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The Avatar is the most powerful being in the Avatar universe. The Avatar is the only being which can master the four elements and can energybend as well. It first came to existence 10,000 years before the main story, as the result of a permanent fusion between Wan - the first man to not only possess the power of more than one element, but the first human bender as well - and Raava, the spirit of light and peace. The Avatar is a reincarnation of Wan throughout the millennia, starting a cycle that began the moment Wan died.
The Avatar is able to access the power of Raava and his or her previous incarnations in what is called the Avatar State, giving them unlimited power for as long as they are in said state. However, any given incarnation of the Avatar is not immortal, and if he or she is killed in the Avatar State, the Avatar Spirit will die and the cycle will end (though Raava herself will survive the death of the Avatar Spirit, and will eventually reform elsewhere).
The Avatar's mission in life, a task set forth by Wan himself, is to maintain balance of the world, as well as between the mortal and spirit realms. This job includes bringing peace between groups in conflict, or defeating threats to world peace such as imperialist tyrants bent on conquest. The Avatar is also the spiritual leader of the world; due to being half spirit, the Avatar is most powerful in the Spirit World, as opposed to other humans who normally are powerless in comparison. The Avatar must master the four elements and attain a certain degree of balance within themselves; they are then referred to as a "fully realized Avatar".
For tropes specifically relating to Korra, Aang, the Avatars who preceded them, or Wan himself, please visit the various pages in the Character pages for both Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra.
- The Atoner: Until perhaps the Harmonic Convergence of Korra's time, the Avatar's mission in life is partly to honor Wan's dying wish to continue making up for his grave mistake in releasing Vaatu.
- Big Good: The Avatar is to attain this goal once they have mastered all four elements and found inner peace. This usually negates an Avatar's chance to have political power, since their job is to essentially be the leader of two entire worlds.
- Bullying a Dragon: Avatar Extras dryly noted that most people who face or challenge a fully realized Avatar in combat are pretty easily embarrassed.
- Changing of the Guard: Wan through Aang represents the first full Harmonic Convergence Cycle for the Avatar or the course of about 10000 years. Korra started off as part of Wan's legacy until Raava was attacked and she permanently lost her connection to her past lives during second Convergence. This makes her the new 'first' avatar, as no one else will ever be able to directly commune with Wan-Aang.
- The Chosen One: Treated as one as far as the world is concerned, with each nation having the same, or similar methods to recognize the him or her when he/she is born, and during the War was treated as a symbol of hope to be revered or destroyed. A tribe feuding for a hundred years took Aang's bald-face lie at face value simply because he claimed to know the tribe's forefounders. Avatars are commonly involved with, connected to or directly responsible for history changing events and important individuals. On top of all that, their destiny is to battle Vaatu every ten thousand years to prevent a dark-spirit apocalypse.
- Elemental Powers: One of the main advantages of being bonded with Raava is that the Avatar can use all four of the elements, air-, water-, earth- and firebending, instead of just the one like everyone else. Even then the Avatar can mostly only use one at a time. With the Avatar State active they can use all four at the same and with a tremendous power boost. Their ability to use multiple elements also makes it easier for the Avatar than other benders to apply bending techniques across elements, such as redirecting lightning by applying Waterbending principles to Firebending.
- Fusion Dance: The Avatar came to be when Wan and Raava fused together during Harmonic Convergence.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: As seen above, the Avatar employs these when entering the Avatar State.
- God Is Good: The Avatar is the closest thing to a god that the Avatar universe has, and their job is to protect the worlds and its people and spirits.
- God in Human Form: The Avatar is a reincarnation of Wan, a human who bonded his soul to the spirit of life, Raava. All Avatars can tap into her power by entering the Avatar State, which also allows them to access all the knowledge she has and all the knowledge of Wan's incarnations.
- God of Good: The Avatar is the human incarnation of Raava, the great spirit of light and peace. She bonded herself with a human host in order to defeat her evil opposite Vaatu and later bring peace to both physical and spirit worlds. Since then, the Avatar has also maintained equilibrium between the four nations of the physical world.
- Heroic Second Wind: The Avatar State is often used as a last resort when the Avatar requires an extra boost of power to accomplish the task at hand.
