Mai Avatar: Mai is best-known as the typically bored, angsty girlfriend of Prince Zuko during Avatar: The Last Airbender. Although her sassy indifference is basically a negative trait, audiences have found Mai to be rather endearing. After all, who doesn’t have days where they simply don’t give a damn about anything? Even if it’s only occasionally, we are all capable of those moods. Mai basically reflects that part of our personalities, which is why she is so likable!
Even the happiest among us have to do things in everyday life that we’d rather not do. Washing the dishes at home, helping awkward customers at work – you name it! Most people just get on with those menial day-to-day tasks. But Mai is completely honest in those moments. She isn’t afraid to express what she is thinking, even if that might make other people uncomfortable.
It’s true that somebody like Mai isn’t necessarily a good role model. For example, Mai isn’t one of the happiest characters in the series and doesn’t enjoy her life as much as, say, Aang – or even her best friend, Ty Lee. But Mai is pretty much a bad-ass, and the Gothic angel of the entire Avatar franchise. Who doesn’t want to be at least a bit more like her?!
Mai also undergoes a real transformation in her personality by the end of the series. Audiences love to see characters develop and learn throughout a story. Mai is a great example of this in practice.
Without further ado, here’s her story – the good and the bad. We hope you enjoy it! 🙂
Mai Avatar: Her Life Story
Mai Avatar: Upbringing
Mai’s upbringing was exceedingly comfortable – too comfortable, in fact.
Her father, Ukano, was a governor of New Ozai. He bought anything Mai wanted … so long as she behaved the way a governor’s daughter was expected to behave (i.e. quiet, polite, and sensible).
That might sound like a dream come true for many kids growing up, especially those who grew up without even a sniff of luxury. But Mai’s upbringing lacked something essential, despite the abundance that was given to her. In being rewarded for good behavior, she was conditioned to be emotionally distant and cold. In ‘The Beach’ (S3E6) she reflected that this was a form of emotional neglect from her parents, resulting in her moody, teenage angst.
Mai’s mother, Michi, also told Mai stories about the Kemurikage (dark spirits that kidnapped badly-behaving children). This was another strategy of forcing Mai to behave as she was expected to, inadvertently conditioning her to yield to the demands of forceful and aggressive leaders (Azula, for instance).
Accusing Ukano and Michi of bad parenting might seem appropriate at this point. Ukano thought he was doing a good thing by buying extravagant gifts for his daughter, it’s safe to say. And Michi’s own mother told her stories about the Kemurikage as a child. Mai’s parents only raised her the way they did because they believed it was the correct way to raise their child.
Maybe they were bad parents. But that isn’t entirely their fault.
Mai Avatar: Knife Throwing
Mai’s knife-throwing skills are arguably better than anybody else’s in the Avatar franchise. The origins of those skills is quite a sad story in itself, though (typically for Mai!).
She used to throw knives at her bedroom wall due to the levels of boredom she experienced. Mai resorted to this because she hated life in the Fire Nation so much. Perhaps she was also letting out the pent-up anger that she’d been unable to express in public or with her parents.
Later, Mai was enrolled in the Fire Nation Academy for Girls. She met Princess Azula and Ty Lee there, who noticed Mai’s skill with weapons pretty quickly.
Anybody who has watched Avatar: The Last Airbender knows that Azula grew up to be an intelligent and highly manipulative gal. Well, she was no slack at a young age, either.
At a sleepover, Azula made the suggestion that she, Mai, and Ty Lee should steal the mochi that Mai’s mother Michi had made as a gift for Mai’s grandmother’s 70th birthday. After going along with stealing the mochi, Mai & Ty Lee eventually refused to eat it. Instead, Azula went on to eat the entire dessert by herself.
Mai was uninvolved in this rascality. Nonetheless, she had nightmares about the Kemurikage abducting her for stealing the mochi afterward.
On another occasion, Princess Azula observed Mai’s obvious attraction to Prince Zuko. Upon doing so, she initiated a ‘game’ with Mai, Zuko, and Ty Lee. She balanced an apple on Mai’s head, claiming that players had to knock it off in a certain way. She demonstrated this by setting the apple on fire atop Mai’s head, prompting Zuko to tackle Mai into the pond behind her to put out the fire on her head. Azula got to laugh, telling Ty Lee “I told you it would work!”
