Thursday, March 22, 2012

WORD OF THE DAY! 3/21/12.

mentor [men-tahr]
1. A wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
2. An influential senior sponsor or supporter.
3. To teach, educate, advise; to act as a mentor.

EX. Yesterday we talked about the "Blind Bandit" and today we're talking about the "Dragon of the West." Zuko's mentor, his Uncle Iroh, stands out for a number of reasons as a character. He is one of the older characters, his goals and motives are a mystery, and he is basically Gandolf mixed with Danny Devito.



An aside: One of my readers brought up the fact that one of the major weaknesses of the series is that it's light-hearted tone made it impossible to take the bad guys seriously. In a world torn by war and with several characters, including Iroh, with pasts defined by war and loss, such dramatic subjects were hardly covered seriously. Furthermore, the conclusion feels weak because a war, that involved massacre and genocide (only barely escaping a nation wide burning), was resolved so easily that the invading forces of the Fire Nation were basically all but unpunished for their war crimes. At least, within the context of the show.

This is relevant as Uncle Iroh, who also dips into the "Wise Fool" category also dips into two other archetypes.


Uncle Iroh is a mentor that seems to come from an unlikely place. In the beginning of the series, his character seemed to mostly serve as a comic foil to Zuko. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that his inaction was all part of his pacifism and to lead Zuko to the realization the futility and/or wrongness of his quest. This can be seen in Iroh's decisions that either slow the quest down. For example, he insists on finding a White-Lotus tile for a strategy game called "Pai Sho". This is actually a subtle clue that will lead to the realization that Iroh is part of a secret organization dedicated to stopping the Fire Nation. Iroh is like a good fortune cook; a little kooky on the outside but filled with secret wisdom.

Much like Yoda, his appearance is deceptive. He plays the fool, but only as long as it necessary. In the first season, he drops the act in situations where he needs to save Zuko. His nephew is the most important person in his life and he serves as far more of a father figure to Zuko than anyone else. He supports him and protects him. After Zuko nearly dies trying to catch the Avatar, and they are blamed for ruining the invasion plans, they flee to the Earth Kingdom. In the second season, we discover more about his reputation and his past.

In the second season, we learn that Iroh can breath fire, hence the title "Dragon of the West" and he can redirect lightning, which he uses to save Zuko from an attack from Azula. More importantly, we learn about his military past. Iroh had actually been the crown prince to the throne of the Fire Nation and was a superb general. His most famous achievement and then failure was the siege of Bah-Sing-Se. He was going to take the Earth Kingdom capital but, after the death of his son, he retreats, and loses his place because of his failure and lack of heir. It is clear that he must've gone on spiritual quest where he discovered more about people, learning to respect and love more, and coming to turns with the death of his son by becoming a pacifist. In the second season, he tries to sake Zuko from becoming another monster like Azula. He tries to teach him the values of hard work and honest by pushing him to interact with common people and opens a tea shop. He seemed content with the tea shop and, for a moment, Zuko did too. Then, we have the moment where the young character betrays his master's wishes. Zuko turns on his Uncle, joins Azula, and he is arrested for "aiding the Avatar".

It is important to mention that the voice actor for Iroh in seasons 1 & 2, Mako, passed away during production. He was a talented actor and voice actor who helped bring the character out in a performance worthy of a great man. As such, his voice was recast, but in this season it was rarely used. More often than not, Iroh was silent in his cell. He then escapes and begins gathering the White Lotus to liberate Bah-Sing-Se. In this moment, the old masters free the Earth Kingdom capital so that they can give the world to the next generation.

 And that's what Iroh is ultimately about; preventing his nephew from repeating his mistakes. As a character, he is an great mentor who not only teaches martial arts, fire-bending, and wisdom...he also teaches love.

R.I.P. Mako

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