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"Hetalia World Series": Trans-Atlantic Alliance

Hetalia returns for a third round of its unique look at history, trading in the ‘Axis Powers’ title for ‘World Series’. It’s an apt choice, as much of this set focuses on history before World War II.

ImageThe primary focus is on Europe and the constant changing of borders and unions it has seen. Whilst the regular cast aren’t completely absent (indeed some of them play important roles in European history) this does allow us a healthy break from them and gives a look at how Hetalia casts other countries.

A continuing serial is ‘Boss Spain and Chibi Romano’, which sees Spain take Southern Italy under his wing whilst defending him from other countries (including a highly lecherous France), with Romano assuming Spain only wants him for the inheritance of his ancestors. This effective serial surprisingly ends the season on a cliff hanger of sorts.

Another ongoing involves Japan paying a visit to Greece. These episodes were produced recently enough that the EU bailout of Greece’s economy is referred to, a poignant fact as this is still making headlines as of time of writing. Aside from that, Greece is a fairly unique character, as he’s so laid back that his episodes lack the more frantic energy the shown is known for, especially when he’s partnered with the only slightly more energetic Japan.

A shorter serial involves England’s awkward attempts to make alliances with other countries. Whilst this focuses on the early 20th century, it says something that a century later this issue feels just as relevant to this country, and as a native Brit it’s a tad heartbreaking to see England deal with the isolation he’s become stuck in.

Aside from serialised stories, a few standalones are offered and this is mainly where the regular cast appear, including of course Germany and Italy. The misadventures of the pair are easily one of the strongest comedy elements of the show and I got a particular laugh from the episode where Italy takes Japan sightseeing, a joke about the Japanese people’s frantic assimilation of gimmicks.

ImageIn regards to translation, my opinion remains the same as it has with past Hetalia releases. Whilst nothing thankfully stands out this time as truly offensive, the dub continues its habit of trying to push things and replacing emotion with shock humour. An example of this can be readily found in one of the ‘Boss Spain’ episodes where the emotional build up to a punch line is undercut by inserting a joke about being hit in the balls. In an odd occurrence, the two conflicting senses of humour seem to achieve a resolution in an episode where France tries to pervert the newly matured Italy, an episode which seems to have little to no changes in the dub.

Like an ambassador’s reception, the disc provides a healthy selection of extras. The first of these is another Hidden History file, once again providing a helpful guide to the historical references which the show itself doesn’t explain. Much less rewarding is a trio of commentaries. Hetalia episodes are just simply too short to support these, and what little we get amounts to the dub staff giving themselves constant pats on the back over how great they think the rewrites are.

The remainder of the extras consists primarily of promotional visits by members of the Japanese cast. The quality of these vary, with the standout being a pair starring the Japanese voices for France and America. The pair have such a rapport and offer such an array of witty banter that they’re a joy to watch. Others vary from boring to awkward. Specifically, hearing Japan’s VA talk about the great unity between the Axis Powers and relating it to other cases of ‘power of 3′ is more then a little awkward. Hetalia‘s premise tumbles into the offensive when you try to promote the Axis as akin to a boy band.

ImageThings are rounded up with two clean endings and a trailer. The show’s long running ending song is finally retired this season (a fact the Japanese cast poke fun at; “I don’t want to draw anymore damn circles!”) and replaced with another just as catching.

The trailer is an odd inclusion, as it’s for this very release and highlights FUNimation’s awkward attempts to make Prussia a breakout character for the show. He didn’t really stand out for me in either language, and attempting to push a character into such a role never tends to work unless the audience organically comes to the conclusion.

Lastly, a gag outtake reel offers at least a few laughs.

Hetalia continues to hit all the right notes, serving up the most unique summary of human history available. Just be careful about using what it teaches in a history exam.

–Grant White

I watch TV shows and DVDs; I don’t follow trends. So I’ll have to take everyone’s word for it that Hetalia is some kind of smash break-out hit rather than the culti-goofy faux-history course that I’d initially pegged it at. At any rate, the FUNimation voice cast seems to be in awe of the extraordinary responsibility they have shouldered in adapting this franchise and keeping the fans happy.

ImageThe show’s popularity, I suppose, explains why Season 4, just released to the American market by FUNimation, seems to have ceased entirely to be about history and has turned into some kind of bizarre sketch comedy. Oh, sure, the boys are still running around with names like “Italy” and “Germany” and “France” and “America” (and “Hungary” and “Sweden” and “Switzerland”), but there doesn’t even seem to be even a pretense that any of this has anything to do–even metaphorically–with historical events.

There are some bits that obliquely reference history. One running series has England continually escaping from an Italian prison, only to be nabbed by Germany because he has such ill luck blending in. Spain is still trying to get along with Romano. America breaks into Japan and ends his isolation. But these feel like the exception. Most of the discs are taken up with sketches that simply reference the characters’ cultural stereotypes, as when Germany tries putting Japan onto a healthier diet, and finds he has to set an example by giving up beer. And some of the bits just feel indulgently obscure. So France taunts Austria about giving up ascots, and gets a shock after taking his picture. And the joke here is what?

These tendencies reach an apotheosis of sorts in bits that reimagine the characters as cats–a doubling of the original joke that just winds up making it seem pointless. It feels more like animated LOLcats than Hetalia cats. They’re cute and funny, but an evolution too far.

The set is at least generously festooned with extras–more extras, indeed, for the American market than before. Five episodes get commentaries. There is also a 30-minute video interview with several of the voice actors sitting on a couch. Arcs from the first season–Chibitalia and the Holy Roman Empire, and America cleaning out his attic–are collected into one place. There are also some Japanese interviews and records of promotional events.

Have they actually run out of history to parody? Or have the makers decided that the show and its characters are so popular and successful that they don’t need to be anchored to anything so mundane–or insane–as European history? Probably it’s the latter. If you loved Hetalia while completely not getting the historical resonances, you’ll probably think Season 4 is the best one yet. But even fans might feel it floating vaporously away.

–Maxie Zeus

Hetalia World Series Season 3 (UK Edition) can be purchased through Amazon.co.uk.

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