Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Spoilers: Up to and including The Boiling Rock (3.15), and a mention of The Ember Island Players (3.17)
Notes: Images from AvatarSpirit.Net, Iroh.Org, whoresque/ViolentRed.Net. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the fandom section, it wouldn't be complete without all of your help! Also: beware the mini-novel-this thing is 6,875 words. Enjoy!
you mean you don’t know the boy in the iceberg?
So. What is Avatar, exactly? At first glance, it may seem like another fighting anime rip-off Nickelodeon has concocted to draw a greater portion of the 6-11 demographic of the American population. However, this could not be further from the truth. Avatar: The Last Airbender, created by the amazing Michael Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko, is an epic tale of the journey of Aang, the world’s last Airbender. Avatar addresses many modern moral and ethical issues in the guise of a pre-industrialized world, and beautifully implements many cultural, philosophical, and spiritual facets of Eastern culture to create a truly well crafted children’s television series.
Even the title itself is a clever nod to the Hindu concept of “Avatars”, individuals who, in the Hindu philosophy, come to Earth in times of dire need to save its people from destruction. The Avatar world is divided into four nations—the four elements. In Aang’s time, the world has suffered through the strife of war for the past 100 years, as a result of the Fire Nation’s attempt to conquer all other nations. Although some citizens of each nation are “benders”, possessing the ability to manipulate the shape of the element of their nation, they are limited to that one element. The Avatar, on the other hand, has the power to bend all elements. They are not born with this ability, however; they must learn it. It is Aang’s duty—and destiny—to restore balance and peace to the world, and in order to do so, he must master in one year what takes other Avatars decades to perfect. Throughout his journey, Aang encounters many other people, and through the spirituality, alone time, awkward moments, and “significant looks” that are found in almost every episode, for those who are eager to do so, it is impossible not to find at least one ship to sail on. And one, in particular, stands out clearly to me—the good ship Zutara.
Ahh, Zutara. My guilty pleasure, the reason I joined zutarotica as soon as I turned eighteen, the source of a lot of gorgeous fanart, and possibly one of the most controversial, albeit popular, pairings in the Avatar universe. Katara, the headstrong and stubborn young woman who has been thrown into a most life-changing situation, and Zuko, the exiled Fire Nation prince who seeks to regain his honor and place in society, make a very intriguing pair.
There are all sorts of sailors on this ship—the rabid and irrational, clinging to every little bit of “evidence” taken out of context, those who ship it simply because of the delightful fanworks, and those who find every interaction between these two seemingly but not truly polar opposites to be utterly fascinating. Until quite recently, the Zuko/Katara ship, more than any other in the Avatar fandom, is based on a limited number of actual “canon” interactions and thousands of little “fanon” analyses.
Potential was where the action was—potential, in fact, was the buzzword that truly characterized Zutara and all it stood for—what if, could have, would have, should have. It is one of the many reasons I am drawn to this relationship, and after the events of season three up to this point, I am intrigued even more than ever before. What I want to accomplish in this manifesto is to analyze the cultivation of the understanding between Zuko and Katara, the implications of their relationship, reaffirm the reasons why other shippers such as myself love the Zutara ship, and hopefully convert a few wary travelers who fear or avoid this ship to climb aboard and simply enjoy the ride.
As there is a lot of ground to cover regarding the nuances and inner symbolism of the relationship between Zuko and Katara, I am going to break it up into roughly three sections, titled by three benchmark episodes that mark changes in their relationship to each other—The Waterbending Scroll, Crossroads of Destiny, and Western Air Temple. The first section will introduce their characters, as well as analyze the dynamics of dominance between them and how it changes throughout the series. The second section will address the influence of Zuko and Katara’s individual elements, past relationships, and their life experiences, and thus how these two externalities drive their motivations and reactions to each other. The third section will address their relationship as it currently stands and where it could go from here, and there will be an additional sub-section that analyzes the fandom itself as well as provides links to fanart, fanfiction, and AMVs.
So let's get started! :)
No one can give you your honor
it’s something you earn for yourself by choosing to do what is right
No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night
Uncle Iroh: If you keep an open mind and an open heart, I promise you will find your own destiny someday.
Moody. Determined. Angsty. Stoic. Short Tempered. Confused. Scarred. Tragic. Impatient. Socially Inept. Dorky.
What do all of these characteristics have in common? That’s right, they all describe Prince Zuko, the ultimate antihero-other than Severus Snape, of course. (But that's another story)
Admittedly, many of the adjectives listed above characterize typical adolescents experiencing growing pains. However, although Zuko could have been just that—a normal teenager—Zuko’s got enough emotional family baggage to land a spot on Dr. Phil, Oprah, Maury, and Jerry Springer, what with a psychotic little sister hell-bent on getting everything she wants through a sadistic combination of political manipulation and electric violence, an insane father who wants to make a conquest of the whole world, and a beloved mother who has disappeared without an explanation but who may still be alive. Oh yes, and that very father scars him, presumably for life, and sends him on an impossible quest, just because Zuko embarrasses Ozai in front of several important warlords and politicians.
