Reviewby Jacob Chapman, Aug 11th 2014
Hetalia: The Beautiful World
DVD - Season 05 [Limited Edition]
After two years of pasta-less pablum, the boys of Hetalia are back in an even more beautiful world full of historical hijinks, crazy culture, and even some sensual snuggling. After all, what's a few shared territories between friends?
In season five, Australia joins the global party, Sealand meets other micronations who are not-so-much like him, the nations all compare their very different horror movies, and...Germany finally realizes he has feelings for Italy? Mein gott!
Despite sporting a new director and advertising a "new Kira☆Kira style" for the series, Hetalia The Beautiful World is largely a return to form for the controversial fangirl favorite of yesteryear. It's still a series of five-minute vignettes that anthropomorphize and lampoon historical events both large and small, and concludes with Italy singing and dancing about tomatoes, jackboots, and the beauty of a world united by hugs. There are differences in the updated version, but frankly, every single one is a positive change.
It feels as if Hetalia has grown up a little for Beautiful World. That's not to say any part of it is more mature, least of all the obvious change in art style from blobby chibi characters to more muscular manservice models. The humor's still all nonsense fueled by homoeroticism, but it's tastelessness in better taste, or at least it's just plain funnier. As episodes have piled on in the series, Hetalia's initial WWII setting and cast has fallen by the wayside to more globally dispensed jokes about countries as we see them now, and it's better for it. The jokes are sharper, more universal, more relevant, and yet the show remains weirdly educational.
Hetalia's humor has always been based in rough cultural stereotypes, but there are so many underappreciated countries that the average viewer isn't familiar with in the least that even painting with a broad brush can show fans something new about the world. One of the subtler changes to format has been refining the way the show pokes fun at history. Large swaths of past seasons were devoted to turning a little-known historical event into a punchline. Four minutes would be spent on interactions between nations without context, and the last minute would be spent explaining what this human analogue of history was depicting, and that in itself was the joke. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. In Beautiful World, specific historical events are rolled up into a series of jokes that cover a wider range of impact, resulting in much funnier tours of history like Why Baby Russia is Lonely or Why The Netherlands is So Frugal. It's both more educational and more amusing, and the episodes in Beautiful World are generally stronger than the ones in World Series or Axis Powers.
The least subtle change is of course the character re-designs. Beautiful World is significantly better animated than previous seasons, (a few rungs up from the bottom so to speak,) and along with the more fluid animation, the character models have been gussied up and packed with detailed torso muscles and prettier faces. Fortunately, this doesn't affect the comedic tone of the show at all. The nations are all humiliated and chibi-fied just as often, but the sexual element is on more blatant display, as in the April Fools episode which forgoes historical hijinks entirely in favor of parading the nations around in nigh-on stripper garb. Needless to say, anyone uncomfortable with copious male exhibitionism should give Hetalia a wide berth, but it's cutesy and benign nudity humor, all in the interest of good clean fun.
Frankly, Hetalia is also funnier for the more shameless sexualization of Beautiful World, as it takes the subtext that was always present (alliances are like relationships, hurr hurr) and brings it right into the text for more pointed gags. The clear highlight of the season is the two-parter where Germany realizes he may have romantic feelings for Italy but doesn't know how to express it in a way that Italy will understand. The crazy extent to which the gag is taken, or that the gag is even executed in the first place, taking the ambiguous gay undertones of Hetalia's characters and making them explicit in a way that's charming rather than cheap pandering, is laudable and a good example of how much funnier the show has become after a hiatus and slight change of hands. It even finds time to stop and tug at the heartstrings somehow, as in a very strange episode where an ordinary Parisian citizen encounters the humanized France and wonders what it might be like to be immortal. He muses to himself, "We only get a short time to be at our best, but France stays young forever." Viewers may wonder if they're watching the same show for a moment, before the next episode rolls around and it's back to the status quo of irreverent history humor. Beautiful World runs the gamut from sweet to satirical very well.
Funimation's release includes the five OVA episodes (including the aforementioned "Valentine's Day for Germany" episode,) along with the twenty regular episodes of the season. The set is packed with extras from outtakes to multiple commentary tracks covering the full series' run, one of them video picture-in-picture style. There's also an interview with the director and an immense on-disc dossier of historical and cultural information organized by episode for the hardcore Hetalia fan who wants to indulge their history buff side. The limited edition comes with the requisite bandana, this time covered in mochi versions of Hetalia characters. It's a ton of content for one disc of a comedy web-show, and quality content too.
As always, Hetalia's dorky-accent-riddled english dub potentially makes it more offensive, depending on if you find a blatant embrace of the show's dodgy premise more offensive than the tacit sugarcoating underlying the original Japanese. Both versions are good, but ultimately the english dub is much funnier for a western audience. The joke content is nearly doubled without changing intent (something the writing team has gotten much better at since Axis Powers), the actors are clearly having oodles of infectious fun, and the accents make even the rare flop jokes a little giggle-worthy. Both versions are thick with reference humor, and the dub does its best to keep pace with the Japanese version, even if it means replacing one for another. For example, in the Japanese version, schoolboy-Japan sees schoolboy-England's desire to be accepted for his strange occult obsession and calls him "tsundere," while in the dub, he wonders where the sorting hat would have dumped him. It's a strange case of a Japanese school anime reference being traded for an English school book reference where the characters in question are literally Japan and England themselves! There's probably going to be something in the dub that doesn't sit right with one fan or another, whether that's America shouting "YOLO!" before consuming blowfish, or the dub's more sardonic execution of the syrupy-sincere Joan of Arc episode, but the miss-to-hit ratio is firmly in the dub's camp for all it gets right and even improves upon for its english-speaking audience.
From the more polished animation to the improved comic timing to cute little touches like the eyecatches with balls of mochi standing in for the world's nations and enacting adorable skits, Hetalia has come back strong from its sabbatical. It's anyone's guess if the once-fervent fandom for Hetalia - Axis Powers is still hyped enough to come back for another season that outright boasts changes to the original, even if they're very small ones. With any luck, the right audience will rediscover this bizarre little gem once more, because season five is the best that Hetalia has ever been.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : ?
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Funnier and better-looking than ever before, dub's punch-up enhances the humor, continues to take potentially upsetting material and make something happy and educational out of it, lots of extras
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