by Hidekaz Himaruya
I previously reviewed Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the series.
The manic documentation of world relations continues in the third volume of Hetalia. For the first time, the five Northern Nations of Europe (Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands) are showcased in a few chapters, as they work together to design products for the rest of the world and explore their ancestry. Most of the stories, however, are set in World War II, as Germany continues to bail out Italy from trouble and Japan tries to understand the strange ways of the West. Sometimes the author reaches further back into history for his material; in one chapter, Renaissance Spain worries that he lacks the confidence to manage the newly acquired Southern Italy. There’s a lot of history and culture tucked into these comics, and you can’t help but learn even as you laugh at over-the-top stereotypes and sheer absurdity.
This series is completely random. I never know what kind of story I’m going to read when I start a chapter, except that it’ll be funny and, depending on your PC sensitivity, it might be kind of offensive. The personification of countries is a weird concept, even if it’s something we’ve been doing for ages. (Uncle Sam or Britannia, anyone?) But it works so well here. Some national stereotypes are fairly universal, like Canada being a quieter, weaker version of America. Others are quite different. In America, we think of the French as cowardly, but in Japan it is the Italians who bear that stigma. The Japanese also apparently find Britain to be the homeland of fairies and supernatural creatures; I tend to associate that somewhat with Ireland (home of the leprechaun and the brownie!) rather than with all of the United Kingdom.
The art has really improved over the first two volumes. The linework is much clearer, and the panels have certainly been cleaned up a lot. Sometimes it can still be difficult to differentiate characters – in theory, there’s a personification for every country in the world, so the cast is huge - but Himaruya has definitely improved in this area of his art. I’m guessing he simply has more time to spend on the comic than he did when he was a student, back when the series started.
4 out of 5 stars
To read more about Hetalia Vol. 3, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
2010: The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
2009: News: View Neil Gaiman’s Library on Shelfari
2008: Forgotten Fashion by Kate Hahn