Wednesday, 12 October 2011

銀幕ヘタリア Axis Powers Paint it, White(白くぬれ!)/ Ginmaku Hetalia: shiroku nure / Hetalia Movie – Paint it, White

Don’t expect any Rolling Stones references based on that comma in the title – it goes no further than that.

If I were writing the review I expected to, that would be a neat way to start a rant about a franchise that likes empty references to poorly-understood ideas. And c’mon, a plotline involving aliens wanting to turn everyone on Earth into a homogenous mass of white blobs so that there will be no more conflict or war, only for our loveable personified countries to fight back in order to prove it takes all sorts, variety is the spice of life, and the different national characteristics are what makes the world such a wonderful place? It sounds utterly terrible. And they don’t even have enough footage to fill the feature-length run-time, so they pad the film with scenes from the weekly series! Sounds horrible, right?

Well, guilty pleasure as it is, I actually liked this quite a lot. Almost everything I disliked about the Hetalia series derived from the annoyingly inaccurate or short-sighted historical snippets. It would be much better, I said, if the mangaka had dropped ideas of historical commentary and concentrated on national stereotyping.

And that’s what this movie is. The only grating times are times that had grated before, like the snippet about France’s offer to join the Commonwealth being reinterpreted as a marriage proposal from France to England (who is really ‘Britain’ but generally gets called England). Other segments that randomly made the cut were more welcome, like the scene where England – presumably because of all our fantasy literature seen as able to see ghosts and mythological creatures – meets with a kappa while in Japan, somehow breaking up the pacing of the climactic scenes just right.

The shoestring plot fitted the adaptation of silly comedy shorts to a long piece, lazy as it was. Aliens called Picts have decided Earth is a sad, underdeveloped place, so decide to whitewash it – and everybody in it. The flying saucers send out a beam that turns people into mindless white blobs and architecture into crude wobbly line drawings. The minor characters of Hetalia are given little cameos as they are transformed, like Poland and Greece, while as usual any country in the Southern Hemisphere is not worth bothering with. Switzerland and Liechtenstein, meanwhile, are protected from all the film’s events because their permanent neutrality also protects them from interstellar war. The nine members of the World 8 (China thrown into the G8 for whatever reason) who had met at the beginning of the film but failed to collaborate now reunite (minus useless Canada) to strike back. Donning Pict kigurumi, they sneak into the alien mothership and divide into unlikely teams (the old Axis Powers, France and England and then the rest – ie the symbols of Capitalism and Communism thrown together without comment). They are soon caught, but for a moment sway the aliens with displays of their different cultures (Russia coercing the countries he’s conquered into cross-dressing and doing ballet), until England ruins it all by giving them scones, which of course nobody in the universe could think tasted good.

They beat a hasty retreat, but to no avail, and all the countries but Italy are transformed. The spirit of the Roman Empire returns to be one of the most surreal dei ex machina I’ve ever seen, singing an off-key metal version of the old (wish I knew HOW old) ‘In Heaven, the cooks are French…’ joke and bequeathing Italy with a pen – which is all he needs to show the joy of individuality to the faceless aliens. Then everyone does a Bon dance, by far the least annoying song ever associated with Hetalia.

It’s a simple outline, but it trundles along and allows for the interaction between stereotypes without it getting bogged down with historical inaccuracies. Things like ‘France and England always fight but quite like each other really’ and ‘China likes to produce cheap knock-offs of what the other counties do’ are the sort of thing the series needed more of. They ring true and are generally just funny. Of course, Sealand – who I always found the funniest – gets a brief chance to shine, and him jumping aboard his ‘country’ like a ridiculous mecha pilot was the biggest laugh the whole film got from me.

I don’t know why I decided to watch this film just when I did, but I wanted something light. It wasn’t easy to find, though – English subbed versions seem to have the rehashed sequences cut out and horrible streamed quality, so I watched a Spanish fansub in DVD quality, and pieced together the meaning from the Japanese and the Spanish subs, going to the streams the once or twice I couldn’t understand at all. I could always have just waited for the official English DVD release next month, but…I was in the mood for Hetalia last night, and that’s not something I can say often.

As pleasant a surprise as The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi, this was genuinely funny and didn’t annoy me at all.

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