Avatar: The Last Aibender was not your typical American cartoon. It introduced a large western audience to various aspects of Asian cultures through brilliant storytelling, detailed animation, and a powerful musical score.
Drawing heavily upon a Japanese influence, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino sought to bring their passion for anime to an American style production.
The two Avatar: The Last Airbender creators spoke about these influences in a magazine interview stating: “The best anime balances great action sequences with humor and emotion, something we try to do on Avatar. We love all the films of Hayao Miyazaki, especially Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Both movies deal with spirituality and the environment in an entertaining way. Also, there's a lot of great animation.”
Bryan was also a huge fan of Cowboy Bebop and FLCL (Fooly Cooly). He recalls that the fight between Spike and the red eye drug dealer in “Asteroid Blues” is one of his favorite fight scenes. Bryan Konietzko also said Avatar: The Last Airbender director Giancarlo Volpe ordered the staff to watch every episode of FLCL.
The Book of Five Rings, written by swordsman Miyamoto Musashi in 1645 was also a huge influence. In his book, Musashi described how the elements Earth, Water, Fire, and Air relate to battle.
These influences are just the tip of the iceberg regarding secrets and behind-the-scenes know-how associated with the Avatar cartoon. So, grab your favorite cup of tea as we dive into the 15 Things You Completely Missed In Avatar: The Last Airbender.
15 All Bending Was Derived From Animals.... Except Waterbending
The ancient civilizations relied on animals to teach them bending. For Firebenders it was the dragons. Earthbending came from the badgermoles and Airbending was taught by flying bisons. Waterbending, however, came through the knowledge of the moon.
The fighting style of a Waterbender is full of fluid movements which coincide with the environment. Just as the moon pushes and pulls the tide, so do Waterbenders through their dance-like motions.
All the best masters in Avatar: The Last Airbender have taken the time to learn from the animals that taught the technique of bending from the start. Toph trained as a child with badgermoles while Aang and Zuko both got Firebending training from the ancient dragons Ran and Shaw — they also taught Iroh how to achieve his famous fire breathing attack.
14 The Many Similarities To Naruto
Avatar: The Last Airbender isn't a copycat or a rip-off of Naruto. However, there just happen to be some interesting similarities. Take Zuko and Sasuke, for example-- both have parental issues, are trying to prove themselves worthy, and both eventually find redemption for their past wrongs.
Sokka and Rock Lee also share similarities, as neither character has any special abilities or powers. Let’s not forget about Aang and Naruto-- both grow up without any parental influence and both treat their team members as family. They’re compassionate and slightly goofy, plus they both have a crush on the female lead (in the case of Naruto, this becomes Hinata).
Both series’ also draw on elements which incorporate various fighting styles. The bottom line is that, if you enjoy one, you’ll most likely enjoy the other.
13 A Special Gift From A Secret Crush
Toph and Sokka didn’t think too highly of each other when she first joined Team Avatar, but the two quickly became close friends and comrades. Throughout Avatar: The Last Airbender, Toph developed a secret crush on Sokka, but never acted upon it because he was always “taken.”
The crush became evident when Sokka gave Toph a piece of meteorite rock used in crafting his sword. Able to bend the rock, she formed it into a bracelet that she always kept close to her.
The only time Toph left the bracelet behind was when she let herself get caught by the Fire Nation. When asked by Katara as to why she left it behind, Toph responded that it was too valuable of an item, so she left it at the camp.
12 Zuko Had A Half-Sister
Ursa, Zuko’s mother, saved his life by killing Fire Lord Azulon (Iroh’s father) after Azulon ordered Ozai to kill his only son (which he planned on doing). Ursa disappeared after Azulon’s murder and was presumed to be dead by the new Fire Lord Ozai. However, she wasn’t dead. In fact she actually went on to start a new life.
Ursa returned to her childhood home and ran into her ex-fiancé Ikem who had his face changed by the spirit called the Mother of Faces because he feared Ozai would have had him killed. Ursa also changed her face, hooked up with Ikem, and had her old memories wiped. Ikem and Ursa had a daughter named Kiyi whom Zuko would discover while he was Fire Lord.
