Hetalia: Axis Powers VS. Cross Game

Hetalia: Axis Powers VS. Cross Game

Hetalia: Axis Powers VS. Cross Game

Watched via Crunchyroll/Hulu

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Hetalia: Axis Powers is an animation series based off of a webcomic featuring the lives of personified countries. In particular most of the series highlights the Axis Powers: Italy, Germany, and Japan, during World War II.

There are a couple of episodes which continue off of each other, but most of them are isolated events that at most play off of previous themes and/or jokes from prior episodes.

The major emphasis of the series is showing just how pathetic and useless Italy was during World War II. Despite being based off a truly cruel and heated moment in history, Hetalia: Axis Powers tends to stay pretty PC and many of the jokes made in the series relate more to innocent or current ideas of countries and are made in jest.

While I love shows with well rounded out plots, what really drew me to Hetalia: Axis Powers was that I didn’t have to feel obligated to watch the whole thing or even have prior knowledge of the show before just picking up an episode on Crunchyroll.

Are you really saying you don’t need prior knowledge to enjoy Hetalia? I’ve watched a little of it, and I definitely disagree. A good portion of it didn’t make sense to me because I’m not super knowledgeable about World War II, especially when it comes to obscure countries or battles. To me, the show is a giant in-joke that I don’t get and don’t care enough to figure out.

PLOT: Ko Kitamura’s the son of the neighborhood sporting goods store’s owner, and the Tsukishima girls are the daughters of the neighborhood batting center’s owner. Naturally, Ko gets to know the Tsukishima girls, particularly the girl his age, Wakaba. As children, Ko and Wakaba are so close that everyone knows they’ll one day get married. Unfortunately, the sister a year younger than Wakaba, Aoba, jealously hates Ko for being so close to Wakaba and resists that future.

One day, Wakaba has a dream that Ko and some of their friends are playing baseball in the Koshien stadium as high schoolers in the national championships. The next day, Wakaba goes to summer camp and drowns. Then everything changes for Ko and Aoba.

In middle school, Ko finally begins to seriously pursue baseball to fulfill Wakaba’s dream. Aoba, a skilled pitcher, grudgingly helps him out for Wakaba’s sake. Ko slowly becomes a great pitcher, and they win over other key players for their team, most importantly the amazing hitter Azuma. Over the years and through many baseball games, getting to Koshien finally looks to be a reality for Ko and Aoba, but where does that leave them?

If you’re at all familiar with other sports anime, Cross Game can’t be said to have an original plot. The tragedy angle is a hallmark of both the original creator Mitsuru Adachi (just check out his series Touch from the ‘80s) and several other sports anime out there. Despite that, Cross Game hooks you hard and fast in the first episode with its characters and its pacing. Though you suspect what’ll happen in the end, you can’t wait to get there. If this hadn’t been coming out weekly when I watched it, I’d have marathoned the entire series over a few days. The characters are addicting, and the games feel like real cliffhangers, even though you know that Ko’s team has to win in the end. This is one of those rare cases where the experience is everything, even if you know how things may unfold.

Wow, just reading all of that
felt like a mouthful. The biggest reason I haven’t gotten into this series yet is that there is SOOO much of it.

SETTING: The location for Hetalia: Axis Powers is at best non-identifiable. Really, where could a bunch of personified countries meet up anyways? Usually the interactions between members happen in simplified locations such as a beach front or wooded area. When the countries have meetings together they just show up at a large oval table.

Every once in a while a certain country is highlighted and we get a glimpse into that country living within itself. I have to admit, if you think too hard on the setting and improbability of it all, you’ll probably go a little crazy. But really, what does location matter to a show that emphasizes jokes and character interactions? Hetalia: Axis Powers works best with its simple background so that its strong characters and plot can shine and take the spotlight.

SETTING: Because this series deals with high school baseball, it takes place in a modern-day small town in Japan. Cross Game originally ran as a shounen manga in Weekly Shounen Sunday, so no doubt the readers across Japan are supposed to relate with Ko and feel like they, too, could achieve his feats of pitching greatness. To that end, the series does an excellent job replicating the feel of a normal town. The shops are all realistic, and the children all work at the places their parents run, which I’ve come to expect in these kinds of areas. Only a couple of things challenge the realistic feel of the series’ setting, like the new coach at the high school and a girl who shows up late in the series. Other than that, Cross Game’s setting is very well realized as a normal town that could have a shot at Koshien with the right team and enough dedication.

CHARACTERS: Okay, so Hetalia: Axis Powers is definitely aimed at women. There are bishounen everywhere, and honestly, who could resist the moe that Italy has going on?

In all seriousness the characters are wonderful. I’d love to just put them in my pocket and take them with me. For stereotypes they are quite generous and don’t really lay into anyone in particular. How someone responds to the personifications of the countries is really going to depend on their prior judgements of those places, so mileage may vary. For example, I think Japan focused a lot more on their current global appearance and not so much how they would have been identified during WWII. This could also be said for Germany. Some may not care for the obvious neglecting to highlight certain aspects of that time frame. Personally I liked the more naive characterizations and focus on more modern identities as it kept the series light-hearted and avoided pointing fingers at anyone.

Of course with a show like this there is going to be little to no character development. You do get to see some characters learn to appreciate each other more, another cause for much fan girl rejoicing. Don’t let me scare you off if you are not a fan girl, the show is still hugely enjoyable to other types of fans. I got my husband (who at large dislikes anime) to watch a good portion of the first season. Sure he scoffed at all the weird bromance between lead cast, but he actually got all the little subtleties of the show and jokes better than me since he is a huge WWII buff.

