Avatar: The Last Airbender (Avatar: The Legend of Aang in some regions) is an American television series that aired for three seasons on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in an Asiatic-like world in which some people are able to manipulate the classical elements by use of psychokinetic variants of Chinese martial arts, known as "bending". The show combined the styles of anime and American cartoons, and relied on the imagery of various East Asian, Inuit, Southeast Asian, South Asian, and New World societies. Therefore, whether the series can be considered as an anime work is often discussed.
The series follows the adventures of protagonist twelve-year-old Aang and his friends, who must bring peace and unity to the world by ending the Fire Lord's war against the other three nations. The pilot episode first aired on February 21, 2005, and the series concluded with a widely praised two-hour episode on July 19, 2008. The show is obtainable from various sources, including DVD, the iTunes Store, the Zune Marketplace, the Xbox Live Marketplace, the PlayStation Store, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and the Nicktoons Network.
Throughout its run, Avatar: The Last Airbender was universally acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. Praises went to the art direction, humor, cultural references, characters, and themes. It was also commercially successful, garnering 5.6 million viewers on its best-rated showing and receiving high ratings in the Nicktoons lineup, even outside of its 6- to 11-year-old demographic. The series has been nominated for and won awards from the Annie Awards, the Genesis Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award and a Peabody Award, among others. The first season's success prompted Nickelodeon to order second and third seasons.
In other media, the series has spawned a critically panned, but financially successful, live-action film, titled The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan; scaled action figures; a trading card game; three video games; stuffed animals distributed by Paramount Parks and two Lego sets. An art book was also released in mid-2010. A sequel series, The Legend of Korra, aired from 2012 to 2014.
Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a world home to humans and hybrid animals, adjacent to a parallel Spirit World. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Each nation has a distinct society, wherein people known as "benders" have the ability to manipulate and control the element of their nation using the physical motions of martial arts. The show's creators based each bending style on an existing Chinese martial art, leading to clear visual and physical differences in the techniques used by Waterbenders (T'ai chi ch'uan), Earthbenders (Hung Ga kung fu, or Southern Praying Mantis Style), Firebenders (Northern Shaolin kung fu) and Airbenders (Baguazhang). In addition to these four types of bending, there are several minor subcategories of bending within them, including but not limited to: Metalbending, Sandbending (Earth); Lightning generation and redirection (Fire) and Bloodbending, Healing, Plantbending (Water).
At any given time, only one person in the world is capable of bending all four elements: the Avatar, who serves as an international arbiter. When the Avatar dies, the Avatar spirit is reincarnated into the next one of the four nations in the Avatar Cycle: the Fire Nation, Air Nomads, Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, in order. An Avatar incarnation is born male or female, and is required to master each bending art in seasonal order, starting with its native land's element. Additionally, the Avatar can enter a trance known as the Avatar State: normally a defense mechanism until placed, by mental discipline, under control, wherein the current Avatar briefly gains the knowledge and abilities of all past Avatars. If an Avatar were to be killed while in the Avatar State, the reincarnation cycle would end and the Avatar would never again be reborn. Through the various incarnations, the Avatar maintains a relative equality among the nations while serving as mediator between humans and spirits. The origin of the Avatar cycle is revealed in the sequel series The Legend of Korra, as the result of a young man named Wan combining his soul with the spirit Raava to imprison her opponent, Vaatu. The sequel series also revealed that bending was originally bestowed by the immense Lion Turtles, before these giant creatures renounced their roles as mankind's protectors upon the creation of the Avatar.
The backstory of the series (told largely through flashback sequences) extends backward to over 100 years before the time period in which the bulk of the series takes place, but these prelude events are revealed slowly in a fragmented, non-linear manner. More than a century before the opening events of the series, Fire Lord Sozin, ruler of the Fire Nation, planned a world war to expand his nation's territory and influence, but was prevented from carrying out his plans by Avatar Roku.
After Roku's death, the Avatar was reincarnated as an Airbender, named Aang, who learned of his Avatar status when twelve years old. Aang, frightened of his new responsibilities and of separation from his mentor Gyatso, fled his home on his flying bison, Appa. The two were forced into the ocean by a storm, with Aang entering the Avatar State and encasing them both in an iceberg, in suspended animation, for one hundred years.
Sozin, knowing the nature of the Avatar's reincarnation cycle, carried out genocide of the Air Nomads during the passing of a comet that increased the Firebenders' firepower, with the comet later renamed after him as a result, and spent his remaining days searching for the eponymous "Last Airbender". As the Fire Nation's Hundred Year War continued, Sozin was succeeded as Fire Lord by his son, Azulon, who in turn passed the title to his youngest son, Ozai, who becomes the primary antagonist of the series.
