The Hero’s Journey in Animation

I’d been meaning to watch this for a while now. I should have had this review completed back when The Dragon Prince came to AFNYCC, but alas – sometimes the things we intend are just not so.

When I heard that season two would premiere on Netflix February 15th, I knew I had to get at it.

And boy, it did not disappoint.

The Dragon Prince takes place in the far off lands of Xadia, where magic rules within six primordial sources. Or at least, it did until one human eons ago decided to create a new energy source: dark magic. The mage gone rogue is implied to have ruined the natural balance for all, causing the Elven citizens along with other magical folks to split the kingdom.

In the latest schism, the dragon guardian of the border had its heir murdered. As this creature only hatches once every thousand years, the magical kingdom seeks revenge on the human king and his heir – Ezran.

This is where our story begins.

Let me just say that the Avatar: the Last Airbender nostalgia hit me hard. I’ve been meaning to rewatch that series, especially with the oddly timed announcement of the live-action Netflix adaptation. I don’t want to make too many comparisons to the show because it is its own separate entity, but seeing Claudia reading “Love Amongst the Dragons” in episode one really gave me a good laugh.

For those of you who don’t remember, Prince Zuko’s mother, Ursa, enjoyed taking her family to see the Ember Island Player’s rendition each year when he was young. According to Zuko, they always botched it.

Aside from ATLA head writer Aaron Ehasz creating and producing the show, we also have Jack De Sena (ATLA’s voice of Sokka) playing Ezran’s half-brother, Callum. Director Giancarlo Volpe is also on the executive production team.

Taken from Tumblr User kaf-kaf-kaf

Arron Ehasz and his wife Elizabeth Welch Ehasz were arguably the driving force behind the ideas that lead to what made ATLA so memorable. A feminist Katara who had a strong sense of justice, a strong-willed Toph who could take on any foe and ( was arguably) stronger because she was blind. An emotionally complex Prince Zuko, and a Princess Azula who was the prodigal younger sibling instead of a male brother.

“10-Year Anniversary” Interview with Newsweek, 07/19/2018
“10-Year Anniversary” Interview with Newsweek, 07/19/2018

The married duo just may have saved the show from being one-dimensional characters with no depth…or whatever it is the characters devolve to in the graphic novels.

On ATLA’s future, IGN 06/09/2007

Sadly, team Ehasz did not join the production team for The Legend of Korra. I will not solely blame Bryke for the low favorability of that sequel series as Nickelodeon played a huge part. I will say, that they were allegedly talked out of the Aang – Katara – Male Toph love triangle in the first series and without surmountable opposition, we got the horrible Asami – Mako – Korra nonsense for at least three books in LOK.

But, enough about that. Let’s go back to the human kingdom of Katolis.

The show seems to be following the Hero’s Journey formula along with its TV Tropes.  I wonder if they will diverge from this in season two.

Let me explain:

Popularly coined by Joseph Campbell, The Ten-Phase Formula of the Hero’s Journey is something most fantasy epics follow. Lord of the Rings is one series that comes to mind. Harry Potter is another contemporary example of this. Anything that features an orphan is also a typical archetype in this genre.

I am not going to delve too deeply into the exploration of these themes since with my writing style, we’d be here all day. Instead, I am just going to point out what I consider as interpretations of these stages, or passages.

The 10 stages can be interpreted as followed:

I. Beginning and Breach

This is an introduction of the world. In the shows first few minutes, the world’s current issues and history (war with Xadia, dark magic) are explained. The breach serves as a catalyst of current events: so the “death” of the dragon egg, of the Dragon Queen, and the old world’s status quo. All of this causing the moonshadow elves to seek immediate revenge.

II. Departure

With the death or departure of the old world’s status quo (the dragon and its heir, King Harrow’s rule) there is a departure, or journey of the hero to reestablish homeostasis. The young Princes Callum and Ezran are forced to leave their home in an attempt to not be completely overtaken by the new order – i.e. die. In this stage magic is introduced to the core plot of the story, hinting at a new beginning or metamorphosis. Rayla joins the group and proceeds to tell stories of Xadia, Callum learns he is a mage and capable of sorcery.

