Because fans should be critical, too

Archive for June, 2013

Doug Walker On: “Return to Omashu”

It’s becoming increasingly more interesting to see where Doug Walker and I disagree than where we see eye-to-eye. This is likely a testament to Avatar: the Last Airbender‘s greatness: even if no one can agree on what constitutes the best or worst elements of the show, these same elements somehow mesh together to generate one of the most worthwhile American animated children’s programs of all-time.

And now in this vlog on “Return to Omashu,” I’ve found what might be the two major dividing points for Doug and I.

First, and most importantly, we differ on how Avatar‘s status as a kids’ show affects its success.

I’ve always found that being a kids’ show was a poor excuse for the writers to get away with too much silly shit. In this episode, it allows the citizens of Omashu to escape the city by pretending to be diseased. Maybe if they played up the absurdity of this plan or even how gross those octopus marks looked—perhaps a Ren & Stimpy-style close-up to exaggerate their hideousness would have sold it—then it would have been more plausible (and funny). Unfortunately, the way it pans out in the episode is cute,  but pretty dumb. It’s a moment and style of humor totally indistinguishable from any other kids’ show; it’s the type of thing you’d expect in something like Fairly Odd Parents, not a show whose catalyst is the genocide of an entire race of people.

Doug, however, found this taking advantage of their kids’ show status to be clever. He admits that in a flat-out drama, this course of action would be way too silly to be taken seriously. But it works here, because Avatar is geared towards an audience that’s smart enough to know better [hopefully], yet not jaded enough to be offended [hopefully again], and thus will find it absolutely hilarious for precisely the former reason. (If I’m not mistaken, this phenomenon is commonly referred to as the Rule of Funny.)

See, I find this attitude perfectly fine for the average kids’ show, where feelings and expression often reign over logic and reality (though it goes without saying that a joke must have its own internal logic to work). The problem with this kind of humor in something like Avatar is that the Avatar universe is grounded in a reality whose basic principles resemble that of the real world. Sure, you can Bend in the Avatar universe, but you’re still bound by physics and mortality, two things one cannot forsake just for a silly reality-bending joke. (This is the main reason why “The Ember Island Players” is the most offensive episode in the series.)

So I can see why Doug feels the way he does on the issue. Whether it’s a good or a bad thing is where we split.

Second, and not even close to being as important, we differ in our animal character values.

Simply put, Doug finds Momo to be a bore, to the point that he thinks Appa has more personality. I, of course, think precisely the opposite: Appa is the absolute bore and Momo is the purest character in the show.

This one isn’t even worth delving into too deeply. Perhaps Appa has some quality about himself that I simply cannot recognize, and Momo has some quality about himself that Doug simply cannot recognize (which surprised me because his favorite character in The Simpsons is Maggie, who’s kind of like Momo). That’s fine. That means he’ll enjoy “Appa’s Lost Days.” Good for him.

As for “Return to Omashu,” it’s a fairly mediocre episode in my book. And I most certainly don’t share Doug’s enthusiasm for Ty Lee, who annoys me with her high-pitched anime-esque blandness. And I must say, Doug’s ramble about how the show challenges the audience with its ideas about Eastern philosophy is the highlight of his vlogs so far. All I can add to the discussion is this paraphrasing from George Starostin’s review of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass: watching Avatar, one is certainly struck by DiMartino and Konietzko’s competent mastery of certain Eastern schools of thought…and how they successfully lost that mastery in just a few years with The Legend of Korra.

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Doug Walker On: “Bato of the Water Tribe” and “The Deserter” (Plus Word on the Next “Korra” Video Review)

An episode Doug Walker doesn’t like?! Say it ain’t so!

It was bound to happen sooner or later, and while I’m surprised the episode to break the Avatar: the Last Airbender‘s track record was not “The Great Divide” (although he certainly had major issues with it), “Bato of the Water Tribe” is certainly not one of the show’s brightest spots. Were it not so contrived and manipulative, it might have been worthwhile. It certainly has it’s worthy moments, such as the last act action sequence and Sokka’s success with ice dodging (technically rock dodging).

This is the first episode where Doug’s thoughts and mine sync up perfectly on why it works and doesn’t work. As such, I don’t have a single thing to add to his analysis nor mine. Let’s just move on to the next one…

I was very taken aback by how underwhelmed Doug was with “The Deserter.” He didn’t dislike the episode, but it didn’t seem to make too big of an impression on him. Maybe his days away from Avatar that were spent trashing Man of Steeland I don’t blame him one bit—got him out of the show’s groove.