It is no surprise, then, why Zuko acts the way he does. Fortunately, he still has one constant in his life—Uncle Iroh. Although an initial glance at Iroh displays a hedonistic old man who likes the easy life, Iroh continually provides Zuko with insightful advice and provides the one thing nobody else in his life has the moral strength to provide for him—support. Iroh understands the inherent dangers of fire and using anger as a center for both bending and channeling a purpose in life. However, Zuko must discover this for himself. No matter how much wisdom Iroh shares with him, it is an individual journey.
The show might be called Avatar: The Last Airbender but it revolves just as much around the catharsis of Zuko from a vengeful and angry young warrior to a young man aware of the delicate balance of his world and how destiny doesn’t always take a straight, predictable path. Zuko truly learns that sometimes taking chances is absolutely necessary for a happy life, and that the visions others have for someone do not necessarily dictate the decisions one has to make. Ultimately, the conflict is completely internal, and it is up to him to decide what side—and what destiny—he wants to take.
Zuko faces many obstacles and deceptions along the way. The greatest one is the illusionary burden of lost honor that he carries with him for three years, which weighs him down and blinds him to the truth. During the second season, he begins to realize how truly blind he has been and the depth of the wisdom of his Uncle, but when Azula hangs the bait of regaining his honor by joining her right in front of his face, it is a hard prize to resist. At this time, he makes the wrong decision. And at the time, it seems that he is beyond redemption, and that he can never overcome the war that plagues him inside. However, when Zuko confronts his father during the Eclipse and successfully redirects the lightning, we can see that he has finally won his internal battle. He is at peace with the decision he has made. The only thing left to do now is to follow through on it.
There are so many tragic and serious problems that Zuko has that I love the juxtaposition of his utter dorkiness and social awkwardness along with his epic determination and drive. That stupid expression he makes when he's rehearsing his conversation with the Gaang, his complete lack of self confidence in situations involving normal teenagers (as evidenced in episode 3.05, The Beach...Zuko shares the same everyday struggles that many of us face that we can almost relate to him, even as the extraordinary challenges he has to experience continue to pile up.
my whole life, katara's been the one looking out for me-she's always been the one that's there
Fiery. Idealistic. Faithful. Annoying Younger Sister. Bossy. Maternal. Serious. Loyal. Judicious. Determined. Reserved.
These words describe Katara in a nutshell. This blue-eyed spitfire, the last waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe, has a mind of her own and isn’t afraid to let anyone know what she thinks if they dare to get in the way of anyone she cares about. Her life has been anything but easy. Having lost her mother at an early age and having a confused older brother, a warrior for a father, and an aged grandmother, Katara is forced to learn how to get her wits about her quickly. She learns responsibility quickly, but it isn’t easy. Furthermore, life is made harder by the fact that she possesses an ability unique from anyone else in the tribe—she can bend water. She also has a rare skill even among other waterbenders-that of a healer.
Because nobody else in Katara’s community has any of the same skills that she does, she feels rather an outcast. It doesn’t help that her brother thinks that she is a bit of a freak, although he does respect her deep inside. And it seems that life will go on in this way, until she finds the boy in the iceberg. From that moment onward, although she doesn't know it at the time, her life will change forever. Once she does, though, Katara never looks back.
Now, she realizes, she has a duty. And it is to believe in Aang and support him through all his struggles. Katara completely accepts her own destiny, but at the same time, it’s hard when she’s experiencing her own growing pains. Katara wants to be the best waterbender she can be, and for a time, she gets jealous when Aang masters certain waterbending techniques more quickly than she does, even though she tries and tries.
Eventually, however, under the instruction of Master Pakku (whom she gets to respect her through that gumption and determination that is key to her method of getting whatever she needs), Katara achieves a great amount of skill and becomes a waterbending master in her own right. She also learns a little bit more about patience and thoughtfulness in the process.
Katara is all about justice and always doing the right thing. However, she is a bit of a hypocrite in doing this. Even though she condemns Toph for scamming gamblers and cheats, she finds it perfectly acceptable to disguise herself as a spirit in order to secretly help poor Fire Nation villagers. Although the action in and of itself is admirable, Katara doesn’t take into account the fact that by hiding her actions from the others, from the others, she is hindering them in the bigger picture. By taking her own group’s supplies to help others who might not even have any gratitude for her actions if they find out who she truly is, Katara is hardly behaving rational.
But therein lies the beauty of her character—the idealism, the drive to bring justice wherever she goes. Katara is the perfect person to fill the role she must. It is true that she is extremely bossy, constantly nagging at Toph and Sokka for their silliness, and a bit of a worrywart, but she is faithful beyond belief, and she will always go the distance to fulfill her duty and keep the peace.
how do they decide who wears the pants in this relationship?
So here we have two characters with what my AP English teacher would call “very strong personalities.” This pretty much means that if these two are forced to confront each other, neither will back down. Of course, we know better. In fact, the question of “who’s on top” has amused many Zutarians and led to hilarious fanart regarding the situation.
Of course, depending on the situation, Zuko and Katara can do both. Personally, I think it’s a sign of a healthy relationship—both parties gain dominance at one point, but ultimately come to an equal balance. Eastern philosophy states that both yin and yang are necessary for a balanced world. And people need both fire and water to survive. Beyond this, however, the changing dynamics of dominance between Zuko and Katara reveals an evolving maturity between them, and also reveals the fact that they still have a long way to go before they can have a truly healthy relationship, if they choose to pursue each other romantically.
