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9 Seiten, Note: 1,8
1. Trauma Narrative
2. Asian Cultures on women and the concept of mental illness and trauma
Over the course of the 21st Century, the graphic novel has experienced a positive dramatic change in contemporary society that has led to its recognition among other types of literature as a unique and rare art form and is also discussed within an academic context. All kinds of different genres are featured in the new text that combines iconographies featuring art and symbols, illustrations, and written text, which can offer especially young adults a specific and provocative perspective. The focus on visual literacy and symbolism also addresses diverse learning techniques and reading styles while offering younger audiences clear connections to meaningful curricula and standards, e.g., connecting feelings to symbols (Garrison). Since the late 1960s, the coming-of-age genre has been a quintessential theme in young adult literature; with time, it developed a more and more realistic portrayal of adolescence by illustrating the harsh realities and complexities of the journey into adulthood and giving developing readers solace and commiseration (Garrison). Graphic novels can also bridge different cultures and offer the audience a different perspective of growing up by widening their overall knowledge besides their own experiences. Essential themes that are discussed in coming-of-age stories, e.g., during different political times like wartime and colonialism, can also represent marginalised groups, other religions, abuse, or disabilities, both mental and physical (Garrison). All of these are featured and discussed in the graphic novel Avatar: The Last Airbender-The Search, a continuation of the same named television series Avatar: The Last Airbender and a prequel to its follow-up Avatar: The Legend of Korra. Written by Gene Luan Yang and illustrated by the artistic team Studio Gurihiru it was released in three parts in the Nickelodeon magazine and later published as a whole by Dark Horse throughout 2013. The Search takes place after the events of ATLA- The Promise and is divided into two storylines; one follows past events that led up to the disappearance of Ursa, mother to Azula and Zuko and former wife of the fallen Firelord Ozai; the other is set in the present and accompanies “Team Avatar” on their search for Ursa. Here Aang, Katara, Sokka and Zuko arejoined by his “crazy” and “aggressive” sister Azula, the former crown princess, now locked away in a dungeon. ATLA-The Search criticises the ignorant and misogynistic view from Asian cultures on the concept of mental illness and their perception of women within their society in the representation of the mad princess Azula through the trauma narrative; it thereby deepens the understanding and perception ofher villainised character.
Graphic novels, like ATLA -The Search, employ iconical language to narrate psychological stories and therefore are an appropriate field for developing trauma narratives. Trauma narratives often are created through a childhood psychological trauma that is revisited as the current motif of the story and often has a central position in the story. Since the late 1980s, as the US experienced a development in the turn of ethics, the new genre of trauma narratives was explored through the medium of graphic novels. Like Homschemeier’s Asterios Polyp, The Search deals with the rediscovery of a once alienated and villainised character whose “mad and crazy” behaviour has been influenced by the external world. Throughout the story, Azula is restless, always has dark circles under her eyes, and behaves very irrational (Fg. 1-4). This is influenced mainly by the reappearing images and conversations of her mother. Azula seems nowhere to be safe from the image of Ursa, who tells her to change her goals and is determined that another destiny is awaiting her (Fg 5). This haunts her in her sleep and during the day as she suffers hallucinations and aggressive outbursts. These come across as schizophrenic-like episodes and widen her estrangement from her companions and, therefore, the audience (Fg.l). While the goal of the present storyline is for Team Avatar and Azula to find Ursa’s whereabouts, the past storyline also mainly focuses on Ursa’s story. However, there are glimpses of Zuko and Azula’s childhood. The past reveals the struggles Ursa had to face and the events leading up to her disappearance but also the influence the toxic relationship between Ozai and Ursa had on their children, especially Azula. Since Azula was born, she was constantly compared to her elder brother. To her advantage, she excelled in mastering fire bending and took after her talented yet cruel father. Soon, their father started to favour her instead of her empathetic, kind- hearted brother and created a power-driven monster. The fact Azula took after Ozai left Ursa scared of her own daughter led her to focus on Zuko. Since the engagement, Ozai has used Ursa, granddaughter to former Avatar Roku, to create powerful descendants while forcefully separating her from her former fiancé and family; he also often referred to her as his possession (Yang. 36). Therefore, Azula never really experienced the unconditional love parents should show to their children but learned the only way to be recognised and loved is through power and domination. \nATLA. she not only loses her friends and the position as the crown princess but also the admiration of her father and is left locked away in a dungeon as a villain. The character Azula, once depicted as the “mad woman” of the Avatar universe, reveals herself as a “normal” teenage girl who is the product of a toxic relationship, having trust issues and always being afraid of abandonment. Overall, this offers young adults a new and provocative perspective on the representation of mental illnesses in media such as graphic novels.
