Hetalia is something of an enigma to me. The series’ focus lies one of the most brutal wars in history, taking the countries involved and transforming them into zany personalities that arbitrarily run amok without so much as a hint of reference to the historical events that shaped them. Even more confusing is the enormity of the fanbase following the series. This isn’t to say that Hetalia is bad but rather I had assumed it took an acquired taste to truly appreciate it. And yet, the second volume has already demonstrated this to be false, unseating the uber popular Vampire Knight from the top of the New York Times Manga best seller list.
Even with the odd choice of setting, Hidekaz Himaruya’s offbeat comedy tends to veer away from World War II, instead focusing on the characters/ countries and the different sets of jokes that can be formed as a result of the various stereotypes associated with them.
The story and setting matter about as much as one would expect from a 4-paneled comic. The constraints from the space keep the series moving at a wild pace with a punch-line waiting to be delivered at the end of every panel. The last volume introduced the principal characters of Germany, Italy, and Japan and this volume introduces a slew of even more offbeat characters bearing their countries ethnicities. An example of this lies in Canada’s treatment as a character always in the shadow of the much more boisterous America, always failing to rise above comparisons between the two.
In a series where Germany’s older sister is depicted as a ditz with bouncing breasts (complete with their own sound effect) one has to know what they’re getting out of Hetalia. Its easy to understand the staying power of a series like Naruto, carrying all the ingredients to appeal to people of all ages, but Hetalia’s popularity is just confusing. It’s a fun work that should be appreciated but I never believed it would be due to its offensive depiction on countries and its parodying of the war.
In any case, Hetalia has so far proven its ability to attract readers, as well it should. The series is nonsensical and a blast to read so long as the subject matter isn’t taken too seriously. Then again, when the author doesn’t, there is no real reason why anyone else should.