December 26, 2008

Avatar -- tedious filler

There are certain shows which gather fervant fans who will not brook any criticism of their shining jewel of an obsession.

Azumanga Daioh is like that. That's the only show I've ever written a review of and then pulled back down off the web, because of all the static I received about it from true believers. One Piece seems to be such a show. Naruto is reputed to be like that, but none of my readers are fans so far as I know. For a while Haruhi was like that, and I delayed reviewing the series until after the religious hysteria died down a bit.

And I'm getting the distinct impression that Avatar -- the Last Airbender has such a following. Which is why I'm leery of writing what I'm about to write: I know what filler tastes like, and that's what I'm being fed.

These days I give a show 6 episodes or two serious attempts to watch it. And if it hasn't succeeded in hooking me by then, I give up on it. Well, I've watched 6 episodes of Avatar, and it took me two serious attempts to get that far. And what I'm seeing is the writers wasting time.

Which is the point where the true believers start shrieking. No! they say. Everything that's happening is important! they say. It's character building! they say. You may not realize it but you're receiving a lot of important back story! they say.

All of which misses the point: there's nothing going on that I care about.

One good way to tell when a show has lost its way is when there's almost no continuity between successive episodes. If a stretch of episodes could be watched in reverse order without seeming confusing, then you're watching filler. And that's the case for the last few episodes I watched.

Another is when my reaction to different episodes is wildly varied. I really enjoyed episode 5 (Bumi) and I thought that episode 6 (steel platform at sea) utterly stunk. I saw the preview for episode 7 and thought to myself, "I don't care. Why am I forcing myself to watch this?" It felt like work.

What I wanted, what I've been waiting for, was to see them find the other tribe of water benders and for the girl and the avatar to start learning water bending. I finally looked up some things, and based on the titles and other things I've seen, that doesn't happen until about episode 18. In the mean time I'm getting filler, oatmeal instead of meat. I'm getting day-in-the-life episodes. I hate day-in-the-life episodes! (Unless it's Aria, which is the exception that proves the rule.)

But if you just stick with it, it'll get better! the true believers moan. Why should I? It's the writers responsibility to hook me, not my responsibility to force myself to watch.

It's not impossible for a series to do it. Aria did. Nanoha did. Macademi Wasshoi did it. That's all in the last couple of months. I even stuck it out and watched all of Cyberteam in Akihabara.

But at this point I seriously doubt I'll watch any more of Avatar. It just isn't working for me. The series ran 60 episodes, about, and I figure there's really enough material here for one tight 24-episode season. All the rest is oatmeal, which could be watched in any order or omitted entirely without seriously confusing the audience.

Virtually every series contains at least some filler, but when filler predominates, the show isn't for me. Sorry, true believers.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in System at 09:55 PM | Comments (19) | Add Comment
Post contains 597 words, total size 4 kb.

1 Filler episodes are good only when you like the characters enough to want to spend time with them no matter what is going on.  I could have watched paint dry with Yomi and Sakaki of AzuDai.

Posted by: Doyen at December 26, 2008 10:06 PM (99V/z)


Well, I haven't bonded enough with the three main characters in Avatar to be willing to slug through another 12 episodes of filler before they finally get to the other water tribe.

And even after that happens, I'd only get three or four episodes of meat, and then the filler would begin again.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 26, 2008 10:14 PM (+rSRq)

3 One could honestly say that ARIA is nothing but filler episodes... there's a story in there, but the show is so relaxed about telling it, you don't really notice.

Just one of the many, many reasons I love the show.

Posted by: Wonderduck at December 26, 2008 10:21 PM (sh9fy)

4 Besides which, the characters in Aria did grab me, and make me want to spend time with them even when the story pace was languid.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 26, 2008 10:34 PM (+rSRq)

5 I must admit that I've never understood the "I really like/dislike this, and there must be something wrong with you if you don't/do" mentality.  I've seen it many times in all sorts of fandom, and I've always found it to be obnoxious.

I'm mildly disappointed because I liked Avatar and it's fun for me to watch you go to work on a series we both like (Aria and Shingu are excellent recent examples), but so it goes.  We have enough commonality of interest that it will happen again sometime down the road...the remaining seasons of Aria if nothing else.

Posted by: pflorian at December 26, 2008 10:51 PM (Fl70g)

6 I have been known to evangelize series (Shingu and Divergence Eve come to mind) but I don't understand the mindset you're talking about either. But I've been on the receiving end of it far more times than I like to remember.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 26, 2008 10:55 PM (+rSRq)

7 I had to admit I kind of chuckled reading this from someone who likes DragonBall Z. (Which I did too) Kinda of the ultimate series that could be compressed down by 10x.

I liked avatar, though I agree it had several more episodes than it needed to finish the story line.

I wonder if avatar is subtly aimed at a younger audience Nickolodean (sp) produced it after all. My kids absolutely loved it.

Posted by: slamsmith at December 27, 2008 12:38 PM (VYlwu)


DBZ is padded. But it doesn't feature much in the way of day-in-the-life episodes: maybe three or so during the Garlic Junior Saga, and a couple in Great Saiyaman. Progress may be slow, but there's progress, continuity change, throughout the series.

