Aang, Katara, and Sokka in Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Why Didn’t Netflix’s ‘Avatar’ Get the ‘One Piece’ Treatment It Deserved?

Maybe, just maybe, Avatar: The Last Airbender didn't need to be adapted into live action twice over.

Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action series was expected to be doomed from the start. When comparing it to the success of Netflix’s live-action One Piece adaptation, there really is no excuse for as to why or how Avatar: The Last Airbender suffered as much as it did.

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It’s genuinely frustrating and upsetting to witness the unchecked disrespect of such an iconic series through Netflix’s extremely questionable recklessness. While it became increasingly obvious that the streaming platform was determined to influence how the first season unfolded with heavy-handed creative liberty, Netflix’s understanding of Avatar: The Live Airbender is severely misguided.

Avatar: The Last Airbender deserved the same treatment that One Piece was given. Strong comprehension of the series, a clear vision of how to translate in-depth storylines, well-rounded characters who are authentic to their animated counterparts, and original creator intervention were core pillars of what made One Piece work so well. It’s devastating that Avatar: The Last Airbender was deprived of these same advantages.

With these elements in play, Netflix could have once again walked the fine line between unique, in-house style and honoring the source material. One Piece‘s live-action iteration knew how to condense a single arc into an eight-episode stretch without feeling the need to rush into untapped storylines just yet. There are beat-for-beat scenes from the anime that are given new life, and they’re given time to breathe on screen. With Avatar, Netflix’s first season bounds into parts of the original series’ second season, Book Two, far too early and convolutes the trajectory of a storyline that was already great as it was.

Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko opting to depart from the Netflix project because they “couldn’t control the creative direction of the series” introduced a new sense of dread as Netflix marched forward without them. According to an interview from GamesRadar, One Piece mangaka Eiichiro Oda was incredibly involved with how Netflix would handle its take on the beloved anime. “Whether it’s in the outline form, whether it’s the scripts, whether it’s the editing, they allow me to essentially say, ‘This is good enough to go out there,'” Oda [said]. “And if I wasn’t satisfied, this wouldn’t see the light of day. And there were times when I would be very, very blunt with my notes about things that I wasn’t happy with, and they responded to all of those.”

The intense levels of caution and care with which Netflix crafted One Piece were critical to maintaining the spirit of the original. Wouldn’t they want another legacy series to be brought to life (once again, for some reason) with the same efforts? It’s deeply confusing as to why Netflix would be willing to work with Oda yet pushed DiMartino and Konietzko to the point of abandoning the show altogether. Of course, there are two sides to every story, and Netflix easily could have their own perception as to why DiMartino and Konietzko chose to step away.

The same question could be asked about character depiction. Taz Skylar’s Sanji was able to embrace the less-savory aspects of his character, so why was the choice to make Ian Ousley’s Sokka less sexist so prominent?Why introduce a character to develop if there is no character to develop? Much like Sanji, Sokka’s attitude toward women is a key trait that is necessary to include, in order to show growth. If the One Piece writers could navigate how to adjust Sanji to fit their series while reflecting his in-anime character, surely those writing Avatar: The Last Airbender could have done the same with Sokka.

Beyond that, in an unbelievable bout of misunderstanding, the show actively deflates certain characters’ importance. It’s like Netflix featured highly popular characters from the animated series for the sake of recognition or relevance. There is no reason for Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim), Mai (Thalia Tran), Ty Lee (Momona Tamada), or Azula (Elizabeth Yu) to introduce themselves quite yet. It’s unjustifiable. Did Netflix just look at a list of Avatar characters and write them into the script?

One Piece kept its first season’s cast trimmed down to pivot around only the most important characters. Not only that, but it retained a fair amount of character accuracy. There was every opportunity for Netflix to hand-pick when specific One Piece characters appeared, yet pacing their arrival and understanding their quality was important to season one. The Straw Hats were allowed to act and feel like themselves—it’s hard to completely say the same about Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Netflix should have taken cues from its own accomplishments if it was unsure how to perfect the re-imagining of its cast. Their most tragic misinterpretation of an Avatar: The Last Airbender character is Paul Sun-Hyung Lee’s General Iroh. The Dragon of the West is more than just a jaded war general, but the full extent of his personality is lost on Netflix’s writers. This isn’t Makoto Iwamatsu’s Iroh. He’s far more angry, anxious, and serious. Glimmers of Iroh’s lightheartedness try to break through, but are quickly dismissed. There are glimpses of the gentle, grief-ridden, patient, and sage Uncle Iroh that has forever been loved, but they’re so fleeting that they have little time to overpower Netflix’s insistence that he’s only a skilled tactician.

Avatar: The Last Airbender deserved to be viewed as an equal to One Piece. Both proudly bore passionate fanbases with an intense connection to the properties. What was the disconnect with pleasing one and dishonoring the other? How, in good faith and conscience, could Netflix confidently take pride in this version of Avatar: The Last Airbender?

The negligence in failing to invest in yet another take on Avatar in more than a financial sense is damning. It was reported that each episode of Netflix’s Avatar cost the streaming service $15 million to produce, but even with an excessive price tag attached to the show, this still proves that no amount of money can buy quality. It’s shameful that Netflix could strike such a high elsewhere, and refuse to learn from themselves here. Zuko’s (Dante Basco) reflection on his own fate—”My father said [Azula] was born lucky. He said I was lucky to be born …”—could easily mirror the stark contrast between Netflix’s One Piece and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

One Piece was born lucky; Avatar was lucky to be born.

(featured image: Netflix)


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Author
Annie Banks
Annie Banks is a professional entertainment journalist from Chicago, Illinois. She holds degrees in journalism and marketing, and has been incredibly fortunate to watch her career path collide with her passions. Throughout her six years of entertainment journalism experience, Annie has fervently written about movies, television shows, anime, manga, K-Pop, comics and video games. To this day, she still proudly retains her title as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved Tomatometer critic.