Avatar: The Last Airbender aired on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008, spanning three seasons and attracting praise from critics and fans alike. The show created a dedicated fanbase that endures to this day, and it was popular enough to get a sequel, The Legend of Korra, which aired from 2012 to 2014.
Avatar was a unique show about a world with four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads, each with their own unique civilization and people known as "benders" who have the ability to "bend" or control the respective element of their nation through the use of martial arts. The story follows a twelve-year-old boy named Aang who is freed from an iceberg after being frozen for a hundred years. He discovers that the world is engulfed in war and his entire people have been wiped out. As if that wasn't enough, he is revealed to be the Avatar, the only person who can bend all four elements, and it's his destiny to save the world and end the war.
That's an impressive premise, and even though both Avatar shows were ostensibly aimed at kids ages eight and up, the universe remains ever-popular with people of all ages. Avatar has earned one of the most loyal fanbases outside big names like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Trek, and Star Wars. But like any fictional universe with deep and complex lore, there are facts that even hardcore fans get wrong, misconceptions that fans think are true, urban legends that take on a life of their own, and some rumors that just won't disappear.
Here are 26 things everybody gets wrong about Avatar: The Last Airbender.
It's taken as common knowledge among the fanbase of Avatar that the creators originally intended for Katara and Zuko to get together. This pairing has become even more popular than the canon Katara/Aang, even years after the end of the series. But the truth is more complicated than it seems. Avatar Extras for the first episode first made the claim that Katara was originally supposed to be in love with Zuko, but it's hard to tell if the Avatar Extra is a joke or factual.
Creators DiMartino and Konietzko said there was a 50-50 chance that Katara would've ended up with Zuko or Aang during Season 3, before changing their story and saying they never intended for Katara and Zuko to end up together. Series writer Aaron Ehasz once said during a lecture that the production team was planning on doing Katara/Zuko, but Nickelodeon executives pushed them to go with Aang, remarking: "If Katara got with Zuko, six-year-olds would cry."
All three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender are called "books" and named after an element that exists within the world (in the form of "Book One: Water," "Book Two: Earth," and "Book Three: Fire"). Astute fans have pointed out that the fourth element of air is glaringly absent, and speculate that the show was prematurely canceled. However, this is simply not the case.
The three seasons of Avatar are named after the element that Aang learns to master in that particular season. There was no "Book Four: Air" season planned since Aang was already a master airbender from the very beginning. The names also correspond to the relevant nation the main cast visits; the North Pole, the Earth Kingdom, and the Fire Nation respectively. Plus, anyone who's seen the show knows that the story wraps up pretty well at the end of the third season.
Many people assume because of its art style and its setting in a fictional world obviously influenced by Chinese and Japanese cultures, that Avatar is an anime. While its animation is clearly influenced by anime and makes use of Japanese media tropes (fainting when surprised or hearing an absurd remark, exaggerated facial expressions, sweat drops to indicate exasperation), Avatar is ultimately an American cartoon.
Indeed, the creators themselves are from the U.S., and the writing staff, music design team, voice actors, and sound design, are all from America. It was produced by Nickelodeon, an American company. While it is true Avatar was animated mostly by South Korean studios, this is true for a lot of animation, including The Simpsons. Though, it's worth noting that Japanese anime, as well as martial arts films and kung fu cinema, were huge influences on DiMartino and Konietzkoto create the concept of the series.
I can't tell you how many people won't even give Avatar a chance because "it's a kid's show." For proof, they point out that it was a cartoon, and it was aired on Nickelodeon. While Avatar may be marketed toward children, the show deals with very mature themes like warfare, politics, loss, love, betrayal, nationalism, militarism, and countless others. It's one of the few shows made for children that still resonate with kids and adults alike, and the fact that they address such issues without ever losing their Y7 rating is a remarkable achievement.
It may seem juvenile in its first few episodes, but keep in mind it's also because the characters themselves are barely teenagers when the series starts. If you stick with it, you'll be surprised how quickly the characters mature and develop, and how quickly the world grows on you.
The bending arts in the Avatar Universe are the ability to bend elements to the user's will. The elements in Avatar are based on the ancient Greek concept of earth, water, fire, and air, being the four elements that make up all matter. Each of these elements also corresponds to one of the four nations: the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Logically, there must be four styles of bending for each element, right?
Not exactly. There are many sub-styles of bending, such as bending lava, sand, and metal for earthbenders, bloodbending and healing abilities for waterbenders, and lightning generation for firebenders. But there is a fifth one even more ancient than the other four: energybending, which bends the energy within the human body itself. Only Avatars have this ability.
