By Hidekaz Himaruya. Released in Japan by Gentosha, originally serialized as an online webcomic. Released in North America by Tokyopop in association with Right Stuf, Inc.
For the first time in over a year, I get to review a new Tokyopop book. And naturally, it’s the third volume of Hetalia Axis Powers. It was a runaway bestseller, so it makes sense that it should come back. The translation for it had already been done, given it was scheduled to ship a mere month after TP initially went under. And, being one of the company’s few Gentosha books, I imagine the renegotiations were easier than with a company like Kadokawa or Akita, who might inquire about the 7-8 other abandoned titles that there is little interest in reviving.
The quality of the book itself is a huge improvement over the first two, at least production-wise. The paper is thicker and more durable, there are color pages, and it simply feels more ‘quality’ than the almost xeroxed feel of the first two volumes. As for Himaruya’s art, it’s always going to look a bit dashed off, as that’s just what he does, but it does look a bit clearer here than in prior books.
The series is less about World War II than ever before, but that’s absolutely fine. History buffs may like Hetalia, but in the end it’s not particularly written for them. It’s a goofy comedy starring a bunch of (mostly) guys who do dumb things around each other, and happen to be nations of the world. There’s a bit less reliance on stereotype here (though still a lot – don’t think it vanishes) as we have grown to know the characters and therefore the author can rely on simple character-based gags, such as tomboy Hungary not realizing that she’s a girl, or Japan’s crushing disappointment that Switzerland does not look like Heidi at all.
This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of historical strips, they’re just used as setup for the most part. Probably the best in the book is the analysis of the alliance between Poland and Lithuania in the 15th and 16th century, which also gives us a chance to see some actual action in the series, however brief, as the two nations battle against Prussia and Sweden (what an odd pairing. Are their fanfics? … yes, of course there are.) At times the history/gag comic balance can be upset a bit, but it’s mostly unintentional. When Prussia comes across an older Hungary lying beaten against a tree with clothes torn open, the unpleasant implication is that she was just raped by Turkey. While this is not entirely out of place given the actual history that happened between the two, it jars in a comic that mostly has a light touch with catastrophic world events.
There are a few new nations introduced here (including another rare female, Belgium), and some get a bit more development, such as the Nordics. But for the most part the main cast of 3 Axis and 5 Allies remain the focus, and they have lots of goofy times. Several of the gags fall flat, but the book reads quickly, and in the end you read it with a smile on your face more often than not. That said, this is only recommended to those very familiar with the series, and would be a wretched starting point for newbies. Let’s hope it sells well enough to get a Vol. 4… and perhaps inspire some other license rescues?