I think one of the things that makes Azula so amazing as a villain and a character is that her breakdown is foreshadowed by her earliest episodes. All the pieces are on the board at the very start, you just don’t realize it. So when the breakdown comes it’s all full of callbacks to earlier behavior and it suddenly feels utterly natural that this person you’ve seen as a nigh-untouchable badass mastermind is coming so undone. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, it was there all along from the very start and we simply forgot about it in the interim because she was being so badass and it had no reason to take effect just yet.
–Her speech to the captain about the tides foreshadows her banishing all her servants and advisors. The captain is totally honest with her despite being scared, that they’re not bringing the ship in just yet because of an issue with the tides. Tides are BIG deal in regards to bringing in a ship but Azula doesn’t care and simply wants her will done now and makes it clear she will harm or kill the captain if he doesn’t do the thing he knows is a bad idea. The man is not delaying for silly reasons or to hide a mistake, he is genuinely making a sound decision about how to bring a ship into port, Azula simply doesn’t care she wants what she wants done now and treats disagreement as disloyalty. Azula perceives anyone subordinate as not doing what she wants for any reason at all to be proof they’re not perfectly loyal.
–The one hair out of place with Lo and Li training her. It shows Azula as a perfectionist, and again, as a control freak. She cares about appearences, which probably ties into her status as a prodigy who has long been praised for being such. She needs to make it look effortless and perfect. But after Boiling Rock this starts to slide. In The Southern Raiders he hair comes down fully during her fight with Zuko and she doesn’t even care–hell, she can’t do anything to fix it since she needs her hand to hang onto the mountain. Then in the finale her hair is an utter disaster, showing just how far she’s fallen. Once again it fully comes down while she’s fighting, and by the time the fight is over and Katara has her restrained she’s a total mess.
–Recruiting Ty Lee. This is where we should have known from the start that Ty Lee’s loyalty to Azula is not absolute by any means. Ty Lee wanted to stay with the circus and only left because of Azula clearly threatening her by having the net set on fire. We see it again in Zuko Alone’s flashbacks, where Azula is obviously jealous of Ty Lee being able to do better gymnastics than her and bullies her for it. Ty Lee is only with Azula out of fear and always has been. Of course if it came down to Azula or Mai she’d choose Mai.
–Recruiting Mai. It’s even more subtle than with Ty Lee but they show why Mai will eventually betray Azula in the same episode Mai debuts in. When Tom-Tom, Mai’s little brother, is in danger and a hostage, Azula makes it clear she doesn’t give a shit about that and that the deal should be off Mai’s not as open as Ty Lee is so she doesn’t seem to react as much but it’s the same situation. Azula wants Mai on her team and doesn’t care what happens to people Mai probably cares about. Thing is, the person Mai cares about most is Zuko, who Azula is hunting. Mai betraying Azula for Zuko becomes more and more of a given as the show establishes Mai’s feelings for him. Meanwhile Azula probably assumed that if Mai was willing to endanger her own little brother for Azula, there would be no conflicts of loyalty regarding Zuko…and was wrong. As Mai said, she miscalculated.
It was all there right from the start of season 2.
Azula is one of the most fascinating and complex villains in children’s media, or indeed in any media. She is both abuser and victim, both deeply cruel and deeply afraid. Often, discussion of her breaks into two camps, either she was born the way she is, or that she was abused, and she was made into the character we see onscreen by that abuse. Either she is a “psychopath” (an outdated term that has been widely misunderstood and keeps shifting in meaning), and she was born the way she is, and she either wasn’t abused, or abuse didn’t affect her, or she was abused, and how she was raised made her into who she is. I don’t think either of those positions are correct. There is no code that says that predators don’t abuse other predators, and there is nothing in the world that makes abuse magically not damaging. I have spent a great deal of time figuring out what makes this character tick, and what made her stop ticking at the end. So how did nurture and nature come together to make Azula? Bear with me, it’s a bit of a story.
