The original thread is located at http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=14214.0
. Comments on either forum are fine.-=Introduction=-
Ever since the flashbacks in season 2, I've always felt that Azula's character held a lot of potential, but never lived up to it. I suspected that her abandonment and subsequent loneliness influenced her character, but never did I imagine just how much it fractured her. Though I had some qualms about it (Why didn't the lightning blow up in her face? I know I'm not the only one thinking it), Season 3 was an absolutely beautiful masterpiece that developed Azula into something extraordinary and memorable, catapulting her into my favorite character spot. I've always had a thing for mental breakdowns, and this time was no different.
The following is a theory on Azula's character that I've been developing ever since season 2, now slightly modified as new information was given during the course of season 3. I also drew inspiration from reading the spoiler thread Azula's Fall, which had a great discussion on Azula as well. Many of you will disagree with much of this, but I hope that it will nonetheless promote thought and discussion on her character. A character of that caliber deserves at least that much.-=Thesis=-
Azula embodies neglect and jealousy, more specifically, jealousy of her older sibling Zuko, who took everything she ever wanted away from her. Starting from her childhood, she was an attention-starved individual who sought love and recognition from her parents and friends.-=Childhood=-
Azula was an ordinary child. A spoiled brat perhaps, but nothing that out of the ordinary. Nearly all information about her childhood was presented through Zuko flashbacks, which are all biased as they were from his point of view. Even there, however, Azula was shown enjoying a game of tag with Zuko and frolicking on the beach. As a small side note, she never once lied in any of the flashbacks, which clearly shows some bias on Zuko's end.
Justifying her normalcy requires comparing Azula's actions to that of typical kids today.
She would bully her friends, ordering them around, pushing them over (Ty Lee doing flips), and playing pranks (burning apple on Mai's head). Younger children tend to form groups where one is the leader and would order the rest around; Azula assumed that position. Younger children also play pranks on one another, possibly getting the other in trouble; ever heard of truth or dare, or children strangling themselves to get high? Whereas the fire on Mai's head may seem extreme to some, recall that fire in the Fire Nation is NOT considered dangerous. Jeong Jeong, the only one who seems to think so, is a fugitive.
Azula would taunt Zuko endlessly, continually showing that she was superior to him in as many ways of possible (practice session in front of Azulon, prank with Mai and burning apple). This is typical sibling rivalry, where each continually attempts to one up the other, possibly getting the other in trouble with the parents. The exception, taunting Zuko about father being ordered to kill him, is explained further on.
Azula would also aggravate the turtleducks, her version of feeding them being chucking a piece of food. Kids are known for slowly torturing insects to death out of curiosity. Think earthworms and ants being pulled apart and wiggling around, or ants being burned to death with a magnifying lens.
Azula burned the Earth Kingdom doll she received as a gift from Iroh. Kids destroy toys all the time, putting them in their mouths, tossing them against walls, bashing them against another toy, stealing another kid's toy and breaking it. Again, recall that fire in the Fire Nation is not considered dangerous.
There were four instances that were questionable regarding Azula's stability as a child. Two of them dealt with death; her remarks about Lu Ten's death affecting Iroh and Azulon being replaced, as well as taunting Zuko about Ozai being ordered to kill him. At the age she is portrayed at, kids do not fully comprehend the concept of death. This is why there is such a movement to censor the words kill and death today as well as having villains go the Disney demise route. Then, looking at her actions while ignoring her disregard for death, it would appear that she was simply repeating what her father, who favors her over Zuko, says. If nothing else, Azula sneaking into the room to spy on the conversation with Azulon indicates she continually follows him and is always in the loop. These opinions, then, can easily be attributed to echoing Ozai's sentiments.
The final two questionable instances were when Azula taunted Zuko about mother being gone and her smirk while Zuko's face underwent an extreme makeover. At both of these times, Ursa is no longer around. Ursa abandoned Azula for Zuko and she angrily resents Zuko for it (more on that later). Her taunting Zuko about Ursa's disappearance was a form of payback. Though it did seem extreme, kids can be pretty insensitive as well when they're jealous. This insensitivity is pretty normal. The smirk on her face post agni kai, on the other hand, represents her resent of Zuko for having Iroh's favor. Zuko got into the war room by Iroh's graces and screwed up; to her, this was a form of payback and one-upping her sibling. He got in trouble for doing something that she wanted. At this point, with her mother's supervision nonexistent for an extended period of time, Azula finally crossed the line. Even with fire not being nearly as dangerous in the Fire Nation, knowledge of how it can permanently maim a person is probably commonplace.
