Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/avatar-the-last-airbender-review-16b4676a9767#.dewlmoqya
Luckily Avatar: The Last Airbender holds up pretty well for a sophisticated young adult like me. The character developments and motivations are believable and well-written, most of the jokes are funny (but man, some of them are so dumb), and the world they created for the show is really cool.
A cast of strong characters is the single most important thing that will determine if I get invested in a show or not. Avatar has a great cast, both among the main characters, supporting characters, and one-off characters. The best indication of strong character development to me is when a character that I initially dislike slowly turns around until I find myself smiling whenever they come on screen. The two examples of this in Avatar for me were Toph and Zuko. To go more into detail would spoil things, so I won't.
The show's sense of humor was another thing that grew on me over time. Obviously this is a children's show, so it features its fair share of slapstick comedy and nonsensical jokes. As the show progressed they seemed to improve over time, though I might have just been more sleep-deprived later in the series. The humor definitely evolved to include clever references to past events and jokes that only work once the audience is familiar with the world though.
Speaking of the world, this is one of the most interesting I have seen in a kid's show. There are a lot of hidden details that one could miss on their first pass. For example, each of the element bending techniques were based on a different real-world martial art that relates to the ideals of that element. One of the details that struck me as silly was the way that almost every animal they came across was a combination of two real-world animals: wolf-bats, badger-moles, etc. Even if these animals are combinations of real-world animals, it only makes sense for the people in the show to call them by the hyphenated name if they have both of those base animals in their world, which never seems to be the case. In any case, it is a minor complaint.
As a show with three seasons of 20 25-minute episodes, it is pretty easy to get through in a timely manner without killing yourself. I definitely recommend it for both kids and adults. I think I'll watch it with my little sisters soon.