Poor Mai! Raised by her parents and alongside the psychotic Princess Azula!
Mai Avatar: The Last Airbender Book 2: Earth
Mai’s first appearance in the Avatar series is in episode 3 (‘Return to Omashu’) of the second season, Earth.
She had been forced to live in the recently-conquered Earth kingdom of Omashu by her parents. Her father had been appointed governor of the city – so Mai, her mother Michi, and her new two-year-old brother Tom-Tom (who is simply adorable, by the way!) came with him.
Mai was complaining about how boring life was in Omashu (describing it as “unbearably bleak”). Just then, the Omashu resistance attempted to assassinate Mai, her mother, and Tom-Tom. They rolled a huge boulder down towards them that surely would’ve crushed them. But Avatar Aang stopped the boulder with his airbending after appearing on the scene by chance.
Desperate for some excitement – and mistakenly believing Team Avatar (Aang, Katara, and Sokka) to be responsible for the assassination attempt – Mai showcased her combat skills for the first time.
She pursued Team Avatar alongside a team of Omashu guards, demonstrating the frightening accuracy of her long-distance knife-throwing. More persistent and skillful than the guards, Mai actually got close to catching up with Team Avatar. But they were saved by members of the resistance who earthbended the ground beneath them to steal them away from Mai’s hungry claws.
Meanwhile, Mai’s brother Tom-Tom had wandered off and found himself in the campsite of the Resistance. Mai’s father, Ukano, assumed the resistance had kidnapped him.
Formation of “Ozai’s Angels”
Adding to a dramatic day for Mai, her old pal Princess Azula turned up. She invited Mai into the fan-named “Ozai’s Angels” team, which would consist of Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai. They would go on working together for the majority of The Last Airbender series.
“Are you here to kill me?” Mai dryly asked of Azula, before joining the Princess on her mission to capture Zuko and Iroh. Despite her reluctance to pursue Zuko (her childhood crush), Mai was relieved that an opportunity arose to save her from her draining existence in Omashu.
As Princess, Azula appointed Mai to take control from her father of the trade between the government and the resistance for the governor’s son (and Mai’s brother) Tom-Tom. In the negotiation with Team Avatar, Azula asserts that swapping a two-year-old boy for a King (Bumi, Aang’s friend) is not a fair trade. Mai agrees, raising King Bumi out of reach from Team Avatar and out of the trade. Ozai’s Angels and Team Avatar then commenced their first battle against each other, resulting in Team Avatar’s escape.
Aang returns baby Tom-Tom to his parents (without them knowing it was him) and Mai’s broken family is restored. But this is a pretty chilling first impression of Mai. Her willingness to give up baby Tom-Tom in negotiations gave a view of the meanest, most Stoic side of her personality. It is possibly the nastiest perspective we ever get of Mai.
Mai Avatar: Skillful, But Indifferent
Following the hairy trail left behind by Appa, the Aang’s flying vison, Ozai’s Angels intensely pursued Team Avatar for some time. When catching up with them, Mai, Azula, and Ty Lee left a lasting impression on the series’ heroes with their high-level combat skills. Mai and Ty Lee get the better of Sokka and Katara a few times throughout the series, while Azula gets dangerously close to capturing Aang.
Later in the series, Mai assisted Ozai’s Angels in defeating the Kyoshi Warriors (led by Sokka’s love interest, Suki). After describing the Kyoshi Warrior outfits as “nauseous,” Mai and the Angels dressed up in those outfits to infiltrate the kingdom of Ba Sing Se.
Her fighting skills were never in question. But her commitment to Azula’s mission seemed quite low on a number of occasions. During the Fire Nation’s initial attack on Ba Sing Se, Mai refused to chase Sokka and Katara into a sewage pipe, disgusted by the appearance and smell of the “wall sludge juice.” Classic!
