Say what you will about Azula, but she's no doubt a complex character and at this point I feel as though they can take her character in any direction; she could either stay evil or become some kind of force for good. Personally I'm hoping to see her become more of a sassy anti-hero like Regina Mills, I feel like that would work for her.
With that in mind, the first reason that I feel Azula will be redeemed is that I feel as though Mike and Bryan have hinted at it. They've stated in various interviews that Azula is savable and isn't pure evil. A long time back I had purchased a book version of Sozin's Comet. In the book there was a mini interview in the back. One of the questions asked was, "Is Azula really as evil as she seems? Or is there more to her?"
To which Mike answered, "As with all the Avatar characters, even Azula has a softer side, though it's buried very deep. As 'The Beach' and 'Sozin's Comet' showed, she has a lot of unresolved issues with her mother. She really feels that her mother didn't love her as much as Zuko, and this drives her crazy, literally."
And Bryan replied, "There are obviously some truly evil people in the world, but in the case of Azula, her repressed emotions and jealousies corroded her spirit and made her become that way. It is possible that she could turned out better in a healthier environment,
but growing up in a royal family of a nation seeking world domination proved to exacerbate her problems. But Zuko and Katara spared her life, and who knows she might have a chance to heal.
Azula is very much the product of her environment. She wasn't born evil by any means, she was raised that way. So evil isn't innate in her as some people like to believe.
Furthermore I don't know why Bryan would say that "and who knows she might have a chance to heal" if they didn't mean anything by it. I feel like the duo have always done a good job with subtly foreshadowing things.
That said I think the healing process has already begun. For one thing, Zuko outright stated in Smoke and Shadow that she looked like she was doing better. To which she states that "I've felt weightless ever since...free, maybe for the first time in my life." I think that this is a huge step for her considering her father seemed to have put so many harmful ideas into her head. I feel like Azula really didn't know what/who she wanted to be and just became what Ozai wanted her to be. I think that for the first time--now that Ozai is out of the way--we're going to see more of who Azula really is. A less guarded version of herself.
Because yes, I do feel like she let a few of her walls down. She seems to be more accepting of herself. Where in the beginning she refused to accept one hair out of place, she now kind of just leaves the hairs that fall out of place where they are. In The Search her hair would get messed up and she'd have it fixed by the time she was back in a more stable state of mind. Whereas in Smoke and Shadow she'd kind of just leave it even when she calmed down. I feel like this is a little gesture that points at something bigger. I think it points at self acceptance. She's no longer trying to hide her flaws but rather accepting that she has them. I'd also say that she let down her walls because she also seemed (to me anyhow) to be more expressive. She showed a wider array of emotions in Smoke and Shadow than she did in the show and even The Search. Honestly thought I think her change definitely started in The Search; prior to the comics she had a massive poker face. After which she has been shown crying in front of the gang numerous times, something she probably wouldn't have done a while back. Basically I think she's losing some of that perfectionism that only hurt her in the long one and is learning to let her emotions out instead of bottling them up. Though I do believe that she has some work to do in light of how these emotions come out. But overall she does seem happier and I think that ties back into her statement that she feels free.
I think that this was kick started by Ursa (rather the hallucination of Ursa) telling her to take off her mask and find her true destiny. For a while she was trying extremely hard to evade this. But by the end of Smoke and Shadow Azula reveals that she had embraced that she wouldn't be Fire Lord. I came to think, "what would be the point in her realizing that her destiny wasn't to be the fire lord if they're not going to go anywhere with it"? As of now I think she's at this point where she's still trying to hold power in some way. But I also think that deep down she really does feel like she is helping Zuko too. So her motives are no longer completely self-serving. I feel as though there was a certain symbolism in her being in the crypt of the Fire Lord's most faithful adviser when talking to Zuko. I think that, that was setting her up for a position as his adviser or something of the sort.
Now all Azula needs to do is drop the kidnapping and such. Okay but honestly I kind of don't want her to do so. She has a very Azula way of doing good deeds and I don't want that to change entirely.
And finally a small detail I noticed was her eyes. Her eyes have always been alluded to in the cartoon. For instance when she was masquerading as a Kyoshi Warrior. When the Earth King was explaining his plan and he mentioned the eclipse, the camera pans in on her eye to show a subtle hint of shock or fear. In Smoke and Shadow I think her eyes are drawn a bit differently--even from the way they were drawn in The Search. I've typed a little bit on this way back when; [i]In Smoke & Shadow they are quite some wider than in the show. I think this kind of holds some significance. More specifically another hint at her redemption. Typically in cartoons/graphic novels the eyes of the antagonist are drawn narrower. And the protagonists’ wider. Typically the ‘innocent’ ‘sweet’ character has the biggest roundest eyes.
“But the artist of the comic is different than the artist of the cartoon.” Even so Granted her eyes are drawn wider when she’s having her hallucinations and what not. But that kind of wide eye-ness is different than the kind shown above. And in The Search her eyes were drawn narrower like so;
when she wasn’t having a breakdown.Aside from the breakdown wide eyes, her eyes were drawn more narrow. So it was only recently that they began to draw her eyes wider. And more recently the hints of a redemption arc were first shown. Perhaps they are drawing her eyes wider and more innocent (so to speak) as a way of dropping more hints. Granted there are moments in S&S where her eyes are narrowed (as she had wide-eyed moments in The Search). But they still have that kind of softness to them. And she more frequently has her eyes drawn wider in S&S whereas in the show and her non-breakdown parts of The Search they were mostly drawn narrow. I suppose the difference is rather subtle but I still feel as though it is noticeable.
TV Azula vs S&S Azula;
Long story short I think the authors have been subtly hinting at a redemption for her of some kind. It doesn't necessarily have to be an all out Zuko transformation, in fact I hope it isn't. But I don't think that they're going to leave her as an antagonist either. I simply feel as though keeping her as an antagonist would be a bit of a waste.