Hey, it’s May now, my favorite month of the year! So let’s start the month with a topic on one of my favorite series of all time, Avatar the Last Airbender. With The Legend of Korra slowly approaching, loyal fans of Nickelodeon’s hit action series Avatar The Last Airbender have their waiting experience cut out for them (need I again mention the nine-month hiatus between Seasons 2 and 3?). In the meantime, we’ve kept ourselves busy by creating some amazing fan art (Censored for being illegally cute and tearbending) and done lots and lots of speculation on the current confirmed themes, plot elements, characters, and the actors playing them. However while checking up on the Avatarspirit forum boards, being the dedicated fan that I am, I noticed one particular topic that seems to be real popular recently, titled “Things in ATLA (The Last Airbender) you didn’t care for, and hope aren’t repeated in ATLK (The Legend of Korra).” While I always think there is room for improvement in any series, there are several elements of Avatar people have repeatedly complained about where I just feel they don’t get it.
So now, I am going to do my best to put an end to some of Avatar fans most consistent complaints. Consider this a sequel to my Top 10 Avatar Misconceptions from last year, but whereas that list was geared toward misconceptions from people who don’t watch the show, this will be geared toward people who have. So, spoiler warning aside, let’s get started.
5. Firelord Ozai is a One Dimensional Villain
Many of the other villains/antagonists of the series don’t have this problem. Zuko, Iroh, Zhao, Long Feng, Hama, Jet, Azula, even Mai and Ty-Lee are all given various levels of depth, back stories, and motives that permit each of them having legitimate reasons why they are as bad as they are. But the main baddie, Firelord Ozai, doesn’t have that luxury. He has very little backstory, it is never stated WHY he desires power, heck, we don’t even see his face for the first two seasons. For many people, he felt more like a plot device in place to enforce other characters’ development.
So, first things first: Why did Ozai, as well as his ancestors Sozin and Azulon, desire to take over the world? To answer this, we need to think things instinctively. Of the four elements that the four groups of people are based off of, Air, Water, and Earth do not move on their own unless acted on by an outside force. But Fire, by its nature, spreads and destroys anything it catches onto. So it only makes sense that if people are meant to represent certain elements, that rulers of the Fire Nation, by their nature, have a drive to spread their rule without any regard to the lives they destroy along the way.
Now as for Ozai himself, there was plenty of depth to his character in between the lines, and just because the show didn’t come out and say any of it out loud, it’s pretty obvious if you stop and actually think about it for a moment. First off, he was incredibly insecure. He’d have to be. He was the second son of a Firelord who greatly favored his first born. And why wouldn’t he? Look who the first born is: Iroh, a vastly intelligent, highly talented prince who was an amazing strategist and well liked by just about everyone he meets. And this wasn’t like the kind of brothers that were so close in age they could easily rival each other like Zuko and Azula. No, Iroh was at least a good ten years older than Ozai, so it was extremely hard for him to keep up in those early years.
Why was Ozai such a strong firebender that he became known as “the baddest dude on the planet?” Because firebending was the one and ONLY talent he had that he knew he could surpass his brother in, and have a chance at impressing his father. So he trained and trained, and then trained his own children to master the art. (Also notice how he, being the second born himself, favors his own second born, simply out of spite for his father.) It makes it all the more devastating that Aang defeats him by taking away the only thing he had. That one talent he worked so hard to perfect. Gone.
Why was Ozai so obsessed with his new identity as “The Phoenix King?” Simple. Because for so long, his brother had the incredibly epic title of “The Dragon of the West.” Something that Ozai could never hope to achieve himself, because his brother supposedly slayed the last dragon in existence.
Now I’m not trying to say that Iroh was by any means in the wrong for unintentionally putting so much pressure on his brother. In fact I’m pretty sure Iroh was a very good brother and did love Ozai. (In fact, that drawing Katara found of Baby Ozai from ep.317 could very well be Iroh’s work) But Ozai never wanted his brother’s sympathy. He wanted his father’s approval, and he never got it. So if his own father wouldn’t accept him, he’d show him by making the whole world acknowledge his supremacy.
Phew! That was pretty long there. Apologies. I’ll try to make the next ones a bit shorter.
