Presenting OTP Tuesday! Each Tuesday I will introduce you to a new One True Pairing! Tune in each week to find out which fictional couple you need to agonize/squee over next. Today I prepare to kick a hornet’s nest by firmly throwing my support to the Kataang team!
Who Are Kataang?
Although the name sounds more like a zesty fruit drink, it refers to the pairing of two characters from Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. The pairing is between Aang and Katara.
If you haven’t watched AtLA, watch it. Right now. I’ll wait. Trust me, it’s worth your time. Despite the fact that the show is ostensibly for children, it’s one of the best developed, most thought-provoking shows I’ve ever watched. There’s a rich depth and moral complexity to the show, all centering around the protagonist: Aang.
Aang is the titular “last Airbender.” In the world of AtLA, people can, but not necessarily must bend one of the four elements: water, earth, fire, or air. One special person can bend all four elements, and they are known as the Avatar. The Avatar is tasked with maintaining peace and balance in the world and with the spirit world, as well.
At the beginning of AtLA, Aang is found frozen in an iceberg by two Water Tribe siblings. They discover that Aang has been frozen for a century, during which time his people — the airbenders — were wiped out. The world has been at war for the last century, and Aang is the last hope to stop the Fire Nation’s imperial march across the planet.
However, Aang is a goofy twelve-year-old. He’s very talented, but he’s also twelve. He plays jokes, he crushes on girls, he struggles with insecurity, all typical preteen things. At the same time, he has to deal with the legacy of being the last of his people, and upholding the Air Nomad values of peace and non-conflict, which still ending a century-long war. No pressure.
Over the course of the show’s three seasons, however, Aang grows up fast. He learns all four elements. He forms friendships with people of all nations and backgrounds. In the end, Aang is able to end the war while minimizing bloodshed, respecting his people’s legacy.
Katara is one of the Water Tribe siblings who finds Aang, along with her older brother, Sokka. They live in the Southern Water Tribe, which has been hit particularly hard by the war. Katara and Sokka’s mother was killed in the last raid by the Fire Navy, and their father has left to support the Earth Kingdom war efforts.
In the meantime, the siblings are left to watch over their small tribe. Sokka, a nonbender, takes it upon himself to train the children who are left to be warriors. He focuses on defending his home. Katara, on the other hand, is a waterbender. Not only that, but she is the last waterbender in her tribe. The Fire Navy has captured all other Southern waterbenders.
Katara dreams of becoming a waterbending master, but to do so, she must travel to the North Pole. When she finds Aang, she hopes he may train her. He cannot, but agrees to take her with him to the North Pole, as he also needs a waterbending teacher. Katara’s hopes are dashed, however, when the Northern waterbenders refuse to train a girl.
The best way to sum up Katara’s character is in her response to this slight. She challenges the waterbending master to a duel, untrained though she is. She fights fiercely and fairly competently, though she is no match for a fully trained master. However, her tenacity impresses him, and he agrees to train her. She soon becomes Aang’s teacher when they leave the North Pole.
Katara is a prodigy. She only received a few weeks of formal training, but she learned quickly and mastered her element as a teenager. She learns all niche forms of waterbending, too.
Saving the World
The trio leaves the North Pole because they are in a time crunch to end the war before a year passes. Katara continues to train Aang. In the meantime, Aang also finds an earthbending teacher, Toph. She clashes with the group at first, especially Katara, but soon blends in with the Gaang (I didn’t make that up, I promise).
Now we have four teenagers/preteens traveling the world together, unsupervised. Is it really any shock that hormones and emotions would come into play? Aang has had a crush on Katara pretty much ever since he saw her face, waking up from the iceberg. For her part, Katara seems to view Aang as a little brother, though moments pop up with more potential.
Things are complicated. They have no time to pursue romance; they are trying to save the world. Meanwhile, another person joins their group: Zuko, the firebending prince who had previously been hunting the Avatar. Now, he is here to train Aang in firebending. He and Katara clash particularly fiercely, leading many to read romantic chemistry incorrectly. (DON’T @ ME ZUTARA SHIPPERS.)
