30 Days of Avatar: Ozai and the Voldemort Problem

Week 3: Avatar Villains

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

Day 9 is for how Ozai is to Voldemort as Voldemort is to Ozai.

The end

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30 Days of Avatar: Complicated Villains

Week 3: Avatar Villains

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

Day 8 is for villains with some depth to them. So, not Ozai, and not Unalaq or Vaatu. And not Azula, who we’ve covered, and who isn’t that complicated.

Content warning: Suicide.

Super spoilery spoilers in this one.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

Amon

amon

Managing to be at least three times as scary as Ozai ever was, Amon also had an ideology that sort of made sense and a tragic backstory that explained everything.

Amon heads a movement of people determined to create perfect equality for all in Avatar land, and the only way to achieve this is to take people’s bending away. Amon has this ability and no one can figure out how he does it, until it’s explained later.

Amon’s ending is also perhaps the most tragic of all the villains. It’s nothing short of horrifying.

Tarrlok put an end to his own sad story. It’s doubly awful because you can trace these horrifying events back to a choice Aang makes – not that this is his fault, because everyone else involved certainly has their own agency. But still. Tiny baby Aang would feel so responsible for this.

The Red Lotus

Apart from being the most interesting villains when it comes to their bending abilities, the Red Lotus actually have an ideology that isn’t just about them having all the power when everything eventually goes according to their plan. They’re like Amon in that way, but their ideology is much stupider than Amon’s “equality for all.”

That’s why Zaheer is much more interesting when he’s fighting than when he’s speaking, and also why it’s OK for Bolin to just “put a sock in it” at the end. “We’d be better off without world leaders.” Whatever you say, bud. But there are no libertarians in an ice storm, as someone funny on Twitter once said.

Of course all you’d need in an ice storm in Avatar land is a couple of decent water benders, but the point still more or less stands.

How about, “There are no libertarians in a city invaded by spirit vines?” That one works, yes?

Zaheer’s merry band of talented anarchists all die and he ends up imprisoned for life, but in Book 4 Korra journeys to talk to him, believing that if she can see him face to face and know for sure that he’s not a threat anymore, she will no longer be haunted by him. Instead, Zaheer himself acts as Korra’s spiritual guide and helps her get over her fear of their past encounter, because, as he says, their interests are currently temporarily aligned – Zaheer totes wouldn’t be big on mega mecha-suit driving dictators, after all.

Speaking of which…

Kuvira

A lady dictator!!!!!!!!!!!!

This shouldn’t be so exciting but THANK YOU UNIVERSE, ALL OF THE DEITIES, CEILING CAT ET AL for this show and its multitudinous depictions of all of the women doing all of the things.

What’s even better about Kuvira is that she’s motivated by both personal politics and a deep sense of disappointment in her hero, Su, for not stepping up when she was offered the job that Kuvira then took and ran with, forever and ever. A lot of what Kuvira does in Book 4 is dedicated specifically to revenging herself on Su for not doing what Kuvira wanted her to do: taking the opportunity to unite the Earth Kingdom with her utopian ideals and advanced technology, and getting rid of a regressive monarchy. Suyin Beifong is Kuvira’s mother figure as well as her teacher, mentor, and leader, and Kuvira feels that Su’s refusal to take on the role of interrim Earth Kingdom leader is akin to the abandonment of an unwanted child.

We know all of this because Korra is determined, this time, to talk to her villain, to empathize with her, feel compassion for her, and make her see reason. Everyone tells her this is foolish.

But! Kuvira is the one and only villain who apologizes! Korra gets through to her eventually! Even though she will have to face justice – and she even says that she’ll face whatever justice the republic chooses! This is just great. Bless this show.

Zuko

And finally there’s Zuko, who spends Book 1 being an angry jerk, Book 2 being a confused and angry jerk, and Book 3 redeeming himself. He’s not really a villain. Anyone could see just a few episodes into Book 1 that he’d eventually be redeemed, but man, his redemption journey is beautiful and painful and heart-wrenching and IROH and omg.

Poor Zu-Zu.

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.