They say a dog is a man’s best friend, and most times that’s a very valid statement. Since the days of the early man we’ve seen the dog become an integral part of human nature, from Hunter to helper to protector and friend. But if the dog is revered as man’s best friend, what is the Avatar’s best friend? The answer to that is what we call animal guides. For Aang, it was none other than the flying bison; Appa Avatar.
Most avatars we know of have an animal companion. Korra had Naga, Wan had the deercat, Yangchen was revealed to have had a sky bison as well, and Roku had Fang. While Kyoshi and Kuruk weren’t shown to have an animal guide, we can still conclude on the importance of the animals. They are often a symbol of the avatar’s connection to nature. Let’s take a look at the animal guides, especially Appa, Avatar Aang’s best bud.
Now let’s focus a little more on Appa himself.
Appa was Avatar Aang’s loyal sky bison. The bison shared a very strong relationship with the Avatar, as well as a flying lemur by the name of Momo. Together, they were all that was left of the air nomad nation. Appa’s most key feature came from the fact that he could fly, despite how big he was. This was all thanks to the sky bisons’ natural ability to Airbend. Appa served as a primary means of transportation for team Avatar, very much like a mobile, flying home.
Early life of Appa Avatar
The air nomads had always bonded with young sky bison calves, who would grow to become their lifelong companions. When Appa was still a young calf who lived around the Eastern Air Temple, young airbenders would meet these young calves and bond with them. The herd’s mother would willingly direct her calves to meet the young monks. And this was how Aang and Appa met. Aang came forward with an apple, offering it to a young Appa. Appa took it from the boy and the two immediately became the best of friends.
A few moments before Sozin attacked the air nomads, Aang heard that the monks had decided to separate him from his mentor, Monk Gyatso. He made up his mind to run away with Appa, and it was in this fleeing that the Fire Nation attacked.
Journey to the North and Subsequent Discovery
Aang and Appa flew over the ocean, but they were caught in a storm that sent them straight into the bottom of the sea. The waves threw them back and forth, and as a response to the danger, Aang entered the avatar state, freezing himself and Appa. This was how they got stuck in the iceberg for a hundred years.
Exactly a hundred years later, the two were discovered by water tribe siblings; Katara and Sokka. They set on their quest to help Aang fulfil his destiny as the avatar, and Appa served as their transportation as well as home. He was a regular fixture in most of Sokka and Princess Yue’s dates, always bickered with Momo over food, but overall was a beloved friend for all members of Team Avatar.
Appa Avatar’s Disappearance
Appa became lost for a short while in the Earth kingdom. It is revealed he was kidnapped by a group of sandbenders in the middle of the Si Wong desert. At this time Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Momo were trapped in an underground Spirit library.
We later find out that Appa was sold to beetle-headed merchants, who in turn sold him to a Fire Nation circus. There, a sadistic trainer attempted to make him part of his show. Appa escapes, and hurries back to the desert hoping to find Aang and the rest of the team, but they are long gone. He journeys throughout the Earth Kingdom until he encounters the Kyoshi Warriors, who healed his various wounds sustained on his travels. They would have escorted him back to Aang, but they were attacked by Azula and her friends. Suki forced Appa to flee, while she and the rest of the Kyoshi warriors took on Azula.
On his journey, Appa travelled to the Eatern Air temple, where he met Guru Pathik. The guru was able to tell Appa where Aang was, by reading the avatar’s spiritual energy. Appa then flew to Ba Sing Se, but ended up being captured by Long Feng and kept in a secret location under Lake Logai. It was Zuko who discovered him, subsequently freeing the bison. Zuko had planned to use Appa to lure Aang out, but upon speaking with Uncle Iroh, he decided to do the right thing and let the Avatar’s animal companion go.
Escape from the Earth Kingdom
Appa found the group cornered by Long Feng and the Dai Li and was instrumental in their defeat, biting Long Feng on the leg when confronted by him. Once safe, Aang welcomed him in a tearful display of affection. Appa took part in forcibly entering the Royal Palace of Ba Sing Se, providing the first key piece of evidence to King Kuei of Long Feng’s subterfuge since Long Feng’s bite mark still lingered.
When the Dai Li’s cover-up efforts left the Earth King skeptical of Team Avatar’s claims, Sokka made a last-ditch effort to show the king the ruined Fire Nation drill by enticing him with a ride on Appa. Since his saddle was lost during his capture, the group was forced to ride bareback on him. After the fall of Ba Sing Se, Appa was seen spiriting Team Avatar, including a near-fatally wounded Aang, the Earth King, and his pet, Bosco, out of the now-captured city
Appa Avatar’s Personality
Appa seemed to have a reasonably trusting attitude towards people. He did not hesitate to collect the apple from Aang when they first met. And he became incredibly loyal to the airbender. The bison also took an immediate liking to Appa when they first encountered each other. He however loses this trusting trait after his experience with the sandbenders and the circus trainer. He showed human emotions when he was without Team Avatar, and seemed to care for them a great deal; always coming to their aid at various occasions. It also appeared that Appa was incredibly intelligent; and while he could not speak, he clearly understood human language.
Let’s take a look at other animal guides.
The Sky Bison: Appa Avatar and Boma
The Air Nomads raised herds of sky bisons for travel and companionship. Humans originally learned bending from sky bisons. Sky bisons are able to form close, lifelong bonds with humans. Appa is initially the only known bison to accompany an Avatar. However, in the tie-in comic, we see that Yangchen, the only other known airbending avatar also has a sky bison named Boma, as well as two flying lemurs. Although this was probably thought to be due to the fact that most air nomads had a bison, regardless of their avatar status. Nevertheless, it seems likely other Avatars from the Air Nomads would also bond and travel with sky bisons.
Dragons: Fang, Ran and Shaw
Roku is the only known avatar to ride a dragon. Firelord Zuko also rides a dragon, however he is not an Avatar. Similar to Sky bisons, humans originally learned to bend by observing Dragons. The Fire Nation originally worshipped dragons. Firelord Sozin started the tradition of dragon hunting. Killing a dragon meant your firebending was better than theirs and your firebending skills became legendary.
Ran and Shaw, the dragons who showed Aang and Zuko the true meaning of Firebending, never bonded with humans. Also, because people had to go hunt dragons, it seems logical most lived in the wild. People have only ridden on dragons twice in the show.
There is no reason to think other Avatars rode dragons.
Badgermoles were the original Earthbenders and, like sky bisons and dragons, humans, including Toph, learned to bend from them. No Avatar has ever ridden a badgermole. The only tame badgermole was seen at the Earth Rumble VI tournament where Aang meets Toph.
Kiyoshi is the only Avatar from the Earth Kingdom shown in the series and she was never seen travelling with an animal guide.
There is no reason to think Avatars rode badgermoles.
The Moon and Ocean Spirits: Tui and La
There are currently no known animals which bend water. Tui and La, Moon and Ocean, are two spirits who became koi fish in the mortal world. It is said waterbenders learned their bending by watching these spirits and the movement of the tides with the moon, not from a bending animal like the other nations.
Polar Bear Dogs: Naga
Naga is a polar bear dog. The Water Tribe has historically feared them. Korra is the only known human to ever tame and ride a polar bear dog.
There is no reason to think Avatars rode polar bear dogs besides Korra. Even Avatar Kuruk, the only other waterbending avatar, seemed to be wearing a polar bear dog pelt. This probably means the waterbenders used to hunt these vicious animals.