It’s well known that Fire Lord Ozai isn’t winning “Dad of the Year” in the Avatar the Last Airbender universe, or any other universe. He is extremely controlling, manipulative and abusive. All of his relationships are based on how much influence he has on someone and if they make him look stronger or weaker. Anyone he cannot control and/or manipulate either dies or disappears.
Today, we will be taking a closer look into Ozai’s relationship with his son Zuko.
Zuko is Ozai’s firstborn son, and heir to the Fire Nation’s throne. Their relationship at first was okay. Ozai tolerated Zuko. Zuko even mentioned in one episode that there was a point in time where he, his mom, father and sister was happy. Ozai didn’t shout at Zuko or taunt him in any way, He didn’t spend much time with him either, but the times that they did spend together seemed to have been descent at least. Things changed drastically, however.
As Azula grew up, it became clear that she was a firebending prodigy like Uncle Iroh. The more she shined, the more Zuko looked worthless and weak in Ozai’s eyes. This is evident in a flash back where Zuko, Azula and their parents were visiting their grandfather, Azulan. Azula had shown off what she had accomplished in her firebending training. She was flawless in every move that she made. Zuko – wanting some recognition as well- had tried to show off his skills as well and was clumsy in his approach. This very much displeased Ozai. He had told Zuko “Your sister was born lucky. You were lucky to be born!” This was one of the first signs that Ozai often lashed out at Zuko for not being at the same level as Azula, therefore making Ozai appear weak.
Another reason Ozai mistreated Zuko was to hurt and control Ursa, his wife and mother to his children. Ursa had a feeling that Ozai was reading her letter before they were sent out. She tested her theory by writing a letter to her former lover saying that Zuko was his child, not Ozai’s. It was a lie of course and Ozai knew this. But in order to hurt and reestablish his control over Ursa, he made it clear that from then on, he would treat Zuko like he wasn’t his son and it was all Ursa’s fault. He -of course- made good on that promise. He never missed an opportunity to torture their son in Ursa’s presence.
When Zuko was thirteen, he attended a war meeting with his uncle Iroh, Ozai and their war generals. One general proposed a plan to use new soldiers as bait in order to distract and ambush their enemies. They would sacrifice their young soldiers if this was done. This did not sit well with Zuko and he spoke out against it. He was then told that he would have to fight in an Agni Kai (duel) since he spoke out of turn. Thinking he would fight the general he spoke out against Zuko readily agreed. It wasn’t until the start of the Agni Kai that he realized he’d be fighting his father, Ozai. When he saw this, Zuko refused to fight his father and apologized for talking out of turn in the meeting. This did not please Ozai, so he burned half of Zuko’s face, scaring him permanently. He also banished him from the Fire Nation. Zuko could only return home if he captured the Avatar, which was thought to be an impossible task since the Avatar was thought to be dead. It was only when Azula told Ozai that Zuko helped her kill Aang that he welcomed Zuko back home.
The relationship between Ozai and Zuko was very complex for young children. I liked how the writers and the animators for the show simplified it for their audience by showing rather than telling. Instead of having Zuko call his father manipulative, abusive and narcissistic, they showed that through flashbacks and interactions. Even the facial expressions that Zuko has while talking about his father shows how their relationship affected him.
I will talk more about how the team behind the show exposed their younger audience to more complex themes and narratives in another post. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this one, even if it’s a bit late. That did you think about Ozai and Zuko’s relationship? Leave your thoughts in the comments.