Avatar: The Last Airbender is hands down one of the greatest animated series ever made. And this year, the celebrated series gets to enjoy its 15th anniversary in style. Nickelodeon’s critically-acclaimed, Emmy award-winning series receives the SteelBook treatment as Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Complete Series Blu-ray 15th Anniversary Limited Edition SteelBook Collection, and it arrives today!
The 3-book collection features stunning new artwork by artist Caleb Thomas, with each book featuring a different element (Water, Earth, and Fire) and the covers combining to form a beautiful triptych. Thomas was handpicked to design the collection’s covers after series co-creator Bryan Konietzko became a fan of Thomas’ art style on social media. The collection’s production run will be limited to 20,000 units, so get yours ASAP!
Created by Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, Avatar: The Last Airbender aired on Nickelodeon from February 2005 through July 2008, garnering both critical and audience acclaim while also winning Annie, Genesis, Primetime Emmy, and Peabody awards. The series features an iconic blend of anime and traditional animation, alongside a talented voice cast including Zach Tyler Eisen, Mae Whitman, Jack DeSena, Dante Basco, Dee Bradley Baker, and Mark Hamill. The fan-favorite series has spawned a beloved animated sequel series, The Legend of Korra, as well as an upcoming live-action remake (with its original creators) to be produced for Nickelodeon and Netflix.
The artwork that adorns this SteelBook is gorgeous and display-worthy; you can swap out each individual seasonal SteelBook, each of which features a front and back cover design, in order to change up your front-facing display on your media shelf. Additionally, inside the case is a preview of the 2019 bestseller, F. C. Yee’s The Rise of Kyoshi; the sequel novel is due out this July, so keep an eye out for it! We may just get to see more of Kyoshi in the new Netflix series …
As for the actual content in the SteelBook collection, well, the only downside to this special edition is that there is no new content for its release; you get the very same collection of episodes and Special Features that were released in the Blu-ray edition. So if you already have that, the only reason to pick up this edition is either because you’re a superfan and want every release, and/or you just really appreciate the beautiful artwork on display here and want to show it off. My review for the Blu-ray version’s content follows below and can apply to the Limited Edition SteelBook as well:
Water, Earth, Fire, Air. Four nations. One war-torn world. Celebrate the 15th anniversary of the epic saga, Avatar: The Last Airbender, with this 3 SteelBook collection, featuring all-new art for each book! Go back to the beginning to experience the animated series that quickly became a phenomenon with a huge fan base that spans the globe! This complete collector’s edition includes all three powerful books: Water, Earth, and Fire.
Book One: Water
Behind the Scenes Kung Fu Featurette (5 minutes) – Sifu Kisu leads us through the various martial arts styles that were used for inspiration to create the various elemental bending styles.
Credits (1 minute) – The show’s end-credits sequence, giving credit where credit is due.
The Making of Avatar: From Real Life to Animation (4 minutes) – Show creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino act out scenes from various scenes in their scripts for animators to have a reference to draw from.
Behind the Scenes: Voices of Avatar (5 minutes) – The voice actors talk about their characters in this behind-the-scenes featurette.
Ask the Creators Featurette (4 minutes) – Q&A from Konietzko and Dane DiMartino
Original Uncut Animatic – Episode #15 “Bato of the Water Tribe” (25 minutes)
Audio Commentaries by Creators, Cast and Crew
- “The Northern Air Temple”
- Benjamin Wynn andJeremy Zuckerman on music and sound design, and creature character effects from Dee Bradley Baker
- Dee Bradley Baker’s effects are all done after the animation has been completed. Hearing him do the effects outside of the show itself is a delight! It’s mostly just Baker making noises and talking about how insanely versatile the human voice is.
- “The Waterbending Master”
- Konietzko, DiMartino, and Aaron Ehasz, head writer
- The team talks about getting Jason Isaacs to play Zhao.
- All of the pirate characters are based on animators in the Korean animation studio, and there are lots of other Easter eggs and cameo scattered throughout.
- Great details about the storytelling decisions made along the way and the little animation subtleties that make the action so strong.
