Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season Two Collection (US - DVD R1)
Gabe finally checks out the second disc, along with a disc of special features...
This collected set contains the exact same discs found in the original single disc releases, plus an extra disc of special features. Since I never got around to publishing my episode-by-episode review of disc two of the set, which contained some of the best episodes in the season, I’m sticking them up here. To read my thoughts on the other three discs feel free to click here, here, and here. Now on with disc two, and as always beware of spoilers.
Episode 6: The Blind Bandit
Our heroes continue the search for an Earthbending master, and in the process stumble upon an underground Earthbending tournament. There they meet the blind master Earthbender Toph, a young girl. Aang challenges Toph and defeats her. Her pride injured, Toph refuses to be Aang's Earthbending guru.
Often the introduction of a new major character during a story's second act can be a problem, and often even the most lovable ones are left by the wayside by act three (cough Lando cough). When Toph was first introduced to the group I was very sceptical, but she's proven herself worthy and important to the plot's momentum, rather than bloating the tale with excess character weight as feared. Though obviously the series writers are responsible for much of the character's arc, young voice actress Jessie Flower's work with the character is very impressive.
The series starts getting really dark with the next episode, so it seems the writers felt the need to load The Blind Bandit with humour. The Earthbending tournament in basically a big nose thumbing at professional wrestling, and it's an amusing one. Sokka's fanatical reaction to the event is golden.
Episode 7: Zuko Alone
Zuko continues his solo journey after making the choice to leave his guru uncle behind. After standing up to the local bullies in an Earth Kingdom town he befriends a boy and is brought home to dinner. Zuko's inner turmoil is personified in his sleep, where he dreams of his families dark past.
Zuko Alone is obviously inspired in parts by Akira Kurosawa's classic Yojimbo (which was remade as Leone's Fistful of Dollars), with a dash of High Noon, and the oft-told tales serve as solid backbone for what's basically the darkest episode in the entire series. We all knew Zuko had a dark history—we saw his face grotesquely scarred by his own father at a young age—but I don't think anyone realized how consistently awful his childhood really was. Zuko Alone gives us a glimpse, but still leaves a lot to be told.
Episode 8: The Chase
A mysterious, smog-belching machine chases the team and prevents them from sleeping for twenty-four hours. The constant stress and lack of rest causes friction between Toph and Katara. After Aang snaps at her too, Toph leaves, and runs into Iroh, who has been secretly tracking his nephew Zuko. It turns out the machine is piloted by the evil Azula and her friends, and a confrontation is eminent.
The Chase covers a lot of plot in a small amount of time, and features a few exciting teaser fights between multiple characters. The ‘Everyone vs. Azula’ fight at the end is outstanding, if not very short. Like Zuko Alone, this episode has a Western film slant. The first two acts take their cues from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (‘Who are those guys?’), and the last act is an old fashion Spaghetti Western showdown.
Episode 9: Bitter Work
After a bit of making up, Aang begins his Earthbending training with Toph, and frustratingly discovers that Airbeding and Earthbending are polar opposites. Sokka spends the day stuck in a hole following a failed hunt, and after some soul searching swears to become a vegetarian. Elsewhere, Iroh begins training Zuko for an inevitable confrontation with Azula.
Despite its grim title Bitter Work is the season's last entirely child friendly episode. After the sheer volume of plot coverage in the previous two episodes, this one appears to be spinning in wheels. Sokka and his adorable animal friend are the episodes stars (though Toph gets off some good jokes), and are basically sent to entertain us while the writers are forced to get some of Aang’s vital Earthbending training out of the way. The episode is necessary to the story, but slows the narrative, and comparably is the weakest on the disc.
Episode 10: The Library
A travelling professor spins a yarn about a Spirit Library filled with vital information of all the nations, hidden deep within the desert. Sokka elects to search for the legendary library in hopes of finding a Fire Nation weakness. Our heroes find the library, but the Fire Nation wing has already been destroyed. Determined Sokka still manages to discover a crucial Firebenders weakness that could possibly end the war.
Sokka’s general leadership skills take front stage in this sombre episode, which is important to the character, who after spending an entire episode trapped in a hole, talking to an adorable but speechless animal, was veering a little too far into pure comic relief territory. His discovery of the coming solar eclipse puts the series into countdown mode, as Aang now has a specific time frame in which to learn the skills he’ll need to defeat the Fire Lord.
The Library features an owl guardian, who is reminiscent of the similar mystical and neutral characters found in Miyazaki’s films. The mystical slant is slightly lacking in the more plot driven second season. This is also the episode in which Appa is stolen, leaving the group unable to travel great distances at ease and forcing Aang to deal with the possibility of loss.
