Saturday, March 24, 2012

WORD OF THE DAY! 3/24/12.

exile [eg-zahyl]
noun
1. Expulsion from one's native land by authoritative decree.
2. The fact or state of such expulsion: to live in exile.
3. A person banished from his or her native land.
4. Prolonged separation from one's country or home, as by force of circumstances: wartime exile.
5. Anyone separated from his or her country or home voluntarily or by force of circumstances.
verb
6. To expel or banish (a person) from his or her country; expatriate.
7. To separate from country, home,
EX. This is the last Avatar: The Last Airbender character analysis and the somewhat penultimate Word of the Day article in Avatar week. Today's subject is the exiled prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko. As the main villain for the first story arc, and the character with the most dramatic journey, there is a lot to talk about with this character.
Zuko's story is one of transformation and passion. It is also the tale of a whiny teenager with Daddy issues.

 
 THE REDEEMED VILLAIN / THE EXILED PRINCE
Zuko's story is a complex ball of yarn that needs to be unraveled and, unlike the other character's stories, it would be best to do so in a chronological order. Zuko's story begins with his tragic childhood.
 His father, Prince Ozai, as far as we can tell, assassinated his own father after he convinced him that Iroh was incompetent to rule (he had no heir and failed in the siege of Bah-Sing-Se.). The relationship within the family is a strained one. Zuko's mother is a loving and compassionate figure, he is the naive and innocent youth who disappoints his father by not being ruthless enough, his sister, Azula, is a jealous and manipulative brat who takes after her father, and as for Ozai, he is bad. How bad? Well, I already mentioned the fact he betrayed his brother, killed his father, raised his daughter to be cruel, and treated his son like an abject failure for NOT being a monster. Then, Zuko's mother disappears under mysterious circumstances. And then...Zuko suffers a humiliating injury that would haunt him for years.

Zuko is invited to his first war meeting at the tender age of 13, a rather sheltered and still naive boy, and makes the mistake that would change his life forever. As the generals discuss their plans in the Earth Kingdom, they discuss sacrificing troops on one front to advance them on another. Zuko, being a sensitive boy, challenges the idea of sacrificing the soldiers. This disrespect is met with a challenge to Agni-Kai, or a fire-bender's duel, between himself and general. Zuko shows up for the duel but discovers his opponent has been replaced...by his FATHER, FIRELORD OZAI. Zuko doesn't want to fight his father and begs for forgiveness and mercy. Instead, his father mutilates him with a blast of fire to the face and banishes him from the Fire Nation to an impossible quest; finding the Avatar, who has been missing for over a hundred years. 
It is worthwhile to note that we discover this information in the first season. In this moment, we're given a life line of empathy toward a previously comically simplistic villain and come to understand (and perhaps even sympathize) with his tragic quest.

Three years later, exile has hardened Zuko, both mentally and physically, and his only companion is his Uncle Iroh. In the first book of the series, Zuko chases Aang and his friends, fruitlessly and comically, from pole to pole, with little success. Yet, there are signs to the fact that there is more to Zuko in his honorable actions, his freeing Aang from a rival, his apparent attraction to Katara, and other small character moments that show there is more to the villain. The ultimate turn in this part of the saga, comes when, after nearly dying in a final attempt to capture Aang, and becoming an outlaw in the eyes of the Fire Nation, Iroh convinces him to abandon the quest and instead search for answers in their travels through the Earth Kingdom.

The main villain of the second season is Zuko's sister, Azula; she is literally everything that the heroes that Zuko was in the first season, but far worse. She is cruel, arrogant, cunning, cold, manipulative, and seems to be on the border of insanity with her desperate quest to succeed her father. While she chases Aang and the heroes, Zuko goes on a spiritual journey. He becomes a vigilante under the guise of the Blue Spirit, he earns a respect for the common man, he defends peasants from Fire Nation thugs, he has a small romance with a girl, he saves Appa, and many other things that lead up to the ultimate point of nearing a life free of his need to earn back his father's respect/love/etc. Iroh tries to teach Zuko how to turn lighting-bending, a technique that Azula and Ozai use, as a symbolic way to learn how to release his pain. Yet, Zuko's mentor, Iroh, fails slightly in perceiving that Zuko cannot simply abandon his past, that or he simply needed to be more patient with Zuko, because Zuko needs to resolve his past. This tragically leads to him betraying Katara and Aang, shortly after taking their side, and then taking the credit for "killing" the Avatar when, in fact, Azula struck him down with lightning.Uncle Iroh is imprisoned for basically "leading Zuko astray."

Zuko's return to his father's side is short-lived. Azula attempts to control him by sparking romance between him and her friend Mai (which is successful) and blackmails him with the fact that, if the Avatar is alive, he will be the one blamed. Zuko discovers that one of his great grandfather was Avatar Roku, and, father realizing that the Fire Nation had gone astray after his death, his doubts develop into the decision that he will finally stand up to father and change sides. Zuko fights his father during the Invasion of the Day of Black Sun and turns his father's lightning back at him in a moment that shows that Zuko has finally accepted that he is not his father's son, in a spiritual sense, and his true destiny is to help the Avatar and restore the Fire Nation. 

Zuko returns to "Team Avatar" and, with some difficulty, wins back their trust and becomes Aang's fire-bending teacher. He earns Toph's trust after, accidentally burning her feet, defending the hero's from Combustion Man. He earns Aang's trust through training him. The two become good friends and fire-bending masters during their trials together during this season. At the beginning of their training, Zuko discovers that he has lost his anger, the only thing driving his fire-bending. He goes on a quest and discovers the last two dragons who teach Aang that the true fuel for fire-bending is supposed to be about passion for life. He earns Sokka's trust by helping him free Suki from The Boiling Rock, a prison in the Fire Nation. During the breakout, Mai betrays Azula, and this begins Azula's breakdown into a manic mess by the end of the show. Zuko earns Katara's trust by finding the man who killed her father and helps her heal the scars left by the loss of her mother.

Zuko has redeemed himself and, in the climax, faces his sister in a battle. She is losing until she turns her attacks on Katara. Zuko becomes injured by trying to help Katara. Then, Katara defeats Azula, who is obviously broken down and shows the result of committing cruelty in her insanity. Ozai and Azula are put away in prison, rather than killed, and Zuko becomes the new Firelord. As the series ends, Zuko must still come to terms with fixing the mistakes and healing the scars of his people's imperial past. Oh and Zuko & Mai get together, Uncle Iroh retired and everyone lives happily ever after...or something like that?

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