Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Avatar: the Promise - Recap and Review

19 Out of 80 Pages: Spoilers

Okay, a bit of context before we start. In the days following the defeat of Ozai and Zuko ascending to the Fire Nation throne, a plan was worked out by Aang and his group, Zuko and the head of the partially Fire Nation-occupied Earth Kingdom, the Earth King, to restore balance to the world again following over a century of war. The first step in this involved the formation of the Harmony Restoration Movement, named by Sokka, which will oversee the dismantling of Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom, restoring balance to the nations of the world by deporting people back to their respective countries.

This naturally does not end well.

The story picks up again one year later, and Zuko has had to put up with nearly five assassination attempts on his life by disguntled Fire Nation people who saw him as a traitor for breaking up the colonies and "allowing himself to be pushed around by Aang and the Earth Kingdom".

Following the most recent attempt on his life, he finds out that his would be assassin (who puts up a good effort with a meteor hammer, see Gogo from Kill Bill Part 1 for a reference) is the daughter of the mayor of the oldest of the Fire Nation colonies. Zuko is convinced (after stopping her attempts to bash in his skull) to go and actually visit the colony in person so he can understand the issue is more complicated than it seems from his palace in the home country.

Here he meets the girl's dad, who successfully manages to do the impressive feat of hitting Zuko's multiple buttons at the same time.

Cue flashback to Ozai telling Zuko, essentially, that he's too stupid to rule and that he should let him be in charge again. And back to the action.

The reason why Zuko didn't burn the guy to death in the street is explained later, and it's a big turning point in the series...

Cut forward again, and Aang and Katara get word that Zuko has withdrawn from the Harmony Restoration Movement, and has ordered that all deported Fire Nation Colonials be allowed to return home. Aang and company worry that Zuko might have returned to his old ways, and head off to the city to see what's what.

Along the way, the headmistress of a new Metalbending School decides to invite herself along in her typically subtle style.

Aang turns out to be meditating in order to talk to his former incarnation Roku to ask what he should do. Somewhat uncharacteristicly, Roku tells Aang to that he has to live up to the titular promise that he made to Zuko, and if it seems that he's going the way of his father, than Aang should keep his word and murder him.

They arrive at the city, and it seems that some people are there protesting. Some of who are suprisingly alive, considering they disappeared in season two just prior to being gruesomely killed by Long Feng's secret policemen.

Aang and Katara go into city, where Zuko's troops (evidently not used to the idea of making exceptions when it comes to talking to the personification of the planet) abruptly first demand that the Avatar leaves and then attack them. Aang and Katara defend themselves and, badass veterans than they are, make quick work of the soldiers, just in time for Zuko to show up. This results in another fight, as Zuko thinks that Aang is attacking his men for no reason, but eventually everyone calms down enough to just TALK, and Zuko takes the pair on a tour of the city to explain why he's stopped forcibly removing people from their homes, as he'd previously agreed to do.

Meanwhile, outside, Sokka finds himself at the end of casual racism for once, instead of being the one to throw it at people (mainly Fire Nation folk).

After this, the Gaang go off to talk to the Earth King to see what he has to say about the situation, while Zuko goes back home, where he bumps into his familiar faces.

Yes, that's Suki and Ty Lee who are the palace guards now. Well, can't say that Mai doesn't have her head screwed on properly, unlike her fiance/betrothed/whatever the definition of their relationship is. Just as the Gaang are certain that they're in the right about the situation with the colonies, Zuko thinks that he is as well, but isn't good enough a statesman to think of a compromise that'll leave everyone happy.

So he turns to the one person who has shown himself to be a damn good statesman, at least within his country's own borders. This again leads to Zuko pulling one of his trademark Bad Ideas.

What I liked about it
- The writing and interactions between the characters is excellent, containing both the feel and the characterisation from the show very well.

- The characters have matured somewhat, in the year since the show ended. The relationship between Aang and Katara, albeit sappy, is really the kind of sappy we'd expect from two people in their mid to early teens who are in love for the first time, so I'd give them a pass on that. Also, points to Katara actually understanding that the situation isn't as clear cut as the Fire Nation War was, due to the issue of interracial marriages.

- Same, points to Zuko for actually NOT immediately following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and exactly violent revenge against his potential assassin. Him taking a step back to reevaluate the situation definately shows he's matured as a ruler, possibly due to Iroh's influence. This does bring an interesting dynamic to the situation, as Aang, growing up in a nomadic culture that no longer exists, doesn't really have the sense of patriotism that influences Zuko's later actions.

- On the one hand, both sides now have valid reasons for their demands. But on the other, Aang's declaration that all the nations should be equal yet seperate... kind of makes him come off as something of a segregationist, even if it is to ensure that things like the Fire Nation War aren't repeated. This could probably explain why the world remained kind of stagnant up until Sozin's war, as the blending of cultures allowed for some scientific and cultural progress (even more so when Aang and Zuko found Republic City prior to Legend of Korra).

- Despite being only 80 pages long, the story is really dense, making it fear a lot longer, so kudos to the writer.

- Nonplot-related things: the art is very, very good, so props to that. And the action is also well drawn so yay for that too.

- Toph rocks.

Things I'm not to hot on,
- Although I get that the tea thing to meant to be a bait and switch deal to make you think that Zuko is getting advice from Iroh... Yeah, him going to his dad (alleged good statesmanship aside is a racist, genocidial fascist bastard) is more than a little stupid.

- Despite the relationship between Aang and Katara being realistically cutesy, they really need to find more terms of endearment for each other, seriously.

- Lack of Suki and Ty Lee.

- And, although I get that they're rifting the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or the Northern Ireland situation and do a good job at showing that both sides have valid arguements... yet, the people who want the colonies dissolved are proportionally bigger assholes about their points than the people who want to stay. Such as them chucking a rock at Sokka (a man who pretty much saved the Earth Kingdom singlehanded against a pyrokinetic zeppelin attack) whilst shouting a racist taunt... Yeah, I get that the people in Avatar are people, and act as such (not all the "good" aligned people are saints, and not all of the "evil" aligned people are monsters), but that was pretty much uncalled for.

Still, kudos to them for handling the situation with more grace, depth and tact than Captain Planet did when they tried to deal with a similar subject way back when. That contained such immortal exchanges as "You hate each other because of your names?" "Sure, as good a reason as any!".

All in all?
A thoughtful, well drawn continuation of the series that, most importantly, actually FEELS like it's a continuation. Definately worth the price, and a good way to pass the time until Korra appears in the summer or autumn (which is what I've heard anyways).

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