Multiple outlets have gone on record to call “Avatar: The Last Airbender” one of the best animated series of all time. As with anything given “Greatest of all Time” status, there’s a number of separate but equally important arguments as to what makes “Avatar” a contender for king of the mountain. One example is how the characters introduced throughout the series each had separate stories to tell and plenty of time to flesh them out with extra details that all came together in the end.
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However, above all else, one of the most awe-inspiring aspects of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was the combination of martial arts fighting styles and the characters’ ability to wield the elements as if they were extensions of their own bodies. So, to review the highlights, here’s a list of the 15 best fights from “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
15. Aang vs. Bumi
Bumi was one of Aang’s childhood friends. However, 100 years of aging can make someone pretty unrecognizable. When Aang, Sokka and Katara visited Omashu, they got a meeting with the king who would later force Aang to complete a series of odd tasks; the last of which was a fight against anyone he chose. In an attempt to be smart, Aang didn’t choose either of the fearsome looking dudes with spears. He thought he’d make it easy and pick on the frail old man. Oh, how that was almost a grave mistake!
Bumi could throw boulders as if they were made of styrofoam and do a trust fall into the ground, just to pop up again 15 feet away and pull you underground, like some sort of killer gopher. Fortunately, Aang figured out who he was fighting and the two shared a loving embrace.
One of the common lessons of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was that nothing was as it appeared. Where one person saw a lovable flying bison, others saw a flying tank with six legs and horns. Where most people saw a helpless old man, a select few saw the greatest earthbender of the past century.
14. Katara vs. Pakku
After meeting Aang and deciding to help him learn waterbending, Katara and Sokka journeyed with him to the Northern Water Tribe, located at the North Pole, which was still very well in tact and even had its own waterbending master named Pakku. Upon meeting the children, Pakku agreed to teach Aang, but was so deeply rooted in the patriarchy that he sent Katara off to learn healing skills instead. It should be noted that Katara was the last known waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe.
Katara decided she’d had enough and, even though she knew she was completely outmatched, challenged Pakku to a duel simply to prove a point. She lost, but not after showing that she had a world of potential in her and Pakku decided to teach both her and Aang, despite the tribe’s longstanding traditions. This was also our first time seeing a bending master at work and witnessing just how capable they are.
13. Katara vs. Hama
With the introduction of Hama, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” went dark. Like, really, really dark. A former Fire Nation war prisoner from the Southern Water Tribe, Hama was the first waterbender from home whom Katara had met in ages. The two quickly bonded as Hama gave her a lifetime’s worth of waterbending tips in just a few days. For example, she told her how they’re at their strongest during a full moon. She also disclosed that she freed herself from captivity by bending the water in the blood of her guards, allowing her to control their every movement.
Katara was disgusted and noticeably terrified. When Hama realized that she wouldn’t be able to pass on her bloodbending abilities to a willing, gullible new pupil, she attacked. After Hama put Aang and Sokka immediately into the line of fire, Katara’s hand was forced and she used bloodbending to bring Hama down to her knees. Sure, Katara won the fight, but Hama’s final words to Katara left her in tears as she knew she could never forget how she took someone’s free will away from them.
12. Zuko vs. Commander Zhao
No matter which form of bending is your favorite, you have to admit that firebending is clearly very fun to watch. Every opportunity to watch two or more highly capable firebenders duke it it out is well worth the price of admission. The first unhinged fire duel (better known as an Agni Kai) on “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was between Prince Zuko and Commander Zhao.
Zuko’s story was pretty simple on paper. He was a disgraced prince looking to win back favor with his kingdom by doing the impossible; finding the Avatar. Zhao was the power-hungry military type looking to assert his power, push his weight around and climb up the ranks whenever possible. A confrontation was inevitable.
As the fight started, the older, more seasoned Zhao easily had the advantage against Zuko. However, the training Zuko received from his uncle Iroh made him far more level-headed than your average firebender. He soon used this advantage to turn the tide of the fight and show just how far he’d grown since he first dueled his own father years before.
11. Iroh and Zuko vs. Five Earthbenders
At its core, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is about war and how it changes people. Aang went from being a pacifist who hated fighting to the savior of the world. His kindred spirit on the road of peace would have to be Iroh, Zuko’s uncle and Firelord Ozai’s older brother. As viewers knew him for most of the series, Iroh was a peaceful man who seemed to like tea more than picking a fight with anyone. He also had a lot of wisdom. Then he got a chance to show a glimpse of what he was really capable of when he was arrested by some Earth Kingdom soldiers.
