I’ve never watched Hetalia before. Thinking I’d be able to get by based on what I’d read online, I jumped into this review not fully understanding the intricacies of anything it has to offer. How difficult can it be to get the jist of an anime, though, right? In its broadest sense, Hetalia is a comedy series which stars personifications of the world’s countries, principally Italy (hence the name, which is a contraction of the Japanese word hetare meaning ‘cutely pathetic’ and Italy, who lives up to this in spades). It’s mainly set during the Second World War, where the characters’ interactions form a loose and not-entirely-accurate-or-serious-in-any-way-but-fairly-intricate history of events, and bits and pieces from other eras too.
While you only need to know the outline to understand the premise of the show, actually getting into the movie requires a much greater knowledge of the interactions the characters have had over the episodes previously (not that this is by any means part of that continuity. More importantly, it’s more than handy to know what the characters are like, because there’s no introduction to them or their antics, or the show’s layout. And you’ll have no clue what you’re getting yourself in for. So I’m going to be fair in this review; given that I don’t know the series it’s likely I’m missing a lot of the nuances that make it so popular. So, on we go.
Paint It White begins with these mysterious aliens called the Pict having invaded Earth with the intention of removing all of its colour and personality, assimilating humans into their marshmallow-like forms, as if the Borg existed in the same universe as Mr Soft from the old Trebor Softmint adverts. The main characters (dubbed the ‘World 8’: Italy, Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia, America and Japan) are left trying to fend them off and save humanity from extinction and eternal facelessness. There’s no prelude to this; it just happens. Such is the set up for most of the events that follow, randomly and quickly. The pacing in Paint It White is bordering on ludicrous, with numerous omake-like inserts from various points in the series cut into the film to… I don’t know why, exactly. It feels like they’re there to play for time, as the central plot doesn’t have a great deal of substance and there are a lot of inserts. But what seems bizarre even to me not having seen them before is that if people are buying this having already watched the series, would they want a good third of their time taken up by scenes they already know? Either way, they’re a distraction, and if you’ve made it this far then you know things aren’t going to be cohesive, and it’s easier to take it in its stride.
The quality of the movie really isn’t astounding, especially in animation terms. It looks like any series you could care to mention, with slightly wider frames that involve more characters, and your stock cel-shaded CGI for a few setpieces and most shots of the Pict. Given that it uses so much of the anime anyway, it’s probably no departure for it to look like just another episode, but it felt rather lacking. The very first scene was the prettiest, and I had hopes for it after that, but the only other time it really makes much of an effort is in the incongruously-peaceful but nicely animated scenes with Switzerland and Lichtenstein (seriously, it’s not a spoiler to know who these two are- there’s little to no way of knowing otherwise).
I can only presume that the series is as bizarrely-structured as the movie, because the plot is one of the most random I’ve seen outside of the internet, and there’s barely a thread of seriousness throughout. Continuity suffers as a result. Even when whole countries get laid to waste by the Pict, converting millions of people into baby Stay-Pufts, somehow each of our main characters can remain being assimilated even when standing in the middle of said country until it’s relevant to the story. You can argue it’s part of the randomness of the series, but all the way through it feels like lazy writing, which is a shame when considering the detail and obscurity some of the secondary characters have their origins in, and the nuances in the principle players’ interactions. Even sampling some of the original series’ rampant and humorous incongruity in the ‘flashback’ scenes, the rest of the movie doesn’t really match that same pace and timing with the humour.
Regarding the dub, in a way I’d almost prefer to have the characters all in one language or voice than drag my ears through an hour and a bit of stereotypical fake foreign accents. Oddly enough, if the casting director hadn’t bothered to give anyone accents and everyone was American I’d have preferred it, and probably would have appreciated the country’s own traits and accepted that they are all different countries without having to be laboured with crass impersonations. Even Britain, despite being reasonably well done for the most part, completely loses any semblance of a British accent at times, which is a welcome comparison to some of the more duff voices, who sound like they could have done with listening to a non-native speaker of the accents they’re trying to portray rather than going with what everyone else does and ending up mildly offensive. But if you’re offending everyone, there’s no problem because equality rules, right? Right.
As I can’t tell if Japanese voices have an accent or not, I’d recommend the sub. It’s far less distracting.
Manga UK has filled the DVD with extras, which is great, especially for fans of the show. You’ve got a full-length commentary with some of the actors; a history segment behind the allegory of some of the Hetalia moments (although if you’ve done your GCSE History you probably already know most of it); the original theatrical ending, some Japanese promotional stuff, your usual textless ending and trailer, and outtakes.
Considering the length and quality of the movie the extra features definitely make this a much more worthwhile package, and a decent way to hold a release of anything on DVD when trends currently are leading DVD companies omitting on-disc bonuses. Fans of the series will no doubt already have a home in Hetalia and will have no problem sliding into the movie, but it’s not particularly accessible as a standalone production.