Reviewby Rose Bridges,
Hetalia The World Twinkle
Episodes 1-15 Streaming
You know the drill. The countries of the world are all pretty bishonen (give or take a few ladies), and historical events really cutesy, homoerotic misunderstandings between them. In this zany comedy, history and current events come alive through this huge cast of goofy, but affectionate national stereotypes. Italy's still a pasta-loving goofball, German a stickler, France a sleazy Casanova and America the World Hero. Still, it's a big planet, with many more countries to explore beyond the old Axis and Allies.
This time around, the countries turn into cats and hold a conference over canned fish, Sealand continues his quest to find more micro-nations, and we take a trip up north to meet the Scandinavian nations.
At this point, Hetalia may as well be an institution. As long as Hidekaz Himaruya keeps cranking out manga, and as long as there's an audience for it, there will be more anime of Hetalia. The show is now on its sixth season of five-minute gag episodes. The Hetalia wave is well past its crest, with fujoshi moving on to the likes of Free! and sports anime. Still, it's like nothing else out there—at least for its audience. Harem and moe comedies are full of weird gimmicks like tank-girls, ship-girls and monster girls. The female-targeted equivalents are few and far between, and so Hetalia stands out. That's especially true when it embraces its premise so wholeheartedly, with half the episodes doubling as a history lesson.
At least, that's how Hetalia used to be. As of Hetalia The World Twinkle, the show is moving away from its educational background fast. Nearly every episode of the first four seasons—comprising Hetalia - Axis Powers and Hetalia: World Series—focused on some piece of history, current events or culture, using the comedy vignettes as a chance to teach fans something new. Then came the fifth season, Hetalia The Beautiful World, a breath of fresh air for the franchise. It had new, more grown-up-looking character designs, better animation, and an overall closer attention to quality. It also upped the self-referential aspects of the show. The vignettes could be as much about the characters and world the show created as the history facts that inspired them. It had episodes about Germany and Italy's relationship, or the longevity of nations. Hetalia The World Twinkle is a continuation of The Beautiful World in just about every way.
The problem is, that's not always a good thing. The new approach felt fresh the first time around, especially several years after the previous Hetalia series wrapped. It was a reminder to lapsed Hetalia fans that even separated from the heyday of fandom mania, there was still a lot to love about the series. The vignettes felt thoughtful, in the sense that they'd been carefully chosen and crafted, not that they were smart. (Educational though it may be, Hetalia is never smart.) Unfortunately, The World Twinkle is too repetitive and trying too hard to recapture the magic. Instead of using the lack of a formula to continue playing around with new ideas, this season runs through the same motions…and it feels stale.
For example, take their respective dips into drama. Hetalia The Beautiful World pulled that off with surprising profundity, riffing on the nations being "people" who live thousands of years (or as long as their countries last) to muse about mortality. The nations have the possibility of becoming friends with normal-life-spanned humans, after all, and that's a disorienting experience from either side. So Hetalia The World Twinkle flips it, with a surreal tale mostly told through music about America's friendship with a man he watches grow old while he stays young and childlike. The story is sweet, but the experience is mostly saccharine and disorienting. It takes an older idea that worked, and simply repeats it while cranking it up to the point it jars with the rest of the show. Completely lacking any humor, it feels flown in from another series and misses what made its parent work.
Longer arcs yield more mixed results. The Sealand and Micronations segments across the Hetalia series an quirky addition to its fractured understanding of world history and geography. They perfectly capture the charm of the show: In real life, "micronations" are the stories of crazed survivalists, bizarre performance artworks or just practical jokes gone too far, stuff you'd only learn about on a late-night Wikipedia binge. Here, it's a plucky underdog story, about baby countries just trying to get recognition from the big guys. It's cute, it's funny, and it gives the show an excuse to introduce some goofy new characters. Stretch it out too far, though, and you deny fans the stuff they came for: the main characters and the history between them, both personal and otherwise. It's a struggle with any of the supporting character groups, including the Scandinavian characters who get their own arc here. At least the Scandinavians have been largely neglected in previous Hetalia series, especially in proportion to their popularity in the fandom. A lot of the fun of Hetalia is watching it expand its beautiful, twinkling world, but they need to pull fans back home every once in a while.
Weirdly, Hetalia The World Twinkle is also most inspired when it's working with what the fans have already seen. It just has to do it a different way: similar content, scrambled up into a new form, not the other way around. The "Nekotalia" premiere, where the G8 countries are cats arguing over tuna, was one such moment. It doesn't work unless you're familiar with the characters' existing characterizations as humans. Another fun one came in a "countries hanging out and shooting the breeze" episode, something the previous season had in spades. Here, it was about Canada and America, and their respective national obsessions. It should play especially well to American audiences—especially people like me who grew up close to the Canadian border—and so I'm eager to hear what fun twist Funimation will put on it when they dub this season.
At the end of the day, Hetalia The World Twinkle is just more Hetalia. Specifically, it's more Hetalia with the fresh coat of paint the previous season put on it: improved, if still not top-shelf, art and animation. The show is resting on its laurels a little, but then again, there are only so many routes you can take with such a bizarre, specific premise—even with a whole world of countries at your disposal. There is no other show that combines the history buff and the fujoshi in me, so I'm sure that as long as Himaruya keeps giving them strips to animate, I'll keep coming back to Hetalia. If that's you too, this new season will certainly whet your appetite.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : ?
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Keeps the stronger aesthetics of the stellar fifth season; fun new characters; still fresh and funny when it wants to be; it's more Hetalia.
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