It’s mostly based on his children. Azula and Zuko are complete social disasters, and it seems probable that Ozai would be a similar model. Besides, it’s also funny to think of it that way.
But humor aside, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that someone like Ozai, who based all of his personality on power and vanity, would have a hard time being polite to other people. As the prince, he would be used to having things go his way, and would probably be quite flustered if he ran into a situation that he could not overcome with a fireball to the face. This isn’t to say that he lacks political cunning…the creators said that he’s plotting and more mindful of domestic affairs than military strategies like Iroh. So he would know how to bend and manipulate others…but the fun thing with Ursa was plotting her as the one character he could not manipulate all the time (though it may have been his plan to have her murder Azulon by putting Zuko in danger…even with the evidence we just got, I’m still treating that with hesitant recognition). One of the core aspects of Urzai was that Ozai would recognize her as an equal—someone with similar power and potency. She’s the only woman he could settle for, the granddaughter of Avatar Roku. His vanity and arrogance would mean that he would treat no other woman with respect, which is one of the reasons why I’m so mad at their interactions in The Search, because he doesn’t seem to recognize her as anywhere near an equal…there’s no point to her being Roku’s granddaughter, save his initial selection of her. The two never actually relate to one another when they interact; it’s all about the children, and about Ikem.
It also becomes a greater tragedy if you have Ursa be one redeeming side of Ozai, and turn him into this sweet and lovable dork when he’s around her…because that side of him dies when he takes the throne and banishes her. That spark of good is extinguished, and it makes it so that he chose the dark side, and chose to reject love in favor of power. To have him simply have a default evil setting, with him not being a nice man to any person ever, makes him boring and two-dimensional. Suggesting that he had a genuine soft spot for Ursa, and that she was someone who made him feel normal—perhaps another reason why he was so willing to get rid of her, because he saw love as a weakness that needed to be purged—gives him a new layer of development and tragedy.
When we see the flashbacks in “The Storm”, and the portrait in “The Beach”, we are given the impression that at one point Ozai was a somewhat normal father. Harsh and demanding, yes, but many fathers are…he could have been cold and evil and brutal, but as long as Ursa was with him, as long as he could feel love and express it, he was only harsh and demanding in regards to his children. But then she left, and he chose power, and his true nature was no longer held in check. And when Zuko spoke out of turn, Ozai felt no hesitation in forcing his son to fight in an Agni-Kai. And when Zuko refused to do that, Ozai burned his face and banished him. Ozai’s relationship with Zuko was always, in my mind, “fair.” And I’m not saying that it’s nice or positive or anything like that…it’s the coldest, harshest form of “fair,” a state of nature, an automatic and rigid existence that allows no emotion. It’s a fault of Ozai’s, though, because a good father is supposed to be good, and to show mercy…but he doesn’t. Because there’s nothing “good” in him now.
When we see Ozai’s silhouetted form walking up to Zuko in the Agni Kai, there is no joy visible on the face. There is no anger. There is no regret, there is no sadness, there is no pity, there is no rage, there is no cruel ecstasy. There is only his voice, which is as harsh and demanding as it can be…perhaps furious…but he could be looking down on his son with disappointment, for all we know. Weakness is not allowed to live in his world. And so he burns Zuko’s face. And it’s not out of malice or sadistic delight, but because this is what Ozai believes is the right thing to do. This is reinforced later when he says “It was to teach you discipline!” Ozai is not a flat, one-dimensional, “I so evil” villain, he’s a man who thinks he’s being a proper father but is actually ruining lives and hurting people…which pretty much sums up the Fire Nation in general. It’s genius writing, really, and it’s one of the saddest parts of the comics in that they seem to miss the Fire Nation’s redeemable points.
The Fire Nation students in The Search are a bunch of cowardly bullies led by a rude and intrusive teacher, and they are portrayed as the nasty brats who have no place being in the dojo and don’t deserve fair treatment. The only good Fire Nation villages are backwater ones on the very edge of the country, where the people don’t have much to do with the war or the royal affairs. The Gaang travels in disguise once again, showing an added fear of being recognized, and while the reasons are valid (they don’t want to be swept up by adoring fans), it still doesn’t make us comfortable with the Fire Nation. Ursa is betrayed by a servant (trust no one in the Fire Nation!), and everyone else is pushed around without ever being recognized.
The Mai comic, on the other hand( which was the last comic that Gene actually wrote and thus has the most improvement behind it) actually gave us her Auntie Mura and showed a bit more of the corruption and brainwashing, and gave Mai a chance to stand up and show that not everyone in the Fire Nation is nasty…actually, we had a much better impression that the minority of the Fire Nation approved of the old ways, even if most of the faces in it were Mai’s enemies.
The core of understanding Ozai, I always felt, was to look at the Fire Nation as a whole and draw on the balance. Everyone is capable of great good or great evil, and Ozai chose evil…but what was his potential for good? If it was Ursa, then you can see where everything fell apart. And the best part is that it was all his doing. No one else came and took Ursa from him, he had complete control of the situation at all times, he could have decided never to reach for more power and just lived a peaceful life with his wife and children. But he couldn’t do that, and it cost him Ursa…but it was a price that he was willing to pay. Or was he? Because initially, his ambition cost him Zuko, and he said himself that he was willing to pay THAT price. But Ursa was not, and she also had a voice, and so it cost him Ursa instead…which, again, is much more ironic and bittersweet if you consider that this might have hurt him. And he rose to power, he got all that he wanted…and it wasn’t that he lost all that made him happy. He had power, and that pleased him.
But then Aang took his power from him.
And that makes the thought of finding Ursa even more enticing, because in addition to the question of “Where is Ursa?” you also wonder “What happens when Ursa comes back?” Ozai is still alive, and he no longer has the power, the power that he gained when he got rid of Ursa. To have Ursa restored to him…could that change him? Was there ever true love between them, and would it be morally right to release Ozai from prison and have him and Ursa live quietly together? It wouldn’t be “fair,” I’m sure, but as I said above, Ozai built his relationships on “fair” and wound up burning his son’s face off. And would Ursa be able to forgive him for what he did to their children? Would she be able to face him, would she want him back?
Giving her another love and making it so that she never actually loved Ozai deprives us of that potential story and deprives her of any difficulty and conflict, which is really, really frustrating because the dynamics of the Royal Family are so fascinating and there’s nothing easily mended about anything there. But there’s potential. There’s so much potential…and it’s been squandered for this “Zuko might not be Ozai’s son!” and “Ursa always dreamed of her true love!” drivel. The Search suggests that the royal family drama wasn’t interesting enough, and so it shook everything up. And that’s why I find the story to be upsetting.