A series as great as “Avatar” can only follow up such a strong opening with an equally emphatic second chapter, and Book Two does step up to the plate. New characters that will make an indelible impact on the show join the forces of both good and evil, making the show only the stronger for it.
Our cast from Book One all return to their respective roles for Book Two, save for Uncle Iroh’s voice actor Mako, who unfortunately passed away mid-season. Greg Baldwin assumes the role for the remainder of the show and the season’s fifteenth episode “Tales of Ba Sing Se” is dedicated to the memory of Mako. Zach Tyler Eisen is once again back as Avatar Aang, while Mae Whitman and Jack DeSena return as his teenaged allies from the Southern Water Tribe, Katara and Sokka, and Dante Basco shifts from villain to more of an anti-hero in his role of Prince Zuko. Team Avatar receives an important new recruit in Book Two in the form of Earthbender Toph Beifong, voiced by Jessie Flower. Additionally, a new villainess enters the picture – Zuko’s sadistic and bloodthirsty sister, the Fire Princess Azula, voiced by Grey DeLisle. She brings with her, two cohorts in the Fire Nation’s conquest of the world, Ty Lee, voiced by Olivia Hack, and Mai, voiced by Cricket Leigh.
Following Aang and Katara’s Waterbending training at the North Pole, Team Avatar high tails it to the Earth Kingdom City of Omashu, where Aang’s old friend King Bumi can instruct him in the ways of Earthbending. There’s just one problem though – the Fire Nation has already taken Omashu before they arrive, but not under the leadership of Fire Lord Ozai. No, the conquest of Omashu came under the leadership of Ozai’s equally ruthless and cruel daughter, Princess Azula! The villains opposing Team Avatar have officially become more threatening than the audience ever thought possible. Born a Firebending prodigy, Azula is a cunning and ferocious leader, never hesitant to sacrifice a legion of soldiers in her quest to capture the Avatar, always with her father’s support behind her. In other words, she’s everything her brother is not. It can truly be said that “Avatar” has raised the stakes immensely from the moment Azula steps into play!
Anyhow, the Fire Princess isn’t the only new character to debut in Book Two who will become an essential element of the show. Aang still needs an Earthbending teacher, and King Bumi is in the captivity of the Fire Nation alongside the rest of Omashu. Nevertheless, he managed to pass on some crucial information regarding the nature of Earthbending training and that Aang should seek a teacher who “listens to the Earth”. That teacher comes in the form of an Earth Kingdom princess named Toph Beifong who first makes her debut on the show in the episode “The Blind Bandit”. Although Toph is technically blind, she is still able to “see” with her feet by sensing the vibrations in the Earth, and at just twelve years old, has made herself into the greatest Earthbender in the world -a fact that she regularly proves when she competes in Earthbending tournaments in secret from her parents. A little later in the show, she even takes Earthbending to the next level with her realization that metal is simply Earth in its most refined form, and Toph becomes the world’s first Metalbender!
Toph ultimately leaves her pampered and sheltered life behind to join Team Avatar and become Aang’s Earthbending teacher. If his training in Air and Water was soft, Earth is most definitely hard! Toph puts Aang through the rigors of Earthbending training, and never shows mercy until he is able to progress, but her harsher methods pay off when Aang is finally able to Earthbend. Toph is also unique in terms of the design of Earthbending created for the show. While Hung Gar was used for most Earthbenders, Toph’s style of Earthbending is based instead on Southern Praying Mantis, and the show’s creators would bring in Sifu Manuel Rodriguez to design her movements.
As you can guess, the bending action truly lives up to what fans of the show have come to expect after Book One. Toph’s debut on the show in “The Blind Bandit” and Aang’s Earthbending training under her are among Book Two’s highlights in terms of training and action sequences. Probably the most action-packed episode comes after the season’s midpoint with “The Drill”, where Team Avatar must stop the Fire Nation’s assault on the Earth Kingdom’s capital city of Ba Sing Se. The assault of course being led by the nefarious Azula, with the assistance of her underlings Ty Lee, and Prince Zuko’s old flame, Mai. The fruits of Aang’s Earthbending training really show themselves in how he is able to stop the colossal Fire Nation drill from penetrating the outer walls of Ba Sing Se. This dramatic episode is the kind that can pull the uninitiated into the show mid-season with no trouble at all.
The adventures of Aang and Team Avatar aren’t the only focus of the show, of course. When last we left Zuko and his trusted Uncle Iroh, they had yet to capture the Avatar and reclaim Zuko’s honor. His ruthless sister Azula even attempted to trick her brother into returning to the Fire Nation in order to have them both imprisoned. The two manage to regain some normalcy in their lives after becoming refugees in Ba Sing Se and opening a successful tea house. Zuko and Iroh’s relationship is another of the show’s many strong points – how Iroh stands by his teenaged nephew through thick and thin, no matter how rough life gets for him. Indeed, Iroh is much more of a father to Zuko than Ozai ever was, which makes the resolution of Book Two that much more shocking and saddening, all because of Azula’s manipulation of her brother’s emotions and Zuko’s refusal to give up in his quest to return to his people.
Book Two steps things up for “Avatar” in every possible way, right from the first episode “The Avatar State”. Not only must our hero master the four elements, but also the use of his greatest power known as the ‘Avatar State’ -a defensive mechanism in which Aang is able to call upon the power of all of his past lives. Yet, it comes with a significant drawback – if Aang is killed while in the Avatar State, his cycle of rebirth will be broken and the Avatar will be no more. Can Aang overcome the Achilles’ heel that comes with his greatest power in time to defeat the Fire Lord?
“Avatar” has already shown that it’s not only a clever show, but an unforgettable one! Book Two takes it even further making it a show that can speak frankly and powerfully on the subjects of death and mortality like few other kids’ shows ever could. The stakes were raised in Book Two, but now we prepare enter the show’s third and final Book, where they’re about to hit the stratosphere! Stay tuned for Book Three!
Film Rating: 10/10
- During the early stages of developing the show, “Avatar” was originally going to take place thousands of years in the future.
- The name of the Northern Water Tribe Princess, and Sokka’s first girlfriend ‘Yue’, means moon in Mandarin, and ‘Suki’, the name of Sokka’s second girlfriend, means moon in Japanese!
- The character Toph was originally intended to be a male character. The Earthbender seen in the show’s introductory sequence is based on her original design.