Let's analyze how the levels of dominance change through the three seasons.
Book 1: Water
Zuko, being the primary antagonist of season one, naturally has the advantage in this situation. He is presented as aggressive, powerful, wily, and determined, and with these skills combined with the fact that Katara is still as of yet very inexperienced at any sort of waterbending, Zuko could pretty much dominate her in any situation the two of them are put into. At this point, Katara is so beneath Zuko's regard that she isn't even worth being addressed by a name. She is simply "the peasant". This aggressive form of domination shows that Zuko, underestimating Katara's wrath, sitll has a lot to learn, and Katara has a long way to go before she can stand her ground against him. Honestly, here, she is still little more than a child, and Zuko an overbearing bully.
Book 2: Earth
Book 2 puts Zuko and Katara on a more level playing ground. Having shown him her prowess at the Spirit Oasis, Zuko is sure to have recognized by this point that Katara is no longer an unskilled and harmless peasant. Now, she is quite a force to be reckoned with. However, for many reasons, Katara is the last person on Zuko's mind, once he is faced with his psychotic younger sister Azula and a whole new host of problems. Book 2 is when the bully becomes more human. As we learn more about Zuko's past, we learn to sympathize with him and feel for the conflict he suffers inside.
While all this is going on, Katara herself is knocked down a few pegs by Toph, who calls her Sugar Queen and makes sure that she doesn't get too full of herself. Ever. During the course of the season, Katara sees a vulnerable Zuko twice, and sees that he isn't as frightening as he seemed to be. However, they are still not on a level playing ground. Katara is still too trusting, too naive. She lets herself blindly trust Zuko, and thus, gets hurt. And, having lost her innocence, she lets her rage overtake her. The stage is set for a showdown between these two, for even as Zuko realizes how wrong he has been, Katara's fury is building up inside.
Book 3: Fire
The third season reveals some interesting insights into both Katara and Zuko. For Zuko, despite having regained his honor, he realizes that he is still not happy. His catharsis has begun to take place, and by the time he realizes that it is his duty to help the Avatar restore balance to the world, the Eclipse has already passed. No matter; he simply follows them on their flight from the Fire Nation palace.
Now, he knows that he is in no position to be trusted by anyone in the Gaang, least of all Aang and Katara. Especially Katara. So when he states his position and pleads that he has changed, he has finally come full circle; he has finally achieved his catharsis. Zuko is standing in submission to Katara's dominance, realizing her influence, and importance to Aang. He is repenting for the wrongs he has done her.
Katara milks this new submission. She, very understandably, does not trust Zuko AT ALL. Check out this panel, which shows parallel scenes from season 3(panel 1) and season 1 (panel 2). Notice the similar stances in both scenes. In both scenes, there is a dominator. In this relationship, both are capable of dominance and submission. Katara, after threatening Zuko, also openly mocks him.
Even Katara, however, cannot remain angry at a person who has truly changed for too long. If you look at the panels of the banner I created for season 3, you can see that they are working together in all of them. Katara achieves dominance for a short while, but because she has grown as a person as well, she will not take advantage of this fact for any longer than she has to. She eventually acquiesces to his help, and as the NYCC teaser trailer reveals, his friendship. We see them fighting together, saving each other, going on a supersecretninja!mission together, and finally accepting each other. It's taken a very long time, but finally, these two are on a level playing ground.
Of course, the process of acceptance is fun to speculate upon, and provides much fodder for fanfiction and fanart. And who doesn't like pretty fanart?
You know, Prince Zuko, Destiny is a Funny Thing
you never know how things are going to work out
that’s who you are, Zuko…someone who keeps fighting even though it’s hard
As Uncle Iroh states, fire is the element of power. It both brings life and takes it away. An element of fear and warfare as well as community and celebration, it is, perhaps, the most unpredictable element, and this is reflected time after time in Zuko’s irrational behavior. Iroh also asserts that "the people of the Fire Nation have desire and will, and the energy and drive to achieve what they want".
Zuko represents fire in his characteristics, his beliefs, and his perception of the world. He never gives up—even when given a task that is clearly a farce, he faces the challenge and gives it everything he has. Like fire, if given even the slightest provocation, Zuko will rear his head and show that he cannot be easily defeated. He knows he has flaws. He knows he has a long way to go. But he has that inner fire within him, and even if it nearly kills him, Zuko will not give up. He combats Azula and Fire Lord Ozai willingly, despite the fact that he has a clear disadvantage. Sometimes, he even has to be knocked out to prevent him from causing harm. He even bellows at the heavens in raw agony:
"You’ve always thrown everything you could at me! Well, I can take it! And now I can give it back! Come on! Strike me! You’ve never held back before!"
the thing is, it worked. I actually felt sorry for him…felt that he was sorry, and hurt
Water is recognized as one of the main elements of the Earth in nearly all cultures. It is both a life-bringer and destroyer, and is often used very symbolically. In most religions, water is considered a purifier, cleansing one of all sins and washing away all negative thoughts. Water is also often believed to have spiritual powers, in some cases being personified as a goddess or a spirit. Cold and moist, it is considered the “basic substance of the universe” by many people.
