Avatar: The Korean Cartoon That Inspired The Last Airbender Still Has No US Release

Avatar: The Last Airbender massively shook-up the animation industry when it was released. Today, many writers and artists will point to Avatar as one of their biggest influences. However, one of Avatar's own biggest influences has never been released in the US, making it impossible to watch it legally for American fans.

Wonderful Days (which was retitled as Sky Blue for its Western releases) was released in 2003. Unlike Avatar's traditional animation, Wonderful Days is a hybrid of traditional and CGI animation, with the traditionally animated parts made to resemble high-detail 3D models. The film is set in the year 2142 and focuses on the city of Ecoban. The Earth has become heavily polluted after years of mismanagement, and this pollution is so bad that it threatens to wipe out humanity. However, a group of wealthy elites works out how to turn this pollution into energy using the DELOS System. They use this technology to create the city of Ecoban. Hundreds of refugees flock to the Marr, the area around Ecoban, hoping to be let into the city. But they are not allowed inside, as the city is just for elites.

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However, the citizens of Ecoban start to exploit the people living in the Marr, using them as a slave labor force to power the machines needed to keep Ecoban running. But as pollution starts to clear, some elites realize that their position is in jeopardy and decide to use any means necessary to maintain the pollution levels.

Sky Blue

A young man called Shua ends up infiltrating the DELOS System, trying to find a way to destabilize Ecoban. However, when he accidentally sets off an alarm, he is interrupted by his former friend Jay. Jay is a captain of the Ecoban guard, and while she is loyal to her job, she is starting to have doubts about the system. Shua escapes into the Marr and Jay tracks him down, restarting their uneasy friendship. Meanwhile, Ecoban's security commander Cade tries to track down and destroy the resistance and Shua -- for both the future of Ecoban and because he is in love with Jay.

The film was made in South Korea and was directed by Kim Moon-saeng. While it was picked up for release in other countries, those releases are varied and strange. The version released in the UK and the US cut two minutes from the film, and when GAINAX acquired the rights to dub and distribute the film in Japan, it altered a lot of the dialogue in an attempt to make it feel less alien to Japanese viewers. The film had a limited theatrical release, including showings at several international film festivals, and was released on Blu-ray in the UK in early 2008.

An American Blu-ray release was also scheduled for 2008. However, this got pushed back to 2009 and then never happened. Part of this might be because the film's original distributor, Tartan Films, folded due to financial issues in late-2008. Palisades Media Group acquired the Tartan Films catalog. However, Palisades Media Group has no plans to release the film in the future. This may be because the film got very little mainstream attention when it was released. It also got mostly middling reviews, with many reviewers criticizing its characterization or not enjoying its art style.

However, the film was a major influence on the creation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. When creating the show's pilot, Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino had wanted to work with a Japanese studio, but found that few were willing to work with them. A friend of the pair introduced them to Tin House Productions, the company that produced Wonderful Days, and after some discussions, Tin House Productions agreed to animate the pilot. When Avatar was picked up as a full series, one of the studios hired to animate it was a company made up of former Tin House Productions members. In a sense, Wonderful Days' lives on through them and their work on Avatar.

It is a shame that such an influential movie cannot be legally viewed in the USA. We can only hope that renewed interest in Wonderful Days by way of Avatar encourages a distributor to give the film the US release it so rightly deserves.

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