Avatar - The Last Airbender - We Are Not Opposites

Updated: Feb 5

Hello Everyone!

Today I come bearing more theories and rants about a particular topic, I’ve spoken about before. If you’ve read…

Which Bender Are You?

You’ll already know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, go and read it! I don’t want to spoil things for you! Oh, and if you haven’t watched it already, GO AND WATCH IT! I promise, even though it’s a cartoon, you’ll still love it, because the lessons in this show are deep, and I mean DEEP!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, I will say this, if you haven’t finished watching the show, then look away, because there WILL BE SPOILERS! Now, on with the show!

Opposites Don’t Always Mean Opposite

What am I talking about? Ok, so in ATLA (Avatar: The Last Airbender) each character is categorised into different elements, mainly Earth, Water, Fire and Air, with Aang, the Avatar, being an air bender, who is destined to master the four elements, Katara being a water bender, her brother Sokka, being a soldier for the water tribe they come from, Toph being an earth bender and Zuko, of course, is a fire bender, since he is the prince of the fire nation.


Now, normally, you’d think opposite elements, mean opposite elements. So, Air and Earth, and Water and Fire, right? Wrong! Let me explain this properly. I actually learned about this in a Pinterest/Tumblr post (there was a screenshot of a Tumblr post on Pinterest – Yes, I’m a Pinterest girl!). So, according to the post, what the show does, in terms of the whole Yin & Yang theory, is new and different to what we all believe is right.


Ok, so I’m going to try to paraphrase this, so you guys can easily understand it. So, in the most basic sense, the Yin and Yang theory, as we know it, mean that opposites contradict one another, and yet work together in harmony, like how when a volcano erupts, once the lava flow reaches the ocean it cools down and creates land, right? Well, in ATLA, the theory is put to the test. So, instead of the standard Water/Fire trope, it’s Air and Fire.

That’s Not Opposite

In our eyes, yes, they’re not opposite, but the characters themselves are. Think about it this way. Zuko’s attack styles are always in straight lines, right? I mean he kicks the ground, and fire shoots out, he punches the air, and that’s the direction his fire goes into. Even channelling lightning takes straight lines, so that it can bypass his heart, despite the fact that the technique came from a water bending move.


Now, Aang works in circles. He twirls around when he wants to make an air ball, he uses arcs in the wind, on his glider, to fly higher. His attacks (we’ll call them attacks for now) tend to disperse and take on ambiguous shapes. This is the complete Opposite to Zuko’s attacks, and yet, when we watch the last few episodes, where both Aang and Zuko are training, or when they’re fighting their final battles, we see that they’re using each other’s tactics.


When Aang uses his fire bending, he uses Zuko’s straight attack strategies, and when Zuko is facing Azula, he uses Aang’s circular attacks to cover more ground to throw Azula off. Alright, let’s try that standard example, and see how that compares. That is, we’ll look at Aang and Toph’s differences.


So, in Toph’s case, she works in straight lines too, but they’re not as evident as Zuko’s. It’s only when she creates walls, do we see those lines, and technically, when she moves, they’re as hard and defined as Zuko moves. However, she doesn’t always work in straight lines, if you notice in The Library episode (season 2, episode 10), she holds up the library, not with straight rock formations, but with her fingers, which are curled inwards to get a better grip on the rocky surface of the tower. In the episode where she teaches Aang to block her attacks, in Bitter Work (season 2, episode 9), she works with rounded boulders, and the curved lines of the hills they’re working with.

See The Difference?

While Aang and Toph technically are opposites, because they are opposing elements, that will always have difficulty when working in harmony, Aang and Zuko are the perfect Yin and Yang example. It’s because they can both conflict with each other and work together in harmony. What I mean is that because Zuko works only in straight lines, he can learn from Aang the beauty of ambiguity and defence, and for Aang, he can learn the straight and narrow line of offence from Zuko.


If Toph and Aang were meant to reflect the perfect Yin and Yang theory, then Toph’s style should not be able to curve, it must always be in a linear pattern, that is to say, it can’t diverge from the path it takes, but because she can do both, she cannot be his perfect foil.

It’s In Their Characters

Not only that, they’re both young, they have a similar backstory, where they run away from the responsibilities, they were given from birth. So, they can’t be interdependent on one another. Zuko, however isn’t trying to run away from his responsibilities, in fact, he’s trying to earn them and be regarded as a good and sensible son, and where he is more traditionalistic, Aang is progressive.


He’s not confrontational, he doesn’t adhere to the traditions of his tribe and he’s more adventurous than Zuko. In fact, if you noticed in The Warriors Of Kyoshi (season 1, episode 4), where Zuko is trying to catch Aang, he’s trying to figure out the patterns in his movements, but Aang doesn’t have any. All he wants to do is play about and have fun. So, in essence they do work as perfect foils, because not only do they contradict each other, but towards the end, in The Fire Bending Masters (season 3, episode 13), they work together to learn the beauty of fire bending and how they depend on each other.


After all, without air, there can’t be fire, and without heat, Aang can’t stay warm, even in the coldest climates – if you notice, when the original Gaang arrive at the North Pole, Aang doesn’t need thick coats or extra clothes. It’s because he can manipulate the air around him to keep warm, thus a form of fire bending.

Yin And Yang Does Not Always Mean Opposites

So, there you have it. ATLA does things differently to what we’d expect the true Yin and Yang theory should be. It’s not just about being perfect opposites, it’s also about being able to work together, despite the opposition. It’s one of the reasons I love ATLA. It destroys and rebuilds my understanding of what the Yin and Yang theory is. It makes you aware that nature itself works in a similar way, and if you look closely enough, you can see it clearly.

Well, that’s it from me today, I’ll see you guys next time, where I’ll probably talk about another aspect of ATLA that makes it so great, or maybe I’ll talk more about the story of Kingdom Hearts, or perhaps, delve into the world of Supernatural…who knows. For now, don’t forget to like, subscribe and follow, for the latest updates and the newest posts, here on Feather’s Charm, and on my social media. Oh, and if you’d like, share these posts with your friends and family, if they’re interested in this kind of stuff! I’ll see you guys later!

With love,

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