Above I wrote:

If a stretch of episodes could be watched in reverse order without seeming confusing, then you're watching filler.

Irrespective of how padded it might seem, you can't do that with DBZ.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 27, 2008 12:47 PM (+rSRq)

9 *arg*  And its times like these that I hate the overall series dynamic. . .

Posted by: metaphysician at December 27, 2008 06:53 PM (h4nEy)

10 Care to be more specific?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 27, 2008 07:16 PM (+rSRq)

11 Only since you asked.

1.  As you might have guessed from the first couple episodes, they did some demographic targeting to get the show on the air on Nickelodeon.  Vaguely similar principle to the infamous Divergence Eve fan service.  This was pretty much all front loaded, and grates even to those who've watched the whole series.  Probably unavoidable, from the perspective of "getting the show approved", but doesn't help the new viewer ( ie, you ) any.

2.  If season one feels like filler, its probably because, on a certain level, it is.  As near as I can tell, the writers were mainly aiming to produce a reasonably fun, but not great, story for season one. . . with plot threads to be developed later, if the show didn't get cancelled.  Their goals, and targets, thus rose at that point.

Honestly, if you had asked prior to checking the show out, and bearing in mind what I know of your tastes?  I would have suggested something along the lines of "Watch the two part intro, watch the Northern Water Tribe sub-arc, then skip to Season 2."  As otherwise?  Its a series that's not going to sell itself to you, because the first part you'll watch is the part that's selling it to someone else.  Given that, honestly, *I* wouldn't have have given it more than a passing glance based on season 1 either, not shocking this outcome.

That said, this is both exactly the arguments and series problems that I could predict would happen, that you probably already have heard, and that are some of the least likely to sway you, for entirely understandable reasons.  So. . . *shrug*

Posted by: metaphysician at December 27, 2008 08:02 PM (h4nEy)

12 Can't argue with the filler stuff, if they make a movie version it might be much more efficient on the pacing.  I guess I forgot how long it took for anything to happen in the first couple seasons.

Posted by: briano at December 27, 2008 10:07 PM (UBq9M)

13 No, I entirely expect the upcoming live action movie to be a complete disaster. . .

Posted by: metaphysician at December 27, 2008 10:16 PM (h4nEy)


I bet at least that they'll include all of the major characters. The Dragonball movie has erased Krillin from the story.

Dragonball just isn't Dragonball without Krillin.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 27, 2008 10:45 PM (+rSRq)

Honestly, if you had asked prior to checking the show out, and bearing in mind what I know of your tastes?  I would have suggested something along the lines of "Watch the two part intro, watch the Northern Water Tribe sub-arc, then skip to Season 2."
I can't agree with this.  Yeah, Season 1 is heavily padded, but at the same time it introduces characters in what are apparently filler episodes who become more significant later, and it introduces a lot of backstory via visits into the spirit realm and interactions with prior Avatars.  Someone who skips the bulk of Season 1 is going to find themselves going "What?  Who?  Where'd he/she come from?" a whole lot in Season 2.

Yes, I feel that the show improves as it goes along, but I liked Season 1, and as Steven wasn't all that into the lead characters through six episodes, it's entirely likely that he wouldn't enjoy Season 2 and beyond.  I think that he's given it a fair shot.

Posted by: pflorian at December 27, 2008 11:17 PM (Fl70g)

16 DBZ seemed horribly padded to me.  But then I watched it on Cartoon Network, and I remember the final battle with Frieza (sp) took months at one episode a week.

The funny thing is my kids loved episode 6.  My oldest actually cried during the speech. I was like you, fast forwarding through the whole episode, (and getting yelled at by the kids).  Then episodes 7-8 I watched them several times.  I enjoyed them thoroughly.

Posted by: slamsmith at December 28, 2008 12:24 PM (VYlwu)


Goku's battle with Frieza (after the evacuation wishes) was so stretched out that for the original R1 release, Funimation clipped out about half of it. DBZ is legendary for padding, and that particular part of the series is easily the worst.

But through nearly all of the series there's continuity change happening, even if it's at a glacial pace sometimes.

Anyway, "Avatar is no worse than DBZ" is not praise, and tu quoque is not an excuse. Just because I put up with that from DBZ doesn't mean I have some obligation to put up with it from any other series. I don't have, and I won't do it.

Here at Chizumatic we pride ourselves on being unfair and inconsistent.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 28, 2008 12:29 PM (+rSRq)


It's too bad you're giving up on it.  This series has one of the best villains ever and the series ending is outstanding unlike most long running anime.  I especially liked the fate of said villain since it was set up well and executed with flair.

Oh, also there is a new addition to the gang in season 2 who was introduced in one of the funniest episodes of the series.

Posted by: TBlakely at December 29, 2008 08:16 AM (D7vwq)

19 Eh, let it be.  I don't want Steve to start thinking of Avatar fans in the same joyous light that he does Azumanga Daoh and Haruhi.

( even if the Zutarans deserve it *ducks* )

Posted by: metaphysician at December 29, 2008 08:32 AM (h4nEy)

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