The world has suffered much in recent months. This can have a big impact, like on entire countries who form the characters in Hetalia; or a small impact, like on the companies distributing Hetalia on DVD.
The last one is most clearly evidenced by the fact that this collection of episodes for the fifth season (The Beautiful World) and the sixth season (World Twinkle) was meant to be released over a year ago. I have had the review discs for it for over a year, and only now has the collection been released by Manga Entertainment in the UK, because the coronavirus has resulted in constant delays. It has been pushed back so much that the brand new seventh series (World Stars) has already started and is streaming right now on Funimation.
Anyone familiar with this series will know the format: across this collection of five-minute episodes we follow the stereotyped personifications of the nations of the world, mostly during the Second World War, but also through into other periods of history and the present day. Italy Veneziano (North Italy) is still causing Germany and Japan grief due to his cowardice and idiocy, whether it be designing a gun which is easier to clean but needs safer bullets in order to be fired without breaking, or driving a tank where the driver needs to keep the hatch open because it fills with smoke every time a shell is fired.
The Allies of England: France, the USA, Russia and China also have their own problems (as too does Canada, who everyone still forgets). China worries that Hong Kong has become a delinquent since he started living with England; the USA has trouble getting friendly with the locals when he joins the fight in Africa; and Russia is still terrifying everyone around him all the time.
We also get to meet some new countries across these two series. Belgium introduces us to her big brother Netherlands, who comes across as incredibly stingy and is normally seen smoking – what he has in his pipe is presumably up to the reader to decide. Meanwhile, Sealand meets up with other micronations in the hope that one day they too will be recognised as proper countries. However, the Australian-based micronation of Wy is the only one who takes anything seriously and she is worried by all the weirdoes that make up the rest of the micronations: flirty Seborga, art-loving Kugelmugel, aggressive Molossia, regal Hutt River, and techie brat Ladonia.
Personally, my favourite episodes in the series are ones that feature many nations, from which you can enjoy the differences between places, whether in terms of their actual cultural background or just whatever characteristics the series has given them. A two-part episode in the fifth series for example, “Hetalia of the Dead”, looks at how horror films differ between the nations. Another episode sees Estonia having a nightmare in which the normally male nations all become female.
My favourite episode in this collection is the finale to the sixth season, where the USA organises a Halloween costume party – but neglects to tell England until after he arrives, meaning he has to search for a more fancy costume than the one he current has (classic Sherlock Holmes). This episode has the widest range of characters of any in the whole of Hetalia, and includes the Nordic states dressing up as pirates – with Finland dressing as a disturbing skeletal pirate – and France hanging from a wire as a flying Peter Pan with another new nation, Monaco, as Tinkerbell.
Some of the more historical episodes are fun too. Perhaps the best of these is one in which Netherlands visits Japan during the time in which the country was self-isolating in the 19th century, and thus Japan is depicted as a hikikomori-style shut-in, refusing to come out of his house.
Another positive in this collection is that it does come with a lot of extras for such a short series. There are trailers, audio and video commentaries, interviews, outtakes, and the written “hidden history” which goes into much more depth about the historical subjects covered in each series. There are also two textless endings, featuring songs sung by Daisuke Namikawa as Italy; “Mawaru Chikyu Rondo” for Season 5 and “Hetalian Jet” for Season 6.
On the downside, the main problem is with production, with issues both on the Japanese side and the Western release. With the original series, the main problem is that many episodes will include a quick graphic that presents more information on the subject being discussed, but the graphic is only up for a brief moment, sometimes less than a second, so you have to pause the DVD in order to read it. The series is only available on DVD by the way, and having only watched Blu-ray discs for a while, the drop in quality is noticeable, which is a shame because the more pastel-like art used in these seasons is an improvement over previous ones.
In terms of translation, there are problems with the subtitles. Sometimes they cover on-screen captions, while at other times the subtitles are difficult to read if you don’t speak the languages of the country saying the line. For example, there is a scene where Russia speaks in Russian, but the subtitle displays the word in the Cyrillic script, so unless you know the language it’s hard to make out what is said. Even stranger is that this only happens to Russia – when China speaks, the subtitles don’t come up in Chinese characters.
This short series with a sketch show-like format with its vast range of characters allows the view to dip in a easily choose a moment to enjoy, and those that like Hetalia will still find much to like. No doubt fans will happily enjoy the new series currently streaming, which will feature more countries making their debuts, namely the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Luxembourg.