Not my analysis but very well-written: https://the-firenation-gellary.tumblr.com/post/165136550923/nature-of-azulas-teeny-tiny-cruel-streak
People often bring up the “Azula smiled at the Agni Kai when Ozai faced Zuko, she like to see people hurt!” argument.
Well, I think it’s more often than not shallow and short-sighted, (even though it may be the easiest way to interpret that scene), but if you’re going to claim someone has such extreme violent tendencies, we should look at the “big picture”, not “one small" scene. Focusing on the single act/event is so pointless to me, because they’re all parts of a bigger scheme.
You also have to take in mind that fanon Azula and canon Azula are different as well, and I’d wager fanon Azula, as formed over the years by fans, tends to be “darker” than her actual canon character, so we need to distinguish fanon from canon.Note:
This re-search would be a little long because we will cover Azula’s ENTIRE character arc in the show. That will include, of course, everything: her actions during the war, choices, relationships, life philology, how she treated her prisoners and different sorts of people… est.
FIRST OF ALL, narrative perspective is important, and Zuko was the narrate for most Azula’s persona. Zuko’s a cool character but he clearly has his biases. We’re not dealing with an omnipotent, non-biased narrator. We’re dealing with narrator with motives, and opinions. And Zuko is biased -as fuck- narrate.
So yeah, it’s incredibly unfair to expect him to narrate another character or his own experiences with her, because narrators capable of being uninformed, biased, and just plain wrong, like in Zuko’s case. I don’t think we should believe everything he says (or think) about Azula, as it is just his perspective (of course, he has some of truth but not all of it).
second, what is sadism? Sadism may refer to:Sadistic personality disorder, an obsolete term proposed for individuals who derive pleasure from the suffering of others.
Sexual sadism disorder, a medical/psychological condition for sexual arousal from inflicting pain/humiliation on unwilling, non-consenting victims.Why Azula in fact is not a sadist person (relish in pain of others):
I’ll start to prove this with important events people seem to always forget about:
During The Boiling Rock, Azula stopped the torture of Chit Sang and he was unwilling, non-consenting victim, because she knew it was futile. She ended the torture of an innocent guy in prison (by the wardens) because she realized he was not the guilty party, how is it possible to claim that she is sadistic in nature when she never derived pleasure from his suffering? (this act of Azula outweighs the Agni Kai scene, because she has the power to hurt someone but didn’t do it where she can easily lie or order the wardens to continue their interrogation, which proves that Azula is more of practical and not needlessly cruel
Her prisoners, the Kyoshi Warriors, she sent them to prison safe and unharmed, and they stayed unharmed until they broke out. Suki was fine and in high spirits in the Boiling Rock episodes, these are not signs of someone being tortured or mistreated. Other than maybe felt boredom.
And Ty Lee has bonding time with the other Kyoshi Warriors, even.
If something of that sort had happened, Suki would’ve told Sokka what Azula did to them, the writers would have highlighted her villainous ways as they always do.
The same is true to every other prisoner she ever took (Sokka, Toph, King Kuei, Iroh, Mai and Ty Lee).
She hurt Ty Lee’s feelings by bluntly pointing out the real intentions of the guys who want to date her, but she immediately felt bad and apologised sincerely to her. She didn’t take pleasure in her tears or smirk villainy.Actions speak WAY louder than words.
Canonically speaking, during her travels in the Earth Kingdom, Azula never destroyed or burnt cities or villages, and Azula has possible non-existent kill count in the entire series (and we proved this in this essay). In her own right, she has been a bloodless conqueror. Because, honestly, if they show Zuko destroy (and have no problem doing that whatsoever) and hint for massacre, why they didn’t show Azula destroy as him or hint kill/massacre on her part or does even worse? The answer is obvious, because she never restored to that, she never destroyed. Because she’s practical, she’s smart and elegant. She makes sure people fear what she could do far more than she actually does. You don’t need to be violent to be feared.
In Omashu and Ba Sing Se, she wasn’t a bloody conqueror. Yes, she is manipulative and conniving and rules through fear, but as shown and proved in the show, most of her methodology is nonlethal, and people who end up in her custody don’t end up dead or hurt either.
That said “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” -Sun Tzu
Not only does Azula not harm most people whom she takes captive (which rules out the sadistic torturer facade people keep forcing into her character), but even as she loses her mind, she’s not ready or eager to kill her servants or guards. She banishes them all, and it’s not exactly a great idea either, but she makes them leave instead of executing them or something.
