Avatar: The Last Airbender – King of Omashu

Slight Spoiler warning for events in
The Last Airbender and in Legend of Korra, be warned!

Kyoshi
Island in their wake, Aang leads Sokka and Katara to the Earth Kingdom city of
Omashu in his ongoing quest for fun fulfillment.  Previously it was giant koi fish, now it’s
the earth bending and gravity fueled delivery system that winds through the city
and makes for fantastic slides.  We learn
early on that it was a friend of Aang’s from the past, Bumi, who showed the
Avatar the death defying potential of the delivery system.  At the same time, in the flashback introducing
Bumi, we learn that he’s one, a mad genius and two, prepared to point out that
one should not always assume what they see is the only way to see it.  With this in mind, we are treated to a short,
but entertaining ride on the delivery system, cleverly animated with quiet
moments of Omashu (all to be disrupted) such as a potter working on his vase, a
couple enjoying the morning, and for hijinks purposes, a classic Looney Tunes
freeze frame with chime when the gang literally crashes a city guard
briefing. 

The ride
concludes with a lot of smashed cabbages or as the crime is announced shortly
thereafter, the malicious destruction of cabbages.  A high note, this is our first introduction
of the cabbage peddler, a man who will get around and later be a reliable
informant for the writing of a musical based on the Avatar’s adventures.  This is also one of the earlier moments that
is called back in the Legend of Korra, as his descendants have their own
problems thanks to the future Avatar. 
There is another in this episode, but we will get to that shortly.

As a result
of their criminal activity, Aang, Sokka and Katara are brought before the King
of Omashu, a larged hunched over man with eyes that resemble someone we have
already seen in the episode, Bumi.  It’s
up in the air how difficult the creators intended for it to be recognizing
young Bumi and the King as one and the same, but it’s a mystery that remains in
place throughout the episode for Aang. 
Despite the cold hard cabbage evidence, King Bumi (from here on out, we
are calling him Bumi, deal with it!), decides to throw his prisoners
guests a feast. 

A meal once
again becomes a place of discussion and insight.  Besides offering a venue for Bumi to crack
some awesome jokes (C’mon, the place is hopping? That’s gold, baby!), it’s also
the place where Bumi deftly outs Aang by throwing a piece of chicken at the
Avatar, forcing Aang to catch it with some air bending.  The outing is more for Aang’s purpose than
Bumi, who obviously recognized his old friend from the moment he was dragged before
the throne of Omashu.  This is also a
second moment that is drawn upon in Legend of Korra, a delightful display of
how much the creators of both shows know and love their work.  In Book 3 of the Legend of Korra, Aang’s son
Bumi (this offers an idea of how much Aang valued his friendship with Bumi)
gains the power of air bending but no one believes him when he fails to
consciously bend air.  The disbelief is
carried over to, guess it, a dinner table and Bumi is only finally recognized as
an air bender when his nephew, Meelo, hurls a plate at him and he stops it with
air bending.  It’s a great flip of the
coin, Bumi I reveals an air bender by throwing something at someone at a dinner
table, and Bumi II is revealed as an air bender by someone throwing something
at him at a dinner table. 

Back from
our tangent, King Bumi orders Aang and company to the bad chamber that was
recently refurbished and warns him that he will have to overcome three deadly
challenges.  The trio fall asleep, but
when Aang awakes, Katara and Sokka are gone. 
He’s hustled to a cavern full of stalactites and stalagmites with a waterfall
plummeting from the ceiling, inside it a simple key suspended on a chain.  King Bumi, Sokka and Katara, are also there,
but the latter two are quickly provided crystalline rings, which will serve as
the means to leverage Aang into going through the deadly challenges.  The crystal of the rings, King Bumi informs
the Avatar, grows quickly and if Aang cannot overcome the challenges, the
crystal will encase our two water tribe members completely.  Thus, Aang is forced to begin the challenges,
the first being to retrieve the key in the waterfall (it unlocks Bumi’s lunch
box and the king is hungry.)

