Aang, Katara, and Sokka were originally a bit younger in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but the series creators aged them up at Nickelodeon’s behest.
Aang and the rest of Team Avatar were either pre-teens or teenagers throughout Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s run, but originally they were going to be younger. The idea that Avatar: The Last Airbender is only a children’s show because it’s animated couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a level of understanding regarding a person’s place in the world and how their actions have consequences, even if they can’t see what those consequences could be at that time.
All of the adult themes that were imbued in Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s story and characterizations carried throughout all three seasons and were then expanded upon in The Legend of Korra. It’s why so many people view the main characters of the original series as being much older than they really are. Given everything they went through, it wouldn’t be surprising if they were in their late teens or early twenties, but instead, they were barely of high school age (if they were in the real world, that is).
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According to series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko in Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Art of the Animated Series, Aang, Katara, and Sokka were originally a little younger, but they were aged-up during development because of a note they received from Eric Coleman, the head of development at Nickelodeon at the time, who said they weren’t looking for coming-of-age stories. So when the show began, Aang went from being 10 years old to 12, Katara from 12 to 14, and Sokka from 13 to 16 years old.
Even though they were still young, Aang being 12 years old and Katara being 14 years old made their young love more believable and somewhat more acceptable, compared to if they were 10 and 12 years old, respectively. The same case applies to Sokka and Suki’s relationship, which had its fair share of adult-themed hints throughout the last season. Plus, with Sokka being 16 years old, he was able to take on a more leadership role than he would have if he was still 13; in that situation, he wouldn’t have been more responsible than Aang was in season 1.
In an animated series like Avatar: The Last Airbender, characters’ ages don’t have too much of an impact on the story or their characterization – not like they would in live-action – but there’s still a understandable choice behind aging up Aang, Katara, and Sokka. If they were all younger, it’s possible the writers and producers wouldn’t have been as open to the series’ more mature themes like they were in the final version. In the end, Nickelodeon’s suggestion to make them older worked out enough for Avatar: The Last Airbender to be a success and for Legend of Korra to have even older characters.
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