Top 10 changes between anime and live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender

Jasmine Valentine
Aang and Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender

It’s the moment the world has been waiting for – let’s break down the top 10 changes between Avatar: The Last Airbender’s anime and live-action shows.

What happens when you take a beloved TV series and decide to remake it all over again? Netflix will soon be finding out with Avatar: The Last Airbender, which has just been released this week.

The story follows a young boy known as the Avatar, who must master the four elemental powers to save a world at war and fight a ruthless enemy bent on stopping him.

As simple as the premise is, plenty of key details have been changed along the way. Love them or hate them, let’s take a look at the top 10 differences between the animated and live-action versions of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Warning – spoilers ahead!

Top 10 changes between anime and live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender

We know what you’re thinking – these aren’t the only changes in Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the name of not spoiling too much and saving our wrists from cramping up, below is a list of the very best (or worst) changes that the streaming platform has introduced to the story.

Catch up with the full trailer below:

10. The importance of waterbending

Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender

Waterbending is one of the key skills in the four nations, as well as being an essential method of keeping the Fire Nation at bay. In the live-action show, fans follow Katara as she learns how to harness her fledgling skillset – albeit these scenes tend to be few and far between. In the cartoon, Katara teaching Aang how to waterbend is a huge moment in their relationship, as well as being pivotal in Aang’s journey to becoming the Avatar.

Instead, Netflix shows one scene in Episode 2 where Aang merely watches Katara practice, with the strength of Aang’s own skillset unspecified.

9. Bumi’s games

King Bumi in Avatar: The Last Airbender

Another of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s key changes is how King Bumi uses his unique set of games against Aang. In both the cartoon and live-action, the leader of Omashu – the Earth kingdom’s most notorious city – uses a series of games to determine Aang’s worthiness as the Avatar, only they appear slightly more sinister in the original show.

Back in 2005, Bumi was using his trio of games as a source of blackmail, coaxing Aang into doing them by holding Sokka and Katara hostage. In the live-action, the brother and sister are blissfully unaware of where Aang is, only to come to his aid during the final game.

8. Jet and Omashu

Jet in the cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender

For Netflix viewers, Jet was probably a surprising addition to the cast – specifically because he appears to hail from a completely different region in the Earth kingdom. In Episode 3, Aang, Sokka, and Katara meet Jet in Omashu, living with his fellow Freedom Fighters in the woodland just outside. In the original story, Jet comes from Ba Sing Se, a territory yet to be introduced in the live-action version. Unfortunately, Jet’s time on screen is fleeting, lasting just one episode.

7. The airbender massacre

Avatar: The Last Airbender casting

Episode 1 isn’t the best of times for Aang in either version of Avatar: The Last Airbender, thanks to the Fire Nation completely wiping out all existing Air Nomads. As you might have guessed from its inclusion in this list, the live-action version plays out slightly differently than the original. The latter is stacked with lore, with a charge led by Fire Lord Sozin. Aang escapes at the same time, albeit completely ignorant about what happened.

In Netflix’s take, Aang has already long gone by the time the Fire Nation land, with the battle led by Ozai’s Fire Nation rather than Sozin’s. In fact, there’s no mention of the original Fire Lord at all during the series. The attack is swift, brief, and not visually as deadly as the cartoon first depicted.

6. Access to the spirit world

Aang in Avatar: The Last Airbender

By the time Episode 5 rolls around, Aang is able to fully channel his access to the spirit world when he finds the ‘enchanted’ forest. In the cartoon, Aang also manages this with ease as the Avatar, with the only others who can enter the spirit world seen as spiritually enlightened. To enter, chosen people would need to meditate, therefore leaving their physical selves defenseless.

In the live-action, Aang is able to drag Sokka and Katara into his own entrance, purely by them being in the same location. The brother and sister are completely unaware that they’ve even done so, with Aang left to put the pieces together. It’s this scene that undoes the precedent that the original story sets, and is sure to cause some upset to existing fans.

5. The secret tunnel

Sokka in Avatar: The Last Airbender

A detail that’s sure to annoy fans of the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon is the secret tunnel seen in Episode 3. While Aang is busy dueling King Bumi for his own entertainment, Katara and Sokka try to cut through the mountain pass through a secret tunnel. While there, they meet a group of bards before venturing forward to find a fearsome creature who seems to respond well to feelings of love – think “love is brightest in the dark.”

In the anime, it’s a slightly different story. The tunnel is known as the Cave of Two Lovers, with Aang accompanying the brother and sister on their journey of discovery. Not only are numerous statues found in there, but also a plethora of creatures rather than just one.

4. Character inclusion and exclusion

Azula in the cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender

It’s safe to say that fans will be expecting certain characters to appear – but just how many do might come as a surprise. Princess Azula of the Fire Nation, for instance, is in the entirety of all eight episodes, rather than her fleeting appearances in the cartoon. The same can be said for The Mechanist and his son, who have also been included much earlier than the original storyline lays out.

On the other hand, fan-favorite Toph has so far been omitted, largely due to the fact that her home of Foggy Swamp has not been introduced yet. She first appears in book two, but as other characters from the same novel have already been introduced in the live-action, why hasn’t she?

3. Sokka and Katara’s relationship

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

The change that has arguably come under the most fire before the Netflix release is the decision to omit Sokka’s casual sexism towards his sister, Katara. In the Nickelodeon version, Episode 1 introduces fans to the idea that Sokka thinks Katara is pretty much incapable just because she’s a girl. Over time, she uses this to become stronger and grow into who she truly is, forcing

In the live-action, none of this is present, which is arguably to the detriment of Katara’s personal growth. In its place, Sokka resents his own destiny of becoming a soldier in his father’s footsteps, instead showing a natural talent for engineering. There’s clearly a tension between the two, keeping them at an uneasy distance.

2. Missing side quests

Aang in Avatar: The Last Airbender

As many of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s creators have pointed out, the Netflix adaptation is a lot more linear than the original series. The cartoon shows our favorite trio undertaking a new adventure in each episode, while the overring threats of the Fire Nation and Sozin’s Comet stay put. Aang is able to take his time with bedding into being the Avatar, goofing off and being silly and he shirks his impending responsibilities.

Not much of this happens in the live-action version, with the plot remaining completely one-track – Aang must stop the Fire Nation, and that is that. As a result, there’s little to no friendship bonding, with even Appa being sidelined as a mere mode of transportation.

1. Sozin’s Comet

Sozin's Comet in the animated version of Avatar: The Last Airbender

The biggest head-scratching change of all is the removal of Sozin’s Comet in the live-action series. As many fans will know, Aang has to learn how to be the Avatar in a set time frame because the aforementioned comet is heading to blow the world into smithereens. The Fire Nation serves as an impending threat, but the comet is the devastating blow that really ups the ante.

The comet is hardly mentioned at all – you might just catch it mentioned in passing – but could prove to be a major plot point for (the so far unconfirmed Season 2). Creators have stated that this is in line with the actors aging in real life, with the original comet storyline taking place in under a year, where this clearly couldn’t be the case thanks to production times.

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