Doug’s main issue with the episode was that the character’s actions (ex. Going to the Fire Festival; Aang’s showing off with fire; Katara learning of her healing powers) were either silly or out of place. Actually, each of these three plot points was not only clearly explained in the episode, but the characters themselves even double back on them to provide their own commentary.

Going to the Fire Festival—the entire sequence of which Doug says should have been cut—was indeed a silly idea and the kids knew it. But where else was Aang going to get some Firebending demonstrations (read: displays of Firebending that weren’t exclusively meant to kill him)? Besides, the sequence subtly sets up why Aang was so eager to fool around with fire: he was impressed by the Firebending performer at the festival. Aang’s attempt to emulate him results in him burning Katara’s hands. That in turn leads to her discovering her healing powers, which is elaborated on by Jeong-Jeong as an enviable quality, which also leads to him explaining why he hates having been born a Firebender. And all this connects to the main idea of the episode: that Firebending can only cause chaos and destruction, and requires a great deal of precision and self-control to master.

So Doug simply wasn’t paying that much attention as the episode progressed. That’s a real shame, because I’d say of all the Book One episodes, “The Deserter” is the best, and has the most believable character motivations and interactions. Aang actually feels like a real kid for crying out loud!

I can’t say with any certainty if this is just a case of “not-getting-it-the-first-time.” I honestly don’t know how I reacted to this episode the first time I watched it, but I do remember liking it a lot more than all the other episodes up to that point. Perhaps the writing was too subtle for Doug? I’m not sure, and I won’t speculate any further. I’ll simply stick by my belief that Doug grossly underrated Book One’s most successful episode and leave it at that. In any case, he does at least like the episode, especially the main ideas and the last-act action sequence.

P.S. Yeah, I’m way behind on my usual postings. There has been too much going on lately with work, family problems, and my own personal issues. As far as the Korranalysis is concerned, I’m aiming for a mid-July release for Part Four. Sorry for the wait/non-update, and thank you for your patience.

P.S.S. Going back to Doug’s vlogs, he really liked “The Northern Air Temple!” I mean, in a way, I’m glad he liked it, because his discussion on tradition vs. progress was very insightful and intriguing. Me, I found the episode too boring to delve into the ideas at all, but was worth another disagreement with Doug for that discussion alone. Thanks, Mr. Walker!


Doug Walker On: “The Great Divide”

And here I was thinking there was nothing more that could be said about this brown stain of an episode; all the more reason to be glad that Doug Walker decided to finally give Avatar: the Last Airbender a publicized chance!

Doug may not hold “The Great Divide” in as venomous regard as I (and many people) do, but it’s still notably the first episode of the series to piss him off. Why? Because the ending ruined whatever theme or message the episode seemed to be going for. The moment Aang reveals that the story he told to settle the conflict between the two tribes was a lie, all meaningful musings on prejudice, its oft idiotic origins and parasitic nature were thrown out the window.

Before that, however, Doug found the episode to be rather clever. He liked that Aang’s smug position as world mediator was challenged by this silly tribe bickering. He liked that Katara and Sokka got split up with each group to find out why the conflict existed, and then subsequently got dragged onto that respective tribe’s side. He liked the contrasting viewpoints of the single event that started this whole mess. He even liked the (untruthful) reveal that the event was merely a misinterpreted and extremely exaggerated account of a simple game between two kids.

On paper, maybe this is clever stuff, and could have been worth investigating further in a better-written episode. But that is precisely the rub: irrelevant of how noble the initial ideas were, from a purely technical and writing standpoint, “The Great Divide” is an embarrassing and irreconcilable disaster.

The conflict between the tribe is neither involving nor funny. Every character becomes an idiot in order for the plot to work at all. The animation is the laziest it’s ever been, and the dialogue is even worse: at one point, a character actually says, “I guess it’s OK if everyone’s doing it.” The decision to display each tribe’s recollection of the event in radically different animation style is more distracting than clever. The canyon crawlers—whose pre-hybrid origins are difficult to pinpoint, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—make no sense. The moral is confused.

And when it’s all said and done, “The Great Divide” is practically indistinguishable from your average American animated children’s program. When the concept of a program is as unique and original as Avatar‘s, that alone is perhaps its greatest sin.

