A comedic allegory for international politics, Hetalia, as a franchise, presents history in a unique medium. As an anime, it presents concepts that would not be familiar with an anime audience, such as the differing cultural idiosyncrasies of European nations, addressing cultural stereotypes and introducing little-known historical events or countries.
The premise may vary due to the time period it is addressing or how it wants to reference a series of historical events but it is usually as follows: countries are represented by adults that embody the stereotype most associated with that country and these adults act out a historical event, political satire or social commentary.
By far the most interesting aspect of the Hetalia franchise is the time span. Every episode happens within the time span of five minutes and two seconds and sometimes one second less for a shorter episode. It is astounding how much education and comedic material is presented within each episode. Unfortunately, the educational value depends on the version and the series.
The Japanese dubbed version is more educational by default. The original language can express information more accurately in the right amount of flaps with no problem. In contrast to the English dubbed version, dubbed by FUNimation, which tries to get the same amount of information in a completely different language within the same amount of time and shaped flaps.
In reference to the different series, Hetalia: Axis Powers series (APH), the original, is definitely more educational considering the material is mostly based on history. While Hetalia: World Series concentrates on the comedic situations and cultural differences. Hetalia: The Beautiful World definitely returns to the roots of the original, but still carries some of the comedic charm established in the sequel series. It is however the only series that does not have an English dub, so viewers will have to wait a year or two at the most.
Unfortunately for viewers who do not prefer subtitles, Hetalia requires subtitles for many reasons even when dubbed in English. APH has many scenes with Japanese text block in the corner that further explains the situation thus English text block is put in the opposite corner.
In the scenes with scrolling Japanese text or slides, it is more common for the narrator to read the English equivalent as the subtitles appear on screen, but there are few instances where to understand reactions of specific characters subtitles appear to further understand the shock.
As for material, it is presented in a very palatable way that does not require previous knowledge of history but viewer familiarity makes it easier to appreciate subtle nuances of each scene. Previous knowledge also aids in clarifying certain scenes and situations. For instance, the two or three scenes that emphasize Germany’s height over Italy are explained by Germany having more territory, wealth and power, but since the height difference is so small (eight centimeters), it is not by much.
Hetalia has a unique animation style. The colors are very bright and the movement is lively, even if the character designs are a bit blockish. The background can be very distracting since at times it is either blank, loose outlines with watercolor or a colorful graphic design. Fortunately, the characters quick over-the-top gestures and exaggerated expressions provide enough energy that the backdrop seems to fit the overall tone of the anime.
Another trait exclusive to Hetalia is the lack of an opening song. Rather than a wonderful opening song, Hetalia has the most addictive ending songs with multiple versions for each country. Many of the songs accompany an odd story line that also emphasizes goofy gags that were established in the anime. The albums do not have one set sound as every country has its own genre.
I am very fascinated by the phenomena of Hetalia, as it becomes increasingly intellectual and nuanced every time I watch it. The music is wonderful, and the episode runtime makes squeezing 124 episodes in a weekend easy.
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Kimberly Joy Ward