The popular streaming service Netflix recently added a personal favorite children’s cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and the timing of this wonderful show could not be more pertinent. With so much confusion and a lot of discouragement in the world currently, many young adults have quickly gravitated to re-watching an old cartoon from simpler times. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” follows the story of a young boy named Aang, a monk who has the incredible ability to bend air. The concept of “bending” in the show is key to the plot. In the cartoon’s universe, certain people have the special ability to manipulate or “bend” elements such as water, air, fire, and the ground. This led to a formation of nations based on their bending ability, a Fire Nation, Water Nation, Earth Nation, and Air Nation.
As the nations have wars and quarrels, the universe chooses an “Avatar”, who has the ability to bend all of the elements to help maintain peace between the nations. At a point in history when the current Avatar was most needed, he disappeared and was never seen of again. Many years later, it appears the universe has once again chosen an Avatar, the young boy Aang, to bring back peace between the four nations.
Throughout the story, viewers learn about powerful concepts such as forgiveness, change, and overcoming insurmountable obstacles. There are many reasons why members of the Church have a special place in their hearts for this television show, but much of it can be tied back to the principles of the Gospel that are found within this rich story. For those who haven’t seen this beloved show, a warning that there are spoilers ahead!
Uncle Iroh and Unconditional Love
One of the most beloved characters of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is Uncle Iroh. A veteran of many wars as a general in the Fire Nation, he is a soft and kind man despite the destruction he has witnessed. Iroh lost his son in one of the many battles, and this loss deeply touched his heart. Throughout the show, Uncle Iroh is desperately trying to dissuade his nephew, a prince of the Fire Nation, from relentlessly hunting the Avatar to restore his honor. Prince Zuko, at first, is an angry and aggressive man. His kind Uncle tries to teach him that only pain follows that sort of anger, and eventually, Zuko is forced to face the consequences of his violent actions.
In a reunion with Uncle Iroh, Zuko fully expects his Uncle to angry with him because of his actions as he stutters through a pained apology. Immediately Uncle Iroh embraces him, forgiving him of those mistakes, and giving him hope that he can change and become a better man. This story is familiar to all Christians about the abundant love of God, especially as seen in the parable of the prodigal son.
Uncle Iroh is voiced by Mako Iwamatsu, a famous Japanese actor. Sadly, Mako passed away mid-production of the show due to throat cancer, but a final tribute was paid to him in a song sung by Uncle Iroh. The song was the final recording of Mako Iwamatsu, and shows Uncle Iroh singing to a grave of his deceased son. It captures the message of Uncle Iroh, which is to love others unconditionally and forgive those who have wronged us.
Aang and Humility
Aang, a young boy called to save the world, is a powerful example of humility and trusting in what you have been called to do. When Aang begins his journey, he’s a goofy and eccentric young kid. By the end of the series, he has faced countless obstacles and experienced losses amongst his triumphs. In order to learn the four elements needed to save the world, Aang has to be taught by a variety of trainers, many times having to humble himself to learn effectively. This is a similar principle taught in the Gospel and recorded in Ether 12. The Lord tells us that He gives us weakness that we can be humble, teachable, and find strength in His love.
We can also take confidence that the Lord will qualify who he calls. President Thomas S. Monson once said, “When we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help. Remember that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.”
Reverence for Creation
In “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, there is a theme that the world in which we live is very much alive. The elements that are “bent” are deeply connected to the living, and everything has a much deeper meaning. Our Heavenly Father created this beautiful world for us to live in that we may have joy (2nd Nephi 2:25). Especially in today’s circumstances, it can be easy to forget that there is still so much beauty that surrounds us just outside the door. The themes of nature and elements within Avatar can remind us, like the Gospel, that we should take time to enjoy this beauty.
The Lord Strengthens Us
In this beloved series, the most unlikely of heroes save the entire world. Sometimes in our daily lives, it can feel like the world is against us, and that the difficulties we are facing will last forever. The Lord reminds us countless times in the Book of Mormon that He loves us deeply, and will always be there to strengthen us. In some of the bleakest moments of Avatar, the young heroes are reminded of a similar concept as they rely on their loved ones for support, and persevere despite the difficulties. The Lord tells us that many times He cannot simply take our problems and difficulties away, but that as we move forward He strengthens us and helps us achieve whatever He has asked us to do.