When we ranked our Top 10 Avatar characters, many of our favorites missed out on the final ranking. Here are several great characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender who didn’t receive enough votes to make the Top 10, but whom we still hold close to our hearts. Our honorable mentions.
Katy says: I must say that I expected more recognition for Avatar’s ubiquitous sky bison in this ranking. I mean, guys, the Cabbage Salesman? A mere gimmick. Appa? The loyal, fierce, lovable assistant to the Avatar, without whom just about none of Aang’s work could have been completed. Hardly a moment goes by without the image of that floating, giant body, arrows on head, floppy tail, big teeth — and best of all, the yawning growl.
Despite the fact that he flies Team Avatar from the southern Water Tribe to the northern and everything in between, Appa is more than merely a means of transportation. He’s one of the last remnants of the Air Nomads — and, in fact, an airbender himself (the show would be more accurately subtitled, “the last human airbender”). Appa can’t resist defending his friends in a fight, licking them to cheer them up, or snorting if they’re being dull (even his slouchy sky-glide feels a bit sardonic). And how can you not love his friendship with squeaky Momo?
A notable episode for this character is, of course, “Appa’s Lost Days”, which depicts his time away from Aang. As one might expect from Appa, he can only be held in captivity for so long, until he dramatically escapes, survives on his own, and with some help, heads back toward Aang – as he always does.
Sorry you didn’t make the ranking, buddy. You’re top ten in my heart. Yip yip.
Koh the Face Stealer
Dan says: Sometimes a one-shot character is so instantly memorable, so apart of a show’s culture, that it’s easy to forget they only appear briefly. (For example: Did you know that Gene Parmesan only appears in one episode of Arrested Development? Oh, Gene!)
I’m always surprised when I remember that Koh only appears for a few minutes in just one Avatar chapter (“The Siege of the North”). The face-eating spirit packs such a punch that his presence seems more significant than it actually is. He’s, in my opinion, one of the most creative and inspired creations of Avatar‘s world, and certainly its most terrifying.
There are a few layers to the fear Koh inspires. It starts with simple appearance: The giant, bug-like body with a human face is unsettling, even before you get to the face-switching. The way his facade flickers like the blink of an eye or the click of a pincer sends shivers down my spine. The looming threat of violence, of losing your face and having it possessed by this creature, is the stuff of nightmares. Erik Todd Dellum’s haunting baritone only heightens the aura of dread.
But it runs even deeper than that. The coup de grâce of Koh’s design is that he steals your face if, and only if, you express emotion around him. Koh, in a vacuum, is not a threat. It’s you who poses the danger. The show wisely remembers that no monster is scarier than the one in the mirror, staring back like the Nietzsche’s abyss. FDR’s inaugural address has never been more accurate.
Will says: Jet exists as a contrast to Team Avatar; he similarly had his family taken away from him at a young age, but instead of trying to save those oppressed by the fire nation, he seeks to harm innocents only because of their affiliation with the Fire Nation. I can’t say that I particularly like Jet as a character. However, it’s impossible to deny the shading he adds to the show and the subsequent depth it adds to the characters of Team Avatar — especially Katara.
Throughout The Last Airbender, many characters share the goal of overthrowing the Fire Lord. Yet the heroes encounter time and time again the ‘wrong’ ways of going about their rebellion, and Jet is a personification of that. When Katara seeks revenge on the man who took her mother, Aang remarks that she is acting like Jet, which upsets her, reminding us how easily anger can warp your world.
Jet is tragic not only because of his misguided rage and the twisted ways he seeks to fight the Fire Nation, but also because he dies. Yes, Jet dies. It’s shocking that the writers would actually kill a good guy in a “kids” show like Avatar, and they leave his death a bit vague, something that they poke fun at in the play at Ember Island:
Zuko: Did Jet just… die?
Sokka: You know, it was really unclear.
Brian says: When a hostile, bearded man starts yelling that he’s going to kill the moon, you avoid him. But when he actually SUCCEEDS…you have to respect him. In our podcast, Dan argued that the plot of the Season 1 finale relied too heavily on supernatural elements such as the hybrid Ocean Spirit / Avatar kaiju thing. To me, that seemed pretty par for the course in the Avatar-verse. What bugged me was how easily the protagonists managed to REPLACE THE MOON. Guess they just keep a spare one handy, like lightbulbs in a janitor’s closet. To have Zhao (presumably) killed, only for his most menacing accomplishment to be immediately undone, felt anticlimactic. Fortunately for any die-hard fans of the gruff general, an impressive, deeply detailed fan comic explores Zhao’s “further adventures,” presuming the notoriously vague depiction of “dying” in TLA didn’t actually do him in.
