In this episode…
The Aang Gang arrives at the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu, ruled by a wily old king. Aang reminisces about his old friend Bumi, a “mad genius” who 100 years ago showed Aang that the most fun one can have in Omashu is to ride the city’s steep twisting maze of mail chutes and slides. Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Momo give the chutes a try, but end up crushing the wares of a traveling cabbage merchant. Brought before the crazy king of the city, the gang is given a feast. The king suspects that Aang is the Avatar, and is given three deadly challenges to test his skills. As a final test, the king asks Aang to guess his name. It is only then that Aang realizes the “mad genius” of a king is Aang’s old friend Bumi. King Bumi reinforces the instructions of Aang’s quest—master the four elements and defeat Fire Lord Ozai.
This episode was trying to just be funny and quirky and goofy, and did not have many goals beyond that. It’s all about action and comedy. The show does both of those things really well, so no complaints. I also like their take on the mad king. He’s so goofy and bizarre and he says these wild random things. The whole exchange with the guard about which room “the recently renovated room that used to be bad” feels very Monty Python to me.
“The King of Omashu” also serves as an introductory demonstration of what earthbenders can do. The economy is run by earthbending. The city’s gates aren’t even gates, they’re just big walls that are moved open by earthbending. And then there is a climactic bending battle, where we get our first glimpse of earthbending in combat. And it is awesome. There are so many things in this battle that rock (pun absolutely intended). I love how the remnants of Bumi’s attacks decorate the battle arena like a rock garden. The creative ways in which benders utilize their skills never cease to entertain me, whether it be dropping rocks on someone’s head, shooting pillars of stone out of the ground, or falling through a solid floor as if it were water.
You would have to be a very little kid not to recognize the king as a grown up version of Bumi quicker than a sky bison can sneeze. Same quirky attitude, same weird laugh, same googly eyes, and then there’s that odd look he gives Aang when the Avatar walks in the door.
As a writer I’m always observing how jokes work and how they integrate into the plot. This episode uses various kinds of humor, whether it’s talking a point into the ground, or puns, or homonyms (Lettuce Leaf?) or utter randomness (I want my lunchbox key! Not the scepter of some god, but a lunchbox key). And of course, the repetition (which only gets funnier with time) of “My cabbages!” My first time through, I didn’t realize how bloodthirsty Mr. Cabbages was. He wanted the kids to die for squashing his cabbages. He is actually the Fire Lord in disguise and he is following them for the whole series trying to thwart them at every turn.
Why Aang’s dear friend, even if he is 112, doesn’t go with the Avatar to protect him on the early stages of his journey, and teach him his rather impressive earthbending skills, is beyond me.
And that’s about it. This episode is pretty close to a throwaway, but as usual, there is so much fun packed into this throwaway that you don’t even care.
Gonna start this off by saying that I love earthbending. However, it really must suck to be a teenager in an earthbending household. NO LOCKS! Your parents can just bend the walls to check in on you and your significant other. Must be tough.
As Matt points out, this episode does very little overall to move the plot forward, but like with the trip to Kyoshi, I completely bought it. This detour was just another stop on Aang’s quest to cross off his bucket list of exciting things to do in the world. I remember the first time I saw Aang’s Map O’ Cool Things, I figured we wouldn’t see any of that, but really the first few episodes of the series are all about that map. Looking ahead into the series, I find it interesting the amount of time the gang spends on having fun while on their journey. Despite having to save the world, they still find time to have fun (much to Sokka’s chagrin).
The final scene with Bumi and the kids brings Aang back to what his real goal is. Defeat the Fire Lord and learn all four types of bending. We, as the audience, already knew this information, but this is the first time it is clearly laid out for Aang and the gang and I think that is important.
Of course, I love the Cabbage Man. This show does such a great job of reincorporating characters back into the story later on.
One last thought. I love that Momo eats anything he can get his hands on to the point that he is too fat to fit through a small hole.
