These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
YMMV: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Alternate Aesop Interpretation: The Great Divide. It seems many viewers focus on the feud between the clans itself and Aang's solution to the conflict. However, from another viewpoint, the episode is a warning about getting caught up in arguments and controversies where there is no clear logical resolution because it's easier to align yourself with one of the groups. Both clans are telling different versions of the same story about a significant ancestor and don't seem to have any sort of evidence or documentation. Sokka and Katara find themselves weighing in on opposite sides of the feud because of which side of the story they heard first, and because of their views on how to adequately build tents in the dry season.
Aang: Really the nice, sweet, compassionate boy with a kind heart that everyone thinks he is, or a selfish brat who damned the world for a century and inconvenienced his friends from time to time to follow his own whims? Was his desire to not kill Ozai in the finale really a sign of just how pure of heart he truly is, or again him being selfish and inconsiderate of the greater good (even if he did manage to get away with it)?
Azula: sociopathicmanipulative bitch or is she just a product of parental neglect, much like Zuko, but without the benefit of having a loving figure in her life?. Word of God seems to lean at least slightly towards the latter though. The creators have stated in interviews that Azula isn't inherently evil and may eventually get better.
Ozai: Word of God says he got along very well with Ursa when they first married, which could mean he wasn't always this evil. Conversely, it could say some things about Ursa...
Then again, even Zuko mentions that there "was a time when they were happy" (and visited Ember Island together), so it's likely that he wasn't always evil. This was confirmed eventually in The Promise comics.
Azulon: Considering how little is known about him and how ambiguous the scenario involving him is, alternate interpretations have cropped up about the order to kill Zuko. Some see it as a sick display of affection and loyalty for his eldest son Iroh, others saw it as a Secret Test of Character that went out of hand, much like Abraham being ordered to sacrifice Isaac in The Bible. It has even been suggested that he never gave any such order—that Azula made it up in order to pick on Zuko, and Ozai went along with the lie in order to gain Ursa's cooperation. One Fan Fic even suggested that when Azulon said that Ozai would feel the pain of losing his son, it was because Azulon wanted Zuko to become Iroh's heir.
Koh: Some people see him as a more neutral force, mostly because his one appearance in the series had him helping Aang. Alternatively, he could be seen as a Bigger Bad.
Katara: Good feminist icon in that she's an Action Girl who doesn't disavow her maternal instinct and still embraces her call to Team Mom or bad feminist icon in that she's hyper-emotional (to the point of allowing their entire overall mission to get sidetracked by her just-add-water instant sympathy for random townspeople who, really, will probably be helped out anyway by them rallying to finish overthrowing Ozai) and has that whole "Hell Hath No Fury" thing that leads her to betray her own ideals (in a very definitely bad way) and never really got called on it by any other character in the show? Or just an ordinary girl struggling to cope with an extraordinary adventure that she's not prepared for?
Kyoshi: Of the Avatars seen so far, she's the most inclined to follow the letter of the law. However people of Tumblr seem to be under the impression that just because she doesn't regret putting down Chin the conqueror to save her people, apparently she is now labeled a full on Blood Knight, who apparently loves to battle and kill her enemies. ◊
Toph's Father: After seeing what a powerful Earthbender Toph actually is, as opposed to the helpless little girl he always believed and insisted she was, he still refuses to let her go off on the big adventure training Aang and instead orders that she put under even more security (and she wasn't allowed to leave the estate even before he knew just how powerful she was). When Toph runs away with Aang and the gang anyway, her father hires a pair of wrestlers turned bounty hunters to bring her back, saying Aang kidnapped her. Was he experiencing some understandable Adult Fear, or was he actually more afraid of the damage Toph could inflict on others without anyone supervising her? Maybe a little bit of both? For that matter, did he really believe Aang kidnapped Toph or was he just in denial of the fact that his controlling, domineering ways had finally driven her away?
Ty Lee: Really a sweet, innocent girl who had the rotten luck of being bullied into working for the bad guys, or a Dirty CowardKarma Houdini who knowingly worked for the bad guys believing they were her best bet of survival and then got away with helping to ruin countless innocent lives all the while feeling no guilt for her part in the Fire Nation nearly destroying the rest of the free world?
