Hetalia is one of those shows that comes along every so often where, also out of nowhere, the whole thing sparks a tidal wave of hype and and explosion of fandom interest - reading Twitter and various anime message boards, you'd reach the (fairly accurate) conclusion that the series was almost a phenomenon. And I can't help but wonder, "why!?"...
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 Italy. Germany and Japan pondering 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.
Extras overload seems to be the order of the day, starting with episode commentaries for episodes 2, 9, 12 and 16. Next up is the Hidden History, a series of text slides for each episode that explain the historical events that are referred to - essential reading unless you're a real history nut in the first place. Director Bob Shirahata's show comments come spread across three video segments, totalling 35 minutes, plus about another 10 minutes devoted to the ending sequence. Finally, there's a creditless version of the closing sequence. Enough there to keep you occupied for a while, I'd reckon.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
The nations of the world have come together for a conference that aims to solve the world's woes. Which would work a lot better if America weren't being an idiot, and if the other countries weren't so busy talking behind his back. In Hetalia, the nations of the world become personified in single characters, and as the title may just give away, this season focusses on the World War II powers - Japan, Germany and Italy. Italy's an idiot, obsessed with pasta and always relying on Germany to get him out of trouble; Germany's strong and determined; Japan quiet and workmanlike. Put them into a series of 5-minute comedy shorts (padded out even further with Chibitalia, the animated adventures of the countries as children), and you have one of the stranger series of recent years...
Hetalia seems to rely on two things to make it tick: first, it's comedic style, and second, the way that it "plays" with history to pull what little semblance of story that it has together. There are 26 episodes in this set, the full first season - but with each episode being only around 5 minutes, with that time split between the episode proper, a Chibitalia short, and the closing credits, there's really not a lot of time for anything to really happen. Following the World War II theme of the series, this season follows the formation of the Axis powers as Italy, Germany and Japan strike up an unlikely friendship (with Italy quickly proving a talent for being a handful of trouble for the other two to deal with), while the Allies, under the guidance of America, argue amongst themselves about how best to deal with them.
Slotted in between the main "story" is Chibitalia, a separate series-within-a-series that goes back in history a little bit further to see the young Italy being wooed by Holy Rome (no, not in that way - at least I don't think so) in an effort to recreate the long-gone glory days of the Holy Roman Empire. Little Italy is, to say the least, uncertain that this is a good idea, but Holy Rome is a persistent little bugger...
Each character is, as mentioned, a personification of the country they represent, with national stereotypes played to the hilt: Italy shows a remarkable talent at running away when he should be fighting, Germany is stern and determined (and Austria even more so). America thinks they're here to save the world, with the other allies just there as his backups, while France is constantly reminded about all the wars he's fought. And lost. To "get" all this, then, there are certain requirements: a basic familiarity with world history (to make sure that all the references that are made to past events don't just go right over your head), and a similar familiarity with all those national stereotypes, otherwise it makes very little sense why that characters act the way that they do.
And even that might not be enough. I wouldn't consider myself a historian, but I'm also far from clueless to history and whatnot - and yet still I found most of the gags that Hetalia was throwing at me worthy only of the sound of chirping crickets. With maybe the odd piece of tumbleweed rolling past. Very, very rarely did the series raise anything more than a wry grin from me, and laughs were entirely out of the equation. Yes, humour is very subjective, and what makes one person roll in the aisles will leave another person cold, but it's very unusual that a series pitched as a comedy would leave me completely cold and unamused. And yet it does, with the one exception: the appearance of Sealand, which is almost a stroke of genius, but only for one episode.
With the show having the fanbase it has, though, it must be doing something right (and they can't all be fangirls looking for an opportunity to glomp the boys. Can they!?). I just can't figure out what it is - which makes it a little hard for me to know how to rate it. Try before you buy, and may you have better luck being tickled by its sense of humour than I've had.
English Language 5.1, Japanese Language 2.0, Japanese Subtitles, Episode Commentaries, The Hidden History Within Hetalia, Show comments with Director Bob Shitahara, Bob Shirahata's Ending Sequence Comments, 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.