Key Things I Noticed While Rewatching Avatar

When Zuko returns to the fire nation Ozai says, “I’m proud of you Prince Zuko.” But Zuko doesn’t light up at the remark. Why? Because Ozai has never said he loves Zuko, but Ursa has.

Paralleling that scene is the mirror scene when Azula really shows signs of mental instability.

In the mirror scene Ursa says, “I love you Azula, I do.” And Azula replies with, “Don’t pretend to be proud.”

What I can conclude from this is a few things:

  1. Neither of Azula’s parents have directly stated that they love her until it’s too late, and even then Ursa isn’t really there.
  2. Because Ozai never said ‘I love you’ to ether Zuko or Azula, Azula replaced the word love with “proud.” Because Ozai only ever says he’s proud of Azula. He never says that about Zuko.
  3. On the flip side Ursa only says she loves Zuko, so logically Zuko would know that his father’s pride isn’t really love.
  4. Azula, on the other hand, would equate the ‘I love you’ from her mother which was only reserved for Zuko, to the ‘I’m proud of you’ from her father that was only reserved for her.

Iroh warns Zuko of what despair can lead to. It’s a path that causes you to “resort to your lowest instincts.”

  • Zuko’s lowest instinct manifests into this compulsive, and obsessive, search for an idealistic sense of honor. The thing is, you give yourself honor. And once he realizes that his father can’t restore that for him he at least has Iroh to support him.
  • As for Azula, hers becomes a desperate self preservation. There’s no one left to trust, and no one who isn’t trying to undo her. Her friends betrayed her, her father turned her away, her brother is attacking her, and the avatar is already messing things up. She, unlike Zuko, has no safety net. Which is what makes their two stories so similar and different. Zuko’s despair causes his lowest instincts to occur earlier on when it’s almost safe to do so. Azula’s happens at the end when there’s nothing to help her with them.

Then there’s the reiteration throughout that, “Azula always lies.”

  • In reality she doesn’t. When she says, “dad’s going to kill you,” we find out in the comics that he was.
  • When Azula says returning home would restore his honor she was right, it restored his perception of honor at the time. It restored the idealized honor Zuko always wanted.
  • While it is pictured that Azula is a good liar, especially in the scene with Toph, what makes her so good is that she‘s not lying. She’s telling the truth.

The next interesting thing I thought of was when Azula says, “I’m about to celebrate becoming an only child.”

I always wondered why she’d say that when Zuko was banished, and she essentially became an only child. Until I realized:

  • Zuko still influenced her life directly and indirectly.
  • Despite him being out of the picture for so long he’s still so deeply rooted in her story line.
  • She takes on the large projects that ultimately lead to her false sense of prowess, and security, so when Ozai abandons her the blow is twice as hard.
  • She only became part of the effort because Zuko failed.
  • Mai betrayed her because of Zuko
  • Her mother left because of Zuko.
  • She had such high expectations to succeed because of Zuko, because she saw first hand what happened if you failed.
  • Zuko’s quest to find the avatar also interfered with hers.
  • To Azula, all of the negative outcomes in her live have happened because of Zuko, whether he was physically there or not.

But one thing I think a lot of people overlook are the little hints that they really do love each other.

  • When Azula falls there’s genuine concern on Zuko’s face for the slightest moment when he says, “she’s not gonna make it.”
  • At the beach, Azula is the one who makes Zuko leave the old beach house because it’s ‘depressing’ but it seemed to me that she really didn’t want him to be alone.
  • Then there are the rare scenes where they fight side by side and you can really see how well they work together.
  • There’s a bond between siblings that’s unbreakable no matter what. It’s like my mom and my aunt. My aunt is not exaclty the best person (I won’t get into details) but my mom always says. “No matter what, she’s my sister and I love her. I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her. It doesn’t mean I forgive her, but even still…”
  • Then the part just before the fight where Azula says, “I’m sorry it has to end this way brother.” And Zuko replies, “No you’re not.” It’s not a scoff or sarcasm, it actually sounds a bit sad. Like he expected her to pull out all of the stops , but part of him hoped against hope that it wouldn’t come down to an Agni Kai.
  • Not to mention there’s no way Azula was always like that. Children learn behaviors as they get older. There had to be a time where she was just small and innocent and Zuko genuinely was her big powerful brother.
  • In that moment Zuko probably thought about the baby Azula he used to love, and then he’s faced with the reality that he has to be the one to destroy what his father created.

There’s just so much to their dynamics that is overlooked or unconsidered. And I absolutely refuse to write Azula off as just an evil character like so many do. Because when things start out, is Zuko all that different from her? He’s angry, impulsive, willing to kidnapped a twelve year old boy, be cold to his uncle, and more. He had to learn. He just had the opportunity to do so.

story time lol

okay so my phone wallpaper is this pic of Zuko

and my friend was like “Hi Zuko, why are you so grumpy? Is it because Aang stole Katara from you?”

AND YALL i wasn’t expecting it at all lmao i was laughing so hard bc it’s so effing true. okay, that’s it lol.