Zhao: What was his motive for rejecting Zuko's help when he was about to die? Zhao may have realized that, by accepting Zuko's hand, the both of them would have died simultaneously. Another idea is that, in his arrogance, Zhao refused to receive help from his teenaged rival, as he felt that being saved from (what he viewed as) an impatient, talentless, hot-headed and overconfident "child", on top of losing the battle at the Northern Water Tribe, would have disgraced his reputation to the public and his peers, damaged his authority over the Fire Nation military, and prompted a demotion. If this second possibility is true, then through death, as well as the Fire Lord holding the blame for the defeat on the Dragon of the West, Zhao managed to gain a slightly more 'merciful' final fate.
Another interpretation is that, through Zuko's rescue, Zhao felt that he would have owed his life to his rival out of obligation for being saved and may have perceived that as an act of submission. Finally, the last interpretation is that, once the Moon rose again, Zhao realized that his supposed "destiny" of being a legend was indeed false, and without this crutch to explain his own misdeeds, the purpose for his existence fell apart before his eyes. Zuko is a male version of Azula to them.
The interpretation that makes the most sense, given his obsession over history and failures, is that he knew that, if he lived and returned to the Fire Nation, he'd spend the rest of his life in disgrace and humiliation, being scorned and shamed for his massive failed invasion of the North. He'd rather die and at least be remembered for "heroically" sacrificing his life, than become like Zuko.
There's even the possibility that Zhao had a moment of Even Evil Has Standards: despite his dislike of Zuko, Zhao couldn't bring himself to drag Zuko down with him to a possible Fate Worse Than Death for something that, deep down, he knew wasn't Zuko's fault.
The villagers in The Painted Lady: Are they Ungrateful Bastards towards Katara, or are they rightfully pissed that she engaged in cultural appropriation of their main cultural icon, and purely because it suited her purposes to do so at that? Are they possibly both? Either way, they get over it pretty quickly.
Ursa: Loving and devoted mother who was doing her best to raise her children in a poisonous and dangerous environment, or was she as bad as Ozai in terms of favoring Zuko over Azula, which continued to embitter Azula towards her and Zuko?
The Very Nature and Importance of the Avatar: The world's one true hope for "Balance", or an anachronism full of outdated superstitions holding the world back from truly progressing, causing entire societies to stagnate?
Broken Base: Aang's conflict in the finale split fans between those who felt it came out of nowhere and those who felt it was perfectly justified given what we'd seen of Aang to that point. Then there's the controversy over whether the resolution of using the previously unseen Energybending so Aang could stop Ozai without killing him was reasonably foreshadowed or a complete Ass Pull. For the record, the creators had the idea of Aang sticking with Thou Shalt Not Kill in their mind from the beginning of the series, they just didn't have anything specific. But the less said the better.
Complete Monster: Fire Lord Ozai is a genocidal, child-abusing fascist dictator who has dedicated weeks at a time and large portions of his national army to hunting down and killing a twelve-year-old and his friends. He forced Ursa into marrying him, and tried to kill her old lover out of spite. He obtained the throne when he manipulated Ursa into murdering his father to usurp the throne from his grieving older brother Iroh. He then thanked her with banishment from the Fire Nation and threatened to hunt them down and kill the children if she took them with her. He physically abused his son Zuko by burning his face for speaking out of turn, and tried to shot him with lightning when he decides to join Aang. He manipulated his loyal daughter Azula into becoming his perfect little villain to the point where she snaps from the pressure, only to discard her to a completely meaningless position. Finally, his reaction to news of rebellions in the Earth Kingdom is to try to incinerate the continent. Even after his downfall he stills tries to manipulate his son Zuko into being a tyrant like himself. He doesn't regret any of those moments and feels no remorse for the consequences.
Zuko (especially before his Heel-Face Turn). As horrible as his life was, it makes it easy for the viewers to forget that his motives for going after Aang were entirely selfish. Zhao, Azula, Jet and yes, even Ozai.
Koh as well, to the point where many fans speculated that he would play a significant role in The Legend of Korra.
Dry Docking: Generally, Zutara shippers have the reputation (whether or not it's deserved is an argument that can light a forum ablaze almost instantly) of projecting romance onto the character they identify with and the character they want to tap. However, it's also common for people to go one step beyond and declare that "ZUKO/ME IS THE ONLY THING I SHIP!!!"
