Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Axis Powers Hetalia: Happy Inside

Yes, yes, I know this blog is for talking about depressing media, and Axis Powers Hetalia is quite possibly the silliest piece of work to come out of anywhere since Kekko Kamen, John Waters films and the Mr Gum novels but there's a reason it's here. And that reason is that the controversy surrounding Hetalia's existence and popularity is depressing enough to cover it, as well as the apparent ignorance of some of its fans towards real life atrocities. It's incredibly depressing, though not the way I usually like. In as much as I think people who refer to 'stupid weeaboos' and 'fanbrats' are as bad as the people who they complain against (we were all young and made stupid decisions once upon a time) some of the things that have been said or done by Hetalia fans cross a line even for me.

But that's no reason to blame the work itself, rather I find the merit of a work lies in the work it inspires, and Hetalia inspires some really lovely work. I've been reading a lot of fanfiction and doujinshi lately (feeling sick and tired lately, trying to distract myself while stuck at home) and the quality of the stuff I've found is quite astounding. This doujinshi in particular (http://animoobs.tumblr.com/post/6166685477/dolfin-gerita) about a steady natural erosion overwhelming Italy and Germany taking it very badly is legitimately heartbreaking (as the comments will attest to) and the work of RobinRocks really deserves to be published if it was at all possible.

I don't say this lightly, I've been involved in fandom for donkey's years and I was spoiled early on by Gundam Wing fanworks. The work of Lorena of Furor Scribendi occupies a large part of my e-Reader over ten years since I first read 'Chiaroscuro'. I'm very picky about what I watch, even more about the fanwork I read and it takes quite a bit to impress me enough to spend a full day occupied with one product. However, Hetalia? Gushgushgushgushgush.

Hetalia is a history buff's dream, even moreso if you're a culture nut. Wars are ridiculously rendered as smacking another nation on the head with a stick,Italy's occupation during the Middle Ages are represented by the other countries playing football with the two provinces and it's all very tongue-in-cheek. The English dub of the anime takes it even further. Whereas the Japanese version was excellent, the nation's various accents couldn't be rendered properly for a foreign audience. The English is full of odd accents (Finland's is particularly spot on) and below-the-belt in jokes. Any and every stereotype is referenced and mercilessly skewered, from France's pervertedness to America's ignorance. No more is this more evident than the episode where everyone tries to do some shopping and their respective stereotypes make it very difficult:


For all its silliness, when it does get serious it can be very touching and heartwarming, particularly in special editions like the Christmas special when all the countries co-operate to prevent a disaster. And of course not everything about it is always correct or even sensitive, but the creator is just one guy and he gives his own country one of the worst skewering. And its fans are capable of some really awful things, but that's true of just about everything. The Bible inspires the kind of people that picket the funerals of AIDS victims, but without it there would be no Sistine Chapel, Pieta or indeed the entire Renaissance. Islam has been cited as the reason behind 9/11 and the London bombings, but without it we'd have no calligraphy or decorative glasswork.

In fact, if I was to compare Hetalia to anything, it would be to the film 'Baraka'. Baraka is a beautiful celebration of world culture, a hell of a lot more po-faced than Hetalia but equally as joyful. The first section of the film is dedicated to showing how different countries show their faith, from Sufi dancers in Turkey to monkey chanting in Bali and Jain priests praying in India. Also, both Hetalia and Baraka are not seen by the people who should really check them out, based on fan dumb or obscurity.

Recently, I sat some friends of mine down to watch Hetalia, which they were skeptical about given the awful things they'd heard about it. By the time they left, they agreed it was a good series. I've not been able to show them Baraka, but if you're reading this blog you need to check them both out. If you don't like either, take it up with me!

Here's a trailer to help you along:


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