Azula at her core is not sadistic, she’s driven and career-focused
. Away from Zuzu, there’s no question she’s very external goal oriented.
The thing is: Azula didn’t present as destroyer but as ambitious, fear manipulator; a dominant. She expressed the desire of rule the world, control the world NOT destroy it. For her, life is a meritocracy, and the best rises to the top, and then gets subjugated to her will.What Kind of Villain Azula is?
Azula is dominating, aggressive, and quick-tempered. She has a clear vision for the future and will force everyone to follow her vision, caring little for other people’s perspectives and views (e.x force Ty Lee to join her team). She has fiery tempers and can be intimidating bully, using her quick wits and cold hard logic as a weapon to humiliate and silence her opponents (her speech to Long Feng). She will consider herself above emotions and her subjective “feelings”, but will become temperamental and wallow in self-pity when things don’t go her way (take her insecurities on Zuko, mostly). She consider the feelings and values of others stupid or silly and she is exceedingly proud of her logical “superiority” (“A true General should’ve won the war, not come home crying.”) She is incredibly direct when she gives orders to her subordinates and scolds them for incompetence/inefficiency. She likes to control other people, and enjoy using her intuitive perceptions as a way to play mean tricks on others.
She knows how to play this game and do it well. Her unique insight into other people allow her to find soft spots and push buttons, all for her own master purposes, and is motivated through self-preservation, the Fire Nation’s honor, her father’s approval, etc.
Domination is a game to her, and she is increasingly power hungry as she become more and more unhealthy.
Deep down Azula was feel guilty about this, these are the very things/bad traits that the hallucination of Ursa -who is supposed to be her conscience- is urging her to drop: seeking power and to control people through fear (and she also adds that she always loved her). But she has never shown, mentioned or hinted that she relishes in the “pain” of others. Show, canon sources, interviews, databooks: there’s no real proof of it.On this light, we need to Clarify Some Scenes maybe some people find them “questionable”:
-In this scene, she’s warning him first of all, and she wasn’t lying about what was going to happen either way. If she was indeed rejoicing in his death, she could’ve further in this meaning e.x. “when you die, I’ll take your place and no one will remember you.” Or Azula could’ve just stayed silent… Never went to his room to warn him about she heard. If she really wants him died, she would not have told Zuko what Ozai is about to do (and it’s not like that kids understand death properly anyway), but instead she says she’s telling him for his own good, and then also adds maybe an Earth Kingdom family can adopt him, meaning she’s not “rejoicing” in his “death”, that’s literally Azula finding a solution to keep Zuko alive.
And Azula was straight forward in it (but heck, it didn’t involve murdering anyone else to keep Zuko alive…).
Alright, point being, she cares enough about her brother. The problem being, she warn him in fucked up, straightforward way because:
a) she has been at odds with him for so long now, she doesn’t want him died, she warns him to leave (probably a bit happy so her mother will finally notice her and spend some time with together).
b) since Azula -especially the little one- just access the hard, pure external facts and takes actions upon them. No wonder she has difficulty communicate with others in more personal, less professional level (that coincidenced, of course, with bad parenting).
Little Azula wasn’t being evil here, she simply twisted.. and corrupted.
- It’s no argument either way, the thing with Mai was for teasing
, to make Zuko “save” Mai. Azula knew Mai had a crush on Zuko and that her brother has a knack for being over-the-top as he was. Truth is I don’t think Mai was in any actual danger (Zuko probably shuold have been able to put out the fire on the apple through bending??)
- Azula recruits Ty Lee and Mai for her team: why does Azula threaten Ty Lee that way? Because Ty Lee made it clear she wouldn’t join her in any other circumstances. What Azula did to threaten her isn’t right by any means, and it was very cruel since Ty Lee said the circus made her happy, but Azula didn’t do it because she enjoys tormenting others unnecessarily: she did it with the purpose of making Ty Lee join her.
(“Trust is for fools, Fear is the only reliable way.”) Killing Ty Lee would be counterproductive, since the entire point of what she’s doing is to scare and threaten Ty Lee into joining her team.
- The entirety of Day of Black Sun is about Sokka and Azula’s intellects clashing. That lie was a diversion, nothing else. It wasn’t Azula trying to torture him, she's trying to throw him off his game.
