Zuko

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Zuko
Avatar: The Last Airbender character
Prince Zuko.jpg
First appearance"The Boy in the Iceberg" (2005)
Created byMichael Dante DiMartino
Bryan Konietzko
Portrayed by
Voiced by
In-universe information
GenderMale
FamilyFire Lord Ozai (father)
Ursa (mother)
Azula (sister)
RelativesIroh (uncle)
NationalityFire Nation
Bending element
Age16 in Avatar: The Last Airbender

Prince Zuko (祖寇, Zǔ Kòu) is a fictional character in Nickelodeon's animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the character is voiced by Dante Basco in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Bruce Davison in The Legend of Korra, and portrayed by Dev Patel in M. Night Shyamalan's 2010 film The Last Airbender. He will be portrayed by Dallas Liu in the upcoming live-action Netflix adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender.[1] He is often cited as one of the greatest characters in animated children's television.

Zuko is the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation and a skilled firebender, meaning he has the ability to create and control fire. He is the eldest child of Fire Lord Ozai and the older brother of Princess Azula. Before the events of the series, Zuko is banished from the Fire Nation by his father and told he must capture the Avatar, a unique spiritually powerful individual who could threaten Ozai's plan for global conquest, in order to restore his honor and right to the throne. Zuko is accompanied and advised in his search by his uncle Iroh. At the beginning of the series, he is the primary antagonist opposing the Avatar. Over time, Zuko loses faith in the Fire Nation's war, feels guilt for his crimes, and begins to sympathize with those the Fire Nation has oppressed. In the later part of the animated series, Zuko joins the Avatar, teaches the Avatar firebending and fights to overthrow his father and restore peace. Zuko also comes to realize that Iroh has been more of a father to him than Ozai.

In "The Deserter", Zuko's name was listed on a Fire Nation wanted poster as "祖寇" (zǔ kòu). In "The Tales of Ba Sing Se", his name was written as "蘇科" (sū kè) on his segment's title card.

Appearances[edit]

Avatar: The Last Airbender television series[edit]

Book One: Water[edit]

In the first season, Zuko is introduced as the main antagonist, who is attempting to capture Avatar Aang in hopes of reclaiming his honor. Throughout the season he pursues the Avatar, at times both helped and hindered by Iroh. Zuko competes in his quest against Zhao, an ambitious Fire Nation admiral who is also attempting to capture the Avatar for political gain. When Zhao captures Aang, Zuko disguises himself as "the Blue Spirit" and rescues Aang from Zhao's fortress to prevent him from accomplishing his goal. Later, Zuko escapes an assassination attempt plotted by Zhao. During the invasion of the Northern Water Tribe, Zuko captures Aang, but both nearly die in a snowstorm before they are rescued by Aang's friends. Zuko encounters Zhao and attacks him, but the Ocean Spirit abducts Zhao before the fight is concluded. Zuko attempts to save Zhao from the Ocean Spirit, but Zhao is too proud to accept Zuko's help. Zuko survives the battle with help from Iroh, who betrayed Zhao to protect the water spirits. In retaliation for Iroh's betrayal and Zuko's failure to capture the Avatar, Fire Lord Ozai assigns Zuko's younger sister Azula to capture Zuko and Iroh

Book Two: Earth[edit]

In the second season, Zuko and Iroh travel the Earth Kingdom as impoverished refugees, pursued by Azula. After briefly quarreling and parting ways with Iroh, Zuko reunites with his uncle against Azula. After Azula wounds Iroh, Zuko nurses Iroh back to health and Iroh teaches Zuko the rare firebending technique of redirecting lightning. Zuko and Iroh travel to the walled city of Ba Sing Se and find employment at a tea shop in the slums. Zuko reluctantly adapts to his new life until he learns of Aang's presence in Ba Sing Se and attempts to steal Aang's pet bison Appa. However, Iroh convinces Zuko to abandon his quest and let Appa go. Azula infiltrates the city to stage a coup and arranges a trap for Zuko and Iroh. Zuko is imprisoned together with Aang's friend Katara, and the two share a brief moment of compassion before Aang and Iroh come to rescue them. Azula convinces Zuko to betray Iroh, Katara and the Avatar. In the resulting fight, Aang is mortally wounded, though later revived by Katara, and Iroh is arrested for helping Aang and Katara escape from the conquered city.

