On Redemption Arcs and Rather Angry Fathers (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

September 01, 2019

Happy Sunday!

Today kicks off TV Shows September! yes, I'm back with my bad naming skills, you can boo me later

And what better way to start things than with one of the Best TV Shows of All Time (TM). That's right, today we're talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender!

via GIPHY - my thoughts while writing this

Recently, the amazing Faith posted a list of overused tropes in YA fantasy novels. And, while I agree with everything she said, I also think that these tropes can be done correctly. It just so happens that many of the tropes she listed are featured in Avatar (which I will now henceforth call ATLA), and I believe that they were done practically perfectly. In particular, I'd like to focus in on her second point, which discussed the morally-grey son characters and their perfectly evil fathers.

So let's get started with this collab/response/rebuttal/series post thingy that ends up purely discussing redemption arcs.


I'm not going to lie - I'm a huge sucker for this trope. My current WIP features this semi-prominently. But there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

Or, shall I say, there's an honorable way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

*excuse the sound of me screaming HONOOOOOOR into the wind*

For those of you who have never seen the show, here's a quick run-down of what I'm talking about: ATLA's main character, Aang, is being hunted by the Fire Nation's cruel dictator, Fire Lord Ozai. He has sent his son, Prince Zuko, to capture the Avatar (aka Aang). Zuko is very dedicated to this cause. However, over the course of the show, he sees that he is on the wrong side and eventually ends up joining Aang's side (which the fandom affectionately calls the Gaang).

this episode was one of the best XD - not because of this particular scene

Obviously Zuko is my favorite character, so I'm going to have way too much fun with this. There is so much to analyze with his character arc and relationships, but I'll try to keep it brief and relevant.

Point One: Give Your Main Villain a Why.

I will go ahead and admit this right now: ATLA is definitely not completely perfect in this category. Fire Lord Ozai's main reason for world domination is "because I want to!"

However. There IS a very big reason why he is cruel to his son, and it is only known to those who read the comic continuations (aka the people like me who have no lives outside of this franchise). Long story short: Zuko's mom wished that Zuko was the son of another man she loved, and Ozai got really ticked about that. (This may be unclear, but it took about three comics to explain, so I'll leave it at that.)

okay but despite his motive being kind of pathetic THIS GUY IS SCARY

And this is a kid's TV show we're discussing here. XD ANYways. . . .

As for Zuko's why? Why does he put up with his horrible dad and keep trying to earn his respect? Simple. Zuko is loyal to the Fire Nation, and getting back in good terms with his dad will get him the HONOR from the Fire Nation he wants.

(let's start a count of how many times I yell HONOR in this post. I'm at three already)

Even if it's a petty why, like "trying to get back the electric violin his sister stole," your bad guys need a strong motivator. And just keep in mind - especially with redemption arcs, your character's motivation might change.

Point Two: Let Your Redemption Arc Take a While.

Look, Zuko's redemption arc literally took the entire TV show to complete. And it was absolute perfection.

A good redemption arc (if you don't want your arc to end messily) will have a satisfying ending. I'm not going to spoil the end of ATLA (because I want you guys to watch it!) but Zuko's character arc wrapped up when he confronted his father. THAT SCENE WAS GOLD.

And he struggled every step of the way. He resisted everything that told him that he was on the wrong path and stubbornly tried to keep getting his HONOR from his father. Even when he was finally forced to admit that he was in the wrong - via everyone's favorite mentor figure, Uncle Iroh - he still fought against it.

In real life, it takes a long time to change. Let it be the same way in your story.


Point Three: Don't Let Your Character Change Sides Because of a Person.

Faith talked about this in her post, but I'm going to bring it up again because it needs to be said again. Basically, in a lot of YA fantasy, the Angsty Love Interest meets a Strong Independent Woman who he immediately moons over. Thirty minutes after meeting her, it's clear he's on the wrong side of the war. Obviously.

If this was true in ATLA everyone would be on the Fire Nation's side because of Ty Lee. Just saying.

I'm honestly not sure if this trope is accurate in real life. I know I haven't experienced anything like it. I do think that one person can dramatically affect a person's outlook on life. However, I don't think that meeting a super-pretty girl who seems independent is going to do that to a person.

Zuko had MANY factors contributing to his climactic decision to help the Avatar. His uncle Iroh gave subtle hints. He had a talk with Katara that helped him see more of the other side. He walked through the oppressed Earth Kingdom. He saw Aang's gentle spirit in action. He experienced abuse at the hands of his sister and father, the "good guys." And when he returned to his home after maturing, he saw the flaws in his country for the first time.


You'll note that I didn't mention a love interest in here. That's because Zuko's love interest is ACTUALLY ON THE FIRE NATION'S SIDE. *mind exploding* (She actually got really mad when he switched sides, which I just find hilarious.)

In other words: Just because your character meets a hot girl doesn't mean he'll immediately rethink his life.