As things heat up and the deadline nears, our group is stressed. Aang wants to end the war, but he refuses to kill Zuko’s father, Firelord Ozai, to do so. It would go against his beliefs as an Air Nomad. He is able to find a way to remove Ozai as a threat without resorting to murder, saving the world and upholding the beliefs of his now almost extinct people.
Finally, the war is over, and peace looms. Faced with the prospect of an almost normal life, Katara and Aang can look to that potential that has constantly hovered in the background. They share a kiss; the show ends. They later marry and have three children together.
Why is Kataang OTP?
Kataang is the most natural, seamless relationship I’ve ever experienced in fiction, and that’s saying something. I’m a hardcore shipper — I write a weekly series about ships. Clearly, this is something that I think about a lot.
Of all the ships out there, I’ve never experienced one as smooth as Kataang. There’s conflict and drama, of course, because otherwise, it wouldn’t be good storytelling. But the conflict never pushes past the limits of tension and teenage hormones. They belong together. It just is.
One of the biggest ships in AtLA fandom is Zutara — shipping Katara with the Fire Prince Zuko. Zutara shippers would argue that Katara is more suited to Zuko because their fierce arguments and fiery hatred has to mean something deeper, right? Plus, (according to Zutara shippers) Katara only sees Aang as a friend or a brother. They see no romance here.
I’m sorry, but what show are they watching? Firstly, bickering and antagonism are not equitable to romantic potential. This is a problem that pop culture has built up. Watching so many couples come together who seem to interact solely through negative attention has warped our views of what a healthy relationship is.
Secondly, the show builds up Kataang over the course of three seasons. Right from the very first episode, the first time Aang sees Katara’s face, he falls in love. But it gets developed further than an instantaneous crush. Aang’s love for Katara keeps him going when his depressions and hopelessness could overwhelm him. That’s powerful love right there.
For her part, Katara may have initially seen Aang as only a friend, but that definitely changes. Even in the first season, there are moments when something more might be hinted at. Katara starts to think of Aang as something more, and this builds up over the course of the show.
Kataang is not sprung on viewers, nor is it unrealistic wish-fulfillment. It’s a healthy relationship that develops out of true friendship and harmony. These are two people who come together as equals, who help and support each other, and who, at the end of the day, truly love each other.
For any who still doubt the ultimate rightness of Kataang, I’d like to point to the aftermath. AtLA ends with Aang and Katara kissing, having finally accomplished their goal of saving the world. But that’s not the end for Kataang.
The story continues through graphic novels, which detail their budding relationship. Their relationship plays a part in these continuing stories. However, the real future is shown in the follow-up television show Legend of Korra. LoK picks up after Aang’s death, seventy years after the ending of AtLA. It follows the new Avatar, Korra.
Korra is the new incarnation of the Avatar — she is literally Aang reborn, though she is also her own person. She needs to learn airbending, which would normally be pretty difficult as the Air Nomads were wiped out. Luckily, however, Aang had children, and one of his children is an Airbender named Tenzin.
Tenzin, along with his siblings Bumi and Kya, are living (fictional) proof of the love that Aang and Katara shared. This wasn’t just a romance for the duration of AtLA or the subsequent graphic novels. This love endured, created new life, and shaped the very future of the Avatar world. While Korra is the star of her show, Tenzin and his siblings play a big part.
What’s Next for Kataang?
Well, after three seasons of television and several trilogies of graphic novels, we may have sadly reached the end of Katara and Aang’s story. More graphic novels may come, but the writers seem to be turning their attention to graphic novels that follow the end of Legend of Korra (and its main couple, Korrasami!).
If we consider Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi to be the embodiment of Kataang, then I suppose one could argue that what’s next is seeing the continuing adventures of these three in the LoK graphic novels. Otherwise, it may be the end of Kataang — though, as always, there is always fanfiction waiting to soothe an aching heart.
Is Kataang Canon?
YES! (I just love saying that. So many of my ships are non-canon or nebulously canon that I get excited to have a straight-up confirmed canon pairing!) Kataang was made canon by the ending of AtLA when the two kissed. Canonicity was further driven home in the graphic novels.
And just in case you still wanted to dispute, Legend of Korra truly throws out any arguments. Katara and Aang fell in love, married, and had three children. That’s about as canon as it gets.
Kataang is canon. Deal with it, Zutara shippers.
Cover art by Monica McClain.