I think part of what I didn’t like so much about this show was the total lack of character development. Hetalia relies on a simple gag that it repeats over and over again. Even if I’d found the joke funny the first time, it still would’ve lost all charm after the sixth episode of the same thing.

CHARACTERS: The characters are what sets Cross Game apart from most other anime series. Though these characters very superficially fit into standard types, they all have facets and emotions that are very human. Most importantly, these elements of the characters are subtly realized instead of being shouted across the ramparts. Ko and Aoba say a lot in their body language and actions, and the anime does a great job of depicting those aspects of their characters.

As the two main characters, Ko and Aoba also have an interesting, and always realistically changing, dynamic. Aoba initially hates Ko for loving Wakaba so much, and it takes years for her to appreciate his pain over her loss and to respect him as a pitcher and as another person. In contrast, Ko begins as an immature, easily-flustered boy, but over the course of the series he becomes more sure of himself and his strengths, to the point of being another person that Aoba can rely on as a support. Both through their loss of Wakaba and their love of baseball, Aoba and Ko grow together in a way that’s beautiful and completely believable.

Don’t worry that the other characters aren’t great, though! The pitcher, Akaishi, was a child bully but also loved Wakaba, and he grows immensely over the years. Azuma, the hitter, is new to the neighborhood in high school, but he also grows from a cold, standoffish guy to a close friend of Ko’s who has his own sense of quiet humor. The other Tsukishima sisters, Ichiyo and Momiji, also feature prominently, as do a host of other characters who are related to the baseball team and the main characters’ home lives. Cross Game has no shortage of characters, since it basically follows a baseball team and the town around them, but most everyone who appears has a distinct personality and sees some growth over the course of the show. How many other series can you say that for?

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Hetalia: Axis Powers didn’t leave too strong of an impression art style or animation wise. I would say that at most the animation was rather basic, but really, what are you going to expect out of a show that is based on webcomics? As I said before, the main emphasis is on dialogue and character interactions. Just as one might predict, there are a lot of animation short cuts.

As for art style choices, the show was kind of presented like a children’s show, broken down with key features. You get the main meat and potatoes of the show and then little highlights of the characters in chibi form (SD form) as they were back during the Holy Roman Empire.

The best part of each episode was getting to see the newly introduced characters and watching how each country looks and acts. As an American, I completely endorse the personification of the United States. In fact, while I’m typing this I’m holding two burgers and a soda cup in my hands. I’m pretty talented, as you can see, it isn’t even putting a dent in my typing.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Cross Game’s biggest fault, if you want to call it that, is in its art and animation. Even from the opening animation, which is primarily still frames, you can tell that this is a low-budget series that’s airing during the day. There are no collectors to depend on for a budget here, just the series’ primary audience of children. Because of that, Cross Game isn’t a beautiful show to look at. It uses a LOT of animation shortcuts and repeat animation. Also, the character designs are very plain and easy to animate. I personally like the ‘80s-style designs the characters have, but that’s up to personal preference. My biggest complaints with the style are that everyone begins to look the same and that tertiary characters tend to look very ugly. Cross Game definitely looks different from everything else airing, and whether you appreciate or hate the style is up to you. If you get enough into the main story and characters, you probably won’t mind it.

This is another big part of why I haven’t started the series yet. While the characters look a bit odd, yet wonderfully nostalgic in the manga, they look like circus monkeys in the anime.

OVERALL: Looking over Crystal’s series, it’s pretty plain to see that these two shows are complete opposites. Rather than the huge time chunk needed to watch Cross Game, its lovely characters, and moving plot, you could spend a couple short evenings (or time between working on papers) to knock out a couple episodes of Hetalia: Axis Powers. It’s short, sweet, and to the point. What’s best of all is that you bust a gut laughing rather than crying your eyes out. Sometimes in life we just need a break from what stresses us out, and Hetalia: Axis Powers is there to remind us of all the nonsensicalness in the world and to let us know that at least it could be worse—we could always be Sealand.

Also, you can find this series on Crunchyroll and Netflix (the last time I checked). I actually bought the series though, first because it’s worth owning, but most importantly because it’s a pain to wait through the commercials for episodes that aren’t full length. So if you watch it, try to watch it in a format where you can hit next.

Because I watched some of this series and it’s gonna be more of the same, I feel no urge to ever return to this. I think I’ll just spend my downtime soaking in fanbait of the standard shoujo manga variety instead.

OVERALL: If you want to watch an anime with realistic, lovable characters and root for them to achieve something they’ve been working towards for years, then watch Cross Game. Not only does it have some of the best-developed characters I’ve ever seen in an anime, but it has a very rewarding conclusion. It’ll make your heart all warm and cosy while you watch it and then reward you for sticking with it. Whitney, why haven’t you watched this yet?! You love the manga and have watched the first episode! By all rights, you should’ve been sucked in and come out the other side of this show a better, happier person. I know you’re busy, but you’ve still got a week before school starts for you. Watch this now! And everyone else, go watch this, too. Viz has it up for free on Hulu, and I can only hope that if it gets enough views it’ll one day be released on DVD. Pretty please?

*Runs off to start watching it*…after my Korean dramas…and Polar Bear Cafe…and all the stuff I’m borrowing…

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)
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2 thoughts on “Hetalia: Axis Powers VS. Cross Game

  1. Whitney, I hope you watch Cross Game! Crystal describe it perfectly, and I especially want to emphasize what a wonderful job it does in character development, which happens subtly and slowly over the course of the series. A really wonderful show.

    • Thanks for your comment! Crystal will be happy to see she’s not alone in forcing me to watch Cross Game. :) It is on my list of things to watch, and I think I’ll marathon it this next summer break. The manga has to be in my top twenty, if not ten list, so I’m sure I’ll love it once I give it a shot. :D

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