(I will say, though, if meeting a hot girl does affect your morally-grey character, why? Does he have a past with her? Does he carry some guilt over something he's done? Or is he scared of her?)

Point Four: Your Character Should Not Be Perfect At the End.

Is Zuko a perfect character when his redemption arc is completed? HECK NO. He still has some trust and anger issues, and he has this weird tendency to take people on field trips. He still harbors a lot of fear and guilt over things he's done to the Gaang.

His flaws are even more apparent in the comics, although I'm not even going to delve into those.

But just because your character found the light doesn't mean he's automatically a saint. If anything, he's going to struggle even more. How do the people around him think of him now? Do they trust him? What does the main villain think, and how will he react? There are so many conflicts you could add to your story now!

It takes a lot of work to create a good redemption arc - lots of time, attention to detail, and persistence. But, as we can see with Zuko's redemption arc, it's totally worth it.


I could cover wayyyyy more things about ATLA in this post, but this is already long enough.

WATCH THIS SHOW, GUYS. IT'S SO GOOD. If you ever come over to my house I will force you to watch the first two episodes. I'm not even kidding. :)

all right, I promise to stop using GIFs now


And now for the part of the post that I wish I didn't have to write, but here we are.

So. School started up. And this last week, Something Happened that dialed my schedule to an 11. I don't know if I'll ever bring it up online, not because it's bad, but just because it's still weird to think about.

But, in summary: I've got way too much stuff on my plate, I want to bring you guys good blog posts, and I don't have time to put out one post a week. So I'm cutting down my blogging schedule to every other Sunday.

If I DO have time during the week to write an extra blog post, I will definitely end up posting it! But I don't forsee that happening anytime in the next few months.

So, the next post you'll see from me won't be on the 8th, but on the 15th. You guys probably know the drill.

But September is still TV Show September, so the remaining September posts will be focused on TV shows! I'm excited for the next post - some of you already called it in last week's comment section. (and honestly I'm going to be very predictable XD)

Until next time, see you later!

-Nicole <3

Who has seen ATLA? Have I convinced anyone to see it? Do you guys like redemption arcs? Let's talk!

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  1. Replies
    1. *pulls out broadswords* WE MUST FIND THE AVATAR!!!!
      (have you seen ATLA?? WE MUST DISCUSS THIS)

    2. YES I HAVE!
      And I tried to watch Legend of Korra but IDK. It's different.
      And of course we shall NEVER speak of the movie. *gags*

    3. OH MY GOODNESS, HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS??? *is freaking out*
      Yeah, I’ve been scared to watch LOK - friends of mine who watched it said it wasn’t very good. :(
      . . . what movie? You mean, the monstrosity? *holds back a vomit*

  2. This post is amazing!!!!!! I definitely agree with all your assessments :D I'm thinking I should write my own version of this post, too xD What do you think of that idea?

    1. Thank you, Faith!!!!! Yes, totally do it! That would be awesome!

  3. I haven't seen ATLA, but this makes me want to watch it! AWESOME post, Nicole! <3 <3 <3
    (No worries about posting! Life can get super hectic at times XD)

    1. WATCH IT!!! And then we can flail over it together! Thank you! <3 <3 <3
      (Thanks for understanding, Ash! :) I'm hoping it’ll calm down soon, but I think that might just be wishful thinking. XD)

  4. ZUKOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay but ATLA is one of my favorite, favorite shows of ever ever ever and Zuko is my favorite character of ever ever everrrr and just THIS POST WAS LIFE AND EVERYTHING.

    I think it was with Zuko that I realized my deep, passionate obsession with big character arcs. Characters that go form villain, to antihero, to hero are my faaaave and I 1000% blame Zuko for that. But but but ZUKO.

    Ugh. This whole show was so well written. I wish we had more cartoons with this deep of a plot because wow. It was a masterpiece.

    You made SUCH great points and I agree with every single one of them. Absolutely great reminders when writing a character like this!

    Also I laughed hysterically at this: "...and he has this weird tendency to take people on field trips." IT'S SO TRUE. XDDD But I was with Toph. When do *I* get to go on a life-changing trip with Zuko, hmmm? Ah, good times, good times.

    THIS POST WAS JUST THE BEST. Except now I have a deep urge to rewatch these so THANKS. :P

    1. ZUKOOOOOO AAAAAHHH I LOVE HIM SO MUCH!!!! Aaaaahhhh it’s so awesome that you love it too!! IT’S SUCH A GOOD SHOW!

      Haha, same! I totally blame him for starting my obsession with redemption arcs. (Honestly if you just want to scream HONOR in the comment section I will join you. XD)

      I know, right??? The amount of thought they put into everything was just ASTOUNDING.

      Aw, thanks, Christine!! <3

      ACK, YES, I WANT A FIELD TRIP! (If I find him, I will call you up and force him to take us both on one.)

