Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 8th 2011
Hetalia Axis Powers: Paint it, White Limited Edition
A race of aliens known as the Pictonians have invaded Earth, assimilating the human race and painting everything white. Only the great nations of the world can stop them ... if they would ever stop arguing with each other. America, England, France, Russia, Germany, Italy, China, and Japan—personified as dashing young men—must put aside their differences and band together to defeat the blank-faced, lightbulb-headed Pictonians. Unfortunately, between America's huge ego, Germany's strictness, France's narcissism, Japan's passiveness, and everyone else's quirks, coming up with a plan seems about as likely as total world peace. Will they save humanity by infiltrating the mothership, or by winning the aliens over with hospitality? Or is a direct assault the best answer? If they don't think of something fast, the entire human race will be turned into faceless blobs!
It's been quite a trip for Hetalia, which started out as a webcomic riffing on cultural stereotypes and world history, got picked up as a gag anime, blossomed into a full-out worldwide fandom, and can now boast a feature-length film to its credit. Admittedly, calling it "feature-length" is a bit generous, seeing as the movie barely clears the 80-minute mark and rehashes several clips from the TV series. Still, loyal fans would never pass up a chance to hang out with their favorite characters one more time, and occasional dabblers in the series will get a laugh or two out of it as well. As expected, it's pure comedic comfort food: if you just want to see Italy surrendering to everyone in sight, Germany barking at friends and foes alike, America trying to be the hero, and all the old familiar punchlines, this movie delivers the goods.
In a series where much of the action comes from the countries of the world squabbling with each other, the movie's premise heads in a fresh direction: What if everyone finally found a common enemy, someone who wasn't even from planet Earth? The idea never gets any deeper than that, however; after establishing the Pictonians as the antagonist, the resulting save-the-world quest is nothing more than 80 minutes of geopolitical gags strung together. We get all the standard tropes of a Hollywood blockbuster, Hetalia-style: initial panic over the invasion, a slapstick attempt to sneak aboard the mothership, a desperate escape, and finally a climactic battle where the aliens realize human diversity has its good points after all. There is no genius twist, no thought-provoking message: just the main characters living up to their stereotypes and causing mayhem through their personality defects.
Then again, such plotless tomfoolery has always been the point of Hetalia; the best approach is to simply "enjoy it for what it is." This works for about the first 20 minutes—let's all laugh at America charging heedlessly into battle, the Japanese government taking way too long to get anything done, the impenetrable Neutral Zone that keeps Switzerland safe, and so on. But after cycling through the usual geographic jokes and historical references, the movie never finds a new way to mix and match these gags; what worked in weekly five-minute bursts ends up being recycled to death here. In fact, some of that recycling is literal, as the movie contains several interludes lifted straight from the TV series. Call them flashbacks or breaks in the action, but all they really do is pad out the movie with jokes that fans have already heard.
With that kind of cost-cutting going on in the story, no one should be surprised that the animation is produced on a budget as well; the fanciest work here might well be the computer-generated aura that represents the Pictonians' assimilation beam. Other than that, the scenes in the movie are directed in the same way as the TV series: lots of bold, slapstick gestures from the characters (because subtle animation is never going to happen), exaggerated reaction faces (because they're faster to draw), and still frames and slow pans whenever the staff can get away with it. Aside from these familiar tricks, though, the most obvious act of cheapness lies in the premise itself: a bunch of faceless, all-white clones, living in a white spaceship, trying to turn the whole world white. Just imagine all the animators laughing at not having to color anything in! Even the main characters are rendered in the most cost-effective way possible, with everyone having the same basic face shape and only variations in the eyes, hair, and clothing to differentiate them. Sure, that's how they're drawn in the original, but having to tolerate this artistic blandness for 80 minutes soon becomes a chore.
The music, too, takes the easy way out in this production. There are occasional spots of orchestral grandiosity, mostly when the characters battle the aliens, but otherwise it's a lightweight assortment of synthesized sounds (or none at all) that accompany the heroes on their misadventures. Then again, it's probably for the best that the music doesn't get in the way of the dialogue—after all, it wouldn't be Hetalia without culturally (mis)informed quips and comebacks. For native English speakers, the dub offers more laughs than the Japanese audio, with goofy ad-libs outside of the true translation and exaggerated foreign accents. However, one side effect of this no-holds-barred approach is that the English dialogue often goes by too quickly to be understood. What sounds good on paper, or in an actor's head, doesn't always work when it comes out of an anime character's mouth.
For those who just can't get enough of the dub cast, the DVD also includes an outtake reel and a rambling commentary track. True history buffs, though, will be much more interested in the "Hidden History" feature, a collection of notes on just about every gag in the movie. Trailers, end credits, and footage from the Japanese theatrical premiere round out the extras on the disc, while the Limited Edition box also includes a collectible bandana.
The best thing that can be said about Hetalia Axis Powers: Paint it, White! is that it remains true to what Hetalia is all about. There are no violations of the series' canon, no sudden detours into dark and incomprehensible territory, just the same brand of goofy historical and political humor that won it so many fans in the first place. In making the jump from a short gag series to a full-length movie, however, certain weaknesses are also magnified. The character-driven humor quickly wears itself out over the course of the paper-thin plot, and the low-cost animation style is better enjoyed in small doses. Clearly, this movie is no grand triumph of artistic expression—but if it gets you to laugh, then it's done its job, hasn't it?
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C-
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Sticks to the tried-and-true formula of poking fun at cultural stereotypes, while also teaching some history along the way.
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