Which character do you like best?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Aang Avatar/The Last Airbender

Hey guys sorry it's been a while- Finals took over my life. A couple things:
If you liked any of my writing here, or are just into really horrible poetry/fiction, then read my sister blog, Raw Eraser. This will probably update more often thanks to fiction and poetry being my forte, as opposed to analysis. Anywho, onto the fun:

Todays character: 
But wait, we aren't doing just this lovable bumpkin, but also:
 That's right folks. For the forseeable future, Avatar is the name of the game. Lets turn to the criteria:


Aka: Ungg
believability: The Aang of the TV show is a pretty realistic kid. At ten years old he's got the weight of the Dalai Lama and the super powers of captain planet under his command and yet he still manages to appear like a normal, if flawed child. His strength as a character lies in his flaws because his flaws take this character who should, by all accounts, be a Mary sue of epic proportions and makes him human. Through out the original run of the series, we see him grow and change, starting out care free and just wanting to have fun and we see him grow up. He learns to control his wild emotions and live by a certain code of morality. However, we also see him jealous and petty and silly. He even goes as far as hurting Katara in an attempt to show off, and is the first one to forgive Zuko when no one else will. Aang's believability continues even into Legend of Korra, where we see, from his children's perspective, all his faults as a father. Aang may be the Avatar, but he is humanized to a full extent, and having the reproach of his children reminds the viewer that even the avatar is not perfect. He, in this later society has been idealized to an absurd degree, and this reality check not only strengthens Aangs character, post mortem, but also serves as a way to develope the characters important to the new series and create a real bond in his children, Bumi, Kiya, and Tenzin.

As for "Ahng" of the Last Airbender failure, his actor, Noah Ringer, 17, might not be entirely responsible. The acting we do see in this film is more than a bit painful, with Noah and his female accomplice, Nicola Peltz, sharing so few lines of dialogue, it is hard to believe the two children have even met. By the end of the film, Aang has had exactly 8 conversations total with his friends, most of which had to do with surroundings and nothing to do with character development. The situations don't give him a chance to grieve his people or to even play like a child. The lovable little annoyance that was Aang from the original series is gone, mostly because everything that happens that could potentially develop his character is ripped away leaving a kid with martial arts training to stand around awkwardly between fight scenes. (and lets not get into the mess that was the visual effects of this movie... The effects here could have been improved with rotating gobos and that is saying something). This Aang is not a child. He is not a person caught up in something bigger than himself. He does not fear his responsibility, he does not feel pain at being alone, he does not feel the joy in simplicities kids do. He is a blob of nothing with a really cool wardrobe choice. (But actually. Only thing decent about the film, whoever was on costume, kudos- everything looks really cool- except Yue's head penis... but we'll get to that later.)
Score: 9/10 2/10

Flaws: We have talked a little about flaws above, but just to recap: He is so afraid of responsibility he actually runs away starting the whole 100 years of avatar free world. He is stubborn, and in some sense, his morals create for him this ambiguous entity that might be a flaw but might be his biggest virtue. The ambiguity in Aang's response to violence is remarkable. He refuses to kill what is the equivalent of Firebreathing Hitler (oh well now I have to make that a picture... )
and finds a way to stop the dictator without killing him. He rides a real strugglebus and manages to end the series with the same innocence he started it with, rare in a Bildungsroman such as this. In addition to moral issues, Aang has flaws in other sectors- he is love struck in one of the most annoyingly childlike ways, and he spends much of the series annoying Katara with childish advances. Not to say it goes to far into rape culture society or anything, but Aang does perpetrate several unwanted kisses to Katara, who wants to sort out her feelings. The issue it addresses, about wanting children to know its ok to say no is an important one that is done, in a way, by Nickelodeon that is not scary or that presses the point into uncomfortable territory. Aang kisses Katara. She does not like this. He tries it again later. She gets annoyed and puts him down. All is right with the world. Aangs flaws make him human.
Oh Aaaanchu... bless you, child, you are like some kind of dry toast saint. Or maybe a rice pudding saint. The film's attempt at Aang lacked one of the most important qualities discussed, at legnth, above: Flaws. The kid has no flaws- he is simply a little kid with insanely good martial arts skills who's happy go-lucky personality doesn't even exist. Even when he comes out of the ice block, having just, in his temporal memory, fled from home fearing responsiblity, he shows little emotion towards his situation. When Katara asks him why he was in the ice, he laughs it off "I was upset and ran away I should get home" and Katara asks "Are you still upset?" and Aang laughs: no!" We are led to believe Aang holds pretty much no feelings or flaws that caused his cowardly escape. The plot, from the very beginning, has been thwarted. And as far as Aang was concerned, the perfect little kungfuJesus was so holy and clean, he made Dora the Explora look like a little skank.
Score: 9/10  0.2/10

