to ‘energy bend’, thus offering him an alternative to murder.
This section has drawn the most critical ire, and with good reason. It’s a total Deus Ex Machina moment, but it’s such a Deus Ex Machina moment that I’m suspecting it was the point. The Lion Turtle is basically a god, and it is by his hand ( literally) that Aang learns to energy bend. So much of Avatar is about dealing with tropes, clichés and myth that such a direct use of a classical mythic trope simply has to be pointed. If I’m wrong, and I’m simply defending a big mistake on the part of the writers, I apologize to every single detractor.
Beyond all the intellectual hubbub, the final fight is pretty spectacular, effectively pushing the show’s budget to the very limit. I’ve got no complaints. The animation looks fluid, the setting is exciting, and the scale is gigantic. Even more impressive then Aang and the Fire Lord’s element bending duel is Sokka, Toph, and Suki’s take down of several war balloons. The sheer scope of the sequence was enough to make me want a bigger television. And as if this wasn’t enough, we’re also reintroduced to the Order of the White Lotus (all the older guys that’ve helped our heroes throughout their journey), who liberate the Earth Capital of Ba Sing Se with an impressive show of force.
And when everything comes to an end the closure is generally satisfying. There’s a sense that the writers needed two or three more episodes to fully clean up shop. A few of the characters are sort of dropped without any proper final moments, and others are wrapped up in a matter of seconds without getting a chance to be a part of the final battle. I would’ve liked to have seen some inclusion of the jailed B-characters finding their way out of prison (a lot of them are in various prisons by the end of the season), and I think the final romance between Aang and Katara should’ve probably been a little bit more ambiguous, but overall I found a whole lot of satisfaction in this series finale.
You know, it’s kind of moot to write about the video quality of these releases because they’re always the same, except for those few low-res, high contrast episodes that plagued the season one and two collections. This disc is more of the same that we’ve seen from the rest of the series on DVD. Again we have minor problems, like warm colours dancing with blocking and low-level noise, and edge enhancement on the hard black outlines. Details are pretty sharp, as they should be for a cell animated series, and colours still don’t bleed a lot, but compression noise and occasional interlacing effects are still issues.
Again, this disc sounds the same as those other discs, and again, I’m expecting a Blu-ray release with a 5.1 remix in a few years. These Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes just aren’t enough. Everything is clean, there is no 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). Perhaps one of the most exciting elements of these final episodes is the presence of new music on the soundtrack. It seems the producers were saving there music budget for an impressive finale, and they do not disappoint.
Besides another mini-comic book and some trailer for other Nick DVD releases, we’re stuck with only a few commentary tracks as extras. I’m wondering what the season three box set will hold on its fifth disc. Creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are joined this time by members of the voice cast and dialogue director extraordinaire Andrea Romano. The presence of extra members makes these tracks a little more involving then other Avatar commentaries, but frankly I wanted to hear about the final episodes, not the two lead-ups.
It’s sad to see Avatar: The Last Airbender come to an end, but I appreciate the creators finishing things before they grew stale. This is what we call going out on a high note. I just hope Paramount puts the breaks on the live action adaptation, because it’s entirely unneeded at this point, and I still don’t think M. Night Shyamalan is the man for the job. I’m on the list for the season three collection, so stay tuned for one last look at the show sometime next month. That is, if you still care, which I’m sure many do not.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 29th July 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/Cast Commentaries on Two Episodes
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Zach Tyler, Jack De Sena, Mae Whitman
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation and Comedy
Length: 110 minutes
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