III. Outerspace or the Forest

The journey into another realm or state that has laws and regulations foreign to the old world. I will view this interpretation a bit more loosely, as the trio travels by land and by river. River or water symbolism in general aside (a source of life, rebirth and constant motion in itself) Rayla has not traveled much by water and dislikes it. She also has to play the villain at the winter lodge in the woods. This begins her proverbial journey of becoming the “embodiment” of the “villain” or “outsider” which in turn, makes it easier for her to adapt to Katolis’ customs and perceptions when later entering the other human kingdom’s village.

Rayla adjusts to the human mode of transport, and upon seeing it was not difficult allows herself to boldly “blend in” once more. The boys likewise learn the propaganda at play surrounding the magical residents of Xadia and how to travel through the forest and hike up mountains. They learn to traverse in the forest as Rayla has. They also leave their human food – bread – behind, which besides the tracking plot point for Viren’s kids (or the assassin), leaves Ezran and Callum open to tasting food native to Rayla’s nation.

IV. Secret Society

The descent up the creepy mountain. This is the hero’s entrance into the otherworld, where mythic and primordial beings of cosmic balance reside. A place similar to ATLA’s spirit world, with figures that have “a shadowy look, ghostly ability to disappear and reappear across space, magic powers”. Think of the imaginary spider that leapt across time and space. The Dune-esque creature that drains blood from its victims. Rayla’s vision or hallucination of the mummified corpse speaking.

“The secret societies are the gatekeepers of the mysterious world, ensuring that the undeserving doesn’t pass.”

On the mountain underneath the tree, we are able to meet Lujanne, the Elven illusionist who literally admits these psychological barriers are a way to keep the mountain safe from those who seek to do it harm. In order for the heroes to meet her, they have to go through trials and persevere to prove their intent.

“By trying and improvising, the hero must discover the language of communication with the groups of unknown beings.”

Ezran reveals that he is an empath and can communicate with animals and other beings. He realizes the illusion for the benefit of the group and helps them advance onward.

“If the hero passes all the tests, meet all the challenges, and solves all the riddles, he or she is accepted, hence gaining a temporary community…”

Lujanne tells the trio the conditions a dragon needs to hatch, and Callum is able to conjure them using the storm orb. Once Azymondias hatches, Rayla is “rewarded” by the mythic universe and freed from her bonds by her lands protector. I also find it interesting that the pact was made just before the full moon, and was released again under the moon in different circumstances.

V. Taboo and Violation

This phase relies heavily again on the “symbolic forest” but also can include mountains, which I’d like to focus on. Basically, let’s consider Claudia’s spell in the cave turned underground cavern basis for this explanation. As that can literally be considered her conducting dark magic in an underworld – or underground before climbing to the highest peak with Soren.

“Many barriers shield the path toward new knowledge, which must be protected. Falling into the wrong hands, it may damage the Homeworld.”

So, let’s talk about Mr. Evil McEvil pants, the dark sorcerer himself – Viren. From offering King Harrow an asp a la Cleopatra’s death, to sucking the life force out of magical butterflies, to stealing souls and imprisoning them in currency (is he collecting for Charon, who ferries the departed?), to sowing seeds of doubt through subtle manipulation of his children to pin them against one another…this dude is evil.

He even looks like an undead corpse after stealing Runaan’s soul. Maybe this denotes the price high leveled dark energy propagates? An unnatural balance of one’s spirit in a Voldemort horcrux sort of way; which is why the Xadians were so against it.

I’m all over the place currently writing for this site, trying to get my other (author) site off the ground, and working on books. Hopefully though, I can explore phases six through ten in another post and speculate on the story (and my headcanons) further before Season 2 premieres. The remaining phases are:

VI. Punishment/Abyss: Death and the Dragon

VII. Otherstate/Dream

VIII. Donation or Sacred Instruction

IX. Reward and Return

X. Incorporation and Bliss

This has been a lot of fun tonight, albeit me trying to cut down details due to a pre-desired length for this post. I also might post something tomorrow regarding thoughts on diversity and accurate portrayals of this world that I planned on adding to this post, but it didn’t flow well enough.

Also, if you hadn’t noticed, Rayla is my favorite character. From her lovely Scottish accent to her Naruto run, I find the moonshadow elf quite endearing. I am also super excited to see Xadia, which Rayla makes out to be quite beautiful. Hopefully for one reason or another, it hasn’t been destroyed or its entry been blocked by the time the trio visits. Or, there isn’t another conspiracy to make the dragon prince disappear on their end….either way, I will be tuning in to watch!

