Sunday, June 23, 2024

5+1 Potential New Avatar Projects

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Long ago, the wildly successful animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender finally left behind the stain of its unspeakable movie adaptation. Then, everything changed when Netflix announced its own live-action take on the series. Only Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the original creators could save the project but when the world needed them most, they left. A few months passed and now the Bryke duo has returned, heading Nickelodeon’s new Avatar Studios that’s going to be entirely dedicated to creating “original content spanning animated series and movies.” Although some are sceptical, I believe that this could be the Avatar content we’ve all been waiting for.

Out of all properties that are getting reboots and remakes left right and center, Avatar fans have arguably the most to be wary about. Sure, lots of franchises have had rough journeys, but few can say that their live-action films are one of the most hated movies of all time or that their own studio mistreated them with how they handled the sequel series. Then you consider Bryke jumping ship from the Netflix adaptation, citing a “negative and unsupportive environment” and it truly doesn’t bode well.

bryke avatar studios
Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

And yet here we are, 16 years after A:TLA first premiered and I can’t help but feel excited about the Avatar Studios news. This isn’t a live-action remake or another attempt to retell the same old stories: this is a brand new opportunity for the two creative minds behind the Avatarverse to expand this world and spearhead the creation of new stories. Last year’s Avatar renaissance resulted in Nickelodeon and associated companies taking note of just how popular and rich with opportunities this franchise is.

Look, a grain of salt is definitely needed. Like I said, Avatar fans more than most have a right to be sceptical. But if done right, Avatar Studios has the opportunity to create something spectacular. Mike and Bryan captured lightning in a bottle when they made A:TLA almost two decades ago and they proved their world is capable of telling different stories with The Legend of Korra. There is potential in the Avatar world that goes far beyond nostalgia and rehashing old stories; this isn’t another superhero franchise or a beloved childhood property being beaten to death. At least, it’s hopefully not going to be that. There are a plethora of diverse stories to be told here and the limit truly is the sky if the creators are committed to exploring this world of the four elements.

So, while any future project is a long way away, with a theatrical movie only going into development later this year, it doesn’t hurt to start speculating and list just a few of the possibilities. Without further ado, five potential Avatar Studios projects we could see in the future.

1. The Return of Kyoshi

It’s safe to say that, while the Avatar world is vast and there’s 10,000 years of history from before Korra to be explored, Avatar Studios will want to start off with a sure bet. These days it seems like there’s no safer bet than to centre a story on fan-favourite Avatar Kyoshi, the earthbender Avatar who lived some two hundred years before Aang mastered the elements. Even while A:TLA was first airing, fans voiced their interest in seeing more of Kyoshi and that only intensified as the years went by and we all fondly looked back on the sheer power of this seven-foot-tall lady.

Fan needs were finally met with the first novels of the franchise two years ago when The Rise of Kyoshi was published by Amulet Books. Written by F.C. Yee, the book was the first of two that explored the early years of Kyoshi and her journey to becoming the firm Avatar we all know and love. The duology concluded last year with The Shadow of Kyoshi but there’s still much potential in the character.

Both books became bestsellers and fan reception proved that there’s very much a demand for stories from before Aang’s era, and Kyoshi specifically. Since she lived for a whopping 230 years there’s really no excuse not to explore at least a little bit more of Kyoshi’s life. The upcoming movie might or might not be about this earthbending Avatar; it’d certainly be a welcome not-so-surprise if it was. They could either adapt the novels or, preferably, tell new stories about the world when Kyoshi was in charge of protecting it. This would truly be as much of a safe bet as they can have without digging Aang or Korra up for recognition value.

2. Korra Goes to the Movers

Let’s, for a moment, consider that Avatar Studios does want to bring Aang or Korra back. As much of a shoo-in as Kyoshi is, there’s no beating the success of the animated shows. When it comes to LoK specifically, bringing Korra back might not be an automatic bad thing. Although I would much prefer to explore the Avatarverse world to its fullest, there’s certainly room to continue Korra’s story from where we left her in 2014.

Dark Horse Comics have been continuing the Avatar stories for years now and they currently have two LoK trilogies out so Korra’s story is persisting in that medium. But who’s to say Korra can’t have her own movie? The mixed reception of the comics has proven that there’s no beating the original medium of animation. The Legend of Korra has always been structurally different to A:TLA and that allows more space for the story to continue and for it to not feel forced. Maybe we could check back in with Korra and the Krew a few years later, in their late twenties or even thirties – there’s the whole rest of her life to cover!

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire

What remains to be seen is how strict Paramount+ and the other streaming platforms will be when it comes to censorship. It would be amazing to see Korra’s relationship with her girlfriend Asami develop in a way it never could in 2014, pre-She-RaAdventure Time and The Owl House. In fact, queer representation in animation owes much to LoK, so giving this couple their dues on the big screen would be the best way to conclude Korra’s journey. If nothing else, Nickelodeon owes this letter of apology to the character and her series. Time to regain your honor, Nick.