Book Three: Fire[edit]

In the third season, Zuko returns to his country a hero thanks to Azula crediting him with killing the Avatar. Zuko suspects that Aang survived and hires an assassin to ensure Aang's death to cover up Azula's lie. He resumes his romantic relationship with his childhood friend Mai, but continues to feel guilty and uncertain of his decisions. After he learns that his mother's grandfather was Avatar Roku, Aang's predecessor, as well as Azula and Ozai's plan to burn the Earth Kingdom to the ground, Zuko decides to turn his back on the Fire Nation and help Aang overthrow Ozai. He confronts his father about his cruel treatment and the Fire Nation's destructive effect on the world, before leaving to join Aang. Although they initially reject him, Aang and his companions grow to accept Zuko as a member of the group after he proves his loyalty to them. He trains Aang in firebending, and the two journey together to meet the last dragons, from whom they learn that firebending can be powered by the energy of life, rather than rage.

When Zuko is finally reunited with Iroh in the series finale, he tearfully apologizes for his mistakes and gets his uncle's forgiveness. Refusing the throne himself, Iroh suggests that Zuko become the next Fire Lord, citing Zuko's "unquestionable honor." Arriving at the Fire Nation capital with Katara, Zuko duels Azula for the throne. When Azula faces defeat, she forces Zuko to place himself in the path of a lightning bolt aimed at Katara, wounding him. Katara defeats Azula and heals Zuko. After Aang defeats Ozai and wins the war, Zuko becomes the new Fire Lord, promising world order and harmony with the aid of the Avatar.

Avatar: The Last Airbender comic series[edit]

The Promise[edit]

In The Promise, following Zuko's crown ceremony, seventeen-year-old Zuko asks Aang to promise to kill him if he ever becomes like his father. Aang reluctantly agrees. One year later, Zuko is working with the other nations to return captured colonial lands to the Earth Kingdom as part of the Harmony Restoration Movement. Kori Morishita attempts to assassinate Zuko in retaliation for forcibly relocating the multicultural residents of the Fire Nation colonies. Zuko travels to Kori's hometown, Yu Dao, where he meets people of Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom ancestry living and working together. Zuko becomes conflicted and consults with the imprisoned Ozai, who advises Zuko that whatever decision he makes is inherently the correct choice because he exercises the power of the Fire Lord. Zuko decides to break from the Harmony Restoration Movement. The Earth King responds with a military force of his own and Zuko is forced to lead troops to Yu Dao to protect the Fire Nation civilians. In the battle, Aang and Zuko clash. However, Katara convinces the Earth King that the colonies are neither Fire Nation nor the Earth Kingdom, but rather a multicultural people. Peace is restored, and Zuko realizes that forcing Aang to make the promise was a way of distancing himself from his responsibilities as Fire Lord. He releases Aang from the promise, and the two reestablish their friendship and trust.

The Search[edit]

In various flashbacks in In The Search, it is revealed that Zuko's mother, Ursa, was previously engaged to a man named Ikem in her hometown of Hira'a, but had to leave him after being pressured into marrying Fire Lord Ozai. Even after Zuko's birth, Ursa continued to write letters to Ikem, but Ozai intercepted the letters. Ursa, suspecting the interception, writes a letter claiming Zuko is Ikem's son rather than Ozai's. Ozai confronts her, and although he believes Zuko is truly his son, he retaliates by claiming to have ordered Ikem to be killed and stating he will treat Zuko as if he were actually Ikem's son.

A later flashback reveals that Ursa was responsible for creating an untraceable poison used by Ozai to kill Fire Lord Azulon in order to protect Zuko from Azulon. Ozai, fearing that Ursa would one day use the same poison against him, banishes Ursa from the palace the same night.

