ATLA/LOK Major Fight Analysis: Part 1

So, for this blog, I'm gonna deviate from comparing the two shows and instead give my analysis of some of the major fights in both shows. Hope you find it interesting, maybe something worthy of some debate, etc.

The fights I'm gonna try to focus on are ones where:

  • The outcome was inconclusive/is debated (including ones where I see a clear victor but others might not/have not agreed)
  • Important character progression/development was shown
  • Something else about the fight is important
  • I just like the fight and want an excuse to talk about it

If possible I'll include a video of the fight I'm talking about, if not I'll try to include a picture or something.

So, let's get started

ATLA Book 1

1. Zuko vs Zhao

Zuko was introduced as the villain in the first episode of ATLA, and by the third episode we're already rooting for him to win like we would the hero. Gotta give the writers props for that. This is when Zuko starts to become an interesting character, more of an antihero than a true villain.

Compared to later fight scenes, this one's pretty basic. But if anything that makes this fight even better. We get to clearly see the Kung Fu basis of firebending quite clearly here.

The music is also very cool. I wouldn't be able to match many songs to the fights they were played in, but I recognize the Agni Kai theme.

It also seems appropriate that the series begins (sort of) and ends with Zuko in an Agni Kai.

2. Aang vs Bumi

I love this fight. For the first time in the series, we see two high-end master benders do battle, and it doesn't disappoint. Bumi pushes Aang to his limit, countering his airbending better than anyone had been able (or would be able) to do. He's the only legitimate challenge Aang faces in Book 1, and as a result, we get (I believe) the best fighting we see from Aang in book 1.

Plus anything with King Bumi is great

3. Aang (Appa, Katara) vs Zuko (June, Nyla)

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This is the fight from Bato of the Water Tribe, where Zuko hires June and the shirshu Nyla to track down Aang. This fight is probably the longest, most evenly matched fight we see between Aang and Zuko.

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I picked this fight as an important one for several reasons. One, it makes the martial arts basis of bending very clear. You can see the Kung Fu and Ba Gua in the gif above.

For those who haven't seen this video about martial arts and bending

I think the evenly matched nature of the fight shows a few things. One, Zuko is learning how to fight someone with Aang's style. He's keeping up with Aang's agility (not matching it, but not getting completely left behind either), avoiding his attacks, etc. It also shows that Aang is getting more accustom to fighting. He's by no means violent, but he is getting more comfortable with taking the offense and directly engaging an opponent. It is also an excellent example of how Aang holds back. While Aang is attacking Zuko in this fight, he is by no means using his full power. The gusts of wind he is sending at Zuko pale in comparison to his rock-shattering kicks or the tornado he used against Bumi.

4. Katara vs Pakku

Sorry it's a music video, but it was the best I could find easily.

Anyway, Katara vs Pakku. First waterbending battle, and one of 2 water vs water fights we get in the series. Definitely very different from the other fights we've seen so far, showing the Tai Chi elements. Katara hasn't been much of a fighter for much of the season, but in this fight we get to see how far she's come. While she's no match for master Pakku (who is really toying with her through most of the fight), she's come quite a long way, enough to impress Pakku. This is an important transition point for Katara becoming the bending powerhouse she is by the end of the series.

It is important to remember that Pakku was not seriously fighting her during this. When he decided the fight was over, it was over. This is not an insult to Katara's skills, but there's only so much you can learn from a single scroll. I've heard people try to say that Katara beat or held her own against Pakku, when that's really not the case.

5. Katara vs Zuko

This is the fight where we really get to see Katara shine and dominate. She's been training with Pakku for a while now, and it shows. Zuko is unprepared to fight a highly skilled waterbender and is taken aback by her abilities. She basically dominates the fight, though ultimately loses when Zuko surprises her by recovering with the sunrise. As a combatant, Katara still has some room to grow (she let her guard down and it cost her), though her bending skills are top notch.

ATLA Book 2

1. Aang, Katara, Sokka vs Huu

First, I'd like to take a moment to appreciate Huu. If I could pick one bender to see more of from ATLA, it would be this swamp bender. The guy is truly a master in terms of his strength and skill. He's like Iroh (both achieved enlightenment) and Toph (both invented/developed a unique style of bending) combined.

