"Hetalia Axis Powers: Paint It, White! (UK Edition)": Doesn’t Whitewash
Given Hetalia’s rapid-fire format, the question of making it into a movie is, of course, ‘How?’ The answer, it would seem, is to cast the view beyond our blue sphere and bring in space aliens.
A race of featureless white aliens invades Earth, slowly assimilating humans and even the very landscape. The central Hetalia cast (England, America, France, Russia, Japan, Germany, China and Italy) have an emergency meeting to discuss the threat, but they can’t even agree on who should lead the counterattack. Each vows their nation will defeat the invaders independently, but they are quickly beaten and forced to admit the need to work together. But with the aliens having no known weakness, do they stand any chance of saving their planet?
An alien invasion story is perhaps the only logical one for a feature-length Hetalia outing. The show’s spirit is firmly entrenched in exploring the things that supposedly make countries different while underscoring how similar they in fact are, so you couldn’t really have a group of the characters playing heroes and another the villains without inviting uncomfortable questions about the views of the producers.
The Pictonian aliens actually serve as a good way to keep the key themes of Hetalia going. The Pictonians are out to turn the universe into a place free of individuality, and have highlighted the messy history of Earth as making it a prime candidate for this treatment. This obviously doesn’t sit well with our heroes, who each love their individuality, and the film looks at how, despite the wars and conflicts it can lead to, individuality and diverse cultures are to be celebrated. Admittedly this does lead to one of the film’s misfires for me: attempting to negotiate with the Pictonians, each of the characters offers a taste of their respective country. Pretty much everyone gets a chance to shine in this sequence except for England, whose offering of homemade scones invalidates everyone else’s attempts in the name of an ‘English food is terrible’ joke. Hetalia has some great jokes at the expense of my homeland, and I usually laugh pretty heartily at them, but in a sequence which basically celebrates all the other nations respectfully, I can’t help but feel making us the punch line is bad taste. Especially since I’m quite a fan of our grub (mmm, yummy scones!).
Watching the film brought to mind the Gundam 00 movie, since both share the central plot of faceless, shape shifting aliens out to assimilate mankind. This helps underscore the uniqueness of the Hetalia movie: whilst Trailblazer involved many furious fights against the aliens, only a single fight occurs here whilst the majority of the film is spent outrunning and outsmarting the Pictonians. Given the Hollywood standard of alien movies requiring ‘unload a cap into it’ being basically the only response to alien life Paint It, White! is surprisingly and welcomingly relaxed. In turn it reminds me of how Summer Wars likewise responded to a hostile situation, though admittedly Hetalia’s attempt isn’t quite as engrossing.
A surprising inclusion to the film is a number of sketches from the series at random points. These are lifted directly from the original episodes, which means a lack of new content, and in the case of the dub the return of certain jokes I didn’t care for.
In my previous review of Hetalia, I discussed how I wasn’t a big fan of the dub primarily because it was obsessed with pushing things beyond the show’s generally gentle sense of humour into pointless shock humour that usually falls flat. Whilst the dub for ‘Paint It White‘ usually keeps things straight there are a few unwelcome attempts to push things, mainly courtesy of the Narrator played again by Jamie Marchi. A perfect example occurs in a sequence where England and France discover the alien’s intel on the former. In the original this is a quick blurb about how the two are known for fighting but deep down likely respect one another. It’s a nice subtle moment that underscores the unspoken bond between the cast. The dub instead elects to inform us that they ‘Love each other. Sexually’. The commentary audio track suggests Marchi writes most of the narration dialogue herself. Regardless of who specifically is writing it, it’s just trying way too hard and comes off more desperate then amusing. Sometimes even the dub just kills a joke by rewriting it; a quick sketch involves Japan being freaked out by a hug from Italy as if it were a sexual advance, a joke based on the difference between European and Japanese social greetings. The dub rewrites this into rather generic dialogue, even removing the punch line where a suddenly femininely posed Japan asks Italy to ‘take responsibility’. In fact it’s a bizarre contradiction to see the dub punch up the gentler humour but apparently sanitise the pre-existing edgier stuff.
For a theatrical outing the budget is surprisingly low. This really doesn’t look or sound any better then the standard episodes, with perhaps the only real difference being the cell-shaded Pictonians. Hetalia is pretty much carried by its characters and humour, and the low budget animation often works well in the series but for an extended outing such as this it’s surprising how low the standard is.
A nice range of extras is included. The first of these is a text guide explaining some of the historical gags in the film that will likely escape most. I have to admit to learning a few things from this, so it’s definitely a good inclusion. This is followed by a dub-cast commentary. Eighty minutes is a long time if a commentary is no good but thankfully FUNimation opted to rotate actors roughly every 20 minutes, which stops things getting too stale and helps keep things focused on attempts to answer fan-submitted questions. A certain actor is surprisingly absent, but listen all the way through, there’s closure on that. Most interestingly, some of the actors admit the dub perhaps pushes things too far. That’s a nice turn around from the previous release trying to claim the show is similar to South Park.
The original theatrical end credits for the movie is next, and personally I think I prefer it to what we see at the end of the main feature (which I assume is one of Japan’s many ‘We’ll fix it for the DVD’ moments). It’s simpler but looks better to me then the awkward ‘Everyone Bon dances via cell shading’ used in the final release, since in that the exact same animation loop seems to be used on every single character, meaning characters move in a way which doesn’t match their physique and comes off as creepy rather than funny. ‘Opening Day Stage Greetings’ offers a brief introduction from the Japanese voices of Italy, Germany and Japan, and the director. It’s a fluff piece but I have to admit it’s kind of unsettling to see the specific gathering of the former Axis used for such a promotion. Lastly there’s a dub gag real, offering a few outtakes from when the actors ran out of time or decided to goof off.
Hetalia Axis Powers: Paint It, White! is an easy recommendation but one that comes with the caveat that I’d recommend watching some of the standard episodes first. The ‘greatest hits’ nature of the sketches inserted throughout the film mildly help, but I think viewers will get more out of this is if they go in with a pre-existing knowledge of how the cast are portrayed, especially as the focus is firmly on character interactions over a plot. Aside from that, I think it boils down to your sense of humour. I still find Hetalia’s comedy to work pretty well and find it honest but gentle. The easily offended however may want to avoid this and if you don’t find it offensive enough, there’s always the dub track.
Paint It, White! may not be a massive game changer for Hetalia but for an extended outing it’s pretty fun.
Hetalia Axis Powers: Paint It, White! (UK edition) can be purchased through Amazon.co.uk.