I recently finished Netflix’s adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of my favorite stories ever, and… well, I have thoughts! I was extremely hyped for the series and, while I found some areas disappointing, I overall enjoyed watching it. This review will include spoilers for both the adaptation and book 1 of the cartoon, but if you just want to know my quick spoiler-free thoughts…

  • Is it a good adaptation? It takes a lot of liberties with the source material with mixed success, but it keeps the same overall storyline (kind of).
  • Should you watch it? Yes! It’s a good story on its own, and I’ve recommended it to everyone who’s asked me. Make sure you watch the cartoon version too, if you haven’t. And if you have, don’t expect a retelling; expect a reinterpretation.


The good: the effects were fire! (and so was the Fire Nation)

“But the effects were decent!”

So, let’s get this out of the way: the visual part of the series is amazing! The casting is on point, most sets and costumes are incredibly vivid and similar to the show, and the bending looks awesome. You can tell it’s CGI (especially with earthbending), but it was more than good enough to suspend my disbelief. But that’s not where the good stuff ends!

The Fire Nation was the best part of the series. It goes further than Zuko and Zhao, and it fleshes out characters and storylines that were minor or non-existent in the cartoon’s first season, such as Ozai and Azula. The added backstory to Zuko’s crew made me tear up, as well as the flashback to Lu Ten’s funeral, which makes you empathize even more with Zuko and Iroh, two of the best characters in the show.

And the best episode? Definitely the sixth, Masks, which adapts the Blue Spirit arc. Some scenes are almost shot-for-shot, and the changes actually improve it! In the cartoon, I was always sad that we couldn’t get a longer scene between Aang and Zuko to establish their relationship (beyond the eternal chase they’re in). But the adaptation, thanks to the longer runtime per episode, could afford an extended version of their interaction, and it was wonderful! It managed to portray the two characters as one-sided enemies while showing a certain understanding between the two that will eventually become very important.

What changed in Netflix’s Avatar compared to the cartoon?

If you look for the dark, that is all you will ever see.”

Yes, the adaptation made a lot of changes to the original show. Some were minor (like the Kyoshi village leader being Suki’s mom), and others completely changed the tone or even the plot of the episode. I prefer to see the glass half full, so I’ll say that the good news is that some of these changes really worked (I loved seeing the three previous avatars for example), while others I was more neutral about (such as starting with the genocide instead of only seeing the aftermath).

However, I believe some of the changes were misfires that worked to the detriment of the story. And in my opinion, these are the two worst offenders:

  • Lack of whimsy: while some of the filler in the original was definitely not worth adapting (looking at you, Great Divide), the action felt rushed. The characters kept going from one point to another, rarely taking a moment to breathe and do something other than advance the plot. The few scenes that were like this (such as Katara and Aang playing in the water) were really fun, and I hope to see more of them in the second season.
  • The spirit world: the middle of any story is often the weakest part (known as the “middle book syndrome” in a trilogy), but episode 5 was rough. It introduces the Spirit World, but it does so in the messiest way possible. The conflict that’s introduced is sidelined in favor of an overstuffed journey in which the characters meet several spirits. It’s messy, chaotic, and unfortunately, quite boring. At least, the conversation with Gyatso was cute (albeit a bit random).

Thematic changes

The themes have also shifted slightly. The adaptation focuses much more on the despair that the last century of non-stop war has caused, and how tired people are. This theme was already present in the original show, but here they really drive it home, with characters like Bumi echoing it way more than they ever did. I’m actually fine with this change (as well as others), because I only watch adaptations to see a different interpretation of a story, not an identical retelling. However, I just wish the characters didn’t stop to remind us about these themes or their backstories so often. Which brings me to…

Writing tip: tell, don’t show. Or was it the other way around?

“It is usually best to admit mistakes when they occur, and to see to restore honor.”

Show don’t tell is the first rule that every single writer learns. And if that’s already important in a book, it’s absolutely essential in a visual medium like a TV show! Unfortunately, the show is constantly taking time to tell the viewer about all sorts of things. The actors did what they could to make it as natural as possible, but there’s only so much you can do before starting to sound like you’re reading an extract from the Avatar Wiki. And this made for many uncomfortable moments, such as Gyatso dumping lore on Aang while standing awkwardly in front of a (very cool) statue, or Gran Gran reciting the entire cartoon intro while staring at the symbols of the four nations.

To be fair, this is a problem with writing and directing, not with the actors, who did a stellar job with the tools they were given. I just don’t want Aang to tell me that he likes playing airball and eating banana cake. I want to see it! They probably took this route because they had to cram a lot of content in eight episodes and telling is quicker (and easier) than showing. However, building up the main cast’s personality and backstory should be the top priority in the first half of the season!

Is there hope for a potential season 2?

“I believe people can change their lives if they want to. I believe in second chances.”

There’s so much more I could talk about (such as the secret tunnel arc, or how amazing Azula’s introduction was), but here are my final thoughts.

Yes, there’s hope for the future. Season 1 was rough around the edges (very rough in some cases), but I give it a solid 7/10 as its own story. Book 1 is, in my opinion, the hardest one to adapt because it’s very fragmented and has more side quests than arcs focused on the main plot. Just like how the cartoon gets better, I believe the adaptation has potential too. There are many things that I believe should be improved, but there is one that’s absolutely to get right: please, remove the info dumps. This might be easier now that the foundations of the lore are established, but the writers need to trust their viewers more. Show us more, tell us less, and trust that we’re smart enough to fill in the blanks!

I’m very excited for season 2, and I also can’t wait to see everything that Avatar Studios has in store for us! Regardless of your thoughts about Netflix’s adaptation, it’s surely an exciting time to be an Avatar fan.

What did you think about the show? Comment below!

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