By all accounts, Aang should be over powered. He has the power of the gods, thousands of years worth of ancestors to call up at any time, can control four different elements and has the respect of pretty much the entire world, sans the fire nation. And yet, while he has the basics for all of the elements and potential to master them, the entire plot revolves around his attempts to master all four, something I wouldn't quite say he even achieves by the end. He comes fully equiped with Air bending, yet we see very little use of airbending that would qualify as offensive or masterful. He has cool tricks and can show off for friends, but it is my belief that airbending is the one art in which Aang will never be able to achieve the mastery of his people because his training was never completed. As for the other elements, while he picks up water fairly quickly, he is still eventually surpassed by Katara, who can perform amazing healing and even learns how to blood bend (I cannot wait to go over the moral ambiguities of Katara). Fire is fun for Aang, but he shows a lack of control that eventually leads to Aang's fear of it until the end of the series. Toph makes it plenty clear that Aang lacks a firm grasp of earth bending. He becomes less of an over powered character and more of an average powered character that can do a lot of different things. His powers are tempered by his flaws.
At this point I would hope that we have all seen the .gifs of the special effects in The Last Airbender movie. Noah's technical martial arts skills may be pretty Bolin (geddit? I'm adorable with puns today) but the way they are portrayed and linked with the actual bending of elements is atrocious. But... lets take a moment and just acknoledge that, yes, the martial arts in the movie was actually pretty cool. We can laugh all we want about the post edit special effects failures, but that does not mean that the intent on the actors parts was not there. The forms and styles were pretty kick ass. So kudos to you, actor combatants- However, in movie-verse, these guys are way under powered. For which we have the special effects team to thank. What it looked like, honestly, is that the on location crew and choreographers had a good idea of what they were doing and how it should play out when the special effects are added. There are several times within the film that you can actually see an actor make an attack cue (and trust me on this, I know- I am an actor combatant in the SAFD) and then absolutely nothing happens. Some people had problems with the necessity of fire being around, but I didn't find that an issue so much as the lack of preparation on the part of the postedit team. The problem is not in the actors but entirely in the special effects artists who I am half convinced were M. Knight's children working in mspaint. 
                                              (actually this looks better than what they did...)
Score: 8/10  5/10 (the actor combatants really were good. Blame the postedit)

Personality Type:
I'll be honest, I've never been a huge fan of Aang's personality- it would grate with mine in real life and I would find him annoying and needy. However, he has enough of a personality for me to have an opinion on it, which means that the writers, actors, artists and editors did their job. He is a real person.
Ong grates on me as well but its for his lack of personality, which for me is a death sentence to character. He has no real feelings on anything, or, if he does, we never get to see it because Shamallama made the movie in such a manner that we hardly get any screen time or development with our main characters.
Score: 7/10 -1/10

Aang's fears: the firelord, responsibility, letting people down, hurting other people, Killing anything, Losing what he cherishes, his own mortality, hurting Katara, the genocide of his people (though too late on that one oops), losing Appa, losing the war, failing his world, being the avatar. And that folks, is a well rounded character.
Ong's fears: character development, back story, showing emotion, being interesting to watch, the gays? ethnic characters, and representing the wonderful show he was supposed to be inspired by.
Score: 9/10  0/10

