Prince Zuko is a fictional minor character in Nickelodeon’s popular animated cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. He is the son of Aang and Vaatu, the two last chief ministers of the Earth Kingdom. In the series, he is shown as an honorable, wise and respected prince who greatly admires his uncle, Aang, and his bending skills. He is shown training both Aang and Katara in the techniques of flying and control of their air benders, respectively. He is also shown to be a great friend to both Bumi and Jafar, the two rivals for control of the Avatar.
But underneath all of this, there is one undeniable fact about Prince Zuko: he is an Asian. When the show began, most American children and adults did not even give it a second glance. This shows in the show’s early episodes, when the entire main cast is Caucasian. However, in the last ten years or so, Avatar has successfully merged the Chinese history with the colorful tradition of Asian art and animation.
For example, in the last season, Aang tries to get his team to shift their focus from being destructive to being helpful. However, as much as he wants to help, he knows that if he does not do it on his own, then it will be impossible for Team Avatar to stop villains such as the Dai Li. Because of this, Zuko decides that he will have to change, which he does by… changing himself. Which means that he turns into a man and uses the ethnicity that made him a prince in the first place… Cabbage Merchant.
It is this transformation that makes Cabbage Merchant the perfect Asian actor for a role as strong as Zuko. Though a slight bit short on screen time, his presence is felt. After all, no one who saw the finale of the last airbender episode, either in person or on television, would have known that Nickelodeon had replaced Zuko’s father with a man (in this case, a bald, evil villain). Because of this, it is entirely possible that many American viewers missed out on seeing what was so interesting about Cabbage.
One other thing that proves Cabbage is an actor worth studying is his voice. Dimartino has a soft, smooth tone that lends itself very nicely to the avatar’s character. This is most notable in the very end of the show, where he simply expresses how sorry he is for destroying the village. It is this honesty that makes Cabbage the perfect Asian voice for a role as a live-action avatar.
What is interesting, too, is that the same actor also provided the voice of both Aang and Zuko in the last Avatar film. So this gives us two more examples of how Asian-American actors can easily fit into a live-action avatar show. Yes, Avatar presents an ideal platform for many talented actors. And it does not take an exceptional actor to play Zuko, Aang, or the other characters because anyone can simply learn to be Asian American.
The other thing that proves that Cabbage is indeed an excellent Asian-American actor worth studying is that he was also chosen to be the lead in one of the most popular shows of all time. The Adventures of Zuko, which chronicles the misadventures of a young Chinese girl (Zuko) and her Avatar assistant, was a huge hit with children and adults. The reason why this show was so successful is that it provided Asian-American teenagers and adults with a fantasy that could connect with their everyday lives, despite their distance from the rest of the world.
If Nickelodeon had not given us Zuko, Aang, and Zuko’s friends in the Nickelodeon animated series, Finding Nemo, The Karate Kid, and Samurai Baba, we would not have been introduced to these amazing characters. It shows just how wide the scope of ethnicity and nationality can be. And it’s not just Asian-Americans, we should celebrate. Any voice actor from anywhere in the world can do a good job playing an Asian character, as long as he has the right attitude and strength of character to bring that character to life on screen. Please consider all this.