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branchandroot: Fay with mask (Fay mask)
[personal profile] branchandroot
I was reflecting recently on how much it annoys me when assorted disgruntled fans accuse Embers of turning the right and justified world upside down, one way or another. It made me think about what Vathara really is altering, and what I do and don't like about Avatar itself.

For one, Vathara does indeed reverse some of the canon's polarities. For example, rather than highlighting the dubious morality of Zuko's actions and presenting the choices of Aang et al with a sympathetic gloss, Embers highlights the dubious morality of the Gaang's choices and presents a sympathetic view of Zuko's. I can actually see where this would result in the aforementioned fan grousing, though it does annoy me that the grousers can't be more precise about what they're actually objecting to. (The one about how Embers makes the Gaang into the villains is a good example of such unreflective overstatement.)

From there, though, the train of thought wandered off onto different tracks.

It occurred to me that one of the reasons I most enjoy Embers is because it repairs a tendency that annoys me throughout most US cartoons: the tendency to present young hero/ines as idiots childish, and yet leave them unmolested by any responsible, adult intervention. At least anime generally presents young hero/ines as people who comprehend something of responsibility or maturity, and who work really, really hard for their world-saving; the GWing boys may not make very believable fifteen year olds, but I can, at least, buy that someone, somewhere, would not consider it totally ridiculous to let them take massive weapons off on their own recognizance and wage asymmetrical war with them. At the very least, the children may be removed to a different world, as in Digimon, where adults can't get to them. If adults are in range and the hero is still young and childish, then the "danger" is written as distinctly non-life-threatening, however scary, as in Card Captor Sakura's carefully orchestrated multiplying sheep dolls. The Avatar world does not present Teens Of Unusual Maturity, nor does it remove them from practical intervention range of adults, and the danger is very world-threatening indeed, but somehow our heroes are let to go haring off on their own with very little explanation in canon of why apparently good and sane adults would leave them go without help or guidance.

That got me to another interesting thought, though. Because sometimes, in anime and manga, the hero/ine will be cosmically required to go it alone, s/he will be the only one who can possibly accomplish the necessary world-saving, and anyone without that power would only be in the way and in danger. This tends to happen more with shoujo than with shounen, in my experience, and this led me to an epiphany.

Hands up, everyone who's seen Fushigi Yuugi. Now I want you to envision something. If you jiggered the elemental associations a bit and if Aang and Katara were, at every dramatic juncture or crisis, to passionately call out each other's names, would you or would you not be watching FY? And with this thought comes the inescapable corollary that Aang would be Miaka.

Aang is a shoujo hero(ine). He's the pure heart that will save and redeem the world solely on the strength of that purity. He's a magical girl. He even shows the marker of having power that is undesirable and out of his control, at least until the very last second (and, frankly, his sudden mastery of the Avatar state lacked sufficient build-up to convince me very well).

The shounen hero is Zuko. And Embers is giving him a shounen storyline.

The equivalence is not perfect, but it's pretty darn close, and this realization tickled me immensely. I can't decide if it's delightfully subversive or just plain annoying.

It does help explain another reason I like Embers, though; I'm very partial to the typical shounen trope of the hero growing emotionally and/or spiritually in order to gain greater power, and Embers is giving me this. It may, at this rate, even give me this for the Gaang, which would delight me even more. That was one of the things I missed the most in canon; we got Morals of the Week, but very little sustained development of that sort.

So there are my Avatar thoughts for the week. And if you are ever in an Avatar pick-me-up, just remember: Aang is Miaka.
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