Zuko looked after Kiyi and loved her as his sister. Their relationship was very close and Kiyi looked up to Zuko.
11 Mark Hamill Mastered Another Evil Character
All of the voice actors on Avatar: The Last Airbender were amazingly talented, but Mark Hamill voicing Fire Lord Ozai was brilliant. Hamill isn’t a stranger to voiceover work, having performed dozens of characters over the past couple decades. Noteworthy characters who fill Mark Hamill’s portfolio include The Trickster, Swamp Thing, and the infamous Joker.
Hamill's portrayal of Fire Lord Ozai, however, seems to get lost in his lengthy list of gigs. Next to his work as the Joker, Mark’s voiceover as Ozai is one of the best evil character voices ever done.
Since then, Hamill has done some more recent projects, such as Arnim Zola on Avengers Assemble and Alvin on Dragons: Race to the Edge. You can also find a clip of him doing four characters simultaneously on Justice League Action Shorts.
10 The Mysterious Reappearing Statue
Episode 9 “The Waterbending Scroll” of Avatar: The Last Airbender features Iroh purchasing a bunch of flea market junk while Zuko is busy chasing Aang. During their pursuit of the Avatar and recreational stops, Iroh stumbles upon a statue of a smiling dog-like statue with red gems for eyes and as a necklace around its head. It’s left unclear in the episode if Iroh purchases the statue.
Later, in season 3 episode 7 “The Runaway”, this same statue can be seen sitting next to a pile of Team Avatar’s belongings. Is it possible that either Aang, Toph, or Sokka purchased the statue after cheating the rock game scammer with their earnings? Or did the artists throw it in as a fun call back?
9 Azula Was Thrown Into A Mental Institution
Azula was always a few notes off from a tuned pipa, but many are unaware that she completely lost her marbles after the 100 Year War. Her mental illness began during early childhood, harboring hate towards her brother Zuko and her mother Ursa. The strings to her sanity cracked even more after Ty Lee and Mai betrayed her by joining forces with Zuko and Team Avatar.
During her fight with Zuko and Katara in the Agni Kai during Sozin's Comet, Azula couldn’t hold her mental capacity together. The result of her instability was defeat and her worst nightmare coming true — Zuko hailed as Fire Lord.
After her loss she blew fire everywhere and cried until she passed out. The symptoms of her madness became so bad that Zuko had her locked up in a mental institution.
8 Past Avatar Roku's Appearance As A Cloud
Avatar Roku played an important role in Aang becoming the Avatar he needed to be. There are several appearances of Roku throughout the series. He appeared before Jeong Jeong and convinced him to train Aang in Firebending. Roku also told Aang how to save the Moon Spirit. Plus, he showed Aang the nature of his Avatar state.
Where you might have missed Avatar Roku was at the end of the “Southern Air Temple” episode. As Appa flies off with Aang, Katara, and Sokka, Aang turns around to look back. Next to the temple are two clouds shaped as Fang (Roku’s dragon and animal guide) and Roku himself. The imagery gives the perception that Roku is not only looking down to watch Aang, but look after him too.
7 Zuko Was Nearly Thrown Over A Castle Wall As A Child
Zuko is the first-born child of Prince Ozai and Princess Ursa. Ozai was immediately turned off by Zuko as a baby because he claimed that he didn’t have the look of a Firebender in his eye. While most children have that spark, it’s not always apparent right away. Having a non-bender in the royal family was shameful, making Zuko a disgrace that needed to be “taken care of.”
Ozai’s solution to the Zuko problem was to cast him over the palace walls and be done with him. It took Zuko’s mother and the Fire Sages to stop Ozai from following through with his plan. Eventually Zuko showed his spark, making him an official Firebender. Even after the situation was settled, Ozai still never looked at Zuko as his own.
6 Toph Challenged King Bumi For Bragging Rights
Toph’s Earthbending style in a fight differs greatly from that used by other Earthbending masters. While her's is similar to a Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu Style, everyone else’s resembles a Hung Gar Style Kung Fu.
