Alternative Character Interpretation: Avatar: The Last Airbender
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Avatar The Last Airbender
Uncle Iroh comes off as a buffoon as often as he does a wise old mentor. But the buffoonery is in such diametric opposition to a long and storied career in which he was, until Ba Sing Se, an extremely successful general that the simplest explanation is that he does it to distract Zuko from focusing on how awful his lot in life is and to mask that he's surreptitiously setting up lessons for Zuko. If the buffoonery is genuine, then Iroh's buffoonery may border on a trope of a different color... but the line between buffoon and wise man isn't usually that pronounced. In Season 3, he's explicitly shown using Obfuscating Stupidity; any earlier "buffoonery" can be attributed to attempts to look harmless so his psycho little brother Ozai won't try to have him killed and endanger anyone who gets caught in the crossfire.
It may also be his way of dealing with the trauma he experienced pre-series, such as losing his only son to the Siege of Ba Sing Se, which he himself led.
There's a subset that was so moved by her Villainous Breakdown that they decided she wasn't a sociopath. She's shown in canon to be cold and manipulative, using fear as a weapon and then calling it friendship; in stark contrast, part of the fandom seems to have decided that she's lost, scared, and just wanted Mommy to love her — as opposed to, you know, being a murderous bastard caught in deep psychosis. A few think it's both — one led to the other. If Azula was so lost and scared as a child, then becoming so powerful, manipulative, sociopathic bitch would (in her mind) seem like an ideal solution to erasing all the pain.
It is worth noting, while she is clearly not a good person, what we find out about Azula's mental state in The Search indicates that she is probably not clinically a sociopath.
Another increasingly popular theory, and a middle ground between the above two, is that Azula was a relatively normal, albeit mischievous and slightly mean-spirited child who just greatly admired her father, until Ursa left her to be brought up solely by Ozai, who then raised her as a war machine and molded her into the Magnificent Bastard she ended up being, and that Zuko would have ended up the same way if not for his uncle's influence.
It's possible she was simply a spoiled brat who was used to getting her way (as she got it from her father and those who feared them). Her mother, Ursa, loved her but didn't indulge her the same way her father did. While her fathermade her think the world revolved around her; hermotherbrought her down to earth therefore (according to Azula) she "hated" her. Either way you would blame Ozai for her behavior. But perhaps she doesn't deserve as much sympathy as the fandom has given her. Some fans even insist that every action she takes towards Zuko, no matter how violent or cruel, is actually her reaching out to him in her own twisted way, despite the fact that half the time she was trying to kill him, took pleasure in seeing him be disfigured by their father, never passed up a chance to degrade, embarrass or in some way be condescending towards him, and the real kicker is that she set him up to be the freaking fall guy to cover her own ass if it turned out she failed to kill Aang.
The real potential head case of the Avatar universe is Ozai. Viewing Zuko as a reflection of who he was as a child, a sensitive Momma's Boy who fails at every attempt to please Daddy, and his bigbrotherwhom everyone loves doesn't make things any easier. No, Azula represents his idealized self, (not in THAT way) along with her perfection as a Bender, intelligence and natural born leadership skills. He indulged Azula as he wished he could have been indulged as a child. Perhaps he genuinely loved Azula but spoiled her rotten for the reasons above, he tried to love Zuko but he couldn't due to his own self loathing.
It's also known that Ozai inherited the Fire Nation well into the Hundred Year War; there's also no mention of military accomplishments on his part, at least on par with his brother's. It's possible that his overzealous pursuit of glory for himself and the Fire Nation stems from an Omashu-sized chip on his shoulder. The way Zuko goes to him for advice during the sequel comic, The Promise, also implies that there was more, and more complex, issues on his solid-gold plate than figuring out which people and lands to subjugate. Any chance for sympathy probably ends when he decides to raze the Earth Kingdom to the ground, though.
It's possible Ozai saw himself in Zuko and was being hard on him to instill the strength in his son that being second-best instilled in him. Forgetting what happened to his own father as a result... Or even expecting it and wanting his son to kill him later on. That way he could be truly proud at the very least. It's possible than the main reason Ozai was angry in the Day of Black Sun was that Zuko was trying to join the Avatar and end the war instead of trying to do a better job leading the effort. He'd even posit that Ozai probably would've been far more satisfied if Zuko killed him right there. He still saw Zuko, even in defiance, as a coward.
Many viewers saw Zuko as a very troubled and sympathetic guy who legitimately struggles with various aspects of his life and himself, and sometimes has periods of whining (but understandably so), which thus makes his maturing a truly amazing story to watch. A number of others saw him as a pathetic, loser teen with serious anger problems and a general fuck-up who constantly causes unnecessary trouble for everyone, including himself.