Therefore, so long as Ursa was around, Azula was a normal spoiled brat who was jealous of her older sibling. She wanted affection and attention, but was instead abandoned and betrayed, leaving her at the whims of her less-than-ideal father with no one to save her.-=Ursa=-
The beginning of Azula's mental breakdown starts with her mother, Ursa. Azula, starved for attention and love, was jealous of Zuko for stealing her mother from her. Ursa obviously favors the elder sibling. At one point, Ursa even exclaims "what is wrong with that child?" while Azula was clearly still within earshot. While Azula may have over dramatized it, admitting that her mother saw her as a monster in the Beach was the first visible sign that Azula really cared and was deeply affected. She was hurt that Ursa favored and chose Zuko, especially since Ursa abandoned her to save Zuko's life. She was left then with her father as a mentor, while Zuko still had Iroh to fall back on. No matter how much she excelled at firebending, her mother only had eyes for the brother. How much her mother haunted her was made extremely apparent when she conversed with her mother in front of the mirror before hurling a brush at it. That she was familiar with the hallucination indicates that this wasn't the first time she's been seeing things, which is all the more disturbing. Yet, despite all of Azula's resentment, that the hallucination declared love for Azula indicates a subconscious recognition that her mother DID love her; Azula just can't bring herself to acknowledge it.-=Ozai=-
Mommy wouldn't pay attention to her, so Azula looked to Daddy. Ozai only paid attention to her when she displayed her firebending talents, going so far as to actually praise her and put down her brother (born lucky, lucky to be born). She grasped onto this show of affection, false though it may be, and did everything she could to please the only person who would look at her. This is what started her obsessive quest for perfection, causing her to practice her bending at a level far beyond what Zuko did (see how Zuko trained with Iroh in season 1 ep 1 and compare it to when she was first shown bending lightning).
This incredible dedication to hard work and to please her father went on throughout her life. When her father told her to go after Zuko and Iroh, she did so without question. Not only did she bring them both back, she went far beyond what he asked for. She converted Zuko, took down Ba Sing Se, and defeated the Avatar. She even stopped the initial invasion plan before it began and prepared an intricate plan to protect her father on the Day of Black Sun (putting her own life on the line) in the off chance that another would be mounted. The level of devotion she showed her father was made even more apparent with her reaction to Ozai leaving her behind in the Fire Nation on the day of Sozin's Comet. She finally developed a plan that he approved of, one where she could finally spend some time TOGETHER with her father. And yet, despite her efforts, he abandoned her in the Fire Nation, the same way he abandoned her when Zuko first came home after supposedly defeat the Avatar. Here she was, going above and beyond the call of duty, and yet the prodigal son Zuko is the one expected at Ozai's right hand side while she had to be invited to sit on his left.
By the end of the series, the only person Azula had left was her father, and even he abandoned her. And although she denied it, Azula knew that Ozai didn't truly love her. That Zuko found yet another person (Katara) to care for him while she had no one, not even Ozai, was what truly defeated her.
On a slight side note, it's interesting to point out that the younger siblings of this family are jealous of the older ones. Ozai, the younger brother, was jealous of Iroh, the elder. It was Iroh who had Azulon's favor, it was Iroh who was sent to war while Ozai was stuck at home, it was Iroh who had the right of succession even after Lu Ten's death. And if Iroh's admittance that that even he may not have been able to defeat Ozai is any indication, Ozai was the more talented firebender. This may have indirectly caused Ozai's resentment of Zuko and his favor of Azula, and how Ozai was indeed planning to kill Zuko.-=Iroh=-
As far as the role of mentors go, Iroh was the least prominent of the three. Azula didn't even seem to like her uncle, though that may have been influence on Ozai's part (see jealousy in the above paragraph). She would continually make demeaning nicknames for him, each indicating a negative trait that she, or Ozai, saw in him. However, there were indications of her jealousy of Iroh favoring Zuko, yet again another who preferred the elder over the younger. First, there were the gifts sent by Iroh back home. Azula got a doll, a trinket that could be bought off the street, while Zuko got a knife, THE knife of the defeated general. Extremely jealous, she began taunting Zuko about his knife-play, making snide remarks about Iroh's abilities, and at one point even stealing the knife for herself. She wanted it. She wanted Iroh to recognize her. And yet, Iroh has never been showing making an attempt at being a mentor for her, going so far as to say that she needed to be taken down. Strike down another loving mentor.-=Zuko=-
Despite being the primary cause of her jealousy, Zuko was nonetheless an important figure in Azula's life. Their relationship was pretty close (see them frolicking in the flashbacks) and they seemed to know each other extremely well. Zuko could have been the one to show affection for her, to be her pillar of support. However, her jealousy of him caused Azula to push him away. Zuko never saw past the mask that Azula put on or her cries for help and instead opted to push back and resent Azula. His banishment, in a strange way, was a form of abandoning her. No longer was he there to keep Azula company. No longer would Iroh be there either, who was stolen by Zuko.