This is gone into in the comic "The Search." It's a bit of base breaking, so watch your step.
Combustion Man is a badass assassin with a mysterious past, a completely unique form of Firebending, and leaves more questions then answers. You do the math.
According to creator commentary, he has an extremely overdeveloped third eye, which makes sense as his tattoo looks like the symbol for an Ajna chakra.
What are the stories behind all of Koh's faces?
Answered in "The Search." He's the son of a spirit called "The Mother Of All Faces," who grants people's faces/souls, it's not super clear. He despises her and loves her at the same time, so he steals the things she grants.
Evil Is Sexy: Azula and Ozai. Mai and Ty Lee also, although they're merely antagonists, and not evil.
Family-Unfriendly Aesop: Subverted in the case where the series as a whole, but the finale in particular, looked for awhile to be building up to a very Family Unfriendly Aesop: that sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer. Aang spoke with all of his past lives and was told by Roku, indirectly, about how many lives they could have saved if they had "acted decisively," and by Kyoshi and Yangchen how they were willing to do "anything" to save the lives of millions of people, and that as Avatar his duty was to put the well-being of the people of the world over his own path to enlightenment. Kuruk was the only one who provided a clear opposition to the idea, advising Aang to "actively shape your own destiny." Ultimately Aang chose to go with Kuruk's advice and found a way to stop Ozai for good without having to kill him.
The Great Divide: Lying through your teeth is an acceptable and effective way to resolve deeply ingrained disputes.
Fandom Berserk Button: Never, ever, ever, call this show an anime. It's a common mistake, but doing so gets certain people really angry.
Do 'NOT make assumptions about the show based on the live-action movie. In fact, don't even mention the live-action movie.
Katara: We were following instinct. Jet:You'll get yourself killed that way.
From "The Great Divide": "Settling feuds and making peace. All in a day's work for the Avatar." Tell that to the people of Yu Dao.
Genius Bonus: Dear lord, everything. Ozai's title in the finale is probably a reference to the Chinese "fenghuang" (the phoenix lord of demons, which is symbolic in and of itself).
The sheer number of accurate details from different cultures is immensely rewarding for anyone familiar with Asian history.
This is not just Ancient Asian history. Many of the best references and parallels are actually from 20th century China and Japan. Ba Sing Se especially will ring a lot of bells for anyone who's been to China lately.
Growing the Beard: In the trope sense, it seems most of the fans agree the show was great from the start but others like to point at various points in season 1 (and up to Season 2) as to where it "really" hit its stride. "The Storm" which reveals the backstories of Aang and Zuko is a popular candidate.
Iroh exasperatedly telling Zuko he'll never find the Avatar in the first episode. Once you know Zuko's whole backstory, it comes off pretty damn callous in a rewatch since he's offhandedly saying "Oh, just give up on ever returning to your homeland, family, and birthright and go to bed." To be fair, they had no legit indication at the time that it was anything more than a Snipe Hunt used to manipulate Zuko to keep him from turning face in his exile.
Hama passing down bloodbending to Katara doesn't seem like a big deal until The Legend of Korra, where two of the series' main antagonists are bloodbenders, and they don't need a full moon to bloodbend.
Most fans still believe this of a number of Air Nomads.
One of the comics actually had this be true... for a while.
In Universe example: When Aang is told that airbenders have not been seen in a century, he insists that they must be in hiding. Then he learns the truth...
According to Word of God, a small colony of Sky Bison were found by Aang in the remote mountains between the original show and Legend Of Korra, so depending on your viewpoint, the Airbenders really were just hiding.
In "The Storm", Sokka describes a dream he had where Momo talked ("You said some very unkind things.") Two seasons later in "Nightmares and Daydreams", one of Aang's hallucinations starts with Momo talking.
The final scene of "The Ember Island Players" can also come off as this, as many fans came away from The Last Airbender with the same sentiments.
Zuko: That... wasn't a good play. Aang: I'll say. Katara: No kidding. Suki: Horrible. Toph: You said it. Sokka: But the effects were decent.
On top of the constant complaints by the characters that their representations in the play are nothing like real life, accurately mirroring fan complaints of characterization and appearance in the film.
There's also Aang's "Wait, is that a woman playing me?" Aang's stunt double in the movie is female.
