In the beginning there was Wan, and he was a badass. Yes this week we got to watch “Beginnings,” a very special two parter that showed us the origins of the Avatar and how this great lineage got started. Being introduced to Wan opened up an entirely new side to the Avatar universe, filled with spirits, young lion turtles, a new origin for bending, and an amazing beautiful visual style. Yes Wan, voiced by Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead manages to match the best qualities out of two Avatars, Korra’s brash nature and Aang’s devious mischief-maker style. The style and flow of the hour is classic Avatar, and something that has been missing from Korra: the travelers narrative. Yes, Korra as a series has consistently isolated its characters from the world leading to a very condensed and claustrophobic narrative. With this season we have begun to expand beyond the basic horizons, and through Wan we are able to remember that old Avatar feel. So let’s dive in shall we.
There are a few big hooks in this week’s episode but none bigger than finding out the origins of the Avatar. Specifically we learn about Wan, a tricky street urchin (did he remind anyone else of Aladdin in his intro scene?) who is destined to be the first Avatar. We follow his journey from no nothing to the most powerful person in the world and much like Glenn, Yeun is able to truly capture the innocence and and uncertainty that comes with being the first Avatar. The sheer majesty of this performance encapsulates not only what is great about Avatar but television in general. When Wan shows hesitance we feel it, when he feels success we know it, and when he feels power it is absolutely awe inspiring. Wan is meant to be so much more than just the Avatar, he is the human spirit personified and it is magnificent. You could tell that this is what Mike and Bryan were building towards, this is the series we wanted from the start, and Wan is quite possibly the best Avatar we have ever been introduced to.
The story, the art style, the music, Vaatu and Raava, all of them help to create possibly the greatest tribute to Miyazaki style film making, and easily some of the best animated storytelling I have ever seen. I often found my self staring at the backgrounds Studio Mir put together as they helped to conceive such an engrossing world. Episodes like “The Storm,” “Zuko Alone,” and “Out of The Past” all helped to further our understanding of how the Avatar universe came to be, but in “Beginnings” we are able to truly understand the stakes that exist in this world, how all of out villains are just feeding Vaatu and making him all the more powerful. This episode manages to capture some of the best of animated works in its story, Spirited Away included. It is just how everything manages to come together in such perfect harmony that reminds me why I exude the praises of Avatar to everyone I know.
Of course all of the beauty of the music and art direction would be nothing without a truly cohesive story. “Beginnings,” in true Avatar fashion manages to not only be about Wan becoming the Avatar but the lifelong friendship that builds between him and Raava. It is not an epic love story but rather the telling of how two great friends are destined to be together no matter what. It exuded the spirit of Team Avatar and how Wan was able to make friends among both the spirits and humans, despite the two sides being in constant conflict. Watching Raava change from being an annoyed omnipotent being to one of Wan’s closest friend was absolutely superb. Watching Wan apologize to Raava as he was dying on the battle field made the pain of losing this friendship all the more real. It is some powerful television, folks. Even watching Wan learn to protect the forest through his own mistakes was really enjoyable as it showed how his ability evolved and his outside the box thinking to protect those closest to him. Even when he attempted to stop the humans and the spirits from fighting, he desired an outcome that would lead to peace and friendship between the two sides. There truly was a tangible sadness at the humans were destroyed and helped to really communicate the power Wan’s friends had on him.
One of the things that really amazed me about “Beginnings” was how different the fight scenes were in comparison to the average Avatar episode. The sheer beauty of Wan learning to Firebend while creating the Dancing Dragons, as well as his exploration of the other bending styles was done magnificently, all capping off in what is possibly one of the coolest fight scenes in Avatar history. Wan vs Vaatu delivered on every note, with Vaatu being too powerful for Wan alone, the imagery of the Raava-induced Avatar state vibrating Wan’s body was painful to watch but beautiful in every way imaginable. The power that is on display when Wan finally masters the Avatar State is awe inspiring and it manages to put into perspective just how far this character we only just met has come.
Without a doubt “Beginnings” is the reason I watch television. From beginning to end I was enthralled it the world the creators brought us into and by the end I was begging for just a few more moments with Wan and Raava post Vaatu fight. This is what Korra was always meant to be, I have no idea how Mike and Bryan are going to top this, but I am waiting with now increased anticipation.
The epitome of great television.
Final Grade A+
+Steven Yuen’s magnificent performance.
+Magnificent story top to bottom
+Absolutely beautiful music and art.
+Amazing truly emotional storytelling
+The plot of the season is finally revealed.
+The past Avatars show up for a moment
-If these episodes don’t win awards come awards season, then the academy has no idea what great storytelling truly is.
-All hail Avatar Stinky
-Wan’s finale battle outfits were both amazing, I love that feudal wanderer style.
-Also major props to Jason Marsden, he was phenomenal everytime he was on screen