“Tui and La, your moon and ocean, have always circled each other in an eternal dance. They balance each other. Push and Pull. Life and Death. Good and Evil. Yin and Yang.” -Koh, The Face Stealer
Avatar the Last Airbender is hands down my favorite cartoon of all time. The first episode aired when I was in the 4th grade, and the show concluded when I was in 8th grade. I religiously watched the new episodes when they first aired, and watched reruns during the off seasons. It is such a good storyline, and anyone that knows me knows that I’m a die hard Avatar fan. In school when we had Book Fairs, I bought anything and everything Avatar. And even as an adult, I still try to watch the whole series from beginning to end every other year. I’m not exaggerating when I say that growing up watching this show made me a better person and helped shape me into the person I am today.
I bet some of y’all who aren’t Avatar the Last Airbender enthusiasts are probably thinking, Calm down, bitch. It ain’t that serious. Let me explain. The fact that this is such an inspirational and well written show is one thing, but also taking into consideration that it aired and came out when I was at an age and time in my life where I was the most impressionable is another thing. When you mesh those two aspects together, you get a die hard fan. I was always a Nickelodeon kid growing up, so this show appealed to me already. But by episode #3, “The Southern Air Temple”, when Aang found Monk Gyatso’s skeleton surrounded by skeletons of Fire Nation soldiers, I was completely sold that this show was gonna be the shit. I could tell this wouldn’t be a regular kid’s cartoon.
Talking about the 4 elements – water, earth, fire, air – has always been something I was interested in. It gives me horoscope vibes, which is something I’m a fan of as well. It has a very spiritual aspect to it, and I loved how they represented each nation by showing their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing each nation’s history and backstory made the show that more interesting. It gave the storyline a sense of “We is greater than I,” when you learned how each nation was responding to the war. Especially a war that has been going on for a century at that.
The Water Tribe’s people are strong-willed. Even though the Southern Water Tribe was small, they still played their part in helping end the war by gathering all men that were of age, leaving Sokka to be the “man” of the tribe. In the show, they explain why the Southern Water Tribe is so scarce. After the air nomads were wiped out, all water benders from the Southern Water Tribe were imprisoned, leaving the village small and benderless. Then a couple decades later after rebuilding, all the men of the tribe headed off to battle. This left the Southern Water Tribe very vulnerable – leaving behind the women, elderly, and children. That is why family and loyalty are very important to Sokka and Katara.
The Northern Water Tribe was grand, stuck to it’s old traditions, and was way more developed than the Southern Tribe. The Northern Water Tribe is gorgeous. Their city is basically a winter wonderland. As beautiful as it is, the Northern Water Tribe values their traditions and elders. Katara, a forward thinker and the only water bender from the Southern Tribe, found it impossible to conform to the Northern Tribe’s ways of living. She was unaware that being female meant that she could not learn how to bend for self defense. Her only option was to become a healer like the other girls / women in the Northern Water Tribe. Because of Katara, the Northern Tribe started to loosen its grip on their old ways. In the show, they described the Northern Water Tribe as a nation that has kind of “minded their business” and stayed out of the war for as long as possible, and only entered it because they housed the Avatar while he mastered water bending.
The Earth Kingdom of Ba Sing Se wants to be the Northern Water Tribe so bad. In the way that the Northern Water Tribe was not included in the war / was unproblematic in a sense. But, Ba Sing Se is anything but that. The people and refugees that enter Ba Sing Se are expected to forget the life outside of the walls. Within those walls, the war does not exist. It is not spoken of. It is prohibited. This great Earth Kingdom is just a facade. Inside those walls, you see systematic oppression at its finest. Though Ba Sing Se is corrupt, those that come from Earth territories are tough as nails. Just like earth, they are rugged, strong, and grounded. Each member of Team Avatar represents their nation so well. And Toph does not disappoint. She is a hard worker, has a tough exterior, and blunt.
In season 1 episode 16, “The Deserter,” the great firebending master, Jeong Jeong, thinks of his bending as a curse. This is a different viewpoint we get from someone in the Fire Nation. Before this, every firebender we were introduced to has been proud and cocky. Jeong Jeong states that fire only brings destruction. And we as viewers are meant to feel negative feelings towards the Fire Nation. But as the series goes on, we begin to see that fire is like a “little heartbeat”, and only in the wrong hands is when people should fear it. In the 3rd season we get a glimpse into the Fire Nation world. Even members of Team Avatar have their reservations about entering the Fire Nation and how they view its people. By the 3rd season, we are introduced to a few characters from the Fire Nation. Some are very die hard Ozai supporters, but a lot of them are regular people.
