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


21 thoughts on “International Reaction to Hetalia

  1. “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.”

    Are you kidding me? Go to Korea and you’ll hear all about how bad Japanese people are before you leave the airport. Such hypocrisy. Not to mention that South Korea isn’t even in the Hetalia anime. They’re only in the manga!

    1. Well, Koreans remember quite well the massacres under Japanese occupation and having your queen getting raped and killed by Japanese soldiers doesn’t help inspiring historical friendship.

      The japanese government also never bothered to apologize for their atrocities, so yes, they are a bit touchy when Japan makes Fun of them.

      Kinda like Germans cracking jokes about Jews.

      1. Indeed, Japanese committed many horrible crimes, but they did apologize, including apologies to Korea from two Japanese emperors. Of course, this will never bring back victims to live, but an apology is the very least they can do.

  2. “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…”

    No surprises there. Back in high school, a lot of people used to think they can get away with writing book reports on classic literature after watching Disney movies.

    I just hope kids don’t start thinking they can break into political science after watching this series.

  3. OkamiSensei,

    It seems the antipathy is present on both sides. I wonder what kind of reaction Japan would have had if Hetalia was made by a Korean artist and the character roles were changed…

    – – –


    haha Well, most films are not very good adaptations of books. I am grateful that my middle and high school literature curriculum covered many classical works.

    Actually, it would be good if people gain interest in history and political science after watching Hetalia and spend time on discovering what really happened during the periods manga and anime mention, but I doubt this will be the case. To some people this anime is all about bishies 😛

  4. Well it would be a real concern for the Koreans since this show is premiered in KIDS Station which I think not very clever since it shows heavy stereotypes. (which are not so true since it is just implied)

    I can understand Korea’s concern about the show but I think they also got over board about the cancellation. They could at least premiere it during Otaku timeslot (which is midnight) so typical kids won’t be able to catch glimpse of it.

  5. Probably little reaction, considering most Japanese have good feelings towards Koreans – While most Koreans have negative feelings about Japanese. They are still upset about the invasion. Japan is more subtle, they would probably set up an international togetherness park to foster better relations.

    1. It would make sense that more Koreans than Japanese have negative feeling to the other country due to the war, but I have some doubts that Japanese would set up an international togetherness park to foster better relations as a response. If Japan will hold Olympics of 2016, then “as part of the contribution to world peace, camping events for the youth from around the globe are scheduled to start in Hiroshima and Nagasaki three years before the games.”

  6. Reactions from Korea was ignorant but expected, as Hetalia touched something that shouldn’t be taken as a joke (even if it’s just in manga) and still remain unresolved today. I’ve seen many people who saw this issue resolved because of numerical compensation demonstrates just how lightly people are treating this complexity. Yes it’s a satire and there’s a thing called freedom of speech, but I honestly can’t take anyone who says ‘people need to relax, have fun’ seriously fully knowing that some people and their families suffered the worst kind of pain and loss imaginable. It is a deep and horrible wound that takes both time and understanding to heal but from my observation, decisions and actions made by both countries are totally backward. This Hetalia is an excellent example of this, as Japan airs shows like this instead of better trying to ease the tension, and Korean media promotes even more hate by twisting the facts.

    And just in case I’m misinterpreted, I don’t have problem with people enjoying this for innocent and cute reasons, as our pain is not theirs, and we have no business interfering with others having harmless fun (that’s our fault entirely). But I’d also like people to understand that many Koreans can’t overlook this serious and unresolved issue and have fun, which is perfectly reasonable, and dismissing this as angry tirades by ignorant people who can’t have fun is just as disgusting imo.

  7. I still think it was overboard to ban the show. I’ve never exactly been a fan of political corectness 😦

    However I do agree with that worry that people will think they know history just becuase they know the Hetalised version of events. On the other hand, my history has improved from watching Hetalia as I go check up on historical events after what happens in Hetalia.

  8. I think it was a little overboard to ban the show (It’s aired now anyway, so I’m a little late, but still) I came across hetalia through reccommendations from a friend, and do history GCSEs myself, so it’s actually helped me a lot, and I think that it makes everything ust that tiny bit more interesting ^^

    In terms of Korea, if you look at the foreign hetalia fandom, at least, many people love the character, and I was more interested in the location after reading the comics…I don’t think it was intended to be a mockery, more of an endearment…I mean, Japan himself isn’t a perfect portrayal, is he?

  9. As a Korean, I do not find this series offensive. There are some parts that concerns me, such as the historically unaccurate parts in the series (Korea’s holding Japan’s flag, but Korea was not under Japan’s control in WWII; They say Korea’s independence day is May, but it is in July; They say Korea is touching Japan’s breats, which despict Dokdo, but according to what I know, Korea had control of Dokdo until Japan came and claimed it was theirs) other than the historically unaccurate parts, I find this series very enjoyable. Korea’s in a lovable character, very comical, and since all the other characters are pictured in a some sort of ‘insulting’ way as well, I don’t see why Korea should get all worked up.

  10. I am a fan of Hetalia and as much as I love the show and consider most of it to be all in good fun, I realize that some events in history should not be poked fun of and made up as a joke.

    I myself am an American and to those who have seen the series, they will know that America is portrayed as an arrogant man who only eats hamburgers. I however do not find this offending. Sometimes I even watch the series and laugh because I know plenty of Americans who act a bit like America himself.

    However, then it comes back to the fact that certain pieces of history are too complex to characterize. For example, in Hetalia, they cover the Revolutionary war between England and America. The series potrays it as if America and England were in a relationship and then America dumped him. England even cries in the series. I know this is a lighter example compared to others like Korea during WW2 and such but this scene always comes to my mind. As two people, its a sad and emotional scene. However, when one starts seeing them as 2 countries, it is not so simple as two people “breaking up”. It is more complex then that.

    While all satire needs to hold some restraint when it comes to sensitive topics, I think its important for people to remember that it is in fact just a anime. Even if it is based off of real events, it is a work of fiction. People need to understand the difference between the characters and the actual countries they are based on. I think if you can understand this difference, Hetalia is just a cute little series

    In regards to people thinking they know history from just watching Hetalia, I realize there are some people like that. However I’d like to think Hetalia is a sort of starting point for some people. I myself have always been interested in culture and history. In fact, one day I wish to be a teacher. I started watching Hetalia and soon begin to learn about countries and history I had not known before. Because I heard of them from Hetalia, I researched them later on my own and learned all the facts and history. So while Hetalia is only a series and should not be taken seriously, its little tid bits of culture and history have inspired me and many people I know to learned more about the worl around us. There are a few things that Hetalia shouldn’t touch on, but when one sees it as just a fictional tv show only meant to make one aware of certain events, it can actually inspire one to learn more about the world around you.

    Sorry if this was a bit lengthy

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