Avatar: The Last Airbender is famous for popularizing the Western anime style. The show is a massive homage in art style and storytelling to popular anime. But can it actually be considered an anime?
The next few points are aimed at subtly convincing you why I think it is.
Strictly speaking, it was The Legend of Korra that had a proper tournament storyline, but Avatar: The Last Airbender took a shot at it, too.
In season 2, Aang was on the prowl for an earthbending teacher, and he happened across an earthbender fighting ring.
In there, colourful and showy earthbenders were fighting for the prized belt, and Toph, by far the smallest earthbender there, rose to the top.
Aang stepped in and defeated her with airbending, but what he really wanted was just to talk to her.
Many anime series are set in high school, since the intended viewers are likely school-aged themselves, from Toradora!, Nisekoi to Azumanga Daioh!. There is a minor tribute to this idea in season 3 when Aang ends up in a school in the Fire Nation.
Aang had stolen a school uniform, after all, and was sent to class. He learned some incorrect history, joined the school band, and even got into a (bloodless) fight with the local popular jock; all in a day's work, academic style.
Obviously, the art style lends itself to anime tropes. Avatar had the most realistic human designs for Nickelodeon by far. That’s not to discount other styles of 2D animation, but Western animation tends to have simplified designs that make complex animations easier to achieve with a standard budget.
The large eyes and exaggerated facial expressions, a staple of anime, made it into the show. And true to anime, they served to add comedy to an already hilarious scene.
To help save on budget due to more complex character designs (and save all that money for the epic fight scenes), many anime series make use of long scenes of talking with a camera panning over a still frame.
Avatar does this frequently and for good reason beyond budgetary constraints.
The show has a lot of backstories; it drops on you quickly and efficiently. By having the moving camera, it tricks us into thinking there’s action happening, keeping our attention on the show.
Cute, fluffy, and sometimes terrifying, most anime contain some cuddly mascot for their heroes. In Avatar, you get two.
Both Appa and Momo have enough character (and sentience) that episodes revolving around them are engaging and sometimes a breath of fresh air. Really, Appa finding his way back to Aang and breaking our hearts along the way...did anyone see that coming?
Oh gosh, the fight scenes. Accurate to their respective martial arts styles, bending fights pull no stops. The camera angles are especially reminiscent of anime fights, with close-ups on fists and the accompanying screaming. You know, when someone deals particularly vicious blow and goes “AAAAAAAH!”
However, fights don’t take a ridiculous amount of time and the big one that took up more than one episode was between Aang and Firelord Ozai, so the extra time was warranted. And even when we add it all up, it only took a day.
This. The Avatar State. This is the most anime thing ever. Also, you can totally see the inspiration the team got from Fullmetal Alchemist in the 2003 version.
The Avatar State is used as a bending trump card of sorts, allowing the Avatar to tap into the knowledge of his or predecessors and channel that energy into powerful attacks.
It does drain the Avatar’s energy and despite the power associated with the Avatar State, leaves the person pretty vulnerable.
But the glowing eyes and resulting move set? Totally anime. Leading up to that point, really no other animated show implemented this element.
Even in superhero shows, there’s nothing that compares to what the Avatar State can do.
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