Aang has
several unsuccessful attempts to reach the key, each time mocked by King Bumi
for his lack of imagination.  Success
only comes when Aang realizes he cannot directly reach the key, but sends a
wave of air and a broken stalagmite streaking through the water to snatch the it
from its hanging place.  Congratulations!
Now on to the next challenge!  Aang is
deposited in a small arena and told to find the King’s lost companion,
Fluffy.  A floppy eared rabbit is
conspicuously nearby, a distraction Aang falls for, thinking it the king’s pet.
  As he attempts to catch the rabbit, he’s
suddenly confronted with what can only be described as the combination of a
gorilla, goat and rabbit, with most of the scary parts and only a few of the
cute parts.  It chases him around the
arena until Aang realizes that the beast is Fluffy, a name it answers to
happily, stopping like a pleased dog for a friendly pat on the head.

After every
success, Bumi’s demeanor shifts quietly toward approval and the final challenge
is inside an enclosed arena.  Aang’s last
deadly challenge is to defeat someone in a fight and Bumi presents two
frightful warriors, one to either side of himself, and tells Aang he must
choose someone to fight.  To the Avatar’s
credit, Aang has been realizing that he needs to reevaluate how he views the
world and consider multiple options. 
With Katara and Sokka nearly encased in crystal nearby, Aang cleverly
notices a hole in King Bumi’s rules, one which allows him to pick the bent over
and ancient king, instead of the two fierce warriors.  It’s Aang’s last lesson concerning not
allowing one’s preconceived perceptions to close one’s mind to all options, as
Bumi suddenly stands tall and casts off his robes to reveal a body that any
professional athlete would hope to see gazing back at them from a mirror.  Bumi haughtily announces that he is the most
powerful earth bender that Aang will ever see, a declaration that will come
into question down the road (Toph). 

The duel
between the Avatar and the Earth King is mostly a desperate one for Aang, as he
relies on the “typical air bender tactic” of   avoid and
evade, a criticism by Bumi.  Bumi demands
surprises out of the Avatar, again pressing the need to think outside the box
and be creative. Every attack by Aang is met with a stronger counter attack by
Bumi, until Aang creates a veritable tornado that allows him to distract the
king and open him up to a potential final blow. 
The king concedes, but demands that Aang identify him by name before he
will release Sokka and Katara.  After
analysis of the challenges, Aang finally comes to the conclusion that most
viewers probably already had and correctly recognizes his old friend.  The next question, why the challenges? 

The answer
is Aang’s call to arms as the Avatar, as Bumi explains to Aang that he has a
duty as the Avatar to bring balance to the world by defeating the Fire Lord
Ozai.  Before he does such, he must
master the three other elements, water, earth and fire, and thinking out of the
box will be key to doing so.  This
message, buried in the fifth episode of the show, is carried through all the
way to the series conclusion when Aang does confront Fire Lord Ozai, but
discovers a way to defeat him that is not the one everyone insists is the only
way to do so. His message also notes the need for friends and the support they can provide, a defining theme of both Avatar shows.

Notable
aspects of this episode include the first time that Zuko and his uncle, or even
the Fire Nation make no appearance.  It’s
also the first time we are shown earth bending with a certain level of
boundaries with it, as a demonstration by Bumi, one of the most powerful earth
benders alive, reveals what we should expect from those who have mastered the
art.  Likewise, we see it used for
practical purposes by the guards of Omashu, a situation that is reflected on a
grander scale when our heroes make their way to Ba Sing Se, the capital of the
Earth Kingdom.  It’s also our first
introduction to Bumi, who will return in future episodes, and continue to offer
wisdom to his old friend.  He will be the
first of several figures who pop up during the show to offer wise advice and
guidance. 

We also have the first introduction of disguises being used by Aang and his friends as they travel through the Avatar world, and often, they end up relying on Appa’s hair.  In this episode, there’s a subtle flip in circumstances with Aang dressing up like an old man, then encountering a friend who he last saw as a boy, but now disguised by age as an old man.  Incidentally, Aang, the protagonist is even more clearly shown to be the viewer’s guide to the world with Sokka and Katara being our stand ins to experiencing the discovery and awe of the Avatar world.  Their amazement at seeing Omashu is our own, and as the story continues, they will mirror our own reactions to the world and the adventure that awaits them.

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