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.
Ghosts Are Real, And They Can Literally Rip Off Your Face
The Spirit World is a pretty f*cked up place. A lot of it is dark, lonely, and humans can get lost there for all eternity. It's also home to the accurately named Koh The Face Stealer. First off, he’s a giant centipede-like creature. Ew.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, if one shows any emotion around him he’ll rip off your face and keep it for himself. And yes, he totally has a huge collection of faces. So that's charming. Additionally, after he takes your face he can wear it himself whenever he wants. For reference, this show was rated TV-Y7. Does this sound like appropriate material for a seven-year-old?
The War Has Gotten So Bad, Children Have Resorted To Terrorism
It's a bad time for the world at large at the beginning of the original series. The Hundred Years War has ravaged nations and torn apart countless families. Unfortunately, that means a lot of orphans. The problem is so bad, in fact, that some orphans formed their own terrorist group. Or maybe they're noble rebels. Depends on your perspective, but either way they do some pretty jacked up stuff.
Led by Jet, the so called "Freedom Fighters" were driven by hatred for the Fire Nation and went to extreme lengths to lash out at firebenders everywhere, regardless of military association. In the episode “Jet,” Team Avatar has to stop the group from wiping out a Fire Nation-occupied Earth Kingdom town full of civilians (including women and children). You know things are bad when even the children get that desperate.
An Adult Can Legally Challenge A Child To A Duel To The Death
The Fire Nation is not a forgiving place, even to its royalty. Take Prince Zuko, who spoke out of turn during a strategy meeting that his father (the Fire Lord) held. For that relatively small transgression, Zuko had to fight his father in an Agni Kai – a Fire Duel.
When Zuko refused to fight, Fire Lord Ozai burned his face, scarring him for life both physically and emotionally. Disgraced from the duel, Zuko was exiled from his home and sent on an endless fool's errand. Oh, and he was like 15 at the time. Not what most would call good parenting.
Children Are Often Imprisoned With Full-Grown Adults
In most modern societies, there are jails exclusively for young people. It's very progressive. After all, sticking underage offenders with hardened criminals is probably a really bad idea for all parties involved. It's pretty difficult to imagine that situation going well. But in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender… that doesn’t matter so much.
Team Avatar, despite the fact they’re minors, gets imprisoned on several occasions in some pretty awful places. The most notable of these prisons is the Boiling Rock, which had no problems with putting 15-year-old Suki in with some of the worst criminals in the Fire Nation.