Draw a Circle, That’s the Earth

How many times have we heard (or said, or acknowledged) that the Japanese are reserved and diligent, the Italians cook great food, that the Inuits live in igloos made of blocks of ice (fun fact: they don’t), or that Spain is full of hot, muscular men and beautiful women? It should go without saying that many Japanese are in fact extroverted and/or lazy, and that Spain is not a magical land blessed with completely good genetics, but the aforementioned perception still remains—and such perception is what we refer to as stereotypes.

Stereotypes can be very difficult to navigate, especially considering that certain stereotypes can be horribly offensive to certain groups of people, but stereotypes can also be thought-provoking or humorous—Yanko Tsvetkov, for instance has released a series of prejudice maps displaying social, cultural, and political stereotypes of certain countries or regions, and the responses to his tongue-in-cheek approach to stereotypes are mostly positive. Another successful example of the tongue-in-cheek approach to stereotypes is a Japanese webcomic titled Hetalia: Axis Powers, written by Hidekazu Himaruya, which has gained a massive number of followers and enjoyed widespread popularity ever since its first publication in 2008.

The uniqueness of Hetalia lies in the fact that it retells political and historic events, as well as general cultural comparisons, through personifications of countries as its characters. The series’ timeline is not linear, but it originally takes place in World War II—it has steered clear from atrocities such as the Holocaust or Japanese comfort women, and instead focused more on the lighter, more trivial side of the war. The events depicted on Hetalia ranges from more serious historical events, such as the American War of Independence, to lighter ones, such as the Norwegian butter crisis.

True to its name, the main protagonists of Hetalia are the countries which made up the Axis powers during the World War II: Italy (technically North Italy—South Italy is depicted as his sibling), Germany (technically West Germany—East Germany is depicted as his older brother under the name Prussia), and Japan. Alongside the trio are the Allied Powers: United States of America, England, France, China, and Russia. Other countries, ranging from actual states such as Canada to obscure, not-really-states such as Sealand or Ladonia, have also made an appearance.

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(L-R, bottom row: Japan, Italy, Germany; middle row: England, America, France; top row: Russia, China)

Hetalia has made extensive use of national stereotypes, both the positive and negative ones, which it incorporates into its character’s personality.

Italy is depicted as carefree and artistic, with an extreme love for Italian cuisines such as pasta and pizza; Germany is stern, hard-working, and responsible—he also enjoys stereotypical German cuisines such as wurst, beer, and potato; Japan is polite, reserved, and good with technology. The stereotypes used to make up the characters’ personality make it easy to identify the country they represent. Here, have a pop quiz as a proof:

  1. An incredibly powerful country whose staple food includes fast food and coke, and who is obsessed with the idea of becoming a hero
  2. A country who is mentally unstable due to his bloody history, who adores vodka and wants other countries to become one with him—and is also feared by his neighboring countries
  3. A country whose weapon of choice includes a wok and a ladle, who is often seen speaking with pandas and is also the oldest living character in the series
  4. A romantic, flirty gourmand who is also very fashionable, who have a long-held rivalry with England
  5. A tea-obsessed country who can’t hold his liquor and who is also a sharp-tongued gentleman who can see and summon magical creatures and perform magic curses on his enemies
[ANSWER: 1) America 2) Russia 3) China 4) France 5) England]

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(Several countries depicted in Hetalia--can you guess which one is which based on their flags?)

Hetalia has the potential of being incredibly politically incorrect, especially given its time-setting, and it has indeed gained several controversy—it was, for instance, banned in South Korea due to the ‘offensive’ depiction of South Korea in the series—but the reviews for Hetalia are mostly positive. I personally like it for its lighthearted humor and how it makes history more interesting and slightly easier to learn—and it definitely makes international relations looks much more amusing than it actually is. If you are looking for something entertaining to read or to watch over this holiday, Hetalia is definitely an option you can pick. You can also claim to be ‘studying’ while watching it, which is also a plus.

PS: The title of this article comes from the English translation of the title of Hetalia’s themesong, Marukaite Chikyuu, which comes in 10+ lyrical and tune variations depending on which country is singing it

PPS: Another alternative to Hetalia is the Scandinavia and the World series, a webcomic from the point of view of the personification of the Nordic states which touches recent issues and trivia concerning the region and the world at large that can be read here: http://satw.com

ZIVYA SYIFA HUSNAYAIN | 016201200114

#womenaretoohardtoanimate (or are we?)

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(a promotional poster of assassin’s creed III bundle featuring Aveline de Grandpré and Connor Kenway)

Ubisoft, the video game developer behind AAA titles such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, announced in the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2014 their decision to scrap out a playable female character for their latest installment of the Assassin’s Creed series, the Assassin’s Creed: Unity due to, supposedly, technical and budgetary constraints. James Therien, the technical director of Ubisoft, claimed in his discussion with VideoGamer that their decision is an unfortunate reality of game development, citing that having a female character means that they have to “redo a lot of animations”, which would have doubled their work despite Ubisoft having tons of resources and nine studios working on this game, something that Therien also admitted in the same discussion. Naturally, this decision raises a lot of criticism—Jonathan Cooper, Ubisoft’s former animation director for Assassin’s Creed III who is currently working for Naughty Dog (which, by the way, is the developer of the excellent survival horror game featuring a female lead and multiple female characters, The Last of Us), commented in an interview with Polygon that creating a female character would only take a day or two, as there is no need to recreate anything but key animations; his educated opinion is echoed by many other developers with experience working on similarly-sized games, such as Manveer Heir (gameplay designer for BioWare, famous for their Mass Effect series). Ubisoft’s excuse sounds even more ridiculous if we consider the fact that the developer released Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, featuring a woman of color as its protagonist, in 2012, thus signifying that they do have the experience and resources necessary to create a female character for their latest installment of Assassin’s Creed which, by the way, offer four customizable male characters for its co-op mode (why Ubisoft deems four customizable male characters to be easier to be made than one female character remains questionable). Cooper further noted that Aveline de Grandpré, the female protagonist of Liberation, shares more of the main protagonist of Assassin’s Creed III, Connor Kenway’s, animation than his male successor in Assassin’s Creed IV, Edward Kenway, does.

A female gamer, @lionschmion, then began to criticize Ubisoft’s decision with the hashtag #womenaretoohardtoanimate, which is then picked up by fellow female gamers to tweet satirical reasons explaining why animating a woman is a daunting task even for a developer of Ubisoft’s caliber. “#womenaretoohardtoanimate but here’s a CGI trailer with meticulous attention to the pores of Nathan Drake’s face,” @lionschmion tweeted sarcastically. “#womenaretoohardtoanimate because the world needs more adult white male protags with stubble,” another Twitter user, @wisecookiesheet, chimed in.

In the age of high-resolution games with pixel-perfect rendering technology and even an incredibly realistic water physics engine readily available, there should be no excuse to leave out female protagonists from game development. And indeed, some gaming franchises have included female characters in their leading role, or offering customizable characters of both gender (and often, multiple races ranging from elves to aliens)—some of my personal favorites include Mass Effect, Fallout, Remember Me,  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bioshock Infinite, and Dragon Age—but we cannot overlook the fact that nine times out of ten, the video gaming industry is still pretty much filled able-bodied, heterosexual, white, masculine, alpha male protagonists. It is high time for video game developers to get off of their high horse, stop making excuses to exclude 48% of the gamer population, and start making well-written female protagonists to cater to female gamers, instead of reusing the old over-sexualized damsel in distress trope over and over again or removing women from the game altogether.

Zivya Syifa Husnayain | 016201200114