Friday, December 18, 2015

Top Eleven: Avatar Characters & Their Best Moments

It's the last day of Avatar Week here (did I forget to mention that was a thing?) and I decided to end it with something I haven't done in a while: picking apart a huge selection of things and sharing my own personal favorites for reasons that only I can really understand.

I mean, seriously, I put "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" in my top eleven Christmas songs and I went so far as to say that the Purple Man wouldn't work in the Marvel Cinematic/TV Universe.  I also said Man-Ape would be a great addition to the Cinematic/TV universe.

Clearly I often have no idea what I'm talking about.

However, be warned, there are spoilers ahead (naturally).

Number 11) Iroh

Perfectly voiced by Mako Iwamatsu for most of the series (until his untimely passing), Iroh is the uncle of Prince Zuko and the counterpoint to the warlike teachings of Zuko's father, the Fire Lord.  Where the Fire Lord wanted Zuko to be heartless, cruel, and conquering, Iroh keeps trying to simply be there for his nephew after Prince Zuko gets banished.  He attempts to teach his nephew peace, tranquility, and finding satisfaction in life outside of what others expect of him.

Having been one of the foremost generals in the Fire Nation (including being the original heir to the Fire Lord throne), the personal tragedy in Iroh's own life lead him to completely reexamine who he is and what really matters.  I've said before, the spotlight on him brought me to tears, and seeing him constantly being patient with the youthful, headstrong Zuko just makes him endearing.

If I had to pick his best moment, it would actually be in the last season.  After being jailed as a traitor to the Fire Kingdom, Iroh finally gets his freedom and leads a group of other bending masters to the city of Ba Sing Se, a city that he dreamed he would one day breach the walls of (back when he was a general, it was the site of his biggest failure).  With the help of his friends he does finally capture the city, fulfilling his destiny, but not in the way he originally thought.

Either that or when he sings to his dead son.  I was in tears man.

Number 10)  Ty Lee

If that doesn't get me views, I dunno what will.

Ty Lee, helper of Azula, has possibly one of the most distinctive abilities in the entire series.  She can't bend any elements herself, but she knows what pressure points to strike on people to prevent them from being able to bend.  This makes her absolutely devastating when she squares off against Aang, Katara, Toph, or any of the numerous soldiers she goes up against who rely on their bending abilities to defeat their opponents.  Granted, it means she has to get in close, but her gymnastics and acrobatics abilities are more than able to get her into position.  She's also eternally cheerful, perfectly balancing out the lack of empathy that Azula feels for anything and the emo-ness of Mai.

Her best moment in the series would probably be any of the fights she has against powerful benders that she triumphs in, but I personally love the scene in the beach episode when Ty Lee, the continual flirt, finally gets cornered by guys she was nice to since they want to know which one of them she "likes."  She flips out, pressure-points them all into lying on the ground limp, and escapes.

Number 9) King Bumi

King Bumi's hilarious. A crazed old man who rules one of the major earthbender cities, he tests Aang early on in one episode, and then later gives him advice after the Fire Nation have conquered his city and imprisoned him.  He has some of the biggest "oh crap!" moments in the series, and is powerful enough that anybody in their right mind should be terrified of fighting him.  He's random, tells horrible jokes, and is arguably the most powerful earthbender in the entire series (in the comics he and Toph have a huge sparring battle, and they seem to be pretty much equal, but it's only because Toph has more variety, Bumi has more power).

Bumi's best moment?  When he single-handedly frees his city from firebender rule.  It's just one amazing moment after another.

Number 8)  June

Yeah, that's the look I'd expect to get from someone that awesome.

I really don't know why I like June so much.  She only really shows up in two episodes, but she's the greatest tracker (okay, her pet is) and we see her absolutely destroy a guy meant to look like Ryu from Street Fighter II in a bar fight.  It might be the Jennifer Hale voice, it might be the "dragon lady" trope appearance of long, straight dark hair and dark clothes, I dunno.  I just really like her.

Her best moment?  Beating the crap out of that Ryu guy.  Or teasing Zuko and Katara about possibly being a couple before fans really latched onto the idea.

Number 7)  Master Piandao

Master Piandao only really gets one episode to shine in, but he earns his place in this list by probably being the best swordsman in the entire series.  Sought out by Sokka to teach him, he shows a patience and skill that clearly takes a lifetime to master.  He pushes Sokka hard, but everything is to help him become a better fighter.  Later, we see him take part in the reclaiming of Ba Sing Se, which I'll point out was claimed by his own nation, and he has to fight people that literally throw fire out of their hands.  They're so outclassed.

In fact, that's his best moment, taking part in the reclaiming of Ba Sing Se.

Of course, being voiced by Robert Patrick didn't hurt.

Number 6) Combustion Man

Unfortunately never given a name (other than "Sparky Sparky Boom Man"), Combustion Man was a rare threat to the G'Aang: someone who attacked using purely ranged attacks, but whose attacks were hard to see coming.  He could essentially send out "sparks" from a third eye painted onto his forehead (or tattooed, it isn't clear), which would reach a point and then explode with massive force.

He was able to single-handedly face the entire Avatar team and keep them on the ropes, only losing due to a few lucky blows to his head that disrupted his ability.  But he was scary, unleashing massive explosions anywhere he could see, with everybody trying desperately to avoid his powers.

Number 5) Long Feng

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make your villains scary.  Long Feng is a manipulator, a background villain who finally gets his when he teams up with Azula to overthrow the city of Ba Sing Se.  Originally the king's chief adviser, his treachery is uncovered and he's thrown into jail.  Fortunately, he still has the loyalty of the nation's secret police, allowing him to work with Azula to stage an effective coup.

