I’ve been trying to get into Avatar: The Last Airbender on the urgings of Alasdair Czyrnyj, with the eventual goal of being able to talk intelligibly about The Legend of Korra. Avatar has all the hallmarks of a great show custom-made to appeal to my interests: dynamic animation, strong characters, solid storytelling and a “land of adventure” setting with distinct, inter-meshing cultures. Yet I find myself continually pulled away from the show, and despite watching the first episode back in December I haven’t managed to get beyond episode six. Meanwhile, I’ve been obsessively watching Last Exile even though I can’t say the two shows are qualitatively that much different (and the plot of Avatar is certainly less confusing).
I’m almost certain, however, that at age 12 I would have loved Avatar. All the elements, as I said, are there, and executed well.
That had me thinking about other works aimed at younger audiences and how well they mesh with adult sensibilities. An analogue for me in the book world is juxtaposing the works of Lloyd Alexander (The Chronicles of Prydain, Westmark) and the works of Brian Jacques (Redwall). Both wrote for about the same age group, both wrote fantasy, but while I still read and enjoy Lloyd Alexander, I can’t imagine going back to Redwall. There are plenty of reasons I can come up with in the why of that particular case: Alexander’s prose is more elegant, for one, but more importantly the themes he explored were much more thoughtful. Oh, and Alexander didn’t usually write about talking rodents with hard-to-read accents and unclear size relationships. But there are plenty of other cases where it’s much less clear why I can enjoy one Young Adult work over another even when that other work clearly succeeds in resonating with its target age group. Even in the case of Jacques, you have to acknowledge that the Redwall series was very good at capturing the imagination of my generation back when we were in elementary school.
So it goes for Avatar, so far: a show I can, at least judging by the first few episodes, greatly appreciate as an artistic success, but can’t seem to meaningfully engage with as an adult viewer.