A Soft Defense of Axis Powers: Hetalia from an Old Hetalia Fan

When the news broke that we’d be getting a new Hetalia animated series in 2021, I wanted to be happy. I wanted to celebrate and relive my glory days in a fandom that came to define so much of my life but I didn’t feel like I could. Over the years, the anime and the fandom that surrounds it has been a, to be honest, mostly deserved problematic mess due to the series’ subject matter and what some in the fandom do. But, some bad apples were never meant to spoil the bunch and thus, I write to you all, a small defense of Hetalia from one old fan who wants to taste glory again. 

It was college, my first year and my first time really being away from friends and family for an extended period of time. I was alone, struggling and felt overwhelmed and afraid. My mental health was in the trash bin and I mostly suffered quietly reassuring my aunts and mom that I was fine and making friends when in all honesty I mostly ate lunch alone in my dorm and had to wait for my two roommates to be out of the room to do anything that I actually liked doing. This was before the Glorianna of my junior and senior years running the anime club and was me at my worst: isolated, insecure and overwhelmed. I had given up a lot of my anime and manga in the transition to college, desperately hoping that the intense fandoms I held in my “youth” would be the phase my aunt asserted it would be. I went to college trying to pretend like that part of me didn’t exist and failed in the second part of the semester. I was back into anime due mostly to a slate of series that would end up becoming formative to me thanks to RP and my then best friend, Nicole. It was thanks to her that I was brought into a little series called Axis Powers: Hetalia. Hetalia is a play on words for the Japanese words for useless and Italia for Italy. The series features around personified countries during mostly World War II but also has some other periods of time mentioned throughout history and modernity. The series mostly centers around the Axis Powers: Northern Italy, Germany and Japan and their struggle against the Allied Powers: England, France, America, China, Russia and whoever else decides to join them for the sake of narrative. 

You can see the inherent issue, right? Japan has a long history with not seeing WWII so much as a bad thing but a strangely fun part of history. To this day you can see people in Waffen SS uniforms for the sake of style and clout just walking around. Japan’s problematic love-love relationship with Germany and Nazi paraphernalia is not something I have time to go into in full here, but needless to say; Hetalia suffers majorly from the bias of a Japanese man who wrote a comic as a racist joke while he was living in New York and continued on to impress upon the world his biased history of the world. Taken as writ, Hetalia is kawaii propaganda and I loved every second of it. 

The countries have dynamic character designs and personalities: the history is loose but hey, that’s not why I was there. I was sold from day one. I had characters I fell in love with, ships I wanted to sail and navigate and more importantly, it gave me something to do with my time. See, Hetalia, for having such a weak plot has a ton of trivia attached to it. Each country has a human name, a birthday, things they like and don’t like and complex relationships not just tied to history. There are character songs, drama CDs, each country has their own version of the ending theme song not to mention at least 2 character songs that can tell you so much about them and their history that you’ll never learn in the main series of manga. There were interactive flash games, the original webcomic and oh the fandom flourished.

Hetalia is the best kind of series for fangirls active in the shipping arts; it’s sort of a boy’s love by omission. Most of the female characters are so weakly written that they don’t matter and most of the countries are male and often enter marriages or alliances with each other or have very close bonds with each other due to shared history. You could, in theory, make an argument for any ship and likely there was historical, social or political context for it beyond just the show putting them in a scene together. Immediately, I was enraptured. I spent time learning human names and birthdays (many of which I still know to this day), learning and translating character songs and writing; oh the writing. I carved up the map with my friends, laying claim to countries and taking a masturbatory pride in whose flag we claimed. The flags I flew and still do fly to this day are: France and Austria but I laid claim to many other countries. The series was exactly what I needed to help me connect to others.