The first tie-in video game featured steampunk-heavy people who believed bending to be the source of the all of the world's problems as the antagonists. Now look what's happened in the first season of The Legend of Korra. Somewhere, "the Maker" must be laughing her ass off.
Iron Woobie: Zuko has been: ignored by his father in favor of his more talented sister, had his mother leave him to protect him, gotten his face permanently scarred by his father for speaking out of turn and protesting a We Have Reserves plan, was banished from his home. After he found Aang, he chased him across the world trying to capture him so he could go home, became a fugitive for failing to capture Aang, and had to steal to survive. After he finally got to go home, he realized his nation was hurting the rest of the world for their own profit, and left again, this time of his own will, in order to stop his Omnicidal Maniac father from carrying out his plans, and was treated poorly by the Gaang even after he was (grudgingly) allowed to join them. Summed up this way during Zuko's Rage Against the Heavens:
Also, Sokka. This is the price he pays for having the most onscreen romantic interest.
Zuko. And Azula.
It would just be easier to list who hasn't been paired off with Jin and Ty Lee considering the ships they've launched.
Les Yay: Toph with Katara. Which is pretty hilarious, considering there were plans for Katara to get a crush on Toph back when he was a boy. And with Suki, especially during that Accidental Kiss.
Azula and Ty Lee.
Lost Aesop: "The Painted Lady" seems to be setting us up to learn something about how Chronic Hero Syndrome can be detrimental to the greater good. Except then we're apparently supposed to believe that Katara was right all along—until the villagers call her out for cultural appropriation and making them look like fools. But then Sokka scolds the villagers for their ingratitude. And then the real Painted Lady shows up to and says "thank you," without any explanation of why she'd done nothing to help the villagers herself. Maybe the lesson was about people needing to help themselves instead of expecting supernatural aid, but then what exactly do you call the Avatar showing up unannounced and fixing all of your problems? Meanwhile, Sokka's concerns about them missing the eclipse if they keep stopping to help people are forgotten (in the very next episode they drop everything so that Sokka can learn to swordfight).
Memetic Sex Goddess: Every young female character on the show, but especially Katara, Toph, Azula, Mai, Jin and Ty Lee (despite the fact that they're either barely 15 or well under that).
Mis-blamed: Some people claim the energybending in the finale was thrown in as an Ass Pull in order to avoid killing on a kids' show, however Mike and Bryan claim to have had the idea as the resolution of the conflict in the series bible from the beginning.
His line "my father decided to teach me a permanent lesson, on my face" is suitably tragic... but still incredibly awkward.
The final fight against Azula, too. "Why aren't you using lightning? Afraid I might redirect it?" Come on, Zuko, that was worse than clichéd. A joke about losing her spark would've even been a better taunt.
Narm Charm: Despite being somewhat narmtastic, Zuko's comment on Mai's beauty ("You're so beautiful when you hate the world.") comes across as being rather sweet and romantic, albeit in an awkward, emotionally repressed teen sort of way. Considering who the little moment is between, the awkwardness of exchanging 'romantic' comments is arguably why it's adorable.
It helps that the "I don't hate you" "I don't hate you, too" followed by the kiss that comes afterwards is Played for Laughs.
Also Zuko's practice attempts to become a good guy and join the Gaang in the beginning of Season 3.
Even Azula has her moments of this when she tries to seduce some of the boys in the beach episode.
Kyoshi is the most direct and pragmatic of the known avatars, but is flanderized by fans into being a Blood Knight who breaths and eats violence just because she took responsibility for Chin the Conqueror's death without a second thought and outright advising Aang to kill Ozai.
Some fans still mock Zuko for needing someone to help him defeat Azula in their final battle, despite the fact that he was clearly winning before she targeted Katara.
Despite being initially targeted at elementary school-age kids, the show become quite popular (likely even more popular) among preteens and teenagers.And young adults in their twenties. And not-so-young adults.
Toph being a girl rather than a boy was supposed to appeal to the female demographic... which it did, but the showrunners probably weren't expecting her to be equally popular with teen to college-aged men.
One of the Avatar video games on the XBOX 360 is popular among achievement hunters due to ease of getting 1000 points.
If you buy that it wasn't intentional on the part of the creators, which is a very hard sell. For most people the question is: was Azula messing with Zuko's head...or is she really trying seduce her brother?