Do you also find yourself comparing The Dragon Prince to Avatar: The Last Airbender, or other shows like Voltron? What do you think General Amaya signed at her sister’s memorial? Did you find any of the show’s easter eggs? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more animated show reviews!

Book referenced and quoted: Fictional Worlds: Traditions in Narrative and the Age of Visual Culture by L.A. Alexander.

Introducing Honor Back to the Fandom

Avatar: The Last Airbender, everyone’s favorite show that Nickelodeon slowly killed (I’ll explain later) is getting a reboot on Netflix! I began having war flashbacks after reading a few succinate tweets, so I decided to dig a bit and pull up some of the fandom’s history and relationship with Nickelodeon.

So, this article has been sitting in my blogging folder since the live-action series production news was released. I thought a dozen times about publishing it, then my concerns for the fandom were quelled. Except…on Reddit.

Maybe a month ago now, I came across this article written by someone who clearly had never watched the show. Sure, it could have been an assigned topic they were unfamiliar with, but even reading a synopsis on the wiki would give you more information than whatever that article attempted to confer.

Hence, my posting of this article in its original form which has still aged pretty well given the number of updates and news we’ve received.

Before I begin, I would just like to point out that the irony is not lost on this older post. In it, I talked about New York Comic Con’s upcoming revival of their Anime Festival. I pointed out that production staff and even voice actors of the original ATLA series would be in attendance. Yes, this is to promote their new Netflix series, The Dragon Prince, but it also just felt like something was in the air.

After this news initially dropped, I’ve waited about two days for my emotions to settle. The good, the bad and the in-between all resurfaced with this development. Like Natsume Yuujinchou, Avatar: The Last Airbender is just one of my all-time favorite series. They both premiered around the same time frame as well, becoming a part of my collective for years now.

I also gave myself more time to try and find posts that I wanted to use to source some of the things I would like to cover. Sadly, because it has been so long, some of the accounts associated with them have been deleted. I specifically remember reading and learning certain things years ago, but without proof, it’s all null.

Early 2005, ATLA premiered on Nickelodeon. The show aired from February 21st 2005 to July 19th, 2008. It garnered love worldwide and strong fandoms formed on DeviantArt and Tumblr.

Adding to Tumblr’s prominence in the community, co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino joined the site with blogs. Production staff and show consultants like Sifu Kisu also held blogs, but other creatives have unfortunately deleted theirs years later.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the Book 3 ending. This led to numerous comprehensive critiques concerning the show and even chatter speculating if there would be a Book 4.

Around this time gossip and leaked information from the writer’s room was rife. I am still in the process of confirming elements and tidbits that proved true to the outcome of the show’s story.

The Actual Story

ATLA was special because it depicted the horrors of war and colonialism. After discovering his destiny as The Avatar, Aang ran away as any twelve year old would do. While fleeing, the boy got caught in a storm and was encased in an iceberg. Fire Lord Sozin decided to expand the Nation’s reach and unfortunately, Aang had awoken with the realization that his people were gone.

Aang wakes up to a new world one century over with a brother and sister duo at his helm. Katara and Sokka are from the Southern Water Tribe, a small settlement in the South Pole that has been decimated by the Fire Nation. The Northern Water Tribe bolsters greater numbers and is more fortified. We visit this settlement later on in the series.

Katara is the last waterbender amongst her people, the rest kidnapped by the Fire Nation. There is also a looming secret surrounding her mother which I will not spoil here.

Her brother Sokka was a misogynistic jerk in earlier seasons and seemed to overcompensate for his lack of bending out of jealousy. Sokka also felt inadequate concerning his masculinity, since he was too young to participate in his culture’s rite of passage before the departure of his father and the other warriors of his tribe.

During the course of the series, Sokka grows more confident in his abilities. He even learns from a master and creates a nifty space sword from a fallen meteor! Sokka meets Suki during the gaang’s travels, the leader of a fierce group of women called the Kiyoshi Warriors. Suki has to knock Sokka on his ass a few times which in turn knocks some sense into him.

The gaang meets the blind bandit, Toph. She learned bending from badger moles who were blind just like her, sensing the vibrations in the earth to “see”. Later in the series Toph even invents a new form of bending!

Then there is honorable Prince Zuko, Princess Azula, and their Uncle Iroh. I won’t go into too much detail here, but Zuko is my favorite character from the series and he had the greatest redemption arc of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Not to mention all of the colorful characters the gaang meets – from fan clubs to bands of misfits in the woods to entering a literal police state that captured and brainwashed dissidents.  And that’s not even factoring in the spirit world shenanigans!