- “The Siege of the North, Part I”
- DiMartino, Konietizko, and Ehasz
- Lots of really cool details here that you might have missed out on along the way, like nods back to earlier episodes, hints of character changes and pivotal moments to come, and even sources of inspiration for certain characters’ designs.
“The Siege of the North, Part II”
- A continuation of the previous commentary connecting the two-part Season 1 / Book I finale.
- Ehasz walks us through the writing process of this particular episode, including the team of writers who collaborate to develop each and every story and episode. John O’Bryan, Tim Hedrick, Elizabeth Welch Ehasz, and Josh Hamilton, their writing assistant.
- Legendary voice-director Andrea Romano gets a shout-out.
Behind the Scenes with the Avatar Cast & Crew (3 minutes) – A behind-the-scenes featurette that introduces the cast and crew as a way to introduce newcomers to the show itself.
Avatar Pilot Episode with Audio Commentary
- DiMartino and Konietzko walk viewers through the test animation pilot
- You can see the elements that would ultimately join to become Avatar but it’s a self-described “low-budget version” of the show’s main titles.
- A lot of things changed to the full series, like how Katara’s name was originally Kya/Kaya, and Aang had a slightly different costume design, as did the firebenders.
- Cool revisit of the original animation done by in part by Yoo Jae Myung’s animation studio JM Animation Co., Ltd. in South Korea.
- The pilot was only ever shown at some conventions and this commentary only ever appeared on some earlier DVD releases.
The Making of Avatar – Inside the Sound Studios (7 minutes)
- Composer Benjamin Wynn and Foley Mixer Jeffrey Kettle and Foley Artist Sanaa Cannella show how the sounds of Avatar are brought to life.
- There’s a cool breakdown of a scene before and after sound design is completed.
- All those air and fire effects? That starts with the human voice, which gets augmented through computer software.
- Other sounds like traveling along ropes or “magical” sounds are done with toys and musical instruments, which also get augmented in the computer.
- The creepy character Koh needed a specific sound for its many, many legs, but it was jus tone part of the incredibly difficult and complex sound design for the Book One finale.
The Making of Avatar – Inside the Korean Animation Studios (30 minutes)
- In South Korea, Konietzko walks viewers through the overseas animation studio and talks about how creatively involved and responsible they were, specifically talking about JM Animation.
- Joung Mee, Yoo Jae Myung, Oh Seung Hyun, Jeong In, Jeong Hoon, Hong Kyoung Pyo, Jeong Hae Young, Kim Hyun, Jeong Sang Woong, Song Mi Yeong, Jeong Hyun, Kim Gi Hyun, Lee Joo Ri, and Kim Gwan Sik participate in a Q&A and really dig deep into the details of the animation process of Avatar.
- The featurette also includes a visit to DR Movie’s MOI Animation to have a Q&A with Kim Sang Jin, Chi Cheong Jin, Kwon Jong Won, Kim Eui Jeong, Kim Jae Hyoung, Kim Myoung Sun, Choi Soon Chul, Hwang Kyu Seok, Lee Eun Kyung, and Kim Byong Ryul. CEO Soon Seo Hoon gives a farewell message to close it out.
- This is a must-watch for fans of animation and budding animators alike since it asks and answers some really specific questions about the animation process at the time, what the artists were asked to do, how they went about doing it, and how they felt about the overall experience. Plus, it’s pretty rare that a hit show gives its overseas animators any time in the spotlight, so it’s worth a watch just to pay respects.
Book Two: Earth
Original Uncut Animatic – Episode #21 “The Avatar State”
- “The Blind Bandit”
- DiMartino and Konietzko and director Ethan Spaulding
- This episode introduces Toph, who was originally envisioned as a boy Earth-bender, and lets the writers put their pro-wrestling knowledge on display. (For example, Mick Foley voiced The Boulder while The Hippo is a nod to King Kong Bundy.)
- They compare Aang’s first Earth-bending teacher to a strip mall martial arts school. Later, they confirm how Toph learned to Earth-bend from the badgermoles and reveal how they happened upon Southern Praying Mantis, a rare, real-life martial arts style, for her to use.
