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Avatar is notable for its extensive borrowings from Asian mythology and art in order to create a fully realized fictional universe. Apart from its anime-inspired character designs, Avatar also draws on a motley mix of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Indian and even Inuit, language, philosophy, religion and culture to flesh out the show's settings and peoples. Explicitly stated influences include Chinese art and history, Japanese animation, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism and Yoga. The show staff even employs a cultural consultant, Edwin Zane, to review scripts.
The term "Avatar" comes from the Sanskrit word Avatāra which means "descent." In Hindu mythology, gods, especially Vishnu, often manifest themselves into Avatars to restore balance on earth after a time period of great evil. This agrees with the calligraphy written above the word "Avatar" in the show's opening, which means "the divine medium who has descended upon the mortal world."
In the show, Aang unknowingly revealed that he was the Avatar when he chose four toys out of thousands. These four toys were the exact ones that past Avatars had chosen for generations when they were children, revealing Aang to be the reincarnation of the Avatar. This same test is used by Tibetan Buddhist monks when a reincarnated Dalai Lama is expected. Visions the monks have revealed who the Dalai Lama is, and this test finalizes that he is, indeed, the reincarnation.
Avatar draws on four of the five classical Indian elements of Hindu and Buddhist traditions for the four bending arts - Fire, (agni or tejas) water, (ap or jala) earth, (prithvi or bhumi) and wind or air (vayu or pavan). The fifth, aether (akasha or akash) is symbolized by Aang as an intermediary of the Spirit World. Some names in the series, such as "Agni Kai" and King Bumi the Earthbender, borrow directly from these elements.
A particular type of calligraphy is used for almost all of the text in the show. With the obvious exceptions of the English text on the masthead, titlecards and credits, all writing used is Classical Chinese calligraphy, a very old form of written Chinese once used in formal communication and literature. For each instance of calligraphy, an appropriate style is used, ranging from the archaic to the clerical.  The show employs calligrapher Siu-Leung Lee, PhD as a consultant and translator.
One final Asiatic influence is found in the show's action choreography. The fighting choreography draws from martial arts films, and the fighting styles and weaponry are based upon Chinese martial arts, with each bending art corresponding to a certain real-world style. The creators use Ku Tai Chi for waterbending, Hung Gar for earthbending, Northern Shaolin for firebending, and Ba Gua for airbending.  The show employs Sifu Kisu of the Harmonious Fist Chinese Athletic Association as a martial arts consultant.
Avatar won two Pulcinella Awards in 2005 for "Best Action/Adventure Series" and "Best Series of the Year." It recently received 2006 Annie Award nominations for "Best Animated Television Production," and "Writing in an Animated Television Production," (Aaron Ehasz, John O'Bryan - The Fortuneteller) and won for "Storyboarding in an Animated Television Production." (Lauren MacMullan - The Deserter)
It has some great real world lessons,