Because fans should be critical, too

Happy Anniversary to the “Avatar” Blog!

As of this past Sunday, I’ve been running this Avatar: the Last Airbender blog for three years. Is three years a long time? It certainly seems like it, especially to have been committed to maintaining a blog devoted to a single animated children’s show. Perhaps this says more about me than it does about Avatar, but don’t let that cloud the issue. Avatar is a very special show deserving of higher praise and analysis than I think it gets on average, and I’m eager to revisit it after The Legend of Korra has come to an end.

In other words, I’m much more excited to spend the time and effort needed to keep this blog alive than I’d been, say, a year ago. I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot since then—it’s hard to tell—and what I’ve learned, I’d liked to apply to this blog, making it better than it’s been in the past. How? I’m not entirely sure, but a key word that comes to mind is openness. This openness involves both myself and my general readership.

For me, I’m making a conscious effort to open up my critical approach. Tox, a relatively new commenter on this blog, has illuminated some rather glaring flaws in my writing process (flaws which, upon brutal self-reflection and extemporaneous readings, I now recognize as having seriously hindered a respectful analysis of Avatar and Korra). To fix these issues, I’ll need to write more, while remaining conscious of where my biases and lack of knowledge gets in the way. I won’t totally abandon my more subjective, more personal approach, but it won’t be as egregious as it’s been in the past (I’d hate to hold up “The Southern Raiders” as the greatest episode without any objective and formal evidence to support my claim, regardless of my personal feelings).

As for the general readership: I can’t remember who suggested this, but I love the idea of making the Avatar reviews much more democratic. As opposed to the old model—in which I give my full thoughts on an episode, with little room for dialogue—perhaps the way it’s been going lately (with the quick impressions, followed by further discussion and elaboration from commenters) should be the standard for the future. Everyone here is so civil and articulate, even in disagreement, and I’ve really loved the responses to the individual episodes of Book Four. I think such a dialogue can only improve once our attentions are focused on the entire series in the retrospect (and in lieu of the production history). I’m still pondering this one, but it feels like the right way to go.

In the meantime: 1) there are still a few more episodes of Korra to go before the franchise comes to an end (and, judging by Korra‘s eventual slide out of the time slots of cable television, there will be no further on-screen stories or developments in the rich and intriguing Avatar universe), and those have to be dealt with as they come; and 2) among other things, the Frozen video review is still underway and taking up much of my free time. How much time? Enough to realize that my issues with Frozen go way beyond the movie itself—which is a typically well-made, moderately entertaining American feature-length animated movie—to the culture that surrounds it and made it such a massive success. I can’t say anymore that, since I want to save it for the actual review, but I will repeat a single observation: it’s frightening how thoroughly this latest generation has been swayed by nostalgia for even the most insipid products of our childhoods in the midst of late capitalism. [This has also affected the Avatar franchise, resulting in episodes like “The Headband” and “The Beach,” which pay awkward homage to the 80s films that creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko grew up with. The terrible love triangle of Book One and Two of Korra also hints at this postmodern self-indulgence (ominously calling to mind a belief of film critic Pauline Kael that a collaboration, or a “joint authorship…usually means a shared shallowness”).]

In a way, the issues I have with both Korra and Frozen are one in the same: their inherit progressive potential is squandered by their poor storytelling. Who knows what affect Korra could have had on the public consciousness had its creators fully adhered to the pragmatic needs of good narrative and entertainment. Who knows how much more meaningful Frozen could have been had it been conceived as more than a self-conscious continuation of the “Disney legacy.”

Maybe all these things and more will be speculated in the following year. Maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m excited to see where we go from here. I hope you all are, too.

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20 responses

  1. Italianbaptist

    One guy’s survivor recaps have him answering some of his readers at the beginning before addressing the episode at hand. Maybe you could incorporate something like that in the reblog?

    I wouldn’t sell yourself too short 🙂 You have some strong insight into the human condition in your reviews and how even a children’s animated show can be a strong reflection of that. I’ve really enjoyed reading the longer articles.

    November 24, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    • Hmm…that could work. Maybe I’ll experiment with it as the reviews progress with each episode. We’ll figure this out!

      Also, thank you for your compliments!

      November 26, 2014 at 2:08 pm

  2. Clander

    Well I can tell you, buddy, that I’m glad you and this blog are still around. I really enjoy coming here and having conversations with everyone else.

    Though if you were to ask my opinion on some changes. I would suggest you broaden your critical gaze to more than just Avatar, Korra and Frozen. I think it would be really interesting to hear your analysis on a variety of other things. I was itching to know what you thought of Big Hero 6 right after I saw it.

    November 24, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    • Italianbaptist

      It would be cool to see a broader scope on animation. I myself was curious how you felt about how Nickelodeon is handling the ninja turtles. For me the akraang plot is your typical kid’s show fluff but the splinter/shredder/karai plot is incredibly deep. Part of that may be the source material, but to see that kind of depth on what could have just been a toy commercial is ironically wonderful (I feel the same way about a certain group of talking horses).

      November 24, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      • Of what I’ve seen, the lastest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtlesshow is a perfectly fine show, though not one I’m keen on watching full-time (isn’t this, like, the third or fourth television reboot of the franchise?).

        Now the one about the talking horses, on the other hand…

        November 26, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    • I definitely want to move on to other animations, whether they be feature-length, television, for kids, for adults, avant garde, commercial kitsch, etc. I’ve even considered doing a podcast for certain feature-length animations, but that idea is still in the conceptual phase.

