If you haven't seen any of the previous two seasons of Hetalia (I haven't myself), the feature length adventure 'Paint It White' isn't a bad place to start. The basic principle behind the series is made immediately apparent right from the beginning and it's obvious enough and strong enough for you to be able to pick up who each of the characters are, how they typically behave and what their relationship is to each other. The reason it's so easy is that the main characters are called America, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, China and Russia, and they all conform to the stereotypes you would associate with people from each of those nations. That might sound like a set-up for cheap laughs from some tastelessly politically incorrect situations in a Team America: World Police kind of vein - and it is - but surprisingly, as well as providing some fun at the expense of national stereotypes, you might find that there may even be a certain degree of truth behind the broad humour, and there's even the chance that you'll learn some genuine historical facts along the way.
It might provide cheap laughs at stereotypical national characteristics, most of them defined by behavior during and after the Second World War (although there are references that go back much further), but you'll probably have to concede that there's actually a lot of truth in the characterisation, and that the way they get on with each other isn't really all that different to what goes on at meetings of the UN most days. America always wants to lead the way in making the world a better place, has a vision of himself as a superhero, and eats hamburgers. Britain is wimpy and sarcastic, has an inferiority complex with regard to America and is always fighting with France. France loves himself, Italy is ready to surrender at the drop of a hat (even before hostilities begin), is only interested in food and women, and looks towards Germany for leadership. Germany demands order and discipline and is constantly frustrated at the lack of commitment of the others. Japan is formal, polite and hospitable, but not in any hurry to commit to a course of action, while China believes he is always right and doesn’t need to listen to anyone else. Russia is recklessly bold and fearless and tends to do his own thing as well.
That's broadly how the main seven characters behave in Hetalia. Originating as a series of five-minute broadcasts for web-streaming, there's some reworking of the concept required here for the series' first feature length theatrical feature, 'Paint It White'. Reworking some of the best skits from the series and tying them together in a suitably larger scale if somewhat predictable plot, there is a little bit of elaboration on the theme, and one or two other nations make enigmatic appearances, but I don't think you'll find any greater nuance than this in the movie. There is however considerably more scope for humour and conflict. In 'Paint It White', the Hetalia team have to come to a decision on how to deal with a particularly major world threatening problem (an alien invasion, what else?), when citizens across the planet are being morphed into faceless, anonymous blob creatures (some satire on globalisation here?) who resemble noppera. Blame Japan for that, as it's part of their cultural and mythological heritage. Even worse however, alien space ships have appeared - from Picto according to American's alien friend Roswell - who are turning everything white. People, landscapes, famous national monuments are all turning into soft white masses, the world starting to resemble something out of that Trebor Softmints advertisement featuring Mr Soft.
Inevitably, and much to the frustration of Germany, the Hetalia response to the situation is somewhat manic and disorganised, with everyone shouting at everyone else and unable to agree on anything, while Italy has already got the white flag out and is waving it frantically. If you find that idea funny - even if it is a bit predictable or especially if it is predictable - then Hetalia will work for you. I don't know how they've managed to sustain such a thin idea over a couple of series (there's a third on the way), but in this particular feature length adventure, it all holds together pretty well. The alien invasion is merely a pretext of course for laughing at the historical behavior of world nations, particularly along the lines of the Axis powers that have come to prominence since the Second World War. There are some historical references and obscure cultural points made (don't worry if you don't get them, these are clarified in the extra features), but mostly they are on a rather more obvious level - laughing, for example, at the culinary traditions of each of the nations that the characters represent. As you might expect, this isn't exactly an area where Britain excels…
The Hetalia Axis Powers: Paint It White movie is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD only, the full 77 minute feature on a dual-layer disc The release is in PAL format and encoded for Region 2.
The image is presented in enhanced widescreen at a ratio of 16:9 and it looks pretty good - another fine production prepared by Funimation and mastered by Madman. That means that there are no significant issues with standards conversion, and not even any minor issues worth mentioning as far as I could see. The image is relatively sharp and clear, colours are solid and well-defined, there is no interlacing or artefacts, making movements fluid and stable.
The audio tracks are Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 and English Dolby Digital 5.1, both of which are fine as far as sound quality goes. It's worth considering the English version as the better choice for this particular anime for a number of reasons. Firstly, it often moves at a frantic pace that can make reading subtitles and working out who is speaking difficult, but the English dub also assists on this front because you are able to differentiate better between the characters when they speak English with a funny foreign accent. (Although to be honest, as funny as the delivery of the Funimation actors often is, they could work a bit more on those accents). The best reason for watching the English dub however is that it's actually considerably funnier than the subtitles translation, taking a few liberties here and there, but keeping completely with the spirit of the work. Surprisingly, there are a few near-the-knuckle comments made by Germany relating to gassing and Jews that are only there in the English dub. Another reason for avoiding the subtitles in my book is that they are yellow - something Madman seem to needlessly persist with.
There are a few extra features on this release and some of them are actually worthwhile. I only intended to browse through the text feature The Hidden History Hidden Within Hetalia, but going through the film scene-by-scene, it actually proved to be very interesting and informative about the historical and cultural references lampooned here in the film. It was more interesting I found than the English-language Commentary track provided by the US production team. Also worth a look is the Opening Day Stage Greetings, where the director and the Japanese voice actors for Japan, Italy and Germany introduce the film for an excited theatrical audience. Outtakes are on the part of the US Voice actors, who clearly have a lot of fun with the characters. In addition, the Original Japanese Theatrical Ending and Textless Endings are provided, as well as an English language Trailer.
Originating as a series of five-minute episodes based around making fun of national character stereotypes, often in a rather tasteless fashion, Hetalia works surprisingly well when upscaled for the big screen in its full length theatrical feature 'Paint It White'. It's interesting that those characteristics identified seem to be consistent around the globe, which probably indicates that there is a certain amount of truth to those cultural differences, and it consequently translates well for international audiences. A certain amount of credit however must go also to the Funmation team for keeping the spirit of the work intact and in some cases even elaborating on it. The quality of the English language DVD release version is also assured by strong extra features that excuse some of the tastelessness of Hetalia's approach on the pretext of it having some educational content. If you just want good, tasteless, politically incorrect fun that panders to your secret prejudices however, Hetalia Axis Powers: Paint It White will also do that very nicely indeed.