The Avatar cycle is a cycle based on the four seasons and the passage of these seasons. It coincides with the order that the first Avatar; Avatar Wan first mastered the elements. It goes thus; fire (representing summer), air representing autumn, water representing winter, and earth standing for spring.
How The Avatar Cycle Works
When the current Avatar dies, a new Avatar will be born, usually into the next nation in the Avatar Cycle. For example, Avatar Yangchen was an Air Nomad, died and was reincarnated as Avatar Kuruk from the Northern Water Tribe. Avatar Kyoshi was next, hailing from the Earth Kingdom and then there was Avatar Roku, a Fire Nation indigene.
The Avatar Cycle also determines the order in which each Avatar is supposed to learn the four bending disciplines.
How The Avatar Cycle Determines the Order In Which Elements Are Learnt
The nation where the Avatar comes from is obviously the first element that they will master, prior to the bender being identified as the Avatar. For instance, an Avatar born into the Water Tribe will learn to master waterbending first, before taking on the next three bending elements in the cycle. In this case, it would be earthbending, firebending and finally airbending. This order is not set in stone however, as there have been instances where an Avatar has learnt the elements out of order.
Kyoshi’s Avatar Cycle
Having begun with mastering the earth element, Kyoshi started learning firebending with her friend slash bodyguard Rangi. At the same time, she was learning how to bend water from another friend Kirima. However, in a bid to keep the order snake, Rangi made Kyoshi bend a little breeze so she could have a bit of airbending mastery before she would begin waterbending.
Aang’s Avatar Cycle
Aang was in a similar situation. As the Avatar, he tried to learn fire under the mentorship of Jeong Jeong, as his second element. Jeong Jeong initially objected to this, considering the avatar cycle of the elements would have been disrupted. Aang eventually learnt to create fire, but things didn’t go as planned, as he lacked the spiritual maturity to handle firebending. After Jeong Jeong’s camp was attacked by Zhao, Aang’s firebending training ended. Later in the series, we see him learn the element under Zuko; but only after he had mastered the other elements in the proper sequence
Korra’s Avatar Cycle
Korra had a similar fate as the aforementioned Avatars before her. At a young age of four, she was already able to bend water, earth and fire to some extent. Despite this skill, Korra was discouraged from continuing her bending of the other elements until she had been able to master her native element; waterbending.
Difficulty of Learning Elements Within the Avatar Cycle
Each Avatar has a peculiar difficulty mastering a particular element during training. They often have a low affinity for that element based on their individual personality. This element can be difficult to learn, sometimes proving impossible to control until faced with a situation in which the Avatar is forced to reach within and manifest power.
It’s been found that the bending discipline an Avatar finds it hard to learn is the element that is in direct opposition to the Avatar’s birth nation. Avatar Roku for example, found waterbending to be rather difficult. For Avatar Aang, earthbending was his biggest problem. This was due to the fact his personality centered on evading problems or not engaging in fights as much as possible.
For Korra, however, the case was slightly different. Korra loved firebending, despite the fact that she was anative waterbender. Her most difficult element was instead air; and she found airbending the most challenging. This was attributed to the fact that she was brash and direct person – a sharp contrast to the airbending philosophy of contemplation, measured action, and avoidance of conflict.
Now let’s take a look at the Avatar Cycle and how it affected every Avatar
How Each Avatar Cycle Influenced The Next Avatar In Line
One interesting thing about the Avatar cycle is that the accomplishments of one Avatar only create some interesting conflict for their successor.
Avatar: The Last Airbender was full of recurring themes. But one of the most interesting ones was the cycle of change; which we saw embodied in the Avatar cycle. Beyond their ability to master the four elements, the Avatar serves as a balancing force for the spirit and human worlds.
The goal is to keep the four nations in harmony. Now, although all Avatars in the 10000 years of their existence are linked in knowledge and experience in the Avatar state, each reincarnation seems to have world issues to deal with that are a direct result of the strength and failures of their predecessor. Every generation has its own new conflict, and with each new conflict brings about a redefinition of the Avatar’s role.
Let’s take a look at how this has happened with the known Avatars.
How The Avatar Cycle Affected Each Avatar
For Avatar Yangchen, the stakes were rather difficult for her. Her conflicts put her spiritual upbringing in great contrast with her duty as the Avatar. Eventually, she put the world’s needs ahead of her spiritual teachings. The result was that she achieved long-term peace for humanity. But it came at the great cost of alienating the spirits, a fact that bled right into Avatar Kuruk’s tenure.
Kuruk’s case was the exact opposite of Yangchen’s conflicts, possibly a byproduct of her way of handling things. While he leaves humanity much to its own devices, he is more involved with dealing with the proliferation of dark spirits. Of course, this has dire consequences, such as his fiance Ummi being taken by the malevolent spirit, Koh the Face Stealer. He would spend the rest of his life seeking to bring her back but would only end up dying at a very young age. He left behind a lot of conflicts between the human races; something that spilled into Kyoshi’s time.
The militaristic conflicts that formed in the absence of Kuruk thanks to his untimely death would create a world that was nigh chaotic. To rise to the occasion, Kyoshi approaches matters as the Avatar in a manner you could describe as a hardline perception of forceful justice. She was a very brute-ish Avatar, enforcing balance to the world’s conflict. This would in turn create an adverse approach for her successor, Roku.
Kyoshi’s no child’s play approach in turn influenced Roku in great contrast. As her successor, he seemed to possess a commitment to moderation and mercy. When he handled the world’s problems, he wasn’t particularly soft, but he gave leniency where he deemed it fit.
When he wakes up from his hundred year long slumber in the iceberg, Aang sees that the world is very different from the one he left behind.
The world has been thrown completely out of balance by the Fire Nation’s totalitarianism. His people have faced genocide and have completely wiped out. The other nations are also being largely subdued. His mission is pretty clear, with him having to master the remaining elements, taking on the Fire Lord and ending the war. But there’s more. For Aang there is the emotional trauma he faces. This is because he recognizes it is his absence as the Avatar that has led to the state of things.
The interesting thing about this realization is the fact that this failure is something that extends to his past life. With Avatar Roku, there is a huge case of failure, as his long time friendship and near brotherhood with Fire Lord Sozin blinds him from being more decisive when the latter expresses the desire for world conquest. He did not take the necessary actions, and he could have ended the war before it could have begun.
Aang’s accomplishments might have been lauded by fans and the show’s characters altogether, but they were not without faults. In fact, just like his predecessors before him, he seemed to have created the same cycle of change for his successor in the Avatar cycle.
Aang was able to not only unite the four nations so that they effectively co existed with one another, but he also established the United Republic of Nations. This new republic offers a haven for benders and non-benders. It also boasts of mass industrialization and technological advancements. It was definitely the utopia Aang would have wanted it to be.
And yet it still had its own problems. Surprisingly, many of them came from the systems Aang and Team Avatar put in place. First things first, Republic City’s bureaucracy was grossly incompetent. The bender inhabitants are obviously recipients to some form of favoritism, creating a divide between classes.
With the older forms of governance like the Earth Kingdom monarchy, there seemed to be more interest in preserving the rule of power than there was in actually helping the people. Where his predecessors have failed in some aspects, Aang’s world was also flawed. It refused to have balance.