Position of Power:
You know, you'd think with the Avatar's rep he would be pretty much the pope, but like, he gets disrespect all over the place- not just from the fire nation but like, from the Earth Kingdom, that town that oppose the Kiyoshi Warriors, pretty much everywhere he goes there are people that hate him or disrespect him for leaving them alone for a hundred years or else because he is trying to stop various government and claim some control.
Ong... well... um... he.... We don't really know his power position because pretty much the only time we see it addressed is in the Northern water tribe, and even then he pretty much announces his existence and they hand over the reigns of the entire tribe to a bunch of children who they know about as well as the audience does. My god, none of these people connected...
Score: 8/10 1/10

The conflicts of both the film and the show are more or less the same, but with varying levels of execution. Television, for this format, makes far more sense to begin with because the episodic plot structure allows for character development in between point of plot and among various episodes which have mini plots throughout. The film failed mostly because it tried to rush through the mini-plots and the character development and jump to the bones of the story, where all that matters is Zuko, the Firelord, Zhao and the Northern Water Tribe. The film did not leave time for the childlike fun and wonder that made the television series so poignant and enjoyable as a legitimate family show. It was not fun or funny or cool for the children and it was not heartwarming, thematic and didactic. We had no stake in the lives of any of the characters, espeically Aang. It just kinda sucked. The conflicts may be exactly the same and they may even be good ones. For that reason alone I will give the score for his category as joint- they will both receive the same. It only proves that even the best conflicts can be ruined in a narrative work through bad directing.
Score: 10/10 10/10

Love Plots:
I will be totally honest here, I was never a fan of Aang's love plots in this series. As the Ember Island Players point out, Katara treats Aang consistently like a son or at best a younger brother, and I just never see the spark there. Their personalities mesh like that of Hermione and Harry, and their relationship feels almost as incestuous to me as one between Katara and Sokka would. (note: personal ship here would be Toph/Aang, but I can't change what is. Besides, I am a fan of all three of Kataang's children) I always felt the Katara Aang romance felt too forced, and as an author, I know that you yourself will know if your intended pairing just will not work out. Fans saw this, its clear even the animation team saw this (by the amount of time they spend on it in Ember Island players), perhaps the only people who did not see it were the youngest sect of the children watching the show. I am not saying Katara and Zuko were meant to be (but who wouldn't love to see a TROLOLOLOL filled ship between old people Katara and Zuko in Korra?) but the way the love plot was set up it started out ok as puppy love but seemed distracting and forced once the war was brought to the forefront, not to mention that even in a war time, Katara shouldn't be that adamant about their nonromantic involvement if she wasn't really just trying to let him down easy. If a spark is there, it will be there regaurdless. Also Rapekisses.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA LOVE PLOT WHAT'S THAT? srlsy, did Katara and Ong even interact? Could we even call that a romance?
Score: 4/10 0/10
 Masculine Power:
Two words: Twinkle toes. (but like, in a good way. Who needs masculine power as a 12 year old? By the end the guy is pretty jacked, though he really has to stop forcing himself on the ladies.)
Two words: Twinkle toes. (cool fighting... though some acting classes couldn't hurt...)
7/10  5/10
Overall Complexity:
Overall, it comes down to this: Aang from the TV show is a well thought out, interesting and original character who has emotions, can be annoying, irritating, lovable, adorable and the range of human emotions. He is complex and has interesting motivations and can be selfish, greedy, cowardly and scared.
Aang from the film has none of the charms or identity that makes him recognizable as the character we know and love despite an interesting and creative rebrand with the costuming (admit it people, the costumes were good. Just nothing else. And don't give me any shit about the tattoo, that was a cool makeup choice as well, even if it differs a little. Really, its a shame the film was so poor because cosplayers everywhere would have had a good time making some of the changes the film did and having those costumes as an example). However clothes do not make the man, and Aang did not meet up with anyones expectations- his characterization was too shallow, and that coming from rich and impressive source material. Aang could use hand to hand combat, but that was about it. We don't know what he likes, what he doesn't like, we don't see his puppy love, his longing, his hope, his loss of hope, his fear or anything that makes Aang Aang. He's just boring.
Overall complexity: 7.8 TV and 2.467 FILM

Followup later to see the scores of some other beloved characters from the show and film

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