ATLA 3-13: The Firebending Masters

Aang and Zuko to go in search of the source of fire-bending.

Last time on Avatar: Zuko finally joined the Gaang… sort of.

 

In this episode, the first life-changing field trip with Zuko occurs.  Although I get the ‘real’ reason is to showcase how Zuko interacts with the others now that they’re all on the same side, it does indicate that Zuko is just as much of the main character as Aang.  Because really, wouldn’t it make as much sense to showcase Aang’s bonds with his friends during the lead-up to the comet?

A large part of why I opted to start doing shorter, more purely analytical reviews is because I feel like I was getting repetitive: “X, Y, and Z are all awesome” was making up too much of them.  As much as I adore this show, it’s in a sort of middle-ground compared to SG-1 and Power RangersSG-1 has truly dense world-building and it’s fun to watch it interlock over time, while there are massive gaps in Power Rangers’ world-building that I enjoy filling in.  There’s just enough world-building for me to truly appreciate it in ATLA, but it’s not as dense to need it spelled out how often episodes build upon each other.

Here, there are hints of the origins of fire-bending.  Just as the moon was the first water-bender, the sun inspired the original fire-benders.  It’s spelled out how badger-moles were the first earth-benders while sky bison like Appa were the first air-benders.  Toph, as a small girl, found (or was found) by badger-moles and learned from them, as like her the badger-moles are blind and use bending to interact with their surroundings.

13Trio

Sokka is snarky towards Zuko, but that’s his default method of interaction with the world.  Furthermore, his “jerk-bending” comments are equally geared at Aang.  Katara is specifically giving Zuko the cold shoulder.  Aang, however, quickly opens up to Zuko, especially as in a weird way Zuko’s inability to fire-bend is further proof of his sincerity given that he no longer has the anger/drive to capture the Avatar.

It’s acknowledged that Iroh has a complex past, but I am interested in when exactly Iroh claimed to have killed the last dragon.  Was it before or after his siege of Ba Sing Se, is what I really want to know.  Hmm.

This was a relatively light episode- fittingly so, given how its moral was to showcase that fire-bending is not just rage and destruction, but also energy and life.  It got two pages in the art book.  The first one has two background images of the ‘alter’, some images of the dragons Ran and Shaw, an image of the “Sun Warrior relief sculpture”, and some artwork of the Sun Warrior Chief.  The other page has two images of the abandoned city (one black and white, one colored).

The Sun Warrior Chief accuses Zuko and Aang of complicity in the genocide of the dragons (look, they were deliberately hunted down and they have some degree of sentience).  Yet… Zuko might not have been even born when the last dragon was supposed killed, and definitely wasn’t on the hunt for the Avatar yet.  Yes, Iroh used Zuko’s bloodlines to showcase what paths he can take, but the point was that he wasn’t exclusively limited by his Fire Lord ancestors there.  Certainly Iroh isn’t… now I’m wondering what lineage Iroh and Ozai’s mother was of.  The point is, I don’t think Zuko can be held responsible for what the past generations of Fire Nation residents did, especially when he is already trying to forge a different path for himself.

Honestly, I’m left wondering what would have happened had Aang not gotten stuck in an iceberg a century ago.  Because there seems to be a significant amount of people in-universe who think that therefore the war never would have happened and therefore all would be well.  Hmm.  Okay, so how long after Aang got frozen did Sozin’s Comet arrive?  It’s always said that Aang was frozen for a hundred years, which means that the comet must have arrived within the year, right?  There’s absolutely no way that Aang could have mastered the other three elements in that time, especially if he was in denial about just how serious things could be.  And don’t tell me he wouldn’t be- we’re talking “The Southern Air Temple” Aang, not the Aang of ‘now’.

And there’s no way Aang could have been at all four temples at once- unless they did an initial attack before the comet, as many as three temples could have been wiped out.  And even if the genocide had failed, the Fire Nation would have still gone after the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom.

Maybe there’s an official theory on this ‘what if’, but right now… I’m not seeing how things could have turned out much better.  Look, the point is: hasn’t Aang been told enough about what his absence did to the world?  Wait.  Phrasing it that way… that makes what the Fire Nation did his fault.  That’s not fair to a preteen boy, to blame him for the actions of an entire nation over a century.  Yes, he’s the Avatar… but he’s only human.

Though now I’m wondering if Korra is unique in displaying multiple elements before the age of sixteen.  Have there been other Avatars who used other elements before that age?  Is the ‘age of sixteen’ rule partially to keep them from being burdened with such massive responsibilities before they’re at least somewhat ready?  Certainly, Aang bolted when he was told at age twelve that he was the Avatar and he was treated accordingly.

Hmm.  Maybe there are some gaps in the world-building than I thought.  ATLA is still way more cohesive than even a single season of Power Rangers, though.

In conclusion, Zuko and Aang now have a better understanding of fire-bending by going back to its origins instead of the more anger-based version currently used.  Huh.  I wonder when that shift occurred and why.  It can’t have been just the past century, otherwise Zuko would have had a better idea of when the Sun Warriors died out.  Now I’m wondering if the Fire Nation’s imperialism was egged on the gradual (?) change in their bending style.  Not to mention I’m wondering if the other elements have undergone any such changes in the past.

 

Next time on Avatar: Zuko accompanies Sokka to the titular prison.

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