A smorgasbord of history and culture served up with humour and intelligence.
Story: Himaruya Hidekaz
Art: Himaruya Hidekaz
Translation/Adaptation: Monica Seya Chin and Clint Bickham
What They Say
Time for more Hetalia W Academy!
The newspaper club over at W Academy is doing their yearly feature on school clubs, but all the clubs are really weird! Belgium and the Netherlands explore their odd relationship and the Netherlands helps Japan get out of a bad rut. Things get strange when Estonia dreams that all the countries are beautiful girls… except him! Is it a dream come true or a true nightmare? And will Italy ever be able to design a decent tank?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Many people are interested in history and foreign cultures, but not all of them are interested in those subjects for the same reason. For some people, the allure of history lies in seeing the human condition stretched out over centuries instead of individual lifetimes. Throughout the years great men and great events march down the corridors of time, burning their names and legacies into the annals of the world, and shaping that world forever through the memories of their achievements. History is a window into the past–a past that shines its light into the present and will continue to shine light on the future of all mankind.
But that’s not why I like history. I like history because it’s weird and dumb. And I like Hetalia because it has a deep and abiding appreciation for all that’s weird and dumb in history. Himaruya Hidekaz, the brains behind this daft and original work, has an infectious appetite for the strange, the silly, the preposterous things that have gone on–and are still going on–in the world.
Hetalia is one of those things you can’t keep from hearing about; but just hearing about it and seeing pictures of it is likely to give you the wrong idea about it. At any rate, that’s what it gave me. So for those of you who haven’t heard about it (both of you), a little explaining is in order. Hetalia is a comic strip in the classic four panel style. Typically several strips cling together to create short stories on whatever the current theme is. Once that story is done, another starts–but not before some author’s commentary about the historical situation surrounding the story. The commentary is what really surprises me about Hetalia. Not that it’s there, but that it works. In most comedy, needing to explain the joke is fatal. But here, the explanation of the joke is the reason you’re reading most of the time. The comics are so amusing and enthusiastic that they drive you to the background information to complete the experience. Explaining the jokes doesn’t kill the jokes–it completes them. Oh, and one other thing. All the characters in the book are personified countries.
The personified country angle is Hetalia’s calling card. That’s what you know about the series before you hear anything else. That makes a certain amount of sense: it’s a distinguishing feature of the series. It’s not something you’ll find in just any old comic. And it’s a clever conceit, I’ll give you that. But it’s not something the humour particularly depends on. In one of the strips, the butt of the joke is the woefully inept design of an Italian pistol. The big laugh comes from Germany’s incredulous reading of the gun’s manual. It’s an excellent gag, but one that would have been just as good if a German engineer–or any competent engineer, really–were shown doing the same thing.
That goes to show that Hetalia’s strength is not in its gimmick (good as the gimmick is), but in the intrinstic worth of its ideas and writing. The range of the ideas is impressive. Hidekaz has the entire world and every recorded incident within it to draw from, and makes full use of the ability. So in addition to strips about failed Italian military hardware, we get strips about Belgian cat festivals, Taiwanese fortune-telling, feral hamsters, and Spain’s profligate remodeling of Italy. That’s what’s great about Hetalia: it’s intensely interested in just about everything. And what’s more, it presents the information in such funny and appealing ways that you can’t help being interested along with it. A love of knowledge and a love of fun nurture and support each other, without either one overwhelming the other.
Hetalia is a surprise in a lot of ways. It’s a number one best-seller packed with obscure historical trivia. It’s a series that’s been able to continue despite its publisher going under. It’s even kind of a surprise to me that it can be published at all without getting anybody lynched in the name of tolerance and acceptance. But I’m awfully glad it is getting published, and especially glad that it’s being published in a nice large size on good paper. It’s a perfect series to read in small chunks–though for my own part, I found it difficult to put down, and read nearly the whole thing in a single sitting. Hetalia is good fun, but it’s also smart fun. Buy it for the laughs…but don’t be surprised if you come away having learned something, too.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A+
Text/Translation Grade: A-
Age Rating: 16+
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Release Date: December 10th, 2013