At the end of season 2, Zuko came back to Azula. That someone came back to her was monumental. She actually planned to GIVE Zuko credit for taking down the Avatar BEFORE she suspected that the Avatar was alive. Proof of this is when the siblings were introduced by Li and Lo; Azula was given credit for taking down Ba Sing Se, but NOT for taking down the Avatar. At that point, she believed the Avatar dead and yet did not claim credit; she had not yet asked Zuko about the Avatar possibly being alive. This was her way of showing her thanks to Zuko for coming back to her. The excuse she made in the bedroom was a lie, a means of masking her appreciation of Zuko and throwing off his suspicions of her true feelings. In the Beach, Azula even offered to help Zuko with his internal turmoil. She showed compassion and a willingness to help him with his mental struggle, even going so far as to decrease her value in the eyes of her father so that Zuko could have what he dreamed of. And yet, despite it all, Zuko did nothing for her.
In the Beach, Azula first showed a chink in her mask about her mother, but Zuko never tried to help her; he was completely ignorant. That was an obvious cry for help. He went so far as to betray her once more, deciding to join the Avatar. She did not expect this. His betrayal meant that he would reveal to Ozai that SHE had lied about the death of the Avatar, something that is completely not in her favor. This would mark the first time that she disobeyed Ozai.
This betrayal meant a lot to Azula and was a severe blow to her psyche. Instead of capturing Zuko or converting him as she did in season 2, her objectives as the pursuer changed to killing him. In the Boiling Rock, she left him for dead. In the Southern Raiders, after losing Mai and Ty Lee as well, she started losing her mind and was rather...enthusiastic about killing her brother (I'm about to celebrate being an only child). Here was someone that she trusted and yet betrayed her in the end. She couldn't get that trust from her mother, father, uncle, and apparently not even her own brother.-=Mai and Ty Lee=-
Along with Ozai, these two (and Zuko for a little while) were part of the small group that Azula trusted. This tight group consisted of people she thought would love, show affection for, and pay attention to her. Though possible, it is unlikely that Azula chose these two for their combat abilities. Considering their age when they first met, the likelihood that Mai was a master of all things sharp and pointy and Ty Lee the master of acrobatics and pressure points was extremely improbable. She chose these two, each unique in their own way, to be her companions.
However, being the bratty kid that she was and an alien to affection, Azula was unable to properly show affection herself. The self-appointed leader of her posse, Azula bullied the girls around, using fear to get her way (pushing Ty Lee over after getting upstaged). In way, Azula felt like she OWNED the two girls, that the two were hers and hers alone. When Mai started gravitating towards Zuko, Azula began to torment and tease Mai about it (flaming apple), unable to accept losing another to her brother.
Nonetheless, Azula trusted these two implicitly with her life; failure by either of the two at Ba Sing Se may have very well led to her death. She tested their loyalties once and only once; back when she brought the two back into her fold. With Ty Lee, it was to choose between Azula and Ty Lee's dream of the circus. With Mai, it was to choose between Azula and her family (baby brother). After that, she completely trusted them with everything. She trusted both to watch her back. She trusted Mai to choose her over Zuko, even allowing the couple's relationship to progress. She trusted Ty Lee to stand by her after Mai's betrayal.
It wasn't like they didn't have fun together though. Like normal girls their age, they all found pleasures in simply having fun, like at the beach. There was a sense of kinship and understanding amongst them. And it wasn't like Mai and Ty Lee didn't get any perks for being with Azula; though Ty Lee's family situation is unknown, Mai's family did rather well in New Ozai (until Bumi of course) with Azula's influence.
