I'd been looking forward to this movie, largely out of curiosity. Hetalia is a gag anime of five-minute web episodes, jumping around world history in bite-sized snippets. How would the production team make this work as a movie? Answer: they don't. I thought the film was okay, but Tomoko disliked it.
Firstly, a recap! Hetalia is the comedy about world history in which the cast are walking talking countries, embodying national stereotypes. The title is a portmanteau of "Italy" and a Japanese word that means "pathetic good-for-nothing", which is an understatement since Hetalia's Italy is a cowardly, amiable, whiny, pasta-crazed bubblehead who'll surrender to anyone as soon as he can. That should give you some idea. Everyone's an idiot. I quite like the TV series, but I wouldn't put it any more strongly than that. It's amusing, but it drifts gently downhill and I don't think it ever worked out what to do with itself in the long term.
Films though need plots. Thus aliens have invaded! They're called Pictonians and they can turn people into other Pictonians. Humans become white blobs that look as if the production team ran out of time on a crowd scene and just animated the preliminary pencil roughs. This gets them likened to noppera, a traditional Japanese monster that might have seen before if you watch yokai movies. Our heroes (Germany, Italy, Japan, China, America, England and France) have to save mankind!
This film is comprised of:
(a) an alien invasion movie, albeit a silly one in which Earth's defenders are clowns who couldn't agree to come in out of the rain.
(b) random gags as the various countries go off and do their own thing.
(c) cut-and-pasted bits from the TV series. This is the weirdest bit. They've lifted twenty minutes of clips and dropped them into the movie, without even trying to integrate them into the storyline. Thus the movie will simply stop what it's doing and instead show us, for instance, England visiting Japan and having a bath with a kappa, for no reason except that it was a highpoint of season one and the producers liked it.
I'd have expected Hetalia newbies to be hopelessly lost by all these old clips, but in fact it sounds as if they often enjoyed it. The material's good, after all, even if it is recycled. There's no need to get confused about the plot, because one quickly realises that the movie's only occasionally paying any attention to that.
Is it funny? Answer: not as often as you'd think, but sometimes. It manages some good jokes. The gag about Chinese rip-offs, for instance, had Tomoko asking "can they do that?"
Is it a good alien invasion movie? Not really. It's not even trying, although it does eventually find some originality just through the unconventional angle from which they're approaching the genre. In particular it has some possibly unintentional subtext. Pictonians are quite common in anime, you see, e.g. when the animators don't have enough time or money to do a a crowd scene properly. There's even such a scene here, after the Pictonians have been defeated. People become anime-Pictonians in a quick shot without losing their human identities, in accordance with a familiar anime shorthand.
Furthermore what makes the Pictonians antagonists is their wish to make everyone the same, in a show that's all about celebrating the oddities and quirks of different countries' national characters. Towards the end, the movie even starts talking about art styles and then uses this as a silver bullet against the aliens.
This is cool. The movie doesn't give the impression that it's a deliberate theme, but even if not I think it's interesting enough to run with anyway.
The English dub works better than the Japanese one. You'd be advised to frame that and put it on your wall, because I don't expect to say that ever again in my life about an anime. Nevertheless it is. That's true of the TV series too. Firstly, the English dub can do accents. France sounds French. America sounds American. England sounds... um, okay, they clearly didn't look very far for someone who could do the accent properly, but at least he's making some kind of an effort. This in itself makes the characterisation funnier (e.g. America is brilliant), but in addition it's a huge help in trying to tell everyone apart! That took me ages watching the TV series in Japanese, but in English it's no effort.
The American voice actors have also been encouraged to ad-lib, which helps. Mind you, they're clearly clueless about the real accents even of important countries like Russia and ironically Japan.
Overall, you'll be disappointed if you bring any expectations. Tomoko thinks it's rubbish. I thought it was a second-rate movie that also happened to include twenty minutes of TV repeats, but that doesn't make it unwatchable. I don't mind the first Monty Python film either. Mind you, the Japanese DVD very sensibly has an option to play an edited version of the movie without all the TV clips and I've no idea why my English-language DVD didn't do the same. Essentially... it's Hetalia. It's a huge missed opportunity, but it succeeds in being Hetalia and as such is basically okay. Not great, but I sort of like it.