prince ozai

More Than Just A Cartoon

It’s easy for those who have never watch Avatar: The Last Airbender to pass off the show as just another product of Nickelodeon, but those who have sat down and given the show a chance quickly learn that this series stood far apart from anything Nickelodeon had produced before.

So what made Avatar so different? For starters, it was a linear story with a clear start and beginning. Viewers follow Aang, Katara and Sokka as they embark on a journey to defeat the Firelord. The story grows in complexity with each episode and little details easily brushed off at first often become crucial parts of the series (remember the cameo of Azula sitting next to Uncle Iroh at Zuko’s Agni Kai against his father?). This cartoon has such a deep plot that producers felt it necessary to include a “Previously on Avatar” segment before many of the show’ episodes. No other children’s cartoon- to my knowledge- has had a plot so detailed that a recap was deemed necessary. The very story of Avatar is so complex and beautifully woven that it needs this, and the size of this grand endeavor does not go unnoticed.

Another thing that makes Avatar so much different than an ordinary cartoon is the motives behind the “bad guys”. It’s a classic cartoon motif for the bullies to be secretly insecure and emotionally damaged themselves. There is often an episode that depicts the struggles of the main bully and why they may not be as bad as we think. This is NOT the case in Avatar. The two big baddies of the series- Azula and her father Fire Lord Ozai- are genuinely evil. They show no remorse for their actions. In Azula’s case, she has many clear characteristics of a sociopath. Even when she begins to lose her sanity, she does not see the errors of her ways or beg for forgiveness. Yes, we learn that she is emotionally wounded by her mother’s rejection of her, yet we never see her use this as an excuse. She simply shrugs this off and claims that her mother was right. She owns her evil and wears it with pride. At the final Agni Kai, she genuinely wants to take down Zuko because of the joy it will bring her. She has no remorse or emotional attachment to anything anymore, other than the pride behind her own abilities.

Her father, Firelord Ozai, is even worse. While we get to see brief moments of Azula’s humanity, Ozai never suffers a breakdown like Azula. With the fury of a real-life dictator, he confidently prepares to destroy the world to create a society fit to worship him and him alone. Even after losing to Aang, he is filled with nothing but anger at losing his bending. He isn’t even sorry that he was defeated. Fire Lord Ozai is filled with evil, and Nickelodeon allows creators DiMartino and Konietzko to create characters without any “dumbing down” for children. Ozai and Azula are genuine evil.

With the inclusion of genuine evil comes the presentation of complex and emotionally grappling themes. One of these themes presented early in the series is the theme of genocide- or the destruction of a race of people. Avatar boldly dedicates an entire episode to the discovery of the skeletal graveyard of Aang’s people. This is the first time in the series where it becomes clear that the series will address topics much more series and real-world than penguin sledding. Watching Aang realize that his people were destroyed then left to rot brings the true humanity into the series. This only continues as we see themes of child abuse, internal conflict, parental disagreements and many more.

Avatar may be a cartoon, but it is a cartoon that stands far above the rest of American productions. The series is deep and insightful, with a complexity of characters and true evil and pain.  

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.
— 

Prince Zuko, rebuking the tyrant who fathered him.

You know, sometimes I think about the fact that Ozai banished Zuko to find the Avatar, and it confuses the fuck out of me, because like??? The Avatar has been missing for over a century?? NO ONE has been able to find him, not Ozai, not Azulan, not anybody. Nobody has seen him in ages, and nobody expects to see him again soon. It would be a near impossible task to find him, and I just didn’t get why Ozai would give such an important and difficult job to his thirteen-year-old son in order to regain his honor.

And I just realized.

Ozai wasn’t setting a challenging task for Zuko to accomplish and prove his worth. Ozai knew that asking his son to find the Avatar was an unreasonable request. He knew that it was out of the question.

He was just trying to get rid of Zuko.

  • Ozai: *stands in front of mirror with Zuko* when I look in the mirror I see a strong, handsome, and very honorable man in front of me
  • Zuko: aw thanks fa-
  • Ozai: oh you're here too