It’s Azula trying to make the Gaang waste all the time they have left after Sokka discoverd her plan. Azula’s smirking because she’s in control of the situation and Sokka fall in her trap.Hurting someone for enjoyment or like to see them hurt for no reason, is something Azula’s NOT driven to do (in personality wise). She only ever does cruel things when it benefits her. And all the examples above prove it.Azula’s Real Cruel Streak:
Now let’s address Azula’s undenied worst quality I’ve seen in the show: she likes to be in control of others and relishes in her ability to intimidate and manipulate them.
Manipulating people through fear to put them in the line and enjoy her ability to do so, is canonically, the core of Azula’s cruel streak. However, this is what her whole character is about: Power and control. Forcing others to live under her, her father’s and the Fire Nation’s rules, respond to their demands and accomplish her goals/fire nation’s ambitions with her.
She doesn’t has much compassion and most of her inner feelings are only utilized in pursuit of what her father wants, what the Fire Nation wants and what she wants, and if others got hurt as a result, so be it. She’s morally grey and practical. Ruthless but effective.
She is characteristically ambitious, and often very engaged in her careers. More than any other character, Azula enjoys her work, especially if there were difficulties and challenges.Azula’s free time habits:
Azula’s very busy person in general (since she has a lot of expectations placed on her combine with her perfectionist nature), but in her “free time” she does what she likes to do not what she supposed to, and what Azula is shown to do: take care of herself, visiting the spa, training Firebending or martial arts, studying, spend time with Mai and Ty lee, play games, or little mean tricks on Zuko, planning her future for world domination or protecting her Nation.
And for these particular reasons the point I am trying to make here is: sometimes there are evil characters in fiction who are feared because they’re bloody and brutal.
Azula is NOT one of these characters.
Her uniquely comes from her duality. From being forceful, but not brutal, from being intimidating but not bloody, to be swayed by her affections and uncertainties. From her arrogance, her escapism, her vulnerability and coldness. The fact that all these aspects of her can coexist without eclipsing the other.
Threats and mind games suit her style much more than physical violence. Violence is not an alien to her character, of course, since her greatest sin is her wrath. And here is why Ursa shames Azula’s control of people through fear rather than hurt someone for no reason.The thing is: there’s no solid point in the story back up that Azula has show sadistic desires . Her desire was for power, perfection, and to control -not control solely for enjoyment- but first of all and priority is to keep both system and order, and in case her few bonds is for acceptance.
▪Okey, but why does Azula choose/use fear?
This is something all her predecessors in the last one hundred years (or maybe more) were: fear-mongers who ruled by the strength of their wraths in order to gain the blind affections of their people and the total respect of the countries around them.
Therefore, this proves it’s just a headcanon, misinterpretion or a theory isn’t proven true– the fandom founded. Maybe because she has long nails, wears red lipstick, and smirks, or because they extend her damaged relationship with her brother to cover all other people, which is a mistake.
So, Azula is Lawful Evil, “Dominator"
. And is great for it. It’s the best Alignment you can put her in:“A lawful evil villain methodically takes what [she] wants within the limits of [her] code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. [She] cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. [She] plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. [She] is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve.”The Fire Nation Traditions and Philosophy during the Military Age:Interpreting the Agni Kai’s scene without considering the inherent violence in the current Fire Nation culture is also a mistake.
The Wiki article about the Agni Kai rules say “It is a fight for one’s honor and is won only when one opponent burns the other.” See, if you continue to read what the wikia states, it says that since Sozin’s time the Agni Kais became lethal more often. Sparing your enemy was seen as weakness (which in fact is something curious, and it makes me wonder what did Ozai’s Agni Kai with Zuko look like to their people?). But Sozin’s traditions only make Agni Kais more violent, rather than the other way around. Burn your opponent is legit, one burn is enough to declare the Firebender victory.
And of course Ozai won’t hold back.
Azula’s Perspective Toward Zuko’s Persona (keep in mind this is anti-Zuko’s narration post)
[Azula’s Tale databook].
For Azula, Zuko is someone never proves himself (fails a lot because he doesn’t try hard enough), never stands up for himself (always needs protection from their mother or Iroh), never grew up (emotional wreck, useless, clueless of the world around him, self-centred, throw childish tantrums). She’s the perfectionist, self-controled, hard-working one (and she’s indeed, she’s one of the most devoted at training herself and mastering skills, to near-obsessive degrees and has cold, flawless demeanor for most the series) who needs no love nor protection from anyone unlike Zuko, and measured herself not to be like Zuko.
