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Hetalia Axis Powers Complete Series Anime DVD Review

11 min read

Let’s face it; the 20th Century had it coming.

What They Say:
Forget everything you learned in history class, and imagine all the nations of the world as cute guys hanging out on a wildly inappropriate reality show. Now, toss in every stereotype ever and prepare to pledge allegiance to your favorite superpower in Hetalia Axis Powers! Maybe you’ll surrender to Italy’s charms. He’s a sweetie who’s always got a noodle in his mouth and he’s BFF with blue-eyed Germany and shy Japan. Sounds nice, right? Of course, their friendship sort of causes World War II, but is that really such a big deal? Not if it means those adorable allies France, America, and England will be stormin’ the beach!

The Review:
Audio:
The release of the Hetalia Complete Collection contains a pair of audio tracks with the English one getting a 5.1 mix while the Japanese track is present in its original 2.0 mix. For the purposes of this review the Japanese track was selected and it was found to be a solid one that had no moments of dropout or distortions noted. While the track isn’t really spectacular in function it doesn’t really need to be as the series makes use of fewer effects than other series. By and large the majority of the weight of the audio track is devoted to the dialogue which is often fast and furious and which is nicely solid so that even when the characters are talking over each other individual lines don’t become muddied or lost while the track still provides some balance and directionality.

Video:
Originally airing in 2009 as a web series, the release is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is also complete with an anamorphic widescreen encode. Perhaps owing to its web origins the series isn’t the most technically impressive or detailed series on the market but it is still rather more detailed and fluid than one might suspect from hearing it of its internet roots. To carry things the series makes use of a good deal of super deformed animation at times to help sell the humor but also some rather more traditional- and very bishonen style to keep the fans of pretty boys content.

The authorization used on the discs does present some flaws though as the video looks a bit soft and there is a fine presence of noise to be seen during playback along with some bright red color bleed, banding, dot crawl, moiré, ghosting, slight haloing, and minor interlacing noted at some spots. Given the series isn’t as intricate as some others most these issues will likely be not a major factor for most viewers however.

Packaging:
The release of this collection of the first two Hetalia seasons comes packaged in a standard DVD size case which FUNimation also produces a slipcover for that mirrors the DVD’s cover art as an added bonus. While the case may be standard size it shows its difference upon opening it as the case itself has no hubs on it and instead it has two flipper trays that have hubs on either side of them so there is no disc overlap present. Each of the four discs make use of various stripes of color for their backdrop and they then add a pair (trio for the last disc) of characters to fill out the label with the season discs using regular character art while the extras discs use SD character art.

The cover from the set uses an image of the Axis faction characters plus America and Britain tossing Italy in the air in a basket catch and throw style game. The characters are then placed against an incredibly colorful background of overlapping shades from the visible end of the light spectrum as it forms a sort of circle around the cover. The back cover uses some white at the top to set off the series logo and as the eye drifts down with the copy the overlapping circles of color from the front return. As one additional bonus, the clear case allows FUNimation to add an image on the reverse side of the cover and while it isn’t exactly a reverse cover type, it is a nice additional image of the characters on the front in more of a line with the same colored background present.

Menu:
The menus are colorful though static affairs that show off different images of some of the cast of characters from the series with a number of the images looking like they came from the episodes. For the most part the design of the menu does a nice job of placing the selectable options in a position on the screen where they are still noticeable but which don’t detract from the image used for the background. The menu options themselves use either a highlighting feature or small arrow to denote the currently selected option and the menu is quick to respond to changes in selections and to implement them when chosen.

Extras:
For a show that features some of the major countries of the world one might have raised expectations for a set of extras to match, and FUNimation does a really good job of living up to such expectations with something for both English dub fans and fans of the Japanese side of things. There are so many extras in fact that FUNimation had to include a second disc with each of the season sets when sold individually and both extras discs appear in this collection as well. First up, FUNimation created Audio Commentaries for Episodes 2, 9, 12, 16, 31, 36, 42 & 46 to allow their English cast to give their thoughts on the show they worked on. In addition to this FUNimation brought over a slew of Japanese release extras including Show Comments by Director Bob Shirahata Parts 1-3, Director Bob Shirahata’s Ending Sequence Comments, Director Bob Shirahata & Atsushi Kosaka (Prussia) Talk, Atsushi Kosaka Commemorates the Announcement of the Hetalia Movie, Bob Shirahata & Aki Kanada (Chibi Italy) Talk, Bob Shirahata & Daisuke Namikawa (Italy) Talk. With such an exhaustive list of topics which feature series director Bob Shirahata it doesn’t quiet reach the level of being a definitive “Everything you wanted to know about Hetalia but where afraid to ask” segment but it sure feels incredibly close at times given the insight the director shares on his though process during the series creation.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The origin of Hetalia is as unconventional in some ways as the series own methodology. What began as a simple web comic has exploded into a full fledged franchise which spreads across a couple seasons of animated web series, a drama CD series, manga adaptations as well as a video game, full length feature and a practical army’s worth of merchandise.

The premise of the series is on the one hand laughably simply but also at times incredibly deep. While the start of the first season focuses most its attention on the Axis Powers during World War II (OK, mostly Italy and Germany) and their Allied opponents the scope of the series can go beyond just these countries and the World War I to II time frame as the writers take aim at various parts of history or modern day times as they use humor to play both with series events as well as some of the reputations that various countries have developed over the years. To this end each nation is represented with a character who is meant to be a personification of the country they represent with strengths and weeknesses often played to the hilt.