Katara personifies the traditional characteristics commonly applied to water in a very obvious way. As a waterbender, the element itself obviously plays a large role in her life and affects her behavior and thought processes. It is who she is. She is extremely maternal, protective, and self-righteous. She can also be stubborn, willful, and short-tempered, losing her temper just as a rushing river overpowers a weak dam. However, her anger is rarely destructive, unless she consciously intends for it to be. For the most part, her spats are petty and reflect the fact that she is only a young teenage girl heading towards womanhood. Her pointed sarcasm towards Zuko later on appears to be an inherited trait (as Sokka possesses it as well) rather than a reflection of her element, although I suppose you could liken it to little shards of ice or sleet raining down upon her unfortunate victim.
When Katara and Zuko are trapped together in the catacombs of Ba Sing Se, her instinct to heal reveals itself—like the cooling balm of water, Katara feels the compulsion to help him, to heal his wounds. Although she is angry, hurt, and confused, when she listens to Zuko, she can hear and feel his pain, and she reaches out to him. It is her instinct to extinguish the fiery torment within him.
So How Is This Relevant?
As I stated before, both fire and water are necessary for survival, but too much of either can be dangerous. Katara and Zuko start out on different sides of the war, but when they are alone, without any other external influences, their instinctual elemental sides come outside of the facade. They almost make that connection--Zuko nearly lets his inner turmoil, his inner fire, be extinguished, by Katara, but they are interrupted. Katara, of course, seeing Aang, rushes to his side, but she still looks back. She isn't done with Zuko, and he feels it as well, as he gazes back at her in obvious consternation. In another situation, Katara and Zuko could have left their unfinished business lie without so many problems. Unfortunately, life is not so easy, and once he betrays Aang, he betrays her, and her inner water spirit is not pleased.
Of course, there are other external influences that keep these two apart. These influences happen to be called "past relationships". However, rather than seeing them as a way to keep Zuko and Katara from getting together, a reasonable shipper could see it from the viewpoint that every past relationship, good or bad, can prepare you for your future, long term partner.
As I stated before, they say that there’s nothing wrong in having several relationships before you find “the one”. In fact, ephemeral relationships can often teach a person what’s right and what’s wrong in a romantic relationship and sets him or her up for a more lasting and solid relationship in the future. Also, we cannot forget the fact that Katara and Zuko are both the token "good looking leads". Zuko has an insane amount of fangirls (of which I admit to be one of, but hopefully for less superficial reasons than his looks...but I will admit to them playing a factor), and I'm sure Katara has her own number of fanboys. It would be odd if she didn't!
Obviously, people would notice their looks in their own realms. It's only natural for it to happen! So let's examine the past relationships (or almost relationships) that both Zuko and Katara have had, and how these people better prepare them for each other. (I'll go in order of their relationships)
The Others: Katara
Haru: Haru...what does Katara really have going on with this guy? Perhaps the first fleeting thoughts of attention. Haru is really just as naive and inexperienced as she is, with the same idealism and wonder at the power of bending. I would almost call their relationship puppy love, if it comes to that.
Haru initially appears to be a one shot character, but he reappears in season 3, with the mustache of doom. Katara is quite pleased to see Haru, and she does blush when he and his father both praise her. It appears for the moment though, that she has moved on. If Katara has taken anything from this relationship, it is that it is okay to take pride in your strengths and to embrace your natural talent.
Jet: Oh, Jet. Jet, Jet, Jet. Jet is Katara's first true romantic entanglement, and when she first meets him, he steals her heart with his bad boy smile...and presumably, that piece of grass perpetually hanging out of his mouth (and those eyebrows, I guess?). His fiery zeal for justice completely enchants her, and she can't imagine a more amazing guy. Except maybe Aang. So when she discovers what Mr. Jet has been up to, Katara is understandably pissed off, and makes sure he knows about it. She leaves him like that, presumably never to see him ever again.
Boy, was she wrong. When he reappears in season 2, Jet is obsessed with revealing Zuko and Iroh to be members of the Fire Nation. He does everything he can to prove his point, and unfortunately, gets arrested by the Dai Li and brainwashed. With the Gaang's help, he eventually regains his knowledge--and Katara's forgiveness--but he is killed in battle, so the two of them never get a second chance at all.
Katara leaves this relationship a little bit sadder and wiser, and certainly not as naive and innocent as she was before. She learns not to trust so quickly, and at the same time, not to be so judgemental.
Aang: Ah, Kataang. To go in depth into this ship would take as long as it's taken me to write this manifesto, if not longer, so why not just read the actual manifesto for yourself? The relationship between these two is one of the bases of the show itself. Romantic or not, Aang and Katara have a deep and genuine relationship that cannot be explained away by anyone but the most rabid Zutarian. And even then, I have doubts that this is possible.
Aang teaches Katara how to be a kid again--something she desperately needs to learn, having had so much responsibility shunted upon her at such a young age. She learns again how to laugh, how to take things a little bit easier on herself. They are quite cute and fluffy; this cannot be denied!