About half the fandom considers Sokka to be a sensitive genius with occasional moments of idiocy and assholery. The other half considers him to be just the reverse.
Some consider him to evolve from the latter to the former as the series goes on.
Was Admiral Zhao's refusal to let Zuko try to rescue him from a vengeful Kaiju-class Ocean Spirit one last act of arrogant contempt for the boy, or a rare act of wisdom and honor in not letting the stupid kid get himself drowned too?
Is Aang the kind, childlike Air Nomad that everyone (including he himself) sees him as? Or is he a selfish, power hungry —or Naive— child who cares more about his own wants than the happiness of his family and friends or the needs of the world, even if it means destroying the balance he's supposed to maintain?
Asking why Iroh never bothered to overthrow his murderous usurper of a brother and saddled his emotionally damaged teenage nephew with the job of running the Fire Nation will start arguments, although him not overthrowing Ozai is at least given an (admittedly short) explanation in the finale.
Iroh's retirement to his tea shop: old man stepping aside to give the younger generation a chance to build a new world order or covert political hostage to the Earth Kingdom in order to secure a peace treaty?
Was Ursa a perfect mother, a humanly flawed woman, or a bitch who blatantly played favorites and ruined her daughter forever? The show gives us the first characterization — but it comes from Zuko's personal memories, making it possible that Zuko is simply idealizing her out of his love for her. Ozai and Azula would probably think of her as the second and third characterizations respectively.
According to The Search, she's a victim of Domestic Abuse as a result of an unwanted Arranged Marriage with Ozai, with... less-than-ideal results. She sends a letter saying that Ozai isn't Zuko's father to force him to admit he'd been reading her mail, gives Ozai an untraceable poison to use to murder Azulon when Azulon orders Zuko's death, and has her face changed and memories of her time in the palace (including her own children!) erased after being banished for it because those memories (and the thought of her children being stuck with Ozai for the rest of their lives) are too painful. The book itself clearly intends her to be seen as humanly flawed, but a huge portion of the fandom thinks she's a terrible person because of what she did.
This trope was deliberately cultivated for most members of the Fire Nation Royal Family. The writers were afraid that anything they came up with would be too dark even for this show. They intentionally left details vague so the viewers could make their own ideas.
Zutara shippers frequently portray Mai as a cruel, insanely jealous bitch, though she's just as easily a confused and possibly depressed teenager just as messed up as the rest of the Fire Nation characters whose character development, while less overtly stated than Zuko's, nevertheless paralleled his enough to give her a Heel-Face Turn near the end of the series.
Additionally, there seems to be a lack of consensus over whether she thought Azula was a sociopathic bitch and only followed her because she was afraid of what would happen if she didn't (this is exceedingly common in Tyzula fanfiction, and you can bet she'll be portrayed as in the wrong for feeling this way), or whether she genuinely liked Azula and only turned on her because she valued Zuko's life over Azula's friendship.
Sozin - Was he a power-hungry ruler who sought only his own benefit, or did he honestly believe that things would be better once he took over the world? Or is it a bit of both?
Azulon - For a character that has had only a few minutes of screen time and a couple lines, there is so much debate about him and the ambiguous scenario involving him. Did he ask Ozai to sacrifice his son for a slight against his eldest? Was it a Secret Test of Character? Was Azulon speaking figuratively Ozai would lose a son because Iroh would adopt Zuko as his son and heir completely by-passing Ozai's chance to the throne? Did he even give that as an order or did Azula make it all up (for any various reasons) and Ozai went with it?
Jeong Jeong - Antagonistically dour, but correct in that Aang needed the emotional maturity from learning Waterbending and Earthbending before attempting to learn Firebending? Or just a scarred, bitter, self-loathing (and possibly somewhat crazy) old man who simply didn't want to pass on his knowledge in a bending form he considered inherently evil? Plus, his efforts at teaching; fair but strict for Aang's own good, only turning out badly because of Aang's natural flightiness? Or half-assed due to resentment of being bullied into teaching Aang against his will and so all but deliberately setting Aang up for burning Katara?
Avatar Kyoshi's willingness to kill an enemy (when she could find not find any other solution to deal with Chin the Conqueror) has somehow turned into the fanon interpretation that Kyoshi is a killer who constantly revels in bloodshed. This is mostly prevalent when she is compared to other Avatars.
Then there's the fact that Kyoshi is implied to have basically let Chin the Conqueror run rampant over the Earth Kingdom until he had the nerve to approach the area she claimed as her own territory, whereupon she simply broke the peninsula off and turned it into an island. So, Kyoshi the apathetic and only concerned with her own people Avatar? Or did she just view the Earth Kingdom's civil war as an internal matter, thus not falling under the Avatar's purview, until Chin tried to force Kyoshi to bend her knee to him? Or was Chin to Kyoshi what Ozai was to Aang and she didn't stop him right away because she had to master all four elements first?
