Updated: Sep 24, 2022
Warning: This blog includes spoilers from the show
1. Unnoticed older themes for a younger audience
Book one of Avatar eased its young audience into themes that were much darker than the audience realized. The audience was being taught that suppressing a person's abilities was criminal and led to abuse. Still, they taught kids that when one group is more powerful than the other, lesser groups are bound to be mistreated and suppressed. To older audiences, the "Imprisonment" episode obviously took inspiration from concentration camps that sprung up during World War II in America and in Germany.
2. Arrogance leads to your own demise. Admiral Zhou
Admiral Zhou was one of the titular antagonists in Avatar, and quite frankly, he was the most arrogant and conniving villain of Book one. Admiral Zhou was full of intelligence for sure, but his arrogance and dismissal of other people led to his demise. He didn’t listen to Uncle Iroh when he begged him to release the moon spirit. If he killed the spirit, he would destroy an entire civilization and pay the consequences, which he did. As the temporary replacement for the moon spirit, Aang took Zhou to the spirit world and Zuko offered his hand to help him. Zhou refused Zuko's gesture, letting his pride get the best of him, and was dragged to the spirit world. We see his fate in Legend of Korra when Aang’s children visit the spirit world and see Zhou in a mentally unstable state. Zhou paid for his arrogance and his demise is a caution for kids to learn that arrogance never leads to anything good.
3. Find your own worth. Prince Zuko
Prince Zuko was the main antagonist for Book 1 and half of Book 2 before going through a metamorphosis and becoming a protagonist. At first, Zuko was as innocent as Aang as a young child and preteen, but the pressure to be better, stronger, and be like his sister turned Zuko into an angry teen that had lost his way. Once he was able to break away from what his family wanted him to be and he became who he wanted to be, Zuko became a much better and nicer person. Zuko's entire arch depicted a kid's life growing up under a stern parent and how that can mess with a kids head. By becoming his own person, Zuko showed kids in similar situations that it was their choice to be their own person and not the person their family wanted them to be.
4. Animal cruelty."Appa’s lost days."
This episode in Book 2 was heartbreaking to watch as fans of Avatar’s favorite Sky Bison was kidnapped, abused and mistreated. The purpose of Appa’s heartbreaking journey to reunite with Aang gave a very heavy message about animal abuse. Sky Bison my not exist in our world but hundreds of other animals do and they face circumstances just like Appa did, Appas journey also showed some mature insights. Even though Appa is a fantasy, very real situations, like animal abuse, happen. This is showing that even fantasy can be based on reality.
5. Water pollution. "The Painted Lady."
Water pollution is a global problem, but children are particularly unaware of it or are just beginning to learn about it. This was the case with kids and preteens in the early 2000s when Avatar the Last Airbender was airing. To educate the loyal audience who had been watching the show since Book 1, creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko wrote the episode ‘The Painted Lady.’ In the episode, the gang comes across a fishing village on a polluted lake. The inhabitants are not doing well because of the fire nation polluting the lake with a factory, thus making their main food source diseased. Aang and Katara destroy the factory and, with the help of the rest of the Avatar gang, kicks the fire nation out and clean up the lake. Depicting the unhealthy conditions of locals living near or on polluted water which produced a solid message to kids about the harmful effects of factory water pollution.
6. Suppressing creativity in school. “The Headband”
In book 3, viewers got a glimpse of Fire Nation society when Aang and his friends hide within the Fire Nation. While walking around, Aang gets caught by guards and is sent to school, something neither he nor his friends have ever been to. He enjoys interacting with kids his age but is dismayed when he realizes that the school kids can’t express themselves creatively (they do not even know what dancing is). Because of this suppression of creativity, the school kids don’t know what it’s like to express themselves, but thanks to Aang, they learn what it feels like to have fun and be creative in dancing. School is a place where you learn and expand your horizons; suppressing creativity in school sucks the fun out of school. The episode taught kids that it was important to express themselves.
7. Don't jump the gun too quickly. “The Deserter"
Aang is a very energetic and curious kid, eager to learn things, but the eagerness got the best of him when he began to learn fire bending. Aang’s teacher Jeong Jeong repeatedly told Aang that he was not ready to wield fire and he needed discipline because fire can be dangerous. However, Aang insisted that he was ready. Because of his rushed behavior, he burned Katara and finally learned his lesson that rushing to do things has consequences. This episode was also a cautionary tale to kids about the dangers of fire. It may look pretty and fun, but it can be dangerous if not handled carefully.
8. Negative effects of insomnia. “The Chase."
Insomnia to kids is 'I can't sleep, I want a snack.' When in reality, its meaning is much deeper, and its effects are damaging. Aang and his friends experience the negative side effects of insomnia when they are unable to sleep due to being chased by a mysterious machine. As the days go by without sleep, everyone's tempers are shortened, they are tired, and their reactions are slower. The episode showed kids what happens when they don't get enough sleep.
9. The importance of heritage and culture. "The Fire Bending Masters"
Heritage is something every person had an idea of when they were a kid. Heritage was a grandmother’s quilt, a story about an ancestor or a skill passed down from generation to generation. Avatar showcased the importance of heritage in the episode “The Fire Bending Masters” Aang and Zuko go to the ancient city of the Sun Summoners to learn about the origins of fire bending and its purpose. Originally, Aang believed that fire bending was harmful and hurtful to people. Zuko believed that fire bending was a weapon fueled by anger. By the end of the episode, they both learn the true purpose of fire bending; it’s an art, and it’s used to protect people. By learning the importance of fire bending, Zuko and Aang understood their heritage and the original culture of fire bending.
10. Good guys can also be bad guys. Rebel leader Jet
Kids shows can be pretty straightforward; there are the good guys and the bad guys, never an in between, but Avatar decided to change that with several characters. One character that changed the good guy/ bad guy stereotype was Jet. When Aang, Katara and Sokka meet Jet they immediately assume he is a good guy because he rebels against the Fire Nation, but as the show progresses, we see that Jet is not as good as he seems. He lies, manipulates and twists the truth to get what he wants, he even goes so far to try and flood a town full of innocents just to kill Fire Nation soldiers stationed there. Avatar the last Airbender taught kids that not everything is black and white, people can be more complex than they appear.