Sometimes I write down my feelings about characters, especially when I need to understand them in my videos, and this is what I did for Azula a while ago. People told me they were interested in this, so here you go, I hope you enjoy my
This is kind of an extended version of my description of my video.
Warning: it’s long (over 2,500 words), and I’m an Azula-stan. I think that sums it up.
(I’m just going to apologize in advance for wrong grammar/sentences/tenses or something of the sorts, I’m Dutch and dyslexic. And honestly just confused by words at times. Also, I’m not trying to force anyone to see things the same way I do, it’s your own choice whether you agree with me or not. I’m not trying to start any arguments nor am I trying to offend anyone. This is my personal opinion and you can believe whatever you want, I’m not trying to tell you this is the only truth.)
Azula is such an intriguing and complicated person to me. Not every average viewer will understand her to a full extent while watching this series, because Mike & Bryan are brilliant when it comes to subtlety and flawed character layers that need to be discovered and explored properly in order to really understand the characters and their actions.
Azula has never been purely ‘evil’. People simply aren’t born evil. The first moment we see her expose her real problem, the thing that nagged her mind and the little idea that started the entire process of destruction is in ‘The Beach’ episode.
“My own mother thought I was a monster.”
It didn’t seem like a very big deal to many, because, well, she kind of was. She hurt people and helped the ‘bad’ side get the good guys, so that made her a bad person. The thing that really got to me afterwards was what she added directly after that statement.
“She was right of course, but it still hurt.”
She says it with a shrug, like it’s not a really big deal and she accepts the fact, her mother was right, she was a monster. She’s aware that some of the things she does are cruel, which is interesting, because a lot of villains think their actions are righteous. I’m not sure whether this is just acceptance or self-knowledge or if there’s also self-hatred involved. I imagine there could be.
The way that she accepts this as truth got me thinking - has Ursa ever told her otherwise? Has she ever presented Azula with a choice that she could still get love and acceptance, without having to manipulate and force people to get what she wanted?
The ‘Zuko Alone’ episode gave us insight into Zuko and Azula’s childhood. We can see Zuko being loved and protected by their mother, we can see Azula being praised and honored by their father. Now, the Zuko-wants-daddy’s-praise thing has been thoroughly explored and is one of the biggest storylines of the show. No one thinks twice about the fact that Azula lacked a loving mother figure. And seeing the way they both turned out sends a very powerful message of Mike & Bryan that completely makes sense: love is more important and stronger than having power and honor. Zuko has always had love by his side: when his mother left, his uncle took that place, when he left Mai took that place, when he left her he was after some struggling accepted by the Gaang. Zuko never had to stand alone.
Azula hasn’t technically ever been alone either, but in a different way she really was. Yes, her dad honored her for her skills, yes the Firenation loved (to fear?) her. She has never truly been taught what love is. Whatever she learned, she learned from her father, she looked up to her father and saw the way he dealt with everyone and took it as the right way to do things. Why? Because her father liked her. In ‘Zuko Alone’ we see how every time Ursa directs something at Azula, it is scolding, even questioning “What is wrong with that child?” Ozai on the other hand requests her to demonstrate her skills to her grandfather and calls her a true prodigy. It’s only logical she chooses her father’s side.
It is never stated if Ursa ever directly called Azula ‘a monster’, so I think this is something she came up with herself. She saw the way her mother looked at her: disappointed, maybe a bit fearful. She felt the way her mother didn’t accept or love her for who she was and the way every time they really talked it was about something Azula had done wrong. And Ursa apparently never proved her otherwise (until the very end, I’ll get back to that later). In Azula’s mind, it would only make sense to act the way she thought her mother expected her to act. If she thinks I’m a monster, why would I try to convince her otherwise? She’s probably right.
Ozai gave her what she thought she wanted: power, skill development, the control she wanted to have. The way he kept his authority, forcing people and manipulating people, was what inspired Azula to do the same. In her eyes, people seemed to love Ozai, they worshipped him and followed his orders. When someone disagreed they probably were exposed of or forced to behave the way Ozai wanted them to behave. I’m sure Ozai told her and showed her they were superior to others, they were the ones who needed and deserved to have the power.