Anyway, the fight. This is a master level bending battle made all the better by Huu's very unique style, which is unlike anything the Gaang has ever faced before. Aang showcases some impressive moves, but the focus is really more on Katara, who for the first time is getting to pit her mastery of waterbending against a fellow master. We see her bust out some impressive moves, but the part I think many people forget is that, in the end, Huu had Katara beaten. She slices his plant monster up, but then he recovers and snares her with a bunch of vines. Then Aang makes it back, intervenes, they start talking, Avatar and spiritual stuff, etc.

So yeah, very impressive fight where Huu more than holds his own against the Avatar and a water bending master. He tags Aang multiple times, has Katara beaten, and the whole time didn't want to seriously hurt them either. Oh, and cool stuff from Aang and Katara too, I guess. That tornado move Aang uses is pretty nifty, as are Katara's water blade things.

But I love Huu.

2. Toph vs Aang

Honestly, this isn't really much of a fight, but I'm including it because it's been the subject of a lot of debate at points. Toph's strength has already been established, but in this fight we see her weakness-Aang. The guy is tailor made to fight someone like Toph.

I've heard people say that, if this fight had continued, or if Toph had known she wasn't fighting an earth bender, she would have won. Sorry, but I disagree. Sure, after Aang's first attack Toph would have realized she wasn't fighting an earth bender. That doesn't mean she would suddenly know exactly how to fight Aang or be able to counter his airbending effectively. If she had kept fighting, Aang would have eventually gotten serious, and Toph is in no way prepared here to face an airbender like Aang. She starts the fight serious but can't tag him. Aang doesn't want to fight but accidentally blasts her off the platform on reflex. That should make it very clear where Toph and Aang stand.

Toph is great and all, but Aang is her kryptonite. Sure she can adapt and learn, but that doesn't change that she's at an inherent disadvantage against Aang from the start.

The only way Toph could have won this fight is if she acted out of character and went all out with AOE and the like while Aang continued to hold way back. Even that's a maybe considering Aang's agility and defensive prowess.

3. Azula vs Zuko vs Aang (and friends)


Sorry, no.

Ok, let's take a look at this fight. Azula is clearly the dominant figure here, don't get me wrong. She handles Zuko easily, gets Aang pinned, and when everyone gangs up on her she escapes. She's good, I'll give her that. But she's not the invincible, Gaang-busting ultimate fighter some try to use this fight to say she is. Here's why

1st-Aang: Aang goes into this fight exhausted (the whole Gaang's sleep deprived by this point), so he's already not at his best. He tells Azula he's gonna stand and fight, but then Zuko shows up, and what does Aang do when the fighting commences? He turns and tries to fly away. Maybe it's cause he realized how much better Azula is than Zuko, or maybe it's because he didn't want to try to fight both Zuko and Azula. Either way, he quickly reverts back to his avoid and evade tactics, and that's really all he does for the entire fight. He jumps around, plays defense, and doesn't attack. There might be a couple brief wind bursts after he's joined by Katara and Sokka, but that's it. Really, Aang's not fighting anyone here. He's just running around until he eventually gets pinned down.

2nd-Katara: Katara joins the fight with just a pouch of water. Enough to rescue Aang from Azula? Sure. Enough to really be a viable threat? Not so much. So yeah, Azula was fighting Katara here, but with Katara the amount of water makes all the difference. So fighting off Katara in this instance isn't enough to indicate being able to fight Katara with a sizable water source.

3rd-Toph: So Toph has a perfect opportunity to take Azula down from behind and end the fight. But what does she do? She shifts the ground beneath Azula a bit. That's it, and honestly it seems pretty out of character for Toph. It's also worth noting that right after this is when Azula abandons all efforts to fight and starts to flat out run, she knows she can't take all four and she doesn't even try.

Let me repeat myself: she runs as soon as she's faced with the whole Gaang. She does not fight them, she does not solo them. She runs.

4th-the escape: Yeah, this is a pretty solid scene for Azula. She knows she can't fight everyone, and she manages to get away through cunning and deception. Good for her. But there's a couple things to mention. First, Iroh was in the middle of realizing that Toph was with the Avatar (would have been a bit of a surprise). Thinking like Iroh, he was also likely concerned that she would attack one of the kids if anyone. He wouldn't have been near as worried about himself (cause he's Iroh and he's awesome like that). So yeah, Azula tagged him, but it was more of a cheap shot than actually taking him down in a fight. Second, Azula blocking the combined attacks. Nice showing for her, but let's be clear-those were hardly anyone's strongest attacks.

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I mean, Aang's throwing out a very small burst of air, Katara's got her water pouch, Toph seems to be launching some dirt at her, and Zuko's got a relatively weak flame stream going. And Sokka's boomerang.

