Axis Powers Hetalia (or Hetalia: Axis Powers, if you prefer) has much to be proud of for itself. Starting off as a webcomic in 2006, it has since spawned a manga, a Drama CD series, an anime series, and now a theatrical film.
The movie makes several departures from the main series, most notably having a storyline as opposed to simple sketches, although a few appear in the beginning to ease the viewers into the movie. This new approach brings a few interesting twists to the Hetalia mold, but unfortunately, the movie tries too hard to stay true to its roots, giving very little new experiences to fans in regards to characters and humor.
Aside from knowing that Hetalia is about making cultural stereotypes of several countries into characters representing their respective homes, some of the basic quirks of each "nation-tan," and the fact that it's a comedy, there's not much need for prior knowledge to understand this movie. Being a fan might make you appreciate it more, however.
Story (no spoilers): (5)
The Hetalia movie stylistically deviates from its sketch-comedy roots in the anime for a plot-driven story, and this decision brings a few ups and downs. For one, seeing the characters outside of sketches and finally into a full fledged adventure can be quite a thrill for long time fans. Now, here's where the issues start, and there's (unfortunately) a few of them.
The plot of "Ginmaku Hetalia Axis Powers: Paint it, White" is a fairly typical alien invasion story, complete with faceless invaders, UFOs, and extraterrestials speaking perfect Japanese. Trying to balance plot and humor, the movie never gives the viewers a sense that the characters are ever in any real danger, and the resolution to the entire movie was rather anti-climactic with very little catharsis in the end.
Humor in the movie also took a hit. The focus on plot means that the edutainment aspect of Hetalia loses out to situational comedy, relying on the established character gags to make funny reactions when the time comes. The unfortunate part is that the movie never makes an effort to be funny without the established character gags. Virtually no jokes or gags in the movie haven't been done already in the anime (Canada's invisibility, China's numerous Chinatowns, so on and so forth), even though the setup in the movie is completely different. More on this in the characters section right up ahead.
What made the Hetalia series so successful has undoubtedly been its large, quirky cast of characters. Embodiments of cultural stereotypes made for hilarious interactions, especially in the skits. Staying true to the stereotypes, the movie doesn't spend much time developing each character, and that becomes a problem. The characters, completely driven by established quirks, become ridiculously predictable. While this isn't a problem in sketch comedy, watching the same character gags over and over for a full hour becomes a chore. Be prepared to watch the entire movie with England and France constantly beating each other up, even in the most crucial moments, America laughing for 60 straight minutes, Japan struggling to (and failing) to ever raise his voice, Italy running away from everything, Germany yelling at everyone, and so on.
The movie focuses almost entirely on the main players of World War II (Russia, China, America, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan) with very little appearances from anyone else aside from small cameos, which was a little disappointing. Iceland is the only new character introduced to the anime here, though he eventually made an appearance in Hetalia: World Series anime as well, so he's probably already well known to anime audiences in the West.
Art and Animation: (8)
Okay, since the last two sections have been a bit critical, let's look at some of the more positive aspects of the movie, shall we? The art-style remains virtually unchanged from the anime series aside from new costumes for the main characters, which means that for the most part, it's pretty good. The animation takes a step up for for the movie incarnation, though it's not particularly noticeable outside of the more fast paced scenes.
The voice-acting cast is the same as from the anime, and they still do an excellent job of portraying the personality of each character to a tee. The music takes on a more theatrical, epic sound for the movie as opposed to the usual happy-go-lucky pieces that are used in the anime (though they're still there in the light-hearted parts, don't worry). Whilst the music isn't very memorable, they do a good job of setting the mood, which is the most important part anyhow. With that said, the theme songs "WA! Wa!! World Ondo" by the 8 main seiyuus and "Mein Gott" are songs that will stick in your head for a while.
Even with the promise of a plot, the Hetalia movie doesn’t do much to distinct itself from the series it spawned from, and gets repetitive quickly. While this may come as a disappointment for those who sought to see some completely new Hetalia materials, as I did, fans that are a-okay with a little more of the same of what they love will probably find the movie enjoyable. Chances are, that’s most of the fanbase.