Season one's release was pretty ugly so far as the DVDs' presentations. Early episodes were especially infected with resolution issues, interlaced combing effects, and really blatant edge enhancement (which, in the case of an animated show, is an inescapably distracting problem).
Season two generally looks better than the bulk of season one, but still has some issues. Bright reds (the Fire Nation's theme colour) are full of low-level noise, edge enhancement is prevalent, but much less obvious than that of season one, and easily ignored in most instances. The image's overall sharpness varies throughout, but remains passable for the most part. The transfer is a mixed bag, but colourful, and clean enough to earn it a slightly above average grade.
The Serpents Pass is the one episode on the entire collection with the most problems. There are major edge enhancement issues, the colours are muddy, blacks are not truly black, noise is everywhere, and the whole thing is blatantly interlaced. Interlacing is pretty obvious throughout the collection, but this one episode (found on the third disc) is the biggest problem by far.
None of the discs in the collection are particularly impressive, but feature no obvious errors either. Again, I'd love to hear the show mixed into an aggressive 5.1, as it lends itself to surround very well, but the television friendly 2.0 will have to do. Everything could do with a bit of bassing up, and even at a simpler 2.0 I'd like to hear the surround channels come to life more often than they do. Stereo effects work, and dialogue is pretty well centred, but only music seems to find its way into the back speakers with any real power.
All the commentary tracks are still here, as are the ads for other Nickelodeon DVD releases, but by purchasing the season as a set you’ll score an extra disc as well. In sheer runtime the disc is a disappointment, as the whole thing can be navigated in less than an hour, but the features are still solid, if short lived.
First is an interview with the series creators and major motion picture director M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan has been attached for a while now as adapting the series into a live action film trilogy. Though he claims to be director in the interview, and claims to have devoted the next six years to the project, there still isn’t any concrete evidence proving that Paramount is moving ahead with the project financially (and it will cost a pretty penny to do it right).
Putting my self into fan commentator mode I really don’t think Shyamalan is the right guy for the project. Contrary to popular opinion I think the guy is a fantastic filmmaker, and have deep affection for both The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. His post Unbreakable output has been a trio of enormously flawed, but ultimately well-directed and entertaining mini-flops (though Signs did pull in the cash). Shyamalan has made a habit of taking giant genre based stories and shrinking their scale to a very personal level. The epic scope of Avatar: The Last Airbender seems out of his creative grasp.
However, if this interview is any indication, Shyamalan loves the series, and doesn’t want to make any changes. He’s working with the original creators, which is important considering the Achilles heel of his latest films is an inflated sense of ego and a lack of self editing. He says he’s interested in working with action (something his film’s have cleverly avoided up until this point), and that the series’ mythology is paramount (no pun intended). This short and youth oriented interview may be full of false truths and flat out lies, but it does give me a micron of hope for the feature adaptation.
‘The Essence of Bending’ is an interview with co-creator Bryan Konietzko and choreographer Sifu Kisu. There is a brief interview/featurette with Sifu Kisu on the first disc of season one, and he covers a lot of the same ground here, but this more detailed explanation is a welcome addition. The arrant attention to detail in the series is well personified in the martial arts choreography. Each fictional ‘bending’ style is based in a factual martial arts style. The fights are acted and blocked like a live action film before animation begins. All of Sifu Kisu’s movements (along with some help from the more novice Konietzko) are recorded for the animators, who then restructure them as needed, changing pace and speed. Very impressive stuff.
The ‘Super Deformed’ shorts are exactly as the name implies, and are quite amusing. Totalling three, these comedic mini-episodes feature chibi versions of the series’ characters. The first episode is a little bending battle, the second sees Sokka learning to swap-ski, and the third is a what-if tale of Avatar school, where all the boys want to ask Katara to the formal dance.
The extras disc is finalized with ‘Escape from the Spirit World’, an animated graphic novel. Again, this is exactly as the name implies: a slightly animated graphic novel, or rather, more of a single-issue comic book. It runs under fifteen minutes, and features a sort of alternate version of a story from the end of season one.
Season three, which according to the show’s structure will be premiering on September 21st, so there’s still time to catch up now that both seasons have been released as collector’s sets. If you waited for the complete season release to purchase season two, the extra disc is a nice prize, but four rather short extras don’t quite qualify for a repurchase if you’ve already filled your collection out with the initial single disc releases.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 11th September 2007
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Surrond 2.0 English, Dolby Surround 2.0 French, Dolby Surround 2.0 Spanish
Extras: Original Uncut Animatic, Creator and Crew Commentaries, Interviews, The Essence of Bending, Super Deformed Shorts, Animated Graphic Novel
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Zach Tyler, Jack De Sena, Mae Whitman
Length: 0 minutes
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