Long-time readers will know, of course, that I’ve made all these criticisms before, and I only repeat them now to further illustrate the difference in my and Doug’s viewing experience. I’ve seen the entire series, and more to the point, I’ve seen the greatness that Avatar is capable of; episodes like “Zuko Alone,” “The Crossroads of Destiny,” and especially “The Southern Raiders” gloriously transcend the limits of the American animated children’s program. That an episode like “The Great Divide” can even exist in the same bloodline as these masterpieces just make its aggressive mediocrity all the more deplorable. Doug will reach those heights eventually, and once again I can only envy him for being able to experience them for the time.

But beyond this, Doug brings up something I missed and that makes “The Great Divide” even worse than it already is.

In the beginning, our heroes made it their goal to get to the North Pole, but along the way, Aang wanted to take many detours and to make irrelevant pit stops in various places just for the fun of it. But then the two-part “Winter Solstice” episodes gave them a deadline that rendered such childish dawdling detrimental to their cause. The kids even seemed to realize this in the following episodes (“The Waterbending Scroll” and “Jet.”) Where was that concern during “The Great Divide?” Did they just forget about harmful these stops were to their cause? Did the writers forget?

Honestly, the sheer pointlessness of this episode boggles the mind. You could literally erase it from the Avatar storyline and it wouldn’t impact a single thing.

On a closing note, watch Doug’s video again, but this time listen closely whenever Doug expresses his anger and fascination at how the ending totally destroys the story. You’d almost think he was talking about The Legend of Korra


Doug Walker On: “The Southern Air Temple”

I’ve been meaning to write something (read: anything) in response to Doug Walker’s journey through Avatar: the Last Airbender, but the last thing I wanted to do was go through each and every single episode with him and go through his opinions beat-by-beat. Such an extravagant effort would be a waste of time and energy, especially considering I’ve already delved into the vast majority of the episodes myself anyway.

Instead, I’ll only comment on select episodes, particularly if:

  • A certain theme, motif, etc. deserves elaboration.
  • I strongly agree/disagree with Doug.
  • Doug provides insights I missed in my own viewings and my reviews.

And with that, let’s examine what he has to say about “The Southern Air Temple.”

First of all, I am both surprised and overjoyed by just how quickly he gets Zuko. (He even goes so far as to say that Zuko practically owns the episode.) Doug recognizes how easily Zuko could have been a stock villain with little-to-no redeeming qualities, and how the story provides him ample opportunity to display his humanity, honor, and vulnerability. And all the while, Zuko is still notably a teenager, and the show always handled Zuko as a kid better than it did with Aang, who too often felt like a walking plot device than a human being. Zuko’s relationship with Uncle Iroh also helps to bring out the best in him. I can’t wait to see how Walker responds to Zuko as the series progresses.

Doug’s comment on Zuko’s fight with Zhao is probably the most intriguing of all. Zuko is such an original, complex and unpredictable character not only are you “almost rooting for this guy,” but the show actually fooled Doug into believing Zuko really did strike a finishing blow when Zhao was down. Only the reminder that he was watching a kids’ show—which, of course, wouldn’t let that happen—brought him back, but he’s definitely correct that even for a kids’ show to provide a split-second of ambiguity is impressive. Once again, I’m reminded me of Michael Barrier’s comment on the Disney film Dumbo:

A character’s abrupt turnabout need not be in the least unconvincing, if that character’s reality has been established before the change occurs…People…are highly complex beings who are capable of a lot of things, good and bad. If a film makes that complexity real, an abrupt change can be far more convincing than a change that occurs as the result of planting some prop…Let me point to an abrupt change in a character’s behavior at the end of a film, a change that bothers no one—a change that seems perfectly natural, in fact, because we have gotten to know the character. At the climax of Dumbo, when Dumbo is falling from that great height with the magic feather in his trunk, and Timothy is begging him to fly, we have no reason to believe—from the plot mechanics alone—that Dumbo will respond.

In addition to this, Doug brought up something I never really considered, or perhaps took for granted. Typically in stories of the fantasy genre, there’s a prophecy that someone will save the world, or something to that effect. In Avatar, that’s not the case: it’s not a prophecy so much as a fact of life in this universe. There will always be an Avatar, and whoever that is—whether they like it or not—will have to keep the world in balance, with varying results (i.e. Aang’s hundred-year-long disappearance was not very helpful).