In the Avatar: The Last Airbender comic book The Lost Adventures, Toph and King Bumi battle it out to see whose style of Earthbending is superior. The situation starts off innocent, with Suki complimenting Bumi and calling him the strongest Earthbender alive. Toph overhears the conversation as she’s walking by and immediately intervenes to declare that she’s the strongest.
Sokka appoints himself referee of the free-for-all match and the battle is on. Unfortunately, it also needed to be broken up since Team Avatar was supposed to be keeping a low profile while trekking through Fire Nation territory. The battle was considered a draw.
5 Azula Was A Pyromaniac As A Child
Being a Firebender doesn’t mean that one should go around burning things for fun. Once that line is crossed, you become more of a pyromaniac than a bender. However, Azula showed signs of such issues at a young age.
Around the year 94 AG, Azula became upset with her mother because she was always talking about Zuko (who was a total mother’s boy). As a way to let off steam, she randomly lit flowers on fire around the palace garden. Zuko told this to Ursa and Azula inevitably got in trouble. Angry at Zuko for ratting her out, she took revenge on him by burning his bottom the next chance she got.
Azula’s reasoning behind burning the flowers? They “deserved it” because they weren’t appealing to her.
4 Iroh Choose To Permanently Reside In The Spirit World
Only an Avatar or an extremely spiritual individual may enter the Spirit World of their own accord. Iroh wasn’t an Avatar, but he was in tune with Spirit World and had previously entered it and left it after the death of his son.
In 131 AG, Iroh decided that he had accomplished all he wanted to in life and voluntarily entered the Spirit World for good. Ironically, his life there wouldn’t be much different from the one he had in the material world. He quickly made friends with other spirits and even opened a tea shop for them to hang out in.
Avatar Korra would eventually cross paths with him, and Iroh was all too happy to offer her some cake and tea while he mentored her.
3 Loophole Saved Aang From Wheel Of Punishment
“Avatar Day” is the fifth episode of Book Two in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In this episode, Aang finds himself being charged as the Avatar for the murder of Chin the Conqueror. While Aang wasn’t alive during the time of Chin the Great, Avatar Kyoshi was, and Aang was to be punished by the villagers for her crimes.
To determine Aang’s fate, a Wheel of Punishment is spun to decide his sentence. It lands on “Boiled in Oil,” but before his punishment is carried out, the town is attacked by the Rough Rhinos.
What you may have missed is that the slot next to “Boiled in Oil” depicted a picture of a bed of nails. However, when Mayor Tong turns the wheel one more slot during the attack it now says “Community Service.”
2 Ember Island Players Was Better Than Live Action Movie
The “Ember Island Players” was episode 17 of season three in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Team Avatar goes to see a play while hiding out at Zuko’s family beach house. The theatrical performance is a complete mockery of their real lives and only Toph enjoys the performance since her character was played by a big and muscular man.
M. Night Shyamalan's live action movie The Last Airbender was actually worse than the "Ember Island Players" performance. He changed the characters just like the Ember Island Theater did, but also created a story that was absolutely awful.
From whitewashing to cutting major plot points out of the script, Shyamalan many believe that destroyed the true essence of Avatar: The Last Airbender. While Toph may have been happy with her big man representation in "Ember Island Players", even she would have given the live action movie two thumbs down.
1 Sokka’s Pet Hawk Was Supposed To Be Zuko’s
In the original script of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko was supposed to have a pet hawk as a foil Momo. The writers ended up scraping that idea, but kept the concept art in case they wanted to use it for something else. This chance came in Book Three when Sokka gets himself a pet and names him Hawky.
The original Hawky made it all the way to the pilot before getting scraped. The producers and writers agreed that Zuko didn’t need an animal for his character to interact with because he had Iroh.
Personally, we’re glad Sokka ended up with him because Hawky fits his personality better — plus, Momo never needed a foil anyways. The shenanigans him and Appa perform in the background throughout the entire Avatar: The Last Airbender series provided more than enough entertainment.
Can you think of any other things that most fans completely missed in Avatar: The Last Airbender? Sound off in the comments!