Posted by: markfender | August 24, 2011

Portraits in Villainy – Azula

Azula (from Avatar: the Last Airbender) is one of my favorite villains. So, let’s discuss why…

(It goes without saying that this post contains massive spoilers for Avatar.)

Zuko: You lied to me!
Azula: Like I’ve never done that before.

Azula is an awesome villain because she wins. This is ridiculously rare in fiction. She has a plan and it works. Most entertainments of the Avatar variety feature villains with dumb plans that would’ve only succeeded if it weren’t for those damn kids, but not Azula. Even more adult fiction often features really dumb villains, either with stupid plots that never would have succeeded in a million years, but also seem to not account for the presence of people wishing to stop them. But not Azula. In fact, she uses the hunt for the Avatar to play into her own plans to rule the Fire Nation by assuming that her brother Zuko will continue to fail. (Which he does…but not always in the same way.)

Please, Zuko. What ulterior motive could I have? What could I possibly gain by letting you get all the glory for defeating the Avatar? Unless, somehow, the Avatar was actually alive. All that glory would suddenly turn to shame and foolishness. But you said yourself, that was impossible. Sleep well, Zu-Zu.

But let’s turn away from her scheming and look at other reasons she’s a pretty cool villain. For one, she looks pretty cool. She’s got a good cartoon smirk going on. And she’s voiced pretty awesomely. Also, she has blue fire (and lightning) instead of the normal reddish-orange fire that the other firebenders demonstrate. I’m not really sure why that is, but it’s a nice visual touch for her. Plus, she’s funny.

I think your friend just said that, genius. And since you can’t see, I should tell you I’m rolling my eyes.

Like Tyr Anasazi from Andromeda and Magneto from X-Men, Azula fits into a sadly underutilized subset of villainy – the villain who’s capable in a fight. Villains tend to be overspecialized in one thing – usually scheming – and incapable of meeting the heroes on a different playing field. Not Azula. She regularly “matches” wits with Zuko, and is also capable of battling a couple of ‘benders by herself. And she’s a pretty good leader, leading her elite strike team of friends in dramatic missions and leading the army that conquers Ba Sing Se. And she doesn’t fall into the sadly-typical villain archetype of demonstrating her villainy by killing a minion. Now, most of that is due to the fact that she’s on a cartoon, but what’s scarier – a random minion-kill or dialogue like this?

Maybe you should worry less about the tides, who’ve already made up their mind about killing you, and worry more about me, who’s still mulling it over…

So, like I already said, Azula is awesome because she wins. But that wouldn’t be awesome in the overall story. I mean, she is a villain and those eventually do need to be defeated. What I like most about her is that she isn’t defeated by the heroes, but by herself. While she claims to be a people person, the sad fact is that she isn’t.

I don’t have sob stories like all of you. I could sit her and complain how our mom liked Zuko more than me. But I don’t really care. My own mother thought I was a monster. She was right of course, but it still hurt.

Her blind spot comes from her inability to relate to people and truly understand their motivations. And, worst of all, she feels betrayed by them when they abandon her. Her dialogue is more prescient than she realized…her friends realize that she’s a monster and abandon her…and it hurts her, more than she’s even aware. Eventually, her hurt at being betrayed leads to madness and paranoia, causing her triumph at finally becoming Fire Lord to become ash. She achieves everything she always wanted, only to realize that it wasn’t what she wanted after all.

It’s this last bit that makes her an even better villain. After all, a villain with understandable motivations and a tragic flaw is far more interesting than a cookie-cutter evil overlord. All those other reasons I listed would make her a pretty cool villain, but her failure at understanding her friends and herself is what ultimately defeats her (yeah, that’s a battle with Zuko and Katara that actually defeats her, but the outcome of that is already a foregone conclusion).

So, that’s why Azula is an awesome villain. Anyone who disagrees with me is banished.

Banished!

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Responses

  1. Best Blog Post here EVAH!
    Now you need to do more Dr. Doom posts.


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