4. Book 3’s Lackluster Pacing
To fully understand this, you need to put yourself into the shoes of the old school fans who did wait those nine months to see Book 3 air on Nickelodeon. Imagine watching that devastating finale at the end of Book 2, which, despite its dark ending, was a fantastic season with a well-paced story arc throughout. Imagine being left in the dark for half a year. Imagine you’re back at the 2007 SD Comic Con, and then, imagine seeing this trailer:
Hell yes you’d be excited. So September roles along, the show starts airing each Friday and we get… goofy shenanigans in The Painted Lady, teenage angst in The Beach, and anime style slapstick in Nightmares and Daydreams. Yeah, the first two seasons had plenty of this too, but it still frustrated many fans who were like, “I thought we were getting ready for an invasion here! Why is it now of all times Katara and Toph decide they’re ready to have another petty cat fight? We could easily cut this crap and make room for more back story on Ozai, or have another Spirit World journey!” To an extent I sort of see where they’re coming from, but there is one crucial fact that I think many viewers ignore.
We’ve never seen the Fire Nation before this (save for the one crescent moon island on The Winter Solstice Pt.2 back in Book 1). Before now, it was just, “the place where the bad guys come from” and we never really understood what life really is like in the Fire Nation. I for one felt it was completely worth it for the show to go back to its roots and let us get to know the locals. Turns out, Fire Nation folk weren’t all that much different from everyone else. They were just on opposite sides of a war they never really had a say in.
The Painted Lady was a great instance where we saw people of the Fire Nation being just as negatively affected by the war as people in the Earth Kingdom. As for The Beach, despite the agonizing over-the-top angst, I love it simply because it puts the entire show in perspective, and all they had to do was reverse character roles: I.E. make the antagonists carry the main plot and give the heroes the B plot. Here we have four kids of the richest and wealthiest families of the richest and wealthiest nation on the planet, in the most beautiful and luxurious location on the map, and all the three of them can do is bitch and moan about how miserable their lives are, while the fourth one is too busy thinking about how to make life even more miserable for some poor naïve guy because he turned her down after her epic fail at basic social interaction.
Meanwhile, there are four other kids on the other side of the nation, sleeping in the dirt, busting their asses on a day-to-day basis, being chased by a monster who blows things up with his mind, all to make life slightly less miserable for the rest of the world, and they’re the ones having a half decent time.
You know what that is? Brilliance. And I know that wasn’t any shorter than my last one. But I swear I’m trying.
3. The Deus-Ex-Machina Lion Turtle
So Aang’s friends tell him he has to kill the Firelord if he wants to end this. Aang is not ready to believe that, but nobody will back him up. Yet that’s okay, because the day right before Sozin’s Comet arrives, the oldest and wisest creature in the Avatar universe, the only creature that understands human speech and surfaces maybe once every several hundred years, has conveniently popped up out of the blue (literally) just off shore of Ember Island where Aang is meditating. Coincidentally, he gives Aang the exact ability he needs to face Ozai and end it the way he wants to and drops him off conveniently in the place where Ozai will strike first, and it was all just sheer dumb luck that everything worked out in Aang’s favor.
Or was it?
First of all, Aang’s resolve was the only reason he was able to use the Lion Turtle’s gift in the first place. He earned it because he stuck to his guns and didn’t give into pure pressure by a bunch of teenagers and dead people who think they know what’s right for the world. Had he let people control him, his spirit would have been corrupted and destroyed if he used the Spiritbending technique.
Second of all, if a Lion Turtle surfaces every hundred years or so, it makes sense that it would be right at the eve of a cosmic event that could decide the future of the world. It is also perfectly reasonable for him to surface off the shore where Aang is meditating, because as we’ve seen in previous portions of the series (particularly in Book 2 Ch.7 The Chase) animals are attracted to Aang because of all the spiritual energy surrounding him.
Third of all, Spritbending wasn’t really all that out of the blue, because we’ve seen Aang use abilities very similar to it at least twice throughout the series. Once in Book 1 Ch.7 Winter Solstice Pt.1, when he made contact with Hei-Bai and discovered the secret behind his anger, and another time in Book 2 Ch.4 The Swamp, when he was able to follow the flow of energy through the Swamp in order to pinpoint Appa’s location.
Fourth and finally, the Lion Turtle was foreshadowed at least half a dozen times throughout the series before the finale, not just the pilot. When they were in Wan Shi Tong’s Spirit Library, Aang opened up a book that had an illustration of a Lion Turtle in it. There was a fountain sculpted in the shape of a Lion Turtle at the Northern Air Temple. Master Piandao had statues of Lion Turtles all around his mansion and even referenced one in his commemoration to Sokka becoming a swordsman. In fact, even the beach houses on Ember Island had Lion Turtles on their freaking doorknobs (another hint that perhaps it was intended to surface off of those shores). So, if you actually paid attention, I believe there is more than enough evidence that it was more than just some out-of-the-blue cop out.
