So, the Hetalia boys are back (with a few female hangers-on this time around), and continue to bring us their rather... unique sense of humour. Which is great if, like seemingly 90% of anime fandom, that tickles your funny-bone. If you're like me, though, it's time for more head-scratching and "whut...?"
What They Say
The World is on the cusp of war and all the countries of the world have been personified! Axis and Allied powers as well as all your favorite countries across time join together for a series of quirky vignettes. Cute, crass, colorful and funny, Hetalia Axis Powers is World History like you've never seen it before!
Audio comes in English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 versions - I listened to the Japanese track for this review. There aren't many excuses in the series to give the soundstage a proper workout, to be honest, with dialogue being the order of the day and just spot effects to liven things up. It's clean and clear, though, with no obvious encoding problems.
Video is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen format. The show;s visual style is heavy on the pastel colours and deliberately soft-focus, which means that by design it's not the best-looking series out there. It's a style that suits the series, though, and with there being no apparent encoding defects there's nothing to complain about.
No packing was provided with out review copy.
We get a static main screen with the boys posing beside the available options, with the closing song playing. This is not a treat for the ears, unfortunately. Options are provided for Play All, Episodes, Setup and Extras. There are no transition animations, so it's all quick and easy to use.
Once again there's a decent collection of extras here, starting with a creditless version of the closing sequence. There are also three video chat segments between the director, Bob Shirahata, and some of the show's Japanese VAs, wth Atsushi Kosaka (Prussia), Aki Kanada (Chibitalia) and Daisuke Namikawa (Italy) being the featured ones this time around; a 6-minute video of Prussia talking about the announcement of the Hetalia movie, and four more episode commentaries. Go on, spoil yourself.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
With the Axis pondering a new alliance with Russia, Italy's beginning to feel a little insecure - can he make his feelings know to Germany without making himself look a fool? And can Russia deal with the new alliances along with the competing demand of his sister, Ukraine (whose brains are clearly outsides by her breasts) and Belarus (who's got a bad dose of yandere brother-complex going on)? Later, the Axis powers visit Japan and find themselves bemused by the country's traditions, Lichtenstein takes lessons in independence, and a history lesson brings us the birth of America - who grows up far more quickly than big brother England ever expected...
I'll be open and up-front here: I didn't really "get" the first season of Hetalia - the show's sense of humour doesn't match my own, and when I was watching it you could figuratively see the tumbleweed rolling by as the gags completely failed to draw a reaction from me. In short: not impressed. With the second season being very much more of the same, my response is very much the same as well: I don't get it.
UK readers (and probably quite a few in the US, too) will probably have heard of UK movie reviewer Mark Kermode, who has a very popular review show on BBC Radio. His prime rule of comedy is that, for anything bearing the tag to be considered successful, it should really draw a minimum of 5 laughs in the course of the movie, otherwise it's doing something wrong. I've always thought that was quite generous - if I see a comedy, I expect to be laughing pretty much the full time through - but even against that low bar Hetalia falls short, with at best 2-3 small sniggers across the 26 short episodes on the disc. The successful scenes? The little "boiiinnng" sound that accompanies Ukraine's movements (no prizes for guessing why). The stalker attitude of Belarus towards Russia, and his reaction to it while hiding in a room and hoping she'll go away. Young America showing England how to deal with a rampaging buffalo. And, uh, that's about it.
One point of improvement this time around, though, comes in the way that the series seems to be making more of an effort to explain the history that it's lampooning, instead of expecting you to know it already. There are a couple of segments around Russia and the former USSR states that surround it, and there's time taken to explain a little of the politics between them - which in turn explains the way their personifications act. You also get a look at the formation of some countries, with quick little bits of background information provided to fill you in. This may be because, as the first season has already picked on history's bigger events, this season is left with comparatively minor events to lampoon and has to make sure you know what it's on about first, but that works in the season's favour, as there was a little less research required along the way.
Ultimately, though, Hetalia still fails for me by simply not being funny. Yes, I know that seems to be a minority opinion - the fanbase for the series is big enough that it's clearly doing something right, but I'm not ashamed to admit that, whatever it is, it just isn't doing it for me, and between that and constant skipping of the eternally-repeated closing credits, tedium soon sets in. (I'm normally all for retaining opening and closing credits in a release, but 26 times in two hours is simply too much.) Pass.
English Language 5.1, Japanese Language 2.0, Japanese Subtitles, Episode Commentaries (episodes 31, 36, 42 & 46), Director & VA Talks, Announcement of the Hetalia Movie, Textless Closing
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.