In the present, Azula reveals to Zuko she had access to the letters intercepted by Ozai. She uses her knowledge of their contents as leverage to be allowed to come with Zuko to find Ursa. Zuko and Azula travel with Aang, Katara, and Sokka to Hira'a. On the journey, Zuko tries to be more compassionate towards Azula, who suffers from erratic behavior and hallucinations following her mental breakdown. Zuko discovers the letter from Ursa stating that Zuko is Ikem's son, and begins to doubt if he is the rightful Fire Lord. Azula manipulates these doubts to weaken Zuko's resolve to be Fire Lord.

Zuko and Azula discover that Ursa is alive and married to Ikem, having had her memories erased and appearance changed by a spirit to relieve her of the pain of losing her children. Zuko is satisfied to know that Ursa is happy and is prepared to leave Ursa in peace, but with Ikem's encouragement, reveals to her that he is her forgotten son. Zuko also says that he is Ikem's son, but Ikem says that this is not possible, implying that he and Ursa never had intercourse before her marriage to Ozai. Azula attacks Ursa and Zuko and tries to persuade Zuko to give up the throne. Zuko reaffirms his commitment to his destiny as Fire Lord as well as their relationship as brother and sister. Azula's emotional and mental resolve breaks, and she flees into the forest.

Ursa chooses to have her memories and appearance restored by the spirit. Ursa reveals her past to Zuko, including that the letter claiming he was Ikem's son is false and that he is the rightful Fire Lord.

Smoke and Shadow[edit]

Weeks later, in Smoke and Shadow, Princess Azula secretly manipulates Ozai loyalists into taking actions against Zuko, including an assassination attempt and kidnapping schemes that target Zuko's family and allies. In response, Zuko begins making harsher decisions in an attempt to preserve security and authority. Zuko's decisions are criticized by his allies and citizens as excessive. This leads to protesting and rioting within the Fire Nation capitol. Zuko and his allies eventually discover Azula's plot. Before escaping, Azula says she has accepted Fire Lord Zuko's claim as rightful Fire Lord, and has also accepted her own destiny to shape Zuko into becoming a stronger and more ruthless leader. In a speech, Fire Lord Zuko apologizes to his people and asks for their forgiveness, patience and trust as he tries to become a better leader.

The Legend of Korra[edit]

Book One: Air[edit]

In The Legend of Korra, the multicultural region created in The Promise has developed into the United Republic of Nations. Lord Zuko, now eighty-seven years old, has abdicated the throne in favor of his daughter, Izumi, and travels the world on his dragon Druk as an ambassador for peace. He is commemorated by a statue at Republic City's Central City Station. His grandson Iroh (also voiced by Dante Basco) serves as a general of the United Republics' armed forces.

Book Three: Change[edit]

In Book Three: Change, it is revealed that Zuko worked with the Order of the White Lotus to keep major threats in check in the years before Avatar Korra was able. Most notably, he worked alongside Sokka, Aang's son Tenzin, and Korra's father Tonraq to thwart an attempt by the criminal Zaheer and his Red Lotus followers to kidnap Korra when she was a child. Fourteen years later, Zuko learns that Zaheer has become an airbender and escaped from prison. He enlists Tonraq and Korra's cousins Desna and Eska to keep Zaheer's partner P'Li from escaping, but fails to prevent P'Li from rejoining Zaheer. After Zaheer assassinates the Earth Queen, Zuko returns to the Fire Nation to protect Izumi. Zuko briefly counsels Korra he departs and is surprised to learn that the Avatar has spoken to his long-deceased uncle in the Spirit World. After Korra defeats Zaheer, Zuko attends Jinora's airbending mastership ceremony and expresses concerns about the lingering threat of the Red Lotus.

Book Four: Balance[edit]

Zuko makes a final non-speaking appearance in Book Four: Balance, attending the coronation of Prince Wu along with Izumi.