- A bit of trivia: The “fire nation” bender who the crowd actively hates is the show’s first sand-bender.
- The villain from Sammo Hung’s The Prodigal Son provided inspiration for this episode’s top villain.
- “The Chase”
- DiMartino, writer Josh Hamilton, and director Giancarlo Volpe
- The team breaks down this Western-inspired episode
- There’s an in-joke that Azula’s elderly teachers Lo and Li are driving the Fire Nation tank seen in this episode.
- One idea from very early on in the show’s development was that Zuko could have tracked Aang and the others by following Appa’s shedded fur. That idea was finally used in this episode.
- DiMartino, writer Josh Hamilton, and director Giancarlo Volpe
- Episode #12 “Journey to Ba Sing Se: Part I – The Serpent’s Pass” (Standard Definition)
- DiMartino, Konietzko, and episode co-writer Josh Hamilton
- A couple from an earlier episode makes a cameo appearance here and Jet returns as well.
- Full Moon Bay was originally called Half-Moon Bay, but that’s an actual location in California so they changed it.
- The serpent that appears here is from the original pilot.
- “City of Walls and Secrets”
- Konietzko, DiMartino, and background layout supervisor Elsa Garagarza; her team members Jevon Bue and Enzo Baldi get a shout-out
- There’s an Invader Zim reference early on; look for the train passenger with the corn.
- Great breakdown of both the inspirations for the city, its layout and architecture, and its characters.
- First appearance of Bosco the bear.
- Earth Kingdom locations tend to use phosphorescent crystals instead of fire, so when fire shows up in these scenes, it’s for dramatic effect.
- “Lake Laogai”
- DiMartino, Konietzko, and writer Tim Hedrick
- The secret police of Ba Sing Se, the Dai Li, were named after the right-hand man and chief of police under Chiang Kai-shek.
- Tim has a habit of writing in creepy old men, so of course one appears in this episode.
- “Laogai” means “prison” in Chinese.
- This episode is the first and last time that Longshot speaks.
- The final tag scene of Zuko having freed Appa as the Blue Spirit was added for clarity.
- “The Earth King”
- DiMartino, writer John O’Bryan, storyboard artist Joaquim Dos Santos (who would go on to direct on Season 3)
- Dos Santos is a Brazilian jujitsu practitioner.
- Looks closely as the gang moves up the impromptu ramp and you’ll notice that Appa helps their progress by flapping his tail a bit. They admit that App is often pretty tough to work him into the script, along with Momo.
- Phil LaMarr voiced the episode’s title character.
- “The Crossroads of Destiny”
- Konietzko and DiMartino
- The original score was augmented in this episode with a recording of taiko drums.
- When Aang is struck by Azula’s lightning in his Avatar State, you can actually see the strike’s exit path through the bottom of his feet.
- The shot of Katara’s healing of Aang is a nod back to the very first episode of the series.
Interview with Creators and M. Night Shyamalan (10 minutes) – A sit-down interview between the animated series creators and Shyamalan, director of the much-maligned (and rightfully so) live-action adaptation. It’s a bizarre, almost out-of-body experience watching this interview while knowing everything went so wrong, but it’s also clear that Shyamalan never understood what made the show such a hit to begin with.
The Essence of Bending with Bryan Konietzko and Sifu Kisu (10 minutes) – A Q&A between Konietzko and Sifu Kisu to breakdown the elemental bending styles and their real-world martial arts equivalents. They also walk through the process of translating the writers’ ideas into Sifu Kisu’s movements, which are then recorded, edited, and delivered to the animators for reference.
Avatar Super Deformed Shorts: Chibi-style shorts featuring your favorite characters.
- “Bending Battle”
- “Swamp Skiin’ Throwdown”
- “School Time Shipping”
Escape from the Spirit World: Animated Graphic Novel (13 minutes) – Aang must learn how to master the Avatar State from previous avatars in order to avoid the clutches of Koh and escape the Spirit World in this animated comic. There are a handful of trivia tidbits along the way as Aang visits with each representative of the four elements.