So yeah, she blocked 4 (5-boomerang) attacks, but they weren't exactly impressive attacks. They were the reactions of a startled Gaang + Zuko. Just to keep things in perspective.

In conclusion: Azula's good, and this fight shows it. But it doesn't make her a Gaang-buster

4. Azula vs Aang

This is, I think, the first time we see Aang use primarily elements other than air in a fight. It's one of the only fights I can think of where we see him bending more than 2 elements (the only other one being his fight with Ozai). Which is cool, but it's also kinda dumb on Aang's part. Logically, he should have blasted her off the drill with airbending from the beginning, not tried using small water whips. He has the strength and skill to do that pretty easily. Then again, Azula also could have killed Aang as soon as she blasted through his earth shield instead of taking time to enjoy the moment, so I guess fair is fair.

That being said, it is pretty cool to see how Aang fights without airbending. Makes for a welcome change of pace, even if it's not the most logical option. Azula also gets some nice moves from this, mainly her flip-kick-spin-whatever one.

5. Team Avatar vs Dai Li

Very cool fight scene. For fodder, the Dai Li are surprisingly competent benders (granted, sometimes they just stand still and let Jet come up and take them down, but overall they're pretty good). This is one of those rare times when nameless opponents actually present a real danger to team Avatar, and while it's always fun to watch the Gaang plow through hoards of Earth Kingdom soldiers and invade the palace, it's also kind of refreshing for them to face a legitimate challenge.

Toph's probably the star of this fight scene. Most people remember the bit where she took out 4-5 Dai Li in fewer seconds. However, not as many people remember what happened immediately after that scene.

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Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is Toph Beifong being tagged by the Dai Li and rescued by Jet. She's an amazing earth bender, but she's not untouchable or invincible. Always good to have a reminder of that.

6. Team Avatar vs the Earth Palace

This fight's pretty simple, and that's the beauty of it. It's just the Gaang plowing through anyone who stands in their way. They've grown into quite the formidable team, in stark contrast to where they were at the beginning of Book 1. Granted, the palace guards aren't exactly high-end benders, and sometimes they kinda just stand there to get knocked over, but hey-that's what fodder is for.

7. Katara and Aang vs Zuko and Azula

This one's far more complex than the Earth Palace invasion. I'm gonna discuss it in parts

Aang vs Zuko: This is the best fighting we've seen from Zuko in the entire series. He's had time to train with Iroh since fighting Azula, he's more composed than we've ever really seen him, and it shows. He uses exceptionally powerful blasts to shatter Aang's shield, massive fire whips, and overall is far more impressive in his fire bending than we've usually seen him. Aang starts out fighting with his airbending, and he's doing fine. Lands the first hit, evades Zuko's, etc. The problem comes when he starts trying to earthbend. When he drops that large rock to attack Zuko, he ends up doing as much damage to himself as he does to Zuko. Zuko recovers quickly and gets right back up, but Aang does't fully recover until after Zuko has traded places with Azula. Not the best move on Aang's part.

Katara vs Azula: You wanna rustle some jimmies? Bring up this battle. Ok, here we go. This is the first time Azula has really seen Katara in action, so it is possible she underestimated Katara's abilities. That being said, it still stands that Katara had a very clear upper hand in this fight. She blocks all of Azula's attacks, lands a shot of her own, then grabs Azula in her water arms. There are lots of ways to try to argue this, from "the fight was inconclusive and Azula could have escaped," to "Azula let it happen so Zuko would come over and she could switch places because she wanted to fight Aang" (I've seen someone try to use that before). The way I see it-it's pretty simple. Katara was winning, and there was no indication that anything would have changed without Zuko's intervention. Katara-1, Azula-0.

Azula vs Aang: Not so much of a fight as a short clash. Cool fire bending move from Azula, cool earthbending move from Aang. While I appreciate Aang's efforts to be more direct, in this case it was a mistake. He's tried to match Azula's strength with his earthbending before and failed, he tried to match Zuko's strength with earthbending and failed. When they charge up a large attack, he can't block or match it with earthbending. At least not yet.

