Manga Review – Hetalia – Axis Powers

Hetalia Axis Powers Volume 1

Hetalia Axis Powers
ヘタリア Axis Powers / Axis Powers ヘタリア
HIMARUYA Hidekaz
Seinen – 4-koma, comedy, historical, war
6 Volumes
Tokyopop / Right Stuf print-on-demand

Summary:

Will the world ever be at peace? Well, maybe. That is, if Italy gets out of the tomato box, Germany loosens up, and America quits trying to be the hero. Then France could stop picking fights with England (and visa versa), Japan could finally leave his room, and China would continue his pursuit of cuisine. And who knows what Russia is really thinking…

Review:

This manga about countries as people is one of those titles I was late to jump on board. The only things I really knew about the series was “AMERICA NO BAKA!” and that it was a comedy. With the collapse of Tokyopop, I figured the manga would just remain incomplete, so I saw no need to buy this series. However, thanks to Right Stuf, I now have all six volumes and decided to see if this lived up to the hype.

Holy Cliff Notes, Batman! Talk about a large cast. I thought this would essentially be the Axis Powers vs Allied Forces, but there are so many countries and empires represented that it’s hard to keep up (over 30 and it still grows). There’s older countries like Holy Rome and small ones like Lichtenstein and micronations like Sealand. (Who?) Talk about a series that needs a pull out poster of characters. The volumes have an extensive cast list, but it’s still uncomfortable to keep having to try to recall who’s who. Flags are often used in place of names, but if you don’t know the flags, it’s worthless.

This series has a lot in common with Western comic strips, so I’m sure that had an impact on its popularity. Besides the format (most volumes are full of the 4-koma strips, but regular manga chapters are also included), changing cast members, repeated jokes and gags, and, of course, humor. Much of the humor comes from stereotype but aren’t aren’t overly negative. The characterization of the countries are no different than the jokes you hear on a TV sitcom or a standup comedy routine, but if you don’t like jokes about Americans and hamburgers or drunk Germans, move on. Like most comedies, some jokes are a hit and some are a miss. But with the emphasis on history, some situations just may not make sense without knowledge of social studies, especially since countries and empires rise and fall throughout the timeline. The author clearly has a good grasp of history and provides factoids I knew nothing about, like England and their use of mystic arts. Good thing there are footnotes in the text since many of these instances are repeating gags.

I also thought the story would focus on World War II, but it jumps throughout history and even to modern times. Chapters (sections) are connected, and then the next series may involve completely different characters in a different time period. From what I’ve heard and seen, the anime might actually be superior, as it connects the series in a more natural fashion. (The published version is also different from the web version, I hear.) The “main eight” have the most interesting (and easily identifiable based on stereotypes) personalities, but they seem to be MIA (pun intended) in some volumes. I wish we see more of Germany’s suffering because of Italy’s uselessness or England’s tsundere mode instead of chapters on Seychelles or Hong Kong. The fact that new characters are often introduced in groups instead of individually also makes the story suffer.

The art fluctuates depending on the format (4-koma versus chapter, web versus published). Characters can be hard to differentiate, but that is partly because of the number of characters. The Nordic countries, for example, are hard to tell apart. I thought Holy Rome was young Germany, but he’s not, but, according to the Internet, he could be? I don’t know. They look alike, but is this just because of the art?

Translation:

This is one of those titles that I’m sure is a pain to work on. Lots of speaking quirks, history references, culture references, and small dialogue bubbles. Comedies are also hard to adapt because of the jokes; a bad translation team can completely ruin the humor of the story. Thankfully, this is a solid adaptation. The translation also keeps some quirks like China’s -aru ending. Honorifics are used, mostly by Japan (of course). Overall, a good job.

Final Comments:

I can see how the first strips would have attracted a lot of unexpected attention. While funny, I wonder if Hetalia is one of those series that is good but the anime is better simply because of the order. At the very least, the characters may be easier to identify. I enjoyed this series (and actually learned a lot), but maybe one day I should marathon the anime and compare it. Hetalia: Axis Powers is one of the series which I felt actually lived up to its hype despite me wishing for more focus on the Axis Powers and Allied Forces.

Being a print on demand title, this series’ MSRP is higher than average at $15.99. The actual volumes are taller and thinner than the typical manga. First prints of the volumes include colored pages. Extras include photos of cosplayers and a preview of the author’s work Chibisan Date, which was licensed but never released.

A sequel/spinoff is being published online under the title Hetalia World Stars.

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