Cartoons have existed for a long time to make you happy. Even when Bugs Bunny was fighting Hitler, they were still generally designed to put a big old smile on your face or at the very least, let you zone out over a bowl of cheerios on a Saturday morning. For some reason, Avatar: The Last Airbender decided to come around and upset that comfortably numbing cartoon experience (thank you, Mike and Bryan. I hate/love you forever). For every couple of silly moments of Aang riding some new hybrid beast or a kick-ass action sequences, there’s a truly touching or heartbreaking scene that has us fans bending the tears right out of our eyeballs. Seriously, thank god I saw this show when I was basically an adult because while I was barely able to handle all the feelings at 18, I can’t imagine how a 12 year-old would cope. Anyway, if you’re in the mood for some punishment, take a gander at the list below.
10) Katara Grosses us out with some Blood-bending.
When the leader of your team is an adorably pure child-monk, it’s hard to consider yourself a champion of goodness. However, as far a morally righteous characters go, Katara is pretty up there. That’s why it was so emotionally trying to watch her battle with her own demons and unethically awesome power of blood-bending. This wasn’t the last time we’d see the issue of benders subjugating their will upon non-benders(cough* Legend of Korra *cough*), but we were right with Katara’s ultimate conflict between stopping the vengeful Hama and using a forbidden art. Plus, how disgusting is the sound effect used for blood-bending? I want to hurl-bend every time that I hear it.
9) Aang Finds Gyatso Slightly…Dead.
After 100 years of war, I think it can be generally summed up that Aang’ abandonment of his Avatar duties was largely a bad move. However, he really was just a scared kid so we forgive him. Besides the little monk probably had a harder time of forgiving himself. While Aang remained in pretty good spirits after waking up from his ice ball, perhaps he did not realize the consequences of a world without an Avatar fully until finding the long dead skeleton of his friend and mentor, Air Nomad Gyatso. The Southern Air Temple was destroyed in the Fire Nation’s pursuit of total domination and Aang’s consuming grief over their loss was enough to bring us all to tears. Ultimately, Gyatso’s death was just another mark on Aang’s path to a fully realized Avatar and he was able to let go of his grief with the help of Pathik. Still, our hearts go out to the little dude who will always consider his greatest weaknesses to be those moments when he fails to save a friend’s life.
8)Zuko’s Very First Agni Kai and Banishment from the Fire Nation.
At the beginning of Avatar, Zuko was just the angry dude with the scar and top-knot who happened to be on a relentless quest to find the Avatar. We didn’t like him, but we also didn’t know much about him. Well turns out, his dick-wad father punched him, scarred him, and then banished him for daring to speak out against irresponsible actions of his generals and then refusing to fight his father in an Agni Kai. This back story gave incredible depth to our favorite prickly prince, whose pursuit of the Avatar became an obsession of a hurt boy whose concepts of family, duty, and honor were completely warped. Plus, we learned that his face wasn’t actually always permanently frozen in that terrifying scowl. We maybe still didn’t outright like Zuko after this flashback (He was still imperialistic and ruthless fire nation after all) but at least now we knew he was a human being and not just an evil bratty prince Joffrey( I don’t know how to help people who don’t know their Game of Thrones. I really don’t).
As if losing Appa wasn’t emotional enough, we then get to witness the normally very cool and calm Aang flip the flip out when none of the gaang seems to care very much. He first freaks out on Toph accusing her of never caring for the fuzzy air bison and then rails on the group for only lamenting on losing their designated driver. Not only does an angry Aang make me want to go cuddle in a corner somewhere, we also get a touching picture of how close Aang and Appa are. He’s not his pet, he’s his best friend, and in that instant, his new chums weren’t looking all that good or worth the hassle. It arrives at a conflict every Avatar must deal with: how much should they sacrifice for an undeserving and selfish world? All I have to say is that thank Agni Appa returns.
6) Zuko’s Second Agni Kai Versus Azula.
The last few episodes of The Last Airbender were like a kick to all the major organs. While Aang was busy triumphing over the Phoenix King, Zuko faced his own battle against his sister, Azula. Not only was the fight scenes amazing, but we get to see Zuko finally battle his own inner demons (as well as the outer, Azula), but we see Katara entering the fray in defense of her former enemy. Plus, Zuko masters the art of channeling lightening and symbolically becomes the man his uncle believes he could have always been. As fun as it was to see Zuko finally kick the snot out of that…well, bitch, in the end I still felt for her in that any descent in to madness is pretty hard to stomach.