Do you think any little part of Azula ever loved Zuko? While manipulating him in season 3 did she ever enjoy his company? Playing volleyball and getting him from the old family house in "The Beach", encouraging him to go to the war meeting sans formal invite and hiding his secret Uncle visits? All those years ago she warned Zuko about Ozai's plan to kill him and tried to get him to spy on Azulon and Ozai. Wishful thinking?
Yes, Azula loved Zuko. You can see
her genuinely happy about playing with him as kids, before their mother
disappeared and their father started to put more pressure on them both:
I think she still does care about
him, in her own way. She’s genuinely concerned about him, here:
Azula: I thought I’d find you here. Zuko: Those summers we spent here seem so long ago. So much has changed. Azula: Come down to the beach with me. Come on, this place is depressing.
Azula: So…I hear you’ve been to visit your Uncle Fatso in the prison tower. Zuko: That guard told you. Azula: No, you did. Just now. Zuko: Okay, you caught me. What is it that you want, Azula? Azula: Actually, nothing. Believe it or not, I’m looking out for you. If people find out you’ve been to see Uncle, they’ll think you’re plotting with him. Just be careful, dum-dum.
(Listen to the voice acting if you think she’s just being manipulative.)
But that doesn’t mean necessarily
mean she won’t try to kill him. When she shot lightning at Katara in the Agni
Kai, she accepted the risk that Zuko would take the bullet for her,
metaphorically speaking, and didn’t bat an eye. When it comes to maintaining
her grip on power, she is absolutely merciless.
One argument I’ve seen flying around
the fandom that I disagree with is that Azula’s willingness to use persuasion
on Zuko in “The Crossroads of Destiny”, rather than fight against him when she
didn’t truly need his help, showed that she cared about him and wanted him
home. But here is what many people forget, and the reason why she HAD to get
Zuko to come home, regardless of how she personally felt.
Fire Lord Ozai: Iroh is a traitor and your brother Zuko is a failure. I have a task for you…
Does Azula want to capture the
Avatar as a big middle finger to Zuko? Of course. But that is NOT her ultimate
mission as revealed in the Season 1 finale. She was tasked with hunting down
and capturing Iroh and Zuko and bringing them back to the Fire Nation. And
unless she returned with both in hand, she would have failed her original
mission from her father, even if she’d defeated the Avatar. (And we all know
how Ozai deals with failure.)
Now by the end of Season 2, Azula
had tried to take Zuko and Iroh prisoner twice before, and each time, they’d
escaped because they were a formidable team. They’d had each other’s backs for
years in exile, the way we see them in “Winter Solstice, Part 1.” Remember,
when Iroh and Zuko fought together in “The Awakening” and again in “The Guru,”
they beat Azula plus the highly skilled Royal Guard, and Azula plus the highly
skilled Dai Li, all on their own. The reason Zuko got captured in “The Guru”
was because he separated from his uncle when the temptation to challenge his
sister became too great.
From this, Azula learned that Zuko
and Iroh were too much to take on as a united front. However, if she could prey
on Zuko’s weakness and get him to abandon Uncle, then Iroh would be a) without
combat support and b) less of a flight risk. Sure, it helped to have Zuko as a
fall guy in case Aang wasn’t really dead, but that was just icing on the
tactical cake. “Divide and conquer” was her surest way of delivering Zuko and
Iroh back to her father, just as the Firelord commanded.
Can we talk about how Mai being abused made her how she is? Calling an abuse victim abusive for acting a certain way because of their abuse is victim blaming. Mai isn't a bad person her parents are.
Thank you for sending me this ask, anon, because it’s something I want to talk about.
There are abusers who were themselves abused, and who abuse out of a misguided attempt to cope with their own abuse. Such abusers absolutely exist, and Avatar: the Last Airbender has a few of these, most prominently Azula. However, this is not Mai, and I have already written a lot about how Mai’s behavior is not abusive.