If Katara's going to take anything away from this relationship, it's that it is okay to let go sometimes, to just be a free spirit. Being an adult doesn't mean that you can't have fun!
The Others: Zuko
Song: Okay, so Zuko doesn't really have much of a relationship with this girl. She can sense that he is hurting and that he has gone through a lot, but Zuko does not allow her to touch his scar (as seen in the last panel of the banner above). It also isn't that healthy for any possible relationship when he steals her ostrich horse. I mean, I wouldn't go for him if he did that. :/
If Zuko is to take anything from this relationship, it would be that trust is necessary for anything meaningful to build. But I get the feeling that he already knew this-he just didn't want to open up to a girl who seemed too prying, even though she understood the pain of getting both emotionally and physically scarred.
Jin: A lot of people like Jin, myself included. She is a sweet, normal girl who doesn't know anything about Zuko's tortured past and simply likes him because he is the cute boy in the tea shop. Because he lives in the here and now when he is with her, Zuko is able to relax and just be himself. Of course, he is shy at first, but who says he doesn't know how to flirt?
Again, if times were different and Jin was something other than an Earth Kingdom refugee, things might have turned out another way. But then again, they were never meant to have a long term relationship. Jin is a cute date that teaches Zuko a little bit about the lighter side of dating and love. She helps this very awkward boy to lighten up...to laugh, and to do something nice just for the sake of being nice.
Mai: Maiko. The equivalent of Kataang for Zuko. When their pairing is introduced in the show, it is clear that they have had a relationship already for quite sometime. They have DEFINITELY been going out for sometime. They maikout with no inhibitions, no pretense. They are completely at ease with one another. Who knew that Zuko was so comfortable in his own skin?
Even though it is not explored nearly as deeply as Kataang is in the show, there is still plenty of evidence that Zuko and Mai have as deep a relationship as do Aang and Katara. Zuko can't even face her when he decides to leave and join Aang. Perhaps it is too painful.
It certainly is for Mai. But even so, even when the man she loves deserts her, defects to the side of the enemy, even when he locks her inside and it seems like he will never come back to her, when it's a question of his life...she will not let him die. She defies Azula, confounding her and her own uncle, the Warden of The Boiling Rock prison. She saves the jerk who dumped her. She certainly earns my respect in doing so, and provides a perfectly plausible ship, even though it is not my favorite.
The manifesto is quite epic in and of itself, however.
From Mai, Zuko learns how to grow up--how to stop being that little boy who dumped her into a pond into a man who can take responsibility for his actions.
This is...THE HUG. The reason why there were so many fangirls screaming bloody murder at the NYCC Comic-Con preview of this trailer. More epic than any other Zutara moment seen up to this point. Because this means they are FRIENDS. Who knows if they are lovers? Who cares at this point? Because no matter what happens, she is okay with him. He is okay with her. They are hugging. They are hugging!!
Now, as this is being written before the airing of the second half of the season and I refuse to read anything regarding the junior novelization, I don't know why Zuko and Katara are hugging. And quite frankly, I don't really care why, because platonic or plutonic, their embrace means that they have moved completely beyond pretense. Look at the honest sincerity in Katara's face-you know she means what she is saying, whatever it may be. And Zuko is honestly happy that she feels the way she does.
No matter what the context is for their embrace, I'm happy with it. Of course, like I said, we don't know why it is that they are hugging. I'm sure we'll find out, but regardless, the process of discovery is another reason to be a fan of the ship.
How am I supposed to convince these people I’m on their side?
why am I so bad at being good?
So, Why Should I Still Ship Them?
There are a lot of arguments that Mai and Aang are the right partners for Zuko and Katara, and honestly, I believe they make a lot of sense. And I would hardly call their perspectives boring or out of line. I just personally believe that a developing relationship between Zuko and Katara provides the potential for so many interesting situations within the plotline, and archaically, it is feasible. There is a precedent to the basis for their relationship, and so many more reasons why watching it develop into “something more” would be awesome:
Because Watching the Process of Rebuilding Trust is Interesting
“Hello, Zuko here…but I guess you probably already know me. The thing is, I have a lot of firebending experience, and I’m considered to be pretty good. Well, you’ve seen me, you know, when I was attacking you? Uh, yeah, I guess I should apologize for that. B-but anyway, I’m good now. I mean, I thought I was good before, but now I realize I was bad…but anyway…I think it’s time I joined your group and taught the Avatar firebending.”
Yeah, Zuko is very articulate. The frog agrees. But then again, would you know how to face a group of people who detest you for all the cruelty you put them through and convince them that you truly have changed? Nevertheless, Zuko is able to get everyone in the Gaang to finally accept him. Except for one person. And he knows it.
It’s clear that Zuko is aware that Katara trusts him the least of everyone in the group, and when Aang asks her if it’s okay, there are sweatdrops on his brow. Zuko knows that it is possible that Aang’s complete acceptance of Zuko into the group depends on Katara’s answer. Katara acquiesces, but it is clear she still has reservations. Unlike Sokka and Toph, she still cannot completely let go of the fact that it is crucial to accept the necessity that Aang learn firebending. Although she verbalizes it, her face shows otherwise. And later, when Katara confronts him alone in his room, she says so, giving an ultimatum to Zuko that she has too much respect for Aang to state in front of him.