Azula tends to see life in terms of confrontations and rising to the challenge. There are causes to serve, struggles to be overcome, battles to be won. She likes to be on the front line with her trusted comrades, and strongly value both courage and loyalty.
I hate to say this but her disdain of him is deep, and she has very low opinion because he keeps disappointing and anger her. Disdain and jealousy are too different things here. These are things she despises, she has high expectations for herself and for others too, and voices disdain to anyone she deems inferior. In her eyes, Zuko should not be like this.as a side note: there’s an important substantial trait in Azula’s personality:
Under stress/sadness, Azula prone to attack others, often over the very issues she’s insecure about (mostly Zuko). Becomes a workaholic and ignores feelings of deep dissatisfaction (as she uses her jealousy, perfectionism, and fear of failure to fuel her abilities), or stops giving a crap about anything.
This was direct affect of her parents twist upbringing + environment + her overly-competitive, perfectionist nature. The sad thing here too is that Zuko most likely never tried getting closer to Azula nor be a good brother either, because Ozai’s negative influence on him/their sibling relationship, it’s nothing but all based on rivalry. [Point fully explained under the cut]. (click on “source” if the rest of the post isn’t shown)The Agni Kai Scene
Logically -not sympathetically- speaking, Zuko made many mistakes that landed him there, but the main one was refusing to fight his father. If he had fought despite knowing he would lose, he wouldn’t have seemed dishonorable. He would have stood up for himself, for what he did, for how he had acted.
When he begs for mercy, it’s a sign of weakness that the Fire Nation society, since Sozin’s time, does not tolerate. Ozai demands that Zuko fights, and Zuko refuses. The burn is a punishment for his refusal to fight and it signals the conclusion of the fight, and in case it wasn’t clear, the person shown looking away from this scene is only Iroh
(after losing his Big Battle, throne and son, Iroh looked at Zuko as a sort of adopted son. If he could just help this poor boy whose father had kinda abandoned him): Zhao smiles the same as Azula, and the other characters in the background don’t even flinch.
That is to say, fire is NOT considered a problem in the Fire Nation, not for firebenders (who literally burnt people alive). Getting burned or a scar as punishment is probably common (Jeong Jeong was the only one who thought fire is harmful after years of contemplating). As laws, this is the consequence of not fighting in the Agni Kai. The reactions of joy or support of Ozai’s actions are considered acceptable in the Fire Nation during the Hundred Year War.
This isn’t an excuse for Ozai’s cruelty, because it was an act of cruelty indeed, and especially it was cruel to take it so far when Zuko’s mistake was minor. But this is the way the Fire Nation has been built up during the years of war, and they believe might is right. The environment brushes off the bits of conscience, morals, mercy and love as low-grade concepts.
And since Azula was her father’s favorite since birth and raised by him, for her, Ozai always represented absolute power and perfection, qualities which she desired to acquire. Anything he does and says is right.
The show is in Zuko’s favor, of course, and maybe this is why it didn’t state the rules at all (I myself didn’t even know them until recently). Agni Kais are presented as cruel, violent duels, so a show that’s going to end the war through “peaceful” means (I mean, it was as peaceful a conclusion as it could be) would naturally present the Agni Kais as proof of the Fire Nation’s cruelty.
Azula’s apparent apathy in Zuko’s burn is a product of this society and this upbringing by her father.
Ozai didn’t burn Zuko because he enjoys it but because Zuko deserves it and the rules demand it. So, it’s no mistake that Azula -who completey identifies with her father and even adopts his behaviour- would share the same thought with Ozai + her own personal issues with her mother and brother + comply to the laws of the Agni Kai and Fire Nation philology (according to her lawful evil code “You shall not aid the weak”-“You shall follow the law.”)