After Zuko betrayed her in season 3, Azula's trust became extremely fragile. Even after being trusted in the Boiling Rock, Mai betrayed the trust Azula bestowed upon her. How badly this affected Azula suddenly became visible; her world suddenly came crashing down and she lost her grip on reality. She was betrayed AGAIN. Someone had left her AGAIN, and worst of all, it was to choose Zuko over her, just like mother did. Her control slipped. For the first time in her life, her mask shattered. She became emotional, irrational, distressed, and prepared to actually attack Mai in a fit of desperation. And then Ty Lee betrayed her. Both friends, both whom she trusted completely with her very life, betrayed her. Chose someone else over her. This loss of control illustrates how much she needed them and how much they meant to her.-=The Last Straw=-
Everyone left her. Azula was left only with her father. And when Ozai decided to leave her behind, Azula's trust in anyone and anything was gone. She was alone in the world; no one needed or cared about her. This level of mistrust caused her to start analyzing everyone for their faults and weaknesses, believing everyone to have something against her and expecting them to betray her, just like her mother, father, brother, and friends had. Thus began the banishing frenzy, banishing perhaps the only people left still loyal to her (Dai Lee). She even banished the servants meant to groom her, forcing her to cut her own hair. Azula's imbalanced bangs then became reflection of her inner state of being.
Her loneliness was further illustrated during the coronation ceremony; there was no one there aside from the sages to witness the moment. She was the crown Fire Lord that no one wanted, ruler over no one.
Then Zuko, the one who took everyone away from her, who stole what she wanted in life, appears in front of her and demands the mantle of Fire Lord. Now, Azula had one thing left that Zuko wanted; the throne. She wanted to take that away from him, take whatever she could, and challenged him to an Agni Kai.
During the fight, unlike her earlier ones with her brother, she began to lose control of her breathing while Zuko remained calm and composed. With Zuko matching her move for move and an even battle being fought, Zuko was unknowingly again stealing one more thing from his sister. She had always been better than him, had always worked harder than him, and yet here he was matching her in firebending, taking away one of the last things she owned. Challenged to attack with lightning, Azula then sees Katara and comes to a realization. There WAS something else she could take away from Zuko
She could take away his friend. As such, she fired her lightning at Katara. It is worth noting that during the generation of lightning, the second arc of energy was somewhat inverted and unorthodox. That Zuko jumped in the way may or may not been expected, but Azula's target had clearly shifted to Katara, ignoring the moaning and struggling Zuko and choosing to attack the waterbender. By the time she fired her third blast of lightning (the 2nd charge up was obscured), her entire lightning generation sequence was completely inverted; the arcs were moving in the opposite direction. This inverted display shows how lost she really was, how her sanity was completely slipping, how her world became twisted upside down and inside out.
Upon getting chained up by Katara, Azula bears witness to Katara healing Zuko and their mutual thanks for saving each other. Here she was, imprisoned, defeated, and alone with no one around to help her, abandoned by even her own father, while Zuko has found yet another friend, yet another person who cared about him to help him up when he fell. Desperate to eliminate the image in front of her, she began to breathe fire, hyperventilating while doing so, trying to wipe the scene in front of her from reality. But by this time, she had been defeated; her breathing control completely lost, her mind shattered as she went into a spasming fit and wailed in her mental agony and torment.
Azula was so alone that even closure was not allowed her. She was so unimportant that she wasn't even mentioned after her defeat; even Ozai got a prison cell visit. Simply put, no one cared.-=Conclusion=-
From the beginning of Azula's introduction, it appeared that she had it all. To Zuko, it seemed like she had everything he ever wanted, that she was the perfect and ideal being. She was born lucky, he was lucky to be born. Ironically, it was the complete opposite. Zuko was the lucky one; he had people to care for him, to watch over him, people that he trusted and that trusted him. Azula had no such people; they all abandoned her and her trust.
It wasn't Zuko that was truly jealous of his sister, it was Azula who was jealous of him. And while Zuko whined and complained about his situation, Azula kept it bottled up inside, well hidden behind the mask that she showed everyone, while she slowly spiraled into insanity.
Azula is the sympathetic villain, an extreme case of child neglect. Whether or not she is guilty of her actions during the war, Azula was, in the end, just a child looking for acceptance and love.