Netflix premieres a live-action adaptation of the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” animated series

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Gordon Comier, Kiawentilo Tarbell, and Ian Ousley star in Netflix’s adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Photo courtesy of Netflix.

The live-action series adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was initially released by Netflix on its streaming service on Feb. 22 with its first season, and it was announced in March that it will be returning for a second and third season.

The newly released Netflix series is a remake of Nickelodeon’s original “Avatar: The Last Airbender” animated series which was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The world of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” primarily takes place within four distinct nations consisting of the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation and the Air Nomads. There are a selective number of individuals within each nation who are gifted with the ability to control or “bend” their nation’s respective element. Among all of them, only one is capable of ultimately becoming a master of all four elements, that of which would be air, water, fire and earth, and this individual is referred to as being the “Avatar.” 

The plot is introduced with the Fire Nation’s plans of wanting to seek power and to ultimately gain control of all of the nations. As explained by Time, “When Water Tribe siblings Sokka and Katara find Aang in a frozen sphere with his flying bison Appa, they learn he is the Avatar and that he has to master all four elements to defeat the Fire Nation.” The story primarily follows Aang, Katara and Sokka as they journey together across the four nations while Aang works on learning to master all four elements. While they embark on their journey, Zuko, the Fire Nation’s prince, strives to hunt down and capture the Avatar as tasked by Fire Lord Ozai. As the New York Times puts it, “Nickelodeon’s 2005 series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ was a sprawling odyssey that combined intricate world-building, meticulous references to Asian and Native cultures, lively humor and sharply plotted drama, all animated in a charming, anime-inspired style.”

In the original animated series, Aang, who is known for being the Avatar, is voiced by Zach Tyler Eisen while Katara is voiced by Mae Whitman, Sokka is voiced by Jack de Sena and Zuko is voiced by Dante Basco. Mark Hamill, who is known for portraying Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” franchise, voices Fire Lord Ozai, Zuko’s father. There are a total of 61 episodes in the original animated series of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” with the first episode airing on Feb. 21, 2005 on Nickelodeon’s television platform and the final episode airing on July 19, 2008. The show’s episodes are divided into three parts respectively titled “Book 1: Water,” “Book 2: Earth” and “Book 3: Fire.” “Avatar: The Last Airbender” would later go on to receive an Emmy nomination in the category for “Outstanding Animated Program (for programming less than one hour)” for its animated performance in 2007.

As for the live-action adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” Albert Kim is credited for being the executive producer and showrunner of the Netflix series. There are a total of eight episodes released within its first season with the plot generally following the course of “Book 1: Water,” which is the first of the three parts in the original series. In this version of the tale, Gordon Comier plays Aang, Kiawentilo Tarbell plays Katara, Ian Ousley plays Sokka and Dallas Liu plays Zuko. The live-action series also features Daniel Dae Kim as Fire Lord Ozai.

Its first episode is simply titled “Aang,” while the eighth and final episode of the season is given the title “Legends.” As the Associated Press describes it, “Netflix has created a lusciously crafted universe, where our heroes soar over roiling seas aboard bison that fly and armies battle with staffs, mid-air flips and power blasts.”

The “Avatar: The Last Airbender” franchise has garnered quite a number of fans since the original animated series’ initial release, with many individuals around the world becoming avid-watchers and supporters of both the original animated series and franchise as a whole, including those in the UNLV community. 

Roniesha Cruz, a UNLV student majoring in psychology, is a fan of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and shares her perspective on being a fan of the franchise. She first watched the original series during her middle school years upon coming across it on Netflix, and when asked about what makes “Avatar: The Last Airbender” special, Cruz says, “The unique, fun characters and fantastical settings made ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ special to me.” 

When asked about Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the series, Cruz says, “I believe that Netflix’s live-action adaptation of ‘ATLA’ has a lot of potential. She continues to express, “They have a roster full of passionate actors and an array of resources at their disposal to make their ideas come to life, but I felt as though it wasn’t the most well-written series. I felt like many memorable sequences from the original animated series were also cut out from the live-action adaptation.”

In regards to both the original and the new Netflix adaptation, she expresses her preference for the animated version, saying, “In my opinion, the original animated series of ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ is better than the live-action adaptation. The original version did a better job at fleshing out every individual character’s unique traits and really showed us Aang’s struggle- both internally and externally- with having to shoulder the responsibility of being the Avatar.”

While Cruz stays loyal to the original animated “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series, she still finds something to admire about the new live-action version that was released, saying, “The use of CGI to make the world of ATLA was my favorite part of the live-action series. It was beautiful and full of life. Every time the characters were in a new place, I was excited to see what it would look like.”

As for who her favorite character is, she expresses, “Katara was my favorite character in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender.’” She continues to share, “Growing up, I strongly related to her. Like Katara, I took on a ‘motherly’ role at a young age and was stubborn enough to the point that it may have annoyed others. But also like her, I acted the way I did out of compassion and deep care for the well-being of those around me. I admired her strength and adaptability when I was young.” 

She believes that people should tune in to the story of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” saying, “‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ is an uplifting story with many memorable moments. The series is both engaging and enjoyable.”

The original “Avatar: The Last Airbender” animated series is available for streaming on both Netflix and Paramount Plus. The live-action series adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

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