Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GN 4 & 5 - Axis Powers [Print on Demand]
The anthropromorphized countries of the world are back for more historical antics! In these two volumes, they compare army rations and horror films, marvel at Italy's shoddy (but shiny!) tank construction, and learn a bit more about The Netherlands than they wanted to know. Meanwhile Russia goes looking for friends, England and China despair over Hong Kong and America, and France mingles with the people. Also, Canada may be in here...somewhere...
By this point in the game, we all know what to expect from a volume of Hidekaz Himaruya's Hetalia manga. There will be World War Two jokes, stereotypes of various cultures, and nearly all of them will be far less offensive than they could be under other circumstances. Right Stuf's print-on-demand editions of these latest two books in the history/comedy hybrid definitely deliver on the these usual fronts, but they also make some additions to the usual hijinks and themes, providing a little bit of newness to the basic formula.
Perhaps the most interesting new sections are those in which France interacts with everyday people rather than the other nations. While we have seen the countries discuss things with their “bosses,” we haven't really had the opportunity to watch them in their day-to-day lives. This changes with a story in each of these volumes, one about an American girl traveling to France on a whim and another about a French soldier repeating his grandfather's encounter with a familiar looking man. The former takes a more supernatural tone, dealing with reincarnation and France's personal feelings for a specific figure in French history. It's very bittersweet and surprisingly effective for a manga that tends to focus on the silly. Likewise volume five's human/country encounter takes a page from Natalie Babbit's Tuck Everlasting, which upon reflection enhances the chapter in volume four. This is a new way for us to look at people who stand apart from the flow of history, and Himaruya proves that he can write poignant as well as loony.
The other major difference that is immediately noticeable in these volumes is that Himaruya has added to his cast of characters in a fairly significant way. Not only are there more female countries (Taiwan, Seychelles, Vietnam, and Wy), but there are also now three self proclaimed principalities as well as the personifications of both Chinese and Japanese provinces. The latter is perhaps the most significant addition to Hetalia's world, as it opens up nearly endless possibilities for spin-offs (or doujinshi) and future storylines. In terms of established nations, Himaruya has a lot of fun with the dynamic between China and Hong Kong (with Macao playing mediator at times), and his fascination with Taiwan's fondness for the same brand of cuteness that is popular in Japan is brought up several times. This is where we run into a bit of a translation issue for some readers, as the word “kawaii” has been left untranslated. While ostensibly we could read this as indicating that particularly Japanese cuteness associated with anime and manga, it also feels like sloppy work, particularly when paired with a few typographical and grammatical errors. For the most part, however, the books are well put together and read easily, and these first run printings also include a first chapter in full color in both volumes.
As is the norm for the series, there is little cohesion within each book as the chapters jump around in time. World War One's African Campaign gets the most page time, and one can't help but feel that Himaruya missed out on an opportunity to add in some African nations besides Egypt. The Axis trio remains the focus of most of the volumes, with America, Russia, France, and England coming in a close second. The Nordic and Baltic states get increased roles, and this is where we begin to run into a problem: everyone kind of looks alike. For the characters we have been familiar with since page one, this is a bit less of an issue, but Latvia and Lithuania look very similar, as well as many of the Norther European nations. When the characters are presented with the assumption that we will remember them all when drawn in pencil sketches in crowded panels, it becomes difficult to keep track of who is who.
One the whole, however, Hetalia remains a lot of fun. Volume five's comparison of horror films around the world is both interesting and funny (particularly India's), and Himaruya manages to hit the nail on the head more oft than not, with the Japan's horror at Germany's filthy dog being a nice little bit of commentary. If you like your history quirky, Hetalia's the place to get it, so take advantage of the fact that this old TokyoPop series is still around.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : C+
+ Fun take on history and cultural stereotypes. Himaruya proves he is able to write touching as well as comedy.
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