Joie (hymnia) wrote,

Avatar Book 2, Disc 2 – spoiler-free reaction post

This time I'm going to include any tidbits I glean from the audio commentary within the rest of the episode write-up. Anything from the commentary tracks will be marked with a "C".

Chapter 6: The Blind Bandit

Commentary track:
Bryan Konietzko – Co-Creator
Michael Dante DiMartino – Co-Creator
Ethan Spaulding – Director

Finally, we have the introduction of Toph. Yay! I've been looking forward to this in my re-watch.

C: Toph was originally going to be a boy. Ehasz suggested making the character female instead. Good call, IMO.

I love how Katara makes you think she's going to sweet-talk the mean boys from the earthbending school into giving them the info they want, and instead she pwns them with waterbending.

C: The visual design for "The Hippo" is based on antique photos of Mongolian wrestlers.

I admit I've never been one to watch much pro wrestling, but I know enough to recognize the tropes. The voice inflections and the body language of "The Boulder" are especially spot-on. If you are a Boulder fan, or if you just like humorous fandom meta, you should check out this comic: Bryke's Convention Guards (<--non-G-rated language warning).

C: "The Boulder" is voiced by Mick Foley aka "Cactus Jack" or "Mankind".

C: They wanted to convey Toph's method of "seeing" as being a bit like sonar, hence the concentric circles and non-color forms.

C: Fighting Aang is "like trying to punch a feather—it just floats away."

C: Toph's VA, Jessie Flower, also voiced Meng in "The Fortuneteller"

Katara pwns the boys at the earthbending school again. Well, she just threatens them, but they are still pwnd.

C: "The girls on the show are not just token characters. They are an integral part—in many cases, they kick more butt than the guys do."

Toph is so cute in her girly clothes. <3

C: In order to make Toph's bending look unique, they had Sifu Kisu consult another martial arts expert who practiced a rare style of Kung Fu known as Southern Praying Mantis Style, which became the basis for Toph's technique. Coincidently, when they spoke to the master and told him what Toph's character was like, he explained that there is a legend that one of the originators of the style was a blind woman. The style includes blind-folded training.

I feel like the anti-discrimination message in this episode fits more seamlessly into the story than the similar anti-sexism theme in "The Waterbending Master" does. (Toph's parents' attitude strikes me as both ableist and sexist.) The outcome is also more believable.

Chapter 7: Zuko Alone

And now, for an entire episode that's ALL ABOUT ZUKO! <333 What is really important about this episode is that it's the first one where Zuko truly plays the role of hero. The Gaang are wholly absent from it; "Zuko alone" is the protagonist. Before now, he's had his noble moments, but they were often fleeting, or obfuscated by his other agenda. In this episode, he has no thoughts of chasing the Avatar or restoring his "honor"; he has the briefest impulse to steal from the expecting couple, but he resists; his thoughts and actions are almost unequivocally good from beginning to end of the episode. And this is despite the fact that in terms of his worldly fortunes, he has really reached his lowest point.

The episode also contains some flashbacks with crucial information about Zuko's past. In the first:
-He and his mother fed turtleducks together and talked about how mothers will viciously defend their babies.
-His sister tricked him into playing a game that ended with him and Mai tumbling into the fountain together.
-He received an Earth Kingdom dagger with the inscription "Never give up without a fight" from his Uncle, who was laying siege to Ba Sing Se at the time.

In the memory of Uncle Iroh's gifts from Ba Sing Se, I can't help but feel a little sorry for Azula. Iroh may have had some noble idea of trying to persuade his niece to enjoy a more harmless activity than would normally be her wont, but to me his gift to her just comes across as patronizing and I'm sure it would have stung Azula. Well, obviously she retaliated against it by burning the doll's head off, and I'm sure we're meant to be pretty disturbed by her actions (and words) in this scene, but I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for her, too.

Ninja!Zuko passes some of his ninja wisdom to Lee. Where do you suppose he learned how to use the dual swords himself?

Second (brief) flashback:
-Ursa gave her children the news that their cousin Lu Ten was killed in battle.

Third flashback:
-Azula told Zuko that Uncle Iroh gave up on Ba Sing Se after his son's death, and they argued about whether he did the right thing.
-Ozai and his family appeared before Azulon; Azula was impressive with her knowledge and bending and Zuko was not.
-Ozai requested (while the kids eavesdropped) that Azulon take Iroh's birthright and give it to him instead, but Zuko ran away before he could hear all of Azulon's angry response.
-Azula, who stayed to hear the rest, informed Zuko that Azulon ordered Ozai to kill Zuko, as punishment for suggesting he revoke Iroh's birthright.

Those Fire Nation royals really put the "fun" in dysfunctional. Geez. In particular, what kind of bizarre logic did Azulon have to use to reach the conclusion that since Iroh's grief over his son had been disrespected, Zuko ought to die?!