Azula hates a lot of things in Zuko -and also jealous of him a suppressed or restrained manner- She was like “Yes Zuko, face the results of your own actions for once, instead of running back to mother or Iroh seeking protection. No one can protect you now.” Oh, since Zuko is the weak, whiny little boy who never grew up, he needs to go through the hard way to learn instead of being protected, means he needs to suffer (“And suffering will be your teacher.”) I don’t understand why people expected Azula to side with Zuko when she has always been at Ozai’s side.Due to the how sperated the sibling raised, neither Zuko nor Azula develop emotional brotherly bond with each other, as they only saw one other as a rival more that a sister or brother. So, Azula’s ambitions most likey play part too, the first born son who in the second line to the throne has legally/legitimately prove his incompetence in front their father and the Royal court, her path to the throne has cleared. She shall rule as the stronger sibling who can lead the Fire Nation to victory (according to lawful evil code: “You shall harm the innocent to advance yourself or promote order.”)
It’s not just Ozai hurt Zuko, it’s Ozai hurt Zuko and not her. Every time Ozai insulted or injured her brother, it cemented Azula’s position as the favorite child. And she had to stay the favorite child because she’s seen what would happen to her if she wasn’t. Deep down, she knows just how conditional her father’s positive regard is. I see her trademark coldness and “Yes, he deserves it.” Body language attitude. Absorbing her father’s cold-heartedness and his hard, unforgiving demeanor into her personality made things worse. If it was pure sadism then her eyes and face should’ve been more passionate (such as make her eyes glisten) or licked her lips. Sadistic and sexual pleasure are deeply connected as mentioned above. So no, I see cruelty and coldness.But one scene interpreted out of context, or from a very narrow point of view, is no evidence of Azula’s sadism.
If her alleged “sadism” was real, there would be more proof for it during Books 2 and 3 before her breakdown. Instead, we find many opportunities when her supposed sadism could have shined brightly, and yet she does not resort to violence for most the time but fear. Most of her methodology is nonlethal, and people who end up in her custody don’t end up hurt or dead either.
Its mostly intentional that she comes across this way, and projects this aura onto people, because she is under the impression that fear is the surest promise of loyalty. However, that doesn’t change the fact that She has not done much killing or destruction so far.
Azula has goals of power, position, and privilege at the forefront of her mind. As a princess, she sees this need for power with her position and bending as a responsibility “We’ve done it Zuko. It’s taken one hundred years, but thanks to us, the Fire Nation [not “I”] has conquered Ba Sing Se.” And she tries to reach her goals of superiority, power and perfection in order to reach her “comfort zone". The main reason Azula succeeds to match her father’s high expectations more than Zuko does is because: these things were what Azula wanted for herself, she thought her father made her “strong”, but Ozai took this to extreme and only shattered her instead.▪"because it’s kids show, they didn’t…“ “Nickelodeon is anti-violence, that’s why…” arguments
Finally, there’s many who say that Nickelodeonwould not allow Azula to torture people on-screen because they were anti-violence. But they didn’t hold back when showing the torture Hama was subjected to. They didn’t hold back when showing how the Dai Li captured, tormented and brainwashed Jet and other servants. They didn’t hold back when showing Aang suspended in chains by Zhao, and didn’t shy away from the tragedy of Kya’s death by Yon Rha’s hand when addressing Katara’s memories and Jet’s implied death, and when Ozai burnt Zuko. Even if the scenes aren’t explicit at all times, they imply the nature of what happened without a problem.
Zuko has a scar on his face, Song has burns on her leg, Bato had burns all over his body: they could have given any such injury to Azula’s prisoners, but they never did. The writers would have highlighted her villainous ways as they always do. They never seem to shy away from heavy topics like that.
If Azula did hurt anyone off-screen for pleasure, then the writers would have mentioned or highlighted it, they always do. The mirror scene too could work as the perfect opportunity to highlight Azula’s cruelty, they could have Ursa say “you hurt innocent people for enjoyment” as example.
So I don’t see why they wouldn’t make mention of any heavy topics in Azula’s part. They are focusing so much on her dark side in the show anyway, no matter how terrible the act was, they always show it ON-screen. Always. This show had enough portrayals of cruelty, and LOK has even more of them.
Therefore, “Azula likes to torture people” isn’t true. And canon itself constantly and repeatedly proving that Azula’s worst quality is “control people through fear”. Azula’s well-rounded character, she doesn’t need to make other people suffer for pleasure to be completed.
TL;DR The fact of the matter is, if there’s no sign of Azula torturing people (or kill for fun), it’s because she didn’t do it. She is not a sadist person.
Maybe Azula believed she was a monster, but her actions and choices proved that she’s not as bad as she thinks she is.