Zuko turned out differently because he’s always had a reasoning voice beside him, his mother taught him about love, taught him he didn’t have to be perfect and taught him about human values. Iroh had a similar role in Zuko’s life, giving Zuko the ropes he needed to figure stuff out, but being there whenever he needed him, helping him decide between right and wrong.
Azula didn’t have this. The Firenation was the right side in her mind, how could she possibly think any differently? She had Mai and Ty Lee as friends of course, but they couldn’t have done anything about her behavior, they couldn’t be of any influence. Her father had already made his impact on how she socialized with others, she was supposed to be the superior one, and she was. If you’ve never learned the true concept of other people’s feelings, you’re not going to care about them. Mai and Ty Lee didn’t try to change that, because… she was the Princess of the Firenation. Simple as that. They didn’t have a choice.
In Book 3 another problem arrived for Azula, that combined with the other ones caused the breakdown at the end: everybody chose Zuko over her. The first person to do that was Ursa, which I already explained. In the first episode of Book 3 Zuko gets redeemed by his father. This wasn’t a case of being chosen over Azula, but Ozai was the one that was on Azula’s side only, and he just restated Zuko’s honor. Azula knows her brother, she knows he’s hiding something and plants the seed that when it gets out the avatar’s still alive, it’ll be Zuko who takes the blame. She thinks he is not allowed to have the one thing Azula did have, because he already had everything else.
And then ‘The Boiling Rock’ comes along. Azula’s closest friends turn against her, Mai voicing Azula’s very worst fear.
“I love Zuko more than I fear you.”
Oh, you bet that stung. Not only because her friend tells her she didn’t love her: she feared her (I do think Mai & Ty Lee did love her too, I have a feeling Mai just said it to make it hurt). But also because this has been in Azula’s mind before, this is what she thinks her mother thought of her, Ursa loved Zuko but feared Azula. See, I was right must have crossed her mind, and just like that she loses it. Ty Lee stops her, not necessarily because she’s taking sides, but because she can’t bear to see her aiming to kill Mai, who raises her weapon in self-defense. Mai and Ty Lee aren’t stupid, they knew something was going on with her, they knew they couldn’t change her mind. They didn’t know what else to do. But Azula sees it as betrayal. Azula sees it as people taking Zuko’s side once again. So she locks them away, because Zuko isn’t allowed the things Azula used to have.
This explains why she purposely attacked Zuko in ‘The Southern Raiders’, why she had to make sure she was about to become an only child. He was the reason her friends turned against her and she needed him to pay for it. But she underestimated Zuko, and when he gets away the smile is edged on her face. The mask hasn’t crumbled yet, not on the outside.
In Zuko’s flashback in the Sozin’s Comet finale it was made clear Azula gave Ozai the idea to burn everything to the ground, which he eagerly took as his own. She was proud of her idea, and that was what Azula was holding onto in her last scene in ‘The Phoenix King’. They may all have left and betrayed me, but I’m the stronger one, I’ll be the one who holds the power, it will be my idea that’ll lead the Firenation to its victory and I’ll be the one to write history. What she didn’t expect was what her father told her next. She wasn’t allowed to go with him, she wasn’t allowed to see her plan follow through. Her mind immediately jumps to Zuko, who has absolutely nothing to do with this situation. But to her, he has everything to do with it: her father denies her something, he’s never denied her anything because she did everything he wanted her to. Don’t treat me like Zuko, she pleads, I haven’t done anything wrong to you. I never brought you to shame. He did. Ozai was supposed to be on her side. But then Ozai offers her the position of Firelord. Here’s where you see how Ozai is the one who controls her, who bribes and manipulates her, like he’s probably done her entire life. He knows Azula would do anything he says, so basically he’s ensuring his own sovereign power while he goes on to take over the rest of the world. He is her role model, her hero. She’s damaged and he is offering her control. So much control.
So she takes it, of course she does. She deserves this – she worked for this. She has everything she should want, shouldn’t she feel happy? She doesn’t. Everyone she thought cared for her betrayed her. Her trust has been broken, because apparently she’s unable to trust anyone without getting hurt for it. This isn’t something she’s used to. Things don’t make sense anymore in her mind. So she tries to make sense of things again, she desperately tries to regain her control. Unfortunately she’s so damaged the littlest things make her start snapping at people when things don’t go according to plan. The people are on her side, but since the previous people who hurt her were right there with them this doesn’t mean much to her. So she banishes all of her servants, her guard, etc.