“You might have everyone else here buying your “transformation”, but you and I both know that you’ve struggled with doing the right thing in the past. So let me tell you something right now. You make one step backward, one slip up, give me one reason to think you might hurt Aang, and you won’t have to worry about your “destiny” anymore. Because I’ll make sure your destiny ends. Right then and there. Permanently."
It will take time for Katara, who is quick to trust and slow to forgive, to truly accept Zuko. When she tried to heal him in Ba Sing Se, when she realized he had shared many of the adversities she had suffered herself, Katara truly felt as though she had made a connection. She almost used the spirit water from the Oasis on Zuko, and when she thinks about what might have happened had she healed him before his betrayal, it is almost too much to bear. What she cannot realize just yet is that he has moved beyond that. Now, they are more or less on the same wavelength, and he has no intention of using their dual pain to wound her anymore. Furthermore, they both play a large role in the fate of the world. Both their destinies coincide and combine with Aang’s; Katara and Zuko, as Aang’s friends and teachers, play an integral part in achieving the ultimate goal of peace for the world. If Katara makes the effort to accept him, she might learn to accept him, and maybe even like him…or love him.
Because Drawing Parallels to Arthurian Mythology is Fun
It’s one of the reasons why I like the relationship between Katara and Zuko so much—the two of them, under different circumstances, and even now, could be really good friends, even if not lovers. Again, the thrill of possibilities crosses my mind. They have shared enough experiences to have that. What would they talk about? I don’t know! What would you talk about if you were suddenly friends with someone who used to be your mortal enemy? I’m sure the irony of it all could be the fodder of conversation for quite some time, even though it would get old after a while, but it would still provide a unique element of conversation that would link them together, even if in the strangest of ways.
That actually brings to mind, for me, another interesting parallel between Zuko and Katara. Beyond the obvious comparisons of losing their mothers, impersonating a spirit, and having a dysfunctional family life due to the savage and political interference of the Fire Nation, both Zuko and Katara’s lives more or less revolve around one person—Aang. For months now, the center of both Zuko and Katara’s lives, their purpose for existence, has revolved around Aang and his destiny. Katara’s to help him defeat the Fire Lord, and Zuko’s to capture him and bring him to the Fire Lord and restore his honor. Now this is definitely a stretch, but you might even refer to it as a twisted and backwards sort of Arthur/Lancelot/Guinevere relationship. Aang is the noble king who must bring his world out of the dark ages. Zuko is Lancelot, the knight who must prove himself through noble deeds and stand by his lord’s side through thick and thin—the reversal here is that he turns against his king in the beginning and only learns to pledge his allegiance in the end. Mai and Jin would remain Zuko’s respective Elaines—bittersweet love affairs ending in ambiguity and regret. And Katara is Guinevere, Aang’s queen but Zuko’s Lady For Whom He Does Everything. Aang means the world to them, but they could also mean the world to each other.
Because It Could Be Completely Epic
Katara can learn to empathize with Zuko once more. She might respect him for all of his struggles, and, at the end of the war, work together with him to rebuild the broken relationship between her people and his. They could have just as epic a relationship as anyone in the history of the World. As the Southern Water Tribe’s last waterbender and the first Fire Nation noble in one hundred years to willingly end the war, together, Katara and Zuko could create a strong bond the likes of which has never been seen in this world ever before. From a not-so-romantic perspective, they could be a political dream team. Think about it—fire and water—polar opposites, working together to rebuild and recreate stability in the broken world. Because their elements are so utterly different, if their peoples see Zuko and Katara working together, they could restore hope and faith in the world, and create a belief that the world has truly changed for the better. Together, and with Aang's help, they could all create a better world.
Because Clichés have Lasted for a Reason
See it as you will--the old clichés of Romeo and Juliet, Leyla and Mejnun, Tristan and Isolde, star-crossed lovers, opposites attract, and so on and so forth. It's true that these conventions are all old and overused, but honestly, why would they survive for so long if they weren't an effective story device? Now, this by no means has to be the reason why anyone would support a ship, but it could certainly be a reason.
For me personally, one of my favorite "cliché facets" of the Zutara ship is the "opposites attract" statement. Zuko and Katara are so fundamentally different that they could be good for each other. Personality-wise, they share more similarities than they might think--sarcastic, sweet when necessary, a little awkward, easily flustered...but different enough that they could bring out a better side of each other. Katara and Zuko both need to loosen up, Zuko needs to learn a little about trust, and Katara needs to learn a little about being more impulsive just for fun. Why not? I'm also a fan of the biracial aspects of this relationship. Their relationship would address a modern issue and show children that it's okay to be different from the one you love.
a.k.a. people who ship them no matter what you think
As anyone who is well versed in the Avatar fandoms knows, the Zutara fandom, is, in a word, massive. I even feel that it would not be unreasonable to believe that it is one of the most popular Avatar ships out there, and if they feel the same way I do for the same reasons, I don't find it surprising. :)
What is surprising, however, is the vast amount of fanart, fanfiction, and AMVs created by people who aren't personally a fan of the ship but feel that aesthetically, Zuko and Katara look good together. (With this I completely agree) They're just one of the many kinds of fans that are a part of the complicated composition of Zutarians out there.