I- I just can’t get over Zuko and his arc. Everything he did - everything - was out of this insane drive to prove everyone wrong, to prove that he was worth something, and it amazes me that he never realized just how valuable he already was. 

His sister tells him ‘You waste all your time playing with knives. You’re not even good!’ and he masters dual swords.

Originally posted by tim5555

His sister is a prodigy and he’s told he’ll never catch up. He learns from dragons. He trains the Avatar. He takes her down (with the help of a very skilled waterbender)

Originally posted by yipyipmotherfuckers

He’s left behind by his mother, cast out by his father, hunted by his sister, and Zuko still learns unconditional love. 

Originally posted by how-do-you-do-the-do

His father tells him he’s worthless and unloved, that he was ‘lucky to be born,’ and he becomes a man that the world is proud of. 

Originally posted by avatarwaterbender

Anything his family said to him, he managed to turn around and build on it. He thrived on it, exploded from it, turned all the negativity into a positive path and it’s just… it’s amazing.

There’s just no end to my love for this character. No fucking end. 

Bonus: The weak, banished prince has fangirls for all the ages. Take that, Ozai.

Originally posted by chatnoirs-baton

hey… do you guys think… that the blue spirit became kinda like a criptid/myth in the ATLA verse? like Zuko never told the public about it obviously. and we know from the ember Island players episode that the blue spirit was “The scourge of the fire nation” so do like… do you think people are out there… looking for the blue spirit like bigfoot… and Zuko is sitting in his palace like “I wonder what I did with that old mask”

I just wanted to say that Uncle Iroh is by far my favorite character in this show. I love all the characters but honestly Iroh is just the best. He has so much power in side him but he knows to not let it go to his head. He’s so openminded and forgiving and happy even in the worst situations. I have such appreciation for him.

Avatar Aang, Feminist Icon?

“Who’s your favorite character?” I hear that question come up a lot over Avatar: The Last Airbender, a show particularly near and dear to me. Iroh and Toph get tossed around a lot. Zuko is very popular. Sokka has his fans. But something I’ve noticed? Aang very rarely gets the pick. When he comes up, it’s usually in that “Oh, and also…” kind of way. Which is strange, I think, considering he’s the main character, the titular airbender, of the entire show.

I never really thought much about it until a couple weeks ago when I finished my annual re-watch of the series and found myself, for the first time, specifically focused on Aang’s arc. Somehow, I never really paid that much attention to him before. I mean sure, he’s front and center in most episodes, fighting or practicing or learning big spiritual secrets, and yet, he always feels a little overshadowed. Katara takes care of the group. Sokka makes the plans. Zuko has the big, heroic Joseph Campbell journey. Aang…goofs around. He listens and follows and plays with Momo. And yes, at the end his story gets bigger and louder, but even then I feel like a lot of it dodges the spotlight. And here’s why:

Avatar casts the least traditionally-masculine hero you could possibly write as the star of a fantasy war story. Because of that, we don’t see Aang naturally for everything he is, so we look elsewhere.

To show what I mean, I want to talk about some of the show’s other characters, and I want to start with Zuko. Zuko is the hero we’re looking for. He’s tall and hot and complicated. He perseveres in the face of constant setbacks. He uses two swords and shoots fire out of his hands. He trains with a wise old man on ship decks and mountaintops. Occasionally he yells at the sky. He’s got the whole 180-degree moral turn beat for beat, right down to the scars and the sins-of-the-father confrontation scene. And if you were going into battle, some epic affair with battalions of armor-clad infantry, Zuko is the man you’d want leading the charge, Aragorn style. We love Zuko. Because Zuko does what he’s supposed to do.

Now let’s look at Katara. Katara doesn’t do what she’s supposed to do. She doesn’t care about your traditionally gender dynamics because she’s too busy fighting pirates and firebenders, planning military operations with the highest ranking generals in the Earth Kingdom, and dismantling the entire patriarchal structure of the Northern Water Tribe. Somewhere in her spare time she also manages to become one of the greatest waterbenders in the world, train the Avatar, defeat the princess of the Fire Nation in the middle of Sozin’s Comet and take care of the entire rest of the cast for an entire year living in tents and caves. Katara is a badass, and we love that.

So what about Aang? When we meet Aang, he is twelve years old. He is small and his voice hasn’t changed yet. His hobbies include dancing, baking and braiding necklaces with pink flowers. He loves animals. He doesn’t eat meat. He despises violence and spends nine tenths of every fight ducking and dodging. His only “weapon” is a blunt staff, used more for recreation than combat. Through the show, Aang receives most of his training from two young women – Katara and Toph – whom he gives absolute respect, even to the point of reverence. When he questions their instruction, it comes from a place of discomfort or anxiety, never superiority. He defers to women, young women, in matters of strategy and combat. Then he makes a joke at his own expense and goes off to feed his pet lemur.

Now there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this, and it’s the one that shielded Aang from the heroic limelight in my eyes for ten years. The reasoning goes like this: Aang is a child. He has no presumptuous authority complex, no masculinity anxiety, no self-consciousness about his preferred pastimes, because he’s twelve. He’s still the hero, but he’s the prepubescent hero, the hero who can’t lead the charge himself because he’s just not old enough. The problem is, that reasoning just doesn’t hold up when you look at him in the context of the rest of the show.