Book Three: Fire
- “Sokka’s Master”
- DiMartino, Konietzko, and Sifu Kisu
- This is the first time Kisu gets a character modeled after him, the sword-master voiced by Robert Patrick.
- The landscape of the Fire Nation is inspired by the geologically active, moss-covered volcanoes of Iceland, including the Gullfoss waterfall. Originally it was intended to be more industrialized.
- This episode features some commentary on The Dao and The Art of War.
- Aang’s crazy armor in this episode is representative of everything that DiMartino and Konietzko don’t like when it comes to style.
- The swords of legend in this episode are modeled after Kisu’s own collection and the swordplay is pulled from various styles of sword-fighting.
- A reprimand for Sokka to concentrate during training came from Kisu’s own reprimand for Konietzko, who says he had trouble concentrating. Training with solid oak nunchaku helped him to focus.
- Serena Williams once walked in on Konietzko and Kisu’s training / acting session in the Nickelodeon gym; she’d later voice a character.
- Toph’s manipulation of a rock at the episode’s end was a nod to the Nickelodeon “splat” shape.
- Konietzko, director Joaquim Dos Santos, writer Katie Mattila
- The main plot of this episode focuses on the villains and their down-time.
- The beach area was modeled after Videy Island in Iceland. The sand is volcanic, which is why it’s dark gray or black in color.
- Though Zuko and the other fire-benders look like they’re playing volleyball with their feet, it’s most similar to the Korean sport of Jokgu.
- There are also nods to 80s movies, like Weird Science.
- “The Avatar and the Firelord”
- DiMartino, Konietzko, and musicians Benjamin Wynn and Jeremy Zuckerman
- The musical challenge here was to ease the transitions between the main characters and their themes.
- The guqin, a 21-string, zither-like instrument was learned by the music team specifically for Avatar.
- This is a great look into the music and sound design for each episode and just how layered and varied those elements may be.
- “Day of Black Sun: Part I – The Invasion” (Contend in Standard Definition)
- Konietzko, DiMartino, composer Jeremy Zuckerman, sound designer Benjamin Wynn, all of whom have decided to use voice-altering software for this commentary for some reason; it’s very silly.
- A more technical breakdown of the sound effects work on display, including sound modulation (which explains the silly voices) and a discussion of analog vs digital instruments.
- “The Western Air Temple”
- DiMartino and Konietzko
- The original placeholder title for this episode was “Zuko Is Cool.”
- The Northern Air Temple was based in part on the mountains in Whistler, British Columbia; the Eastern Air Temple was on three different peaks with bridges; but the Southern Air Temple was modeled after Tibetan and Bhutanese roofs, just inverted.
- “The Southern Raiders”
- Konietzko, DiMartino, voice director Andrea Romano, actor Dante Basco
- The “darkest episode of the whole series” but one with a lot of humor.
- Great discussion about finding the right actor, the right voice, and the right combination of actors and voices for the roles.
- Dee Bradley Baker gets a shout-out for his creature vocals.
- Zach Tyler always recorded via satellite from the East Coast while Basco and the late Mako recorded most if not all of their scenes together.
Audio Commentaries (Some video in standard definition)
- “The Ember Island Players”
- Konietzko, DiMartino, and actors Jessie Flower and Jack De Sena
- A breakdown of the series’ catch-up clip show before it heads into the series’ finale.
- “Sozin’s Comet Parts I, II, III and IV”
- Konietzko and DiMartino break down the final four episodes of the three-season story. (A reminder that there was never going to be a Book 4: Air since Aang had already mastered air well before this.)
The Women of Avatar: The Last Airbender (20 minutes) – Female-focused featurette on Katara, Toph, and Azula with the voice actors and the show’s co-creators.
Book 3 Finale Pencil Test Animation (12 minutes) – An incredible look at the thousands of pencil drawings that are put together to animate Avatar and the series’ epic, action-packed finale.
Into the Fire Nation at San Diego Comic-Con (60 minutes) – A recap of the San Diego Comic-Con panel, complete with special guests, sneak peeks and Q&As.