Ok, this has always been a problem for me, and I need to address it. A lot of people don’t even seem to realize this, as they’re far too drawn into the story, or they like the character too much, but Aang suffers from a pretty big character flaw, where he’s actually very selfish and self-centered about things when it comes to his own feelings being compromised. Now, I know that sounds bad and it may seem like I’m bashing Aang’s character, but I swear that’s not the case. I really do like Aang, but I do acknowledge his flaws. What more, a character SHOULD have flaws, as it not only prevents them from being a Mary Sue (or a Gary Sue in this case), it gives them a negative trait that they need to overcome. Other characters in the series have their own flaws they need to over come.
For example, Sokka is egotistical and sexist. Zuko is misguided, quick to anger, and obsessed with his honor. Toph is stuck up and overly arrogant. Katara is too motherly and holds an inner darkness over her mother’s murder. Well, Aang is very selfish when it comes to his feelings, and always places them over the sake of others, even the world, when they come into conflict with his wants and desires. The others, however, overcome their flaws, but Aang not only does not overcome his flaws, but they’re never even addressed, or they’re just brushed aside, most likely because Aang’s hero journey was about learning the elements, mastering the Avatar state, and learning to control the Avatar state, so his flaws are never addressed, and this has always bothered me, because they really should have been. Instead, any time his feelings, wants, desires, morals, or ideals come into conflict with something that would compromise them, he receives an alternative solution so the problem never need to conflict with what he wants, and that’s a big issue, especially because he always chooses what he wants over anything else (I'll explain in a bit).
However, I think I have a way to fix that problem. But first I need to bring up some examples of what I mean where Aang places his own feelings and wants over everything, even the fate of the world, and I have 8 primary examples that show this ( there are several other smaller examples of it too throughout the series, but Ill focus on the main ones), so let me address them.
1) Running away from the Air Temple – I fully get that Aang is just a kid and didn’t want to be the Avatar, however, this is not a matter of a kid just wanting to be a kid. Everyone, even children, know about the Avatar and how important he/she is. So this isn’t a simply matter of wanting to be a kid. The world is at stake, as is the balance between the nations. What more, Aang is made fully aware of just how dire things are in the world and how much he’s needed. Yet he selfishly puts his own wants over the fate of the world, even running away from home, willing to let the world fall to ruin. And what’s his main motivation for running away? He didn’t want to be separated from Gyatso. Well, wasn’t he going to be separated from Gyatso by running away anyway, not to mention the rest of his people? And while you can say that he just acted rashly without thinking, he was still giving up even more than what he would have lost had he stayed at the Air Temple. He chose his own selfish feelings over the fate of the world. And yeah, he’s just a little kid, but you have to consider the situation, as these were not normal circumstances. What more, even after finding out that he had been frozen for 100 years, that Airbenders were believed to be extinct, that a war was waging for over a century, and that the Fire Nation was conquering the world, he still chose his own wants and desires by hiding who he was.
2) Ignoring his training – This really irked me. When Aang fist tried to learn Waterbending, even though Katara was more skilled than he was, he showed more potential than her and showed that Waterbending came much more easier to him than her (hence why she got jealous). But for sake of argument, let’s say that they were equal and in the same boat when it came to their skill level. When they got to the North Pole and finally got a Waterbending master, Aang fooled around and ignored his training so much that Katara (who was on par or even lower than him skill-wise and potential-wise) was able to become a master Waterbender while he remained a rookie who could barely do the basics. I mean, how long were they training there? It had to have been at least a several weeks for Katara to become a master, yet he remained a rookie. What was he doing all that time. He knew what the Fire Nation was doing. He saw it for himself. He saw that they had wiped out the entire Air Nation, and he knew about the time limit where he had to learn all the elements before Sozin’s Comet came, and yet he still chose to fool around and play rather than learn Waterbending. Hello Aang, the fate of the world is literally at stake, and yet you’re wasting weeks and weeks goofing off and not learning anything.
3) Clearing Kiyoshi's name – While the episode featuring Avatar Day is more comedic, it does once again show Aang’s selfishness. He knows how important he is to the world, and the threat the Fire Nation presents, yet he decides that clearing the name of his past incarnation was more important than the fate of the world. I get that the thought of people thinking that Kiyoshi was a murderer hurt his pride, but come on Aang, there’s more important things to worry about than your ego. What more, he had no way of knowing whether Kiyoshi was innocent or not (and as it turns out, she WAS guilty), but he decided that clearing his name and/or facing the consequences just to make himself feel better was more important than the fate of the world. I mean, seriously, priorities. Go clear your name after the world is saved rather than put yourself at risk for something so like that.
