Hetalia: Axis Powers Volume 1

Hetalia Axis Powers Volume 1 by Hidekaz Himaruya

This manga is probably one of the most high profile new releases coming out from Tokyopop. I knew that this series about anthropomorphic countries during World War II was insanely popular, but I was prepared not to like it. I wasn’t sure if a humor manga potentially based on a lot of cultural stereotypes would really be all that funny. After reading it I found myself almost won over by the combination of almost fatal cuteness, obscure historical footnotes, and the constant mocking of Italy.

Some of the jokes are repetitive. I didn’t keep a tally of the number of times Italy is referenced as loving pasta and making white flags of surrender, but it was very often. The part of Hetalia that totally charmed me was the depiction of Austria as an overly fussy musician with a cravat who announces to Germany “I will now express my anger by playing the piano….Did I make myself clear?” and Germany replies “Your anger is Chopin.” In some ways the humor in Hetalia is unsurprising – other countries are fearful of Germany’s tourists and America only seems to be able to communicate while yelling around a cheeseburger. But every country depicted is made fun of, although Italy is the main focus. The chapters skip around a bit, with different countries as the focus. I wondered if part of the slightly disjointed feeling I got while reading this manga was due to its start as a web comic. I doubt the creator had any idea how popular it would become, and perhaps this first volume contains more improvised episodes and the later volumes might have a little more focus. I’m assuming that Hetalia‘s orgin as a web comic also accounts for some of the blurry reproduction in the manga. There were a few chapters that seemed really out of focus.

Himaruya does a good job assembling a cast of cute male countries. Germany always seems to be on the verge of a breakdown, and Italy is blissfully ignorant. France is a disheveled womanizer and Russia seems to have a habit of saying the most appalling things with a smile on his face. Japan is overly polite and explains his hobby is “To read the atmosphere of a conversation and answer in the least offensive way possible.” It seems a little unfair to criticize a humor manga for not having much depth, but most of the humor here is fairly shallow. The combination of cute male countries and punchlines certainly seems like an inspired way to sell a lot of chibi keychains. I found myself inadvertently wondering what type of Austria Hetalia merchandise was out there, so I can certainly see how this particular manga would attract such a devoted fanbase. Footnote fans (I know they’re out there) will enjoy this manga for the asides about the Holy Roman Empire, horror movies, reparations, and Turkish hazelnuts. The copious footnotes combined with the country-based jokes does create a humor manga that is different than anything else out there. I wish that the humor in Hetalia went a little beyond just referencing stereotypical character traits, but I’m curious to see what Himaruya does in the subsequent volumes. I did end up liking this manga due to it being so much stranger than most of the humor manga that I’ve read.

Review copy provided by the publisher.