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Arcade in the Sky Blog: Otakon Countdown 15: Avatar Review

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Otakon Countdown 15: Avatar Review

Well, it's almost time for Otakon, the biggest anime con on the East coast. I get hyped for this every year. However, this year will be my 13th year in a row, and it may be my last. I have much more obligations as a game designer now, so my travel time needs to be devoted more to spreading that gospel.

At any rate, I'm going to have a special countdown, where I post an Otakon related post everyday until I leave. Bare in mind I'll be there the Thursday before the con starts, the 29th, so that I might pick up my badge.

Now on to the first post, I'll review what anime I am currently watching. Yes, Avatar is on my list right now. This was a series that has always been on my to-do list, but I never found the time. With the movie out now, and everyone talking about it--talking smack, the curiosity finally overwhelmed me. I cued up my Netflix and started on this lofty journey. I'm just starting the third and final season now, and I'm loving every minute of it.

Many people talk about Avatar, but most don't go into specifics; they just say 'it's great!'. Now I can see why--there's so much to talk about in this show, it's intimidating. To start to talk about some of it good points means you could be going all night and into dawn.

I'll try to restrain myself by listing my TOP 10 favorite things about Avatar.

10. Anime influence. Yes, this is a western cartoon, but the Tezuka influenced character designs are very charming. This is a reason I stick with anime, even after 20 years.

9. high quality art. The design and background paintings are absolutely amazing, and the animation is just as great.

8. continual story. This brings me back to my days in the college anime club watching Ruroni Kenshin. The large story arcs are rewarding to watch and always keep you on the edge of your seat.

7. blind jokes. Yes, this is a Nickelodeon show, so sex and violence is out of the question, but they do push the envelope in one area. They make fun of the handicapped. The character does not appear until half way through the series, but after that many jokes are placed on that person.

6. A strong philosophy. There is a real thought-out process to the philosophy of each of the characters and their actions. Each character has a reason for how they act, and it all relates back to the shows central theme of the 4 elements.

5. Knows when to quit. Three seasons is plenty to tell a good story and explore all the character relationships. Good shows know when to quit--I'm looking at you, Gargoyles the Goliath Chronicles!

4. Natural fight sequences. With action shows, there always seems to be a few bad episodes where there is a strong villian and a strong hero, but there isn't always a good reason for them to fight in each episode. Usually, the writers pull out the 'oops! misunderstanding! let's fight!' card. Not here. Each of the fights happen organically from the narrative. Or at the very least, they have some creative thinking behind them.

3. 3 dimensional characters. This has to be a given. Great characters are what make following a long story rewarding. Characters have motivation and faults, but they are not obdurate. They are human enough to admit when they are wrong and get on with there lives.

2. emotional honesty. Going back to what I said before, the characters are emotionally honest. They don't hold petty grudges and deny their own feelings just to keep conflict up for a few more episodes. They are aware of their emotional states and can talk them out. The writers don't take the easy way out and present the characters like real people.

1. non-verbal communication. This is massively difficult for children's entertainment and animation. This show actually has important information conveyed with glances, body language and tone of voice. Because there are so many steps between the writer and the finished animation, many shows just have dialogue explain all necessary information. This show is bold by taking the complexity up a notch. With shows for kids, the rule is 'the characters must always be talking, else you loose the child's short attention span'. If you don't believe me, watch the "dubtitled" Sailor Moon on youtube. The biggest difference for the American version is that the characters never shut up. Pages of dialogue and monologue are added when the characters backs are away from the camera, just to keep the words ongoing. It's insulting. In Avatar, there are some pauses in dialogue. Not only that, the WAY things are said is important. Luckily, the top-notch acting there to support this.
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