Later on, during The Coup of Ba Sing Se, Team Avatar (now accompanied by Toph Beifong) regrouped and came to reclaim Earth King Kuei’s pet bear from the guard of Mai and Ty Lee. Completely disinterested in the menial task of guarding the pet, Mai told Team Avatar to “just take the bear.”
Yup. Mai really didn’t give a single iota!
Relationship with Zuko
Azula set Mai up on a date with Zuko, with the hope that she could lure the Prince back home. As a result, Mai rekindled the childhood spark that had existed between her and the future Firelord.
But Mai and Zuko’s relationship was bumpy at best. There were plenty of sweet moments of affection shared between the moody pair – who clear bonded over their shared negative outlooks on the world. But, also due to that shared negativity, they found themselves becoming irritated and angry with one another on an equally regular basis.
In Book 3, Episode 6 (‘The Beach’), Mai briefly broke up with Zuko because of his angry demeanor. They get back together in the same episode and their relationship improves significantly after they both express their emotions to each other (as well as to Ty Lee and Azula, both of whom released emotions of their own). But she received a letter from Zuko, in ‘The Day of Black Sun’, explaining that he was going to join Team Avatar. Mai’s heart was broken for the first time as she read the letter.
At The Boiling Rock, where the warden (Mai’s uncle, Mishi’s brother) held Zuko prisoner, she returned to argue with her now ex-boyfriend. Mai, uncharacteristically frustrated and affected, questioned Zuko’s motives in leaving. She disagreed with his view that he had to do what he did in order to save his country. Then, Zuko took an opportunity to escape the cell, locking Mai in there with a prison guard.
“I Love Zuko More Than I Fear You”
Mai turned from villain to hero when she prevented Azula’s attempt to stop Zuko, Sokka, Suki, and Hakoda from completing their prison break. Stunned at her betrayal, Azula goes to attack Mai – one of the only people ever to show her authority such a lack of respect. But, as Azula readied her attack, she was chi-blocked by the other of Ozai’s Angels, Ty Lee.
In spite of all Mai’s awesome combat skills, this was possibly the bravest we ever see of her. Standing up to Azula is no mean feat. But Mai doesn’t give a damn. She told the controlling Princess what she really thought, following her heart rather than her head.
Furious, Azula arrested her former allies and proceeded to go a little bit insane.
In prison, though, Mai and Ty Lee meet and befriend their former foes: the Kyoshi Warriors.
Ty Lee joins the Kyoshi Warriors after the war, when they are released from prison. Mai, meanwhile, returns to her lover, Zuko – forgiving him for previously breaking her heart.
They dated again for a while after Zuko’s coronation as Firelord. You could be forgiven for thinking that their new relationship, having both turned corners in their respective lives, would be much stronger.
The new relationship wasn’t as smooth as the lovers had hoped. As Firelord, Zuko confided in Mai less and less; her frustration grew with his poor communication over time. When her new friend Suki told her that Zuko had been meeting with his father, the former Firelord Ozai, Mai decided she’d had enough of him keeping secrets from her. Hurt by Zuko’s lack of effort, she broke up with him once again. What a mess!
Moving on: Meeting Kei Lo
In an attempt to overcome yet another broken heart, Mai worked in her Aunt’s flower shop for a while. She was approached and asked out by Kei Lo – a fresh-faced young man with a huge crush on Mai – while working there.
She agreed to go on a date with Kei Lo and actually had a great time.
However, Kei Lo then took Mai to a meeting of the ‘New Ozai Society’ – a movement that aimed to reinstate Ozai as Firelord, overthrowing Zuko. Mai was enraged at Kei Lo and the society for their ideology – and was even more shocked to learn that her father was the society’s founding member.
She angrily fought with society members, defeating them easily. Left standing was her father and Kei Lo. Mai told her father that bringing her baby brother Tom-Tom to a place like that was completely unacceptable. And she punched Kei Lo square in the face for good measure, declaring their date to be over. Vintage Mai.
The Gothic Angel was never one to shy away from drama, that’s for sure!
Battling the New Ozai Society
Mai, her mother, and Tom-Tom moved out of her father’s home after Mai informed Michi of Ukano’s involvement with the New Ozai Society.
