One of the best animated shows to come out of Nickelodeon is Avatar the Last Airbender. There are so many reasons people bring it up when talking about why it’s a good show but one of these is one of the show’s main villains: Azula.
Many consider Azula a perfect villain. She’s intimidating, powerful, smart, and overall an interesting character. Throughout most of the second and third season she seems very put together, almost perfect. But as the last season got closer to the end we started to see her mask fall, and she started to show emotions we had not seen before. And in the season finale, we saw her dealing with mental illness and end as a broken girl.
And here’s where opinions begin to change. Many people see her as completely evil—they think she got what she deserved and she should never have anything good come to her. But on the latter side, many have empathy for her for numerous reasons. And if you have seen the finale, I think it is fair to say there’s nothing enjoyable about a fourteen year old girl losing her mind. So does Azula deserve sympathy? Does she deserve to have redemption? I want to lay out some of the most popular reasons for why she should and why she shouldn’t, so that you can make your own decision.
Reasons against Azula:
1. She’s a war criminal
During season two, Azula and her friends successfully take over Ba Sing Se for the Fire Nation. During this she also attacks the gang (the main cast) and almost kills the main character. And in the final season she leads an attack on an abandoned air temple which was housing refugees. Either way I think being a war criminal is more than enough for someone to not feel bad for someone.
2. She treats everyone poorly
We see throughout the show in flashbacks that she has always bullied her brother. Along with that she has always talked down on her uncle even before he stepped down from his position. She also uses intimidation to keep her friends with her and even puts them in life threatening situations to get them to do what she wants them to do. Many people can heavily relate to having a terrible friend like this, so seeing her do that can definitely remind them of past situations they have been in.
3. She seems to have always had these negative behaviours
In flashbacks young Azula can be seen being a bully and saying mean and horrible things. It can appear that she may have been like this for a long time and itcan be argued there may be no hope for her.
Reasons for Azula:
1. She was emotionally abused and manipulated by her father
In one of the graphic novels, many things become more clear, including the fact that her father not only abused her brother and mother, but her as well. Her mother and father never had a good relationship. It was an arranged marriage and Azula’s mom was forced to leave her “true love.” When they had their first kid (Azula’s brother Zuko), her dad wanted nothing to do with him because it appeared that he wouldn’t be able to firebend. In her father’s eyes this made Zuko useless, he was embarrassing and could not be an heir to the throne. But what infuriated him even more was that their mother still loved Zuko despite that. And her mother and father’s relationship only became more strained as they tried to do things to get back at each other. But when Azula was born he took it a step further. He saw that she was a prodigy at firebending and saw how he could take advantage of her. He put all his time into her and began to feed her lies about her uncle, mom and brother. He encouraged all of her negative behaviour that her mother hated, partially to gain her trust but mostly to spite her mother. This manipulation over the years definitely took a toll on Azula and can be one of the main reasons for her breakdown.
2. She’s only fourteen years old
While age is not always an excuse, it can be very hard for a young teen to understand the impact of their choices, especially when they have been raised to think these things are okay.
3. She shows signs that she’s not “completely evil”
In the beach episode there are a few situations that show Azula is capable of feeling for others and one point where she even opens up about her mother and how something she “said” (her mother never actually said this, as it was a lie from her father) actually hurt her. And in the final episode there are multiple scenes that show she’s not this super villainous character that she has tried to be.
4. She struggles with mental illness
While this is not an excuse either to go commit war crimes, I think it can fall in the same area as the being-young-and-naive argument. Being mentally ill definitely does not make anything easier on her. They never explicitly state what she’s dealing with but in the final episode we watch her slow descent until the point where she begins hallucinating her mother.
So with all that being said, does she deserve sympathy? At the end of the day it all depends on the viewer and what they deem as forgivable and unforgivable. I will admit, I definitely have sympathy for Azula, but I also can’t ignore her actions. I don’t think anyone should have to give her sympathy due to her actions, but during the show both her brother and uncle (both war criminals and have done other bad things) were able to get their redemption and change. So if two people in a similar and even arguably worse situation are able to get their redemption with the acceptance of most fans and characters, I think Azula at least deserves that chance as well.