Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 – The Warriors of Kyoshi

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The Warriors
of Kyoshi

 

The fourth
installment of Avatar: The Last Airbender, “The Warriors of Kyoshi,” opens up
on the exiled prince of the Fire Nation in meditation, the flames of the
candles in front of him gently responding to his measured breaths.  The meditation is interrupted by his uncle,
who informs him that they have no idea where the Avatar is, referencing random
spots on a map.  Zuko responds with a
roar and the candle flames burst into geysers of fire that lick the ceiling of
the cabin.  Thus, our episode begins with
matters inflamed and the subject of the Avatar a passionate one.

We cut away
and find Aang, Katara and Sokka gliding through the clouds on the back of Appa
and Aang demonstrating the cause of the random nature of their visits across
the map, his to do list.  Excitedly, he
mentions his dream to ride the giant koi fish of Kyoshi island, but soon
notices that Katara isn’t paying attention to him.  He attempts an air bender novelty trick, but
again fails to catch Katara’s attention. 
This leads into the episode heaviest with Aang’s desire to impress
Katara out of his crush for the water bender. 
At the same time, Katara’s inattention is brought about by her mending
Sokka’s torn pants, which concludes when Sokka jokes that women are good for
fixing things while men are good at fighting and hunting.  It establishes Sokka’s immediate position on
gender roles, sets another theme of the episode into motion (gender equality),
and forces Sokka to confront a half repaired pair of pants.

They arrive
at Kyoshi island, where Aang does, in fact, ride a giant koi fish (later on, he
references them as elephant koi), but the ride is interrupted by the unagi, a
giant sea monster [Note: unagi is Japanese for eel – see what they did
there?].  No one is harmed by the attack
of the unagi, but immediately all three are captured and bound by fierce women
warriors and brought back to the island’s village.  The village, we learn, is the home of the
former Avatar Kyoshi, a powerful earth bender (who had giant feet – but that’s
for a later episode).  For those who wish
to go back to the last episode, Avatar Kyoshi’s presence was broadcasted by the
inclusion of a statue in her likeness in the Southern Air Temple’s inner
sanctuary.   Once everyone realizes who
Aang is, he receives the royal treatment and the adoration of all the pre-teen
girls in the village.

It’s this
adoration that Aang repeatedly tries to leverage against Katara, either to make
her jealous or to warrant her attention. 
He fails miserably, especially as Katara only recognizes, quite truthfully,
that Aang is acting a bit egotistical. 
Aang’s own celebrity moment deteriorates as he loses his luster with the
girls who constantly want him to keep showing them new tricks or fun
events.  Even his novelty trick, spinning
marbles in a circle in the air, becomes quickly passé for his fans
(interestingly, Aang relies on the same trick decades later to still impress,
when he visits a fish stall and has his photograph taken – as seen in the
fourth season of Legend of Korra).    

While Aang
tries and fails to impress Katara, Sokka visits the Kyoshi Warriors in the
middle of their training.  It’s a clash
of Sokka’s preconceived belief that “girls” cannot fight and the true abilities
of the island’s defenders.  In a scene
that could be labeled, “Gender Stereotypes and How They Can Lead to Public
Humiliation,” Sokka challenges the leader of the warriors, Suki, to a sparring
bout and promptly has his behind handed to him. 
‘Women as strong warriors’ is a prevalent theme throughout Avatar: The
Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, with arguably the strongest fighters
being mainly the women characters. 

Despite his
thorough whipping, Sokka reveals his character by humbly asking for training
from Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors, willingly adopting their uniform of skirt,
face paint and fan.  Beyond the fact that
Sokka’s mind is open and willing to accept dramatic shifts in the prejudiced rules
that guide his view of the world, the training that Sokka learns does reveal
another facet of Sokka’s character, he’s an incredible fast learner.  We are not given any type of real grasp of
how much time the gang spends on Kyoshi island, but it’s implied that Sokka has
learned and adopted a reasonable amount of the training from Suki by the show’s
end.  Sokka may not be a bender, but he
may very well be a warrior prodigy.

Eventually,
word of mouth reveals to Zuko Aang’s presence on Kyoshi Island and the Fire
Nation Prince sets out once again to try and capture the Avatar.  His arrival results in a battle that ignites
the village in flames and forces Aang to flee to keep the village from
suffering any further damage.  As the
team departs, a seed is planted in the potential of a relationship between
Sokka and Suki, with Sokka receiving a kiss and a final instruction that
warriors can be women, but so can women be warriors.  They are not mutually exclusive, Sokka
learns, as he blushes furiously from Suki’s forward display of affection.  Aang also wrangles the unagi into spraying
water upon the burning village, killing the flames, and for the first time in
the episode, accomplishing the goal of impressing Katara.

The obvious
theme of the episode is gender equality, showcased by the talented Kyoshi
Warriors, with Sokka as our surrogate to understand that one’s duty, skill, or
profession, is not dictated by one’s gender. 
Gender equality will rear its head again later this season, as well
expectations placed on individuals based on their sex further into the show.   We
also have the idea asked, what is fame? 
Are we famous for who we are or for what we can do for others?  Aang was famous on Kyoshi island for being the
Avatar, but that fame eroded as those who were infatuated with him lost
interest as he ceased to do new and fascinating things for them.  It’s an affection won with tricks, not true
acts, and Aang is rewarded at the end of the episode when he acts selflessly to
help others and not behave to engender attention to him.  For poor Zuko, who created columns of fire at
the beginning, the flames lit by his actions were extinguished at the end
courtesy of the Avatar.

A few notes
on the animation.  First, the actual representation
of the characters finally solidified in this episode, assuming the appearances
they will have as the season continues. 
Previously, their appearances seemed to fluctuate a little too generic
or too young for their age.  Background
animation was a big win, with a fine example of villagers restoring the Kyoshi
statue in the background through the window of the hut where Aang and Katara
were dining.  It’s something that didn’t
have to be done, but added immensely to the scene, a visible cue to how the
villagers were treating Aang (in addition to the fine spread of food on the
table in front of him).  Then there was
the foaming at the mouth guy, a ridiculous joke that just nails home with its
over the top representation of someone’s excitement over the presence of the
Avatar.  When it returns again, it’s even
better.

There was
also a focus on food in this episode, another subject that Avatar touches upon,
using the setting of eating as a time to have characters discuss or react.  Aang’s feasting on the food resembled his
consuming of attention from his fans, entirely sweet but holding little
substance.  It’s not surprising that
Katara turns his nose down at the meal and it’s the practical food she’s
interested in while shopping.  Sokka, who
has already been established a teenager somewhat obsessed with food, rejects it
out right as he deals with his inner demons clashing over his preconceived
notions of women and Suki’s humiliation of him in a fight.  The rejection representing how serious a
struggle the matter is for him.  Finally,
it’s at a meal when Zuko learns of Aang’s whereabouts and jumps to his feet,
his hunger to find the Avatar being more powerful than his hunger to feed
himself (granted, he decides he will eat the fish later to Iroh’s
frustration).  Food or the dinner table
will continue to play a role in both Avatar series, be it what it represents or
the setting it provides for character development and discussion.

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