“Sooner or later, they all would’ve betrayed me. Just like Mai and Ty Lee did.”
She is terrified of being hurt again.
“He thinks I can’t handle the responsibility of being Firelord. But I will be the greatest leader in Firenation history.”
She thinks her father doesn’t trust her, why else wouldn’t he allow her on the mission? The only thing she got left is the throne and she will show them. All of them. She will show them how wrong they were to betray her.
So why isn’t she happy?
Nothing makes sense.
She’s angry. She’s so angry and sad and frustrated and hurt and betrayed and broken and tired and what did she ever do wrong? She did exactly what her father told her and taught to her. Wasn’t that what she was supposed to do?
And then Ursa appears to her in a vision, of course she does. She was where it all started, the first negativity in Azula’s mind, it’s only logical she would conjure her up at the moment it would all fall apart.
“Don’t pretend to act proud. I know what you really think of me. You think I’m a monster.”
Azula doesn’t want her mother to act like everybody else acted. This is the only thing she is still sure of, You think I’m a monster. You were right.
“I think you’re confused. All your life you used fear to control people, like your friends Mai and Ty Lee.”
Ursa (or Azula’s subconscious, since Ursa wasn’t really there) blames it on the way she was raised, too. Azula is aware of what she’s doing, and she has started question whether it was the right way to treat people. But she only realizes this now. And now it’s too late.
“Well what choice do I have? Trust is for fools, fear is the only reliable way. Even you fear me.”
This is what she keeps telling herself, she didn’t have a choice. Which isn’t exactly true, she might’ve had a choice, but she was sure what she chose was right. I can’t rely on trust, look where that got me. It hurts to trust. I’d rather pretend not to care at all. And there the idea is again: You fear me, I know you do, I’ve seen it in your eyes and you never told me otherwise.
“No. I love you Azula. I do.”
… wait what? Where did that come from? How is that possible, when all you did was scold me for being wrong, look at me like you were afraid? Why didn’t you show me? The only thing she thought still made sense – that she is, in fact, a monster – is contradicted by the statement of love by the only person she truly thought hated her and confirmed the statement. She wants to blame something – anything, she needs to be sure that what she did was right. How can everything you believe suddenly be wrong? How can your truth be false? Does that mean everything was a lie?
She’s smashing the mirror, she’s smashing the voice of reason in her mind. She crumbles to the ground. Look what I’ve become.
There’s one thing she knows is true, whatever dimension she got herself into, this doesn’t change, because it can’t. It won’t. It’s true.
I’m a monster.
The only thing that’s left is her throne. This is rightfully hers, no one will take this from her because she worked for this and she deserves to be crowned. But as she’s almost crowned, Zuko – Zuko of all people! – tries and stop her. (I personally think she didn’t even really want it anymore at this point.) Zuko took all her love from her, the people she loved joined his side and he shows up for her authority, her throne. She doesn’t know what’s true and what isn’t anymore. Zuko had everything she needed, and now he marched in there to take all she had left. She’s jealous and angry and confused and so very hurt and she needs to settle this, she needs to at least show her brother she’s more powerful than he is, she’s supposed to be superior. She’s got skill. She’s the smart one. She has her strength. Everybody is wrong for choosing you. Or am I wrong? No. All you have is supposed to be mine. I’ll make you pay.
The Agni Kai starts and you can just see she doesn’t have any focus, she’s not really there, she’s distracted and confused but Zuko must be defeated and she tries. It’s not working.
He wants lighting? Fine. He’ll get his lighting.
This is her chance to hurt Zuko the same way he hurt her, by attacking the people he cares for, attacking the people he loves. Zuko must suffer.
But Zuko protects the people he loves.
Fool, he’s a fool, they’re all fools, fools protect and trust and love and they get hurt because of it.
She didn’t see it coming. But there she is, hands tied, Zuko gets healed, Zuko stands up, Zuko watches and Zuko wins. Zuko always wins.
He may not always have had his honor, but he had everything Azula needed.