Asian Coding and Canon in Avatar: The Last Airbender

I don’t use Twitter much, but I happened to come across the ATLA live-action adaptation news there and Reddit simultaneously.

For some reason, many people didn’t see the problem with the racebending that went on in the film that shall not be named. I see this argument in the anime community a lot. It’s not related, but I just want to put it out there as I associate the two in my mind.

That which shall not be named…

In anime, if a character has a Japanese first and last name they are interpreted as Japanese, despite their “western” features. If the character has blonde hair, blue eyes, a foreign first name or a Japanese last name, they are usually haafu.

If they are a full-on gaijin best believe the anime will mention they are from England, Germany, Scandinavia, etc. at least five times each episode to hammer it home. Also, the ‘foreigner’ or gaijin will usually have terrible Japanese.

This argument also comes up a lot in the cosplay community. There is always someone offended at actual Japanese cosplaying anime characters believed to be ‘white’ based on appearance. It is always the same tired argument despite what year it is.

Just one more important point before I move on:
Avatar: The Last Airbender is NOT an anime.

There have been westerners making shows in the aesthetic as an anime in recent years, but for the most part anime are Japanese animations. ATLA is an American animated cartoon.

Not all cartoons are meant for children, despite a rather disturbing popular consensus. Animation is simply another medium of storytelling that can be aimed at any age group and/or demographic. It gives freedoms that traditional film, digital cinema, rotoscoping and CGI simply could not exhibit.

You wouldn’t put Dora the Explorer in the same category as The Legend of Korra now, would you? I mean if you would, it’d be pretty weird…please don’t.

Okay better example: The Simpsons, Futurama, even Disenchantment on Netflix. Shows with the same key production folks loosely involved. Clearly targeted at adults, but maybe because they are on different networks that association is not as strong as the ATLA/LOK series.

My pet peeves aside, to explain why the characters of Avatar: The Last Airbender are not ‘white ‘ but rather Asian-coded, we have to examine which cultures they are based on.

On the show’s use of Chinese characters and the movie that shall not be named

The show uses various schools of martial arts that make up the bending on the show. The showrunners would literally consult masters like Sifu Kisu for the best practices. There are Chinese characters written throughout the series. The show’s opening credits, along with “The Tales of Ba Sing Se” and “The Cave of Two Lovers” episodes for their heavy usage of Mandarin characters also immediately come to mind. Even Zuko’s Blue Spirit wanted poster had Chinese characters.

The Blue Spirit wanted poster

Imperial Japan is said to be the inspiration for the Fire Nation. China is generally the Earth Kingdom. Inuit tribes and culture are the Water Tribe, and Tibetan Monks are the Air Nation Nomads. Some characters even bear names inspired by their cultures and this carries over to the next series (i.e. Tenzin, Asami Sato, Mai, etc.).

This is off topic, but I can’t help but laugh every time I think of Asami Sato or Toph Beifong. There used to be this joke that they were the only characters rich enough to afford last names.

Unanswered Questions and Plot Points

From start to finish minor and major controversies surrounding the show. None sent fans into a fever pitch like these six words:

What happened to Zuko’s mother, Ursa?

This screenshot is rendering awkwardly but I need it to retain its readability…

A plotline that was never fulfilled in the main series, DiMartino wrote a post on his website about Nickelodeon not being interested “in doing animated TV movies”.  The creators pitched a movie surrounding “the search” for Zuko’s Mother, which later became a Dark Horse three part graphic novel. The 2013 post seems to have a broken link, but can be found in the archives of his website.

Given the history, I am excited but can’t help but feel a bit weary. I will be covering news concerning the shows development and full reviews when it does premiere, which I’m estimating could be late 2021 or even 2023 at the latest, as they are in the very early” stages of development.

I have cut a good portion of this article out as I need to research a few more leads first. When I have enough information, I will go further into some of the “unsolved mysteries” and urban legends in the fandom.

I know many people may not like this article, but it just had to be done for the fandom. I just didn’t like seeing long-term fans such as myself getting completely massacred by those who don’t know even a fraction of the full story of what went on while these series aired. I don’t claim to have all the answers, only the production crew and those involved would know the full story. But these are things I have known for years and like many fans, can’t seem to forget.