One could easily perceive that Avatar has some pretty black and white morality: the Fire Nation is evil and cruel while all other nations are good and virtuous. While this seems to be true early on, as the series continues, it becomes clear this isn't the case. While Ozai and Azula are certainly evil, a variety of sympathetic Fire Nation characters are introduced, including Zuko, Avatar Roku, and Iroh. When we see citizens of the Fire Nation in the third season, it turns out they're just ordinary folks living their lives and constantly being fed war propaganda.
In addition, the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribe both get at least one villainous figure apiece, in the form of General Fong and Long Feng, and Hama. It would be a mistake to say the world of Avatar pushes the belief that some people are "born bad"; it's a consistent message that everyone has the capacity for good and evil.
Zuko's mother and the mystery of what happened to her are central to his development as a character, and many fans were hoping he would meet her at some point in the series. Originally, the writers had intended Zuko and his mother to meet during four-part series finale "Sozin's Comet," but ultimately had to scrap it because there was simply no time or space to make it happen. Some have claimed that this plot point was left unresolved, but this isn't true. The Avatar graphic novels have continued the story of Zuko trying to locate his mother, Ursa, and locating her is the subject of The Search trilogy. Though Ursa never appeared in the present timeline of the television series, appearing only in flashbacks, her story was told later via the comics.
Iroh is one of the greatest characters in the Avatar Universe. Overall, he's a generally likable guy, voiced to calm perfection by his late voice actor, Mako Iwamatsu. Few fans would disagree that Iroh is an amazing character that adds a great deal of enjoyment to the show. That being said, like any character (and any human being), Iroh has his flaws. It's hinted in flashbacks that he wasn't always the sage-like, angelic uncle we all know and love. Iroh was a Fire Nation General and Crown Prince, after all.
Acting on a vision, he besieged the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Se for six hundred days, becoming the first person in history to breach its outer wall. He even wrote, "Ba Sing Se is a magnificent city. I hope you all get to see it someday. If we don't burn it to the ground first."
It's easy to dismiss the immature Avatar as a weak opponent, especially early in the series when he's clearly young and naïve. But was Aang a weak Avatar? No, no, and no. In fact, Aang was such a powerful Avatar that it was kind of scary.
Most Avatars are told of their status at the age of 16, but because of the Hundred Year War, Aang was told at the age of 12. By that time, he had already mastered airbending. In the span of a single year, Aang not only managed to master bending of the three other elements, but also mastered the Avatar State and even energybending, lightning redirection, and seismic sense. No other Avatar has ever mastered all of these techniques. Again, he did all of this in the span of a year, all while still a child!
When it comes to action cartoons, many people assume they're like Dragon Ball Z or others almost exclusively marketed towards boys. While Avatar: The Last Airbender was made by two men and its main antagonist and protagonist are both male, it's difficult to think of a series for young people that treats its female characters with more respect or has such a diverse fanbase as Avatar. The women of Avatar are just as important to the plot as the guys, are the center of the action just as often, and their characters are just as well-rounded.
Toy manufacturers are partially responsible for this unfortunate perception. In their Avatar toyline, Mattel made Aang, Sokka, Zuko, and even minor characters like Jet, but Katara, one of the most central characters, was never made because they assumed action figures would only sell to boys. Fans rallied successful petitions for a Katara figure, but sadly Mattel had ceased making Avatar toys by then.
Avatar is often compared to Harry Potter in several ways, chief among them the more fantastical elements in both series. But it would be unfair to say Avatar is a series with magic. There are dragons, spirits, and other such things, but bending is absolutely not magical. In fact, it's a very physical process. Each of the four elements corresponds to a form of martial arts, including Tai-Chi, Hungar, Northern Zhaolin, and Ba-Gua. This is why they needed a martial arts consultant on for each of the fight sequences on the show.
It would be different if Aang waved a wand or cast a spell to summon a tornado out of nowhere, but that just doesn't happen. While a Spirit World exists, many of the more "magical" elements of the Avatar Universe, such as psychic powers, fortunetelling, and superstition, are also portrayed with skepticism (especially by the science-minded Sokka). Avatar has fantasy elements, but it's got its head on straight.
The idea that Avatar never dealt with passing is simply not true. While the series did have to answer to Nickelodeon's strict standards and practices guidelines when it came to portraying on-screen eliminations, dealing with the loss of loved ones is absolutely central to the story. Main characters like Katara, Sokka, and Zuko, just to name a few, all have to deal with a tragic loss of one kind or another. Aang even has to deal with the loss of his entire people and his own feelings of guilt and responsibility that result.
When it comes to on-screen passing, no fewer than eight characters were observed perishing in the original series: Tui, Yue, Chin, Jet, Roku, Fang, Combustion Man, and even Aang himself, though he was resurrected shortly after.
After being brainwashed by the Dai Li in a plot to eliminate the Avatar and his friends as threats to their police state in Ba Sing Se, Jet attacked Long Feng, the leader of the organization. While he is seriously injured, Jet's fate afterward is left somewhat unclear, leaving some fans to speculate he is still alive. Sadly, this is not the case.
