Sunday, July 2nd, 2006...5:57 pm

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Air Series)

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Airbending Aang



(except Sokka)

Click here for our review photo gallery!

Battle Benders gallery

Fire Attack Rhino gallery

Manufacturer: Mattel/Fisher-Price

Series: Avatar: The Last Airbender

MSRP: $6.99

Availability: Mass retail, now


Note:  We’ve already reviewed one figure from this first wave of Mattel/Fisher-Price Avatar action figures, “Water Tribe Sokka”.  The write-up should be showing up any day now, if it hasn’t already appeared, at our beloved ASM (  Since we liked the intro and format in that review, we’re going to crib from it here.  Hey, it’s not plagiarism if you’re plagiarizing yourself, right?

Any animation geek worth his or her salt knows that Avatar: The Last Airbender is just about the best cartoon on television today.  With its blend of serial storytelling, martial arts action, epic fantasy adventure and well-written humor, the show has captured the attention of viewers young and somewhat-less-young alike.  If you aren’t watching it Friday evenings on Nickelodeon, you probably should be.

But Avatar would be nothing without some of the most well-rounded, engaging and downright likeable characters ever to populate a half-hour children’s show.  And here they are!  Well, some of them. Presumably due to marketing concerns, none of the female Avatar characters have been announced for release so far.  That was bad enough in Season 1, wherein the waterbending Katara was one of the most important characters in the show, but now Season 2 has introduced a whole slew of new main characters of the female persuasion.  Let’s hope the line sells well enough for Mattel to take the risk of producing a bunch of girls in a boys’ action figure assortment.

Today we’re going to be reviewing the rest of the first series of basic Avatar action figures:  Airbending Aang, Prince Zuko, Firebending Soldier and Avatar Spirit Aang.  These are just starting to show up at Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us stores along with the two deluxe “Battle Bender” figures and an assortment of two medium-sized creatures/vehicles.  We’ve added photo galleries of the Battle Benders and the Fire Attack Rhino as well, so check ’em out!


As a mass-release line intended for kids ages 4 and up, Avatar has packaging that’s simple, serviceable and does a good job of distinguishing itself on the toy store racks.  The figures are come in fairly standard blister packaging.  The bubble holds a cardboard insert and displays the figure in an action pose with accessories in-hand or arranged nearby to best effect.  This wave features the text “Air Series” in various spots on the card, implying that future figure waves will be labeled with the other elements of the Avatar world. The figures can generally be removed pretty easily from their confinement.  There’s no tape, but there is one twistie wire holding each in place. Airbending Aang is different from the rest in that his glider accessory is attached to the card in its own separate blister, which may be a little hard for small children to remove unaided without shredding the packaging or hurting their fingers.

The backs of the cards display the figure with accessories, a cross-sell for the rest of the first wave and the two Battle Benders, and a clip-and-save bio for the individual character.  The bios are short but well written, and combine with the images to establish a pretty good play pattern for kids who may be unfamiliar with the cartoon.  The images on the card-backs do represent prototypes, and you’ll notice a few paint operations that have been dropped or changed from the final figures.



Aang is the lead character and main hero of the series, so you can expect to see a lot of versions of him in this line.  Based on the example so far, you can also expect a lot of mold reuse.  The good news is, it’s a good mold.  Standing about 5 1/2 inches tall, Aang has an amazing amount of articulation for an action figure line aimed at 4-year-olds and up.  He has swivels at the neck, waist, biceps and shins, universal joints at the shoulders and hips, and hinges at the mid-torso, elbows and ankles, plus double hinges at the knees.  Between all of these, the Avatar can strike plenty of good poses, and he does a good job of balancing in most of them.  He could really use a ball-jointed neck and especially wrist swivels, but it’s hard to quibble.

Aang’s sculpt is quite good and matches the animation well.  His clothing is smooth where it should be smooth, textured where it should be textured, and generally does a great job of capturing the look of the character on the screen.  His expression is mostly neutral, but a raised eyebrow and lopsided pout give him a bit of personality.  His collar and orange shoulder drapery and skirt-pants (we’re not even going to try to guess the names of these things) are made from a very soft, rubbery plastic that doesn’t hinder posing at all. The downside is that it has the potential to tear with rigorous play, and it picks up lint like nobody’s business.

The paint applications are minimal (he’s lost a couple since the prototype stage, especially around the elbows, but they don’t detract much) but sharp, though there’s a little spill of blue from the arrow on top of his head.  His pupils are a bit weird, being very long, oval and somewhat oddly-painted, quite different from the smaller, rounder ones on the back of the card.  From a distance they look fine, but up close they do make Aang look a little fish-eyed.  His eyebrows also seem a little lighter and browner than they are on the show, but overall the figure’s deco is just fine for a mass-release kids’ toy.

Airbending Aang’s accessories include his pet winged lemur Momo, his staff, and the glider that the staff can convert into on the show.  The staff is flexible enough that it shouldn’t break in small hands, but sturdy enough that it won’t droop, either.  Even lacking wrist swivels, Aang can hold the staff in a few different two-handed styles, thanks largely to the softer plastic of his forearms that lets them twist a bit without permanent harm.  The glider is nice and solid, shouldn’t shatter if tossed around, and Aang can hold onto its pegs for “flying.”  Momo, one of the show’s several sidekick critters, is sculpted in a permanent crouch with no articulation. He does seem a little oversized, and his paint work could be sharper, but he’s a fine pack-in and a needed part of the team.  Oddly, the Momo on the cardback (and at Toy Fair) is a totally different sculpt, with his bat-like wings open.  We can’t really say why this was changed, but maybe the flying version will be released with another figure down the line.