But here’s the thing, Zuko, during his time in the Fire Nation before leaving to teach Aang, is not happy, and for that matter, Mai isn’t happy either. This is only to be expected. Not only are Mai and Zuko both trying to deal with the abuse their parents heaped, and continue to heap on them, but they are both in a current abusive relationship at the time, with Azula. Both of them are under tremendous stress from this past and continuing abuse, and neither was magically able to be happy in spite of currently being abused because they had someone who loved them.
This is held up by anti-Maiko shippers as proof that Mai is wrong for Zuko, and even abusive. Obviously she’s the wrong girl, because if she was the right girl, Zuko would be happy and cured of all his woes, even though all of the troubles he had before are still going on, and out of Mai’s control. This is both rank sexism, and a wild misunderstanding of what love is like.
In fact, abusers like Azula are corrosive to all the other relationships their victims have, especially the relationships between their victims. It’s incredibly difficult to sustain a relationship in the face of an Azula. This is why Mai and Ty Lee’s friendship, and also Mai and Zuko’s romance are so remarkable.
And both Mai and Zuko act in tremendously unhealthy ways throughout their time together before Zuko leaves to teach Aang. This behavior isn’t abuse, but there are lots of unhealthy behaviors that aren’t abuse. Both of them are still being abused. They don’t have the safety to step back and say “is this coping mechanism doing me good? Is it good for the people around me? does it work?” They are both still living in that state of fear and crisis that abuse brings. Holding Mai responsible for this is the very height of victim blaming.
I’ve never been much good at preparing for Valentine’s Day, and I usually kinda wing it every year with any sketches I hadn’t unveiled yet. And for once, I got ready on time! (in fact, I was ready before time so I shared this fanart on my Patreon because I needed someone to see it, hehehe…).
So I bring to you my newest fanart, and quite possibly the one I’m most proud of these days.
The title and little epigraphe for it are from a song that has been around for quite a while now, a song I adore with all my heart. A song I associate a lot with Sokka and Azula, especially once they’ve reached this very important point of their relationship, of course.
What point is that? Well… just what do you think Sokka might be holding? :’D
(Probably open it on a new tab because Tumblr’s ruined the resolution…)
i love how ty lee is running like a normal person would but meANWHILE MAI IS DOING THE FUCKING NARUTO RUN (aka the v goose run)
but like. it’s even funnier when you remember how mai fights. it’s all in wrist movements. IMAGINE IF MAI RAN LIKE A NORMAL PERSON WITH HER ARMS SWINGING ABOUT. KNIVES WOULD BE FLYING EVERYWHERE LIKE CAN YOU IMAGINE
imagine little mai realizing this. imagine little mai training herself to do the naruto run so that knives wouldn’t go flying everywhere. imagine little mai showing off to little ty lee and teaching her how to do it. imagine little azula going “wtf???” when she sees little mai and ty lee just running around doing the naruto run
Ozai was never a good father or husband. There was a time before he had picked a favorite, when he prized both of his children, but he always regarded them as things to be used, and saw them as worthy or unworthy because of what they could do for him.
What is hilarious:
Look I have had really long long hair before. Maintaining hair like Ozai’s involves a lengthy and stingent hair care routine. The man spends a lot of time and effort on his lovely lucious hair. It’s clearly very important to him.
What is soul-crushing:
When Ozai had his own children, he swore to himself he wouldn’t repeat his father’s mistakes. He would judge his children as worthy or unworthy based on their merit and not on the order of their birth. It never occurred to him that he shouldn’t be judging his children as worthy or unworthy at all.
What doesn’t work but I don’t care:
Zuko is a duitiful son who ensures that Ozai’s hair and beard care is maintained in prison. He sends a barber into his cell every day to shave him and trim any split ends. Ozai is convinced this is some kind of mockery.
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.
Ty Lee and Mai: The Beach, Emotional Honesty, Vulnerability, and Deception in the face of Abuse
The Avatar: the Last Airbender Book Three episode, “The Beach” is fascinating on a number of levels for what it tells us about Zuko, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee, as well as their relationships to each other, and what’s most interesting of all is that this episode exposes truths about these characters by having two of them lie.
