Avatar:TLA Re-Watch S1:E4 – The Warriors of Kyoshi

I was excited to see this episode coming so early in the season, because I have fond memories of it. Though I’d been enjoying myself so far when watching for the first time, I think this was the first episode that really sold me on the show.

This episode, more than any single episode so far, really encapsulates everything that I enjoy about the series: the humor, the character development, the world-building, and the epic drama.

As we begin, Zuko and Iroh discuss Aang’s mastery of evasive maneuvering, which when we rejoin Team Avatar, we learn is actually just erratic wandering. Even though the stakes could hardly be higher, Aang doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to reach the North Pole and learn water-bending. Even though, at the end of episode 2, he talks about finding exotic animals to ride, I think that we didn’t quite believe that he would really consider that important enough to delay his real mission.

One of the big themes of this episode is that, as Katara mentions in the opening, Aang really does have a lot to learn. He tries to blame their stop near Kyoshi on Appa being tired, but it’s really because he wants to ride the giant koi fish, and his show-off tendencies are on full display here, first for Katara, and later for the Kyoshi citizens. “I’m just a simple monk,” he says, while walking to the window to smile down at his screaming fans.

Speaking of fans, the female warriors of Kyoshi are yet another excellent example of this show’s attention to detail in depicting different fighting styles. The animation is fluid and every style has its own distinctive movements. Plus, they just look cool, don’t they? Their makeup is reminiscent of Geisha, as are the  fans, but their armor is more reminiscent of samurai than kimono, and as we learn, the various elements of the uniform actually carry meaning, meant to honor Aang’s previous incarnation, Avatar Kyoshi.

We also see them, not only in action, but also in training. This is something that is sometimes left out on the rare occasion that we see female warriors in fantasy. They are often depicted as inherently gifted, but we rarely see the hard work required to earn those skills.

The skilled female warriors also present an opportunity to give Sokka some needed depth. As in the first episode, Sokka is initially pretty sexist, first trotting out the old tropes about “women’s work” and “men’s work” and then refusing to believe that the Kyoshi warriors could have legitimately beaten him. However, after they humiliate him in the dojo, it only takes a short period of sulking before he admits his error and humbly asks if they will teach him. Think about the strength of character that requires, not only willing to admit he was wrong, but to ask for help, and even dress up in their “girly” uniform when they ask it of him. And of course, the chemistry between him and Suki is obvious right away. Even without the benefit of having watched the series before, I think no one is surprised that we see her again later.

And just like in the first episode, where the show has the courage to actually take a step beyond the cliche to actually use the word “sexist”, this episode brings another sophisticated twist. We’ve seen the “Girl’s can be warriors too” trope before, but when Sokka says: “I treated you like a girl, when I should have treated you like a warrior,” she reminds him: “I may be a warrior, but I’m a girl too.”

Aang’s arc in this episode also works on a couple of levels. I mentioned before how it shows that he still has a lot to learn, but he receives lessons on both a very personal, and epic scale. On the personal level, he recognizes that fame can be fickle, and that ignoring your real friends for the hangers-on just leaves you alone when the fad passes. Also, that showing off can get you into serious trouble. Fortunately for Aang, Katara is able to push past her own feelings of annoyance and jealousy, to do the right thing for her friend, even when he’s not been especially worthy.  Then, even beyond that valuable life-lesson, Aang sees just how serious it can be when he stays too long in any given place. The entire village of Kyoshi is nearly burned to the ground, simply because he decided to stay for a little while. This is a lesson that our  trio of heroes will not soon forget, nor should they.

We don’t get a whole lot from Zuko this time, beyond the point that he’s still after Aang, and a few gags with him and Iroh. (I love when Zuko learns about Aang, and storms away from the dinner table. Iroh asks “Are you going to eat that?” and Zuko grabs the plate: “I was going to save it for later!”) But it is, of course, only a half-hour episode, and there is plenty more character development to come.

So a great early episode, as the show continues to establish how large its world can be, how deep its characters can be, and laying the groundwork for the epic struggles still to come.

Additional Notes:

* The giant koi fish are cool, but the Super-Soaker Unagi definitely gets “Animal of the Episode”

* How cool was it when Katara water-bended the water out of Aang’s lungs? Even untrained, she shows a lot of promise.

* It’s nice that the show is interested in showing us that many of Aang’s previous incarnations are still remembered and honored.

So what did you think?

 

2 Comments

  • Shoulael says:

    What I liked in this episode was the portrayal of the islanders. They value their sovereignty and are determined not to be involved in the war. But the way in which they come forward to protect Aang is the first explicit demonstration of how much the people believe in the avatar.

  • Christiana says:

    That’s a good point, and again, shows the complexity of the world-building. There isn’t a simple “our side” and “their side”, but the traditions of the Avatar cycle run strong and deep. I like the way that the villagers begin to clean up and restore the statue of Kyoshi when Aang shows them the Avatar has returned.

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