Avatar: The Last Airbender is an anime… And not… At the same time. Yeah.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the greatest, most complex, intriguing masterpieces made by the Nickelodeon Animation Studios.
This seemingly straight forward story about a superhero not only gives us the childlike excitement of watching a cartoon but also has a number of tricks under its sleeves which it hides impeccably.
So, let’s finally answer the golden question.
Is Avatar: The Last Airbender an anime?
So, the answer to this is yes…
Well, it’s kinda complicated.
What is Anime?
In Japan, the word ‘anime’ is anything that is animated Japanese or not. So, any media that involves hand drawing or computer animation is considered to be an anime in Japan.
So, if you are Japanese, you will refer to this epic piece of art as an anime.
For the rest of the world, the word ‘anime’ is used as a colloquial term for any Japanese animated media.
The grave, serious and often complex themes of the greyness of human kind, morality of war and a lot of other heavy themes depicted in this series are very similar to the ones depicted in a lots of anime.
Any animation that is produced outside in the world, but with an influence of anime on it, is simply referred to as anime-influenced animation.
Simple, isn’t it?
Nature of Series
Another factor that needs to be taken in consideration is the serial nature of the series. Most cartoons produces in the West have a much more episodic nature where each episode is an independent arc.
Well known series like Jhony Bravo, the Flintstones, Justice League, Teen Titans and most other series, do share this common factor.
Avatar on the other hand, does have a journey, a build up to the final battle and needs the commitment to actually be able to understand what is going on in the series as a whole with the introduction of a bunch or side characters and arcs that do come in as references later.
This serial nature of this cartoon is quite often a reason it is mistaken for an anime. Though it does retain it’s episodic nature in some episodes like the Secret Tunnel or the Serpent’s Pass.
A lot of similarity to anime but also retains its cartoonic nature.
The Art Style
Avatar is presented in a way that to someone who has just dived into the world of anime, it seems very similar.
The art style of Avatar shows a heavy influence in the drawing and art style and the portrayal of various characters from anime.
The way if the eyes of the character are squintier or tapering to the end, it signifies the evil character while good characters tend to have bigger and rounder eyes.
Very close to and influenced by anime.
When you say the word ‘Cartoons’ automatically light-hearted and goofy characters like Tom, Jerry or Bugs Bunny come to mind.
Cartoons usually keep their entertainment restricted to something fluffy and funny that is easy to consume after a hard day’s work where all you want to do is loll and slopp around.
Also, the target audience for most cartoons is generally everyone including kids and adults and therefore contain little or no violence, no strong language like cursing and little or no sexual dialogue or situations. This is often reflected in their ratings of TV-G (for General Audiences).
Avatar, however, is quite an earth shaker in this aspect. It comes in strong with many darker themes like Azula’s collapsing mental health, handling of disabilities.
Zuko’s morality, the Fire Nations brutal assaults on the entire world and their genocide of the Airbendering communities and so many other aspects of war forward. In this aspect, one can hardly consider the series as mere ‘light entertainment’.
Delves into darker themes like anime.
Avatar features a vast array of characters that are dynamic, complex and just so hard to dislike!
This series has the audacity to feature characters like Zuko and Toph side by side.
What’s so different?
Well, Zuko is a character that starts of as a villain. He starts off as a character who is misguided, who only and only wants to be accepted.
He is a character that has the one of best, if not THE best redemption arcs in the entirety of cartoon industry!
The man goes from being at the mercy of his insecurities and invalidations to finding a place of his own and doing the right thing in the end.
Toph on the other hand, is badass character who doesn’t have any character progression to her. Her character is already developed before the series.
Now, all she needs to do is be her badass self that she has put in so much work to be. Toph has already had her character progression arc.
This is so prominent when she shows a little to no change since her introduction to the story to the end. And even in the sequel, Toph is right there being her badass self working on training yet another Avatar.
Toph is one of the staple characters to cartoon. They are well developed, well written, beautiful excecuted but do not have the need for progression. A good example for this is any superhero character like Superman or Batman.
Zuko, on the other hand is a very anime staple character who undergoes much progression in order to become a fully fledged character. Think of him as a Naruto.
Has both anime-staple and cartoon-staple characters.
An orphaned young boy sets out on a grand adventure to travel the world to fulfill a goal that he needs to.
Reminds you of something?
Pokémon? Naruto? Bleach? One Piece?
Anyone who has watched even a little of the Shounen genre can resonate with this start of a protagonist.
Aang is the perfect Shounen protagonist.
He cares about protecting any people that he has come to be friends with, he is determined to achieve his goal, he has a loyal and dedicated team of friends that will lay down their lives for him, Aang is extremely likeable and can easily make friends with anyone from people to animals.
Very similar to a shounen trope.
These are ongoing gags that take place throughout the entire series just to add a fun twist to it.
Running gags are a feature very reminiscent to anime.
Naruto has ‘the Sexy Jutsu’ where Naruto transforms himself into a beautiful naked woman just clad in some smoke clouds.
Fullmetal Alchemist has the gag that the protagonist’s younger brother is always mistaken for the protagonist; Zoro gets lost at the most important times in the series and so on.
Avatar has the running gag of the cabbage merchant who is a thrill to watch every single time the poor man is in the show. Someone somehow at sometime manages to ruin all his cabbages for no apparent reason.
Hope the poor guy at least gets some compensation for them.
Has a running gag like most animes, but even cartoons like having them too.
Finally Yes? Or No?
If you are a Japanese watcher, for you this will be an anime simply due to the logic that it is an animated series.
For the rest of the world, it is a cartoon since it is not made specifically in or by the Japanese animation industry. Therefore, is not Japanese animated media.
In the end, you get to pick on your own that which side of this series do you want to be.
So, is Avatar: The Last Airbender an anime or not?
The answer likes to relax in the grey area with all of the moralities of the characters in the show…
Except Appa’s and Momo’s.