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Discovering the Complexity of Womanhood in Avatar: The Legend of Aang—Azula and the Hedgehog’s Dilemma (Part 2)

Updated: Jun 26

It's important to have emotional support in your life. You could get this support from those who truly love you, like parents, a romantic partner, or good friends. This support could be the solid cornerstone for your mental health, or things could go South. Avatar: The Legend of Aang showcased this through their storytelling.

For most millennials and Gen Z (like me), Nickelodeon's Avatar is our most beloved kid's show. The well-written plot and characters' developments sway the audience as they offer complex development in the simplest way. Other than that, the show also gives us top-notch tales of mental and moral regression of some characters.

Most of the regressions are shown through the villains, like Admiral Zhao who eventually succumbs to his narcissism and wrath. The main villain, the Fire Lord Ozai, also has his downfall as his deceptions and lust for power fail him. What the show does best is serve a female character, who was once powerful, then regressed a lot due to one moment that triggered her mental health problems: Princess Azula.

Azula, in the words of Zuko, "was born lucky." She is a fire-bending prodigy who possesses high intelligence and is favoured by both her late grandfather and father. In times of war, Azula could excel in many fields related to the military and thus, she is pushed to be perfect in related skills. Unfortunately, these same factors would lead to her downfall.

Azula was raised with plenty of expectations towards perfection and ruthlessness. If she made even just one mistake, people around her would chastise her, like Li and Lo or Fire Lord Ozai. This is made worse by the fact that she represses her insecurities most of the time. The burdens of perfection and expectations aren't balanced with the more important matters: emotional validation and unconditional support.

Her downfall begins when her insecurity gets the best of her during "The Boiling Rock" episodes. Mai choosing love over fear makes Azula question her entire relationships and self-worth. Perhaps Azula's life and circumstances would have changed dramatically had she received the love she needed from her mum who was reluctant to be affectionate until her comic arc.

Azula thinks that her mother saw her as a monster but the truth is, her mother was pressured to not show anything due to the abuse she receives from Ozai, too. Her struggle paints the hedgehog's dilemma like clockwork. Azula craves intimacy, yet the generational trauma that shaped her makes it hard for her to get the much-needed validation and affection.

Azula's story contrasts with her brother Zuko's or Katara's story. The two decide to accept their shame, insecurity, and vulnerability, then in turn, embrace love to endure their hardships, change their life, and find themselves. In the process, the two also learn to be more present by receiving all the help they need from their loved ones.

While both Azula and Zuko were raised in the dysfunctional Fire Nation royal family, they have different outcomes due to who their support systems and role models are. To add to that, the two went through different circumstances once they'd grown into their adolescence. Azula was surrounded and supported by the army and luxuries, while Zuko had to endure a hard life and the aftermath of his abuse. Turns out, all that glitter isn't gold for Azula.

Under the ultimate guidance of Uncle Iroh, Zuko learns to be more mentally resistant and empathetic. Iroh always selflessly helps him through thick and thin; only expecting Zuko to learn how to love life in the sense of amor fati. In the end, Uncle Iroh successfully shapes Zuko into a better person.

Meanwhile, Azula barely gets any guidance from anyone except her father. Even then, the guidance from Fire Lord Ozai is just mere flattery and gaslighting. Her obsession to control everyone through fear repulses anyone close to her. Ozai's projection is the catalyst of her mental instability.

The contrasting parallel and storytelling made people feel proud of Zuko, and pity for Azula. Azula went from a fearsome and loathsome villain in Book 2, to a psychologically complex character at the end of Book 3.

Azula's downfall should remind us how important unconditional support is. One shall not live and exist through fear and anger alone, as mankind will never win from the burden of solitude.

I find Azula's tale relatable as I have a hard time being vulnerable, have low self-esteem, and plentiful expectations set for me. I learned little by little to be more open and comfortable with sincere people like my good friends, even today.

It can be harrowing to know that there are probably millions of Azulas out there; people who won't feel anything if they don't appear perfect, obsessively control all aspects of life, or weaponise fear. Perhaps these people have internalised the hedgehog's dilemma. They crave intimacy and validation, yet cannot afford to be vulnerable. Whoever they are, I just want to sincerely wish them a joyful life, acceptance, and much love.


Nanda is an Indonesian freelance writer based in Jakarta. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Gunadarma University. She's passionate about art, sports, culture, languages, and history. She aims to be a compassionate global citizen and an influential writer who writes phenomenal works.

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