And that’s something that Aang really struggled with when he was deciding Ozai’s fate. His Air nomad beliefs were telling him that even though Ozai is a horrible person, at the end of the day he is still a human being. I admire Aang’s way of thinking, and I think if I were to choose to be from any nation, I believe the Air nomads would fit me best. They are detached, free spirits, that value life. The monks really seemed to preach about forgiveness and being content and happy with yourself.
I really like the spiritual aspect of Avatar. The concept of “past lives,” has always intrigued me. I feel like I strive to be spiritual and wise, and just the thought of having someone guide you from your own shared past is pretty cool. It’s interesting to see how each Avatar handled their role in their lifetime. From Avatar Kyoshi, to Avatar Roku, to Aang – completely different personalities, but have the same duty and shared past. I loved when Aang would take trips to the Spirit World, because he always discovered some new piece of information, or got visions of the future. I really feel like there are people from the other side that are trying to guide us, whether that be loved ones that passed away, or our own past lives.
A reoccurring theme in Avatar the Last Airbender is struggle. Every character in the show has battled their own demons, outside forces, problems that weren’t even inherently theirs to begin with, etc. And that’s what made this show so real. Seeing every character’s struggle to be a better them. From characters feeling incompetent, hopeless, fearful, proud, shameful, disgraced, to hopeful, content, proud, and accomplished.
Redemption is another theme we see in the show. I joke all the time that I strive to be as wise and level headed as Iroh, but I’m still at my Prince Zuko phase of life – where I’m just trying to find my own way and make my own path. Oh, and also being a grumpy asshole at times. Being the Firelord’s son has always had Zuko conflicted. We see that at a young age, Zuko has always been the empathetic and more compassionate in comparison to his psychopath little sister, Azula. Zuko has always struggled with what’s right and what’s wrong. But he has always had Iroh to guide him and be the positive “father figure” rolemodel in his life.
Talks about true evil versus good and war also seemed way too real. There’s a lot of similarities in Avatar the Last Airbender and even The Legend of Korra that I can see translated in modern day American history. It’s pretty creepy. I feel like I can write so many different pieces about Avatar, so this post will just graze the surface of why I love it so much. And now that it’s on Netflix, I feel like so many people have rewatched it and fell inlove with the series all over again.
This show has meant so much to me since I was in 4th grade. And since forever I always wanted to get Tui and La tattooed. I debated on getting Tui and La, the 2 dragons, the lotus game chip, the 4 elements, even the big glowly black and purple cosmic Aang that carried actual Aang into the Avatar state. At one point, I thought about it so hard that I didn’t even want the tattoo anymore because I exhausted myself searching hashtags of other people’s tattoos. But finally, I said “fuck it,” and for my 25th birthday I decided that this indecisive girl was going to commit to something for life!
Tui and La, the moon and ocean spirits, gave up their immortal lives to live amongst the humans in the physical world. They took on the appearance of koi fish. It is when Aang is meditating and focusing on these koi fish that he enters the Spirit World. Commander Zhao’s plans to capture and kill the Moon spirit puts enemies and friends on the same team. Here is when we see that Iroh has no problem choosing between good and bad even though he is Fire Nation. Iroh speaks about balance, and how everyone, not just the Fire Nation, needs the moon. Without it, the whole world would fall out of balance, and it would cause havoc on the world.
The “eternal dance” that entranced Aang, as he slowly saw the two fish turn into yin and yang, stuck with me. That season finale was so powerful to 4th grade me, and watching the series to this day still gives me chills. For my 25th birthday, I decided to gift myself Tui and La for life! Hoping that it reminds me everyday that life is a balance. Also for my 25th birthday, 1 of my best friends made me an Avatar Aang amigurumi! I’ve been suggesting to her for a long time to try to make an Aang one, and she surprised me with it, and it’s even better than I imagined.
For those that know me, it’s not even a surprise that my first tattoo ever had to be dedicated to Avatar the Last Airbender. ☯️