But immediately, upon entering the wider fandom outside of my friend group; I was met with a group of mostly young girls that…well, let’s just say weren’t always on their best behavior. Now, I’m not here to shame DFW Hetalia: but their tactics to abuse badges is why so many panelists have to go through hell now to get badges for their volunteers; not to mention their clichy nature and less than high regard for public spaces: they were sharks in bad wigs. The rest of the fandom…well, let’s just say that the stories, no matter how horrible, are often true. Many have kept the Nazi parts of their uniforms on screeching that it’s costume accurate. Some have posed in front of concentration camps…some have done other Nazi stuff. I can’t believe I’m writing this. Honestly, I was never shocked by this behavior mostly because most anime fans are already so culturally abandoned as Americans that we’d willingly side with literally any other country and the narrative as writ in Hetalia that Japan only joined the Axis Powers to make new friends. Hetalia also does a very smart narrative trick where it asserts that the countries as we see them are more representatives and they have “bosses” (the leader du jour) that really control their movements. So Germany didn’t do a Holocaust, Germany’s boss (Hitler) did. It’s a great narrative tool: it keeps the characters sympathetic: like a good German soldier, Germany was just following orders. 

To be clear, the bulk of the fandom isn’t running around as a bunch of cosplay fascists but the stories of bad behavior are hard to wipe away from the collective memory of the fandom and con world. Not to mention the real life consequences behind acting poorly. Think about the current angst that comes with being a fan of Harry Potter right now. It’s hard to distance yourself from the author’s objectively bad words and keep yourself steadily in the lane of fandom that doesn’t deny basic human rights to trans people. But now it feels almost dirty to be a Hetalia fan. The series has its own problematic elements if you ignore the less than perfect fandom and the less than perfect fandom is fed because the series is built on a problematic base. The rest of Hetalia centers around other world events and the movie doesn’t even talk about WWII. There is more to the series than its problematic base, but that will always be its foundation. It will always be a webcomic created by a man who clearly loves WWII and not so subtle casual racism and xenophobia.

But I’m still excited. I have made so many friends and made so many memories and got so much joy from this series. I was, and am, still a very proud Francis Bonnefoy and proud of the ships I sail. I’m proud of the headcanons and spirited conversations I’ve had. I’m proud of the nights I’ve spent up translating drama CDs and the pieces of trivia that are still in my mind a decade later. I’m still proud to be a fan of Hetalia but I am also so very aware of how very damaged this beautiful world I call home is. 

Why I Watch Anime

In my last post about Sarazanmai and my changing relationship with anime, something that kept coming up in the back of my mind was just why I started watching anime to begin with and why I continue to watch anime. Well, that’s a little more than just a passing thought so let’s explore that a little. Here are some of the reasons I watch anime.

To Escape

I’m a member of the Tony Stark Society for Disaster Orphans. My childhood was not great and my teen years were not great. Fundamentally, what got me into anime was escapism. I got to escape into worlds so unlike my own where I was stronger, prettier, more capable, or hell, even still had both parents. Consider the anime I fell into as a youth: InuYasha, Fullmetal Alchemist, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, YuYu Hakusho, Naruto, Bleach…most explored fantastical worlds and magical elements and took me to places I couldn’t imagine. There were demons and monsters and ghosts and danger and magical lands, it was all wonderful and it was so much nicer than my aunts’ impossible standards for me or my mother’s immaturity. 

I didn’t always think of anime as a form of escapism but I did write (still do write) a lot of fanfiction and that fanfiction allowed me to be so much more than whatever my shell was and fanfiction aside, my taste in anime has become increasingly slice of life. I used to shun romance and more pedestrian series for shonen as a youth but now as I’m older just seeing things okay for a few people for once is really comforting and really nice considering that as of late the world (not just my personal life) feels like a fiery inferno that which the only escape is the sweet embrace of death. 

