Avatar was the gateway drug to Sobriquet’s anime obsession. Therefore, it holds a special place in his heart.
Throughout the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise, we have seen many powerful benders. Whether it’s Aang or Korra, or someone powerful who’s not an Avatar like Ozai or Toph, many tough warriors originate from each of the four nations. Throughout the story, we’ve seen advantages and disadvantages to all of the elements, as well as various unique ways to bend them. An argument can be made for any of their greatnesses, and that’s the way it was supposed to be. No element is dominant.
Or that’s what we’re led to believe. In reality, when delving into the abilities of each element, it is clear (to yours truly, at least) that one element is capable of more than the others. Which one, you ask? Let’s take a look.
Surprising, right? Firebending is the most feared and painful bending in ATLA. It’s not the element most would expect to be sitting at the bottom of the barrel looking dejected. It’s the power of the big scary bad guys. It’s not a bending art to F around with. Then again, none of the elements are. Firebending just happens to be, in reality, the least worrisome.
Let’s start with the good in firebending: it’s the most painful and deadly of the elements. (Was “good” the right word to use there?) If another type of bender lands a hit on you, it hurts, but it can be shaken off pretty quick. The burns of extreme flames cannot be shaken off pretty quick. Good ol’ Prince/Lord Zuko is evidence enough of that. All it would take is one blow to make you feel like giving up. Not only that, but lightningbending can force you to give up after one blow. You’d be too dead to fight back.
But lightningbending can be dodged and blocked, just like all firebending attacks. It’s also important to note that all of the excruciating effects of firebending can also be felt by the firebender in the wrong circumstances. It’s the hardest of the elements to master, as one wrong move can make you burn yourself or worse, as we saw with Sparky Sparky Boom Man. Firebending’s greatest power is pain, which is a double-edged sword.
Finally, firebending is very limited. Nearly all of the elements have limits on when they can be used, but firebending is the worst of them. It can’t be too wet, cold, or dark. On an arid, warm, sunny day, maybe firebending is the best. Generally though, it isn’t quite at the others’ level.
Despite being in the name of the franchise, airbending is often overlooked and receives the least screen-time of all of the elements. For this reason and others, many feel that it is the least impressive element. I’m not here to tell you that it whimsically blows and gusts it’s way to first place, but I will say that it is underrated.
The biggest advantage of airbending versus other bending arts is its convenience. Each of the other elements has some kind of limitation as to when it can be used. Air is the only exception, as its source surrounds everything. An unlimited ammo supply scattered everywhere you go is obviously extremely valuable in battle. The airbender immediately has the upper hand in any fight.
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Airbending is also the quickest of the elements. While firebending and earthbending have the advantage of strength, airbending and waterbending rely on speed and agility. Between the two, airbending is the more nimble bending art, allowing its user to quickly reach an enemy no matter the distance and unleash a flurry of blows. Airbenders can even achieve flight, which not only is a pain for their opponent but is really fun. Airbending is definitely the most fun element, if that matters.
Despite all this, it still is just airbending. Fighting with air? It doesn’t really strike fear into enemies’ hearts. It’s the least lethal of the elements, which is why many argue its inferiority. However, it has the advantage of convenience and speed over all of the others, and that’s something to be commended.
I nearly had Earth at number one if it weren’t for one major factor, but I’m not going to spoil that for you, (I’m sure you have no idea what number one is at this point.) Let’s start with the downsides of earthbending: it’s the slowest element. This is a cost of strength that is well worth it, as the difference in reaction time is minuscule. Also, if you are cut off from any ground for whatever reason, you can’t bend, although I consider this an advantage over more limited elements like fire and water. It would only apply if you were fighting very high in the sky, which, needless to say, doesn’t happen very often.
Earthbending is the strongest bending art, which makes sense as getting hit in the head by a rock hurts a lot more than getting hit by some air. Generally, it’s not as painful as fire, but earth does overpower fire as well as the others in a full-on blast. It’s hard to beat raw physical strength.
Just as there are many different materials that make up Earth, there are lots of variations of earthbending. Metalbending and sandbending allow for earthbending in scenarios where earthbenders can’t use their beloved boulders. Perhaps most powerful of all is lavabending. Do I even need to explain why? How badly would you want to fight someone who can throw lava at you? This gives earthbending many of the advantages of firebending, like the pain and deadliness. Fun stuff.
Perhaps the most unique ability of earthbending is seismic sense. As you may already know, this gives you a heightened sense of your surroundings. As if convenience, brawn, and lava wasn’t enough, earthbenders can read you like a book through your vibrations. Funny, Toph and company were giving vibe checks long before anyone else.
And so, water is the strongest element. Like air, waterbending doesn’t sound very intimidating, but every ATLA fan knows that this is deceiving for a number of reasons. For starters, waterbending is a fast bending art. It’s not quite as quick as air, but a waterbender can outmaneuver an earthbender or firebender with relative ease.
This speed comes at the expense of the pure destructive strength we see in earth and firebenders. Additionally, waterbending is useless without a liquid source. However, these are the only major weaknesses, and they aren’t that bad. Water can be destructive when it needs to be and liquids can be found pretty much anywhere.
Waterbending mainly beat out the others thanks to its special abilities. While earth may have a bit more abilities, water’s are more powerful. That’s largely thanks to bloodbending. For those who do not know, bloodbending is the ability to control the blood inside of an opponent, and therefore control your opponent’s body. That right there, folks, is unbeatable. We don’t see it much in the ATLA universe as it’s extremely difficult to master and frowned upon by any decent human being. Those limitations don’t matter here, though, as these rankings reflect the full power of each element. Bloodbending at full power is unstoppable. None of the other elements stood a chance.
And it doesn’t end there. The element of water has healing capabilities, an ability completely exclusive to this bending art and tremendously useful. Not only can it heal physical ailments, but we’ve seen it used mentally, like when Katara restored Jet’s memory. Who knows what it’s capable of at full power. Finally, there’s icebending, which allows waterbending to achieve strong, physical attacks. This way, waterbenders may attain many of the advantages of earthbenders, which shows just how far ahead the number one element is compared to the number two.
Fourth place didn’t really find its fire. Third place wasn’t much better, gasping for air. Second place rocked a bit more, while first place really made waves. Do you agree with my rankings? After that slew of ungodly puns, you probably don’t, and that’s okay. Each of the elements has aspects that make it unique. In the end, we should really just be thankful that such an iconic power system exists at all.