Two Other Kinds of Zutarians
Another subsection of the fandom includes those who find meaning in every possible "sign" there is and refuse to believe that Zuko and Katara are meant for anybody else and refuse to listen to any other arguments. I call these people "rabid Zutarians", and unfortunately, many people who take a casual glimpse at the Zutara fandom believe that all Zutarians are like this.
There are multishippers and casual shippers, which is the group in which I belong. We love the ship that we follow, but we won't be devastated if they don't end up together. Take me, for instance-I've spent the past five days writing several thousand words on why I think Zuko and Katara make the perfect pair, but if canon dictates that they end up with somebody else, that's okay too.
Here are some reasons why other people sail on the good ship Zutara!
"I love this ship because it is everything I have ever loved about a couple and yet something completely new. It reminds me of real people in my life. It is a recreation of Darcy and Elizabeth, a couple I love dearly. It shows that people can break through the barrier between races and countries. I love it because it shows that love conqueors all."
"Part of the reason I enjoy this ship so much is the fact that it *isn't* canon. There's a lot of potential between these two just waiting to happen, and in a fandom filled with as many creative artits and writers as this one, the potential is really limitless.
When it boils down to it (ah, HA see what I did there), Zutara's biggest appeal to me is it's potential (for all the hot passion, and sexy fighting be it bending or verbal...)."
"I love this ship for its potential. Zuko and Katara are both fascinating and well-rounded characters, and they reflect one another as individual characters and have an undeniable chemistry when they're put together. Zutarians may get flack for supposedly being invested only in the hate!sex fic, but that's obviously far from true; Zutara has room for a lot of different emotions. It's a dynamic pairing; Zuko and Katara have to grow in order to be together. We get to look at them at all different stages of their relationship, and it's always interesting and fun and believable.
It's also everything that Kataang isn't, and Kataang just fundamentally bothers me."
"I ship Zutara because Zuko and Katara are, individually, my favorite characters in the show. There are so many different levels on which they interact in the show, so many ways they bounce off each other, and so many different ways one could explore their relationship. Mostly, though, I just think that, given what I know about them as characters and what we see of their interactions together, they'd make for one of the BEST, most complex, most fulfilling romantic couples EVAR."
"I love the teasing. I picture my zutara canon as the moment shown in the cliip of Ember Island Players when Katara teased Zuko on about his portrayal in the the play. :D I'd never squealed so hard in my life before!
I suppose it all comes down to their chemistry, their past and their actions that make them so lovable together."
"The thing I love most about Zutara is that it's Pride and Prejudice with magic kung fu. "
"I love this ship because of the tension between the characters. By all means they are complete opposites and should be destroying themselves - by element and by heritage (in the show). And to think about how this love, which should be impossible, could work out is 1. fun and 2. even more fun.
Not to mention we have a lot of spiffy foreshadowing going on for us and lots of symbolism to play with in stories.
What do you get if you mix water and wind? Either some circles in the water, rain or some really high waves.
What do you get if you mix water and earth? Mud and that's it.
What do you get if you mix water and fire? Either boiling hot water or lots of steam.
Please also note (Attention! Crazy fangirl attempting logic! Run for cover!): in the Asian-inspired setting of this story, the central beverage is tea, which is coincidentally Iroh's favorite beverage. Keeping this in mind and regarding the fact that Iroh is made of pure win and ALSO recalling that TEA = WATER (with herbs) + FIRE, the only logical solutions are 1. Iroh is a Zutarian made of pure win, 2. with Iroh as our fan our fandom is made of pure win, too and 3. I don't need canon if all the fantastic artists and writers are in Iroh's fandom!"
"Never commented in this community before, lurking around like the stalker I am at heart, but this is too tempting and the writer in me took the bait.
I only got into ATLA with the VERY last episode of season 2, through stupid cirucmstances: I rained hate on this show and refused to watch it because I thought it was a wannabe like "Totally Spies", even though one of my best friends really liked it. Then I was over at one of my other best friends' houses one day after school and she, who also totally dug ATLA, turned on Nickelodeon and I was treated to a preview for the "Crossroads of Destiny" episode. The preview hooked me onto ATLA and the Zuko/Katara shipping as soon as it ended; that was a pretty damn powerful preview, imo.
What really gets me about this shipping is that it takes a very cliched basis (hate/love, opposites attract, who doesn't love angry sex?, royalty vs. commoner) and transforms it into something completely new and original. These are very dynamic characters with distinct personalites who also have room to change and grow. They, and the rest of ATLA, are more human than most other cartoon characters. They are the products of both themselves and their environments, and these two very different ideas, views, cultures, personalities clash in the most delightful, violent, passionate, and desirable ways. (That's why I just can't accept Aang/Katara; it's too...perfect, stagnant, mushy, happy...) Two very imperfect, opinionated people make for some awesome setups, awesome ideas, awesome stories, awesome fanart...I mean, there is a reason why they have the largest fanbase in the ALTA fandom. Sure practically everybody hates us (and that's something I'd rather not get into), but what we have is imperfect perfection, and I'm down with that.
