Reviewby Richard Winters,
Hetalia: Axis Powers Season 1 Collection
History has never been so cute.
Forget everything you learned in history class, and imagine all the nations of the world as cute guys hanging out on a wildly inappropriate reality show. Now, toss in every stereotype ever and prepare to pledge allegiance to your favourite superpower in Hetalia Axis Powers!
Maybe you'll surrender to Italy's charms. He's a sweetie who's always got a noodle in his mouth and he's BFF with blue-eyed Germany and shy Japan. Sounds nice, right? Of course, their friendship sort of causes World War II, but is that really such a big deal? Not if it means those adorable allies France, America, and England will be stormin' the beach!
Like a chick kicked screaming from the nest to see if it can fly, Axis powers Hetalia in animated form makes a splash in all the wrong ways. Unlike 4-komas (four panel manga) that have made the translation to animation with grace, humour, and careful re-working of the format, such as Azumanga Daioh or Nichijou, the 4-koma jokes are pounded out with a determined monotony that reminds one of sketch comedy. Unfortunately, we're not talking SNL, or the Big Gig. No we're talking Full Frontal, after it was gutted and sold to Channel 10 for a song.
Based on a series of web published 4-komas, so dense in both bastardised historical references and Japanese puns that you have to have a degree in both European History and Japanese just to make any sense of it. The animation could have been ambitious also. We could have had a Super deformed retelling of WW2, the Franco Prussian, and 100 years wars with a bunch of incredibly wrong, but funny race jokes.
OH well, so much for fantasy.
Instead, each sketch is presented more or less linearly, but with no effort by the original animators to place historical context. And with such gay abandon over the Franco Prussian and 100 year's wars, that even an obsessive git like myself gets lost. I'll give Funimation credit though, they TRIED. But when in order to make the jokes funny, you have to roll multiple half second flashes of densely packed text explaining both historical context and Japanese puns in one sketch, it's probably just time to give up and provide a sheet of foot notes.
Being honest I admit, I laughed quite a lot. Racist humour frequently does this, and Hetalia is so utterly racist towards everyone involved I found it moderately difficult to take offence. Italy is a cowardly pasta eater, Japan is a naive idiot, Germany is an authoritarian wack-job desperately denying his homosexual attraction to Italy, America is a hamburger chugging guy with a hero complex, etc. Being of an ethnic group that the Japanese would like to pretend were not involved in WW2 at all, I'm not being attacked personally, so I don't give a stuff.
At this point in time, its worth mentioning the delightful dub, source of so much controversy within the fandom. As you might have already figured out, the characterisations of countries are based on Japanese stereotypes. Funimation seems to have decided to rock along with the theme in their localisation, and the dub makes a few substitutions and changes to make the jokes reflect dearly held American stereotypes. Naturally, the (predominately American) western fan base immediately jumped up and down, screaming racism. No kidding, as far as I'm concerned that's how its been since it started, and you only FINALLY noticed?
The animation I have to say is interesting. Maybe it captures the style of web scribbled 4-komas well, but I've seen flash animations better than this. The most effort seems to have gone into the openings and closings, which given how short the episodes are might have been a good idea. Don't be fooled by “episodes 1-26”, its one disk, and there's plenty of space for the usual madman propaganda (BURN HAPPY FEET! BURN!)
Madman has done us a nice presentation, Dubs, Subs, Historical Cliffs notes, reversible cover and the like, but unfortunately polished gutter humour still belongs in the gutter.
In the end, Hetalia: Axis Powers CLAIMS to be possibly both educational and entertaining, but I'm convinced that's what the Funimation director tossed on the front to help him sleep at night. What it is, is a good guilty pleasure laugh-fest at its best, and monotonous at worst. Of special note are the holy Roman Empire parts, mostly because as a history buff they made me laugh till I hurt in places. But I'll be honest. I wouldn't have spent my own money on this, and there are many a much better comedic anime to spend your cash on.
© 2008 HIDEKAZ HIMARUYA, GENTOSHA COMICS/HETALIA PROJECT. Licensed By FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All rights reserved.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : B
Story : D
Animation : C+
Art : A
+ If you like jokes where race is the primary source of humour, you'll love this. Mel Brooks would approve of Germany being a closet gay.
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