Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 7th 2012
Hetalia World Series
DVD - Season 03 [Limited Edition]
The countries of the world (in human form) are at it again, with another round of geopolitical squabbling. This time Prussia arrives on the scene, threatening to take Austria's land ... unless Hungary has anything to say about it. Looking a couple of centuries back, there's also Spain trying to take care of a young, unruly Romano while fending off the advances of France—and, in a surprise attack, the Turks. Meanwhile, America is still running around being obnoxious, tensions are about to flare between Russia and Poland (and all Lithuania can do is watch), and on the other side of the globe, China is starting to feel the pinch of imperialism from Britain, France, and Russia. At least shy, soft-spoken Japan has finally found a kindred spirit in Greece ... but could it be that their thoughts aren't exactly aligned?
The milking of the Hetalia cash cow continues in Hetalia World Series, and really, why not? There's still material from Hidekaz Himaruya's manga yet to be animated—characters that haven't been introduced, and entire arcs of world history waiting to be condensed into gag-a-minute anime clips. The narrow World War II focus is long since gone, replaced by scenarios that stretch all the way from pre-medieval times (meet the mythical, ancient precursors to Italy and Germany) to Japan and China's turn-of-the-20th-century dealings with European world powers. But more nations and more historical eras does not always equal more comedy, as we shall soon see.
The emergence of Prussia as a major player is the best new addition to the series; his German-accented bravado (minus any of Germany's actual industriousness) makes him instantly appealing as the classic hot-headed type. Prussia also plays a central role in the series' best arc—an invasion of Austria where the wild personality contrasts between Prussia, Austria, and Hungary result in laugh-out-loud comedy. But egomaniacal tough guys aren't the only route to comedic success: Greece's quiet, contemplative nature and his meandering conversations with Japan prove that deadpan "awkward moment" humor can work just as well. There's also an entirely different flavor of goofiness from Turkey, who is neither power-hungry nor soft-spoken, but just plain bizarre—which sometimes is the best humor of all.
However, in trying to cover all possible topics in world history and geography, Hetalia fails to devote enough time to legitimately funny ideas, and instead lavishes too much attention on tired old jokes. Spain's stewardship of "Chibi Romano" (a toddler-sized Southern Italy) comes up far too many times, relying on the single punchline that little kids are hard to babysit. By the time they get to the part about France and Turkey trying to take over Romano, it's too little too late. Lithuania freaking out over Russia's planned invasion of Poland is another one-joke scenario that overstays its welcome, and the entire subplot concerning Norway and Sweden never gets off the ground either. A lot of the big-name countries also seem content to recycle their shtick: America's obnoxious attitude toward alien discoveries and Christmas is nothing new, and the bickering between contrasting pairs like Britain/France and Germany/Italy is just dead material at this point.
Aside from switching between different countries and time periods in an attempt to keep things fresh, the series also goes through various changes in visual style. The most obvious are characters going into super-deformed mode to represent nations in their infancy, along with a hazy, pastel-toned look. Then there are the punchline deliveries where the backgrounds shift into bright, abstract colors—a sign of Hetalia's frequent forays into the absurd. Noticeable changes like these are the most convenient way to create visual variety, but they also mask the low-budget animation: just look at the scene where Spain is running (stumbling?) through the countryside, and it's clear that smoothness and subtlety are never going to be part of the show. The character designs also rely on bold and obvious traits, and it's easy to tell major nations apart because of their distinct haircuts or trademark outfits. However, these distinctions are less well-defined among supporting characters like the Scandinavian and Baltic states, who all blend into a generic Northern European look.
With all these historical slapstick antics going on, background music is often just an afterthought; a few lighthearted instrumental cues (and occasionally some dissonant ones) are all that's needed to fill out the soundtrack. Some re-arranged classical melodies are really the only tuneful moments this show has to offer. Aside from that, a new ending theme shows up a few episodes in; while it still features a marching beat and changeable multi-cultural lyrics, the original theme song remains the more fun of the two.
A series that is so shamelessly off-the-wall calls for an equally off-the-wall vocal performance, and the English dub cast is clearly up to the job ... sometimes too much so. The major characters have locked in their delightfully cheesy accents and deliver their lines with confidence, but narrator Jamie Marchi is excessive with her ad-libs—the "Americans are too dumb to retain historical facts" gag is overdone, and non-sequitur outbursts are even worse. Some of the secondary nations like Norway and Turkey also sound confused as to what their accents are supposed to be. As expected, the dub script often veers away from the original Japanese for the sake of humor; some of the rewritten gags do work better in English, but this also means lots of hard-to-understand lines being spat out at high speed.
If two straight hours of the Hetalia anime (plus rambling voice-actor commentary on three of the episodes) isn't enough, there's also an entire second disc of extras in this package. Viewers can dig into almost an hour of video footage from fan events around Japan, and would-be scholars will enjoy the comprehensive "Hidden History" guide almost as much as watching the episodes themselves. Other bonus materials include textless credits sequences, trailers, and of course the ever-entertaining outtakes reel.
If these 24 episodes of Hetalia: World Series prove anything, it's that the show is consistent in its inconsistency. Some characters will shine through (Prussia) while others flop (Norway); some scenarios will provide a wealth of humor (Prussia's invasion of Austria) while others end up dwelling on the same joke for too long (Spain watching over Chibi Romano). At least the quick, five-minute bursts make it easy to move on to another episode if a punchline should fail. Just like real world history, this one has its ups and downs—only with brighter colors and more super-deformed characters. That's got to be more entertaining than staring at a textbook, at least.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : D
Art : B-
Music : C
+ New characters like Prussa and Turkey, as well as new historical scenarios, provide fresh sources of ridiculous off-the-wall humor.
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