As a side note: the Fire Nation is at war with the Earth Kingdom; Azula and Zuko know how to fight earth benders. Toph is an expert at fighting other earthbenders, not at fighting fire benders. Personally, I think this has something to do with why Aang's earthbending was never particularly effective against Azula or Zuko, despite being shown to be quite proficient even by the end of Book 2

Zuko (and Azula) vs Katara: Zuko and Katara clash for a bit, water whips vs fire whips. Nothing substantial, just enough to show that Katara can't fodderize Zuko. It is worth noting that Zuko is easily countering the technique that overcame Azula. Zuko's training with the dragons is often looked to as the point where he entered the next tier of fire bending, but I think it could also just as easily have been this fight. Anyway, they clash a bit, then Azula comes and together the siblings overwhelm Katara.

And then everyone knows how it ends, Dai Li, Avatar State yip yip, lightning, tears, Iroh, escape, end. I think pretty much everyone understands that Azula taking down Aang was a cheap shot only possible because he was in the process of unlocking the Avatar State. Still good for her.

ATLA Book 3

1. Sokka vs Piandao

This is Sokka's first (and really, his only) major fight scene. Throughout the series, Sokka's has tended to do relatively well in combat, but because his fights are usually against fodder and less impressive than bending they're easy to overlook. This episode, and this fight in particular, was meant to make it clear that, while Sokka's primary role is the strategist and comic relief, he is also a warrior worthy of respect.

This fight's also noteworthy as the biggest nonbending battle of the series. The only other one I can think of is Zuko vs Jet, but that wasn't as long or, imo, significant as this one.

2. Katara vs Hama

I think most would agree that this is the creepiest fight of ATLA. For a minor, one episode character, Hama left a huge impact on Avatar with her discovery of bloodbending.

Hama's a crafty, highly skilled master waterbender, but she's also old, bitter, and far from being in her prime. Katara, who Hama in a way sees as a younger version of herself and a way to continue her legacy, proves her talent by absorbing Hama's knowledge, overcoming her blood bending, and besting her in a brief but intense duel (the only true water vs water fight in the series other than Katara vs Pakku).

When Aang and Sokka show up, Hama forces Katara to become a blood bender herself. Once Katara takes that step into the darkness, she can never fully come back. There's a noticeable edge to Katara for the rest of the series that wasn't really present before she blood bent: the way she threatens to kill Zuko, her quest vengeance on those who killed her mothers, her confidence going up against an insane Azula. Her waterbending abilities have passed another test, and her confidence has grown because of it.

3. Team Avatar vs Combustion Man

I'm grouping the three fights together here because the basics of all of them are pretty much the same. Sparky Sparky Boom Man comes and blows everything up.

Combustion Man is the first real team-buster villain. (Yeah, not Azula. It's Combustion Man). He's quite simply on a level above anything the Gaang is prepared to deal with. A professional assassin, he's clearly quite capable, tracking down Aang in the middle of nowhere, setting a trap for him by baiting Toph, etc. It's easy to overlook, but he found Aang more easily than Zuko or Toph ever did with much less to work with. His fighting style is simple but brutally effective, and twice he forces the Gaang to run (This is the battle-hardened Gaang that swept through the Earth King's palace). Aang admits it in their very first encounter-they can't beat him.

Finally, there comes the third and final battle. Aang and Katara attack to no avail. Zuko tries to intervene, but he poses no threat to Combustion Man. Then, Sokka has his moment of glory. A well placed boomerang throw strikes Combustion Man, blocks his chi, and results in his explosion backfiring. Personally, I think this was the perfect way to deal with Combustion Man. The boomerang's range and angular attack made it perfect to get around Combustion Man's offense and take advantage of his (admittedly very convenient) weakness. Props to Sokka.

4. Azula and Dai Li vs Aang, Toph, Sokka


Sorry. Azula wank annoys me.

Anyway, this is a good showing for Azula. She's got some solid agility, and her manipulation skills are top notch. But this scene by no means makes her an untouchable powerhouse. I'd like to clarify a few things

First, Aang's offense is pretty weak in this fight.

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As a couple examples to highlight what I mean by this. He's capable of so much better. So yeah, Azula evaded Aang's attacks. Let's just keep in mind what those attacks were. She evaded the attacks he chose to use, that does not mean she can evade all of his attacks. There's no reason Aang shouldn't have been able to tag Azula with his better attacks. He just didn't, because...reasons, I guess. The power of plot.

Second, Azula did not evade multiple attacks from Toph. She evaded one attack. Was it a nice feat? Absolutely. But it was just one attack.

Third, the Dai Li were there helping Azula. Give the Dai Li credit, they're quite capable in this scene. Makes sense that Azula would pick the best to be her personal guards during the eclipse. We can't just forget about their impact.