Have you been a fan of the series since the beginning? Do you read the graphic novels? Did I miss something that you would like to be added in the next post?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us on our website, Twitter and Reddit for more updates on this topic!

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A Crime Drama with STRONG Female Leads | LIVE | Kdrama Review

For the Hongil Division in Seoul, maintaining work-life balance isn’t easy. Thankfully, this Korean drama on Netflix seamlessly juggles an ensemble of characters problems in a way that doesn’t burn you out. This is a review of one of the best crime kdrama of 2018, LIVE!

I caught this one a few months back when it was trending on Netflix. Live, Laibeu or 라이브 is a 2018 South Korean Drama. It follows a squad of police officers who defend the crime-laden Hongil district while also maintaining personal lives.

I didn’t know what to expect when coming into this drama.  I wasn’t even sure if it was pronounced like “Saturday Night Live” or “We all live” live. Either way, it turned out to be a solid story in the vein of a recent office drama I watched.

Our main leads starting out are Han Jung Oh and Yeom Sang Soo. Jung Oh is a college graduate who is trying to break into the sexist Korean corporate culture. It was a bit of a laugh coming from Misaeng and seeing Jun Suk Ho playing another jerk role. While on a commute home with a friend after a disastrous job fair, she comes across a listing to join the police academy.  Jung Oh seems to have a complicated relationship with her father, but nonetheless, she borrows money from him to take a year off and study for the exam.

Yeom Sang Soo is actually introduced in the train station the same time Jung Oh is leaving. I love when tv shows place characters in the same spaces before their formal meeting of one another. It just makes you think about how many times you may have unknowingly crossed paths with someone who later in life became a good friend or even a lover.

Sang Soo runs himself ragged all day porting water and making phone calls as a company intern. Similar to our other lead, he comes from a single parent home. Believing upper management’s urgings to invest in the company and get rich, Sang Soo borrows money from his mother and brother. He pours his life savings into the company as well, only for it to turn out to be a Ponzi scheme. He later sees an advert for the police academy and decides to join.

The show introduces and explores different characters from here.

It details the pair’s lives at the academy, and the bond they form with another recruit – Song Hye Ri. The trio decide to transfer into the same dodgy district after graduation, believing they will be promoted quickly. At the academy, Sang Soo butts heads with over the top training officer Oh Yang Chon – who comically leaves shortly before graduation. Yang Chon’s life and marriage seem to come spiraling down, and he ends up transferring into the same district as the rookie recruits.

The show deals with themes of duty and what it means to be a police officer. I keep dwelling on this one quote from Superior Ki Han Sol. It was something to the effect of “There are two types of cops you should watch out for: Officers with a strong sense of justice are dangerous, but cops with nothing to lose are even more dangerous.”

Given the situations the squad seems to find themselves in, this dynamic is explored as some are pushed to their limit and react accordingly, given their life philosophy. I don’t want to spoil the core plot too much, but I will say that a strong sense of camaraderie proves more powerful than any sense of duty to the institution.

LIVE also focused a great deal on the politics of South Korean police officers. One thing I took note of was that an officer’s gun had to be returned after each patrol, and only senior or responsible officers were given one in the first place. Taser guns were given freely and cops could be penalized if they shot dangerous areas such as the chest, stomach or thighs. One of countless incidents involving the precinct happens on Jung Oh’s patrol. She later expresses a wish to transfer to America due to their perceived reverence and protection of law enforcement. Given how reckless she becomes, sadly (I think) she would be fine overseas.

It was an interesting take on two newbie recruits: one who had no sense of duty but needed a job and one with so much duty he would continually risk his life. It also made me reflect on the state of law enforcement in America. I will not suddenly become a bluelivesmatter fan, nor do I personally care for cops or the American justice system. But it was an interesting take on another country and how social degradation was fought.

These opinions expressed on law enforcement are my own and do not necessarily reflect the core beliefs of this blog.

I watched this Korean drama on Netflix, if you know of any other legal subscription sites offering it please let me know and I will update this post with that information.

I usually wind up watching cop kdramas like Signal, so LIVE was a real treat to watch. I hope fans of crime investigation and cop thrillers will enjoy this one!

Do you enjoy crime dramas with a bit of romance? What was your favorite kdrama to watch in 2018? Do you have any recommendations for Korean tv shows premiering in 2019? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you! Also be sure to check out our other articles on Korean Culture while you’re here!

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