DiMartino and Konietzko explained in the commentary for "The Ember Island Players" that Nickelodeon was totally opposed to showing kids being destroyed or fatally wounded on the show, so saying that Toph sensed that Jet was lying about how he would be okay is how they chose to communicate the fact that he'd passed from his injuries to the viewers. In the Avatar Extras for the same episode, a commentary bubble said, "For the record: Jet is [gone]."
I rarely let my own personal bias shine through in an article, but this time I will: I've never once enjoyed Jet's presence one bit. Jet was never a good guy, he was never an interesting guy. Some speak of him being "a complex character," but this is nonsense too. He was perfectly willing to drown an entire village of innocent people out of hatred for the Fire Nation, stalked Zuko and Iroh pointlessly, and betrayed his own when it suited him.
Jet's not complex: his actions pretty much label him as a run-of-the-mill opportunist who, instead of productively fighting against the Fire Nation's conquests, turned his experiences into petty hatred of all firebenders. He also had a chance to redeem himself in Ba Sing Se, and totally threw it away at the first obstacle.
Probably only the uninitiated still think this given the righteous anger most of the Avatar fanbase have for M. Night Shyamalan's 2010 film The Last Airbender, but it's still a huge misconception. Not only is the film considered one of the worst ever made, but it's absolutely worthless as an adaptation. Night Shyamalan's ill-fated attempt to make a live-action adaptation of Avatar was not loved among fans and audiences, to say the least.
For starters, casting white actors in the roles of Katara, Sokka, and Aang, spurred controversy and accusations of whitewashing, while casting Indian actors in the roles of traditionally fair-skinned Fire Nation roles caused puzzlement. The names are pronounced wrong, the plot is incoherent, the acting is bad, Sokka's humor is totally absent...a whole new list could be written on everything wrong with this movie. Suffice it to say: watch the series instead.
Well, not everyone, first of all. While a surprising number of the original cast did turn out to be still living (albeit quite aged), Aang and Sokka are confirmed as deceased by the beginning of The Legend of Korra. Seeing as how Korra is the new Avatar in the series, we sort of figured Aang had passed away in the in-between years. However, our beloved Sokka is also deceased at the start of the series.
Though it's sad that Aang and Sokka passed between the two shows while the rest of the cast gets to survive, the thing is, the rest of the cast wasn't originally supposed to live. Katara, Zuko, and Toph, all of whom make cameo appearances in Korra, were supposed to be gone. The writers changed their minds for the others, but sadly, not for Sokka.
Look at the picture above, what do you see? Team Avatar of course, and all of them in cool poses, clearly about to enter a battle. We think that because we're used to seeing Avatar's main cast put themselves in mortal danger every day. But look closer. What if I told you that the ages of the people in the above picture range from 15 years old to as young as 12?
We're so used to our heroes fighting the good fight that we never stop and think that in spite of everything they've been through, our main characters are all just kids. Both Aang and Toph are 12 during the series, Katara is 14, and Sokka is the oldest at a mere 15. Zuko is 16, and even menacing characters like Azula are only 14 years old. Given many of the characters mature quickly or have to deal with adult responsibilities, it's easy to forget they're just teenagers.
This is a misconception that's still officially unknown in the lore. We all know that when the old Avatar perishes, the Avatar Spirit is reincarnated, and the new Avatar will be born into the next nation in the Avatar Cycle in the order: fire, air, water, and earth. In episodes like "The Storm," this is portrayed as a process of the same soul inhabiting different bodies, which is why Aang recognizes the Avatar's childhood toys.
But does this mean that the Avatar Spirit possesses a person, or does it mean that the Avatar Spirit is that person's soul? Because Aang is able to talk to Roku and all his past lives, this would seem to indicate they're two different people who once had the Avatar Spirit dwelling in them. The question is, how can the Avatar be the same person for thousands of years and yet a different individual every reincarnation?
Mai/Zuko is one of the most visible pairings in the series. After Mai turns on Azula due to her feelings for Zuko and becomes an ally of Team Avatar, many fans probably assumed they stayed together after the show ended, eventually marrying and living happily ever after. Unfortunately, they'd be wrong. Zuko and Mai's relationship became strained when she grew upset with his keeping of secrets from her.
A year after the events of the series, Mai broke up with Zuko in the second part of The Promise trilogy after finding out about Zuko's repeated visits to his imprisoned father. So far, there's no sign they ever got back together. Zuko does have a daughter in The Legend of Korra, Izumi, who somewhat resembles Mai, but her mother remains unconfirmed. In a way, the two growing apart makes sense. Not everyone can be like Aang and marry their first love, after all.
