azula ozai

Zuko and Azula have the most fascinating relationship in ATLA

Sibling rivalry is often a trite story of one sibling hating the other out of jealousy. On the surface, the Zuko and Azula may look that way. They have no problem blasting fire and lightning at each other and both of their parents had a favorite. But there’s so much more to it. 

First of all, I would argue that in spite of many near-fatal encounters, they don’t necessarily hate each other. It’s far more complicated than that. How they view each other is closely tied to how they view themselves.

For most of Zuko’s life, Azula is the standard he’s held to. She’s ambitious, ruthless, and a prodigy. No matter what he does, he can’t earn their father’s approval like she can. And she rubs it in his face constantly. When Azula is cruel to Zuko, Ozai affirms that she’s not wrong to do so. Zuko rarely argues with her because he’s been conditioned to believe she’s right. Zuko has internalized the blame for how his father treats him rather than project it onto Azula, and accepts how she treats him as normal. He has plenty of bitter feeling toward her, but none quite as clear as hate. 

Azula’s view of Zuko is even more convoluted. The first time we see Azula, she’s smiling because their father is about to burn him. The next time they meet, she berates him for being a failure of a son. It looks like she enjoys watching him suffer. 

But when Zuko helps “kill” the Avatar in Ba Sing Se, we get to see them in a new context. In the rare moments that they aren’t pitted against each other by the ever looming presence of their father… they actually get along fine.

Every time Azula appeared happy to see Zuko suffering, it was at the hands of their father. It wasn’t just that Ozai hurt Zuko, it what that Ozai hurt Zuko and not her. Every time Ozai insulted or injured her brother, it cemented Azula’s position as the favorite child. And she had to stay the favorite child because she’s seen what would happen to her if she wasn’t. Deep down, she knows just how conditional her father’s positive regard is. When Ozai leaves her in the Fire Nation while invading the Earth Kingdom, the first words out of her mouth are “You can’t treat me like Zuko”. Being better than Zuko is part of her identity.

When Zuko defects from the Fire Nation and begins to succeed without meeting, or even trying to meet, the standards set by their father, it throws her priorities into doubt. In her mind, Zuko is supposed to fail. But she isn’t truly unnerved until she’s betrayed by Mai and Ty Li. 

She is incapable of understanding why Mai would chose Zuko, and this drags to the surface her inability to understand why her mother preferred Zuko. She believed her mother loved Zuko and not her. Now Mai, her closest friend, loves Zuko and not her.

This conflicts with her entire view of the world. She sees the worth of a person as equal to their quantifiable skills and accomplishments. She has been admired, respected, and feared, but as far as Azula believes, no one has ever loved her. She was a prodigy who did everything right, while Zuko was the family screw up. Yet people loved him and not her.

For years, being better than Zuko was how Azula measured herself. Ozai said Zuko was lucky to be born. That he was worthless, weak, disrespectful, and both his children believed him. When Zuko left, he finally saw that Ozai was wrong about him. When Zuko returns during Sozin’s comet, Azula too is forced to see that her perception is wrong. 

Zuko has become the embodiment of everything she lacks.  She thought he was weak, but he’s not afraid enough to fight her fairly as an equal. She thought he was dishonorable, but really he was independent enough to break away from their father’s control. She thought he was worthless, but he’s found people who care about him in spite of his flaws. 

Azula isn’t just trying to kill him, but everything he represents. And when she can’t, she breaks. Zuko is still standing. She has nothing left.

Word of God (Bryke) confirmed that at the end of the Agni Kai, Zuko felt pity rather than hate for his sister. This continues into the comics as he genuinely tries to help her. He knows that while she may not have been overtly abused like he was, she was raised in the same web of lies, agendas, and violence.  

Their past left them both unable to trust people. Azula controlled everyone around her with fear. Zuko shut other people out and tried to do everything on his own. It isn’t until Zuko has left his old life behind that he slowly begins to let people in. 

While Azula hangs onto the beliefs of Ozai and the Fire Nation, Zuko can see their situation from the outside. He sees two screwed up teenagers who spent their lives fighting their father’s war, manipulated into a conflict that isn’t their fault, forced to kill each other over choices made a century before they were born. It took Zuko years to figure out the hell that was his home life wasn’t his fault, but only a few minutes to see that it wasn’t Azula’s either.

  • Fire Lord Ozai: Here is my perfect daughter, Azula. She's prodigy in Firebending and has high abilities in war strategies and battlefield beside her unquestionably loyalty to me. She achieves anything I want her to accomplish even if I don't oreder her to. She was at the top of her class in the Fire Nation Academy for girls. But I don't have a room in my heart for her. And if she disappointed me, there'd be consequences just like the other child who failed me.
  • Uncle Iroh: Here is my nephew, Zuko. I love him. He's angry and cute.
Zuko’s Redemption Arc:

“Growing up, we were taught that the Fire Nation was the greatest civilization in history, and somehow, the war was our way of sharing our greatness with the rest of the world. What an amazing lie that was. The people of the world are terrified by the Fire Nation. They don’t see our greatness. They hate us, and we deserve it. We’ve created an era of fear in the world.”

