I've spent the last few days watching all three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender. This was an American cartoon which ran on Nickelodeon several years ago and was pretty critically acclaimed at the time. It borrowed a lot of elements from anime, including the art style as well as the general theme. The story is one from time immemorial. A boy is born with special abilities and whose destiny is the defeat some big evil empire ruled by a megalomaniacal madman who dreams of world domination. To accomplish this seeming insurmountable task he gathers a band of companions to help him which by necessity must include at least one cute animal which can easily be made into a plushie for merchandizing purposes. Our intrepid band of heroes will then journey the earth meeting and helping tons of various people, gaining in knowledge and power until the final confrontation with evil. Of course, he will face reoccurring enemies who at some point in the story after being soundly defeated, will realize the error of their ways and join the hero on his epic quest.
That's basically Avatar: The Last Airbender in a nutshell. It's also the general storyline for just about every shounen anime/manga ever made just about. The only thing is that the story gets watered down quite a bit because of the inability for western cartoons to show anything like death or blood or rapine, pillage, and plunder. God knows how such things would warp the minds of the poor children. Because of that, evil never really seems all that evil to me. It does sort of blur the whole moral imperative when the bad guy doesn't go around burning people to death and eating babies. We're told that most of the horrors happened in the backstory and nowadays the bad guys seem mainly content with torching a few buildings and trying to knock down walls.
All in all though, it wasn't a bad series. The whole 'bending' element was sort of spiffy. That's what passes for magic in the world of Avatar. There are people born who can manipulate one of the four elements: Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. It's like a martial art mixed with telekinesis. There is also an Avatar, who is reincarnated each time he dies who serves as a bridge between the spirit world and human world. It's also his job to maintain a balance between the four elements and thus the four countries, named after the elements. After the most recent Avatar got himself trapped in an iceberg for 100 years, the fire nation has taken the opportunity to run amok and is on the cusp of global domination. It's the Avatar's job to fix this but first he must travel all the lands and learn the other forms of bending so he can fully realize his potential and go kick some ass. Oh, and he's 12. On the plus side though, he does have a God Mode button which allows him to channel the power of every one of his past lives all at once which pretty much makes him an unstoppable wrecking machine. Really, if you think about it that way, you start to wonder he didn't just pound the big bad from the start.
Frankly, the most enjoyable part of the series for me was the character of Toph but then what's not to like about a little sarcastic blind girl who likes to pound on things with giant rocks, right? Not to mention she's the source of non-stop blind jokes which may not be PC but I found incredibly amusing.
Part of the reason is probably because, just like the characters, you have this tendency to forget she's blind. She can use her earth bending to sense tremors in the ground which allows her to locate people in the vicinity and identify them. Because of that, it's always sort of a surprise when you're reminded again she can't see.
I hear they also made a live-action movie based on Avatar and I'm still trying to decide whether I want to subject myself to it. It was universally panned and will no doubt be an unmitigated horror. That said....I still can't help but be curious. I'm generally of the belief that you should never make live-action movies out of cartoons. It just never goes well.