His nephew came to the rescue and helped Iroh get free, only for the two to be surrounded by five soldiers. After one of the soldiers decided to point out the obvious – that Iroh and Zuko were surrounded and outnumbered – Iroh confidently responded with, “Ah, that’s true. But you are clearly outmatched.”
What came next was a 30-second fight that was as brief as it was impressive. Iroh even managed to throw a boulder back at someone whose specialty is to throw boulders. Don’t worry though. No one could forget Iroh’s prison workout routine and the way he came up big later on.
10. The Blind Bandit (Toph) vs. The Earth Rumble Fighters
The title for this entry was almost “Toph vs. Everyone Dumb Enough To Fight Her.” While it surely would’ve fit the context of this list (because she may be the toughest person in the entire series), it felt like a bit of a cop out. So, instead, let’s focus on the first time we ever met Toph, back when she was “The Blind Bandit.”
If you thought Iroh and Zuko taking on five earthbending soldiers was impressive, what do you think about Toph taking on seven professional fighters and making them look downright silly? The wildest thing about this entire fight scene is that it’s already incredible as it stands, but you have to take into account that she’s doing all of this while blind. Instead of letting her disability hold her back, Toph went and learned how to earthbend from the also blind originators – the badgermoles.
9. Sokka vs. Piandao
Towards the end of the series, everyone’s fighting skills had gotten some serious upgrades. Aang could wield multiple elements, Katara was a master water bender with secret scrolls, Toph frickin’ invented metalbending and Zuko learned how to firebend without depending on his rage. Poor Sokka only had a boomerang. And he usually missed whenever he mustered up the confidence to use it.
While his other contributions to the group were surely appreciated, whenever it came time for a fight, he was practically of no help due to his lack of bending. At best, he was good for a distraction every once in a while. Fortunately, he had the opportunity to learn how to wield a sword from Master Piandao.
After all of his training, Sokka was put to the final test as Piandao attacked him with deadly force. For the first time ever, Sokka wasn’t only holding his own in a fight, but he was actually winning. At least for a moment. Piandao was a master, after all. Still, Sokka proved that half of fighting is all about strategy. I’m sure having a sword made out of a meteorite doesn’t hurt either.
8. Avatar Roku vs. Firelord Sozin
One of the standout episodes of the series took us back more than 100 years in the past to explore the friendship and budding rivalry of Avatar Roku and Firelord Sozin. The two were originally best friends until Roku was revealed to be the next Avatar, causing a strain on his friendship with the jealous Prince. As years passed, Sozin became the tyrannical overlord who would put the Fire Nation into power. However, it wasn’t easy. During his first attempt to spread his land’s borders, Avatar Roku paid him a personal visit. After Sozin wouldn’t listen to reason, Roku pulled out the biggest of all trump cards – the Avatar state.
By utilizing all four elements at once, Roku defeated Sozin, destroyed his entire palace and left him hanging in shame for the entire world to see, all in a matter of a few moments. Sozin would eventually get the last laugh, though, after he banished Roku to die in the poisonous gasses of a volcano. Bummer, right?
7. Aang and Katara vs. Zuko and Azula
While Azula and Zuko surely had their differences, the few times they could get on the same page, they were pretty much unstoppable. As compatible as Aang and Katara are, the bond between two untapped lovers lost out to that of two estranged siblings once they squared off. This fight saw every kind of bending that could possibly be used. Katara’s water whips cancelled out Azula’s fire, Zuko’s fire cancelled out Katara’s water. Aang surfed on a wave of rocks and sent a blast of air shaped like his body at someone’s face.
But, like all good tag team matches, it comes down to the numbers game. As soon as Aang and Katara started to get the upper hand, the Dai Li popped up and Aang got a lightning bolt through the chest.
6. Azula vs. Team Avatar
One problem with Aang being such a steadfast pacifist is that he often avoided fights he probably could have ended if he really wanted to. Instead of facing off against Azula, he let her chase him across the world to the point where he was sleep deprived.
This chase finally came to an end in an abandoned town where Azula, Zuko and Aang started off with a three-way battle. Azula’s blue flames would’ve surely ended Aang’s shortly lived Avatar life if Katara hadn’t stepped in to help. Soon, all of Team Avatar was joining forces against the Crowned Princess of the Fire Nation, along with a brief alliance with Iroh and Zuko, and attacked her all at once. Yes, even Sokka threw his boomerang.
The combination of air, earth, water, fire and – *sigh* – boomerang caused a huge explosion that practically destroyed the ghost town. It also showed us just how big of a threat the psychotic Azula truly was.
