Week 10: Messages of Avatar Land
Day 28: Masculinity
Day 29: Animal Rights
Day 30: Feminism
First of all, shout out to the creators of Avatar for making every animal in Avatar Land a combination of two animals, except for the Earth King’s bear:
Anyway, this post is about Animal Rights, and the only logical place to start is with the Greatest Creature Ever Committed to Television, Appa, the Flying Bison.
Please familiarize yourself with Appa using this self-proclaimed “Definitive Appa Montage,” which sets tragic scenes from Appa’s Last Days to a cheerful tune in order to lessen your pain:
While Avatar is not afraid to unpack complex ethical issues, Appa’s Lost Days may be one of the most honest and upfront interpretations of such an issue in the franchise (or in any franchise). It does not hold back on making us want to cry in a bath tub forever while the horrors animals face in this world slowly wash over us until we drown in a sea of unending misery.
Seriously, it gets real.
We start this horrifying journey with the illegal exotics trade. Sandbenders rope up our favourite Flying Bison and drag him out of the desert, away from his friends, forcing him to listen to Aang’s desperate bison-whistling, unable to fly to his lifelong companion. Ugh.
These jackasses sell him to a freaking circus.
In true “Greatest Show on Earth” fashion, the trainer whips his animals (with fire), using fear to “break” them and force them to do humiliating performances dressed in ridiculous costumes. But this trainer wasn’t prepared to handle a Flying Bison – the original airbenders, this big softie has bending and evasion on his side, and he manages to escape the circus. Would that all animals could murder their trainers and fly off into the sunset, but we dream.
Next in Appa’s tragic story (seriously, more tragic than Zuko’s, am I right?) he tries to find Aang, discovers that the library sank into the desert, then attempts to take refuge in a few places before being chased off by various predators (giant wasps, giant porcupine boars, and this asshole with the fire stick). No, Avatar is not afraid to handle the question of what to do with wild animals either – what is our responsibility? Something between dressing them up in stupid costumes and chasing them out of our houses with fire, is the answer. (Duh.)
The Kyoshi warriors find him and show him kindness. Appa is hurt and scared, and they approach slowly, before gently removing the porcupine boar needles and cleaning up the sticky wasp residue from his fur. If you’ve ever attempted to rescue a wild animal or feral cat, this scene will feel familiar – the animal is scared, and ready to either run or fight for their life, and you just want to help them and have no way of explaining that.
Anyway, the Kyoshi warriors do well, until Azula and co. show up and ruin everything.
Because the writers love to make us sob uncontrollably, Appa navigates his way to the Eastern Air Temple, one of four abandoned homes of his ancestors, the air nomads and their bison, who were extinguished by the Fire Lord. Yikes. Anyway, there he meets Guru Pathik, who shows him some more kindness as well as the way back to Aang.
But as we know, this episode is a series of disasters and any good news is not to be trusted, so of course, Appa flies to Ba Sing Se, where the gaang is, and ends up being caught by Long Feng, because, of course.
So to sum up, here is what we learned in one short episode of ATLA:
- The illegal exotics trade is Evil and pure garbage and should all die in a fire
- Circuses are Evil and pure garbage and should all die in a fire
- Be kind to wounded animals who cross your path, even if they do not thank you
- Appa is and always will be the best person place or thing ever written I will fight you on this
- three has a giant plushie Appa and it gives her life
- I’m off topic
In other words, if you didn’t really understand why exotics trading and circuses were Evil and pure garbage and should all die in a fire, this incredible episode will take your hand and walk you through the story of Appa’s lost days with the perfect combination of nuance and pure suffering and it will make you want to cry in a bathtub forever while the horrors animals face in this world slowly wash over you until you drown in a sea of unending misery.
All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.