What would you say if I were to tell you that there was an anime where the characters were countries and the plot revolved around moments in history and their antics during the World Wars? Sounds crazy right? Well, that's the premise in a quirky cult show named Hetalia: Axis Powers. This 5 minute-long episode anime has taken the otaku community by storm and FUNimation has just released the first collection of 26 episodes.
Hetalia is such a strange show to get into. The pacing is rapid fire, the concept isn't explained well (rather you're left to figure it out through the experience of watching), and the dialogue is truly off-the-wall. With that in mind it should be no surprise that the series is indeed unique, bizarre, and rather tough to get into upon first watching. I'd go as far as to say that after the first two episodes I didn't want to come back to it. I must say, however, that I'm pleased I mustered up the courage to do so.
What's it all about? Well, at its core the show is essentially what I mentioned in the first couple of sentences of this review. Just think of the potential of a show where each country is personified by a person representing their stereotypes. Now picture them reenacting historical moments and World War II. Italy is a pasta loving goofball, Germany is a brawny militaristic brute, and Japan is soft-spoken, yet dedicated and determined. Together they make up the Axis Powers. Not quite as sinister as what went on back in the day, but hey, watching the three people become friends with the WWII backdrop makes it a fascinating study.
On the flipside America is the hamburger-loving go-getting hero, England is stuck up and doesn't like the role it plays, China loves food, France is a bunch of pansies, and Russia is out for themselves. These Allied Powers work together to go against the Axis and the way they interact is beautiful. For instance the Allies spy on Axis as they roast marshmallows around a campfire, Italy gets captured and is so annoying he's constantly shipped back to Germany, and there're even some nice UN gatherings.
Really the breakdown of episodes is basically impossible, as each lasts only five minutes. There is, however, the one half of the show that's the main focus with the World War and the nations all working together and such. Then there is the other aspect which features chibi versions of the nations with a focus on Italy once again. Instead of looking at the time period of WWII it looks at history involving Austria and the Roman Empire. It's all utterly fascinating to a point that it's an entertaining spin on history and the world, and it's just about one of the most imaginative shows I've seen in a very long time.
With that being said it's not a series for everyone. While the quirkiness of the characters and their roles have a certain charm, the antics become a little stale after a while. Hetalia is a show that uses almost an entirely male cast and works up the "cute" angle for the girls in the audience. Naturally not everyone will be able to appreciate that, but once you dig below the surface you'll find that the dialogue is witty enough and the laughs are rather frequent.
If you're looking for a unique show with a lot of personality, Hetalia is about as close to fitting that bill as you could possibly get. The series definitely grows on you with time and I'd be hard-pressed to say that I didn't find myself marathon watching episode after episode. Rampant fandom and cult status aside, Hetalia is a show that's worth checking out!
Hetalia is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and an anamorphic presentation. The show is bright with vibrant colors and a style that's sloppy, yet refined. There's almost a watercolor-like nature to the show at times and it's a series that constantly changes its look. As far as the technical quality is concerned the show is presented well on DVD with little in the way of flaws. There's some light ghosting at times, though I can't quite tell if it's a matter of the way the show was animated or a byproduct of the transfer.
The audio here is solid as well with English and Japanese languages. Both dubs have something to offer, though really the Japanese dub with subtitles is almost too fast for its own good at times. Have fun trying to read some of the lines as Italy goes on a rant as fast as he cant. The English fairs a little better in that sense but it's a bit of give and take as the nations are given goofy accents. Both are worth listening to, however.
The content on the second disc is entirely bonus features. For starters there are some clean animations, but really it's the rest of the material that's interesting. There's a feature entitled "The Hidden History Hidden Within Hetalia", which is textual and gives a look at the subtle historical references that make up several scenes in the show. After that there are three parts of "Show Comments by Director Bob Shirahata". Combined these three last over 30 minutes and feature Bob talking about the show and giving us some nice insight into the program. These were originally featured on the Japanese DVD release. And finally there's a feature that once again comes from the Japanese DVD release and features Bob talking about the ending sequence. In it he refers to the Japanese DVDs getting a special CD with music from the show, which will undoubtedly leave American fans feeling jealous.
If you've paid any attention to Hetalia, definitely pick this boxed set up. The first season is entertaining and frankly the description of the show doesn't do it justice. You've never seen anything like this, and that's a good thing. Hetalia is Hetalia and it's something that has to be watched to be appreciated. I'm definitely looking forward to the second season! Highly Recommended!