Hetalia Storms the Otaku Front
Cosplayin' like it's 1942
By Erin Finnegan
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has been on the rise in popularity this year among American fan girls. You could tell by the girls dressed like boys dressed like WWII soldiers carrying around enormous flags at every convention this year. Either that, or the same group of six girls were carrying flags at all the East Coast conventions I attended.
For the uninitiated, Hetalia started off as a Japanese web comic before being collected into manga anthologies and adapted as an anime series this year, with a second season in the works. In the series, World War II era countries are represented as cute boys.
In the December 2009 issue of Otaku USA (the one with the Tsubasa cover), I wrote a brief Import Report on Hetalia. In the letters section, someone named Taylor demands we review the show. What Taylor didn't realize is that the show hasn't been imported for the North American market yet in any official capacity.
However, you could totally buy the Japanese volumes of the Hetalia manga at Kinokuniya's booth at any large American anime convention this year. (Only volumes one and two have come out so far.) I spoke with Shingo Nozaki, a manager at Kinokuniya, in the Otakon Dealer's Room.
Two crates of Hetalia
manga were prominently on display in Nozumi's booth at Otakon. Nozumi sold around 100 copies of Hetalia
at Anime Expo, Anime Central, and Anime Next. "I guess everyone likes that title," he said. The box was also in the front of the booth at NYAF on Saturday.
Nozumi went on to say that Hetalia has also been selling well in the New York City retail store. For several months both volumes of Hetalia got special outward facing placement on the wall.
Hetalia fan art was also popular in Artist Alley. At Otakon my table was right next to a girl selling a lot of Hetalia fan art. All weekend cosplayers approached the table asking if she had this or that country. "I love Poland!" they would squeal. (Well, maybe not Poland specifically…)
I chatted with a group of Hetalia cosplayers at Anime Boston. One girl explained she had dressed as Russia because she has Russian ancestors. Other girls in the group said similar things, except for the girl dressed as China. She wanted to be a different country, but her friends insisted she dress as China because she's Asian.
Although Hetalia takes place across different time periods, much of the focus is on the two World Wars, as seen through the lens of present-day stereotypes. America chucks down dozens of hamburgers and bosses around the other Allied forces. Even American public school students who slept through history class can tell you America arrived late to WWII. Author Hidekaz Himaruya seems less concerned with actual history than he is with doing it for the lulz.
My husband and I have an ongoing debate. Does Hetalia make fans more interested in real history or not? (By the way, if you're interested in a Canadian webcomic mocking history, be sure to check out Kate Beaton's Hark A Vagrant). We asked the Hetalia cosplayers at Anime Boston point blank, and they said they were indeed interested in real history. (You know, like Angus McLeod's "World War Two: Simple Version".)
I would like to post the question to you, Otaku USA readers, because I have a cheese sandwich riding on this bet. Check out the poll on the front page and give us your answer.