Yu Dao colony from the Promise Trilogy sequel comic: beacon of multiculturalism and victim of backwards thinkers who don't appreciate its glories, or inherently racist community whose famed wealth is built on making weapons for the Fire Nation's war effort?
Ty Lee - really a nice, sweet girl who had the rotten luck of being manipulated into working for the bad guys when she probably would have been happier hanging out with the good guys, or a Dirty CowardKarma Houdini who knew full well how much damage she was helping Azula and the Fire Nation inflict on the world and went with it because deep down she figured they'd win sooner or later and she was better off playing for what she thought was the winning team?
Or a nice, sweet girl who knew full well how much damage she was helping Azula and the Fire Nation inflict on the world, but was too afraid of Azula's wrath to turn her down up until she was forced to decide between Azula's wrath and Mai's life.
Another interpretation of Mako is that Mako/Money is his OTP, the idea that he's a gold-digger. Or at least a young man who goes by practicality. His (paraphrased) statement "I like Korra, but it makes more sense to be with Asami," seems to indicate that he didn't really go with his heart, just with what would be more likely to get him and Bolin further off the streets and Asami was beautiful and kind to boot. It would explain why he threatened to end Korra's friendship for questioning Mr. Sato's integrity. He had come to view the Satos as his new family who would help him out financially, so he kept them close. Korra coming by and calling out Mr. Sato drove a pick through Mako's heart and he stood up for the one wealthy man who ever showed him an ounce of kindness, in denial of the possibility that someone wealthy must automatically be evil, because he had finally torn down that assumption he likely held all these years... Only for it to be proven correct in the one example where he let his guard down.
This may sound bad for any ship involving Mako, but the fact that Mako grew to care about Korra enough that she need not be the Avatar (a person of serious status) to love her indicates that he cares far more about her as a person than anything else... Although, if she isn't the Avatar, she'd still be a former Avatar and one of the few remaining airbenders, the idea that the Order of the White Lotus would cut off all funding and support is a dubious assumption, so if one wants to get really cynical, it could be assumed that he'd rather stand by the girl he likes who could still have high status and financial support, than the one who's father's company just experienced a serious blow.
The fact that it was never entirely clear whether or not Amon was sincere about his crusade against bending despite being one himself or was just taking advantage of anti-bender sentiments to gain power or upstage his Abusive Father makes it very difficult to determine what category of villain he falls under. Whether or not he counts as an Anti-Villain-considering his tragic backstory the real one that is-is up for debate. In the former interpretation, what type of Anti-Villain Amon is- Type III if one thinks Tarrlok was right about him being sincere in his belief that bending was the root of all evil, or simply type II if one doesn't-is also contested.
One could also argue that while Amon himself might have been a Boomerang Bigot, his cause might have been just. Since the descendants of the Gaang own a suspicious amount of high positions and seem to have very little concern for the non-bender population. The alternative is Tarrlok, who openly discriminates against them. Like Amon says, a lot of benders abuse their powers as criminals, and having so many powerful people in an overcrowded, developing city might be the equivalent of every other person in Brooklyn owning a rocket launcher. When you look at all these factors depowering the population might not seem like such a bad idea.
Tenzin and Lin Beifong: The last light for good government in Republic City, or well-meaning incompetents that only achieved their high rank through nepotism? For all Tenzin's talk about not escalating the conflict between benders and non-benders, he never offers any policy alternatives, and never gets so much as a single vote in favor of his position. Lin is a badass when it comes to combat situations, but as police chief she presided over a city rife with organized crime, let a violent revolutionary movement gestate under her watch, botched the defense of the arena, fell for the Cabbage Corp fake-out, and resigned her post despite knowing full well that she would be replaced by Tarrlok's anti non-bender candidate.
The Park Protestor: Contrarian attention-whore, as Nick's website claims, or an earnest political activist standing up to the pro-bending establishment? Although for all he harps on Korra for benders like her using her power to oppress people like him, he still wholeheartedly supports the Equalists even after they indiscriminately bombard Republic City with their superior martial power... at least until Amon reveals himself as a waterbender. Not to mention that for all his talk about an oppressive establishment keeping down the non-bender, he's allowed to freely agitate for the Equalists in a public park with police protection.
Hiroshi Sato: is his anti-bender attitude simple racism brought about his wife's murder, or is it a way to excuse unfashionable classism? He alone in the show comments negatively about Asami dating outside her social class, calling Mako a "street rat" and expressing his disgust at seeing the two of them together. He's also happy to trumpet in the finale that everyone will finally be equal after Amon's revolution... a revolution that consists only of purging society of benders with no other reforms, and a never-ending world war that will keep Sato's factories busily churning out weapons for the new Equalist government.
