Character Analysis of Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation from Avatar: The Legend of Aang
Now that the series Avatar: The Legend of Aang is back on Netflix. I decided to binge-watch it again. Now let’s tackle about one of the most complex and best-written antagonists in the show, Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation.
Quick Recap of the Avatar series
Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.
Only the Avatar, master of all four elements , could stop them. But when the world needed him most, he vanished.
The story is set on a world divided into 4 nations (Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads). There are some people that are gifted with the ability to bend elements. Only the Avatar could bend all four of the elements and they serve as the bridge between the mortal world and the spirit world. They are also supposed to bring harmony between these four nations. When the Avatar dies, their spirit is reincarnated into the next Avatar, who will be from the next nation in a set order that is known as the Avatar cycle (Water, Earth, Fire, and Air)
The Firelord Sozin has dreams of expanding their empire and conquering the world. So he ended up harnessing a comet’s power which ultimately enhances firebenders’ power and they used against the Air Nomads, causing them their extinction.
The current Avatar is a 12-year-old Airbender named Aang who was overwhelmed by his new responsibilities. He ended up running away which eventually saved him from the genocide. He got caught in a storm and unconsciously used his Avatar state and froze himself for 100 years until he was discovered by the siblings from the Water Tribe, Katara, and Sokka.
Meanwhile, an exiled Prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko, is on a mission to capture the Avatar to regain his honor. Three years ago, he was banished by his father, Firelord Ozai for speaking out of turn. He could only return if he manages to find the Avatar. Zuko was also accompanied by his uncle, a former Crown Prince of the Fire Nation, and the Firelord’s older brother who renounced his rights after the death of his own son. Iroh now serves as a guide and mentor to Zuko during his travels.
When the Fire Lord deemed his own son as a failure so he summoned his next child, Azula to capture Zuko and his uncle.
Princess Azula of The Fire Nation
She is the younger sister of Zuko and introduced to the show as his rival. She is a firebending prodigy who could produce blue flames which are more intense than the regular orange flames. She’s the only one in the series with a unique color of flames and one of the few people who can actually use lightning.
Azula’s Childhood and Upbringing
She was born from the Royal Family of the Fire Nation. The daughter of Prince Ozai (now Firelord) and Ursa, and the younger sister of Zuko who’s 2 years her senior.
The Fire Nation is the 2nd largest nation, with an extremely powerful military force and the most advanced in terms of technological developments. It is well known that the Fire Nation has a longstanding desire to conquer and expand its empire. Starting with Azula’s great-grandfather Firelord Sozin who committed genocide against the air nomads and colonized several Earth Kingdom territories.
Growing up, she’s been indoctrinated with the Fire Nation’s belief as the greatest nation, and she very much supports the idea of conquering other nations and the constant display of their military prowess and using fear to control others and to submit to their authority.
Her rivalry with Zuko started at a young age. Being the oldest, Zuko was by default the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation, a title that would eventually go to Azula later.
Being a Fire Nation royal and a firebender, expectations for both of them are high and out of the two, she is the only one who was able to surpass them. Azula is clearly favored by her father Ozai due to her superior firebending skills compared to Zuko. Despite her superior abilities, she began to harbor resentment and jealousy towards her brother and the attention their mother gives to him.
She’d often feel bored and neglected which causes her to occasionally lash out. One time, she decided to burn a flower which prompts Zuko to tell on their mother who sends her to her room. Azula would often feel angry that Ursa is favoring Zuko more than her. This would become a regular scenario in their palace causing her to become more hostile to Zuko and further drift away from Ursa.
When Iroh (who was still the current Crown Prince of the Fire Nation) returned home, devastated about the death of his son, Lu Ten. Ozai tried to persuade Fire Lord Azulon to make him his heir instead of Iroh. Which enraged Azulon and as punishment, he was ordered to kill his firstborn, Zuko to make him realize the pain of losing a child. Ozai was going to do it. Something Azula overhears and taunted Zuko about this.
When Ursa hears of these plans, she devised a plan that would make her husband Fire Lord. After this, Ursa left the palace and was never seen again.
She loves tormenting her brother whom she considered weak and a failure. She watched Zuko’s Agni Kai (a traditional firebending duel) with his father and smiled when Ozai burned Zuko’s face. Zuko was also banished which made Azula the Crown Princess of the Fire Nation.
A Firebending Prodigy
At a young age, she manages to master several firebending techniques that she later demonstrated infront of her grandfather Firelord Azulon who gained his approval.
Over the years, Azula would develop a desire for perfection and would often practice hard enough until she gets things right. Excellence isn’t enough for her.
By the time she was 14, she has mastered numerous advanced techniques and her skills are probably just second to her father Ozai and Iroh.
Because of her undeniable talents, she was trusted by Ozai to capture her own brother and uncle. A task, she was happy to oblige. She’d spent months hunting her own brother and would occasionally try to kill him.
In the series, she managed to hold her ground against five different opponents including Zuko, Aang, Katara, Toph, and Iroh. Even when she’s outnumbered, she launched a surprise attack against Iroh and escaped.
Azula is also extremely perceptive. In the episode where they are chasing the Avatar, Aang decides to collect Appa’s fur and tried to lure them in a different direction. However, Azula noticed the ruse, decided to split her team, and chased the Avatar herself.
Azula is also cunning and is skillful in deception. She managed to capture Ba Sing Se (the Earth Kingdom’s capital famed for its impenetrable walls) from the inside, dressing up as Kiyoshi warriors, plotted a conspiracy to take over the city.
