Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Avatar: The Last Airbender—A World of Value

Lately, I've been posting pictures and ideas from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Some of you might be curious as to why. Of all the television shows I have watched, these two espouse ideas of morality, intelligence and planning, innovation, faith (in higher power as well as one's own abilities), honor, wisdom, and conviction in a way I have never seen before.

Aang's naïveté becomes one of his greatest assets, becoming a staunch idealism necessary for an Avatar, but also for a human being. As an airbender, he has tremendous ingenuity and whimsy that allow him to grow into a creative and thoughtful individual. Mastering four elements is much like mastering our own various strengths, and once we have done that, we can approach our own obstacles with greater confidence.

Katara, from the very beginning, believed in Aang and his ability to change the world. It takes a person of great fortitude of spirit to be that devoted to the success of someone else. As a waterbender, she has a fluid personality, one that can be nurturing and healing, but also can be protective, even to an extreme. She has faith. That doesn't have to be in a higher power as much as it could be in an ideal or in a person. That also takes strength of character.

Sokka, although goofy at times, has an ability to plan and strategize that grows as the series progresses. He tends to be the comic relief, but he also has that same steadfast loyalty to Aang and his mission. While not a bender, he has strengths that sometimes go beyond the spiritual.

Toph, the rough, blind earthbender, is one of my favorite characters. She has a strength from the earth itself, and a stubbornness to go along with it. Her confidence (cockiness?) comes from her ability to surpass her physical limitations without sight and become someone who has vision. She creates metalbending which, in and of itself, is an innovation to their world, and that provides another metaphor of solidity and strength.

Zuko, a firebender, is a complex young man. He embodies honor. From early on, his drive to reclaim what he sees as lost honor drives him forward to accomplish many things, and that also means he has to work through issues with his father, Ozai, and his sister, Azula. He becomes a man forged in a fiery crucible, one of suffering and rejection, and also, like fire, can create as much as he can destroy. What started out as an arrogance borne of royalty and privilege becomes a confidence that becomes a foundation upon which the Fire Nation can grow into prosperity.

Iroh, Zuko's uncle, is also one of my favorite characters of all. He stands by Zuko from the very beginning, never abandoning his nephew, despite his decisions. He knows that Zuko will find his own path when he is ready. Some of the wisest words in an animated series come from Iroh. His lesson about the four elements to Zuko is, by far, one of my most treasured ideas. It mirrors the ideals of the Avatar. In truth, I think a bender of any element should appreciate, respect, and learn from the other three to achieve balance. One of the messages behind this series is that we can all become Avatars when we have mastered ourselves.

Azula's passion and Lady Macbeth-esque qualities make her a fun character. She becomes the opposite of Zuko. Where Zuko is sensitive with an underlying sense of right and wrong, Azula possesses a stalwart decisiveness about what her role should be. In some ways, I think she becomes a role model. She's a strong female character, like Katara and Toph, who forges ahead for what she wants. While her motivations may be misguided, she strives for the best she can be (unfortunately, disregarding those whom she regards friends). Where Zuko moves from a driving "madness" early on to a more grounded individual, Azula moves further into a darker place, ironic for a firebender of her skill.

I'm sure some of you have others ideas to share about this series, but these are mine. I'll formulate my take on The Legend of Korra soon. That series, while stemming from Avatar, has a starkly divergent feel, one that moves my spirit in an altogether different way.
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