Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005)

Memorable Spirits from ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

By: Domonique Salberg

The world-building of Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005) is truly cosmic. Imaginative yet grounded, Aang’s vast world combines real-world cultures with elements of fantasy and adventure. For what resulted in the creators choosing to represent aesthetically and conceptually the world of Avatar through Chinese, East Asian, and some indigenous cultures.

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To that effect, the show can burst with transcendent creativity with what seems like infinite layers, details, and meanings to explore with each episode. Hence, this bring us to one of Avatar’s most fascinating, esoteric, and even unsettling features: the spirits. Now throughout the three seasons, we were introduced to countless spirits; however, some of the most memorable for me were Wan Shi Tong, Koh (the Face Stealer), and Tui (Moon Spirit), La (Ocean Spirit).

And here’s why.

Wan Shi Tong

Visually halting, the Wan Shi Tong knowledge spirit takes the form of a large black and white owl. With a name that translates into the Mandarin Chinese phrase, “He who knows ten thousand things,” Wan Shi Tong emanates wisdom and capricious authority. Ancient and powerful, he collects information for his Spirit Library with the help of knowledge-seeking foxes, making him the most conversant being among humans and spirits. Despite offering the world greater understanding, Wan Shi Tong became angry with humans, learning their true intentions to use the library for gaining an edge on one another.

Consequently, humans were banned from wronging the owl. Withal, the character of Wan Shi Tong and the decision to make him in the image of an owl contributes to the spirit’s memorable appearance on the show. For thousands of years, the symbolism of owls denoted the deep connection we share with wisdom, good judgment, and knowledge. The animal itself has a sharp vision, keen scrutiny, and acquires discernment and intuition. Nevertheless, rather than intellectual wisdom, Owls are recognized for their wisdom of the soul. Active in the night, they are associated with the unknown, magic, and ancient philosophy making Wan Shi Tong’s choice of form apt and fitting.

Koh (the Face Stealer)

A malevolent entity, and one of the most ancient and knowledgeable spirits, Koh, is the face stealer. Vile in form, it is an enormous anthropomorphic centipede with an androgynous face of a human. Found under an ancient tree in the Spirit World, its personality is sadistic and calculating as it lives to goad the slightest bit of emotion out of visitors. To accomplish this, it works to frighten them with monster-like appearances or taunting them with many faces, even if it is the Avatar. Suitably, this prompts the visitors aware of the power of the spirit to remain inexpressive while in its presence.

Conversely, in other instances, Koh’s actions suggest it is amoral rather than purely evil. As when it punished Avatar Kuruk for his arrogance, but willingly tells Aang the names and location of the Moon and Ocean Spirits and the danger they were in and leading him to his past Avatar lives. Koh is also distinguished by its penchant for speaking in riddles, cryptic attitude, and chattiness. Thus, the face stealer is a spirit that is hard to forget, petrifying in appearance, the creature is deadly, powerful, and enigmatic. Even among the spirits, Koh looms.

Tui (Moon Spirit) & La (Ocean Spirit)

However, among the spirits featured on Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Moon and Ocean Spirits Tui and La that resemble the Chinese yin-yang symbol in their appearance and coloring are among the most memorable. Complementing one another, Tui takes the form of a white koi fish with a large black spot on its head, similar to the yang symbol. Residing in the Spirit Oasis at the North Pole within the Northern Water Tribe’s capital city, together with its counterpart La, they were among the first spirits to come to the mortal world.

Moreover, ever since the pair have kept balance in an “eternal dance” of push and pull. The Moon Spirit Tui, additionally, was the first waterbender and the root of all waterbending. If Tui were to disappear, waterbenders would lose their bending ability, which added to the importance of the Oasis and its cherished status. The Ocean Spirit La, on the other hand, is reincarnated as a koi fish too but is black with a large white spot on its head, resembling the yin. Beautiful in their movement and appearance, Tui and La or the moon and ocean, are spiritual and powerful by nature in Aang’s world and ours. The fact that these two earthy forces are imperative for our lives as well provides the viewer with a sense of familiarity and connection. Innately, they are etched into our minds.

Likewise, from what is true of our world, the moon is the second-brightest celestial object regularly visible in Earth’s sky, with a gravitational impact that produces the ocean tides, body tides, and the slight lengthening of the day. While the ocean, on the other hand, in its totality, is unachievable and, therefore, mystic. It is essential for all living beings more, as it produces over half of the world’s oxygen and regulates our climate and weather patterns.

As a result of its influence on every facet of Aang’s world and ours, the ocean is worthy of appreciation, being, it creates synchronization and allows the world to thrive with every breath. Both our existence cannot subsist or be in balance without these two spirits or components, making them some of the most memorable ideas and entities a part of Avatar: The Last Airbender. 

Do you agree with my list? If not, what spirits do you think are the most memorable in Avatar: The Last Airbender?

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