It gets even more complicated when there are indications that it is not entirely one-sided. See the Incest Subtext entry on the main page for details.
Rooting for the Empire: Azula's ability to provoke this almost rivals Grand Admiral Thrawn. People want to see her win simply because they know it will be awesome to watch.
Her conquest of Ba Sing Se without lifting a finger is something that must be seen to be believed.
Zuko can provoke this response sympathy for how horrible his life is.
Sacred Cow: It's safe to say that Iroh is this. He's easily the most beloved character in the Avatar universe, but what truly cements this was being voiced by the late Mako, whose passing only amplified people's love of Iroh. It also helps that he is an All-Loving Hero with a backstory that can and will break your heart.
Ships That Pass In The Night: Teo, the wheelchair bound guy, and Ty Lee, one of the most acrobatic girls around, have some moderate popularity, despite the fact they never interacted and probably never saw each other. Fanfics that ship them usually include a mention of them meeting at Zuko's coronation to get around that problem in the easiest way available.
Spoiled by the Format: The invasion of the Fire Nation on the day of the solar eclipse is built up as the final confrontation, and the final blow to end the war. Too bad it happens in episodes ten and eleven out of twenty-one.
Fire Lord Ozai never really got much character development or backstory despite his importance in the series.
Ozai and Iroh's father, Fire Lord Azulon was only briefly seen in one flashback episode and mentioned in passing in another. Despite being the Fire Lord before Ozai we know next to nothing about him.
Koh, the Face Stealer is quite popular with many fans, yet we never see him after his debut (at least, not in the show proper. He makes appearances in some sort of (now defunct) online game and the sequel comics).
Azula's elderly advisors/instructors Lo and Li originally seemed to be Azula's equivalents to Zuko's Iroh only much colder in personality. Come season three, their role becomes more comical and it's revealed that they aren't even firebenders.
What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: While it seems to be primary a kids show, it does has its fair share of horror and especially in the third seasons deals with a series of very tough issues. The main character is the lone survivor of a genocide during which an ethnicity was completely wiped out and the 100 year long war seems to have spared not a single family from having lost relatives in combat or war crimes. Some episodes in the 3rd season even deal with an assassin hired to kill the protagonists and one of the heroes setting out to kill the murderer of her mother.
About the only tell (aside from the squeaky-clean language) is when characters are strangely incapable of outright suggesting they will kill each other. Further, while some characters are shown dying in the series, their deaths are never depicted outright (poked fun at in "Ember Island Players"). However, sometimes even Never Say "Die" can get lifted - such as showing Gyatso's remains a whopping two episodes into the series.
This show has two diametrically opposed Woobies at the same time, in Aang and Zuko especially after "The Storm" where we learn about Aang's feelings of guilt over running away from home and Zuko's abuse and exile at the hands of his own father (demonstrated nicely here). It's little wonder that Zuko got the Draco in Leather Pants treatment from the fans.
Katara when it comes to her mother's death.
Sokka gets some of this from time to time, too, especially in "The Waterbending Master", "The Siege of the North", and "The Boiling Rock".
Then there's Azula, who goes from one of the greatest Magnificent Bastards to The Woobie over the course of only four episodes. And it actually works.
Appa during Season 2 - the episode "Appa's Lost Days" has him go through a certain level of Hell.
Even the pathetic and powerless Ozai after the end of the war is Woobie-ish for some.
Iroh, in an Iron Woobie kind of way, in that he doesn't let it show very often. For most of the series, he looks like a funny, yet awesome character who always has Zuko's best interests at heart... But then we find out that he lost his son in the siege against Ba Sing Se that he led, and it goes downhill from there.
Ty Lee, considering her childhood of neglect, the fact that she only befriended Azula out of fear, or that all she wanted was to be a circus performer but Azula bullied her into giving up her dream to join her in her hunt for the Avatar.
Then there's the Boiling Rock, one of the harshest versions of The Alcatraz in western animation. Horrible treatment aside, guards regularly let other guards enter prison cells to rough up the prisoners, with being caught doing so just resulting in little more than an exasperated sigh. Not to mention it's a given that the guards at the Boiling Rock torture prisoners for information in canon, and Suki was the leader of the group of warriors found in the company of the avatar's primary means of transportation, it seems likely that she would have been "interrogated" about his location.