4) Appa being stolen – I absolutely get how much Aang loves and cares about Appa, and losing him was utterly devastating for him, but we can’t forget how Aang selfishly put his desire of wanting to find Appa over the fate of the world. They had a plan to stop the Fire Nation on the day of the Black Sun, and they needed the Earth King’s help for that. And while it’s true that they were deliberately being delayed from seeing the king, that’s not why they went on a rampage through the city. They did it at Aang’s insistence of wanting to find Appa at all cost. Katara even commented how acting out like this was more than likely going to hurt their chances of seeing the king, but by Aang’s own words, he didn’t care, and from then on were going to do whatever it took to find Appa, which caused a major disturbance and set the Dai Lee after them. Had it not been for certain circumstances happening in their favor, they may very well have blown their chance of getting to see the Earth King at all, and all because Aang prioritized finding his pet over the fate of the world.
5) Aang’s crush on Katara – This was one of the biggest issues I had. When Aang went to train to gain fully control of the Avatar State whenever he wanted, he got all the way to his final chakra, but upon finding out that he would have to give up on his feelings for Katara, he refused to do so. He prioritized his childhood crush over the fate of the world, especially when he had no idea how Katara felt about him. In fact, he was even warned that if he didn’t unlock his final chakra that he wouldn’t be able to enter the Avatar State at all, and he knew that he absolutely would not be able to defeat Ozai without it. Yet he chose his feelings over the fate of the world. Now, when he spoke to Iroh about it, this was portrayed as him being wise and choosing a life of love over a life of power, but this was nothing like that. It wasn’t like someone came up to him and offered him the choice of love or power, and he could choose what he wanted more. No, this was him choosing the power he literally needed to save the world over his crush, and he chose his crush, not over just his responsibilities as the Avatar, but over the fate of the world. And while it’s true that he did decide to let his feelings for Katara go down in the cave, he only resorted to that because he and Katara were boxed into a corner from which there was no escape and they were literally about to die, so he would have lost Katara anyway. When it comes down to it, he was offered the chance to literally be able to save the world, stop a 100 year war, and save the lives of millions of people, and he chose his crush over that.
6) His honor – After Aang was struck down by Azula’s lightning, he was understandably upset. I get that. But what does he do? He blindly goes charging into off to fight the Fire Lord, while gravely injured, while the Avatar State was sealed away, all by himself. He had to have known that he was rushing off to his death, but as he himself claimed, he had to regain his honor (LOL, how Zuko of him). Priorities Aang, the world is literally at stake, but you’re putting your bruised ego over the world’s fate, once again putting your own wants and desires over everything else. And yes, he was probably not thinking rationally because he was so upset and angry about what happened, but it doesn’t change the fact that he was selfishly putting his own feelings over the fate of the world again.
7) School dance – As much as I enjoyed the episode where Aang goes to the Fire Nation school, the stupidity of this was off the chart. How could he put himself, and their cause, at risk like this? Just because he wanted to see what things were like in the Fire Nations. If he got caught, that was it, game over, the world was doomed. But he cared more about what he wanted than the fate of the world again. And let’s not forget the dance party he stupidly threw. Whatever his reasoning was, this was unbelievably reckless and stupid, that drew much unwanted attention to him and his friends and put them all at risk, but threatened to expose himself. He once more put what he wanted over the fate of the world. Even if he was right and this would be beneficial to the Fire Nation’s youth, priorities. Worry about that after the world is saved rather than putting everything at risk.
