Sozin’s Comet

Warning: this post contains spoilers for the show Avatar: The Last Airbender.

A bit over two years ago, my good friend Chris (Just Chris) suddenly started ranting and raving about this television show he had just recently become addicted to. Like many people, the more someone rants about something, the less likely I am to check it out on my own accord. But Chris so rarely raves about anything so fanatically, and this idea did indeed sound intriguing, so I decided to seek out this object of his adoration and investigate it for myself. That show was called Avatar: The Last Airbender, and when I finally checked it out I was not disappointed. Okay, that’s a lie: I was highly disappointed with myself for not jumping on his advice and checking it out sooner than I finally did.

I’m not going to bother with even trying to hold back my fanboyish enthusiasm here, and go right ahead and say it: Avatar is a cartoon on Nickelodeon, and it is the best television show I have ever seen. I say this despite my total rabid love of The Wire, Farscape, and Battlestar Galactica. This is a television show that has made me scream cries of excitement, froth angrily, and even pause it on multiple occasions to deeply, chest-heavingly sob. Other shows and movies have evoked these feelings separately, but no other show has done so with such regularity, intensity, and reward. In no other show have I felt such an intense bond with the cast of characters, on both sides of the story’s primary conflicts.

I remember shortly after I got into watching it, Chris said to me at one of our viewing parties, “This is what I want my roleplaying to be like.” I wholeheartedly concur. Every time I start to even idly muse about this show, a gosh-billion game ideas spring out of my imagination and dance seductively with the parts of my brain which contain nothing but pure childlike glee. I want so badly to play in a game in which the action is as beautifully choreographed and the comic moment are as well-timed as in this show.

I actually started writing this post last year, but never got around to completing it until just now, while basking in the afterglow from re-watching it this past weekend. See, I managed to get the new Lady into the show, and she was totally in love with it. I’ve been re-watching the whole series with her, and even after several viewings, there are still moments in the show that get me every time, no matter how many times I see them. When Iroh sings the song to the memory of his son in Tales of Ba Sing Se, I have to leave the room or I totally lose it. Even hearing it from a room nearby, I can’t hold back the nearly-choking tears – hell, even thinking about it right now I’m getting a bit teary-eyed. When Zuko finally stands up to his dad and gives him the what-for in Day of Black Sun, Part Two: the Eclipse, I cry tears of excitement, as this is the moment I have been waiting for since the series began, the apex of his transformation into a force of good, of his development as Aang’s perfect foil.

But Sozin’s Comet… that four-arc set of episodes is truly the pinnacle of the epic, both in the telling of a story and in its technical achievement. The animation is the best of the entire series, and it’s obvious in their style, attitude, expressions, and actions that each character has grown and changed so much. Aang is now looking like the man he will become, Zuko is no longer the emotionally uncertain lost child, Katara has evolved into a woman and a master of her art, and Sokka has grown from a wise-cracking over-confident boy into a wise-cracking leader of men whose confidence is both weathered and deserved. Toph, well, she’s still there mostly for comic relief, but we love her all the same.

The animation and action of those four episodes is pure seat-gripping intensity. Both of us were hit with fits of squeals and “oooh!s” as the characters each faced their action-packed destinies on the day of the comet. Even the return of the “great masters” was handled well: powerful and packed with a mighty punch, but not so over-played as to upstage the more important tension behind the fights of the main cast.

My only complaint is the handling of the motivations and attitudes of Ozai and Azula. If you know me at all, you also know that a absolutely loathed the character of Azula. I have never been a fan of bad guys who are “evil for the sake of being evil,” and Azula is no exception. From her first appearance she was portrayed as a Grade A Bitch, and she never got any better. In the beach episode, the writers had a clear moment to actually give her character some more definition and depth, but instead they squandered it on just making her even more insane and evil. Ozai, while less gonzo-nutso-bonkers than his psychotic daughter, was just as bad in the “I’m Bad Because I’m Bad” department. I prefer villains that have depth and more human motivations than simply “Kill Everyone!” and “Rule The World!” and their ilk. The handling of Azula’s defeat was just a bit weak, and her descent into lunacy was not a satisfying conclusion to her character’s involvement in the epic.

But the defeat of the Firelord, and the battle of truly epic proportions that preceded it, were perfect. Aang did not compromise his morals when the moment came to follow through, and the menace was eliminated in a deserving (and ultimately emasculating) manner. I think that the days that follow would make a great stage for a role-playing game setting, as the nations struggle to rebuild themselves, and the Air Temples are reestablished. All things considered, the conclusion was a good one, a well-written end to this story.

Now, I want the next part of the story to begin.