The series begins in modern times as the nations of the world try to deal with some of the pressing problems of the day but which goes nowhere as each country has its own take on the issues. For starters, America wants to play the lead Hero while Britain believes the opposite and France just wants to disagree with them both. In this chaos other countries such as Switzerland and China’s opinions are ignored and Russia is busy passive-aggressively threatening its neighbors until Germany finally has enough. His explosive entry focuses all the attention on him and he attempts to return order to the meeting and calls on Italy for his view on events. This turns out to be a huge mistake for Germany as Italy usually has but one thing on his mind and he is willing to share even in this tense situation. And just what is that idea? “Pasta!”

With this set up out of the way the series begins to wander through its various sub arcs of stories with an eye of looking at history through a revolving series of different shorts, some of which play off each other and build into a bigger narrative and some which are just thrown out there and then abandoned as they aren’t deep enough to write multiple arcs about.

Probably the biggest arc in the series is the relationship between Germany and Italy that is one of “I wish I could quit you” kind of things where Germany knows he can’t count on Italy when push comes to shove- or if it looks like push may come to shove or even if there is a hint that a push might come. Yet despite this flaw Germany keeps welcoming Italy back every time Italy comes crawling to his door (basically all the time there isn’t the chance battle might happen) with his pasta fixation and rather laid back and somewhat lazy approach to life in full bloom. Later in the series Japan becomes introduced to this team which adds a bit of insecurity on Italy’s part but also gives the chance for Japan to show off his often passive-aggressive nature in this alliance as he rarely says what he is really thinking but will give affirmation to ideas anyway.

Playing of this particular storyline are the allied characters that show off their own particularities as well with America always insisting on being in charge while eating hamburgers yet is a bit grandiose and not always practical in his plans while Britain has terrible cooking ability, can’t drink worth anything and has the tendency to talk to imaginary friends. France meanwhile is usually looking for romance and has a tendency to drop his cloths with no notice and in introspective times gets mad at God for his military loses (because of course they are God’s fault) while Russia usually sits around with a creepy smile on his face and occasionally throws out some very leading and scary statements to those countries around him (or during the period set in times where the Soviet Union existed the ones who were under him) while China acts above many events while just trying to make a living selling items to everyone.

There are also reoccurring stories about the birth of countries and their early days where they are represented as children. Chief among these are tales from Italy’s early days after Grandfather Rome vanished leaving a very young Italy at the mercy of some of the older countries such as Austria when it he separated from its brother Romano and where he also finds an admirer in Holy Rome. During this period Italy is shown to be working in Austria’s household and there is a running gag about a misunderstanding much of the cast has regarding him that his age and manner of dress help create.

The series also branches off into non WWII events, most notable in the second season as it wanders capriciously across both time and the globe to bring its own twist to either world events or to cultural stereotypes that have sprung up over the years. I freely admit the stuff that focuses around WWII, while scattershot in its own right is probably my favorite series of arcs as there is a bit of a focus in those shorts that the series sometimes lacks elsewhere.

Probably the biggest factor to the success of Hetalia (well other than the bishonen character types anyway) is found in the series’ humor. The writers wield their scripts like sharpened swords at times and no one is safe from getting savaged, though some (Italy) get the biggest brunt of the attack while others (Japan) aren’t quite as savaged. Through this though style of writing almost no one gets treated as special or off limits which is what really makes for the best use of biting satire as when there are no sacred cows that are untouchable jokes can be processed better than if they seem to be weighted for or against a particular group and thus set up a more defensive mindset. With this “Devil may care” approach the series is free to mock just about anyone and everything without fear that too many feelings will be hurt, though the series still managed to start a minor international fight of sorts between Japan and Korea over Korea’s depiction in the web comic.

One of the series other strengths to the series is that the episodes only run about five minutes apiece and almost no stories run even the whole of that short time so a gag can be thrown out for the audience to laugh at and the skit quickly switched out before the act has a chance to over stay its welcome and get old. The shear breadth of characters that pop up through the two seasons also allows the writers to stretch their skills and not grow too much in a rut writing basically the same thing over and over. There are even moments of tenderness to be found when some of the countries meet newer and much smaller countries, some of who grow quick and some of whom really don’t get much respect (Canada) or are almost ignored because of the circumstances of their birth (Sealand).

Just to top things off though on occasion the writers throw out a surprise and rather than mocking history they include a rather detailed discussion about a piece about a particular event which shows that somewhere in the pool there are some people writing about what they love which also helps give a sense of warmth to the series as it keeps the humor from growing too cynical and cold.

In Summary:
Hetalia is likely a series that at least a plurality of fans have heard of, if for nothing else than in relation to the sheer devotion of a core number of its fans. While I was hesitant to give the series a go as it sounded to be mostly pushing a bishonen (pretty boy) aspect given some reaction I had read I discovered to my delight that the series is so much more than just that angle. What the two seasons collected bring to the table is a very large serving of shorts that are willing to mock history and a number of the modern nation’s stereotypes but do it in an almost loving fashion where there are criticisms laid but few seem to be done with malice. In fact, outside of maybe Italy the series largely strives to give as many countries as it can the same treatment which lowers the barriers some may have at certain aspects of the humor because if you can laugh when another country gets the pointed end of the satirical stick you can hardly object when the same stick heads toward your country and its image.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Audio Commentaries for Episodes 2, 9, 12, 16, 31, 36, 42 & 46, Show Comments by Director Bob Shirahata Parts 1-3, Director Bob Shirahata’s Ending Sequence Comments, Director Bob Shirahata & Atsushi Kosaka (Prussia) Talk, Atsushi Kosaka Commemorates the Announcement of the Hetalia Movie, Bob Shirahata & Aki Kanada (Chibi Italy) Talk, Bob Shirahata & Daisuke Namikawa (Italy) Talk, Textless Songs

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A+

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: March 6th, 2012
MSRP: $44.98
Running Time: 260 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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