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Yeah. I fell into that trap too. I’ve spent aimless hours on Google Translate , convincing myself that the Fire Nation was Japanese, only to discover that it totally wasn’t. It even says so in the Fire Nation article. It’s Han Chinese, with some Qin thrown in. Can’t really get much more Chinese than that.
The thing that brought it home for me, bizarrely was beds. Yup. Beds.
As in, they have them, in the Fire Nation. Clearly, from the segments post Zuko’s return to the Fire Nation, where he is querying Azula as to her motivation in giving him Avatar-kill credit, that is a bed. A great, hefty, hardwood bed. Not a futon in sight.
Trivial, you might say. But you start mentally furnishing a Fire Nation house, and it occurs to you, there really ought to be a bed in that bedroom. For sleeping in. Obviously.
I suppose it is a bit of a trope for those of us who aren’t intimately familiar with the concept of Korean animation, that anime comes from Japan, so if it is oriental and cartoonish, it’s Japanese. And also we have a bit of a love affair in the west with Japanese decorative and artistic culture. It’s got lovely, clean lines, a bit like Ikea. They do cool martial arts. They have a knightly thing going on, what with the Samurai, and everybody loved the film, even if they don’t love Tom Cruise generally. (Ken Watanabe , though. Rowr.)
But while complex and multilayered, it has nothing like the 9000-years-of-recorded-history, if-it’s been-done-it-was-done-first-in-China (presuming you’re not Indian), too-early-to-comment-on- the-French-Revolution impenetrable morass of cultural diversity which is China.
So off I went to Google Translate, dutifully translating all my Japanese terms into Chinese (simplified!).
Fortunately, there is Kyoshi. And it’s all rather neat, in terms of fitting into the IRL Wikipedia-slant on Early Japan, or Wa , as the folks in China liked to call it. There was this Shaman Queen, Himiko. Terribly powerful lady. Back in the way distant past, Japan existed as a semi-savage, semi-tributary state of China. The impression could be that some Chinese guy called Xu fu, went to Wa of the Savages with a few hundred colonists and gave them Culture, although Mr Jomon might have something to say on that. A few hundred years later, and they were ready to embark on being their own Culture on the International Stage . One of the characters which helped cement this was Himiko. It wasn’t quite (so far as I can tell) a metaphorical version of the separation of the lands as occurred when Kyoshi (Avatar and Island) said ‘byeee!’ to the mainland. That took a few hundred years more, until the infamous (in certain circles anyway) ‘Son of Heaven (rising) greets Son of Heaven (setting)’ communique from Empress Suiko (note: another lady) to Chinese Emperor Yang, to which the Chinese response was something along the lines of “say, what now?” But certainly Himiko ( her legend, or her as a proxy for other kick-ass Japanese ladies like Suiko) started the process by which Japan became a separate cultural entity from China. And Chin the conqueror is clearly not a very veiled reference to Qin, or China. A propos of nothing, Himiko is also supposedly the Auntie of Emperor Sujin, or Sozin, as we’ll call him in Avatardish. These Fire Nation Royals do get about.
Gosh. Yeah. We too can access Wikipedia, I hear you say. But what’s your point, Madam?
What emerges, I suppose, from my semi-senile brain, is that there are few such thorough and faithful attempts to translate the immense richness of a largely Chinese based fantasy world to a western audience, particularly a kid’s audience, as Avatar:TLA. And M Night isn’t the only one who sometimes fails to fully appreciate that. But maybe writers of fanon can be forgiven....
‘’Next post (or not): Fanfic and Deconstruction, or I don’t think that’s what Derrida meant, Zutarans’’