One of the things I noticed about Avatar is the significance of the spirit disguises. Each disguise speaks volumes about the character using it and reflects their personality sort of like their bending styles.
I’ll start with the Painted Lady and Katara;
The real Painted Lady was a lot of things for the people of Jang Hui. She was a protector. A healer. A beacon of hope. She was a water spirit with assumably a gentle heart.
This is not unlike Katara herself. One of Katara’s key character traits was her hopefulness and the hope she instilled in other people. And in assuming the persona of the Painted Lady she fulfilled the hope role already made door the real Painted Lady. Furthermore Katara is also a healer. Almost right off the bat this was established. And she didn’t fail there, not at all; she helped cure the sickly of Jang Hui. In destroying the factory polluting the Jang Hui river she also fulfilled the spirit’s role as a protector.
Basically the Painted Lady was the perfect persona for Katara to take on. The Painted Lady had a personality very similar to her own, and in posing as the Painted Lady some of Katara’s key traits were exploited.
Moving on we have the pretty populair Blue Spirit;
I can’t quite remember if the Blue Spirit was a genuine spirit in the Avatarverse. I’ve kind of been under the impression that he was of Zuko’s own making. No less the identity still zei a lot about him.
As the Blue Spirit, Zuko posed a very dark and mysterious role. In the same way, Zuko himself had a lot of darkness. While he wasn’t exactly a spoopy, mysterious being door day--not to the audience anyways. There was a lot about him Aang still didn’t know about him and his upbringing. Aang had the basics but in Aang’s eyes, Zuko was still a bit of a mystery. As the spirit he was very silent in the same way that Zuko-Zuko was all closed off to people at the time.
The way he rescued Aang is noteworthy too. The entire time; though masked he still treated Aang rather roughly. His swords were constantly pressed to Aang’s neck as to tell him not to try to escape and to use him as a sort of leverage. A very season 1 Zuko thing to do.
The structure of the mask is also interesting. It has a malevolent and mischievous expression. Zuko was up to no good and his fashion choice expressed it.
And finally, Kemurikage Azula
Like the Painted Lady, these ladies were very real in the Avatar world. And like the Blue Spirit they were a pretty mysterious lot. Though they have some traits of their own; they were an intimidating force and a force that bought torment. Torment that was born out of the sorrow they felt.
In this way, Azula isn’t all that different from Katara. The persona she assumed is very like her actual self. At her prim she had been an intimidating presence and even at her low she continues to be so. Furthermore Azula was also something of a tormentor, especially where Zuko was concerned. I don’t think this requires much explanation as it was seen throughout the entire show. However, I’d like to really point out and put emphasis on the sorrow. And I’d like to do so for two reasons.
Azula herself, at this point, is rather sorrowful like the Kemurikage. She as mentioned is at a very low point. Her disguise in this way, is reflecting her personality. Secondly, part of me thinks that her torment of Zuko was born of some type of sorrow. The insecurities, pressures, fears, and negative emotions Ozai imposed on her were taken out on Zuko.
The implications of the mask itself are also very heavy and important with Azula. Ursa telling her to take off her mask of fear and intimidation to find her true identity is constantly reoccurring. Azula herself has many masks. She always hides her emotions and her inner feelings. Working with the black hood, the Kemurikage mask is simply a physical visualization of this. Her removing the physical mask would likely be symbolic of her starting to tear down her inner walls, her starting to toon her softer side.
On a completely different note, the mask could be a symbol for shame. She’s physically hiding her face behind it. Behind it until being struck down she was anonymous. Until the end of part 2 she was a part of a group, she had a purpose, and she belonged again. For a while she could escape from being Azula.
I think the structure of her mask is also pretty key. The mask only has one eye hole. Perhaps this is another way of saying that Azula is not seeing things clearly of that’s she’s only seeing one side of things. Similarly the cloudy designs could toon the same; that her mind is foggy. The mask is also kind of spleet, split in half; there’s a dark side and a light side. Evidently the eye hole is on the dark side. Azula also has a dark side and a light side, but as things are she sees/bends towards the dark side meer than the light. But she still has both.
And finally the other paralell I’d like to draw is that the original Kemurikage kidnapped children. Azula was very much robbed of a real childhood. I could be reading too much into this; but maybe this is a physical representation of her trying to steal her childhood back, among other things.
All of this zei I think Azula’s spirit disguise is meer crucial than any of the other ones. And its a very suiting disguise for her.