Welcome to ASM's San Diego Comic Con 2005 Coverage!
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Amy Lipkowitz, General Reporter
On Saturday, the third day of the San Diego Comic Con, we were treated to
a panel with the writers and producers for "Avatar: The Last Airbender".
"Avatar", for those who are new to the show, is an epic fantasy set in a
war-torn world where special individuals have the ability to "bend" or
control the elements. Each tribe has a specific element associated with
them, but only the Avatar is able to control all four...
The "Avatar" series is strongly influenced and inspired by the mythology
and martial arts of China. The creative team went to Beijing for some
reference material in their attempt to be authentic to Chinese and Asian
landscapes and architecture. All four elemental magics use movements from
different martial arts, as demonstrated by Sifu Kisu of the Harmonious
Fist Chinese Athletic Association. Writer Bryan Konietzko has gone so far
as to study Northern Shaolin, the movements of which are used by the
Since the creative team is dedicated to having no English text in the
series, a Chinese calligrapher is on staff to translate the writers'
English into the culturally, stylistically and modally appropriate Chinese
phrase. For one scroll he might use archaic Chinese; for a Wanted poster,
he might use handwriting appropriate to a low-level clerk. The writers and
producers seemed very excited about this neat little detail.
As part of the presentation, we got many tantalizing hints about the rest
of the season, which covers the second half of Book One.
Each Book consists of twenty chapters. So far, thirteen chapters have been
The Avatar, Aang, and his companions Katara and Sokka of the Water Tribe
have been on a long trek from the Southern Water Tribe's holdings to the
Northern Water Tribe, where there may still be water-benders who can train
both Katara and the Avatar. In the second half of Book One, their voyage
will finally begin to bear fruit. Katara will learn a powerful new ability,
Aang will begin to learn fire-bending, and Sokka will have a romantic
episode. A young girl named Meng will be introduced, and she may or may
not have a slight crush on Aang. In addition, we'll be seeing the Northern
When a fan questioned the lack of female Airbenders, the series writers
revealed that there are actually FOUR Air Temples, in the North, South,
East, and West. The North and South Air Temples are exclusively male.
The Northern Water Tribe was not as ravaged by the war as the Southern
Water Tribe was. They fought off the Fire Nation with greater success, and
thus their culture is more intact. The sketches showed beautiful
ice-sculpture fortresses with canals and waterways.
Many character sketches were shown, with some information on what inspired
them (but less information on their role in the series). A stern
white-haired man inspired by the Korean animation studio's president was
shown, with a suggestion that he might be related to Aang learning
A beautiful sinister woman named Jun was displayed. Apparently she will be
a bounty hunter that Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation meets.
Another mysterious sketch involved a mad inventor-type with wooden fingers.
This character will be encountered at the Northern Air Temple.
Katara and Sokka's missing father was shown off, along with a 13-year old
(much younger) Sokka.
We also got a name for Paku, a figure that is allegedly the first person
shown in the opening sequence for "Avatar."
Finally, the writers noted with amusement that one of the characters they
planned to feature later was added in a scene just as a bit of
foreshadowing... and the fans on the discussion boards were buzzing as
to her identity the next day. This character is Zula, Prince Zuko's
younger sister. The writers noted that they made a conscious effort to
avoid making Zuko a cartoon villain. While he is driven and obsessed and
intense, he is not evil... but Zula, on the other hand, is. Zula is also
the same age as Sokka.
After the character sketches came the creatures and gadgets of "Avatar".
Writer Bryan Konietzko admitted that as a child, he loved combining
different animals to create new creatures. So far, "Avatar" has featured
penguin/otter hybrids, flying musk ox-buffalo with beaver tails, and what
Bryan called "Komodo rhinos". The "Komodo rhinos" are the steeds of the Fire
Nation, giant chameleon-like creatures with large horns and a low center of
gravity to aid them in fighting the Earth Nation's Earthbenders.
New creatures included Shushu, a wolf-anteater-mole creature that is blind,
but sees with its star-shaped mole nose. This sinister creature will be
wrangled by the bounty-hunter Jun.
Another new creature is the platypus bear, which will appear in episode 14.
The world of Avatar is primarily a pre-Industrial Revolution one, with a
focus on ships and navies. The second half of season two suggested a
shift in the battle strategies, however, with gliders created for
warriors who cannot airbend, hot-air balloons for the Fire Nation, and
a terrifying Fire Nation tank with two pilots and a pivoting firebender
in the center. This tank was so complex that the animation studio could
not animate it, and a CG model had to be used.
The reference footage was wonderful fun, with side-by-side comparisons of
the video and animated footage. Master Sifu Kisu's movements were nothing
short of amazing. Apparently he has been collaborating for the past three
years, shooting each bending sequence two to three times.
The preview clip of Episode 14 was, as the writers said, for the
"shippers" in the audience. I was a bit startled that the writers were so
aware of online culture and discussion boards, but it was wonderful to watch
the audience react to the romantic humor of the scene. Both adults and
children laughed and smiled, which really bolstered my favorite thing
about "Avatar"; it's not only beautifully animated and cleverly written,
it's enjoyable on a multitude of levels. If you're not watching it yet,
you're missing out on something great. Try to catch a few episodes in a
row, and you may be pleasantly surprised.