Let’s look at Azula. Aside from the Avatar himself, Zuko’s sister is arguably the strongest bender in the entire show. We could debate Toph and Ozai all day, but when you look at all Azula does, the evidence is pretty damning. Let’s make a list, shall we?

Azula completely mastered lightning, the highest level firebending technique, in her spare time on a boat, under the instruction of two old women who can’t even bend.

Azula led the drill assault on Ba Sing Sae, one of the most important Fire Nation operations of the entire war, and almost succeeded in conquering the whole Earth Kingdom.

Azula then bested the Kyoshi Warriors, one of the strongest non-bender fighting groups in the entire world, successfully infiltrated the Earth Kingdom in disguise, befriended its monarch, learned of the enemy’s most secret operation, emotionally manipulated her older brother, overthrew the captain of the secret police and did conquer the Earth Kingdom, something three Fire Lords, numerous technological monstrosities, and countless generals, including her uncle, failed to do in a century.

And she did this all when she was fourteen.

That last part is easy to forget. Azula seems so much her brother’s peer, we forget she’s the same age as Katara. And that means that when we first meet Azula, she’s only a year older than Aang is at the end of the series. So to dismiss Aang’s autonomy, maturity or capability because of his age is ridiculous, understanding that he and Azula could have been in the same preschool class.

We must then accept Aang for what he truly is: the hero of the story, the leader of the charge, who repeatedly displays restraint and meekness, not because of his age, not because of his upbringing, not because of some character flaw, but because he chooses too. We clamor for strong female characters, and for excellent reason. But nobody every calls for more weak male characters. Not weak in a negative sense, but weak in a sense that he listens when heroes talk. He negotiates when heroes fight. And when heroes are sharpening their blades, planning their strategies and stringing along their hetero love interests, Aang is making jewelry, feeding Appa, and wearing that flower crown he got from a travelling band of hippies. If all Aang’s hobbies and habits were transposed onto Toph or Katara, we’d see it as a weakening of their characters. But with Aang it’s cute, because he’s a child. Only it isn’t, because he’s not.

Even in his relationship with Katara, a landmark piece of any traditional protagonist’s identity, Aang defies expectations. From the moment he wakes up in episode one, he is infatuated with the young woman who would become his oldest teacher and closest friend. Throughout season one we see many examples of his puppy love expressing itself, usually to no avail. But there’s one episode in particular that I always thought a little odd, and that’s Jet.

In Jet, Katara has an infatuation of her own. The titular vigilante outlaw sweeps her off her feet, literally, with his stunning hair, his masterful swordsmanship and his apparent selflessness. You’d think this would elicit some kind of jealousy from Aang. There’s no way he’s ignorant of what’s happening, as Sokka sarcastically refers to Jet as Katara’s boyfriend directly in Aang’s presence, and she doesn’t even dispute it. But even then, we never see any kind of rivalry manifest in Aang. Rather, he seems in full support of it. He repeatedly praises Jet, impressed by his leadership and carefree attitude. Despite his overwhelming affection for Katara, he evaluates both her and Jet on their own merits as people. There is no sense of ownership or macho competition.

Contrast this with Zuko’s reaction to a similar scenario in season three’s The Beach. Zuko goes to a party with his girlfriend, and at that party he sees her talking to another guy. His reaction? Throwing the challenger into the wall, shattering a vase, yelling at Mai, and storming out. This may seem a little extreme, but it’s also what we’d expect to an extent. Zuko is being challenged. He feels threatened in his station as a man, and he responds physically, asserting his strength and dominance as best he can.

I could go on and on. I could talk about how the first time Aang trains with a dedicated waterbending master, he tries to quit because of sexist double standards, only changing his mind after Katara’s urging. I could talk about how Aang is cast as a woman in the Fire Nation’s propaganda theatre piece bashing him and his friends. Because in a patriarchal society, the worst thing a man can be is feminine. I could talk about the only times Aang causes any kind of real destruction in the Avatar state, it’s not even him, since he doesn’t gain control of the skill until the show’s closing moments. Every time he is powerless in his own power and guilt-ridden right after, until the very end when he finally gains control, and what does he do with all that potential? He raises the rivers, and puts the fires out.

Aang isn’t what he’s supposed to be. He rejects every masculine expectation placed on his role, and in doing so he dodges center stage of his own show. It’s shocking to think about how many times I just forgot about Aang. Even at the end, when his voice has dropped and his abs have filled in, we miss it. Zuko’s coronation comes and we cheer with the crowd, psyched to see our hero crowned. Then the Fire Lord shakes his head, gestures behind him and declares “the real hero is the Avatar.” It’s like he’s talking to us. “Don’t you get it?” he asks. “Did you miss it? This is his story. But you forgot that. Because he was small. And silly. And he hated fighting. And he loved to dance. Look at him,” Zuko seems to say. “He’s your hero. Avatar Aang, defier of gender norms, champion of self-identity, feminist icon.”