In this episode…
Aang leads the group to Kyoshi Island, where he hopes to ride the elephant koi. Shortly after his ride, Aang and the others are captured by a squad of elite female warriors who live on the island. Aang learns that the village of Kyoshi has stayed neutral in the war between the nations and is named after one of the previous Avatar incarnations who was born there centuries ago. The villagers are suspicious at first but once Aang proves he’s the Avatar, the embrace him. Aang lets their adulation of him go to his head. Sokka offends Suki, the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors, then apologizes to and befriends her, and starts learning their ways. Word of Aang’s presence in Kyoshi spreads quickly and it is not long before Zuko learns of his whereabouts. Zuko’s forces invade Kyoshi, nearly destroying the village in the process before Aang and the others (with the help of the Kyoshi Warriors) fend them off. Aang realizes that everywhere he goes, destruction may follow.
I love Aang’s arc in this episode. Of course, I love the introduction of Suki, but this episode is all about Aang for me. The episode picks up following the gang as they continue Aang’s desire to apparently ride every awesome creature in the world. That leads them Kyoshi Island and the Unagi. Aang spends the first few minutes of the episode trying to get Katara’s attention with his marble bending. She’s not into it. The thing of note about the episode is Aang’s ego and acceptance of being the Avatar. Three episodes ago, he didn’t want to admit who he was to himself. Halfway into this episode, he is surrounded by adoring fangirls and basking in the glow of being the Avatar. THOSE girls liked his marble-bending… until it got old. Katara reminds Aang throughout the episode to keep his ego in check. Unfortunately, Aang’s openness about his identity brings Zuko right to him.
SIDE NOTE: How awesome is the storytelling in this episode showing how Zuko finds out Aang’s location? You follow a fish across the world. From water to market to cook all the way to Zuko. BRAVO on that, creators!
Once Zuko attacks, Aang sees the consequences of his decision to be open about who he is. It is something that will follow Aang and the gang throughtout the series. For the most part, wherever Aang goes, destruction follows. While on a quick trip to ride a fish, Aang ends up causing the destruction of Kyoshi. But in the end, he manages to tame the Unagi and hoses the village down. It doesn’t make up for all of the destruction, but he does take responsibility for what he caused. So in the course of one episode Aang goes from giddyness to being the Avatar to sobered about his responsibility.
CUTE TALLY: The cutest thing in this episode for me was very subtle. When Appa is first seen in the episode, his bangs completely cover his eyes. Later on you see him covered in girls grooming him. In the end, you see that he got his bangs trimmed. Considering future episodes, I’d say those girls of Kyoshi really know how to take care of a flying air bison.
This is the first episode that plays no part in Aang’s main quest: to master the elements and defeat the firelord. And yet, so many aspects of this episode come back later on. I won’t say which ones to avoid spoilers, but the foresight on the parts of the creators is commendable here.
It’s pretty amazing that packed into this same story about Aang coming to terms with his celebrity is an equally weighty story about Sokka falling in love and learning to respect women, all in twenty-three minutes. He grows in this episode. At the beginning of the pilot he thinks he is a great warrior and then he gets his butt whooped by Zuko. After the Kyoshi warriors whoop him, he is humbled again, and he starts the long journey of learning to be a better warrior—one that we will watch for the remainder of the series. When Sokka faces Zuko in this episode, he gets his butt handed to him again, but he seems to last a couple seconds longer. Maybe we should chronicle all the fights that Sokka and Zuko have over the course of the series, and count how many seconds Sokka lasts in each one.
There is one scene in Sokka’s story that jumps out at me. Sokka finally accepts the Kyoshi way and proves to Suki he can hold his own in a fight. Then Aang pops in, looses a wry remark, and scoots on his merry way. Then an interesting thing happens. Instead of staying with Sokka, we follow Aang into the next scene, where he gets into an argument with Katara. This is a classic literary technique, to show two characters in their separate plotlines crossing at a certain point in the story where one character is high and the other character is low. Tolstoy was the master of this. Kurosawa did it brilliantly. And it is executed well here.
This episode is dense but not rushed. Not only is there tons of physical action, but we are introduced to Suki, the Warriors of Kyoshi, and Avatar Kyoshi. As the end of the episode approached, I thought “Wow. Zuko hasn’t even shown up yet.” And then he does show and his sequence doesn’t feel rushed at all. This episode could have been an hour-long movie. Instead it’s twenty minutes. That’s amazing. (Side note about Zuko’s arrival: how much would it suck to be one of the dudes riding on the back of the fire nation dewbacks? The guy in front gets the reins and the spear. You just sit behind the other guy. Lead warriors, attack! Rear warriors, snuggle!)
