A lot of what we’re told about Azula is filtered through Zuko’s (and Iroh’s) narrative. “Azula is born lucky,” for instance. Or “Azula always lies” (actually, she’s more about callously pointing out the truth).
In this case, Zuko and Iroh imply that being handed over to Azula is a “fate worse than death.” Yet Suki didn’t appear mistreated in anyway. And even though we know the Boiling Rock warden is hardly the paragon for humanity, I’m not seeing a whole lot of difference between Suki’s state and say, Asami when Lin busted her out of the Republic City prison. (It’s also worth noting that once Azula got to the Boiling Rock, she stopped the warden from interrogating a guard about the escape attempt. And that she wasn’t the one who ordered the cutting of the gondola line, but rather opted to fight, placing herself in a dangerous situation).
Contrast this to Zuko, who years later helped to build some of the worst fucking prisons imaginable. Yes, it was to hold very dangerous individuals, but like, Ming-Hua and P’Li’s prisons could almost be considered torture, given the temperature extremes. Ming-Hua was kept barely alive and on the brink of dehydration for 14 years, ffs.
So if we’re talking about a “fate worse than death,” is that really a charge we should be laying at Azula’s feet?
Huh, I thought that Zuko’s remark about preferring death at the hands of the Earth Kingdom over being handed over to Azula was more about humiliation than actual physical harm.
This is still pretty much 1st Season Zuko talking here, and he knows that Azula is planning on dragging him and Iroh back to Ozai as trophies of her success. Zuko makes the call to go for death rather than be taken home and face even further shame and the loss of the few remaining shreds of his honor. That’s his fate worse than death.
I mean if the hairclip stuff isn’t enough to convince you of her complexity I’m not sure how to help.
I take large issue with the term “Mary Sue,” but that’s a rant in and of itself. It’s too often slapped on any character that happens to be a woman. In general the term refers to a character who is almost an author’s form of wish-fulfillment. The “Mary Sue” trope is a woman (though personally I use “Mary Sue” over “Gary Stu” for men too) who is flawless, overpowered in whatever they do, loved and adored by every other canon character (to the point where they could be described as cheerleaders for her), and everything goes the “Mary Sue’s” way.
Aside from being attractive, which pretty much every character in Korra is, Asami doesn’t meet this criteria at all. Overpowered? She is a nonbender who overcompensates for this lack with years of self-defense training and her ability to innovate and utilize technology in an highly adaptable way. In fact her fighting style was so limiting to the giant bending battles that she was often relegated to the sidelines during these fights.
Other canon characters served as her cheerleader? This is about the furthest thing from it. I mean, we know Mako took two large, steaming dumps on her, and never apologized (yet she seemed to forgive him). And we also get this gross moment where she specifically sits in the crowd and cheers for action-hero Bolin:
But even ignoring that, Asami serves as the support for Team Avatar, physically and emotionally. She drives everyone about, typically follows everyone into battle (S2’s finale being the most egregious counter-example), holds her own despite her nonbending disadvantage, watches everyone’s back, continually checks in on everyone’s emotional state (we see her do this with every member of Team Avatar…not just Korra), and does all of this without complaint. She is also very rarely thanked (not that Asami requires this).
So let’s definitely put the term “Mary Sue” to rest.
As for saying Asami’s a “flawless” and/or “boring” character as a more general criticism, I’m not sure how anyone can watch Season 2 where she struggled to keep Future Industries afloat because that was “all she had left” of her family, sought out a deal with manipulative and amoral businessman to make that happen, hired and offered vehicles to gang members for a sting operation, faced total failure and gave up (ultimately giving Varrick a controlling interest), and fell back into a fling with a cheating ex and still call her “perfect” or “flat.” And I just picked Season 2 because it’s where she’s the most fallible/vulnerable.
Given Asami’s struggles in her relationship with her father, the fact that her brain is her primary weapon in a world where strength and brute bending force is often the ideal, her ability to innovate technological solutions that marry the mechanical world to the natural one, her intuition, her highly compassionate nature, her resiliency after being put through total shit all the time, and her moral resolve, I’m not sure how anyone can view Asami as anything but a complex and interesting character. Maybe these aren’t the traits that appeal to everyone (it’s been suggested before her personality and development is more “subtle”), but they sure as hell don’t make for a flat, boring, perfect character.
Mary Sue is a problematic term these days (in fact it may never have been otherwise), but I’m fairly sure that one of the principal aspects of the concept is that it contains some aspect of self-insertion or author surrogacy. It’s a term that originates in fan fiction after all, a literary category where such things are atrociously, almost hilariously, common.
I think this is why the criticism of the Wesley Crusher character of Star Trek: TNG as a Mary Sue rings so true; Gene Roddenberry even went so far as to name the character after himself.
It’s probably the most important defining aspect for the Mary Sue concept, and it’s a quality that Asami Sato would appear to lack entirely.