It's at this point, after manipulating the G'Aang for many episodes and controlling all the real political power, that he orders his troops to arrest Azula.  They don't.  He seems confused, until Azula points out that they're trying to figure out "who's going to win" between the two of them.  Long Feng pulled himself up from nothing, but Azula was destined to rule.  It leads to one of the best exchanges as he kneels before Azula sitting on the Ba Sing Se throne.

"You've beaten me at my own game."

"Please.  You weren't even a contender."

His best moment?  Everything leading up to his public reveal, as he secretly held all the power of a nation in his grasp and refused to give it up until someone better came along.

Number 4)  Avatar Kyoshi

It must be a Jennifer Hale thing.

One of the former lives of Aang, Avatar Kyoshi is one of the few female avatars from history we get to see, and one of the even fewer who gets to directly make their presence known when Aang channels her.  There's a great two-parter where Aang is put on trial for the "crimes" of Kyoshi, who the village believes killed the town's former leader.  It turns out she didn't directly kill him, but he slipped after she decided the best way to protect a village from him was to sever the ground and push the land out into the ocean, forming a new island.  That's the kind of power level we're dealing with here.  The bad guy slipped on the cliff and fell to his death, but Kyoshi is quick to point out that while she didn't directly kill him, she was fully ready to if she had to.

Her best moment is probably that, forming a new island by severing its connection to the mainland and then pushing it out to sea.  That island later went on to be so inspired by Kyoshi that they named it after her and set up an elite team of female warriors, which leads us to...

Number 3)  Suki

The leader of the Kyoshi warriors, Suki is a throwaway character in the first season who comes back briefly in the second season and then is a recurring character in the third.  She's a skilled hand to hand combatant (able to keep up with Ty Lee easily) and is able to simply toss Sokka around with ease when they first meet.

She and Sokka develop a strong bond that grows into romance over time, but she's easily one of the most skilled martial artists in the series.  She and her team don't manage a win when they fight Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai, but they do a darn impressive showing.

Her best moment?  Well, there was her rematch against Ty Lee where she proved they were equals, there was her AMAZING fight against team Azula, there was her daring rescue of Toph during a trip through a narrow pass when Toph fell into the water...but I think I'm just going to put this image here, which is from when Sokka and Zuko stage an elaborate jail break but need someone to capture the warden as a hostage.

Damn.  That's impressive.

Number 2) Azula

Azula is the alpha-bitch of the series.  She's heartless, emotionless, and cruel to everybody she knows.  She lusts for power, is eager to please her father, and when things start going wrong is quick to blame everybody else and start to snap.

She's one of the best villains ever, up there with Darth Vader, the Joker, and Hannibal Lecter.  She's the Terminator meets Norman Bates, a master manipulator who's also ridiculously powerful and unstoppable in her quest to get what she wants, all the while being the embodiment of the ultimate "mean girl" from your high school.

Watching her appear in the second season and keep the G'Aang terrified the whole series is something to see, since every time she appears everybody pretty much whimpers and tries to figure out the quickest way out of the room.  Attempting to narrow down her achievements is hard, since I can easily think of many of them.

There was the time she single-handed took on Aang, Iroh, Zuko, and the rest of the benders AT ONCE and lived to tell the tale.  There was when she took on Aang, Toph, and Sokka without powers and still out-manipulated them and avoided their attacks.  There was her attempt to get a boyfriend at the beach party...

But, if you've come this far you've either seen the series or you don't care about spoilers, her biggest moment has to be when she killed Aang.  Or at least put him to the point where it took a deus ex machina to bring him back.  That's pretty impressive.

Number 1)  Zuko

Yeah, you all knew this was coming.

Prince Zuko is a storytelling masterpiece.  Aang may have his "hero's journey" and everybody else might get better at what they do to become a more complete character, but Zuko's story of redemption is one for the ages.  Starting out as the biggest threat to the Avatar (until his sister comes along), Zuko's attempt to win back his father's good graces by capturing the Avatar at any cost is powerful, heart-wrenching, and flat-out amazing.

There's stuff I just won't spoil, but learning the little touches in his life, like everything that happened with his mother, how he got the burn on his face, and what his relationships with other people were like, you really sense just how broken he is inside, and how the path he's going down is either going to end in him being miserable for the rest of his life or dead.  It's only be Iroh's influence that he manages to start to get a grasp on his life, and not even until he's fully a member of the villain team that we see what Iroh's influence had on him.

There are so many points where you think "okay, this is where he becomes a good guy," but even at the end of the second season, when he's just about ready to give up on the Fire Nation and join the good guys, his sister dangles that little carrot of "daddy's love and respect" to him, and he falls back to being evil again.

Like Azula, Zuko has a ton of great moments (I'd argue he's just as much a main character as Aang, if not more since he has a more complete character arc), I think I have to pick his confrontation with his father as his best moment.  Standing there, holding his father at sword point, and calmly explaining what kind of a monster he is, what a monster Azula is, how the Avatar isn't dead as they all suspected, and how he's going to live up to his destiny by helping the Avatar win, it's all one of the most powerful character moments I've seen in a long time.  "Your uncle's gotten to you, hasn't he?"  Zuko smiles a bit.  "Yes, he has."

Then, of course, his father tries to kill Zuko with lightning, but Zuko actually catches it and throws it back.  One physical act of defiance to go with the emotional/familial one.

So that's it!  That's the end of Avatar week!  Next week we might have some actual stuff involving the holidays and a few movie reviews to kill some time until my next big project.

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