5. Zuko vs. Jet
While he was living undercover and trying to figure out who he was, Zuko caught the attention of Jet, the “by any means necessary” kind of freedom fighter that gets born out of every revolution. Being the observant, and honestly slightly paranoid, rebel that he was, Jet noticed Iroh heating up his tea with his firebending. To prove that the pair weren’t who they claimed to be, Jet attacked them in public, hoping to force them to fight back with their firebending.
Little did he know that Zuko had the best training in sword fighting that money could buy, given that he was raised in royalty with an military-trained overlord for a father. Zuko and Jet’s fight was one of the few in the series that didn’t include any kind of bending, but it was still one of the best with its beautiful choreography. Sometimes the simplest means are all you need to find excellence.
4. The Siege of Ba Sing Se
Imagine how quickly a war would be over if a super soldier were created or trained who could take on 150 men in one night without sustaining a single injury. Now imagine that super soldier had four other friends who were equally as tough. Now, last time, imagine those five men were all over the age of 50. Now you’ve got an idea of what The Order of the White Lotus was.
Throughout the series, Aang and his friends had encountered a handful of exceptional fighters, most of whom are benders, all of whom are capable of dealing out some excellent hand-to-hand combat. Who would’ve thought they all knew each other?
Five men managed to take back an entire city that was occupied by the Fire nation and the visual of them each holding down an entire street that converged at the city center was fantastic. This was also the first time that Iroh got to show us just what he could really do. And by that, I mean create and send a giant ball of fire the size of a small mountain flying through the air.
3. Zuko vs. Firelord Ozai
For a long time, the core part of Zuko’s identity was his banishment from the Fire Nation and the disapproval he felt from his father, Firelord Ozai. He spent years working to earn it back by trying to capture the elusive Avatar. Eventually, Zuko learned that he didn’t need the love of a neglectful father to begin with. It was actually a great lesson on toxic relationships.
Before this fight began, Zuko approached his father and Ozai immediately cleared the room as if he knew it was about to go down. This was during a solar eclipse, when firebenders don’t have the use of their powers. After Zuko told his father everything he needed to, Ozai decided to stall for time, waiting for the eclipse to end by telling him about his mother’s disappearance. As soon as he saw an opportunity and felt his powers had returned, Ozai sent out a bolt of lightning straight for his son’s chest. Fortunately, Zuko had been training in how to redirect lightning for such an occasion and sent it right back at his father.
Zuko knew he wasn’t a match for his father’s bending abilities, so instead of staying around and surely being killed, he fled for his life. Considering the stakes, that still counts as a mark in the win column in our eyes.
2. Zuko and Katara vs. Azula
We’ve already gone over how when Zuko and Azula are on the same page, they’re unstoppable. But when they were at each other’s throats, this leads to some epic fights for the ages, the kind that make your roughhousing with tour brother look like child’s play. While most of their previous fights came in the form of minor skirmishes, the Agni Kai that they fought in order to decide who would become the rightful Fire Lord (after their father promoted himself to Phoenix King) was one of the bets fights in the show.
At this point, Azula was already starting to spiral into her own insanity and crack under the pressure of the high standards she’d set for herself. She still managed to get the upper hand on Zuko after she attempted to blindside Katara with a bolt of lightning. While he was incapacitated, Katara took advantage of Azula’s arrogance and caught her in a trap.
Still, outside of the mental breakdown, Azula was possibly the best pound-for-pound fighter the show ever saw. She regularly took on the best combatants and came out on top. Perhaps that drive to be the best was her downfall, though.
1. Aang vs. Firelord Ozai
This was it. This was the fight the entire show was leading up to. Aang had mastered all four elements and had a slight grip on the Avatar state. While he would’ve liked to have more time to perfect his control, he was in a serious time crunch. Leading up to this fight for the future of the world, Aang didn’t know if he would be able to kill Ozai or not. He even asked all of the former Avatars for guidance and they pretty much unanimously said to put him down if he got the chance. However, Aang was 1.) a practiced pacifist and 2.) Not even a teenager yet!
When it came time for the fight, the battle was taken to the air as Ozai was 10 times stronger because of Sozin’s comet essentially acting like a second sun, allowing him to figure out how to shoot fire out of his feet like rockets. Fortunately, Aang made using the Avatar state look effortless.
Eventually completely overpowering Ozai, Aang passed up the opportunity to kill him. Instead, he forced Ozai into defeat and took away his ability to bend for the rest of his life.
That’s why Aang’s the Avatar and none of us are worthy.
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