A brief analysis about the use of color in Avatar: The Last Airbender relating to Avatar Aang.
Color Analysis Reveals Depth
Avatar: The Last Airbender, an animated series created by Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko that first debuted in 2005, is nothing short of a marvel in all aspects. From downright masterful storytelling, a beautiful art style, and compelling character arcs there probably isn’t much of the show left that hasn’t been looked at, overanalyzed, and praised by critics and fans alike. Except maybe for one of my favorite topics: color.
Why would I overanalyze color, you might ask? Because often, especially in animation, every color choice is painfully deliberate, and colors can have a language all their own. Often there is a lot to learn by dissecting the color choice used on a character or scene.
The Use of Light Blue
To start off I’ll talk about the titular last airbender, Avatar Aang. Firstly, Aang is an Airbender and as such, like the rest of the Airbenders [were], he and his element are associated with light blue. Light blue arrow tattoos are the staple of Aang’s character design and tie into Airbending history, marking one as an Airbending Master and, as such, were worn by many of Aang’s elders.
The act of airbending itself is often also represented by the color of light blue, a visual indicator that whenever we see this color it means that Aang is airbending.
Blue Is Relaxing and Carefree
Light blue is a perfect choice to represent Airbending and the Air Nomad civilization due to the color's natural association with the sky and air around us. It, of course, goes deeper than that, with light blue often being a more relaxing stand-in for its more vibrant alternative and thus reflecting the rather carefree nature that Aang and his fellow airbenders have towards life.
We see multiple times that Aang would rather have fun and goof off than train or fight; this can be played up as a characteristic of being childish as well as a genuine aspect of his culture, as we see through flashbacks that a laid-back attitude was one shared by most airbenders, even adults. Thus, Aang highly likely got these aspects of his personality from his own airbending instructor.
Blue Can Represent Fun and Freedom
Light blue is also a color that can be associated with freedom, of which the air nomads had more than any other nation; their civilizations were free compared to many others, having only four sanctuaries far removed from the rest of the world. Additionally, being referenced often as nomads and having a nomadic lifestyle brings up a certain element of freedom.
Aang tells stories of traveling the globe across the many nations (despite being no older than twelve years old) before the extinction of his people, seemingly unsupervised, something no other culture seems to have encouraged. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the freedom of the power of flight, a power unique to airbenders.
The Use of Orange and Yellow
Aang’s next signature colors are orange and yellow due to his signature traditional Air Nomad garb. This tells us again that these colors can be applied to most other Airbenders, at least as far as being part of the Autumn color pallet.
Yellow and Orange Are Vibrant and Energetic
On Aang specifically, the warm and vibrant colors of orange and yellow are to collaborate in making him feel warm and energetic, two of the first character traits we see him display in the series’ pilot episode.
The two colors being on the warmer and more high-energy side of the color wheel play into Aang’s child-like and happy personality that often takes over in any scene or situation he’s in and often overpowers other colors, even other primary ones such as blue.
This narratively shows that Aang’s actions not only constantly overpower his blue-clad companions but often hold more narrative weight as he is the show's protagonist.
Orange Can Show Seasonal Change
Of course, other meanings of the colors can be applied directly to Aang. Orange can mean change as well, harkening back to being in Autumn’s color pallet (season of change), forebodes Aang’s need for change in the form of character growth and development from a carefree pre-teen into a powerful airbender.
Change also plays an important part around Aang in the fact that everything around him is changed very rapidly and he must learn to accept that the world he used to live in essentially doesn’t exist anymore with how many things have changed. His entire way of living and how he must think changes over the course of what he thinks is a few days but is 100 years!
Orange Can Signify Vitality
Another meaning of orange is vitality, or life, another almost-too-fitting meaning for Aang. This one can be directly tied in with the title of the show, with Aang being the last living Airbender, showing off that even 100 years later the art of Airbending is still active and that through him the culture and ways will continue to live on.
Yellow Is Joyful and Friendly
Yellow is often considered the color of joy and optimism, continuously shown to be two of Aang’s biggest characteristics.
Besides just being a usually warm and friendly person, Aang is often the first to indulge in pleasantries, especially at the start of the series, that serve no purpose other than the intention to make himself and others happy. Aang is also easily the most optimistic of all the characters, being open to forgiving his primary antagonist (Zuko) as early as a dozen episodes into the series as well as being the sole person looking for a better way to defeat his biggest enemy without doing the unthinkable.
Orange and Yellow Featured in Season Three
Notably, orange and yellow are the biggest two colors that return in his season three outfit. After his old clothes are burned beyond repair, Aang spends half a season in disguise without any of his signature colors available. Needless to say, the color shift can be pretty jarring, but the moment he doesn't have to hide anymore he adapts an outfit with the same color scheme as his original airbending robes.
The Use of Grey
One last detail I’d like to analyze about Aang is his eye color, that being a nice grey. This appears strange at first, because it doesn’t fit into the established pattern of eye colors in the other nations but makes a lot of sense when thinking about the meaning of colors.
Grey Is Spiritual
Grey eyes often symbolize spirituality in the modern world, which makes sense as Airbenders were shown to be the most spiritual of all the nations; so spiritual that they were the only group that consisted entirely of benders.
Gray Can Symbolize Wisdom and a Gentle Soul
Among other meanings often associated with grey or silver eyes are creativeness, gentleness, and wisdom, all things vital to Aang as a character and the Air Nomads as a larger culture. Grey eyes can also be associated with monks, on which the Air Nomads as a whole were based.