8) Sparing Ozai – This was the biggest and most damning one. And no, I’m not talking about when he chose to take away Ozai’s Firebdending instead of killing him, I’m talking about when Ozai shot lightning at him and Aang caught it. He had the chance to redirect it at him. Ozai was right there in his sight. That was it, victory was right there, both he and even Ozai knew it. He could have ended things and saved the world right then and then, but he chose not to. I get that Aang values life didn’t want to kill Ozai, but the fate of the world was literally at stake. He had literally interrupted Ozai burning down the Earth Kingdom, which would have killed millions. Aang had his chance right then and there to stop that and save the world, and he chose not to. Why? Because he prioritized his feelings and ideals over the fate of the world. So what if the lion-turtle showed him how to takeaway Ozai’s bending, he still would have needed to defeat and subdue Ozai in order to do that, and without the Avatar State, he had no chance, and he knew that. Even all the past Avatars were telling him that killing Ozai was his only chance. He risked everything, everyone's lives, because of what he wanted. During their fight, Aang didn’t stand a remote chance of winning. Ozai was dominating him completely. Had Aang not received a literal dues ex machina by hitting his back really hard to unlock the Avatar State, he would have lost and been killed. Aang, the world is literally being burned down around you, you don’t have the luxury of placing your morals above the millions of lives at stake (which is not a luxury the Avatar gets in general). If it was just his own life on the line and he chose to prioritize his morals and ideals over his own life, that’s one thing, but this was the fate of the world, millions of lives were on the line. And what if he hadn’t gotten lucky and hit his back like that and lost the fight? Would he just say “Sorry I failed to stop the Fire Lord from destroying the world. I mean, I had a chance where I had a sure victory, but I decided not to take it because I decided my morals were more important that the fate of the world.” And then what would people say to that? “Oh, it’s ok, Aang. I mean, millions of people died, an entire nation was burned to the ground, everyone you know and care about are now either dead or prisoners, and the Fire Nation now rules the world all because of you, but at least you stuck to your morals.” Seriously, this was the literal fate of the world, and Aang placed his own feelings over it, showing that he prioritized his own wants and desires over the fate of the world from the beginning of the series to the very end.
Again, I know this sounds like I'm bashing him, but thats' not my intent. As I said before, a character having flaws is a good thing, and is something that they should have. Even flaws like THESE are perfectly fine to have. But when there is a character flaw like this, you MUST address it. But instead, the writers just brush it aside, because Aang’s hero’s journey focused on him learning the elements and mastering that Avatar State rather than addressing his character flaws. However, I have a way that would have not only fixed all that, but would have been a tremendous character development for Aang.
So, for the instances where Aang prioritized his feelings over the fate of the world, all those could have still happened (1-7) and that would have been perfectly fine, because, as I said, a character should have flaws that they need to overcome. But that last one with Ozai, if they had done just one thing different, that one thing could have not only fixed everything, but also given Aang major character development. After seeing several instances where Aang placed his feelings over the fate of the world, and knowing how opposed he was to killing, in that instance when he had Ozai’s lightning, if he had taken the shot, it would have fixed all of that. Just imagine, he had the lightning, he saw Ozai there, and despite being so opposed to killing, he knew that the after of the world was more important than how he felt, and he decided to be selfless and put the world over how he felt, unlike he did several times before. It was even stated that it was the Avatar’s duty to be selfless and to sacrifice himself, even morally and spiritually if necessary, for the sake of the world. And so even though he was greatly opposed to it, Aang chose to do what was necessary and take the shot at Ozai. This would have shown that he had grown beyond his character flaw of putting his own feelings over the sake of the world, and fully embraced his responsibilities of being the Avatar, which he had been running from for a good portion of the series.
However, after having taken the shot, he should have missed. At the last second, Ozai should have dodged. The battle still could have then played out exactly the same way it did, but this one minor detail would have shown that Aang had grown beyond his childish selfishness and fully embraced his duty as the Avatar by doing whatever was necessary to save the world. And no, this wouldn’t have compromised his morals, because after he defeated Ozai and had the chance to kill him, he still would have spared him, since he didn’t NEED to kill Ozai at that point. This would have shown that he was still compassionate and held onto his ideals by sparing him and taking away his Firebending instead, but the shot he had attempted to take at Ozai earlier would have showed him overcoming his selfishness that he had repeatedly displayed throughout the series, and would have absolved him of those selfish moments by letting us know that he had learned not to put his own wants and desires over the fate of the world. It would have shown incredibly growth and development for his character, but instead the writers not only did not address his selfishness, they show that he never overcome it, which I felt was a very big mistake.
Phew, this turned out being a lot longer than I intended, sorry about that (I’m known to ramble sometimes), but who else sees what I’m talking about and thinks this would have been a much better decision?