After watching several episodes of the cartoon show Avatar: The Last Airbender with my young niece and nephew, I was intrigued enough to pick up the Season 1 collection. After watching through the entire thing, I am confident in saying that Avatar is a great show for kids, while still remaining intelligent and humorous enough to entertain adults.
Avatar follows the story of Aang, a twelve-year-old boy who is destined to save his world from a war that has been going on for a hundred years. As the Avatar, he needs to master the four elemental martial arts disciplines (known as bending) before he is able to confront the leader of the militaristic Fire Nation and end their reign of tyranny. Book 1 follows Aang (along with his friends, the novice waterbender Katara and her sarcastic, though highly intelligent, brother Sokka) as he journeys to the North Pole in search of a waterbending master.
While the plot is simple enough to appeal to a younger audience, the story is told with enough maturity and attention to detail to make it extremely watchable to older viewers. Each of the four bending disciplines is based on actual Chinese martial arts, and the setting incorporates just enough of feudal Chinese society to feel like an actual place (fantastic animals and magic powers notwithstanding). The characters are memorable and well-acted, and their interactions feel natural and not contrived in the least.
The animation straddles a line between American cartoons and Japanese anime (funnily enough, the show is animated in Korea). Regardless of its origins, the animation is very crisp and clean, the characters and animals move convincingly, and their facial expressions avoid typical anime stereotypes (you won't find giant sweatdrops or ridiculously huge eyes here). The only downside is that the episodes are not presented in a widescreen format, leading to a somewhat stretched picture on widescreen TVs.
The audio is of an equally high caliber. As I said above, the voice actors do an excellent job conveying their characters, and that really makes the show. Aang sounds just like an exuberant young boy should, whereas Sokka epitomizes the sarcastic teenager. Prince Zuko's voice conveys the depths of his harsh experiences, and the calm tones of his Uncle Iroh illustrate his lifetime of experience. Excellent performances, all. The music is very Eastern in origin, which makes for a nice change from other cartoons. It is also a pleasure to listen to.
This box set is fairly light on extras, but what is present is generally worth watching. There are interviews with the voice actors, the creators, and the martial arts consultant for the show, as well as a look into the animation studio. There are also several episodes with optional commentary.
In summation, The Complete Book 1 Collection of Avatar: The Last Airbender is a box set I would heartily recommend to anyone who has kids that watch cartoons, and for adults who aren't averse to watching them themselves. Avatar is a show with extremely high production values, and it has something for everyone. Get it for your kids, but stick around and watch it with them. You won't be disappointed.