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Otakon 2011
Bob Shirohata and Akira Sasanuma

by Gia Manry,

Translator Takayuki "Taka" Karahashi introduced panelists Bob Shirohata, the director of Hetalia - Axis Powers, and Akira Sasanuma, the voice actor who portrays the character of Austria in the series, to a small but excited audience. The panel launched straight into a question-and-answer session after Sasanuma apologized for not speaking English. Shirohata also noted that he had been in the previous Hetalia panel— the model United Nations event —and was happy to see all the love for his show.

The first question came, unsurprisingly, from a Hetalia cosplayer dressed as the Seychelles character, asking about the lack of screen time for the same character. Shirohata said that he would love to showcase her more but the series has just gotten too big in terms of characters. Sasanuma joked that his character, Austria, also doesn't get that much screen time.

Sasanuma, who has performed in a number of video games, was next asked about his favorite game— and then his favorite Legend of Zelda dungeon. Sasanuma said that his favorite game is the Hetalia game for the PSP, and he laughed at the idea of having a favorite dungeon. Instead he asked the questioner what his favorite dungeon was, and remarked that he hadn't expected a Zelda question.

A Japanese-speaking attendee asked Sasanuma what his favorite Hetalia line was, and to say it to the audience. Sasanuma replied that it was definitely his line "kono obaka-san" ("you idiot"). He said that he particularly loves saying it to the character of Prussia.

One audience member asked if Sasanuma has been to Austria, and what places around the world he'd like to visit. Sasanuma admitted that he hadn't visited the country, but that a television travel show had made him really want to. This trip is in fact his first trip outside of Japan, but he noted that it's difficult because he doesn't speak the local language...for example, he had trouble ordering coffee the morning fo the panel.

Sasanuma was then asked to sing the "Hetalia" song from the show, and the audience sang along with him in Japanese. Sasanuma noted that it was much more embarrassing than he thought it would be, but that it was also fun.

Asked about their favorite characters, the audience members applauded every time Sasanuma mentioned a character by name. He noted that his favorite character is Britain, and he is also fond of Russia, Prussia, and Hungary. Shirohata also called Hungary his favorite, especially since she is female.

One attendee asked each panelist which character they would want to take to an izakaya (pub, basically), and what kind of food/drink they'd get. Sasanuma replied "Germany," while Shirohata claimed Japan...or Russia. Shirohata was also asked about his favorite scenes and scenes he's looking forward to in the future; his favorite is the world conference scene in the first episode of the series, which he said could only be done in Hetalia. He'd love to see more neko-talia scenes.

Sasanuma then asked Shirohata a question: "When does Austria get to be a member of the world conference?" Shirohata responded that it would happen "sometime," and Sasanuma thanked him.

The next attendee asked about their favorite part about America so far. Both thought about it briefly before replying: Shirohata noted that it's his second time to the States and they just got in last night, so he's not sure what he'll get to see in Baltimore or when just yet. Another attendee requested that Sasanuma say something in Austria's voice for her friend, who could not attend the show. Sasanuma replied that it would be troublesome if he said something like "I love you," so instead he said "Mary, you idiot, you should have been here!"

Shirohata fielded a question about his work on the boys love anime Gravitation next; Shirohata responded that back then, BL was a rare type of anime and so he was excited to work on it. The next questioner offered an in-character interpretation of Russia asking about character songs, and Shirohata agreed that more character songs would be great.

An attendee then asked whether Shirohata considers Hetalia to be a "fujoshi" anime and whether he makes directorial decisions attempting to pander to female fans. Shirohata said that he certainly hoped that everyone would enjoy Hetalia. The audience member followed up asking about the demographics of the show, but Shirohata held his position that while he knows the show appeals to women a lot, he still aims the show at a general audience.

The next question was about whether there might be an animated version of France's pranks in the future, but Shirohata said that he didn't know for sure.

Asked what country they would like to see get a character that isn't already in the series, both attendees seemed briefly stumped. Shirohata then offered up Hong Kong, while Sasanuma joked that it didn't matter as long as Austria had screen time.

Sasanuma revealed some of the process of how he was chosen to play Austria: most of the cast auditioned, but he himself wasn't. Before the Hetalia anime, there was a drama CD released. His label wanted him to play Austria and then he was able to carry on the role. Asked about preparing for boys love scenes, Sasanuma said that since he has no real life experience with another guy, his sempai told him to mentally substitute a girl.

Shirohata and Sasanuma both revealed that they haven't gotten to see the series in English yet. The question asker said that she loves both the English and Japanese versions, but noted that the English version is a little "harder" or "rougher." Sasanuma suggested that it might be a different in national character, like how difficult it was for him to order coffee.

If the panelists could become a Hetalia character for a day, Sasanuma would be Belarus. If they needed to escape the media, Shirohata said he'd partner with Italia and Sasanuma said he'd partner with Germany.

Asked about their favorite parts of their jobs, Sasanuma said that being able to act with the other voice actors and to be involved in the creation of animation and building up fans is his favorite part. Shirohata said that he's usually in the studio working on the storyboard and wondering if the scenes will get the appropriate responses from the audience. The best part of his job is when he finds out that the scenes worked as he intended.

Funimation brand manager Charlene Ingram asked a question for an online fan who couldn't attend. The question was about the panelists' favorite anime series to watch, if they watch anime. (She also offered to show them the English-language version of the show.) Shirohata replied that his favorite is Ashita no Joe, and Sasanuma offered Naruto, Bleach, and Sgt. Frog, but said that there were too many to count.

With time running out, Sasanuma asked who the audience's favorite character is. The audience called out a variety of names, including Italy, the Seychelles, and Austria. Shirohata thanked them for attending and being so much fun.

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