Also, the graphic novel ATLA- The Search, as both an adaptation and continuation of the television series, is heavily influenced by metafictional elements, particularly the cultures of China and East Asia. Still, there are also cultural references from South Asia, mainly India, and various indigenous cultures like the ones inhabiting Arctic regions. These are represented for one in the concept of the elements, taken from the Hindustan and Buddhistic concept of the five classical elements and reduced to the dominantly known four, which take over a leading role in the Avatar universe. Also, the concept of an avatar that can “cross over”, “descend” into the spirit world and whose sole purpose is to rid the world of evil and keep the peace and balance of the elements can be derived from the concept of different incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu or the Buddhistic concept of reincarnation (Bhattaru. 19; Britannica) Furthermore, the role of women in pre-modem Southeast Asia lost its relatively favourable position because of the rise of the centralised states and the spread of new ethics and philosophies like Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity. They all increasingly privileged the position of males and reduced females to subordinate positions. As a result, female citizens often found themselves marginalised in a male-dominated culture. For a very long time, women were seen as a burden and worthless. Since the End ofWWII, the newly independent states that emerged over the next 15 years were committed to the topic of gender equality. However, it has not been translated into reality yet. As Poizner suggests, in contrast to the realities of Asian Culture, the ATLA universe does an excellent job of exploring the nature and virtues of femininity; several characters are portrayed as “strong women”, but the factor of strength is not seen as their only valuable quality (24-25). Leading characters Katara, Suki and Toph are exceptional fighters but also very empathic. The study from Jackson confirmed that the qualities of both male and female characters reject “gendered” qualities; female characters have “typical” male-associated traits such as leadership abilities, and male characters were depicted as more emotional (15). This same dynamic is portrayed in Zuko and Azula. She is seen as the more aggressive but talented one, while Zuko had to work hard to achieve the same bending level as her. One arguable factor that suggests sexism 'm ATLA is that the television series favoured the point of view of Zuko. The television series, obviously the most known and easiest accessible, leaves the audience with lingering hatred for the mad princes. Only the follow-up graphic novel discusses Azula’s background and complex character, but those are not as accessible, well known and must be purchased. Therefore, Azula will stay the misunderstood and crazy antagonist for a more significant percentage of the ATLA audience. Specifically, the influence of Asian cultures can also be seen in the royal family of the Fire Nation. Ozai, former leader of the fire nation and father of Azula and Zuko, was only ever interested in success and pressured his children to their limits. While Zuko could escape his father’s grasp and emotionally detached himself from him, Azula found her ruin as she lost the last thing that gave her life purpose- her father’s approval. The moment when Azula fails her mission to destroy the Avatar and kill her brother, her father disowns her, she loses her confidence and mentally collapses. The demand for spectacular and vocational achievement originates from the Confucian value of filial piety (Poon). Today, Asian children, especially those from immigrant families, have shown to be broan of extreme pressure to meet their parent’s high educational expectations (Singh). These can result in an insurmountable amount of pressure and fear of being seen as flawed, leading to psychological problems by trying to uphold the high standards of society, the educational system, and Asian families (Singh). Following the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health article, “Asians with mental illness [are] perceived to be dangerous and aggressive”. Especially patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are alienated in Asian societies (Zhang). Therefore, there is a high need for renewed efforts to understand stigma, an attitude of disapproval towards people with mental illnesses, and strategies which can effectively reduce stigma in Asian societies (Zhang). Just as in reality, even Team Avatar behaves strangely towards Azula; they do not know how to deal with her psychotic episodes and still see her as the gone mad villainess. They try to be friendly toward her, but every time she breaks the trust of the friend group, she self-isolates herself again. This seemingly never-ending circle is only disturbed by Zuko, who does not want to give up on his sister and sees the relationship between Sokka and Katara as an example (Yang.75). When Azula is taken out of her usual environment and forced to socialise with other characters, she uses aggression as a mask for social difficulties and appears insecure. Rather than using her mental illness as a characteristic that alienates her from viewers, as television and movies often do, it is used to make her more relatable" (Poizner. 26). A graphic novel like ATLA- The Search is a start to approach the topic of mental illness and provides the opportunity for the audience to have closer contact with psychiatric characters while trying to detach them from the role of the villain. This can reduce the factor of fear and enhance their understanding which will ultimately reduce the discrimination in Asian societies against mentally ill people.