I understand the need to disguise Aang, but would him wearing a wig and mustache really be convincing at all? Especially as an OLD man? He’s so small! This is one of those things that cartoons always pull and get away with that kind of bugs me because it seems lazy. It’s also just too easy for Aang to pull it off, not just visually, but when he’s questioned too. It would have been cool if he used the knowledge he has because he’s the Avatar and can talk to the previous Avatars (some of whom were actually old men). A pretty minor point, but still.
The gate to Omashu is one of those great worldbuilding things they’ve got in Avatar. I mean, what’s more secure than a solid wall of rock? When you’ve got earthbenders, you don’t need GATES, you can just open up the solid rock. Of course, I’m not sure that it’s a great idea having the guard who will bend the gate open standing right down there where enemies could reach him. What would stop firebenders from threatening him to get him to open up the gate anyway?
But seeing the defensibility of the Earth Kingdom cities makes you realize why the airbenders might have been much more vulnerable to the Fire Nation’s attacks, even though their air temples would be hard to reach. Then again, when we learn later on how it is they must have attacked the air temples, it does make you wonder why they couldn’t have done the same thing to circumvent the earth cities’ walls.
The package delivery slide sequence was a bit silly (and incredibly dangerous!). I’m not clear at all why a block with weapons on it was sliding down the chute after Aang and co. When I first saw it, I thought the city was under attack, or it was controlled by firebenders and they somehow knew Aang was the Avatar and they were trying to kill him. Was it supposed to just be a package delivering weapons from one part of the city to another? It’s good to see, at least, that they do get arrested for that reckless behavior (even though they end up getting a feast and not actually punished at all).
I’m a little confused about how everyone doesn’t know Aang is an airbender all the time. He’s got those tattoos that are almost always clearly visible. Has it been so long since anyone has seen one that they don’t remember that airbenders had those? (That seems unlikely.) Obviously Bumi would know since he’s 100+ years old, but it seems like that would be common knowledge, and since everyone knows the Avatar had been an airbender, wouldn’t that make it even more likely people would be able to recognize him when he comes. Then again, given that people must have assumed that Aang was dead, shouldn’t they be looking for the NEXT Avatar among the Water Tribe? If that were the case, then being marked as an airbender would actually be a good disguise. Perhaps that signal we saw in episode 103 would have alerted the world if the Avatar had died, so the fact that he’s just been missing for 100 years would be even more puzzling and worrisome.
Also, how could Aang not know Bumi was Bumi all grown up? Are WE not supposed to know until the end? As Matt pointed out, it’s extremely obvious (probably even for kids). I’m also with Matt on wondering why Bumi doesn’t help Aang more. Sure, he’s at least 112, but he’s got the body of a Greek god; I’m sure he’d be able to handle himself if he went along with Aang. At the very least he could have offered to teach him earthbending if Aang agreed to stay in Omashu!
So, not a big fan of this one, and I think I liked it less on second viewing. It’s still mostly entertaining, but I’m very glad there aren’t many episodes like this one.
Attention First-Time Avatar Watchers: Our posts will continue to be spoiler-free (except for the episode we’re discussing), but be aware that spoilers for future episodes will abound in the comment thread below. We wanted to keep the comment threads future-spoiler-free as well, but it will likely prove impossible and it would impede our ability to analyze the series in retrospect.
Up next: Imprisoned!
Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, and a columnist for Tor.com. His fiction is forthcoming in the anthology The Living Dead 2. He holds a BFA in Film Production from New York University.
Jordan Hamessley is a children’s book editor at Penguin Books for Young Readers where she edits the Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Chaotic publishing programs, as well as developing original series. She is also an assistant editor for Lightspeed Magazine. She can be found on twitter as @thejordache.
John Joseph Adams (www.johnjosephadams.com) is an anthologist, a writer, and a geek. He is the editor of the anthologies By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Living Dead (a World Fantasy Award finalist), Seeds of Change, and Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse. He is also currently the fiction editor of Lightspeed Magazine, which launches in June 2010, and the co-host of Tor.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.