5) It’s Not You, It’s Just That I Have To Go Be the Moon.
Normally our big gift of comedic relief, this is Sokka’s first appearance on the list. It’s got to be rough when not only does your first girlfriend’s family consider you pond scum but she is also the moon spirit. Basically, the universe decided that it was wrong for Aang to be the only one to sacrifice things to save the world, so it decided to take a shot at Sokka next. While Sokka remains disturbed by losing Yue or failing to protect her, I honestly can’t say that I cry for him too much since warrior bad-ass Suki is a much funner love interest for our boomerang wielding-water-tribesmen. Still, it sucked for Sokka.
4)The Fire Nation Club
Ok, so I have mixed feelings about this episode. On one hand the Azula beach party was a fun time, but it was also bit of a complaint fest. Ultimately though, even if you’re incapable of feeling truly bad for a bunch of spoiled teenagers who spend their time trying to kill our heroes, you can at least sympathize with their situation. These are really just kids who, like the gaang, are given heavy responsibilities way beyond their years. In the face of their waning childhoods, they look back and realize they never had much of one in the first place. What was supposed to be a few moments of respite turns in to the interlude that prepares us for the final battles. In the end, these teens will have to make choices that will either forsake their family, duty, or sense of righteousness, and this short confessional on the beach gives us a chance to still like these characters for their small display of humanity after the bloody conclusion to come.
3)No but really, Where is Ursa?
Aang defeats the Phoenix King, YAY. Aang get the girl, YAY. Hakoda reunites with his kids, YAY. Iroh opens a tea shop, YAY. Ok but wait, what happened to Ursa, the misplaced Fire Lady and Zuko’s beloved mother? After the incarceration of his father, Fire Lord Zuko demands that Ozai reveal the fate of his mother. Yeah, nothing doing. It was emotional seeing the newly crowned Zuko have to come crawling back to his father for the one power the crippled emperor still possessed, the power to fuck with his son. All we really wanted was a scene reuniting mother and son next to a pond of turtle ducks, but Avatar can’t just love its fans like that. Those few who still care about the poor Fire Lady, check out Avatar: The Promise, which continues where Book Three Ended.
2)Iroh and Zuko Reunite.
The relationship between Iroh and his young angry nephew is probably the best on the show. After the death of Iroh’s son and the banishment of Zuko, the young prince and general assume the roles each has lost. While Iroh embraces his new duty as surrogate father to Zuko, the prince decides to just become a giant brat. However, giant brats are a lot more terrifying when backed with an army and royal status. Once stripped of his title and powers, Zuko spends a great deal of Book Two shedding his darkness and becoming closer to his uncle…that is until he betrays him and the Avatar. Unlike most characters, Zuko is given a second chance at redemption, one that he embraces…for good this time. Despite proving himself to Aang and the resistance, nothing is as difficult for Zuko as asking the forgiveness of the uncle that raised him. In one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the whole series, General Iroh embraces his nephew in a teary hug and admits he was never angry with Zuko, only sad that he had lost his way. Oh. My. God. The. Tears.
1) You Should Already Know What It Is.
In the most emotionally heart-wrenching moment in cartoon history, Avatar tries to trick you with a fun and light episode of cute vignettes. Just when you think Tales of Ba Sing Se is fun filler fluff, it hits you with this: The Tale of Iroh. In the short segment, Iroh bops around Ba Sing Se like his happy Iroh-self, collecting different objects and getting in mini adventures. You’re right there with the loveable teddy bear until the final scene: his small shrine to his late son, who passed away during the siege of the city years ago. Iroh sings us a song so beautiful, if you don’t cry, you’re just a monster. ( Amonster…not the time for jokes). Not only is this a touching scene, but we are shown the reason General Iroh stopped fighting and gave up the throne and it is so freaking sad.
If your heart can stand it, come back later for the most touching moments from Legend of Korra.
For more avatar fun check out Outfits Inspired by Avatar’s Airbenders!