So there’s an Avatar: The Last Airbender movie, and, according to reliable sources, it sucks.
FORGET ABOUT THAT.
There’s an Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon, and it is still totally awesome. By way of reinforcement, I give you my three favorite questions that were left completely unanswered over the course the series. I’ll try to keep it to a level where non-fans can enjoy as well, but I won’t be able to do it without some spoilers. If you’re only part-way through the series, or plan on watching it later, consider yourself warned.
1. Zuko’s Mother
Zuko’s mother Ursa, though she appears only in a few episodes, is still one of the strongest female characters on a show that does not lack for well-rounded women. Zuko, if you are familiar with the show, has something of a difficult family life. His father Ozai and sister Azula are both power hungry megalomaniacs who would try to kill or maim him whenever it is politically expedient for them — and on one occasion, his father does. His mother was a stable and protective force in his childhood, until she disappeared on the same night that the current Fire Lord died, and his second son Ozai was placed on the throne instead of this firstborn. A young Zuko was woken by his mother in the middle of the night, as she tearfully told him to always remember who he was, no matter what … and then left.
Eventually we learn the whole story: The current Fire Lord Azulon had ordered Ozai to kill his own firstborn, as punishment for making a blatant and cowardly push to become his father’s heir. Ozai was perfectly content to execute his preteen son to get back in his father’s good graces. Ursa convinced him not to do it, with an offer he couldn’t refuse. It is implied that she either killed Azulon, or took the blame for killing Azulon. With Iroh, the rightful heir, somewhere in transit from the Earth Nation, Ozai took the throne and Ursa was banished.
So the question is … where is Ursa? In fact, the last time we see Ozai in the series, Zuko is asking him, in terms that cannot be refused, where his mother is. But the series ended before we saw any results on the matter.
2. Iroh in the Spirit World
Uncle Iroh, the ultimately wise but mildly hedonistic guardian of Prince Zuko, does not look like he is one of the most dangerous firebenders in the world, but the viewer learns quickly. Among his accomplishments are the only near successful siege of the Earth Kingdom capital Ba Sing Se, developing the only technique that allows a firebender to redirect lightning by watching the techniques of waterbenders, and successfully convincing the Fire Nation that he had slain the last living dragon so that the last two living dragons and the priests that protected them might live in peace. The latter is the reason why he is known as The Dragon of the West. It really gets to the point where, when he does or knows things that you would not think in a million years he could do or know, you just accept it.
But there are a couple hints through the series that Iroh has one other unique ability: He has traveled in the spirit realm, a place that we otherwise only the Avatar himself visits. This is apparently common knowledge in the Fire Nation. And just so we know that it isn’t just Iroh covering for some spirits like he did for the dragons, Iroh also has the ability, shown by no other character in the series, to see spirits in the mortal realm even when they don’t want to be seen.
How did he get this ability? Why did he venture into the spirit realm? What did he do there? The place is full of things like Ko. We’re given no clues. But we’re sure it was awesome, and that’s why we want to know.
3. The Airbenders Themselves
Here’s a newsflash if you haven’t watched much of the series. Aang is very clearly not the last of the Airbenders. In fact, when the show was released outside of America, it was called Avatar: The Legend of Aang.
This seems fairly obvious, once you consider it. If every Avatar must master all four bending arts, and the old Avatar must die in order for the new one to reincarnate, then if Aang really is the last airbender, the Avatar cycle breaks with his death. The next Avatar would have no one to learn airbending from.
But beyond the logical considerations, several details in the show subtly reinforce this idea without ever directly referencing it. The characters visit four different air temples (there are either four or five in total, depending on who you ask), but only the Southern Temple, the one closest to the Fire Nation, has any damage or signs of battle. While the Fire Nation is a nation, the Earth Kingdom a kingdom, and the Water Tribes are tribes, the airbenders are called nomads. When he finds that Fire Nation children are taught that their glorious leader Fire Lord Sozin defeated ferocious airbender armies, Aang responds “But the Airbenders had no armies.” It is easy to see how the highly militaristic and xenophobic leaders of the Fire Nation might have inflated a single battle at one Temple into a glorious war, especially if they couldn’t find any other airbenders to fight.
After all, the Fire Nation supposedly routed the airbenders one hundred years before they gained access to airships. It is very plausible that, after seeing the carnage at the Southern Air Temple (where, by the way, there are a great many Fire Nation bodies, and very few airbender bodies), the Air Nomads simply decided to pull up stakes and move somewhere were the other nations could not reach them since they were the only people in that time period who could fly.
If You’ve Gotten this Far
Let us know about your other unanswered Avatar questions in the comments!
And if you’ve gotten this far and you haven’t watched the series, I commend you. At least now you can let everyone you know know that Aang isn’t actually the Last Airbender. And please, consider watching the show. It is very good. Even Ebert thinks so.