Comics

Hetalia Volume 1

Soldier Standing: At its heart, Hetalia, on the surface nothing more than the endearing tale of a clumsy young man, is a history lesson in nationalism, and the politics of the twentieth century.

Hetalia features various anthropomorphized characters who act as a type of human manifestation of a specific country.


Publisher: Tokyopop
Length: 152 pages
Graphic Novel: Hetalia Volume 1
Price: $10.99
Creator: Hidekaz Himaruya
Publication Date: 2010-11

If you wandered around ComicCon or any of the other large-scale comic conventions this year, you may have noticed anime fans dressed in uniforms holding banners with the name and flag of various countries listed on it. For readers who either don’t read Japanese or prefer not to indulge in pirated “scanalation” editions of manga, you might have wondered about the genesis of this new costumed phenomenon. Well, those questions have all been answered as Hetalia has finally been released in English for western readers.

The series by Hidekaz Himaruya, which began as a Japanese webcomic before being picked up by Tokyopop, features various anthropomorphized characters who act as a type of human manifestation of a specific country. Hetalia (Italy) is the nominal protagonist; a cowardly and childlike nation who is constantly being abused by the other nations, his older brothers, and is a perpetual nuisance for his ever-changing allies.

The most striking thing about Hetalia is its ambitious setup and its unique position at the nexus point where satire, allegory, and audacity all meet. The series runs the risk of offending some readers; it's oversimplification of complex geopolitical events in history, and its use of stereotypes to illustrate the various countries (such as Italy always whining for pasta) may alienate some. However, the use of allegorical representation to discuss conflicts between nations, while admittedly reductionist, is not only a valid interpretation of these events; but also reflected in the historiography of the subject.

European history in particular has often discussed the conflicts and rivalries that existed both in and outside the various nations of the Old World using the vocabulary and imagery of the family as an appropriate metaphorical framework to provide context. The wars and shifting alliances that typified modern history, most obviously in Europe, have all the pettiness and sometimes ridiculousness of an inter-familial squabble. The French Revolution has been deconstructed by historian Lynn Hunt as the mother overthrowing the proverbial father in French Society.

The United States' War of Independence against the British Empire has been framed by others as a type of Oedipal patricide, with the son killing the father so that he could usurp his roll. Himaruya’s series is able to capture all the centuries of dynastic and interpersonal conflict in a way that has a ring of truth to it despite its often cartoonish representations of the various participants.

Framed in this light Hetalia's use of allegory is not as simplistic as might originally appear. The use of stereotypical representations of the various nations, while eyebrow raising to some who might balk at the cartoonish version of their homeland, only serves to further the satire and extend the metaphor. Himauya is not turning the nations of the world into petty children; the author is revealing them for what they really are. The series is not a caricature: it's an argument that contends that these petty little people squabbling over petty little things are in fact the ultimate reality.

Despite the sophisticated structure and the compelling setup, the finished product of Hetalia leaves something to be desired at times. The majority of the stories -- often just short four panel vignettes -- don't capitalize on their full potential and instead are left just telling sitcom-esque parodies replicating the awkward social situations that occur when people from different cultures meet. There are a few moments that hint at a larger plan for the characters, and that reveal the true potential for brilliance. The moment when a victorious America looks at a defeated England after the Revolutionary War and remarks with some despair, “…you used to be…so big…” Or the issue when Germany goes South to find and defeat the heir of the Roman Empire.

Yet these moments of poignancy did not appear in the first volume as often as one might hope. This is not to say that the various strips are not enjoyable – in fact the almost offensive representations of certain countries are oddly endearing at times – but it sometimes seems that an awful lot of mental energy went into creating some rather pedestrian gags. Other moments use visual tropes and memes that are typical in manga but that some readers might find inscrutable at times. Despite these deficiencies however, Hetalia has a novelty and almost inexplicable charm that many readers will no doubt find compelling.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image