Princess Azula

tidesA few weeks back I mentioned that Azula was not only one of the finest villains in animated history, but that she was one of the finest villains ever scripted.

Part of the reason she succeeds so beautifully, of course, comes from the amazing voice work of Grey Delisle, whose delivery is always bone-chillingly perfect. According to some sources, at least one of her speeches was intended simply as a screen test, but was so well-done that the show creators worked it into an episode anyway.

But of course Delisle couldn’t perform her work so beautifully if the scripting didn’t give her the words. Azula doesn’t actually appear in the episodes as a character until near the very end of the first season, although she’s mentioned by her brother Zuko earlier and, if you’re paying attention, she’s the fire bender shown in the opening credit sequence from the very first episode — a clue that the show’s creators were really planning ahead.

She’s a supremely gifted firebender and tactician, and so self-possessed that she’s both frightening and inspiring. Here’s a quick look at her from the first episode where she plays a major part.

She’s ruthless AND funny, and consistently scripted that way. She’s toyed with poor Prince Zuko his entire life, as we learn from occasional flashback scenes. I LOVE a casual exchange later in the same episode I’ve pulled this clip from. She’s tricked her brother Zuko into becoming her prisoner. Irate, the prince shouts: “you lied to me!” Delisle’s delivery is priceless; it’s perfectly, casually, contemptuously dismissive: “Like I’ve never done that before.”

There’s an entire reddit thread devoted to great Azula lines that is a little too focused on her final breakdown, but it’s worth a look.

I could go on and on about how wonderfully warped Azula is — for instance, she’s so competitive that even a “relaxing” game of beach volleyball she approaches the way Hannibal probably studied the ground at Lake Trasimine.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is so much more than it seems to be on watching the opening episodes. On first glance it may appear to be an episodic kid’s show where one evil character will constantly chase the good characters from place to place. Don’t be deceived. The storytellers build on the premise and deliver something truly astounding. The only other anime I’ve seen that’s even remotely in its same class is Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

I can recommend The Last Airbender as both as a source for viewing pleasure and as an inspiration for fellow storytellers. If you haven’t watched it yet, get to it, and if you’re skeptical after the first few episodes, give it time. You can place your trust in these storytellers — they will come through for you.



10 Comments on “Princess Azula

  1. Azula is a wonderful character. Sometimes its GOOD to be bad, you know?

    Chaotic Awesome, indeed.

    • I’d say she’s probably lawful evil, but I picked that poster because it quoted her exactly from that same moment from the episode…

  2. I’ll have to catch this show, at some point. As an adult, you can’t let yourself IMO be driven off by “kid’s television” – it’s all about the writing, and a lot of the writers on these shows are good writers, interested in producing solid material. That they’re doing it for shows aimed at kids, often just acts to constrain some of the storytelling (i.e. no sex, no bad language), but that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes of very high quality.

    • Yes, one alway has to keep the intended audience in mind, of course, before one criticizes a show for doing this or that — although I suppose you could excuse a lot of shows by saying that they were intended for stupid people…

  3. “You can place your trust in these storytellers — they will come through for you.”

    What a fine thing to say about the writers.
    In a world replete with stories available in every medium, with dozens of tales clamoring to be read, watched, played or heard, so many are unsatisfying, incomplete, half-baked, forced, tired, redundant…
    But these guys play a long game in the very unlikely format of a children’s cartoon for television and come through.
    I’m on it Howard. I can’t miss this now.

    • It’s about time! I can hardly wait to hear what you have to say.

    • Hey old friend. It took me a while to realize just how good it was. My wife was clued in from the start, but I only half watched the first few episodes (I think I was reading a book in the living room while she was watching).

      Before too many episodes I realized there was a lot more going on than I first thought, and that characters were not going to remain static. Probably about the time I started growing fond of Iroh, or noticed that the “chase character” (Prince Zuko) had troubles of his own.

  4. What’s remarkable (okay, one remarkable thing) about the show is that Azula isn’t an anomaly. Pretty much all of the characters are amazing and get incredible moments. One of the best scenes in the whole show goes to Ty Lee on The Boiling Rock…and she’s this secondary lackey character.

    • Hey Megan! I agree. Even minor characters get their moments in the sun. Remember The Boulder? (“The Boulder feels conflicted fighting a tiny blind girl!”)

      I’ve watched it three times now, and I think I appreciate it a little more each time through.

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