– NPC

4 thoughts on “Sozin’s Comet

  1. I disagree about Azula’s lack of development. She’s given to the viewer in her finished full bitch form, and it takes flashbacks to show that she was always a manipulative little creature who was never quite right. Their mother sensed it from the beginning. As she matured, she’s honed her firebending and manipulation to the nth degree. Even when she gathered her "friends" together to hunt the Avatar, she really manipulated them into helping. Azula’s weakness was her pervasive need to be the best for the approval from her father, just like Zuko.

    Zuko did not have the ease of firebending that Azula did, and he was of a different mind than Azula and his father: he cared about those under him, but he still had the determination to speak his mind, which is what got him exiled. Thankfully, Zuko had repeated failures and his devoted uncle to show him that Ozai and Azula’s ways were not worth following.

    What undid Azula at the very end was Ozai’s casual rejection of her. He used her for how to defeat Ba Sing Se and then tossed her aside just like everyone else he stepped on to get what he wanted. To be denied recognition by her father, around whom her entire world revolved, on the moment of his triumph that she had worked tirelessly for, was shattering. Without that, Azula found herself alone. She had driven away her friends, leaving her with no one to help her handle the rejection. So she descended into paranoia, suspecting everyone of turning away from her.

    Which, to me, is one of the real messages of the story: the importance of family to keeping you grounded, helping you cope with failure, and cheering you on to success. All of the successful characters in the story had family. Katara and Soka had each other (and then their father). Aang had everyone in the group. Zuko had Iroh. Even Toph came around to appreciating her family and recogizing the strength in being part of a team.

    Whereas Ozai and Azula are the epitomes of what happens when you put yourself before family and friends. Neither one cared for those who loved and supported them. They ended up being undone by those who did.

    • Hmmmm. I totally see where you’re coming from, and agree on the “importance of family” theme in all of this. But Azula and Ozai are both portrayed from the very beginning as people who are Bad For The Sake Of Being Bad, and I just can’t get behind that. We are never once given any deeper human insight into their motivations other than “REAL ULTIMATE POWAR” and that irritates me. perhaps if they had actually had some Pre-Season-3 portrayals of Ozai at all, it might have been different, or if Azula had been present since the beginning. As it was, introducing her as the “I’m totally more bad ass than all of you combined” bad guy scratched me in a very unpleasant place.

  2. Yeah, they come close to the perfect villain mould which I hate (if they’re so frelling perfect and powerful, how can the good guys win?). Azula was unveiled the next step above Zuko, an order of magnitude more dangerous to everyone. Where Zuko was dogged but was always a step behind or caught out, Azula was designed to be better and badder: anticipating the Avatar’s moves and causing him considerable grief, increasing the pressure on him and tension for the show. I think, to some extent, this is where the writers got too heavyhanded. If they allowed the Avatar to evade or beat Azula, they feared it would let up the pressure or relegate Azula to a lower rank. And they had big plans for her: she was Ozai in female form. She was his righthand person.

    As for Ozai, well… you have to have an iconic villain so ungodly bad that everyone fears even their name. To scratch the surface a little means marring the perfect veneer of Evil and in some way makes the more human, and thus weak. Pacing wise, it all depended on Zuko, who is the only one who knows Ozai personally (the rest of the world only knows him as a monster; if the audience gets a feel for Ozai before the characters do, it doesn’t work). We have to follow Zuko through his progression of still wishing to please his father and revering Ozai as his lord and master, through Zuko’s questioning of his “destiny” and thus what his father represents, and then realizing through flashbacks what sort of person Ozai really is. Once Zuko accepts his father as the enemy and sides with the Avatar, the veil finally falls and we’re allowed see Ozai for the sort of human being he is.

    At least, that’s my take on it.

  3. To take up another point: HOW do you think the Air Temples would be re-established? Aang is the only Airbender left (that we know of). Each style of bending “seems” heritary; so if Aang and Katara get busy, they could start a new family of Air or Water benders. But is it really hereditary, or can it be taught to those who have some bending ability? Also, the Airbenders were, from what I saw, the only group that was exclusively benders. Fire, Earth, and Water benders all had non-bending communities that they lived in and supported. I don’t think Airbenders were self-sustaining family groups. They seemed more like the gifted Air Kingdom children who were given up at birth to the Air Nomads, who lived apart from their community.

    So I could see it going a few different ways:
    1) Aang teachers people who have bending talent and are interested in Airbending.
    2) Aang bends the energy within some people to become Airbenders.
    3) A colony of Air Nomads is found who had set themselves above even those who lived in the Air Temples, living solely in the clouds and air, undisturbed by anyone or anything below.
    4) Among the many exiles are the former Air Kingdom stock, who eked out quiet lives on the fringe and disabused anyone with bending talent from learning, for fear of what would happen to them.

Leave a Reply