While I am quite aware that I write for an anime organization, I think many people would agree that the number of fans who fell in love with the American cartoon, Avatar the Last Airbender, and fans who have always loved anime do overlap. I am one of those people, and I was given the incredible opportunity to receive a copy of Legacy of the Fire Nation to review.
Legacy of the Fire Nation is a scrapbook created by Uncle Iroh of his thoughts, his life, and his journey. The scrapbook becomes one of the last gifts he presented to Zuko before the beloved firebending master and loving uncle moved on to the spirit world.
I’m biased in this situation because Zuko had been my favorite character since Book 1: Water. Despite being a primary antagonist, from the first few minutes we see of him simply pushing Sokka aside without doing a single bit of actual harm to the sarcastic genius, I already knew Zuko was a complex character that would turn to the side of good. As a result, I knew I was going to enjoy this book right after reading the summary because of my attachment to the characters involved.
The book, however, absolutely surpassed my expectations. From the get-go, the cover blinded me with its gorgeousness of the precious art of Zuko and Iroh firebending. But what really sold me on the quality of this book were the content and the formatting of the book inside.
Iroh, I realized, is a character we love and trust but not someone we know too much about. We know of the failed conquering of Ba Sing Se, the devastating loss of his son, and that he would soon take Ozai’s place as Zuko’s father figure. However, we never hear any of the details of his life before the big turn of events at Ba Sing Se. This scrapbook explores these exact elements: his story before his invasion of the Earth Kingdom, his relationship with Ozai as children, and his ambitions and dreams before his life took an abrupt turn with his son’s tragic death. It is very touching, and even better, it shows Iroh’s own character development that had happened in the past – making him a fleshed-out character past the usual “old, wise mentor” trope that he can sometimes fall into.
We also are privy to many of his thoughts and opinions of the other members of Team Avatar, something that I never realized we heard in the show. Because he always seemed to support them from behind, reading about his own doubts and noticing the flaws within each character as well as their strengths brought more dimensions to Iroh than the world of Avatar had ever done before.
However, the best part of the book is the intimate and loving letters Zuko and Iroh share with each other. From Zuko’s letter as a child, to a mature adult, and finally an older man who had retreated to the warmth of Ember Island, we see how their bond had changed and grown yet stayed the same at the core. They loved each other, trusted each other, and supported each other. Zuko helped Iroh over his heartbreak on the loss of his son, and Iroh, as we already know, guided Zuko to the path he was always meant to traverse.
The book is really built like a scrapbook. The letters I mentioned are pasted in there within old envelopes, and we are privy to some other pieces of paper containing important information – my favorite being the Jade Dragon’s menu of all of Iroh’s delicious tea.
I went through the book quite quickly, but the first thing I did after reading the entire thing was to turn to the first page and start over. This is more than just a book that panders to the fandom’s heart. It’s a book that fully reaches the heart and provides insight into a character we all grew to love in the epic adventure of Avatar the Last Airbender.