It’s also intriguing just how much Doug hates when those aforementioned fantasy tales have a prophecy child who is told at too young an age that he is a prophecy child. (Admittedly, such pressure would damage the child’s psyche to a degree.) Thankfully, while Avatar does it as well, it at least addresses the subject as a bad thing. (Gee, where was this attitude in The Legend of Korra?)

Doug does like all the characters, but he spent the most time speaking about Zuko. Hmm…

On a closing note, Doug wonders why the writers don’t just make up names for the hybrid animals. I wonder how he’ll react to the rooster-pig or the tiger-armadillo…


Doug Walker Will Review Every Episode of “Avatar”

Now this is an intriguing concept. Doug Walker, better known as the Nostalgia Critic, will be viewing every single episode of Avatar: the Last Airbender in preparation for his highly anticipated review of M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the show. Each day, he’ll watch one episode and then post a vlog in which he’ll state his opinion.

To me, the appeal here is that he’s never seen the show before (though he’s heard it’s great, naturally), so it will be most interesting observing his reactions. I only somewhat envy him the same way I envy anyone who gets to experience something I consider wonderful for the very first time. I say “somewhat” because…well, remember that I’m the guy who took years to appreciate Avatar and then had to blabber about it on the Internet. I can only imagine how what Doug will make of the things I loathed and even the things I loved.

Hell, I’m almost tempted to watch the show again along with him. Not just to compare thoughts, but because it’s been a very long while since I’ve watched the entire show (and let’s face it: Avatar is one of those shows, like Arrested Development, that you simply can’t watch one episode and not the others). This could be the motivation I need to get back to finishing all the episode reviews (yes, including “The Puppetmaster”). Hmm…should I do a whole post series of note comparison? I honestly am not sure. Let me know what you think.

Also, let me state perhaps the most important reason these vlogs might be worthwhile: they’re being presented by Walker himself, not the Nostalgia Critic.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve stopped watching his show since the “final” episode in which he reviewed Scooby Doo. It’s not because I hate the new episodes since his return. I haven’t even watched an entire episode. I started one of them, but turned it off after the first “joke.”

Walker is a genuinely funny and well-meaning person, but you can definitely tell whenever he’s forcing a joke, a review, etc. ; it’s rather painful to watch, and has definitely affected his latter day episodes. Even he seemed aware enough that he was running out of steam, so his “retirement” didn’t phase me at all. If he wanted to go off on his own creative endeavors away from the Critic, then I would have been more than happy for him.

Then again, having not watched a new episode (though his tribute to Roger Ebert and his peculiar choice to review A.I. Artificial Intelligence may change that), I don’t actually know for sure if they’re as forced as I’m afraid they are. For all I know, this is a new wind for him: a breath of fresh air of which I just happened to get wind of when it stank. Maybe.

In the mean time, I’ll definitely be watching these vlogs. This is probably the first time in a which that I’ve been excited about a Doug Walker project.

P.S. I say I support Mr. Walker in his creative endeavors, but I have never watched his show Demo Reel. The concept just didn’t appeal to me, and I figured I’d be better off watching Be Kind Rewind again anyway. Sibling Rivalry, however, is endlessly amusing, thanks largely to Doug’s beautiful relationship with his older brother Rob. (Rob co-wrote nearly all single Nostalgia Critic episode.)

P.S.S. I’ve actually met Mr. Walker once. That is to say, while I was at Youmacon last November, I got him to autograph my poster of 2001: A Space Odyssey (an odd choice, I know, but I was drunk at the time). He and Linkara were quite the professionals. They didn’t even go to the rave that night…


Announcement: More Good News and Bad News

Good News

  • I finally, finally, finally got the new editing program! Now I can resume the video reviews of The Legend of Korra!
  • I’m going to start the two new and separate blogs on animation and music very, very soon.

Bad News

  • This editing program is Adobe Premiere, a system I’m totally unfamiliar with, as the previous videos were done on Final Cut Pro. That means I’ll need a little bit of time to get use to the new setup, although it can’t be that difficult. (Plus, it gives me time to adjust and improve the scripts for the last videos, which I haven’ t looked at in a month thanks for numerous factors.)
  • Those two blogs won’t be functional (or at least notable) until I’ve actually gotten a review or two on them.

I’m not even going to attempt to give a tentative date for the videos, so please bear with me a little longer. At the very least, you can take comfort in the fact that they are most definitely in motion again!

– Marshall Turner