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Featured TV on DVD Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Complete Book 1 (Collector's Edition)

June 19th, 2010

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Complete Book 1 (Collector's Edition) - Buy from Amazon

With the theatrical debut of The Last Airbender adaptation just over a week away, there's no better time to release the first season of the TV series on a special edition DVD. However, this is not the first time Avatar: The Last Airbender has been released on DVD. It's not even the second time. So is The Complete Book 1 (Collector's Edition) special enough for a third release?

Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a world rules by four nations, each rulers of one of the four elementals: Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. The nations have always been in harmony, but 100 years ago, the Fire Nation attacked and have been trying to conquer the rest of the world since then. They are nearing their goal and the only one who is capable of stopping them is the Avatar, a person cable of manipulating, or bending, all four of the elements. For each generation there is only one Avatar, reincarnated from the last. But when the war started, he disappeared.

Now, 100 years later, two young siblings from the Southern Water Tribe, Katara and Sokka, find a young boy trapped within an iceberg. This boy, Aang, is an Airbender, the last of his kind. Katara thinks he could be the Avatar, while Sokka thinks he will just be trouble. Turns out they are both right and soon the exiled prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko, attacks Katara and Sokka's small village looking to capture Aang. Some quick thinking saves the day, but Aang realizes he has to train if he is to defeat the Fire Lord and restore balance to the world. However, since there are no Waterbenders to train from in the Southern Water Tribe at the south pole, they must travel all the way to the North Pole to find a trainer.

Book one is about that journey, the people they meet, the dangers they must overcome. In the meantime, we learn about the past and figure out how the world got in the situation it is in.

The first season has amazing consistency when it comes to the quality of the show. There is literally not a single episode that doesn't connect. Even the weakest episode, The Great Divide, has solid replay value and a great ending. It is the weakest, as the storyline of the episode is the least connected to the overall arc. (Although it does show Aang maturing as a leader, which is obviously important.) The next episode, The Storm is one of the best, with its parallel stories of Aang and Zuko's pasts. The writing is excellent throughout and they really created a show that feels like it is part of a real world. The mythology is well developed, the characters develop over the course of the season better than most live action shows, while it maintains a balance between the humor, action, and drama.

The "Collector's Edition" includes the six discs that were part of the "Complete Book" release... The very discs. The discs are exactly the ones originally released, right down to the ads for VHS releases. There are a few extras on the first five discs, like a look at the different martial arts that inspired elemental bending, a look at the voice acting, even an animatic for Bato of the Water Tribe. Over on disc six you find more extras starting with a three-minute behind-the-scenes, there is a 15-minute pitch pilot with forced audio commentary by the creators. The pitch pilot is used to sell the show and there are quite a few differences between this and the final product. There is a six-minute featurette on the sound design. And finally a 26-minute look at the Korean animation studio that handled Avatar. That's a large number of extras, but sadly, most of them are just a few minutes long. Quantity over quality.

The "Collector's Edition" does include a second bonus disc with a 32-minute featurette on the origins of the show, right from the beginning when the creators met in 1992... or 1995. They seem have confusion over that. It goes from their initial meeting, origin of the show, production, fan reception, right to the end legacy. Finally, there's a small preview booklet for The Art of Avatar. I'm sure fans of the show will want to pick up the book as well as the DVD.

The Verdict

If you have never seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, you really should check it out and The Complete Book 1 (Collector's Edition) is worth owning. That said, if you own one of the previous releases, don't upgrade, at least not yet. Wait to see how well The Last Airbender does in theaters, as that will give you a hint on whether or not there will be a full-series Megaset released and when.

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