In my write-up of episode 102, I talked about how Aang’s love of fun makes him a better Avatar. In this episode, he is able to save the village because he tamed the Unagi. He has tamed the Unagi because he was riding the elephant koi. He rode the koi because he loves fun. Of course, at the same time, if he hadn’t made an irrelevant pit stop in Kyoshi Village, Zuko never would have gone there.
If I have any complaints about this episode, it’s the line “Thank you, Avatar,” that the village elder says at the end. As a writer I found this line really weak. Clearly it was inserted by the writers to make sure we don’t hate Aang for bringing destruction to the village. Hosing down the village does not seem like fair compensation for bringing all the fire.
This episode expands the feel of the world a lot. We meet the Kyoshi Warriors. At this point, we don’t really know what kind of adventures Aang is going to be getting into week to week. Here, we get a better idea of how many people in the world can bend. No one in Kyoshi can bend, so it seems like it’s much more rare than I initially might have thought.
It’s funny how Aang’s desire to travel around to play with the various animals, like the elephant koi, actually help them evade Zuko for a while. I don’t think I noticed that the first time around. I guess that’s more evidence supporting Matt’s hypothesis about “fighting the Fire Nation with fun.”
A few favorite amusing moments from this episode:
- I love the part when Aang reveals he’s the Avatar and the villagers start celebrating and that one guy starts foaming at the mouth he’s so excited.
- The part where the girls are chasing Aang over the bridge is amusing but a bit too silly for my taste. But when the painter is painting Aang and every time he looks up there’s more people posing with him is quite funny.
- I love when Aang is showing off for the girls by doing pushups, then one handed pushups, then NO HANDED pushups. It’s one of those examples subtly showing the rich worldbuilding of the series. OF COURSE young airbender males would try to impress girls that way.
- And finally, I love how Aang keeps trying the marble trick even though no one cares. It’s endearing how awesome he thinks it is.
This is a good episode showing how much growing up Aang is going to have to do if he’s going to fulfil his destiny as Avatar. He starts off by leading them to Kyoshi specifically so he can ride the elephant koi, then spends most of his time in the village playing with his flock of admirerers. Then, when he tries to recruit Katara into having some fun with them, he’s much more interested in having fun than being responsible and cautious as Katara advises. Not listening to Katara almost costs the villagers everything.
Nice touch showing a new trick a waterbender can perform: reviving someone who has nearly drowned. At first i was thinking, that seems like a pretty advanced technique for Katara, but it seems like the sort of thing that would be very valuable to those of the Water Tribe, so it would be one of the earliest tricks a waterbender would learn.
They do a good job of tying the silliness of the episode into the plot of this one, since Aang would perhaps not have been able to save the village from total destruction if he had not rode the elephant koi and thus encoutered the Unagi. (Of course, the village would not have been threatened in the first place if not for Aang going there so he could ride the koi.) Aang using the Unagi to put out the fires in the village was kind of cool, but I’m not sure how much sense it makes. It’s a very kind of cartoon solution to a problem that is not the typical way things are solved in this series. It’s a little too easy; Aang wrestling with it before doesn’t quite make it seem like he should be able to now manhandle it into spouting water almost at will. However, the Avatar does seem to have some sort of abilitiy to communicate with animals in a way maybe others can’t; or at least he’s certainly more in tune with nature and wildlife than your typical bender. And the heroic Avatar music is playing when Aang does that, so is he using some kind of ability?
Obviously, if he had not used the Unagi, it would have been a waterbending sort of thing to save the village from fire, but Katara of course is not a strong enough bender at this point to perform that kind of task, and Aang hasn’t learned any at all. However, he’s quite the airbender—surely he could have used airbending to put the fire out?
Aang being at this village costs the villagers much. There are consequences for the people who harbor the Avatar. The additional burden he has to carry is that he needs the help of other people, but the people who help him will have to suffer. That’s pretty dark for a kids show.
I can’t help but think this point may have been reinforced a bit more in this episode had we seen at least a single person die or be seriously injured in the battle (perhaps one of Aang’s young admirerers?). For all the destruction the invasion seems to have caused, it looks like no one was hurt even a little bit.
I didn’t have a problem with the village leader saying “Thank you, Avatar,” as I don’t think it was just to tell the viewer that it’s okay what Aang did, but that the villagers are thankful to him because he restored hope to them that the war may someday end.
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: The King of Omashu!
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.