- Humanoid Abomination: Benevolent ones of course, but every avatar is a being of godlike power resulting from a spiritual fusion with Raava.
- The Juggernaut: While not immortal, it's easy to tell that a fully realized Avatar is considered unstoppable even by the top tier of normal benders.
- Jack-of-All-Stats: It's Zig-Zagged with how much the Avatar fits this versus Master of All, but for all of their purported skills with multiple elements, Avatars are usually shown as not being nearly as skilled as the most powerful normal benders in each element. For instance, they're rarely shown using advanced special categories of bending such as metal-bending on lightning-bending.
- Legacy Character: Via reincarnation, every avatar after Wan takes up his legacy and title.
- Master of All: The purpose of each Avatar's training is to turn them into one of these, mastering all four elements to an even greater degree than normal benders who have been training for decades.
- Messianic Archetype: Each avatar is a reincarnated man or woman who possess incredible power and connected to a spiritual plane of existence, and in almost every life has faced off a tyrannical or amoral enemy. Their advice is treated with near-religious worship and world leaders are willing to listen to the advice of a 10 year-old with no knowledge of war or even a complete history of the last century. The last part holds truth, as avatars have the ability to access Raava's memories to seek the wisdom they need.
- Sublty deconstructed as Aang is initially treated as the sole person capable of saving the world and his word is treated as law, while Korra is met with resistance such as the world leaders not including her in war strategies against Kuvira due to her not being fully recovered. Only when the situation became so bad that they had to defer to her wisdom did they include her. This doesn't apply to everyone, however; more common citizens such as an old fisherman had no problem calling out the Avatar for seemingly abandoning the world.
- The Needs of the Many: This is a dilemma faced by many Avatars in their lifetimes: whether or not to choose between themselves or the fate of the many in a given context. Since the Avatar is the protector of not just the entire world, but the Spirit World as well, an Avatar is usually advised to serve the needs of the many over the needs of the few. This is the reason some Avatars more or less cast off their backgrounds and ideologies (such as Yang Chen), to better serve the worlds as a whole.
- Obstructive Code of Conduct: Though not outright stated, while it is the Avatar's duty to protect the innocent, he or she cannot interfere in the affairs of other nations, unless there is a threat to him/herself, balance in the material world, or even a threat that's on a supernatural level. However, world leaders and conquerors abusing their power on their own people tends to be a grey area below a certain threshold but so it's hard to determine that limit to their intervention. As such, this principle has been broken left and right by various Avatars.
- One-Man Army: Any Avatar in the Avatar State can trap gods, crack continents, battle volcanos, and yes, defeat entire armies.
- Physical God: If you manage to push him or her into the Avatar State, you've lost the fight, if not your life. Even a master with the power of a hundred suns can't defeat an Avatar fully in tap with Raava's spirit. Both Aang and Korra had their enemies (Ozai and Zaheer, respectively) on the run as soon as they forced them into the Avatar State.
- Reincarnation: The Avatar's spirit never truly dies as it continuously reincarnates into a new body at death. However, if the Avatar is killed in the Avatar State, the Avatar would truly die.
- Retcon: The main series never explained what the Avatar State was or what made the avatar so special. Only a tie-in game briefly spoke of The Avatar being the spirit of the planet in a human body. Legend of Korra book 2 then spent a two-parter establishing that the Avatars (Roku, Aang, Korra herself etc.) are all basically the reincarnations of Avatar Wan and the Heroic Hosts for Raava, the spirit of light and peace, and when the current host dies, Raava takes them with her to the next one. Word of God says they worked this out during the first series, but never had a chance to reveal it.
- Shrouded in Myth: Although the Avatars had access to their previous lives, the recent Avatars were completely unaware about the true identity of the Avatar Spirit and how it first originated. See The Reveal below.
- Super Mode: The Avatar State, which grants the current Avatar all the knowledge and skill of all of their past lives as well as a significant power boost.
- The Reveal: The true identity of the Avatar Spirit is Raava, the spirit of light and peace. In ancient times, she fused her spirit with Wan, the man who became the first Avatar. All the other Avatars are the reincarnations of Wan. Their duty is to complete Wan's unfinished task to establish and maintain world peace.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: It depends on the Avatar if this trope is invoked or not. Aang was a notable pacifist who believed all life was sacred, which he was more or less chastised for by his predecessors.