Zuko resolves to free Lee from the soldier-thugs. This scene, as well as several scenes in "The Chase", are powerfully reminiscent of the Old Western genre. Only the guns are missing. But a bit of last-minute firebending will have to do.

Fourth (brief) flashback:
-Ursa gave a cryptic message to Zuko in the middle of the night: "No matter how things may seem to change, never forget who you are."

Fifth flashback:
-Zuko woke up that morning to find that his mother had disappeared and his grandfather was dead.
-Azulon's funeral eulogy was given, and it was announced that Ozai would succeed him, according to his "dying wish".

The irony of Ursa's last benediction to Zuko is that it is both the wrong advice and the right advice. It is the wrong advice for the moment, but the right advice in the long run. More on this in the spoiler post.

Chapter 8: The Chase

Commentary track:
Michael Dante DiMartino – Co-Creator
Josh Hamilton – Writer
Giancarlo Volpe - Director

C: They confirm the Old Western influence on this episode and the previous one. They specifically mention The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which is funny to me, because while I was watching this episode my dad walked in on the stand-off scene at the end and said, "This reminds me of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". Good call, Dad. :)

Just watching the kids with their eye circles growing darker and their actions becoming increasingly irate makes me feel an empathetic, achy tiredness in my bones.

The girls are back! Yay! What have they been doing since "Return to Omashu"? (Besides procuring a tank, that is.)

C: You never see them, but Lo and Li are driving the tank! <333

C: The lizards are mongoose lizards. (Mark and I had wondered what they were supposed to be a combo of when we watched this episode a few days ago.)

The Mai-Ty Lee comedy duo cracks me up.
Ty Lee: It's got an "uh" sound…
Mai: Clumps?
Ty Lee: Clumps! They're clumps!11! *glomps*
Mai: …

So Appa > Mai and Ty Lee > Sokka and Katara. Go Appa!

Toph + Iroh = BFF! "Sharing tea with a fascinating stranger is one of life's true delights." I love the irony of having these two characters from opposite sides of the war meet in passing and have a heart-to-heart.

And now it's time for the Mexican standoff. If you want to see the inspiration for this scene from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (I know I did), here it is:

The thing that really makes the five-minute stand-off work is the fantastic music, IMO. Does anyone know the name of the percussion instrument that punctuates it? I can picture it—a sort of wand with wooden slats that you shake like a rattle to make the slats "clap" together, but I can't for the life of me thing what it's called. (ETA: They're called "castanets".) Anyway, I digress. Back to Avatar. The stand-off in this episode clearly could not last five minutes. But I think it gets the idea across.

C: The important thing is, given the choice between going after the Avatar or her brother, Azula chooses to attack Zuko first.

Aw, and Zuko's back to being the pratfall guy in this three-way fight. Poor Zu-Zu.

C: Fans on the internet were really excited about the shot where all four elements combined are used to attack Azula.

Chapter 9: Bitter Work

Zuko: I know what you're going to say. She's my sister and I should try to get along with her.
Iroh: No, she's crazy and she needs to go down.

ajdka;jdka Mako's deadpan tone on that line is just perfect.

I love Iroh's lesson on the four different peoples. It's nice to have a character like Iroh who can explicate the themes of the story without sounding cheesy.

I think this episode effectively kills the idea of Taang. In the first two episodes she appears in, I can see where the idea comes from. In "The Swamp" she appears to him as this other-worldly figure, in a way that parallels Sokka/Yue. Then, their dynamic in "The Blind Bandit" could be read as a "meet cute" sort of scenario for a bickering pair. But starting with this episode, the dynamic between them is all wrong for romance. They don't strike me as a cute, bickering, "opposites attract" sort of pair, but more like true opposites. Her abrasive attitude toward Aang makes sense if she's his tough earthbending teacher, but not if she's his future girlfriend.

Chapter 10: The Library

How can they stand to hold cups made out of ice? Even in the middle of the desert, I'd think that would be uncomfortable.

The crafts the sandbenders ride around on look very Star Wars-ish.

peachespig was saying on one of my previous posts that Koh was the only truly scary thing in Avatar, but I think Wan Shi Tong is pretty creepy, too, even if he's not quite as malevolent.

"You think you're the first person to believe your war was justified?" Hmm…there are a few moments in Avatar that make me think I see a bit of an influence from real life events. This is one of them, though not the most striking one.

An idea occurred to me while I was watching the ending: What if the fox librarians are people like Professor Zei who are drawn to stay in the library for all eternity?


P.S. Remember to keep comments here spoiler-free! If you have something spoiler-y to say, even if it's in response to this post, please comment in the next post instead. Thanks!
Tags: avatar, avatar re-watch

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