Katara, a fourteen-year-old Southern Tribe Waterbender, and her older brother, Sokka, find and revive Aang and Appa. Aang learns of the war occurring in his absence, and the siblings join him to reach the Northern Water Tribe at the North Pole, so that he and Katara can learn Waterbending from a master. Aang's return attracts the attention of prince Zuko, the exiled son of Ozai, who pursues the three thereafter. Aang is also pursued by Zhao, a Fire Nation militant who intends to win Ozai's favor and rob Zuko of his redemption.
En route to the North Pole, Aang meets the Kyoshi Warriors (established by an eponymous previous Avatar) and his childhood friend, King Bumi, attempts to learn Firebending from the deserter Firebending master, Jeong Jeong, and gains a traveling companion in a winged lemur he names Momo. Aang discovers the genocide of his people while visiting the Southern Air Temple. During the winter solstice, Aang meets his predecessor, Roku.
At the Northern Water Tribe, Aang and Katara learn advanced Waterbending from its Master, Pakku, while Sokka falls in love with Princess Yue, the tribal chief's daughter. Zhao lays siege to the Northern Water Tribe, seizing the mortal forms of the Ocean and Moon Spirits, the source of waterbending, and thus causing a lunar eclipse. Zhao kills the moon spirit to render the Waterbenders powerless. Aang uses his Avatar State and combines with the Ocean Spirit to drive off the enemy's fleet while Princess Yue sacrifices her life to revive the Moon Spirit. When Ozai hears of Iroh's resistance to Zhao, he sends his daughter, Azula, to capture Iroh and Zuko.
After leaving the Northern Water Tribe, Aang continues to master Waterbending under Katara's tutelage as the group searches for an Earthbending teacher. Their search brings them to Toph Beifong, a twelve-year-old blind tomboy and Earthbending prodigy who wants independence from her upper-class family. Pursued by Azula, Zuko and Iroh lead new lives in the Earth Kingdom, first as wanderers and later as refugees in the capital of Ba Sing Se. At a library guarded by the spirit Wan Shi Tong, Aang and his group learn that an imminent solar eclipse could allow them to stop the Fire Nation before Sozin's Comet arrives. Their journey to Ba Sing Se to inform the Earth King of this is complicated when Appa is kidnapped. At the city, they find the Earth King Kuei and Ba Sing Se manipulated by Long Feng, the leader of the Dai Li secret police.
After Aang's group finds Appa and exposes Long Feng, Toph is captured, but escapes by "Metalbending", while Aang attempts to consciously access the Avatar state. The Dai Li join Azula to instigate a coup d'état of Ba Sing Se; and Zuko, having tried to ignore his past obsession, relapses when the Avatar appears to rescue Katara. As Aang tries to enter the Avatar state, Azula nearly kills him. With Ba Sing Se and the Earth Kingdom now under Fire Nation rule, the group escapes thanks to Iroh, who is imprisoned for betraying the Fire Nation, and Kuei goes into hiding.
Aang recovers from a long coma to find his friends and allies disguised as soldiers on a Fire Nation ship, preparing invasion of the Fire Nation. Despite receiving credit for the Avatar's apparent death, Zuko regrets his role therein. Although the invasion meets great success at first, Aang and his friends are unable to find Ozai and are forced to retreat with many of their allies captured. At the same time, having learned of his father's intention to destroy the Earth Kingdom at the time of Sozin's Comet, Zuko leaves the palace to teach Aang Firebending.
As the comet approaches, Aang becomes reluctant to kill Ozai, and goes alone to consult his predecessors' spirits. Katara and the others unsuccessfully search for Aang, and find the newly escaped Iroh, joined by the other members of a secret society called the Order of the White Lotus: Bumi, Master Pakku, Jeong-Jeong, and Master Piandao (a master swordsman who taught Sokka). Together, the Order of the White Lotus liberates Ba Sing Se. Sokka, Toph, and Kyoshi Warrior Suki hinder the Fire Nation's airships, while Zuko and Katara prevent Azula from becoming the new Fire Lord. As Sozin's Comet arrives, Aang confronts Ozai, but finds himself in a losing battle until Ozai mistakenly re-establishes Aang's connection to the Avatar State. Thus enabled, Aang strips Ozai of his firebending powers, instead of killing him.
Soon after, Zuko is crowned the new Fire Lord and initiates an armistice. The series ends in a meeting of all the protagonists at Ba Sing Se in Iroh's tea shop, the Jasmine Dragon, where Aang and Katara hug and then kiss beneath the sunset. The camera then zooms up and into the sunset, displaying the words "The End" with their Chinese counterparts above them.