Because fans should be critical, too

Chapter Four: “The Warriors of Kyoshi”

9

(Rating Out of 15)

I’m still unsure of what to think of “The Warriors of Kyoshi.” For the most part, what makes evaluating a Book One episode difficult is the fact that DiMartino and Konietzko and company hadn’t yet found the perfect balance between advancing the overall plot of the entire series and crafting an episode that could also stand on its own. Because I’m viewing the show in retrospect of having seen the whole thing, I can easily recognize the foundation of story points being laid here. Kyoshi eventually becomes important, as does the character Suki and her interactions with Sokka, and Aang’s first real steps to maturity are taken here. In that sense, “Kyoshi” is indispensable to the show. Unfortunately, this makes its flaws as an episode all the more unbearable.

For a brief moment, though, it feels like it’s going to be the first great episode in the series. The two best moments—also the funniest—come right at the beginning back-to-back.

The first is a scene that starts with Zuko meditating and Uncle Iroh coming in with some bad news. Zuko says something about being able to keep a level head at all times was a sign of a good leader, and that he could take any news. Of course, hearing that they have no idea where the Avatar is pisses him off. Voice actors Dante Basco and Mako were just too perfect for these roles. Their interactions proceed so naturally and knowingly that just about anything they say to each other is, funny or not, always entertaining.

The second moment comes when Zuko seems to think Aang is a master of evasive maneuvering, but a dissolve to the kids shows he really doesn’t know where he’s going, except that the place is near water, a statement that is punctuated by an extremely wide shot of nothing but blue ocean surrounding them. It’s a stupid joke, on the face of it, but it occurs so quickly and with dry execution that I found it impossible not to laugh.

Nothing that follows is really up to par with these moments (though I did find the pants trouble amusing). While the episode isn’t a complete disaster—Hell, I found it more tolerable this time around than I have before—bad ideas are still bad ideas. Thus, when Aang goes into the water to surf on fish and his character design distorts worse than a character in Ren & Stimpy, it’s jarring as Hell, and just as stupid. At one point, he runs on water like a Looney Tunes character. I know this is the Experimental season, but what the Hell made Konietzko and DiMartino think this was acceptable?

After the kids land on the beach and Aang fish surfs, they’re attacked and captured by the Kyoshi Warriors, who, to Sokka’s disgust, are all girls. However, they manage to convince the people that Aang is the Avatar by having him do some Airbending stuff. And then whirling a marble. What’s with the marble? It was actually funny the first time, but not now. And can someone please explain the deal with that weird guy who apparently has a seizure and faints? It creeps me out every time, and I don’t know whether I’m supposed to be concerned or laugh. (And this was an addition given by the Korean animation studio. That animator sure had a strange sense of humor.)

Throughout the episode, Sokka’s reactions to the Kyoshi Warriors are pretty well handled. Sometimes they’re even funny. And guess what? It’s almost never because of Jack DeSena. More often it’s someone else, be it Suki, the leader of the Warriors, or Katara, that makes fun of his arrogance. When he goes into their training area to basically insult them more for being girls, he’s put in his place when Suki brings him down with just a few evasive moves. I’m still kind of surprised by how quickly he goes to apologize for being an ass and then asks to be trained by them. I’ll buy it for two reasons: 1) it demonstrates that these characters can and will grow in the course of the series; and 2) it’s one less annoying trait of Sokka’s to deal with. On top of that, it leads to a few good laughs when Sokka has to wear the Kyoshi uniform, which is a dress, of course.

OK, DeSena’s acting does help out a joke later on: the village head tells Suki and the “girls” to defend the village, and Sokka gives up trying to tell him he’s not a girl.

As for Aang and Katara, neither of their subplots does anything for me. Aang is enjoying all the attention he gets for being the Avatar from all the little girls in the village. This is all fine by me, and it while it generates some amusement, it never really goes anywhere. Hmm…maybe it kind of did? Maybe that’s what Katara’s jealousy was for, but that never really convinced me either. Why is she so concerned with the amount of attention Aang gets? Is it because she thinks he’ll become an arrogant prick? Is it because her mother died? Is she upset that she never got that kind of attention after that? Does she not like him projecting Sokka behavior? I can speculate all I want, but the fact remains that these scenes don’t really work.

The third act is mostly solid. Aang nearly gets eaten by the giant sea dragon again, but is saved by Katara in a pretty suspenseful moment. This is just before Zuko arrives and starts burning the village to lure out Aang. In between some nice action scenes, we get a cute moment between Sokka and Suki:

Sokka: I treated you like a girl when I should have treated you like a warrior.
Suki: I am a warrior. (kisses Sokka on cheek) But I’m also a girl.

As the three kids fly away, Aang finally begins to realize the damage he’s caused and regrets being so oblivious. Katara tries to console him by saying he did the right thing by leaving before more destruction could be done. This would have been a nicely bittersweet ending…except that Aang jumps back into the water, somehow is able to manipulate the sea dragon’s hydro blasts, and stops the village from burning. I can only wonder how the Hell he knew how to do that? More importantly, I curse the writers for copping out with a happier ending! The last exchange between Aang and Katara doesn’t help.

So, yeah, my attitude towards this episode has improved a little, but nothing’s really changed my mind about how clumsy the writing is. It would be a while before DiMartino and Konietzko and company finally figured out how to construct entirely satisfying episodes. But until then…

All screenshots courtesy of piandao.org.

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2 responses

  1. Chris

    I love the series for what they do for girls. You know, most stuff on TV is for white boys. Avatar gives enough room for girls to identify with a hero, who is not a boy and white. This early episode shows right away the values of this series and deals with sexism, without coming across as preachy or pc. The makers succeed in conveying gender topics in a very natural way. If you see this episode from a gender viewpoint, it is one of the greatest contribution!

    September 15, 2012 at 11:02 am

    • You are definitely right that DiMartino and Konietzko and company address gender issues very early on and should be commended for that. Personally, I think it became more effective by the time Book Two came around, when they weren’t directly addressing the issue so much as having the girls just take charge by their own intuition. If I have to thank “Warriors of Kyoshi” for starting that long train runnin’, I will, even if I still find it to be just an OK episode.

      September 28, 2012 at 10:52 am

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