Hetalia: Axis Powers Season 1 (Funimation, NR)

This is not a series for the easily offended: national stereotypes are the basis of the humor, but offense is given to all except countries who haven’t yet been included in the show.


Hetalia began life as a web comic created by Hidekaz Himaruya before becoming a manga and then an anime series directed by Bob Shirahata and animated by Studio Deen. It’s different in both form and approach from any anime I have ever watched: this show takes a satirical look at history, mostly the time period from World War I to the end of World War II, each character represents a country and the humor comes fast (or “early and often” if you’re from Chicago) because the episodes are only five minutes long.
This is not a series for the easily offended: national stereotypes are the basis of the humor, but offense is given to all except countries who haven’t yet been included in the show. Although that could be another reason to take offense if you think about it—isn’t [name your favorite country here] good enough to be made fun of? The animation is deliberately crude, the music is repetitive and annoying, and it’s the funniest thing I have watched in a long, long time.
The title comes from combining the Japanese words hetare (“incompetent” or “coward” depending on who you ask) and Italia and, as much as the series has a focus, it is the lack of fighting spirit, shall we say, of Italy during World War II. Although the grandson of the noble Roman Empire (who appears dressed in armor and a cape), Italy is mainly concerned with eating pasta and depends on Germany (a well-built blonde young man who is hardworking but inexperienced in human, i.e. national, relations) for protection and leadership. There’s also a Chibi Italia subplot which features, you guessed it, the various parts of Italy drawn as chibi characters. Japan is represented by a young man who is serious, self-effacing, and inexperienced in dealing with the Western world but is really good at miniaturizing submarines and producing them for the consumer market.
That’s the Axis powers. On the other side we have America (a friendly but thoughtless young man raised by England and given to snarfing down piles of hamburgers), England (a somewhat snooty fellow who can’t stand that America has surpassed him), France (full of excuses for his military defeats and generally having only one thing on his mind), Russia (very tall but childish, loves vodka and tends to brood) and China (obsessed with its traditions and disrespectful toward Japan which it believes to be a child, historically speaking). Other characters also pop up, including Austria (old-fashioned and musical), Canada (invisible) and Liechtenstein (a girl who idolizes her big brother Switzerland and wants to be just like him).
You can get a good idea of whether the series is for you (I think it’s brilliant) with just the first episode. The nations (helpfully identified by their national flags) are gathered around an oval table for a “meeting of the world” intended to solve all global problems. First to speak is America, who declares that there’s nothing which can’t be solved with sufficient meetings and photo-ops and advises everyone to “speak freely while protecting your chances for re-election.” He then proposes solving global warming by creating a genetically engineered hero (“Globo Man”) to shield the earth. Japan agrees, Switzerland threatens to beat him up with his Peace Prize, England looks up disdainfully from his teacup to explain why the idea won’t work, China says all the other nations are immature and offers them some snacks, France and the U.S. get into a fight, Russia taunts Latvia and Lithuania, Greece sleeps through it all (or maybe he’s just drunk) and then Germany takes over in a most threatening manner and imposes strict rules of order.
OK, that’s more like the first 90 seconds, but I find it hilarious and not at all offensive. The reason is because the stereotypes are stated so blatantly that they can’t be taken seriously: it’s like Halloween and everyone’s wearing costumes while doing improv based on their assigned character. Also, this is a very self-aware series which is constantly reminding you that it knows how outrageous it is. The end credits feature an amazingly annoying theme song, the most clashing colors imaginable, and the nation-characters goose-stepping across a rainbow and drinking beer out of their boots. If you can take that seriously, you need to check into the possibility of having a humor transplant because your own is clearly not functioning.
Because the episodes are so short, the first season (26 episodes) runs just over 2 hours and 18 minutes but the box set comes with several nifty extras which make it a good value. The main disk includes commentaries on four episodes by the voice actors and trailers for eight shows. The extras disk includes a helpful guide to the history alluded to in the episodes (it’s kind of embarrassing to realize how much stuff I didn’t know about standard European history), comments about the show by director Bob Shirahata and a textless version of the closing song. You can see a trailer for Hetalia: Axis Powers Season 1 at http://www.funimation.com/hetalia/. | Sarah Boslaugh
Click here to watch the first four episodes of Hetalia: Axis Powers dubbed in English and the final four episodes in Japanese with English subtitles via free, legal internet streams at Funimation.com.


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