This post is Letter A, a part of the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge.
You can count with two hands the amount of things this show gets right: portrayal of women, diversity, politics, characterization, plot development, cultural and historical accuracy, the list goes on. The guys who wrote this show knew what they were dealing with. If they wanted to show Aang was worried about something, they would make sure that worry spoke through in the character’s actions. If they wanted to subtly show a wealthy family culturally dissing Aang and the gang, they did their research. Avatar: The Last Airbender is considered a children’s television show, but it transcends that genre like the Harry Potter series.
But I’m done raving. I’m not here to talk about how awesome it is, I’m here to analyze my favorite part: the relationship between Prince Zuko and Mai. (Sidenote: If you wish to see a lot of fanart of these two kissing, the only thing you have to Google Image search is “Zuko and Mai.”)
On the left, we have Zuko, crown prince of the Fire Nation and always questioning his place in the world. On the right, Mai, daughter to a noble Fire Nation family living in the Earth Kingdom and is never very impressed with the world. And yet they care about each other, even after Zuko abandons the royal court to hang with the avatar and his gang. I think this is awesome because it shows that love transcends political values. The fact that these two are not the prototypical main character types shows that you don’t have to be a prototypical-main-character-type to find love.
As I’ve stated before, Zuko is wrestling with a personal crisis as it pertains to his position in the world. He questions the values of his family, questions the decisions of his country, and probably questions some life choices he has made as well. This has been going on for about two seasons by the time he finds Mai, and it’s helpful that they do find each other. With all his insecurity, Mai presumably gives Zuko some stability. And when he eventually leaves the royal court (an act of betrayal to the Fire Nation as it were), Mai doesn’t confront him about his political stance. In fact, when they do meet again, she yells at him for writing her a letter instead of telling her his intentions face-to-face. Her thoughts on Zuko’s betrayal of the Fire Nation aren’t really clear, but her feelings for Zuko are. The caption for the screencap below is what I consider to be the most romantic line in the entire show. Furthermore, Zuko isn’t troubled by Mai’s alliance with the Fire Nation, even when he defects. He doesn’t convince her, or even attempt to convince her, to join him; he doesn’t make her question her own ideals. Instead, he just tells her what’s bothering him, why it’s bothering him, and takes solace in whatever comfort she provides.
In addition, there is Mai. Mai is not a fire bender, but she throws knives with more accuracy than the Hubble deep space telescope. She also has a very interesting outlook on the world, and by that, I mean she is not impressed with anything. It’s a dreary outlook on life, and because of that, she is not said prototypical hero character type that is meant to relate to a more general audience. Not everyone relates to the characters meant for a general audience, like my friend (secret codename) Walter. Walter told me that she related with Mai better than Katara, and the fact that Mai has a romantic love interest in a main character spoke wonders to her as an adolescent. It showed that someone like herself, who has issues relating to said prototypical hero character type, doesn’t have to change her personality to find someone.
So why does this matter? It matters because this is coming out in a television show meant for children. Believe it or not, children notice more than adults imagine. They zero in on characters with their skin color, with similar background stories, with familiar personalities. These characters in turn provide a template for what to expect later in life, or guidelines for how the world works around them. Showing children stereotypical portrayals of characters, regardless of background, harms them later in life. Take Disney Princesses as an example: I have a friend of middle eastern descent who relates to Belle more than she does to Jasmine, who she usually played when she was with her friends. Personally, I see nothing wrong with making her Belle; I for one transcended gender and called myself Peter Pan the entirety of kindergarten. And no one really told me I couldn’t do that (or if they did, I didn’t listen). Regardless, I am showing my children the glory of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The amazing things this show portrays is exactly what I want to teach that generation.
Discussion Question: Who noticed a relationship between Zuko’s emotional state and which side of his face got attention?