Hetalia: Axis Powers is the type of series that will polarize audiences. The show explores the events leading up to and surrounding World War II by personifying the countries of the world as individuals characterized with slapstick humor and overstated stereotypes. On the one hand, creating a series based upon a satirical retelling of world history through a madcap anime filter is something of a success in and of itself. On the other hand, severe liberties are taken with historical facts, and the ways in which the various nations are portrayed as people borders on offensive. Italy is obsessed with eating pasta and is quick to surrender, while the United States gobbles hamburgers and always wants to be the hero, even if he expects his allies to do most of the work for him. It’s all supposed to be in good fun, but it may rub viewers the wrong way.
Another element of the show that will limit its widespread appeal is its speedy pacing, which actually caused me to think I had accidentally pressed the Fast-Forward button on my remote control. Every episode clocks in at a mere five minutes, with the storytelling alternating between two distinct segments. Not only does the show focus on the timeframe around World War II, but it also features a separate offshoot, Chibitalia, which fleshes out the back story by depicting the nations as young children. It all amounts to a heck of a lot to take in at once, and is made even more difficult by the occasional on-screen text providing explanations about some of the historical intricacies linked to the gags. I had to pause the action on multiple occasions so I could keep up with reading all the information.
Because everything moves so quickly, I immediately switched over from the original Japanese language track to watch the show in English, even though I found the Japanese voices to be superior. Not having to read subtitles allowed me to keep from falling as far behind, but I didn’t really care for the English voices, which only served to further the cultural stereotypes of each country. The vocal cast definitely deserves credit for upholding the spirit of the series, but as someone who has been conditioned to resist simplified personifications of ethnic and cultural groups, it was tough for me to hear the attempts at comical accents.
However, I don’t want to come down too hard on Hetalia: Axis Powers, and even considering my criticisms, I had a nice time watching the series. True, the show should not at all be considered a precise narrative of the world at war, but it soars in terms of clearly separating the different countries in a manner that is simple to understand. That is, while the stereotypes may have caused me to wince, they also helped me easily distinguish between all the players involved. In addition, the animation has an energetic flair and bright art style that makes the show immediately watchable. And, as much as the rapid-fire sequence of events can be exhausting to follow, there is never a dull moment to be found.
Hetalia: Axis Powers may be best suited for a classroom setting, where it can be used to provide students with a tangible way to differentiate between the various parties involved in World War II. It will also serve to spark debate about such topics as how different countries perceive historical events and the ways in which stereotypes differ depending on the vantage point. Even if watched solely for pleasure, Hetalia: Axis Powers will win over its fair share of fans, despite the fact that others may turn their nose at the method by which the series recounts history and represents nations. It’s hard to resist the show’s liveliness and overall charisma, though its subject matter and crowded episodes make it best left to older teen and adult audiences.
Hetalia: Axis Powers Complete Seasons One and Two
directed by Bob Shirohata
260 minutes, Number of Discs: 4
Company Age Rating: 17
Related to: Hetalia: Axis Powers manga by Hidekaz Himaruya