With One World Week upon us, it is important to respect the customs, traditions, and mannerisms of each and every country out there in the wide, wide world. We are all one and the same, and yet completely different, and that is what makes us as as a species great. Mars men, wherever they are, must be jealous of our cultural diversity and ethnicity. I was originally going to report on modern Japanese culture, about how it has effected modern western civilisation and so on, but then I was struck shockingly by the realisation that I could use this opportunity to talk about one of my biggest guilty pleasures in all Anime: Hetalia.
Embrace the magnificence that is the artwork of Studio Deen! (or not…)
For those who have never heard of Hetalia, frankly you have no idea what you are in store for. Hetalia is technically a historical comedy, though to say that would be a huge insult to both history and his greatness Hidekaz Himaruya who created the web comic the Anime is based off. I like to see it as one of the most misunderstood satire pieces you could ever come across, as it focuses much more on politics than history, and I would class it as a satire rather than a comedy because at parts it is going out of its way to deliberately offend in a light, panel show style of humour. The idea, at its core, is that each country in the world is represented by one person who is drawn like a normal person from that country and has the personality of a stereotypical person from that country, (bare in mind here these are Japanese stereotypes for others and not our British ones, though the American dub did add extra bits to appeal to the English speaking audience) for example, Japan himself is pictured as a small, slim man with black hair which is cut so conservatively that it out-blues the Mediterranean sea, who loves cooking and traditional values. This would, for example, have Japan react badly to America, who in this rendition is a boisterous, loud-mouth fun-goer who likes to party and takes drastic political decisions, and then react positively to Britain, who out of all the British stereotypes they could have chosen is actually very conservative in his own way (despite being a secret punk). It would literally take all night to go through every character and every stereotype, as there’s in theory one character per country in the world.
France and England battle it out in the conference room just like the good old days.
Anyway, so far there are four seasons, one movie, and a season five in the pipeline. The first two seasons are called Hetalia Axis Powers (APH) and seasons three and four are called World Series. The movie, Paint it White, sits in between APH and World series. First, the reason for the names. Hetalia ‘Axis Powers’ refers to most of the first two seasons being about Japan, Italy and Germany and their encounters during and after the two world wars. With Italy being the main character throughout, APH follows his story and everything that orbits around him more than anything else, though there are story lines about the America/Britain/France “special relationship” love triangle and about Soviet Russia (Canada, Cuba and China are in there as well at some point). Paint it white completely breaks away from the norm, and has a story about aliens invading earth. These aliens have invaded earth to turn everything into white blobs because ‘everything should be the same in every way’ and it is up to the United Nations to fight the aliens off while being at risk of losing their national identities. This is by far the best of anything produced by this fandom, as the animation has been given a kick and the jokes are funny and the ending amazing (plus Bon Dancing! You cannot get the song out of your head, it’s impossible!) World Series is no longer about Italy, Japan or Germany, and instead is about the entire world, and so introduces a ton load of new characters including Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Greece, Turkey, and many more character developments in characters which were only in the background before such as Hungary, Austria, Spain, and everyone’s favourite, Prussia. Out of the seasons, season three has the best jokes of all of them, with season four only being in Japanese last time I looked (that shouldn’t stop you watching it, but you don’t get all the same cultural references as in the English version.)
Damn Pictonians, coming over here, painting everything white!
The humour is not for everyone, the structure of the show is not for everyone. I have had friends say to me that they got confused watching it because the title sequence seems to play every five minutes. In fact it’s supposed to do that, as each episode is only five minutes long. The animators, having made the decision to make an Anime of this web comic, decided to make each episode only a minute long because it was how long it took to tell the storyline of each story plot which were limited to a page a scene. It is this that makes watching each episode so unique and confusing, because each character talks so fast and each scene is animated so fast because they had to fit everything in five minutes (in fact, I haven’t seen one episode go a second over five minutes.) The humour, well… no humour can be for everyone. For me it tickles my funny bones constantly, but for others it goes over their heads and they are left with a dizzying sensation. I like that it goes past so quickly, I like how the jokes are so full of satire, but I can see why people don’t understand it. To go back to the One World Week theme, what I like about most of the jokes is that they reference culture, they reference politics from all over the world and not just Japan (my favourite joke of all of them involves Switzerland and his ‘barrier of ultimate neutrality’ that he puts up while the aliens are invading.) Other jokes include Greece wishing he was a cat so he didn’t have to worry about bankruptcy and Japan getting angry because the price of eggs has gone up 20 yen, plus many, many more.
Economy humor… Economy humor everywhere!
Criticisms I would have of it is that as it’s classified as a Shojo (shojo being ‘girls manga’) it features way too many boys (and young ones at that) with the only strong female characters being the feminist ex-wife-of-stuffy-Austria Hungary and the psychotic sister of Russia Belarus. Shojo’s, by tradition, tend to rely on fan-service, meaning they put in certain sellers to get a particular audience, in this case, pretty boys. However, one argument that some fans have put forward is that this is in itself a satire of how women are so under-represented in politics and in history (But really, there’s one female version of each character in the web comic, so its the fault of the animators for not animating women ultimately.) Also, depending on which way you look at it, the English dub is annoying. I, personally, think it adds a bit of humour that the English speaking audience couldn’t get from watching the Japanese sub, because you have added accents to the jokes which are both recognisable and amusing to hear, but at times it seems as if they aren’t even trying. Canada doesn’t sound any different from America, and that’s because it’s the same voice actor, however Canada has been given the odd ‘ay’ to say at the end of sentances, and China doesn’t sound like anything recognisable. Japan too is not so convincing. However, some of the best voice acting in Hetalia include Britain, France, Italy and Germany. These four especially have had some work put into their pronunciation and sentence structure. Even though they are still ‘mock’ accents and make it clear that they are, they don’t annoy like Canada’s or China’s do, and in fact make the deliverance of each joke much better.
Find the girl in this picture… Can’t find her? there isn’t one.
One World Week is there to celebrate all that is diverse and different in the world, and Hetalia, at the end of the day, is there to do the same. In its core, Hetalia wants to make a united world who accepts each other’s differences, and this isn’t just an interpretation, that is exactly what it wants to do, you just have to watch the last five minutes of Paint it White (or indeed, the entire thing) to understand what values the fandom has. Its an Anime that’s means of expressing peace is through retelling the story of past and present conflicts and showing how violent but funny they can be. Not once does someone use a weapon in the show; some of them hold a gun and Japan has a katana but barely draws it, with the only object used to inflict harm on someone being a frying pan. Apart from that the only thing that gets hut are a few aliens in Paint it White after being punched in the stomach by America. A pretty peaceful way of illustrating a 1000 years of bloody violence and modern conflicts. Hetalia is harmless, very easy to watch but very hard to keep track of, and no one can blame you for going with a more structured Anime. However I think it is worth researching, even if just for the original artwork done by Hidekaz Himaruya (which is beautiful by the way). What else can I say other than Marukaite chikyuu boku Hetalia!