It’s hard to call Prince Zuko a villain, exactly, but he’s certainly the main antagonist of the first season.  This is a great representation of his early appearance, with simple but accurate Fire Nation armor over loose-fitting fabric, and a terrific head sculpt that really captures his proud, sullen expression.  About 6″ tall at the height of his topknot ponytail, Zuko stands a full head over Aang and looks every bit the threat he should be.  He has largely the same articulation as Aang, but loses the bicep swivels and extra knee joint in favor of forearm swivels almost perfectly hidden by the paint applications.  His elbows and knees are a little restricted by the poofy sculpts of his sleeves and pants, but you can still get him into some pretty good fighting poses.

Like Aang, Zuko has lost a few paint applications since the prototype stage.  Nothing’s sorely lacking, and the missing bits are less noticeable than the Avatar’s elbows.  The rubbery plastic makes a return appearance here in the form of Zuko’s shoulder and two-layer skirt armor, and his ponytail is also a softer plastic that should keep it from snapping off his head during play.  His burn scar is very accurate to the show, but the pupil on that side feels a little too wide and high, as if it’s rolling back in his head.

Zuko comes with a tall, crested helmet that fits him well and even has a slot in the back to accommodate his ponytail.  He’s rarely worn it on the show, but it’s a great extra that complements the rest of his armor.  His other accessories are all flame weapons, created through the magical martial art of firebending. They include two daggers, a straight sword and a cone-shaped fire blast that fits over either of his hands, all of which he can hold well.  The flame sculpting is a tad lumpy, and the translucent red plastic slightly pinkish, but they work pretty well for this scale.


The elite of the Fire Nation’s world-conquering army, Firebenders are soldiers trained in the art of fire control.  With their faces hidden beneath skull-like masks, these silent centurions are ruthless, efficient, obedient and loyal.  Well, we’re guessing; they haven’t gotten a lot of development on the show, but they sure do look cool.

The Firebending Soldier’s sculpt is very similar to Prince Zuko’s, but even where it looks identical at first glance – especially the sleeves and legs, which have the same fabric wrinkles – there are small differences that make the soldier look a little more massive.  We would guess they’re based on the same prototype sculpt, but tooled up separately.  The soldier is the same height as Zuko up to the shoulders (which seems a little off; Zuko’s a pretty tall teenager, but I’m not sure he’s quite as tall as his troops), but his long neck and horned helmet make him slightly taller overall.  He has exactly the same articulation, although at first we thought he had no waist (the joint was just jammed) and a ball-jointed neck (his head’s just angled up slightly).  Boy, that’s a skinny neck.

The soldier’s uniform is a little broader in the chest and less ornamental than Zuko’s, with soft plastic used for the shoulder mantle and two-part skirt armor.  While clearly belonging to the same faction, some of the armor colors are different from the prince’s, so they look reasonably different next to each other.  The paint work is clean, but like any mass-retail line for kids, there’s the odd smudge or spatter here and there.

As for accessories…wow.  A fire blast (rounded like a club instead of Zuko’s pointed cone), a flame scimitar, and three, count ’em three, melee weapons.  The scimitar is more visually interesting than Zuko’s straight sword, and the huge mace, bladed polearm and naginata (all called “War Spears” on the card) can be held well and look terrific with the figure.  He does have a tendency to topple over when holding the gigantic mace/war-club, though.  With this many weapons, it’s hard to resist the urge to troop-build, and we have a feeling one or two more of these guys will be making their way into our collection.


Here we have the first of what is sure to be many Aang variants, but fortunately it’s a good one.  In moments of extreme stress, Aang enters the Avatar State, a supercharged form in which he becomes more a force of nature than a human being.  Avatar Spirit Aang represents this form, in which his eyes and arrow tattoos glow and his body is engulfed in a storm of blue energy.  To reflect that, the entire figure is rendered in various shades of blue, which gives it a really neat, otherworldly appearance.  The sculpt and materials are identical to the first Aang, facial expression and all, except that his eyes and arrow tattoo are a translucent blue insert instead of painted onto his face.  While it’s not the brightest light-piping I’ve seen, with a good source of light from above, the eyes and arrow glow very well, and the plastic insertion is seamless.  It’s a great effect, and well executed.

This Aang’s accessories include his Spirit Staff (Airbending Aang’s staff in blue plastic), a cyclone air blast that fits over his hand, and two different “air wave” effects that seem to represent wind-powered speed lines.  One fits over the end of his staff (making it look very much like a scythe), and the other appears to plug onto his hand for an air-enhanced punch of some sort.  The card back confusingly only refers to “Air Waves” and “Blasts & Discs”, so it’s a little unclear how that last one is supposed to work.


Hopefully kids will dig these a lot, since that’s the way a toy line like this survives.  The figures are well-sculpted, durable, loaded with fun accessories and based on a very popular and entertaining TV property.  The real risk is that today’s toy-playing youngsters may be more into action features than articulation, and this assortment is completely lacking in any sort of power-punches or battle-attack weapon swinging (the need for action features will hopefully be filled by the vehicles and Battle Benders figures, who feature light-up effects and missile launchers).

Collectors should also be happy with this series.  The articulation is impressive, if not perfect, and the sculpts and decos are closer to the source material than many high-end animation-based figure lines.  The character selection could be better, but at least we’re not seeing version after version of Aang and Zuko that haven’t appeared on the show.  And of course, this being a mass-market line for big retail chains, the pricetag of about seven dollars is quite reasonable.


Mattel has done something very unusual in this day and age by creating an action figure line that should appeal to both little kids and grown-up fans, just like the cartoon that inspired it (we stole that line from the Sokka review, too).  There could be improvements – especially new and more personality-driven facial expressions for characters with multiple figures – but it’s pretty hard to find any significant issue with any of these.  We recommend them enthusiastically to anybody who enjoys the show!

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