To Find Closure

Losing your parents often leaves you with a bucket of what ifs that you just sort of carry around with you, like a box full of all of your desires. Watching characters fumble through their feelings, do more, do better, be more and be better helped me and still helps me work through my feelings. It may be why I had such a visceral reaction to Devilman Crybaby. I so badly wanted things to be okay. I wanted Akira to be okay, for Ryo to be okay, for Miki to be okay and when they weren’t I felt miserable for them and felt all the moments where things were not okay for me all in one crushing, overwhelming moment. When watching Sarazanmai as Toi goes through the last part of his character arc I was utterly emotionally connected with him as I felt his same worries about nihilism and being a mere burden to those I called friends. I am an empathetic person and it is very easy for me to see myself in characters that have been through similar things to me. Trauma is a funny thing and it makes it very easy to project those feelings onto especially narratives. Think of those who found themselves so much in Harry Potter. So many had their own horrible families they didn’t love and didn’t respect them and so many found comfort in Hogwarts because it was a place to be themselves, to be better than their families, to be welcomed and appreciated. I watch anime to find closure because I know that I may never get that in my own life. 

To Feel Something

Losing a parent young warps your entire world. It isn’t always dramatic but it means that the average cookie cutter narrative just doesn’t fly. Most shows I was watching at 12 still featured two parent households and that just didn’t resonate for me anymore. Anime featured a ton of broken families, families ripped apart by death and circumstance and characters that didn’t have to pretend to be okay as I had to. I got to experience emotions and defer a lot of my feelings onto fictional characters and it was instrumental in me working through my angst. Now as I am an older and much wiser hobgoblin I watch anime still to feel all sorts of things: love, joy, triumph, excitement, fear. As much as it stresses me out sometimes to have my emotions dashed upon the rocks of cold hard nihilism to feel shock and worry and emotion is thrilling and just something I don’t get in most Western shows with the exception of BoJack Horseman or Tuca and Bertie, I rarely get that emotional release from Western narratives who tend to wallow more superficial story-telling or using framing devices and tropes that I find abhorrent or just plain tired. 

To Learn Something

I fell into anime from an early age because of how radically different it was from the Western media I was surrounded by. I knew nothing of Japan as a youth and anime was one of the finest and best examples of cross cultural exchange that I could have been exposed to. I live in Texas and was raised in Texas. No one bowed here. No one spoke Japanese here. I didn’t know what Buddha was outside of the large statues that hang around in Chinese restaurants. I cannot tell you how much I’ve picked up from anime alone. My vocabulary has changed, my mannerisms have changed, the way that I speak about myself and others. And no, I don’t feel comfortable going to Japan on anime alone; I had to have the want to learn more on my own. I have dictionaries, language guides, vocab books and more to prove it. One of the biggest things I’ve learned about is actually cooking. I loved cooking for my anime clubbers in college and being able to make onigiri just like I saw in the manga I cherished so much was a delight that cannot be entirely expressed by words. I still watch anime to learn new things and my natural desire to learn often means that little things that are throwaway gags in anime become rabbit holes I dive down in topics ranging from demonology to why the hell bakus are so scary and Christan influence in Japan.


There are obvious reasons that I watch anime. I watch for enjoyment, for curiosity and because it is still something new and oftentimes exciting but this relationship is now over two decades old. The reasons I have now are likely not the same as they were when I was a teenager. I use anime to escape now in entirely different ways than the power fantasies I lived out as a teen. I watch anime now more to relax and to unwind. It’s also still a key factor in many of the friendships I told dear. There was no neat way to add this but I’ll say the most important reason I watch anime is because it makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. I am proud to call myself an otaku and I am proud to be an anime fan. There is nothing like seeing someone’s eyes light up when they see someone else wearing an anime t-shirt or merch from a series they love. The connections I’ve made because of anime and at conventions and by discussing these weird cartoons critically and passionately is something that doesn’t fit neatly into a list but is so important to the experience. 

I’m proud to be a veteran otaku and you see that pride during each one of my Twitter rants, panels, blog posts and more. I watch anime to be more than myself. To express myself. To learn. To grow. 

I relish in fan casts, in shipping manifestos, in shipping wars and discussions about voice actors. I love translating music and listening to drama CDs and hoarding manga like a dragon. 

Anime is a part of my life, so it was only natural that I discuss and explore why I watch anime to start with.