Fifth of all, by now I should just give up on trying to make these brief. It’s not going to happen.
2. The ending was too happy?
Here’s another one I don’t get. There are several people disappointed with the finale because they felt there were no negative consequences. One particular blogger who will remain anonymous stated, and I quote:
“The original series’ ending was so happy and perfect that it was almost teeth-rotting. It just felt cheap, the characters didn’t go through enough hell for such a perfectly happy ending to feel satisfying to me.”
…So apparently, Aang coming back home to see his entire culture wiped out isn’t hell enough for you. Apparently being dropped smack dab in a war that’s lasted a hundred years and taken millions of lives and realizing it’s all your fault isn’t hell enough for you. Apparently, Zuko losing his mother one random day of his childhood with no explanation to where she disappeared to isn’t hell enough for you. A 13-year-old-boy being physically burned across the face by his own father, publicly humiliated, and subsequently banished from ever coming home for 3 years isn’t hell enough for you. Katara losing her mother only to find it was her they were looking for the whole time isn’t hell enough for you. Sokka being the only young man to look after his tribe without given any proper experience or training for 2 years isn’t hell enough for you. Toph literally growing up so sheltered her entire life, that even though she has this incredible gift, no one even knows she exists, nor does she even have a single legitimate friend isn’t hell enough for you. Getting shot full of lightning, failing to protect an entire kingdom from collapse, going behind enemy lines constantly on your toes lest you’re caught by an assassin that can blow you up with his mind, stranded in the middle of “The Desert of the Dead” (that’s what Shi Wong means), trapped in a cave with singing hippies, utterly failing to take advantage of the only window of opportunity to end the war before the comet and surrendering Earth’s last remaining solders, watching inventions you made to help people turned into weapons to spread mass destruction, losing your first girlfriend, breaking your leg, giving up both your weapons to prevent another girlfriend’s death, watching what is essentially the devil incarnate burn through an entire landscape knowing the only way to stop him is to fight, getting shot full of lightning again, and finally, leaving a 17-year-old Firelord and a 13-year-old Avatar to deal with an arsenal of post war squabbles, politics, and economic strife, ISN’T HELL ENOUGH FOR YOU!?
I should probably just leave it at that. Besides, we have one more much bigger elephant coi fish to fry.
1. Where the heck is Ursa?
There is by far nothing that peeves fans of Avatar more than not finding out what really happened to Zuko [and Azula’s]mother, or whether or not Zuko ever found her. This especially bugs people because we were told in the 2008 SD Comic Con that Zuko finding Ursa was in fact storyboarded into the finale by episode director Joaquim Dos Santos, but for reasons that went absurdly unexplained, co-creator Mike DiMartino decided to cut it. So the fact that we never get to know where she is, but the creators do, makes people want to go Azula levels of crazy on them.
And yeah, I’ll admit I’m a little curious, but when it comes to the point where some fans are openly against The Legend of Korra because it won’t be about Zuko finding his mother is the point where I’m like STOP! Enough is enough! Get over Ursa already! Like I said, I’m curious, but it’s not the end of the world for me if I never find out. Mainly because the mystery essentially solves itself. Here, let’s take a quick look at the last episode: We see Zuko enter the Fire Nation prison to visit his father, and then he explicitly asks him where his mother is. That is immediately followed by the final scene of the show (probably several day/weeks later), with Zuko at his Uncle’s teashop in the Earth Kingdom Capital happily enjoying the company of his friends. Through this, we can assume that one of two options has happened:
One. Zuko found Ursa. She’s no longer banished, has rekindled with her son, and everyone’s happy. In the point of the final scene of the show, she’s probably back in the Fire Nation, most likely trying to help her mentally instituted daughter.
Two. Zuko didn’t find Ursa. I mean he pretty much swept through the globe looking for the Avatar for three whole years and never ran into her once, so maybe it just can’t be done. Perhaps whatever she did that got her banished really was so treacherous that she doesn’t want to be found. Regardless of the reason, Zuko’s okay. He’s moved on. He’s not gonna pull an Anakin Skywalker on us and get all moany and vengeful about it. He lost his mother, but you know what, his relationship with his Uncle is better than it ever was, likewise for his relationship with Mai. Oh and did I mention that he actually has FRIENDS now! I’m happy for him, and you should be too.
Okay, I think I pretty much burnt myself out on that one. Hope I was able to clean the air for anyone. Any questions, comments, or [heaven forbid]complaints, will get my utmost attention.
Images courtesy of AvatarSpirit.net
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