While catching up with Ty Lee, Kei Lo returned to visit Mai again. Mai acted enthusiastically pleased to see him, to the surprise of Ty Lee. Encouraged by Mai’s affection, Kei Lo told her that Ukano had plans to assassinate Firelord Zuko and his family. When Kei Lo left, Mai went back to her usual, emotionally-detached self, causing Ty Lee to criticize her lack of honesty towards Kei Lo. Mai explained that she didn’t trust Kei Lo and just wanted to hear what he had to say. Ty Lee, though, told Mai that she believed Kei Lo was telling the truth.
Mai grappled with her lack of trust towards Kei Lo until his claims, eventually, proved to be accurate. He then helped Mai to save Zuko’s life and defeat the New Ozai Society.
After those events, Mai spoke with an apologetic and caring Kei Lo. She kissed him for the first time … but, as she did, witnessed what looked like Kemurikage spirits – who she had nightmares about as a child – kidnapping Tom-Tom.
Aang Helps With Kemurikage Spirits; Zuko Talks to Mai
Firelord Zuko returned again, enlisting the help of Avatar Aang to save Tom-Tom as well as other children that had been kidnapped. Avatar’s ability to contact the spirit world would be useful in tackling spirit problems, he figured.
Mai, meanwhile, was accused by her father of being the reason Tom-Tom was kidnapped. Kei Lo then encourages her to inform Zuko that Ukano was involved with the New Ozai Society. She didn’t want to expose her father, though, because she wanted Tom-Tom to grow up with a father.
Avatar Aang, Firelord Zuko, and Kei Lo helped Mai to explore the reasons for the Kemurikage attacks. During their mission, Mai and Zuko continued their old-time bickering, much to the awkwardness of Aang and Kei Lo.
Mai and Zuko eventually got some time alone, where the Firelord asked Mai about her feelings for him compared to her feelings for Kei Lo. Angry at Zuko’s initiation of such a conversation, she insisted they both move on. She tells Zuko that she felt stupid for letting him break her heart twice. Then she told him that Kei Lo liked her more than she liked him, which she preferred because it prevented her from getting hurt the same way again.
When Aang and Kei Lo returned, Aang informed Mai and Zuko that he spoke to his contacts in the spirit world. Apparently, the Kemurikage spirits hadn’t actually entered the mortal world at all. The child-abductors, then, were imposters.
Saving Tom-Tom from An Old Friend
The team soon learned that the ‘fake Kemurikage’ was headed by none other than Princess Azula, who had been released from prison by Zuko just a few months earlier (fool!).
Along with Aang, Zuko, and Kei Lo, Mai managed to retrieve Tom-Tom from the Kemurikage – thanks, too, to the help of her father Ukano.
When the events transpired, Azula and her Kemurikage managed to escape arrest, while Ukano turned himself over to the prison. He apologized to Mai for his behavior and promised that he will try to make it up to everyone from that point onwards.
Mai, though, broke up with Kei Lo, leaving him in tears. Clearly, she didn’t feel like working on a relationship after all the heavy drama that had recently gone down.
What Happened Next?
Mai’s break-up with Kei Lo is Mai’s last appearance in the Avatar franchise’s literature (so far).
However, Gene Yang – who was involved in the writing of some Avatar comics – claimed in an interview that Mai and Zuko got back together 3 years following her break-up with Kei Lo. In The Legend of Korra, we learn that Zuko has a daughter called Izumi. But it is not revealed who her mother is. That has led some fans to further speculate about Zuko’s relationship with Mai.
The adult life and death of Mai, then, is currently unclear. But keep an eye on this page – if we learn anything new about Mai’s life, we will update this article.
Mai Avatar: The Goth Angel
One thing is for sure, though. Mai redeemed herself from being a villain (a quirky villain, but a villain all the same) in her first appearance to being a character we root for in her later appearances. She is one of the many characters in the Avatar franchise that we can’t help but feel affection for.
Plus, her Gothic style is definitely among the coolest of all the characters in the series. Mai will inevitably have a cult following as long as the Avatar franchise remains popular.