Can we just talk about how impressive this was and how well-written it was? I know I like to do a lot of critiquing meta, but I’m gonna do a positive one today. Zuko facing his father was a scene the entire series built up towards. Throughout the first two seasons, Zuko’s father is shrouded in mystery, and you only hear about him through the menacing memories Zuko holds, and the impersonal impression the world has of his tyrannical reign. But, in the third book, you are shown Fire Lord Ozai, and he isn’t this grotesque, horrific sight: he looks exactly like Zuko, but without a scar- older. That was a clever buildup and character design. 

But, this scene never ceases to amaze me, nor does Zuko’s character arc. Zuko has been abused so severely. He’s been beaten down from his upbeat, lively, natural self that we see when he is little. When he is thirteen, and goes to the war meeting, we see a little boy who, despite the trauma of losing his mother, and being abused by his dad, is still eager, optimistic, loving, social, and confident. After his banishment, he becomes repressed, pessimistic, cold, more aloof, and painfully insecure, masked with arrogance that is expected in his culture. 

Zuko has been locked in a palace with no interaction with any peers, or anyone his age, or anyone at all- except Azula’s little friends who were strung along into tormenting him, his mother, and from time-to-time: his uncle and adult cousin. He has been stripped of every ounce of confidence and optimism he had, yet his loving nature still shone through in the series. We could always tell that Zuko was repressing his sensitivity, and that he could not bring himself to cut off entirely his strong sense of empathy that got him into the situation of banishment in the first place. Ozai hated Zuko for his empathy, that was weak to the imperial Fire Nation. But, Zuko was bursting with it. He and Azula, have always possessed prowess in emotional intelligence, just in different aspects and choices of execution that parallel.  Ozai perferred what Azula did with it. Nothing was weaker than compassion, and Zuko held it innately in his personality. We see it when he speaks with characters even before his redemption. When he interacts with his uncle we see it the most, when he just knows what his uncle is thinking and feeling before he even says it, even when he saves his crew, when he spares Zhao, when he helps Song, when he helps Lee and his family, when he opens up his heart to Katara, when his true, repressed nature comes to light when he frees Appa, when he overcomes his social anxiety from his abuse and palace sheltering and comes out with kindness to Jin- all of it. 

And, Zuko finally speaks his mind to this man who cast him aside like he was nothing. This is the most difficult thing for an abuse victim to do. And, Zuko comes to a full realization through his abuse and struggles. He now realizes that he had been brainwashed by his culture- his father. His father hurt him, Zuko realizes he mustn’t blame himself. It’s his father, and it is his people who are hurting the world. This is a revelation wise beyond Zuko’s years, and not oft-noted enough the amount of intelligence, maturity, courage, and of course: honor this took. Zuko took out his father, not with a lightning bolt, but with swift eloquence and concise truths of humanity Zuko has, deep down, known all along. 

Zuko deserves more credit. He overcame so much. He won, in the end. He overcame all his hardships, and got love. He gained back his confidence, and blossomed socially, gaining friends, something Azula never could do, and he accepted himself, something Azula too, could never do, and he regained his sense of hope for the world and optimism, something Azula could never hold. These parallels were so fascinating, showing two sides of what abuse can do, and how you can choose your own fate with your own actions, in spite of your maltreatment. 

Zuko deserves more credit. 

which is why the comics infuriate me for regressing on this, and the other characters arcs HUH HEMM, but this is a positive meta

OK DO Y'ALL REALIZE THAT ZUKO IS THE HERO OF THIS FUCKING SERIES??

My dad explained to my brother that despite Aang being the main protagonist, Zuko is the hero because he goes through hardships and changes throughout the series to become the person he has to be to help save the world in the finale. Plus he helps people in little ways throughout the series- all things Aang never does. Hero is literally defined as a male character with good qualities that the reader/viewer can empathize with. How many of us can empathize with zuko? With not knowing what to do with our future or feeling inferior to a sibling or like your parents hate you sometimes? But Aang? Can anyone really empathize with him? I sure as hell can’t

I think this scene is interesting. I think it revels that Azula was training firebending with her father at this point in time, for Ozai had been responsible for teaching his daughter some of the most advanced firebending techniques. Azula’s talent was beyond compare to other firebenders at her age that she can learn these techniques quickly. Or may be little Azula was like to watch her father training more than often and Ozai didn’t mind her. Her father impressed her then and she wanted to emulated his moves (since she hold him in higher regard than her master), and I find this cute.