After the four Fire Nation teens leave the beach party, they find themselves together on the beach. Zuko, who has recently broken up with Mai, and publicly insulted her for her lack of willingness to show emotion, insults and mocks Ty Lee. Mai snaps at Zuko to leave Ty Lee alone, and in response, Zuko further insults Ty Lee and calls her a circus freak.
Ty Lee responds with anger, telling them about her childhood, lost and ignored among a group of identical sisters, and shouts that “circus freak” is a complement. Mai posits that Ty Lee has so many boyfriends because she didn’t get enough attention growing up, and Ty Lee rounds on her, cuttingly telling her that even though she was an only child until her parents had Tom Tom, but even so, her aura is a dingy gray, an asking her what her excuse is.
After some back and forth with and Zuko, in which he accuses her of being apathetic and unwilling to stand up for herself when insulted, Mai says that she’s sorry she can’t be as high strung and crazy as the rest of them, an says she won’t give a teary confession about her sad childhood, which wasn’t so bad really, as long as she “behaved,
and sat still,and didn’t speak unless spoken to.”
Azula tells her she had a controlling mother and shut down because of it.
The scene continues with Zuko confronting the fact that his anger is self directed, and Azula quietly insisting that she doesn’t care that her mother thought she was a monster, but the part of this conversation I want to focus on are Mai and Ty Lee’s confessions. It’s deep stuff, giving us all kinds of great insights into why Mai and Ty Lee are the way they are.
Except none of it is true.
Well, not quite. Ty Lee probably did feel squashed and ignored in her family, treated as if she had no real individual identity, and I have already written about how neglectful Mai’s parents are shown to be of Tom Tom and how that meshes with Mai’s statements in “The Beach” [Link] [Link]. But as I also recently wrote about, we are actually shown in other episodes that the origin of Mai and Ty Lee’s outer shells is the abuse Azula puts them through [Link].
So what do we learn here about Mai and Ty Lee? Quite a bit. The first thing we learn is that Mai and Ty Lee are willing and able, and probably actually fairly practiced at, pretending vulnerability for Azula’s benefit without actually giving it. This shows that both girls know that they can’t just wall themselves off, Azula will try to pry them open. She wants their vulnerability. It allows her to control them, and she only feels safe when she feels she knows all of their secrets and can control them absolutely. In fact, the situations Mai and Ty Lee describe with her family probably was part of what drew Azula to them. Their desperate need for attention gave her a way in.
But both girls also know that they absolutely cannot under any circumstances actually be emotionally honest with Azula and show her their real vulnerabilities or she will use them against them, so shows of vulnerability. It’s also probable neither girl could accuse Azula directly without risking her wrath.
The other thing it tells us is that neither girl called the other one on what they were doing. They both must have known what the other was doing, and they each tacitly agreed to keep the other’s secret from Azula. Even when both girls were insulting each other and redirecting attention, especially Azula’s attention, away from themselves and onto each other, they kept up each other’s pretense and protected each other’s real vulnerabilities. This, combined with the covert looks they share throughout the series behind Azula’s back helps show the strength of their bond, in spite of Azula’s corrosive influence, and her demonstrated willingness to use the girls to hurt each other. This puts into beautiful context Ty Lee’s willingness to stand up to Azula for Mai at the Boiling Rock.
This conversation sets up the Boiling Rock in another important way. It shows that Mai and Ty Lee have secrets they keep from Azula and her control over them is less total than she thinks it is. It is the same skill at hiding their true thoughts and feelings that they display here and also the same courage and sense of self that allows them to lie to their abuser that will eventually enable them to stand up to that same abuser.
The last thing we learn is that Azula’s other victim, Zuko, isn’t in on their secret. He plainly has no idea what’s going on underneath their act, and his display of emotional vulnerability was absolutely genuine. This makes him dangerous to both girls, because he could share anything they say to him with his sister without realizing he shouldn’t. Yet after this, Mai makes an effort to be more demonstrative with Zuko, which is a gesture of profound trust and true vulnerability.