- Voice of the Legion: On many occasions when the Avatar speaks during the Avatar State, the Avatar will speak with apparently the voices of all previous Avatars at once, in a chilling, powerful drone.
- World's Best Warrior: The Avatar is the strongest being in the world as only he/she can bend all four elements. Each Avatar is expected to undergo gruelling training to master the four bending arts.
- You Cannot Fight Fate: Every 10,000 years, the Avatar is fated to battle Vaatu, the great spirit of darkness no matter what.
The Four NationsThese are descriptions of the four cultures.
- Actual Pacifist: The Air Nomads focused on lives of peace and detachment from worldly desires through meditation. As such they abhorred violence in general and develop styles based on dodging and evading.
- Beware the Nice Ones: They were friendly, easy-going monks that'll never turn away a hungry guest, had no military and according to Turf Wars, accepted people of all sexual orientations without judgment, but Gyatso's remains prove they took plenty of Fire Nation soldiers down with them during the genocide and Aang implied it could only be due to an ambush they went down or they'd still be around.
- Come Korra's time, we get more airbenders that aren't all nomads with Zaheer using Airbending to more sinister outcomes. He uses airbending to asphyxiate the Earth Queen.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Air Nomads are primarily based on Shaolin and Tibetan Buddhist monks and their slaughter and near-extinction parallels that of the invasion and sinification of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Sanguine. They relied on kindness, peace and each other mostly. They lacked any real goal besides meditation and teachings which incidentally was part of the reason how they got wiped out.
- Personality Powers: Air Nomad teaching focuses on "being the leaf". To whit, when you meet resistance, move the other way, rather than facing it head on; don't force confrontation, go with the flow. Aang faces severe difficulty trying to come to terms with earthbending precisely because of this. Toph has to tell him not to look for a different angle or a clever trick. On the negative side, it's shown that airbenders have a reputation for being evasive at best, cowardly at worst.Kya: See what [Tenzin] is doing, Bumi? Classic airbender technique: Cutting and running when things get tough!
- The novel Rise of Kyoshi reveals that this spirituality is almost required for bending air. And weakening ones self in their spiritual ability also weakens one's airbending as Jesa found out later in her life.
- Warrior Monk: All Airbenders are peaceful monks, but they can use their ability to control the air to dodge their enemies until they are defeated by exhaustion.
- Braids of Barbarism: Water Tribe warriors wear wolftails but have several braids tied off with beads framing their faces. The Fire Nation prefers topknots for both men and women, which Zuko and Iroh cut off when declared traitors.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Southern Water Tribe borrows from various Polynesian and Native American cultures —specifically the Inuit culture— while the architecture of the Northern Water Tribe capital also adds a heavy dose of Chinese and bits of Nordic influence.
- In the original series, the Northern Tribe is centered around a major city and has a more structured outlook on life, with its relative isolation from the war allowing it to maintain both its population and its traditions. In contrast, the Southern Tribe has a significantly looser and more egalitarian outlook on life, and has been reduced by the war to a handful of sparsely populated villages that have lost many of their traditions.
- By the time of The Legend of Korra, both tribes are now centered around a large modern capital city. However, the Southern Tribe is more progressive and technology-minded, while the Northern Tribe is more traditional and spiritual, although they do not necessarily shun improvements to keep up with the times.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Phlegmatic. They cherished families and allies despite being the most remote nation. Though split into Southern and Northern sibling tribes, as a whole both seek a serene and fairly simple existence surviving off the land.
- Inconsistent Dub: The Japanese dub call them mizu no buzoku at first, only to switch to mizu no tami. Both are correct translations, but the inconsistency is still there.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Much of their culture is based around warriorhood, and many of their greatest achievements are through the battles they've fought. To be a warrior is the greatest honor in the Water Tribes.
- Slobs vs. Snobs: There are elements of this existing in the series between members of the Northern and Southern Water Tribes where Northerners view the Southerners to be low-class slobs and peasants while the Southerners view the Northerners as elitist snobs and oppressive aristocrats. This boils over into a civil war between the two tribes in The Legend of Korra.
