Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t just a fantastic animated show, it’s one of the best pieces of television ever produced (and if you loved it, you can check out our list of more shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender). It’s exceptionally well-plotted, has an incredibly intricate yet accessible world, great fight scenes, and characters you instantly fall in love with. But if you really think about the world and the show itself, you’ll start to find some things that are pretty messed up. Seriously, it’s about a group of small children on a dangerous and extremely emotionally stressful quest to save the world. That's objectively pretty horrifying.
When you delve into everything these kids have gone through, it’s easy to draw conclusions about the world that put them in that situation. Sure, the Fire Nation was pretty awful, but what about the forces of good that are constantly putting Team Avatar in harm’s way? Or the inherent classism associated with bending? For all of it's bright colors and madcap action, Avatar: The Last Airbender is much darker than you think it is.
Bending is an incredible power. It doesn’t matter what element you can control, if you can bend an element there are a lot of possibilities for you in the world. But if you’re just a normal person who doesn’t have access to the elements (which seems to be a majority of the population), then you’re kind of screwed.
Keeping up in a fight is more difficult, as is simply getting by. Think about it, why would a foreman hire a non-bending laborer to work on a construction site with their puny arms when a bender can move hundreds of pounds of stone by doing a little Tai chi? The only professional sport that we see in the series, pro-bending, can only be played by benders. So say goodbye to your dreams, normal athletic child mired in poverty. If you can't shoot fire out of your hands, you're basically human garbage. Benders, for the most part, rule the world.
To the credit of the writers, they do address this problem in the first season of The Legend of Korra. There’s a revolt among the "common" people against the benders and it makes a lot of sense. The terrifying name of this movement? The Equalists. They just want to be treated equally. Is that so much to ask?
The Avatar represents the balances of the four elements (fire, earth, water, and air), and the four nations they represent. The Avatar is so important to this balance, in fact, that Fire Lord Sozin starts planning a genocide the moment Avatar Roku dies.
Because an Avatar isn’t around to stop him, Sozin is able to invade most of the known world. Of course, from that day forward Sozin becomes paranoid another Avatar might show up to stop him. But seriously, if the world is that reliant on one person to keep it in line… it’s not much of a world is it? That would be like if there was one policeman in New York City.
So, if the entire world is subject to the whims of one person, the system of the Avatar universe has a pretty huge flaw: if the Avatar is a bad or unstable person then the world is at their mercy. Sure, Avatars are mentored by their past lives and are generally taught to respect all life… but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll listen to those influences.
Imagine if Avatar Roku had joined Fire Lord Sozin in his invasion of the world. A lot more damage would have been done.
Firebenders are strongest during the day, as they draw power from the sun. Waterbenders are strongest at night, as they draw power from the moon. Factor in the influences from comets, eclipses, and even solar flares and you have a very complicated time table required in order to keep track of all the best times of the year to fight.
The Fire Nation specifically engineers a lunar eclipse (they kill a fish that's also the moon, it's a whole thing don't ask) in order to invade the Northern Water Tribe. While that was a man-made event, waterbenders must get terrified any time there's a lunar eclipse that someone could murder their whole family. Ditto firebenders for solar eclipses. That would be a profoundly horrifying way to live.