Friday, January 23

Japanese reaction to South Korea-Hetalia Axis Powers Uproar

Kids Station satellite TV channel announced Jan. 16 that it had cancelled its plans to run the animation Hetalia--Axis Powers, which would have premiered on Jan. 24.

The Hetalia production committee said the sudden cancellation was decided at the "convenience of the broadcaster," and the animation channel said the decision was made "due to various circumstances," giving no detailed explanation. But according to prevailing views on the Internet, the decision was made in consideration of protests against the content of Hetalia.

Hetalia is based on a comedic manga by Hidekazu Himaruya, a Japanese student in New York. In the manga, countries are represented by anthropomorphic characters and their international relations are depicted as their human relations.

Main characters include Italy, depicted as a nation that is weak in war but is bright and adorable and loves food and women. Germany is a serious man who loves rules, while Japan is infatuated with European nations. The United States is a country who likes to always be No. 1 and Britain is a snobbish man.

"Hetalia" is a made-up word combining the Japanese word hetare, meaning a sense of helplessness or uselessness, and Italia.

The gag manga portrays the characters' relations with the historical events of the Middle Ages, early modern age, early 20th century and other eras as the background.

As soon as the adaptation of the manga into an animation was announced, a number of South Korean Internet users strongly called for the cancellation of the broadcast, as they felt the manga offers an insulting portrayal of the South Korean character. In the manga, South Korea is depicted as a man who "is weak before the United States, calls China his elder brother and hates Japan."

Net signatures for a petition opposing the broadcast were also collected. The cancellation of the broadcast was announced immediately after these moves started to be reported in Japan.

Turning the national character of one's own or another country into a joke in casual conversation, novels and other settings can happen in any country.

Himaruya himself said in his book that he came across a Web site of ethnic jokes while studying various national characters.

There also is a tradition in Japan's otaku culture that even such things as trains or computer operating systems can be changed into cute characters in a way that turns inanimate subjects into characters meant to inspire a "moe" (fondly adoring) response. Hetalia should be viewed as one of these expressions.

No matter how lightly or harmlessly it may be intended, however, depicting a nation or ethnic group in a manga or animation inevitably is undertaken at great risk. The manga happened to have attracted protests from South Korean Internet users, but there is no guarantee that it will not receive similar protests from other countries.

Such jokes may not develop into a serious matter as long as they are enjoyed in private. But we have to think of what reactions they may cause when they clash with the "justice" called for by various national or religious causes.

On a different level, but still fresh in our memory, a Danish newspaper caused a global uproar in 2005 when its cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed offended Muslim states. Islamic traditions prohibit the publication of any images of the prophet.

As a result, massive protests swept the Muslim world, and many people fell victim to violent demonstrations and other incidents the following year.

I personally cannot deny the attractions of Hetalia. In fact, the character Chibitalia (Little Italy), in particular, is irresistibly cute. But it may be better for world peace to limit the pleasure of such characters to this small Far Eastern island nation--even if such an act might be called "hetare."


Basically the summary of whole article is "WHY SO SERIOUS?"

Earlier entry on this seemingly amusing but actually a deep issue of Korean-Japanese unresolved relationship, a baggage from old Japanese Imperial era. It is also another good indicator of soft power conflict that many social scientist(s) begin to study lately.

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