- Stay in the Kitchen:
- Women in the Northern Water Tribe are expected to use their waterbending for healing purposes only, and leave the combat to men. In fact, a big plot point in the Northern Tribe episodes is to have Katara making them realize that this attitude is harmful - especially in regards to Master Pakku, possibly the most powerful Waterbender alive at the time, who gets some karmic retribution, as he realizes that his chauvinism cost him the love of his life: Kanna, Katara and Sokka's future grandmother and his Runaway Bride, who fled to the Southern Water Tribe (the opposite pole of the world) to escape the strict gender rules. Since Pakku did genuinely love Kanna, and one of the reasons he was so bitter against women was her rejection of him, this counts doubly and is vital to his Character Development and acceptance of Katara. And by the Grand Finale, Pakku gets Kanna's forgiveness and they tie the knot. By Korra's time, this sexist view has mostly diminished.
- Averted in the Southern Water Tribe. They're more progressive in its attitudes towards women since female waterbenders are seen fighting in flashbacks.
Northern Water Tribe
- Achilles in His Tent: They largely stayed out of the Hundred Year war, with only two recorded incidents of conflict with the Fire Nation, and the second was when the Fire Nation came to them. The rest of the time, they were pretty content to stay behind their walls.
- Stay in the Kitchen: In the north, female waterbenders were expected to learn waterbending to heal, and that was it. Kanna, Katara's grandmother, left because of it.
Southern Water Tribe
- Dwindling Party: Their waterbenders were whittled down over time by constant Fire Nation raids. They were either captured or killed, and by the time the war is finished, there are only two left.
- The Purge: The Fire Nation spent much of the war raiding the south, abducting any waterbenders they could find. By the time Aang woke up, there were precisely two known Southern waterbenders alive in the entire world. Even worse, those same invasions have put their culture on the brink of extinction, and preserving their valued traditions has become a struggle.
Foggy Swamp Tribe
- Culture Chop Suey: They're swamp-dwelling rednecks.
- The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: They stand completely apart from their Northern or Southern counterparts. Most notably, their culture does not revolve around worship of the Moon, but rather, around the very swamp they live in, which is a product of the spirit world itself.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: On account of living in a swamp, they don't wear a lot, mostly just leaf-made shorts and the occasional hat.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: While the political situation of the Earth Kingdom (particularly in the capital of Ba Sing Se) parallels that of the Qing Dynasty's last days, its culture draws from every Chinese dynasty; Toph's family wears Tang-era clothing, Aunt Wu's usage of oracle bones for divination comes from the Shang Dynasty, etc. It also has areas influenced by Vietnamese tribal cultures (the Foggy Swamp Tribe, despite their Mississippi Delta accent), pre-Meiji Japan (Kyoshi Island), the Gobi Desert (the Shi Wong desert), and Korea (as seen with the hanbok worn by Song in the episode "Cave of Two Lovers"), each paralleling a real-life tributary held by Imperial China. After the Earth Kingdom falls for good in Korra, the parallels extend to early 20th-century China, with warlords and bandits running loose until a revolutionary nationalist despot is finally able to reunite the country.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Melancholic. They supported hard work and manual labor along with a heavily structured society and traditions. Their belief in politics is very strong and the law is absolute to them no matter how dodgy.
- The Empire: Nearly became one under Chin the Conqueror. Becomes one after Kuvira takes over.
- The Federation: In the larger scope of things, Earth Kingdom is more of a collection of states with the Monarch of Ba-Sing Se as the influential leader rather than a single authority. As a result, many states like Omashu maintained their own rulers while connecting with other states via common culture.
- The Good Kingdom: Despite its fair share of General Ripper and Sleazy Politician, the Earth Kingdom is generally mostly benevolent at least until Hou-Ting succeeded the throne.
- Personality Powers: Like the earth, strong, resilient and diverse. On the other hand, they can be ludicrously stubborn, confrontational, and headstrong. The more negative association is that they're kind of stupid.
- We ARE Struggling Together: The Earth Kingdom lacked the one thing that would make them a credible threat to the Fire Nation; unity. Rebel factions and partisans were all opposed.