Hetalia (a combination of the words “hetare”, lit. useless, and Italia), a satirical manga created by Hidekaz Himaruya (日丸屋秀和), set mainly during the Second World War and featuring national protagonists of that era, has drawn attention among both domestic and international audiences. Originally born as a webcomic [jp] out of the mind of a Japanese expatriate living in New York, Hetalia was published as a manga in 2008 by Gentosha Comics Inc. and was subsequently made into an animated series [eng. sub.] in January 2009, drawing more than 200.000 views on internet alone.
Yorozu Haki (万葉樹) suggests that this manga should be seen as a fictional product and as representative of a subcultural movement that, in recent times, has been spreading among the Japanese manga world, one in which many authors have started dealing with political or social themes, within the limitations of the artistic medium:
“It would be good if the international conflicts were settled as they are depicted in this manga, with its goofy atmosphere, but the problem is that nations are in reality dreadful monsters and they are not something that can be reduced to a single character.”
In a thread dedicated to Hetalia [Italian] in Shinforum, a forum of Japanese culture fans, Agarsen, for example, writes:
“The problem is that there must be some awareness, a more deep reading of the facts that tells you “Wait a moment. Laughing at it is fine but, actually, there is not much to laugh about”. In short, it should be more of a bitter laugh than roaring with laughter.
I can already see some people thinking that they now understand history after having read Hetalia, in the same way that they think they know society just because they watch TV…”
As mentioned above, the broadcast of the animated series inspired by the manga was scheduled for the 24th of January on Kids Station (a Japanese TV channel for kids), but it was officially suspended after 16.000 messages of protest arrived from Korean netizens, resulting in the anime being viewable only on the Internet and on mobile phones.
They made the right decision. This anime is definitely not for kids because they may be especially susceptible to absorbing stereotypes compared to people with good knowledge of history who can see the anime in perspective.
In his analysis, Korean blogger no_tenki explains [jp] that the Korean reaction, which may seem extreme to many, is not in fact extreme but rather a consequence of anti-Korean messages constantly spread on the Japanese web, especially in some rightist bulletin boards or websites. These messages are what alarm Koreans living in their homeland as well as those living in Japan:
“However, regarding Korea [and how it is depicted in the manga], I do agree with those who say that, more than just being superficial, it is a mockery, and I also wouldn’t mind if Korea wasn’t depicted at all. As a Korean myself, however, I cannot help but feel concerned.
However, the basic image of Korea, be it Nidaa or mr. Korea, is the same. They are arranging the anti-Korean sentiment shared among netizens in a different way, but the ingredients are the same (I mean the ideology, because I actually like the drawing).
Consequently, [in Korea] Hetalia has the reputation of a rightist anime in which Korea is depicted according to an anti-Korean point of view, and this may turn into a factor worsening the perception of the Japanese among Koreans. This worries me a great deal.”
Read full article at Global Voices