Three months after Netflix released their live-action television adaption of one of Japan’s most beloved IPs, One Piece, the company have just posted the teaser trailer for their live-action adaption of another fan-favourite, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The original animated show was a hit during the mid-2000s, and is heralded as one of the West’s greatest animated works as far as television is concerned; often ranked amongst other Japanimation greats like Naruto, Dragon Ball, and One Piece. As such, like many other popular properties, an adaption was inevitable. However, what we received was something that would not only spit in the face of the original series, but sully a once coveted directors name into oblivion—though The Last Airbender was not the reason for M. Night Shyamalan’s downfall, but rather the catalyst to cement his name in infamy.
It’s been a rough couple decades for anime and manga fans as we’ve had to bore witness to Hollywood butchering beloved IP after beloved IP with live-action adaptations that neither had the soul of their anime originals in terms of writing, casting, and directing, nor the budget or resources to properly bring their worlds to life. From Shyamalan’s aforementioned The Last Airbender, to the nightmare fuel that is DragonBall: Evolution, to the more recent atrocity in Cowboy Bebop, which was a Netflix production, no less.
With that said, it does seem like the tides may be turning. Much like how video games have gotten a surprisingly steady stream of somewhat decent adaptations in recent years with films like The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Sonic the Hedgehog, the (mostly) positive critical and fan reaction to Netflix’s first season of One Piece alludes to a similar movement for anime adaptations. We shouldn’t tread too quickly with this notion, of course, as we’ve only just received one (mostly) adequate season of a live-action series whose mangaka worked very closely with the production. Still, when watching the trailer for the upcoming live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series, it’s difficult to temper expectations.
The trailer itself is easy to get excited by. From the iconic characters being played by predominantly Asian actors who all look the part, to the VFX, production design, and costumes all doing a seemingly good job in realizing the world and its various locations and tribes, to the roar of the original show’s theme cascading in the background to establish both the epic tone for newcomers, while teasing the nostalgia bone of fans. It’s all done very well, and if it’s any indication of the quality we’ll be seeing unravel on February 22nd, 2024, then colour me eager.
Much like One Piece, however, I do wonder about the scale and budgetary concerns for the future of the show. Though its world is a mere fraction to that of One Piece, Avatar still sees its characters traversing through a diverse series of landscapes, many of whom are architecturally grand. That, alongside the many battles with bending powers and large set-pieces, would require quite the pretty penny to do properly. These concerns are definitely far too early to theorize upon, though my hope is the show does well enough to justify Netflix’s future production costs; something that has been an ongoing concern for the company.
Back to the trailer—the one aspect I did wish to see a little more of was the humour. Comedy was a key aspect for the original animation as it provided a levity and lighthearted charm to contrast with the otherwise darker themes of the show. Though I understand a teaser trailer can only do so much in two minutes, a second or two of joviality between the primary trio of characters would have been nice to see; if only to establish an attachment with the audience. Because much like One Piece, much of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender’s success was due to its trio of endearing characters who were all endlessly charming in their own way. Great visuals are surely important, but writing and performances are what carry any show. I’m sure with the original creators in tow that this tonal aspect won’t be an issue, but we’ll have to wait and see when it all transpires a couple months from now.