Useless Italy – The Anime
Combine the wacky history of the old the old Warner Bros cartoon “Histeria!” with the Japanese “Moe” aesthetic, and there you have “Hetalia.” Creator Hidekazu Himaruya got the idea for the comic when he was studying abroad in New York, and stumbled on a web page full of ethnic jokes. He thought that might make a good basis for a comic, but instead of being spiteful with the ethnic stereotypes Hidekazu went “moe.” Each country gets their own little costume and country personification, with some adventures and little bits of random history thrown in.
“Hetalia” (meaning “Useless Italy,” being a portmanteau between the word for “useless” (“hetare”) and “Italy” (“Italia.”)) originated as a webcomic, before being bound as a manga, and now finally makes the leap to animation. True to its webcomic origins, “Hetalia” doesn’t have an ongoing plot but is more of a series of gags each about five minutes long and that constitutes and episode. This means you get twenty-six episodes on this DVD set, but don’t be fooled into thinking that is some kind of bargin. Most of the gags here are taken directly from the comic, so if you have read them manga then be prepared to see the same jokes and skits animated.
I gave the manga a rating of “Good, but not Great” and that is pretty much how I feel about the anime as well. What works in the manga works here. What doesn’t work in the manga still doesn’t work here. This is funny, light humor with an ethnic/historical twist, and is good to watch for fun but doesn’t have much going for it beyond that.
One of the things that annoyed me about this DVD set is that even though each episode is roughly five minutes long, you still get the whole intro and outro theme songs. Keep the remote at hand because unless you are truly dedicated you will probably be skipping the theme songs ever five minutes.
Another thing that you will need your remote for is the pause button. Just like the manga, “Hetalia” the anime throws up little explanatory factoids every now and then to explain the historical humor, but these blip on and off pretty fast. Its like Pop-up Video but without the screen time. This was much more effective in the manga when your eyes weren’t racing to keep up with the pace of the anime.
I think the less you know about history the more you will love “Hetalia.” If you already know most of the ins and outs of WWII, then just shut off your brain and enjoy the show, otherwise the errors will drive you mad. If you don’t even know what “Axis Powers” means and the words “Tripartite Pact” leave you scratching your head, then this might inspire you to looks some things up and learn more about one of the most important events in human history. You know…in a cute, chibi style.