She is also able to tell convincing lies like when she tricked Iroh and Zuko into escorting them home to the Fire Nation while her intention is to capture them as prisoners. Even with Toph admitted she is a good liar when she is unable to detect any subtle changes in her heartbeat while telling an obvious lie.
Azula is also a capable fighter even without firebending as she manages to run and evade Aang, Toph, and Sokka during the Invasion on the day of the Black Sun.
She’s already displaying sociopathic traits. She’d display a tendency for malice such as putting an apple to her friend Mai and shooting it with fire. Azula also hates being bested. When she was young, she hated that her friend Ty Lee had superior acrobatic skills that she ended up pushing her and laughed.
Despite her lack of empathy, she showed that she has a very high emotional intelligence and could often see through people’s true emotions. She catches Zuko’s anxiety whether their father would accept him back. She also noticed his doubts about the Avatar’s death which made her lie to their father into thinking it was her brother who killed the Avatar. A strategy she used in order to torment her brother even more which would cause Zuko’s humiliation for his failure to kill the Avatar.
One of Azula’s accomplishments is actually killing Aang with a shot of lightning while he is in Avatar State. Aang only survived because he was only brought back with the spirit water.
Azula’s descent to madness
Azula takes pride in her skills, her perfection, her status as a royal, and the privileges that comes with it. She believes that the divine right to rule is something only a few like her is born with. She’s also fully intaken the Fire Nation’s twisted philosophy of using fear and intimidation to control others. Believing that is the only thing she can rely on.
Things started falling down on her when the closest thing to a friend that she has betrayed her. One of her best friends, Mai (Zuko’s love interest) busted him out of prison and dared to attack Azula. Telling her that she loves Zuko more than she fears her.
Her other friend Ty Lee, who is visibly upset that her friends are fighting, used her chi blocking skills to temporarily paralyze Azula.
The first time Azula was caught off-guard.
Slowly, her illusion of control is fading. Control is the only thing that she relies on, the only thing she holds on to make herself perfect. For years, Azula was extremely confident in her skills, the fear she used to control others and now she’s just been chi-blocked.
It was a shock to her.
But the major blow that really caused her to snap was when Ozai decided to leave her behind during their attack in Ba Sing Se. She was ordered to stay in the Fire Nation Capital to watch over their nation. Something, she became very upset about.
Throughout all the years, her father favors her. She’s done her best to please her father. To continuously train, improve her skills to become a worthy heir for him
But now she’s afraid.
She fears that her father sees her as a failure. Like her brother, Zuko.
Her illusion of being PERFECT is shattering.
Despite Ozai (now deeming himself as the Phoenix King) and wanting to declare her as the new Fire Lord. Azula started to doubt herself and everyone around her.
She banished most of her servants, believing that they too would eventually betray her. She banished her royal guards, her Dai Lee agents, out of fear that she wouldn’t be able to control them.
The once confident and sure of herself is now extremely insecure and deluded that she thinks her own body is conspiring against her.
When she couldn’t tie her hair to perfection, she decides to cut it. After that, she hallucinates an image of her mother who said she doesn’t want to miss her own daughter’s coronation.
She rebuffs saying “Don’t act like you’re proud. I know what you really think of me, you think I’m a monster.”
This is something she has previously mentioned during the Ember Island episode where she, Zuko, Ty Lee and Mai talk about their repressed emotions. Azula mentioned how their own mother thought of her as a monster but then quickly stated “She was right of course, but it still hurt“.
The image of Ursa then replies that she’s confused. Confused that she is using fear to control others even her friends.
She then snaps and says “What choice do I have? Trust is for fools. Fear is the only reliable way. Even you fear me”
Ursa just tells her that she loves her. Something that she probably wants to hear but refuses to believe. She ends up shattering the glass, crying.
Her coronation as Fire Lord was interrupted by Zuko who challenged her in an Agni Kai.
Zuko who is now reformed, calmer, and more composed against Azula who is noticeably becoming more unstable. Her attacks were pure aggression compared to her previous fights where she is usually balanced, calculated, and precise. She was eventually knocked down by her brother who taunted her to produce lightning.
Knowing that her brother has the ability to redirect it, she decides to hit Katara with lightning which prompts Zuko to save her and gets hit instead.
She was eventually defeated by Katara. Where she is completely broken and shocked.
She is just 14 years old.
Root of her Issues
Throughout the years, she’s been hiding her insecurities under false confidence. She’s done her best to be seen as perfect and flawless. Possibly to make up form the lack of attention from Ursa.
She did a very good job though. She’s become an excellent firebender and a brilliant tactician. This is why when she thought Ozai thinks he doesn’t trust her, she had a breakdown. Despite her abilities, Azula is still insecure who craves approval from others (her Father, her Mother) and all of this can be traced down to her mommy issues.
Azula is not just an ordinary villain. She’s one of the most complex and well-written characters out there, both she and her brother actually. Azula’s a product of her society, her unresolved issues and not to mention, she doesn’t exactly have the best parental figure to properly guide her compared to Zuko who had his uncle, Iroh, who’s able to guide him in the right path.
In the Avatar series comics, The Search Part 1-3. She joined Team Avatar to locate their missing mother. At some point, she somehow managed to bring back her sanity.
She went rogue and continues to torment her brother’s reign as Fire Lord, believing that she can be Fire Lord through him if his brother continues to rule using fear.
Ursa wasn’t a bad mother. She’s just stuck and helpless in her situation. In her defense, she paid more attention to Zuko because she felt that Zuko needed it more. Azula is already praised for her skills while Zuko is often scolded because he lacks her sister’s skills.
However, Ursa did not realize how much this would damage her daughter especially after she left without so much of an explanation.