If she was going to commit suicide, was it because she legitimately wanted to die out of shame and hopelessness from loosing her bending, or because she simply thought it would be best for the world if the avatar was reincarnated into someone with intact bending abilities as soon as possible?
A minor case-Pema. Ever since episode six, there's been debate about her actions in the Love Triangle between her, Tenzin, and Lin. On one side, fans are furious at her for breaking up Linzin and have described her as a "homewrecking whore". Pema fans have responded by saying that isn't not fair to judge Pema because we don't have all the details and that Lin and Tenzin's relationship was already going downhill.
This brings up questions about Lin and Tenzin's past relationship in general. He glosses over the breakup as if it were just puppy love they both grew out of, yet the fact that Lin still has hurt feelings over it years later suggests their previous relationship was deeper than a childhood infatuation; that Tenzin left Lin for a much younger woman undoubtedly added to the heartache. Then there's the question of just how did he end the relationship - were they living together? Were they engaged? Etc.
Word of God states that Tenzin broke up with Lin because he wanted a family and she didn't, but was it just that he really wanted a family, or that he felt morally obligated to have a family?
Some Tahno fans wonder how much of his taunting was him being a Jerkass and how much was just, well, taunting opponents before a sports competition.
Is the Republic City council corrupt and biased or are they just in extreme stress from the Equalist Revolt and bending crimes?
Given their secrecy about their motives and goals, their Villanous Friendship and Affably Evil traits, the Red Lotus are a big source of this. Are they Affably Evil terrorists who want to kill Korra?Well-Intentioned Extremist? They harming and even killing OWL's members during their jailbreak is very debated too. Some consider it cold blooded murder, while others think of it as unavoidable collateral damage or even rightful payback.
Whether or not Aang and Toph were good parents to their respective sets of kids. Did Aang deliberately ignore Bumi and Kya because they weren't air benders like oh so precious Tenzin, or was he simply under a lot of pressure to make sure that Tenzin, the first air bender born in over a century, knew everything there was to know about air bending and Air Nomad culture because it was his job to bring back the Air Nomad Nation, thus neglecting Bumi and Kya by accident? Was Toph a neglectful parent or did she simply miscalculate trying to give Lin and Suyin the freedom Toph herself never had as a child in an attempt to go against her parents' controlling ways?
This is also a serious Base Breaker between fans who debate whether or not this move by the writers completely destroys the credibility of Aang and Toph as protagonists from the first series or if it's an understandable and realistic flaw given their upbringings before they struck out on their own (Aang raised by a bunch of Air Nomad Monks and Toph raised by parents who were too controlling and never gave her the love and space she needed). It's especially bad for Aang since many fans feel that Aang being a bad or neglectful parent conflicts with the All-Loving HeroFriend to All Living Things persona from the original series
Suyin Bei Fong, Lin's long lost younger half sister introduced in season 3, who we learn, scarred Lin's face early in her career (albeit by accident) when Lin broke up a robbery Suyin was taking part in and then had the whole thing swept under a rug by their mother, then Chief Toph Bei Fong, who sent Suyin away to live with her grandparents before she eventually struck out on her own and wandered the world for years, helped build a city and eventually settled down. Is she really a cool, complex older lady who properly atoned for her past misdeeds, or a smug Karma Houdini who should have had to struggle more to earn Lin's forgiveness? Was Lin actually justified in resenting Suyin for so long, or did she unfairly hold a grudge against her younger half sister? Was Suyin ever really sincere about wanting to reconcile with Lin, or was she just trying to make herself look better?
And now that they've, ahem, "reconciled" as of Old Wounds... did Lin really need the reconciliation with a loving and genuinely regretful sister, or was she unfairly bullied into forgiving someone who, as far as we know, never brought anything positive into her life, and is she truly now a better, happier person who can now enjoy a big extended family she never had before, or simply a victim of Suyin manipulating her so she can finally have her "perfect life" exactly as she always wanted it (after claiming that Lin refusing to be a part of her life was the one thing that kept it from being perfect), regardless of whether or not she actually deserves it, by taking advantage of Lin being too emotionally weak to tune her out?
Kya: a disappointing waterbender who is unworthy of her mother and of her title of master or a talented waterbender who is simply lacking in combat experience (having not had to fight a war as a teenager) and was, therefore, unprepared to take on an opponent who, like Toph, constantly used her bending to compensate for a disability and was, thus, on a whole nother level.
About all the above? You'll never know because Mike and Bryan won't tell you! MWAHAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!