In February of 2005, a new animated series debuted on the kids’ network, Nickelodeon, called Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was something totally new for the network that had been all about cheesy kids drama and over the top comedies, and their Nicktoons, which were funny, but totally unlike Avatar. I’ll be honest here, I didn’t catch this show the first time around. I was busy being a young single guy, and this was a time in my life where I was distancing myself from a lot of “nerdy” stuff. I didn’t think the girls I wanted to date would find it too appealing. That is all very shallow and dumb, and I know that now, but I didn’t then because I was a lot younger and stupid. In any case, I missed the Last Airbender train at that time, and didn’t really know much about the series.
Fast forward to now, 2020, and the series is available in its entirety on Netflix. Again, honesty here, as I tell you that I still didn’t know much about the series when I started watching it, except that everyone I know who had seen it, loves it. Like a lot. So I only really knew that it was pretty good and had a strong fan base. So I decided to give it a try. Best decision I ever made, because I love this show. It is probably top three for animated series for me. The animation is clean and crisp. The voice acting is solid, and the storytelling is fantastic. It made me sad that I wasted 15 years not loving this show.
One of the parts of the show that I love is the evolution of the characters and their relationships. Especially the characters we meet at the beginning of the series, and see throughout the show and see their growth. None of them are the same and their growth and development feels natural, and not forced, and I love that. It makes sense. None of them, though, touch me or mean as much to me as the fire prince Zuko. He is one bad dude at the beginning of the series, and in the end he becomes one of Aang’s close friends. How does this happen? Well, I would argue he wasn’t all that terrible to begin with- his motives were not bad. He was hunting the Avatar to restore his honor, and gain the respect of his dad. That is something I can relate to. There has been a lot in my life that I have done to earn my dad’s respect. In a lot of ways, I’m still trying, and feel like I have fallen way short.
It makes me wish I had my own Uncle Iroh, because Uncle Iroh is the greatest uncle/mentor that exists in pop culture. His relationship is the reason why Zuko comes around and ends up helping the Avatar in the end. And Uncle Iroh is the guy I want to be when I grow up. He is constantly trying to help Zuko see there is more to life than honor and fighting. He teaches him about destiny and love finding ways to have your life wherever you are. Life happens where you are is such an awesome concept about making the most and best of where you are, instead of wishing you were somewhere else.
What I love about these two, is how Zuko responds to his uncle, and how Iroh responds to his nephew. In the beginning, Zuko can’t stand his uncle, who is basically babysitting him as he hunts the Avatar. He thinks Iroh is weird, and old and weak, and honestly in the beginning he seems that way. Maybe quirky is a better word than weird. He basically responds like any teenage boy would He is too cool for his uncle. He knows better than him and doesn’t need him. As they get stuck in the Earth Kingdom, he comes to appreciate his uncle more, but it’s out of comfort and really despair. Then, when they return to the Fire Kingdom, he doesn’t need his uncle anymore and turns his back on him.
Until he realizes he does need his uncle. He realizes his uncle was the only family, besides his mother, who loved Zuko. Who saw what Zuko could be, and what destiny he could write for himself. And he fears he won’t ever see his uncle again and ask for his forgiveness and let him know how much he loves him. All of this seems natural. All of it is in line with Zuko’s character and his development. None of this feels forced in the story, and as I was watching, I wanted him to find Iroh again. I hoped Iroh would forgive him.
Here’s the thing, Iroh had lost everything. His standing in the Fire Kingdom, a throne which should have been his, his own son. He lost all of it, but somewhere along the way he realized he didn’t need all of that. It didn’t define honor, and it wasn’t his destiny. He saw something special in his nephew, and took the opportunity away from the Fire Kingdom to try to teach his nephew what was really important, and what it meant to find your destiny. Iroh becomes so endearing throughout the series. I always found him quirky, but as it went on, I really legitimately loved him.
There is one moment, one moment in the series that just made the whole show for me. It was the moment when Zuko finally finds his uncle in the Order of the White Lotus. He goes into his tent, unsure of whether his uncle would forgive him, and take him back. And I was nervous he might not. Maybe Zuko had pushed him too far. I wasn’t totally sure. I should have been, but I wasn’t. But that moment, when before Zuko can say anything, Iroh takes him and embraces him- it broke me. My heart just melted. Iroh in that moment showed me what a parent should feel for their child. The love that know no boundary, no end. He just took Zuko in and just forgave him and loved him.
It reminded me of the parable of the prodigal son. It was just portrayed so beautifully. And it made me think of the love my Heavenly Father has for me. The times when I have been far away from him. When I didn’t think I needed him. The times when I ran from my own destiny. And it reminded me of the love he has for each of us. The love that knows no end. It was a beautiful moment for me, and it makes me smile whenever I think of it.
That moment alone may be the top reason why I love this show.
If you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, I highly recommend it. It is on Netflix right now, available for your streaming pleasure.