Monday, July 26, 2010

Anime review: Axis Powers: Hetalia (season two)

Picking up directly where season one left off, Axis Powers: Hetalia season two jumps right into things and chugs along full-force for the majority of the season. The events surrounding World War II are still the core focus of the narrative, but events such as the colonization of America and the Medieval Ages see solid inclusion into the story. Some modern day events are sprinkled in between and late in the season the Chibitalia storyline returns. In season one, the main story was often followed up in most episodes with a continuing side story, such as the Chibitalia prequel and America’s storage room cleaning. In season two, the story jumps back and forth in time a fair amount, but overall it feels more fluid and fast-paced than the side stories of season one, and only on a few occasions do the events of an episode seem choppy and unrelated. One episode in particular, being episode forty-five, left me very disappointed for its lack of cohesion with the overarching story of season two as well as its blatant lack of any humor whatsoever.

The core characters retain the same personalities they carried in season one. Italy receives less and less of the spotlight as season two progresses, which is good as it allows greater emphasis on the other major characters. However, the Allies that received the greatest focus in season one become even more prominent in season two, and England, France and America overshadow China’s inclusion in a huge way. Russia, however, receives roughly the same attention as in season one. The Axis Powers are not left completely out in the cold, though. Germany steals the show early on in season two, while Japan continues showing up when necessary. There are a number of instances where the two wind up in a situation where America unknowingly becomes the butt of a joke and the two are left in a awkward position, which only fuels the hilarity in later scenes.

The other guest characters are more varied than those in season one. Some return from season one, such as Switzerland and Canada, while others, such as Belarus and Ukraine are newcomers. The guest characters that receive focus early on in season two ultimately end up more rounded and play out a more important role. Those that show up later on are generally included for the sake of a short humorous sequence that doesn’t continue on for more than an episode or two in most cases.

The same problems that popped up every once in a while during Hetalia’s first season are the same ones that hinder the second season from achieving perfection. Though the instances are fewer and farther between, when an episode stops being funny it takes an annoyingly long time to pick itself back up – not the best issue to have when each episode is slightly longer than five minutes. Season two also attempts to mix in some dumbed-down humor in an attempt to cater to a broader spectrum of viewers. Ultimately the use of the scenes are brief but will likely evoke little more than a chuckle or two out of fans who have come to know and love the series signature style of poking fun at each nation and its respective stereotypes.

The art style doesn’t receive any drastic changes from the previous season, and that’s not a bad thing. Characters still swap back and forth between their more full adult selves and their chibi counterparts for arguments and flashbacks. It might have been nice to see a bit more attention to detail in background layouts, but there isn’t much point in fixing what isn’t broken, especially when it gives the series its signature style. The soundtrack still relies on a large number of quick jingles, though a number of variations on traditional classical pieces see inclusion and greater emphasis this time around. The end credits see some alterations every so often, generally when the focus of an episode is on one of the major countries other than Italy. While there still isn’t much of an original soundtrack to speak of (which makes such an aspect of the series difficult to critique), it certainly is more prominent in season two than in season one.

The returning Japanese voice actors continue their impressive performances in season two, building off what worked best for them in season one. Overall, the new characters are portrayed well. The three Baltic steal the show during their few guest appearances, while Russia’s sisters see so little inclusion that it’s difficult to gauge whether Belarus and Ukraine’s voice actors did a good job or not.

The major problems that tripped up season one every so often are addressed to an extent, though still present enough that they provide some minor annoyances. The main characters receive a much more balanced focus, though many side characters appear only when necessary to advance the plot. The plot mixes things up nicely by looking more in-depth to the events of WWII as well as exploring more present day issues, but in doing this the story jumps around a fair amount. Everything wraps up quite nicely by the finale, and the events therein make a lot more sense than the finale of season one. Season two of Axis Powers: Hetalia isn’t quite as strong as season one, but it doesn’t fall too far off the mark

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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