Everyonehas a favorite story whether it’s presented as a show that’s live action or acartoon, an anime, or even a book, but no other story could surpass thegreatest show in existence “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” In this show there arepeople who can manipulate at their will what they consider to be the fourelements: fire, air, water and earth. The world is divided into four nations respectivelyto their bending abilities and are kept in balance by the Avatar, the only oneable to bend all four elements and the bridge between humanity and the spiritworld. The creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino created afantastic world that starts small but builds up as the story goes on withcomplex characters, which are taken the time to present and develop, to goalong with it. Aang, as the avatar and main character, is an outsider to ahundred-year-old war that may make him lose a part of himself, but ultimatelyrealizes there is always a different way. As an outsider to the conflict of thepresent, Aang finds himself confused and ashamed of what the world has come to,even blames himself for it, but is able to move forward and fight for thefreedom and equality of everyone including the Fire Nation making him the bestcharacter in the show and a role model everyone can look up to no matter theage.
For the remaining part of the essay I will refer to the show solely asAvatar. Nickelodeonaired Avatar on February 1, 2005 with an intro of two other main characters,Sokka and Katara, having a discussion while out fishing that ultimately leadsto uncontrolled water bending releasing the avatar from a hundred-year-oldslumber. Aang wakes up believing no time has passed since he was last awake,but soon realizes he’s been gone for a very long time. Initially he told hisnew friends a storm was the cause of his slumber, but in episode 12 of seasonone we are told by Aang himself that the real reason he was caught in the stormwas because he was escaping his destiny as the avatar. We are also presentedwith Aang’s guilt for the annihilation of the air nomads, the people of the AirNation, if he hadn’t left he thought his people would’ve lived. Although being theAvatar seems like an interesting role Aang was afraid of how life would changebecause of something he didn’t ask to be.Throughoutthe show we see the characters go through their internal and external struggles.Aang was good at ignoring his feelings of guilt for the air nomad’s demise, butsooner or later he had to face it.
In season 2, episode 19: The Guru, Aangfaces those feelings when he visits a guru that would help him open hischakras, the spiritual centers in the human body, to master the avatar state,the most powerful ability they can achieve. Another example of this is shown inseason 2, espidoe 9: Bitter Work, where Aang finds earth bending to be morechallenging because of his nature and affinity to air and what it represented. Throughhard work and a little push, he analyzed his situations, forgave himself andovercame his dilemmas. An extremely important lesson can be taken from this andit is to never give up and that no matter what someone is always there to help.Beingan Air Nomad as the name implies the air benders travelled a lot and didn’thave a specific home, but they trained and spent most of their time at the airtemples located at different parts of the world. Aang was born in the southernair temple, but after the air nomads downfall the temples became uninhabited bypeople until the avatar and his friends, in season 1, episode 17: The NorthernAir Temple, arrived at the northern air temple and found people living thereand altering it with technology to make it more habitable for them. Realizingthat these people weren’t air nomads Aang felt insulted and angry that the peoplehe found weren’t air benders populating the temple, but outsiders making ittheir home while destroying part of the Air Nomad’s legacy.
His sense of “home”and “identity” were being invaded by strangers ignorant to his culture and wayof living. He soon realized that was not the case, their home was destroyed sothey made the temple their new home just like Aang found a new home in hisfriends. Thestate at which they find themselves in the show is that of segregation, hate,and misunderstanding which can all be traced back to the war.
The world wasn’talways like that, according to Aang there was peace before he froze in time. Thefour nations still lived together in harmony. In season 2, episode 9: BitterWork, Iroh teaches Zuko and the audience a little bit of every nation and howdespite their differences they can all complement each other. Wisdom can begained by learning about one another, and it is because of that that the avataris so powerful. It could make anyone powerful, Iroh explains, by studying thewater benders Iroh created a new technique. This might seem like it justapplies to the story, but by learning about every culture we diversify oursense of thought and learn to appreciate things better.
It can also helpdevelop answers to solve world problems. Peoplehad expectations of Aang that didn’t necessarily make him feel comfortable. Hewas constantly pressure throughout the series to do things in other ways, butin the end, he was the only who could decide how he would act and how he wouldsave the world; he forged his own path. For example, in season 3, episode 16:The Avatar and the Fire lord, Aang is shown the history of his past lifetimeand how the war came to be. Avatar Roku, the avatar before Aang, was born firenation and his best friend Sozin, Zuko’s great grandfather, was the crownedprince of the fire nation at the time.
They were both as happy as they couldbe, but as they grew up their opinions diverged because Sozin wanted to expandthe empire while avatar Roku wanted peace. In the end, Sozin betrayed Roku andstarted the war starting with the annihilating of the air nomads. The entirestory made Aang’s friends feel more disgust towards the fire nation, but Aangas an outsider who didn’t grow up in the war was able to see through it andfind the real message.
He learned anyone is capable of redemption and should begiven a chance. Only the people who truly wish to change for the better willachieve it. By now it is clear that Aang isn’t the usual muscular,macho-like male protagonist we sometimes see in other shows. According to IssacYuen from Ekostories, he is open-minded, goofy, peaceful,spiritual, forgiving, understanding, and believes the best in people –qualities not generally associated with male heroic protagonists in modernWestern narratives. For example, in Marvel, Captain America is brave, agile andquick thinking just like Aang, but he doesn’t have Aang’s wisdom or patience.Aang’s style of fighting consists of evading and only using force whennecessary because he believes all life is precious.
In no way does this makeAang weak, on contrary, it makes him much more interesting, believable and amuch better role model.The reason for Aang’s behavior can be tracedback to his upbringing with the monks at the air temple. The creators took elementsfrom Buddhism and a little Hinduism, and applied it to the Air Nomads way oflife. In Hinduism, terms such as avatar and reincarnation are used to describe aspirit or god reincarnated into a person or other form to solve a crisis whichbasically describes the Avatar in the show. Buddhism in the show is representedin the teachings we learn from Aang, which he learned from the monks, and the AirNomad’s clothing. The preciousness of life is an important teaching presentedin Avatar in the season finale when Aang faces the dilemma discussed earlier abouthow he would deal with the Fire lord. Thanks to the teachings of Easternphilosophy and religion Aang was able demonstrate mercy and in doing soproviding a great example for kids and adults to follow.FromZuko’s redemption to the cabbage man’s bad luck to Aang’s maturity, Avatar demonstratesthat it is not just a kid show but a story about growing up, overcomingobstacles, love, dreaming and freedom.
TheAir Nomads sought freedom by detaching themselves from the world, but Aang asthe avatar had a duty to the world meaning he had to give up a certain freedomhe was brought up in to fulfill his responsibilities. This is like growing up, askids we were able to do almost everything we pleased and could dream of beinganything, but as we grow up part of that freedom is restricted because of theresponsibilities we acquire. Only by being true to ourselves and understandingour duties can we find our freedom again just like Aang did by figuring out howto defeat the Fire Lord without losing his own self.
The creators were cleverin using eastern religion and philosophy in the show and portraying a lot ofits teachings through Aang because it prevented it from seeming like they weretrying to force foreign ideals to kids and made the protagonist more valuablewith a stronger basis from which to act on. Aang makes a great role model forevery kid not just boys but girls as well and people of all ages because hisability to think of different ways to tackle a problem but most importantlybecause he truly believes in people and the good they are capable of which issomething we all need to see within ourselves and in each other.