In other media[edit]

Zuko appears in the RE:Anime fan film Agni Kai, portrayed by Yoshi Sudarso, partially adapting the events of "Sozin's Comet" with the difference of Katara accidentally killing Azula.[2][3]

Creation and conception[edit]

The Blue Spirit design was inspired from a Dragon King Nuo mask from Chinese drama.[4] His mask was made blue, because the creators thought that a red mask would give away the Blue Spirit's secret identity to the audience too easily.[4]

Characterization[edit]

Personality[edit]

Zuko lives in a fantasy world where the human population consists of four nations: the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes, the Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation. Some individuals can telekinetically manipulate one of the four classical elements: water, earth, fire, or air; the art of controlling and manipulating an element is called "bending." The Avatar is the only individual who can bend all four elements. 100 years before the beginning of the narrative, Fire Lord Sozin, then the ruler of the Fire Nation, carried out a genocide of the Air Nomads as part of his plan to conquer the world for the Fire Nation.

A few years before the events of the series, Zuko voiced opposition to a general's suggestion that inexperienced Fire Nation soldiers be used as bait in a battle against the Earth Kingdom. Fire Lord Ozai, Zuko's father, ordered Zuko to submit to an Agni Kai, a ritual duel fought with firebending, to teach him respect. Zuko accepted the challenge believing that he would fight the general who proposed the plan, but instead he faced Ozai. When Zuko refused to fight his father, the Fire Lord mutilated his face, scarring him over his left eye, and sent him into exile. Zuko is told by Ozai that his honor and position would be restored only if he captured the Avatar, who at the time had not been seen for an entire century. Zuko's uncle, the decorated general Iroh, joined him as a companion and tutor.

Despite his youth, Zuko has demonstrated great agility and strength. His chief education in this is derived from his uncle Iroh; flashbacks reveal that Zuko's skills were subpar as a preteen, but that they improved dramatically under Iroh's tutelage. He is twice shown to be a match in combat to his sister Azula, although he lacks the emotional discipline to generate lightning. He is depicted throughout the series as both powerful and skillful in both martial and aesthetic applications of firebending.

Zuko is skilled in "Dao duel-wielding," as in the episode "The Blue Spirit" wherein he withstands a large number of adversaries. In "Avatar: The Lost Adventures," it was revealed that he studied under Master Piandao, his uncle's colleague and Sokka's master sword fighting instructor. Zuko has also demonstrated an ability in stealth and unarmed combat, as when able to infiltrate a Fire Nation fortress, the Northern Water Tribe's city, and the Dai Li's base in the Earth Kingdom without detection.[5][6] His proficiency at stealth was also utilized during the episode "The Southern Raiders" in which he and Katara stalked and cornered the former commander of the eponymous Raiders in his home village without revealing themselves. Avatar Extras revealed he has abnormal hearing and that he is also naturally gifted at playing the Tsungi horn (though he is never heard playing).

Firebending[edit]

Zuko is highly skilled in Firebending which utilizes Chinese martial arts techniques of Changquan, Shaolinquan, Lóng Xíng Mó Qiáo and Xing Yi Quan.[7][8][9][10] The series' creators consulted a professional martial artist in the design of the show's fighting style.[11] Firebending represents the element of power,[12] and is categorized as the most aggressive of the "four bending arts." Firebender discipline stresses self-restraint and breath control as a means of directing and containing the fire manifested. Poor breath control means dangerously poor control of any fire generated. For this reason, breathing exercises are one of the most critical first steps for beginning firebenders.[13]

Water is cool and soothing, Earth is steady and stable. But Fire... Fire is alive. Has the potential to create or destroy. It breathes, it grows. Without the Bender, a rock will not throw itself! But Fire will spread and destroy everything in its path if one does not have the will to control it!

— Master Jeong Jeong (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Fire can be used as a force of destruction, but is associated with creating and respecting life, as unlike the our elements, it is the only one that has a life of its own. The art of firebending is to control facilitate and understand that life. Firebending involves "external styles" that prioritize one's legwork (as opposed to the arms) and emphasizes "kicking over hand fighting"; the highly technical kicking strikes are meant to "extend as far as possible" without compromising balance. This is intended to sacrifice defense for optimized preemptive strikes and attrition warfare. Zuko's interpretation of firebending uses long, aggressive techniques that explode and drive through the opponent; quick, successive attacks that utilize momentary bursts of extreme "explosive" power; with fundamentally strong movements' and the usage of powerful, quick manoeuvres. This is depicted in the "Agni Kai" or fire-duels that Zuko competes in.

