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Tear Jerker / Avatar: The Last Airbender

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"Please, Father. I only had the Fire Nation's best interest at heart. I'm sorry I spoke out of turn...! I meant you no disrespect. I am your loyal son!"

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    In General 
  • Hell, Aang's back story in general. He's the Avatar. The monks tell him before he's sixteen, unlike the traditional customs, because of the war. He grows close to Monk Gyatso, and then runs away when he thinks that they’ll be separated. He gets frozen and wakes up a hundred years later, with no idea what happened to his culture until he actually sees his best friend and mentor, dead, a skeleton. Then he flips his shit.
  • Tying into the above example, just the casual, and sometimes, insensitive disrespect the Air Nomads are given and how Aang is forced to deal with.
    • Kanna's line about Air Nomads being "extinct", it's like she's talking about animals instead of people. Plus, she's saying this to a child younger than her grandkids.
    • Pre-Heel–Face Turn Zuko makes a nasty comment about how Aang wouldn't know what it's like to have a father since he was raised by monks. Hurts double since Aang would discover the corpse of his beloved teacher and Parental Substitute, Gyatso.
    • Professor Zei calling Aang a "relic". A subtle example of someone innocently dehumanizing his people.
    • How Aang learns in "The Headband" how the Fire Nation schools teach the next generation that the Air Nomad Genocide wasn't one but a battle between two nations with their own armies. Really drives home awful the Written by the Winners trope is.
    • Though it was subtle and not talked about overtly, Zuko mocks some of the forgiveness teachings the monks taught Aang in "The Southern Raiders".
  • Before his Heel–Face Turn, Zuko's desperate attempts to gain the approval of his father and restore his honor in his eyes become ever more tragic considering the huge emphasis most Asian cultures place on filial piety. Per Confucious, "In serving his parents, a filial son reveres them in daily life; he makes them happy while he nourishes them; he takes anxious care of them in sickness; he shows great sorrow over their death; and he sacrifices to them with solemnity." Zuko sincerely believed that it was entirely his fault for being banished because he tried to defy his father by opposing the general's decision to use Fire Nation soldiers as sacrifices in the war against the Earth Kingdom. And considering how devotion to one's parents was often associated with one's devotion to the state, Zuko wasn't just defying his father, he was defying the Fire Nation itself. Is it any wonder why he had so many issues to deal with!?
  • The entirety of Zuko and Azula's relationships with their parents. Zuko's is very much implicit. His father barely tolerated him, and when he dared to speak out, he was forced into a life or death duel with him. Rather than kill his own son, he simply opted to mutilate his face, and send him off to exile on a Snipe Hunt. When the object of his hunt became apparent, Ozai immediately wrested the responsibility of capturing Aang, and gave it to another officer. Both Azula and Ozai spent the better part of the series playing on his insecurities and fears, and treating him as nothing more than a tool to be used and discarded. The more implied one is Azula, though. Ozai is a piece of work, no one will dispute that. He used Azula as much as he did Zuko. A major contributing factor with her Villainous Breakdown was her realization that her father, who she thought loved and treasured her, saw her as a tool just as he did Zuko. Just a stronger and more useful one. He foisted his new-useless title on her, and headed off on his world conquering rampage with little more than a pat on her head. However, while Zuko had Ursa and Iroh to help him build a foundation, Azula had no one. Her mocking comments of how her own mother saw her as a monster rang hollow at the height of her breaking point, and one has to wonder how much of her behavior could have been altered if Mom would have just given her a few more hugs. Azula felt as much of a sting of parental abandonment, and in its own way, that's almost sadder because she had no one there to pull her back. And the worst is the sucker punch to the audience. Much like a lot of other cases of emotional abuse, The audience didn't catch on to what happened to her until it was too late to do anything. By the time the full picture is painted to the audience; Azula's been mentally reduced to a mad dog and she's too far gone to communicate with; making the battle inevitable.
    • Making it even sadder is that, at several points, Azula and Zuko do actually appear to care for eachother, with most of Azula's Pet the Dog moments being directed at him and Zuko getting along relatively fine with her for the first half of Season 3. This makes it all that much sadder as the two are inevitably put in a collision course against eachother, making one wonder how different things could have been.
    Azula (sarcastically and deranged): I'm sorry it has to end this way, brother.
    Zuko (saddened): No, you're not.
  • Judging by some brief flashbacks into Zuko's early youth, like in "The Storm" or even from Ozai's story in "The Promise", it seems that Ozai wasn't just a sick psychopath. It implies that Zuko actually had fun with him and that once they were a happy family, that Ozai was OK as a father. Going along with the lesson Roku taught that "nobody is born evil," it makes it all the sadder that a family that could have grown to be so much more, was torn apart so savagely and completely. It really is sad to see the family that was apparently so happy and content get savaged to the point that only two of them ended up doing the right thing. And as of now, of the two good ones, only one of them is confirmed to have survived.
    • This point is especially poignant since it provides a potential Alternative Character Interpretation for Ozai. If Ozai was originally a fairly decent father to his children, would that then mean Azulon broke him like Ozai himself essentially breaks Azula, leaving behind someone who trusts no one and rules through fear? Remember that Azulon was initially outraged at Ozai's suggestion of taking the throne in light of Lu Ten's death, ordering him to kill Zuko in response, which isn't unlike Ozai demanding Zuko go on a wild goose chase on his own simply for speaking up.
  • Zuko's redemption story is completely heartbreaking, especially considering that Aang saves his life multiple times, he constantly forgives him for his past misdeeds and treats him like a friend, yet it takes three seasons for Zuko to accept that hunting him down simply for being the Avatar is the wrong thing to do.
    • What's especially sad, despite the hilarious "Hello, Zuko here!" moment, is that while everyone is well within their rights to reject Zuko at this point (at first), he even asks Aang why he isn't saying anything or changing anyone's mind when he once said they could be friends. It says a lot that not only is Zuko almost to the point of begging for a chance, but even Aang has been hurt too much to easily trust anyone anymore.
      • Even once the Gaang has accepted him, even provisionally...Katara utterly refuses, and even viciously threatens that if he so much as steps out of line once, she won't hold anything back to make him pay for it. Remember that Zuko has already been in such a situation within the Fire Nation, needing to toe an EXTREMELY thin line at the cost of brutal punishment.
    • Zuko's unfailing loyalty to his family despite everything they've done to him. It took him so long to break, and frankly, the Gaang is lucky that he ever switched. But at least they don't have to worry about him betraying them.
  • The "Tsungi Horn" motif in the score.
    • And this one: "Ocean Spirit".
    • The track that plays during Princess Yue’s sacrifice is beautifully tragic, especially when taking into account how it mirrors Iroh’s Four Seasons song.
    • "Peace Excerpt" all the way. Listening to it makes you feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of your shoulders. No more fighting, no one's chasing the Gaang anymore. They can finally rest now.
  • The Fire Nation now and compared to what it was before (mostly thanks to Fire Lords Sozin and Azulon, Ozai just sealed the deal). As described by Aang, who actually still remembers, the Fire Nation were a warm and friendly people with a rich culture, deserving as much respect as any other nation. And now, they are militaristic, forced to obey their nutjob Fire Lord and his lackeys into attempting world domination or face punishment, and have actively persecuted their own cultural heritage by banning traditional music and dances and hunting down the dragons, the original Firebenders.

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