"I love this ship because of many reasons. First is its potential, you have to admit that those two together would have been epic. Second is the pair's dynamics. We can use the starcrossed lovers, yin/yang, opposites attract cliches anytime and it never gets old, it also never gets boring. Third is the tension. You have to admit that whenever those two are on screen, you can just feel the emotional level of the show soar up onto a new level whether be it they're having an action-y moment or mellow moment. Not only that but the relationship of those two is the only relationship that has gone from alot of drastic changes - from ultimate hate to forgiveness.
They're just so beautiful to comprehend. And who cares about canon anyway when you have so much potential right here that isn't caged by what canon dictates :)"
"It can go from fluffy and sweet, to passionate and sexy, not something a lot of other ships have in Avatar. Plus, seeing a mixed raced couple in a show like Avatar, where their heritages conflict would be pretty interesting to see, especially since I come from two very different cultures. And the idea that two people who have been hurt by the war, as much as Zuko and Katara have been, can manage to forgive each other and put their differences aside, maybe love each other inspite of what has happened between them, would be a just beautiful thing to see."
"Basically, I love that the characters would have to change and develop for it to work out, and that it wouldn't just effect Zuko and Katara. Aang, Sokka, Toph, Mai, and everyone else who's close to them would probably get some development out of, being forced to see the side of Zuko/Katara that the other fell in love with. Well, maybe not so much now, but when I first fell in love with the pairing, that was one of the reasons. Plus, it has room for a ton of interesting possibilities, and the characters' relationship has an awesome dynamic."
With the number of talented fanartists and fanfiction writers out there, the amazing fanon makes up for the canon. And hence the title-"Irrationality is Irrelevant". Canon is irrelevant. A pairing can live on no matter what happens. Ultimately, Zuko and Katara are works of fiction, and if we feel like it, we can write or draw them into any situations we want to put them into, regardless of what has already happened, will happen, or won't happen. Is it possible to be a Kataang and Maiko shipper along with being a Zutarian? If not, I guess I don't exist, then. In the end, really, we see what we want to see. We can just accept it for what it is, or if we want to, create an alternative universe.
The sky's the limit.
Irrationality is Irrelevant.
Zutara Fan Links
Thanks to everyone who has helped me compile this list!
Eclipse: The Zuko/Katara Fanlisting
Magnetism: The Zutara Fanart Fanlisting
Zutara Media Recommendation List Links
Avatar Rec_Fest Bookmarks
Krys Yuy AMV Rec List
Capslock Zutara Massive Rec List
Zutara Fight- This is an amazing pen piece.
Hey Hey You You- You don't need to like Avril Lavigne to like this piece. :)
Fanservice Conspiracy- Zutara- What was really going on in the catacombs of Ba Sing Se?
Avatar- Hot, Hotter Zutara
Avatar's Phantom- Really cool crossover piece!
Zutara- I Need You
Haey ROFL-A funny play on the "I don't hate you" Maiko line
Dreaming Through- I think this is my favorite piece of Zutara fanart ever.
Zuko and Katara IM-A cute AU crossover piece.
As You Wish- A cute Princess Bride crossover piece.
Zuko and Katara
Zutara Fluff Nr. 492
Intimidation (3.12 spoiler)- If you think Family Guy is funny, you will laugh when you see this!
Zutara-Doing it Wrong-No question about who wears the pants in this piece. :3
The One True Zutara
Avatar-Katara and Zuko- I really like the flow on this piece!
Zuko in a Shopping Cart- This is hilarious. Who says Katara doesn't know how to have fun?
Katara-Zuko: In Your Arms-This is a really sweet and beautiful sketch.
Zutara: Forgiveness-Another very sweet picture!
Zutara Talk- This is too cute. ♥
Zutara Chibi Heart
Zutara I'll Get You Out
My favorite fancomic (it's alternate universe, hence the title The AU):
The AU Official Website
The Deviantart AU Archive
Fandomme- The undisputed queen of Zutara fanfic, what several people have told me is "required reading" for any knowledgeable Zutara fan!
Vickiso- Also provides links to other Zutara fan media
Other Good Fics:
Dancing in the Dark
Whisper into the Sky
Sokka's Field Guide
The Blue Rose -AU
The Crimson Dragon- AU, sequel to The Blue Rose
Under a Sapphire Sky- AU Vampire fic.
Past the End's Reach- AU
When the Mask Comes Off- A fic that actually made someone a Zutarian!
Basic Long Division-Awesome Zutara + badass Toph
Somewhere in Between- A realistic future fic that should make all shippers happy!
Love Thy Enemy
Rising Sun, Setting Moon
Don't Say a Word
Zutara AMV Artist: Ravenhpltc24
Journey to Zutara Canon
Zutara So Contagious
Zutara: Already Over- My Personal Favorite
So I Thought
Walk Through the Fire-Described to me as "light on the Zutara, but heavy on the awesome".
The Last Night-Zutara
Zutara: Pride and Prejudice Trailer- This is seriously hilarious. No joke!