30 Days of Avatar: What’s Up with Azula?

Week 3: Avatar Villains

Day 7: Azula
Day 8: The Complicated Villains
Day 9: Ozai and the Voldemort Problem

Day 7 is for Azula being amazing. And also pretty evil.

Spoily spoilers.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

Because she’s a people person, obviously.

So Iroh says of Azula in “Bitter Work,” “She’s crazy and she needs to go down.” That’s never sat especially well with us, considering Iroh really is the wisest character in the show. Because there has to be more to Azula than being “crazy,” right? And that’s not even with unpacking the mental illness stigmatization going on there.

Can we just say: Azula isn’t mentally ill – at least – we don’t think so. She has just lived unchecked, being the favourite of a warmongering genocidal dickface of a father and having a mother who tried to set her right but then, mysteriously, had to leave court forever after committing regicide to seal a deal with her husband to stop him killing their son at the behest of his grandfather upon whom the regicide was committed, as you do.

But Azula’s motivations aren’t all that clear. She just seems to be taking after her father a little bit too much, wanting all the power and also being really good at getting it. Azula is a captivating character but she’s not all that complex. She doesn’t have any development until the last half of Book 3, and even then all we learn is that, a) the fact that her mother was more supportive towards Zuko than her really messed her up, whatever she says, and b) that she might be an incredibly efficient agent working for her father, but her particular brand of perfectionism makes her completely fall apart when she’s actually in charge of something, and c) that she’s really bad at talking to boys (RELATABLE!)

“That’s a sharp outfit, Chan. Careful, you could puncture the hull of an Empire Class Fire Nation battleship, leaving thousands to drown at sea. Because… it’s so sharp.”

She’s probably bad at it because as she says, when Ty Lee tells her how to do it properly, it’s so shallow and stupid.

But this episode is so cringey.

What that cringey episode does is humanize her, just a little. And it sets up the bigger issue with her, which is her resentment of Zuko and Ursa’s bond.

The Agni Kai that was always meant to be between Zuko and Azula, which is probably the most beautiful battle in the series, should reasonably have been Azula’s, no question. But her paranoia makes her incapable of winning, so she gets the better of Zuko by cheating and exploiting his basic human decency at the same time.

Here’s the whole thing sped up a little because copyright laws, I guess:

Pay special attention to how she reacts to Zuko’s not being dead.

And how Katara reacts to her reaction.

This is a perfect defeat for Azula, but it’s not celebratory at all. It’s not like when someone evil dies in Game of Thrones – look, even the “Ed, fetch me a block,” scene in A Dance with Dragons had me jumping up and down – that small amount of character development makes us sympathize with her. We get it. We watched her get what she wanted and then fall completely to pieces, because even in her most triumphant moment she hasn’t actually filled the void.

There’s also the fact that she’s so fun to watch before this happens. Zuko was sinister enough in Book 1, but he was a little inept. Aang, Sokka, and Katara all got the better of him on plenty of occasions, sometimes quite humiliatingly. But when Azula shows up in Book 2, she’s never truly defeated. Our heroes escape Azula, they don’t beat her.

And there is nothing like watching a woman on a power trip, which is something we’ve said a billion times on this blog by now and we’ll probably say it a billion more times.

In The Last Airbender, if women on power trips is what you’re looking for, Azula is where it’s at.

azula never even a player

This is when she pontificates about the divine right to rule and then says, “Don’t flatter yourself. You were never even a player,” to stupid Long Feng. So. Hero.

azula lightning

If Azula had been in the Red Lotus (which – she wouldn’t be, considering her feelings about the divine right to rule mentioned above), Korra might actually have died, in her Book 3.

azula blue fire

This is how you hold court.

azula lightning 2

#ThatMomentWhen you figure out how to win the Agni Kai. Sneaky, sneaky, Azula.

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