A century of warfare has corrupted the Fire Nation's rich culture, and with it, their firebending-styles were erased from history, being "regressed" into militarized format based on hatred and raw aggression; Zuko and Aang rediscovered firebending in its purest and most harmonious form, Dancing Dragon Style, from the last surviving dragons. Dragon Style is the bending art first practiced by the Sun Warriors, the earliest incarnation of the modern Fire Nation; for the Sun Warriors, fire is life, energy, and creativity, rather than destruction and hate. And by extension a true firebending master should be able to appreciate the life in all things.[14]

Critical reception[edit]

Dante Basco was praised for his portrayal of Prince Zuko.

Zuko's character has received overwhemingly positive reception from critics and audiences alike. He is considered by several critics to have one of the best redemption arcs in television.[15][16][17] Tory Ireland Mell of IGN thought it was "painful" to watch Zuko try to win the trust of Team Avatar as he was "completely vulnerable, and no one cared."[18] Mell found his reunion with Iroh to be "heartwarming."[19] Zuko was listed by Zach Blumenfeld from Paste as the best character from the Avatar universe, with Blumenfeld noting his complex transformation and redemption story over the course of the series. Dante Basco received praise for his portrayal of the character.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Avatar: The Last Airbender: Netflix Live-Action Series Reveals Cast and Creative Team - IGN, retrieved 2021-08-12
  2. ^ Re:Anime (March 24, 2020). "Avatar: The Last Airbender: Agni Kai – Re:Anime (Zuko vs. Azula)".
  3. ^ Muncy, Julie (March 29, 2020). "This Fan Film Reimagines Avatar: the Last Airbender's Final Agni Kai".
  4. ^ a b Konietzko, Bryan; DiMartino, Michael Dante (2010). Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Art of the Animated Series. Dark Horse. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-1-62115-798-4.
  5. ^ Director: Dave Filoni; Writers: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko (June 17, 2005). "The Blue Spirit". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 1. Episode 13. Nickelodeon.
  6. ^ "Zuko Alone". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 2 (Book 2). Episode 7. May 12, 2006. Nickelodeon.
  7. ^ The Lost Scrolls: Fire, page 159 of The Lost Scrolls Collection.
  8. ^ Ching, Gene (2012). "Kisu on THE LEGEND OF KORRA". Kung Fu Magazine. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  9. ^ "Nickelodeon's Official Avatar: The Last Airbender Flash Site". Nick.com. Retrieved December 2, 2006.
  10. ^ Director: Ethan Spaulding; Writer: Elizabeth Welch Ehasz (April 7, 2006). "Return to Omashu". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 2. Episode 3. Nickelodeon.
  11. ^ "Kisu - Filmography by TV Series". IMDb. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
  12. ^ Ehasz, Aaron (writer) & Spaulding, Ethan (director). (June 2, 2006). "Bitter Work". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 2. Episode 9. Nickelodeon.
  13. ^ Hedrick, Tim (writer) & MacMullan, Lauren (director). (October 21, 2005). "The Deserter". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 1. Episode 16. Nickelodeon.
  14. ^ O'Bryan, John (writer) & Volpe, Giancarlo (director). (July 15, 2008). "The Firebending Masters". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 3. Episode 13. Nickelodeon.
  15. ^ Hamilton, Kirk (September 18, 2018). "Avatar: The Last Airbender Is One Of The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time". Kotaku.
  16. ^ Bassi, Isha (October 3, 2018). "I'm Still Not Over Zuko's Redemption Arc On "Avatar: The Last Airbender"". buzzfeed.com.
  17. ^ Curran, Brad (June 21, 2020). "Avatar: Zuko's Redemption Story Is What Kylo Ren's Should've Been". Screenrant.
  18. ^ Mell, Tory Ireland (July 16, 2008). "Avatar: The Last Airbender: "The Western Air Temple" Review". IGN.
  19. ^ Mell, Tory Ireland (July 22, 2008). "Avatar: The Last Airbender: "Sozin's Comet" Review". IGN.
  20. ^ Blumenfeld, Zach (June 21, 2016). "The 20 Best Characters From The Avatar Universe". pastemagazine.com.

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