3. Cloudbabies and Beyond

If we’re being honest, even more beloved than Korra is the original Gaang, the kids of A:TLA. Fans have been begging for a Book Four for 13 years now, ever since the show concluded with “Sozin’s Comet.” In that time, Aang would have been born, frozen in ice, taught the four elements and would have already defeated Fire Lord Ozai. Needless to say, the news of Avatar Studios have reignited that need for more of the originals.

Despite that, Bryke have been clear about concluding Aang’s story and not wanting a Book Four of any sorts. When they did touch on the future of the Gaang as part of LoK, it left fans polarized. They’re simply done with the original heroes of this story in any substantial way and rightly so. What is possible, though, is a spin-off, short or movie about the next generation, the team’s kids and their lives before Korra showed up in Republic City.

avatar tenzin bumi kya lin su
Fanart by makani

With so much going on in LoK at all times and the various constraints, the Gaang’s kids didn’t get as much development as many had hoped. Tenzin, Aang and Katara’s son, served as a deuteragonist for much of the series and Lin Beifong was a constant presence, but even when it comes to these two more central characters, there’s much more to explore. As for the others, Bumi, Kya, Su, and especially Izumi were essentially just glimpses into a whole different generation’s shenanigans. Their journey might only warrant a series of shorts but there’s definitely something there.

This would be a compromise of sorts, where the Gaang could have cameos and smaller roles but they pass the baton to their children. The second generation would get more fleshed out and we would see what it’s like when the Avatar isn’t at the centre of a story set in the Avatar universe. Speaking of…

4. The Travelling Tales of an Air Nomad

Who says an Avatar Studios production has to be about the Avatar themselves? There are hundreds of stories, even if we only think of Wan’s reincarnation as the protagonist, but even more if we take a step away from this obvious central character. Having the opportunity to tell many varying stories also means that we can look at the “little people” and see what it’s like to simply just live in this world divided by the elements and united by spirituality.

Out of the myriad of potential angles, here’s one: an Air Nomad protagonist. Now, I know what you’re going to say, that’s just going back to Aang again. The Last Airbender and all that. But here’s the thing, this hypothetical nomad would simply be an airbender, living their life decades or centuries before Sozin’s war. They can be part of a larger, epic story on par with the Avatar’s or it could be a series of vignettes as this nomad travels the world and discovers other cultures, the small wonders of life. Either way, I know I’d watch it.

One of the many beauties of the Avatar world is that it always feels so alive. Whenever Aang or Korra visit some faraway place, we get the feeling that life goes on there even when our heroes move on. It’s a vibrant universe full of life and culture and what better way to explore it than through a literal nomad. As a bonus, we would get to find out more about the Air Nomads themselves, the victims of a genocide who are later reborn in Korra’s time though in a different way. Seeing more of this lost culture would add something new to the franchise and could highlight the core themes of this universe. We would see the culture and experience what was lost during the war but have that knowledge that the cycle will eventually continue and a nation will be reborn.

5. (+1) The Cycle of the Avatar Began Anew

That thought brings us home with the last idea for a new project, or two.

While Avatar explores many themes and presents them with such profound sincerity, there is perhaps no core idea more important than that of balance. Balance between the elements, the nations, the cycle of life, and balance within one’s self. What better way to achieve that equilibrium than to complete the Avatar cycle and have two new series, first about an earthbending and then a firebending Avatar.

This, like wanting more of Kyoshi, is nothing new. Ever since Korra, people have been wondering whether the franchise could come full circle and go through all four elements. With Aang and Korra we have air and water down so it stands to reason that with Avatar Studios there’s now the possibility of two new Avatars getting their own turn in trying to keep the peace. And while a Kyoshi project would technically fulfill the earth requirement, I’m mostly hoping for a brand new reincarnation here. Someone we could watch grow into a fully realized Avatar as we watched Aang and Korra before them.

avatars aang kyoshi roku yangchen kuruk

There are two main routes to take here: past or future. You see, LoK left the world in kind of a tricky place where technology is almost as or even more powerful than bending. While having an Avatar in an even more advanced world and seeing their struggle with modernity is an interesting premise, it’d be tricky to pull off. With the advancements they made between Aang’s and Korra’s time, imagine where the world would be in another 70 years. I can see a series about the next Avatar in line but probably not before a few other successful projects had already been made.

At this point, centering series on two previous Avatars might be more likely. There’s about 9,500 years of history to cover in-between Wan and, say, Avatar Yangchen, so there’s virtually no limit. This would give the creators the freedom to explore a completely different era with new characters, all the while not having to worry about how far technology will go. In any case, if we’re getting more Avatar projects we simply just need the cycle to be complete. In the past or present, earth and fire will get their turn.

In Any Case, More Avatar Please

It’s worth repeating over and over again that the possibilities are endless. Once the ball gets rolling we’ll hopefully see many diverse stories in development and eventually on our screens. Preferably, if they go with already known characters, it’s because they have stories worth telling and not because the studio is afraid of risks. As discussed, there’s potential in expanding on those old stories as well, but this Avatar Studios endeavour will only be the success Nick and Paramount hope it will be and will only live up to the potential if Bryke are willing and allowed to explore this rich and complex world to its fullest. Whatever potential project they choose to go with first, let’s hope it’ll be something spectacular.

Image Courtesy of Viacom

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