Princess Azula is definitely one of the most complex and intriguing villains in the Avatar franchise. But is she redeemable?
by Tara Prem
One of the most memorable villains in Avatar: The Last Airbender is Azula. Known for her trademark lightning, blue fire, and manipulative personality, she has intrigued the Avatar fanbase. At the end of the show, Azula’s mental state declines, leading to a mental breakdown after her defeat. She is later admitted into a mental asylum. Here’s where the Trilemma is presented: Is Azula redeemable, is she not redeemable, or is there a neutral perspective?
Azula is Redeemable:
One of the main points for the opinion that Azula is redeemable is that she does show her kinder side a few times in the show. The first two examples are in the episode, “The Beach”. Azula insults her friend Ty Lee, and when Ty Lee starts crying, Azula apologizes; something that we have never seen her do before. She seems genuinely apologetic about what she said to Ty Lee. Afterwards, we see the second instance of her showing a softer side. She goes out onto a balcony with a boy she met named Chan, and they kiss. This shows that Azula is not incapable of love, but she just hides it most of the time because she has been brought up in an environment where love is viewed as a weakness. The final time we see her show her caring side is when she advises Zuko not to visit Iroh in prison, as he would be viewed as a traitor to the Fire Nation because of it. Zuko is immediately suspicious and asks Azula why she is telling him this, and she says and means that she is looking out for him. These caring moments for Azula may show that she has room for redemption.
The second time we see a hint at redemption is in the Avatar comic trilogies, “The Search”, and “Smoke and Shadow”. Zuko recruits Azula to help search for their mother, and she runs away during the journey. This leads to a wicked game of cat and mouse between Zuko and Azula which ends in the tomb of the first Fire Lord’s advisor. There, Azula attacks Zuko and pins him down. He says that she will never gain the throne, and she responds by saying that she doesn’t want the throne anymore. She just wants to make Zuko a ruler like Ozai. One of the main reasons for Azula’s original breakdown was that she didn’t have a perfect life anymore and she was going to lose her throne that she had fought so long to acquire. Azula letting go of her desire for the throne is a step towards redemption for her.
The final reason why people believe that Azula is redeemable is that there is evidence to suggest that she is not inherently evil. Azula and Zuko have a mix of Fire Lord Sozin’s blood and Avatar Roku’s blood inside of them. Half of their blood is evil, and half of it is good. After an internal battle, Zuko is able to honor his blood from Avatar Roku, so why can’t Azula? By delving deeper into Azula’s past, we can find that she is not inherently evil, but was instead groomed to be. Since childhood, Azula was always the prodigious firebender, while Zuko underperformed in firebending. Because of this, Azula was favored by her father, and Ursa gave more attention to Zuko because she knew that he was lacking it from his father. The difference in the siblings’ childhoods was that Zuko had two loving parental figures, Iroh and Ursa, to guide him on the right path. Azula, on the other hand, only had Ozai; A father who never truly loved her but wished to use her as a weapon. If their roles were switched, it is clear that Azula and Zuko would turn out as opposites. So, fundamentally, what Azula would need for her redemption arc would be someone to care for her unconditionally. Aaron Ehasz, the head-writer of Avatar, said that that person would have been Zuko, had Azula had a redemption arc. He wrote, “Despite it all, her brother Zuko would be there for her. Believing in her, sticking by her, doing his best to understand and help her hold her pain that she could no longer hold alone. Zuko-Patient, forgiving, and unconditionally loving-all strengths he gained from Uncle Iroh.”
Azula is not Redeemable:
A main case for the opinion that Azula is not redeemable is that she has gone too far with her crimes and can never be saved from her cruel nature. Several times in the show and comics, she attempts to kill characters. For example, she shoots Iroh with lightning in Season Two and almost kills him, then she shoots down Aang with lightning, almost killing him and ending the cycle of Avatars, and she finally cheats in her Agni Kai with Zuko and shoots lightning at Katara. Zuko jumps in front of Katara to save her, but Azula shows no remorse in knowing that her brother is dying because of her. In “The Search'' comics, Azula even tries to kill her own mother, who is living a peaceful life with the man she truly loves and their daughter. Azula also stands by and is seen smiling when her father literally burns half of her brother’s face in their Agni Kai.
Another reason why fans believe that Azula is not redeemable is because she isn’t actually showing the will to change. According to cbr.com, “Finding balance with the world and with one’s self is a core ideal of the Avatar franchise. But until Azula can come to terms with her actions and the sheer vileness with which they were performed, it’s unlikely she’ll ever have the chance to redeem herself.” The key to a character’s redemption arc is the character wanting to change. For example, in Zuko’s redemption arc, he goes back to the Fire Nation and realizes that the Fire Prince is not the life he wants. Even though he had Uncle Iroh to guide him through Seasons 1 and 2, in the end, it was Zuko’s choice to change. Azula, on the other hand, does not show any signs of wanting to change. She doesn’t show remorse for her crimes, and she doesn’t listen to the hallucinations of her mother that are telling her to change. Because Azula does not seem to wish to change, it is not likely that she will be redeemed.
The final reason why people believe that Azula cannot be redeemed is because of her lasting mental illness. Azula has been mentally unstable since she was a child, and has been scarred by things such as the love she never got from her mother, her mother’s disappearance, her fear of not being perfect, and the betrayal of her friends Mai and Ty Lee. Even after being admitted into a mental facility, Azula still experiences paranoia and hallucinations based on her mother. She hallucinates her mother telling her to find her true destiny, and she believes that her mother is controlling her life and trying to ruin it. Several times in “The Search'' comic trilogy, she constantly refers to “she”, who, of course, is her mother. For example, when she sees Ty Lee while in prison, she screams, “Tell me how she got to you and Mai! How’d she make you lose your fear of me?!”
When Azula finally finds her mother, she tries to murder her because of her paranoia and illness. Azula’s mental illness may prevent her from finding redemption.
Overall, both people who believe that Azula is redeemable and people who do not believe Azula is redeemable have good points.
Personally, I believe that Azula is redeemable, simply because she has accepted that her life isn’t perfect anymore, which may help her conquer her mental illness. Also, a redemption arc for Azula would be interesting to see, since it will definitely be more complicated than Zuko’s.
But that is only what I think. What’s your perspective?