This battle tends to get used to overrate Azula even more than the 3 way fight. Again, don't mistake this for me saying she's bad. She's not at all. But I'd like to keep things in perspective.

5. Zuko, Sokka, Suki vs Azula, Ty Lee

Zuko's first real fight with the Gaang, Suki's best fight scene, Ty Lee's last real fight, all in all this is pretty significant.

First, I'd like to acknowledge Sokka. Poor guy is a swordsman in a cartoon where he can't cut anyone. His options are therefore pretty limited. He does his best, but honestly he doesn't contribute much to this fight.

Second, Zuko vs Azula. If there was any doubt about Zuko being able to stand up to Azula, let it end now. Compare his performance here to his fight in the abandoned village. He handles everything she throws at him, returns in kind, and is overall evenly matched with her. You can see his fighting style has changed to reflect his time with the dragons. This fight makes it clear that the rivalry between Zuko and Azula will continue, but it is no longer one-sided.

Third, Suki vs Ty Lee. This episode was really Suki's turn to shine. She was good in earlier appearances, but nothing she had done would suggest that she was capable of stalemating Ty Lee. They go blow for blow, seeming as evenly matched as Zuko and Azula. It's pretty short, but also pretty significant for establishing Suki's abilities.

I don't have any proof of this, but it seems to me that Suki got better during her time in prison. There's only so much living on a small island can prepare you for, and when Azula and co attacked the Kyoshi warriors it was clear that, while the warriors were good, they were not in the same league as the Fire Nation team. Imo, Suki resolved to make sure she was ready for the next encounter, and she was. Training, fitness, idk what options she would have had in prison, but she seems to have done something, and it worked.

6. Zuko vs Azula (Air Temple)

If you wanted more proof that Zuko has risen to a level where he can match Azula, here you go. This fight's about as even as you can get. It's short, intense, and a great set up for the final Agni Kai.

I'd like to take a moment to appreciate the insane amount of luck Zuko had in landing on an airship when he fell. It's actually incredible.

Azula's starting to lose her composure here. She's always been something of a psychopath (or is it sociopath?), but here it's become quite clear. People often try to use that to discredit this fight as proof of Zuko being able to match Azula, saying that she wasn't fighting at her best because she was starting to go insane. However, if her fighting ability were significantly impacted, Zuko would have noticed. If he was able to see that she was slipping within a minute of talking with her before the Agni Kai, he surely would have recognized a decrease in her fighting abilities after actually fighting her. But he didn't, leaving us to conclude that Azula was still fighting at the same level.

6 The Sozin's Comet Battles:

That's Aang vs Ozai, Zuko and Katara vs Azula, Sokka and Toph and Suki vs the airship fleet, and the White Lotus vs Ba Sing Se.

Idk what there is to say here that hasn't already been said. These fights are beautiful and amazing. Awesome stuff all around.

Aang's fighting like we've never seen him fight before, using his earth and air in conjunction far more effectively, throwing in some water and fire at times (though earth and air are still his preferred elements). While it's not enough to overcome Ozai's relentless, enhanced offense, the fact that he's does so well with unenhanced bending is a credit to his abilities and growth.

Also, a moment to appreciate the incredible luck that Aang re-opened the Avatar State by hitting his back with an amazingly convenient rock. And the random lion turtle. Textbook deus ex machina, and I'm perfectly ok with it.

Azula vs Zuko is a beautiful fight. Really just very impressive. The roles have been reversed, and now it's Zuko who's calm and in control while Azula rages. Zuko is winning forcing Azula to attack Katara, lightning, etc. You all know what happens. Katara takes advantage of Azula's insanity to trap her, they win, the end.

Toph gets to really showcase her metal bending against the airships. According to real world physics she should have been roasted fighting enhanced fire benders in a metal suit, but this is Avatar, and it's wonderful. Sokka apparently learned how to operate the airship after they took one to escape Boiling Rock (I checked on that while writing this), and he puts that knowledge to good use.

RIP space sword and boomerang, though Sokka used you both impressively in the end.

Suki saves the day, not entirely sure how she managed that but she did

And last but not least, the White Lotus. A few old guys tearing through the Fire Nation, just perfection. The only problem with this fight is that it wasn't long enough.

Honestly, there's no reason the White Lotus had to go to Ba Sing Se. It could have waited, and the Lotus could have gone to help with one of the other battles. Just worth pointing out

Well, that's pretty much what I've got for ATLA battles. This ended up being pretty long, so I'll stop here and do LOK later.

Enjoy, debate, rustle some jimmies, and so forth