      THANK YOOOOOUUUU. haha, I’m not apologizing. ;)

  5. Interesting! This post has taught me more about ATLA and Zuko than any other screaming fangirl online ever has. XD

    Fantastic post! I especially love your point about keeping it slow-burn. We stan slow-burn EVERYTHING - redemption arcs, romance, even plot... okay, so sometimes plot. XD


    I totally understand having a lot on one's plate. :P

    1. Yay, I’m so glad! (. . . . yeah, I definitely was worried about just screaming the entire time, so I’m glad you got something out of it. XD)

      Slow-burn is the BEST - well, yeah, maybe not always for plot, but still. XD


      Haha, thanks, Lila! :D

  6. Really good points! This looks like the kind of show that I'd like, I'll try to see it some time! :D

    1. Thank you! And if you get the chance, you definitely should watch it :)

  7. Jeez, she wishes another man was her son's father? That's harsh. xD

    Okay but this show sounds so good and I really want to watch it?? And yeah, you're pretty much responsible for that. xD

    No worries about posting less! I mean, it's a bummer but I totally understand. <3


    1. XD I know, it definitely was harsh. I almost don’t blame Ozai for hating Zuko . . . Almost. ;)

      Emily YOU NEED TO WATCH IT. I will not apologize. XD If we ever meet in real life I will introduce you officially to the franchise.

      Aw, thanks! I’m really relieved to hear that. <3

  8. Kinda feel like I need to watch this now...

    1. Yes, you need to! ..... (I will not apologize XD)

  9. Ughhhhhh, it bugs me how people instantly think that just because something is a cartoon/anime/manga etc. that somehow it doesn't have any good morals, plots, or characters. And is thusly a waste of time :(

    Also.... HONOR!!!!!

    1. Oh, goodness, I completely agree! In fact, I’ve found that a lot of cartoon/anime shows have better plots than live-actions ones. It’s sad that this stereotype exists. . . :(


  10. I'm a sucker for this troupe too! But only if it's done right. I really need to watch this show.

    1. I’m the same way - if it’s done wrong, it just ruins the entire story. YES, you need to! I think you’ll like it.

  11. THIS POST WAS SO GOOD! I've only seen the first episode of ATLA plus a few other clips, but I'm such a sucker for good redemption arcs <3

    1. THANK YOU, GERMAINE!! Ooo, that’s so cool - what did you think of what you’ve seen? And same, good redemption arcs give me life. <3

    oh my GOSH nicole this whole post is PURE GOLD AHHHH *screams incoherently in fangirl* and ZUKO MY BOI IS just so awesome and I have to agree the redemption arc IS THE BEST. You can't get any better than that!!
    Haha I totally agree that the whole Gaang (how did I not know this name before?? it's SO ADORBS) would be on the Fire Nation side... because Ty Lee XD which reminds me... time to rewatch ASAP!! I'm thinking Thanksgiving break haha, or I'll be stuffed to the brim!
    HOW HAVE I NOT READ THE COMICS *sobbbb am I not a true fangirl- NEVER! I MUST BANISH EVIL THOUGHTS* I neeD THE COMICS right nowww *screams again in fangirl*
    So. I would absolutely, absolutely, aBsOlUtElY love to scream about ATLA with you anytime! (even if it means skipping school- like, no biggie)
    ZUKO IS GOLDEN MY BOI just HONOR is everything!! Is it just me or is Uncle Iroh just... the. seriously. cutest grandpa ever??? And Toph is honestly amazing, ok? Don't hurt my girl (plus she'll probably pummel your brains out) and YES I love Katara and Sokka and Aang and- you probably get the idea XD and APPA MY BABY BISON BOI ACKKK *squeals*
    Thank you for this post!! It was everything I didn't know I needed today!

      Agh THANK YOU SO MUCH *screams with you* ZUKO IS THE ACTUAL BEST EVER and I agree 10000%.
      (I think it’s the fandom's name for them? I don’t know, but I LOVE IT) and TRUTH, Ty Lee could honestly do it. . . . YES, REWATCH IT!!! I’m currently rewatching season 2 and it’s SO GOOD. (maybe over Thanksgiving we could buddy-watch or something???? IDK how that would work though. 🤷‍♀️)
      *you are totally a true fangirl without reading the comics* *but you will love them* READ THEM YOU WILL DIE OF HAPPINESS.
      Okay so if we ever meet in real life I will bring my Zuko Funko Pop and immediately scream HONOR to start the conversation. XD (this must happen)
      ZUKO IS AMAZING AAAAHHHH!!! I agree, Iroh is the best and I need him in my life ASAP. And YES to ALLLLLL THE CHARACTERS AND APPA <33333 *fangirls*
      Thank YOU for reading, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it! <3 (and if you ever feel the need to flail about ATLA, message me. XD I will gladly join in.)

  13. Wow. EXACTLY what I need today. Thanks for this!


Welcome to the comment section! I love hearing what you guys think and seeing you guys talk. Just remember to keep it clean, and as always, check back for my replies! <3