National Pride – Hetalia Seasons 1 + 2 Review
Title: Hetalia (seasons 1 + 2)
Season 1 (Episodes 1 to 26) – 15
Season 2 (Esipodes 27 – 52) – 12
Season 1 – Episode 2 Commentary (Italy & Germany) “The Flower Apron,” Episode 9 Commentary (U.S.A. & Russia) “The Cold War,” Episode 12 Commentary (France & U.K.) “Nice Dover,” Episode 16 Commentary (Japan & China) “Far East Brothers,” Show Comments by Director Bob Shirahata Parts 1-3, Director Bob Shirahata’s Ending Sequence Comments, Textless Songs, Trailers.
Season 2 – Audio Commentaries for Episodes 31, 36, 42 & 46, Director Bob Shirahata & Atsushi Kosaka (Prussia) Talk, Atsushi Kosaka Commemorates the Announcement of the Hetalia Movie, Bob Shirahata & Aki Kanada (Chibi Italy) Talk, Bob Shirahata & Daisuke Namikawa (Italy) Talk, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Song, Trailers.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
This day of national pride and excitement seemed to be appropriate to review Hetalia on! The first thing I will say though, if you have read the manga, don’t expect much new from the anime. I watched the series first, and then flicked through the manga, and so far the only difference I have found is that I actually have time to read what the characters are saying.
Hetalia is FAST.
Each episode lasts approximately 5 minutes, split up into short and often unrelated skits, focussing on cultural stereotypes. I would highly advise watching it as a dub – the characters speak so fast that it’s had to keep up with the subtitles for the additional notes, and until you settle into the swing of it often you can miss what’s being said as they keep talking over each other.
Back to the beginning – what is Hetalia? Hetalia is based on a manga which was originally based on a webcomic. The characters? The countries of the world, each playing up to cultural stereotypes and acting out various political events in history, whilst perhaps glossing over the nastier parts. Germany has a slightly homoerotic relationship with Italy, whilst England and France spend their time winding each other up, but still seem to only hang out with each other. Season 1 starts with a whistle-stop tour of World War 1, before seaguing neatly into World War 2, hence the full title: Hetalia Axis Powers (Italy, Germany and Japan).
Hetalia doesn’t go into the gory details though – there are a few asides to Germany gassing people, but that is about as close to the full details of WW2 as it gets. In Season 2, the idea is introduced that each country answers to a “boss”, their current political leader, which neatly removes and issues which might have arisen from sympathising with the Axis Powers during WW2.
No specific events are mentioned in the war, but neatly interwoven into the script are references to historical events and figures which give the series a slight historical grounding. Slight being the optimum word. With the political relationships described in terms of familial and romantic relationships (not necessarily mutually exclusive), the series is a bizarre mix of family reunion and sex comedy. The Holy Roman Empire lusts over a youthful, cross-dressing Italy, whilst Belarus stalks an uninterested and slightly terrified Russia. You can hear the Ukraine coming by the noise her gargantuan breasts make when she moves. America never stops eating, and England can’t decide who he dislikes more between America and France. And poor old Canada can never get a break, with everyone thinking he’s the USA.
The skits are good fun – another reason I would recommend watching the dub is that it’s easier to understand a cultural stereotype when it’s told in your own language, when you can hear the accents. And the dub is very good. It keeps up the speed of the original, and isn’t afraid to make the incest jokes, or the gay jokes, or even the ‘Americans are Stupid’ jokes. And they are jokes, lighthearted and based on nothing but the bizarre internal logic that Hetalia has set up for itself. The countries rely just enough on the traditional stereotypes to be recognisable, whilst developing new ones based upon the current political and social environment to make them still relevant to today’s viewer. And that makes it wonderful to watch – too often stereotypes are dated and more importantly outdated. These are cultural identities evolving to today’s world.
The nice thing about Hetalia is that they’re not offensive stereotypes either. They are affectionate send-ups of countries, whilst still showing a sense of National Pride and Identity. Each country is mocked for its weaknesses, but equally each country’s strengths are noted and respected (if not necessarily by the other characters). It’s nice to watch something made with such good humour and good will, but which is still not afraid to make jokes at its own expense. Japan likes to sense the mood and refrain from speaking. Russia knows everything there is to know about snow. Italy is either sleeping or eating. Canada is habitually forgotten or mistaken for its nearest neighbour.
If you hadn’t guessed, I really really enjoyed Hetalia. But that’s not to say it’s flawless.
The main problem which arose to me in the dub of the anime was the substitution of ‘England’ (which comes up in the subtitles) for ‘Britain’ (which is used in the dub). This is perhaps an American issue, but brings the question – what will happen if Scotland, Ireland and Wales are introduced in later seasons? Britain and England are not interchangeable, but it’s not a problem unless another three characters suddenly appear. Except that England is a very big stereotype of English behaviours, rather than Scottish, Welsh or Irish. The Wikipedia page does address this issue:
In the English release of the anime, when asked why they opted to choose the name “Britain” over “England”, Funimation explained that it was a request from the Japanese studio. Tokyopop, the English publisher of the manga, refers to him as “England.”
In one strip he notes that he has an older brother named Scotland. Hidekazu Himaruya (series creator) has confirmed that England represents the UK and England, while Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are his siblings.
The only other issue I have had is that, because the episodes are so short, there is often a fair amount of repeated footage, to recap on what has already happened, or to tease for future episodes. This is a little irritating if, like me, you watch the series in one bulk sitting. Given as the episodes are so short as well, this can often feel like a waste of precious time which could be spent futher exploring the characters and their relationships. The first series deals largely with Italy, Germany and Japan, with gradually more appearances from the Allied Powers (America, Russia, China, France, England – oh, and Canada) until the end of the series. The second series sees more appearances from Canada, along with Cuba and the Baltic States. Each new character is an exciting surprise and a delight to see how they have been personified.
To sum, I would full recommend Hetalia as an anime, it is hyperactive but affectionate, witty and charming, and a wholly different anime. It doesn’t fit into a neat genre, but really it would be a disappointment if it did.
Hetalia the Movie is due for release in by Funimation in Autumn 2011. Hetalia: World Series (seasons 3 and 4) have been licensed by Funimation and will be released in 2011.