Dan says: Mai is my favorite member of the Fire Sorority (does the Azula-Mai-Ty Lee trio have an official name?). Like so many Avatar characters, she starts as an exaggerated stereotype before evolving into a fairly in-depth character. Initially just a sullen counterpoint to the vivacious Ty Lee, we eventually learn that her apparent apathy is a product of her resentment of her nurtured upbringing, and that she fell hard for Zuko, who had an equally hard time squaring with his royal privilege.
In one of the show’s most underrated moments, Mai betrays Azula in “The Boiling Rock” to prevent Zuko’s gondola from plummeting into a canyon — preventing the death of half of the Aang Gang. By “saving the jerk who dumped me,” her compassionate side finally shows itself, and Mai cements herself as a brave, worthy companion to my favorite character on the show.
Of course, I’ll freely admit I rank Mai higher than many might. I have an irrational soft spot for monotone, sarcastic brunette TV characters (see: Ludgate, April and Klein, Casey), as well as angsty, dagger-based warriors (see: Raphael).
Rebekah says: Even though his appearances are brief, Avatar Roku’s persona and character added immeasurably to the authenticity of The Last Airbender. He was stern, strong, and upright, but that “fire nation” stiffness had been softened by a desire for genuine friendships.
For instance, Roku chose to give Firelord Sozin an extra chance, even though it ultimately cost him his own life. He also, out of all the previous avatars, made the most effort to connect with Aang. Avatar Roku was strong enough to admit his own faults, hard as that must have been, and even after death was willing to actively help in finding a solution. He messed up for all the right reasons. He kept fighting. He put himself last in any equation. And, as an added bonus, his history is a perfect subtle foreshadowing of the direction Aang’s own story might take. He, like Aang, struggled with whether to pardon Sozin’s crimes or deal out justice, and his choices affect Aang’s own decisions. Roku’s relationship with Sozin helps set up the possibility of Aang’s friendship with Zuko, and even manages to showcase a more human side of the Firelord. Because of Roku, we are reminded that Avatars can make mistakes, that power is a hard burden to bear, and that there are fire benders (besides Iroh) who sincerely want what is right.
Patrick says: The Boulder is an interesting character for several reasons. For one, he experiences significant character growth across multiple episodes despite being only tangentially related to the main plot. More importantly, The Boulder is hilarious: His name is a play on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and he speaks in the third person, using the sort of stage voice made famous by personalities like Macho Man Randy Savage (best exemplified by this video).
The Boulder starts out as a foil for The Blind Bandit arc, wherein Toph beats up all these big muscular men as a little blind girl. He has some of the best monologues in the series in his first episode, and his lines are eminently quotable. If that was the end of The Boulder, it would be enough for me to like him.
Instead, we see The Boulder come back in the next season, to help the Avatar and reunite with the little girl who beat him. The last time we see The Boulder is when he sacrifices himself so the children can live, a total switch from the petty kidnapper and selfish showman he was earlier in the series, thus exemplifying the theme of redemption common throughout the series.
There are no take-backsies in my kingdom!
Will says: For a character that only appeared in three episodes (five, if you count the finale parts as different episodes), King Bumi — who, I may point out, was never portrayed as royalty, so he probably earned his title — is remarkably memorable and influential on Team Avatar. Aang’s only still-living friend from before the war, Bumi is the self-proclaimed greatest Earth Bender in the world. Although Toph may have some claim at the title, there is no doubt that Bumi is certainly a contender. His single-handed liberation of Omashu is one of the most impressive displays of bending in the entire series.
Even more remarkable than Bumi’s incredible bending is his unorthodox philosophy and crazy personality. His declaration that the defenders of Omashu should do “nothing” when they’re invaded — while initially depicted to be a product of his mad personality — was shown to have a keen wisdom of its own: strike when the time is right. Crazy but wise — that’s Bumi in a nutshell.
Bumi also comically places a lot of value in Momo, pointing out that “a very important member” is missing from team avatar when they meet up during the final battle. Bumi as early as the fifth episode of the show hints at one of the show’s recurring themes: that strength and bending alone will not be enough to defeat the Fire Lord. He encourages Aang to think like a mad genius in order to best deal with the Fire Lord.
Bumi also establishes himself as an elite in the world as a member of the White Lotus, and, when asked how he knows the other masters, Bumi simply claims that “all old people know each other.” With his crazy wisdom and powerful bending, Bumi could have been as influential a character as Iroh if given as much screen time.