To be clear, not everyone in the Avatar Universe can bend an element. Much like mutants in the X-Men Universe or wizards in Harry Potter, some people are born with bending abilities and some aren't. Because of this, there are a wide range of conventional weapons that non-benders use in combat. A trained non-bender like Sokka can be just as formidable as the most skilled bender. While heritage does decide what element you can bend, it's shown as more of a spiritual matter than a genetic trait.
The only exceptions to this rule were the Air Nomads, where every single child was born an airbender. Also, while the four nations have a very homogenized population during Avatar: The Last Airbender, by the time of The Legend of Korra, the world is less divided following the end of the war and the foundation of Republic City.
Despite his lack of screen time, the wise old monk Gyatso plays an important role as the closest thing Aang has ever had to a father. He was a kind man and was said to be the greatest airbender of his time. Aang had such affection for the elder that finding his skeleton in the Air Temple caused him to enter the Avatar State. The showrunners originally had big plans for the character of Gyatso, even after his passing: it was going to be revealed he was reincarnated as Momo.
Yes, that's right: Aang's pet winged lemur was going to turn out to be his reincarnated surrogate father. It makes sense when you consider Momo's status as a flying meme compared with Gyatso's famous sense of humor. It also disproves the misconception that Momo was a simple comic relief device, though this plan to reveal his origins ultimately went unused. Sometimes it's best to bury the past.
Korra ending up with Asami was met with critical and audience praise. It was hailed as a brave move that gave the characters new depth and made broke with the idea that animation can only show straight relationships. "Korrasami" has become so strongly associated with the series, you'd think it was the idea from the start.
The thing is, Korra wasn't originally going to end up with Asami. In fact, she wasn't going to end up with anyone. Her character arc would have had her ending the series single, or the polar opposite of Aang. Asami was also going to end up an Equalist and betray Korra, Mako, and Bolin. As the story progressed and the characters developed, however, the writers decided they'd become attached to Asami's character, and her betrayal of the group didn't fit. Instead, they chose to have Korra and Asami become an item at the last minute in the series.
It's no secret Ozai always favored Azula over her older brother, Zuko. This rift in their family is central to Zuko and Azula's character arcs. At first glance, it might seem like Ozai showered praise on his crazed daughter because of her cruel nature and status as a firebending prodigy, but flashbacks show that Azula and Zuko weren't always enemies, and got along when they were little. So why does Ozai hate Zuko, anyway?
The real reason is revealed in the graphic novels, where Zuko's mother Ursa gets caught sending letters to her former beloved before Ozai. The servant she charged with delivering them in secret was taking them to Ozai, and when he confronted her about it, he pointed out a passage where she refers to Zuko as "our" son. Ozai knows this was just wishful thinking on Ursa's part, but he punished them both by not treating Zuko like his biological son and grooming Azula as his true heir.
When first-time viewers see the physical resemblance between siblings Katara and Sokka, as well as a similar look with Azula and Zuko, it's common to assume they're twins, especially since both pairs of siblings (Katara/Sokka and Azula/Zuko) are the perfect foils to each other's personalities. Azula's obsession with power and superiority is the perfect dark reflection of Zuko's quest for humanity, while Katara's motherly qualities are the polar opposite of Sokka's toughness and immaturity.
But while it would be interesting if they were twins, neither are. Katara is 14 years old at the start of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Sokka is the oldest of Team Avatar at 15. Therefore, it would be impossible for them to be twins. Zuko is also significantly older than Azula at 16, while Azula is 14 at the start of the series.
Mai has become a favorite among Avatar fans, with many finding her stoic and sullen nature appealing and her backstory relatable. She has also become a popular topic of cosplay. What's peculiar is that no name pronunciation is more hotly contested than Mai's. Almost everyone pronounces her name as "My," similar to its Japanese pronunciation, but this is wrong. The spelling of our favorite stiletto-wielding fighter's name doesn't help: it's spelled "Mai" when it's pronounced more like "Mei."
Almost everyone at some point has called her "My," even though she's consistently called "Mei" in the show. Though that's how you correctly say it in our world, that's simply not Mai's name. Don't even get us started on the admissions of spelling her name wrong, too!
If there's one misconception that drives fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender crazy, it's the idea that James Cameron's 2009 movie Avatar has anything to do with the series. The science fiction blockbuster about blue people has so redefined the term "Avatar" in the minds of the general public that M. Night Shyamalan was forced to cut the "Avatar" part off the title of his live-action movie adaptation, titling it simply The Last Airbender.
Needless to say, legions of fans of the Nickelodeon series haven't enjoyed the confusion the film causes, nor the fact that James Cameron has a practical copyright on the term "Avatar," which is what caused its sequel to be named The Legend of Korra instead. It probably also doesn't sit well with the fanbase that even though Avatar: The Last Airbender aired years before James Cameron's Avatar, it ended up being the one to change its title. Oh well, we all know which one is the superior Avatar series.