      I can say for sure, though, that if the Frozen video review goes well, I’ve already got one planned for The LEGO Movie, possibly followed by The Little Mermaid because: 1) the two films just happen to have the same initials (T.L.M.), and 2) more importantly, The Little Mermaid was the start of the “original” Disney Renaissance*, the second of which has allegedly begun with Frozen. It would make for an intriguing comparison. Plus, The Little Mermaid happens to be my favorite Disney feature, and I’m eager to tear it apart and see if that has to do with its actual merits or nostalgia on my part.

      *Isn’t that phrase wonderfully redundant?

      November 26, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      • Clander

        That’s exciting to hear and I will definately be checking out whatever you do.

        But how is Frozen the start of the second Renaissance? Didn’t it start with Tangled??

        November 26, 2014 at 4:37 pm

  3. JMR

    I’d just like to say thanks for keeping up this blog. For me personally, I’ve really appreciated it as one of the few places around where I can be openly critical of Legend of Korra without getting mobbed and shouted down by angry fans. Especially after the end of Season 1, when everyone was still in full on hype mode, it was nice to have somewhere where I could have a conversation where I wasn’t trying to constantly respond to 12 different people, all quite unhappy I wasn’t gushing praise for the show along with them.

    So congrats on three years, and here’s to many more!

    November 24, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    • Thank you, JMR, for your compliments and for continuing to hang around. I’ve always particularly cherished your insights and contributions to the dialogue on Korra.

      November 26, 2014 at 2:28 pm

  4. Ian

    Congrats on your success in keeping this blog going! You have me as a constant reader. I often find your opinions on things to mostly be well thought out and planned to the point that even if I very much disagree on an opinion of yours that I can actually get into a discussion with you and you will respond to my questions and thoughts in a detailed manner.

    So keep up the good work my friend, Avatar is a fantastic show and I’m glad its getting the in depth discussion it deserves on here.

    To all my fellow commenters on here Id like to also publicly apologize if Ive ever came off as antagonistic to points of views or arrogant in my own opinions. I don’t want to come off this way and I always want to be willing to see the other side of the coin and discuss accordingly.

    Thanks for the good reads Marshall, and a quick question to end this. Have you watched Gravity Falls? I feel it is actually a good compliment to Avatar and actually gives me the same sense of fun and mystery that Avatar had. It also contains characterization that I enjoy where, Everyone is funny, until proven serious. I like this approach because humor is a major gateway to liking a character and to liking people in general as we all love to laugh, and not all humor has to be relegated to comic relief characters. Aang’s first line in the Avatar is “will you go penguin sledding with me?”, a cute and absurdly funny line that gets us to immediately sympathize and like Aang, before we even learn about his “serious” back story.

    November 24, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    • Thank you for your constant support, Ian!

      To answer your question, I’ve only seen two episodes of Gravity Falls, both of which were surprisingly good [surprising because, based on the art style and some of the voice acting (NOT Kristen Schaal’s), I wasn’t expecting much]. I don’t remember details, but one of them involved the lead character Dipper making clones of himself so he could have time to hang out with the girl he likes. The concept was handled very inventively, and kept me guessing the entire time what direction the episode would take!

      So even though I haven’t given Gravity Falls my full attention, it’s definitely a show I would mind looking into a bit more. Who knows, maybe I can review Avatar and that show (or another show) simultaneously!

      November 26, 2014 at 2:35 pm

  5. drew

    Do you think Mike and Bryan will even be able to get work within Nickelodeon after Korra is done for good? Maybe they’re doomed to help write those comics for the rest of their lives.

    November 24, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    • According to commenter daciio, that certainly seems to be their fate. That’s rather depressing to think about, wouldn’t you say?

      November 26, 2014 at 2:40 pm

  6. drew

    Also: You’re an extremely good writer. I bet your could write for the avclub or something like that.

    November 24, 2014 at 10:49 pm

  7. Gabriel

    I really like to see different points of view on the same subject (Avatar in this case) and this blog is just the perfect place. I don’t mind you being a little personal about some aspects of the show in your reviews if you accept and make it clear that it’s just your opinion, it’s natural.

    I must say that I’ve been enjoying all the dialogue in the comments lately. Oh, I really like the screenshots in the Avatar reviews, I’d like you to include them in the new reviews if possible.

    November 25, 2014 at 10:38 am

    • I considered doing that, but the time it took to get just half the screenshots I needed became too much of a hassle. The full retrospective reviews, however, may see the return of the screenshots.

      November 26, 2014 at 2:42 pm

  8. daciio

    Congratulations on running this blog for three years! I love watching the show’s episodes and then coming in here to read your thoughts on them.

    By the way, regarding one of your comments:

    “…judging by Korra‘s eventual slide out of the time slots of cable television, there will be no further on-screen stories or developments in the rich and intriguing Avatar universe…”

    Yup, you’re right. This is what Bryke said at a Q&A session from the Avatar Wiki: “OK, here goes nothing! There are more ATLA comics in the works with Gene Yang writing, Gurihiru illustrating, and Dark Horse publishing. There are also the third and fourth Korra art books coming out. There may be some other little things, some products here and there, but other than that, nothing major in the works, and there probably won’t be for a long time. We’re moving on to other projects. But we thank you for your continued interest and enthusiasm in ATLA/LOK!”

    Talking about the comics, have you ever considered reviewing them? I don’t know if you’ve read them or not, but if you haven’t, I can assure you that they are extremely good, and I’d love to read your opinions about them 🙂

    November 25, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    • I remember reading one of the comics and not being too keen on reading any more of them. But eventually I’ll give them a full read and review.

      November 26, 2014 at 2:46 pm

  9. Italianbaptist

    Apparently another animation-centric blog that I used to regularly read has bit the dust, which gives you more incentive to broaden the animation scope. What can I say? I’m Italian, I learned how to guilt trip with the best of them 🙂

    November 27, 2014 at 10:59 pm

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