I just got done binge watching the first 3 seasons and I have to say, this series is the most powerful series I’ve watched so far and it completely destroys all popular tv shows(Game of thrones, Vikings, the walking dead etc). This series is unlike anything that has ever been done in a motion picture series.
1.) The setting: The series itself is based on a book of the same name, it’s a alternate history series that takes place in 1960s USA, in a world where Japan and Germany won WWII and became the dominant powers of the world who partioned the US and are locked in a Cold War scenario. Now, let’s go over the central characters.
Juliana Crain(portrayed by Alexa Davalos): A young attractive woman who is the protagonist of the story, her character is depicted as smart and resourceful who is dragged into a plot that she initially wants no part of and has to survive by any means necessary. In my opinion she’s a fairly realistic character in which she isn’t a action hero but she isn’t defenseless either since she demonstrates on a few occasions that she is able to take down larger attackers with her martial arts skills.
Nobuske Tagomi(portrayed by Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa) : My personal favorite character. A middle aged Japanese character who is a trade minister for the Imperial Japanese government. He is a calm, wise and compassionate character who seems to have become disillusioned with his government and doesn’t take part in the iron fist rule of his government. He is also one step ahead of all the characters in regards to awareness and plays an important role in the story.
John Smith(played by Rufus Sewell): One the most liked characters among the fans. He is a US war veteran and a high ranking Nazi who may appear to be a evil man at first due to his loyalty to the Reich but as the story develops, the watcher realizes there is a lot more to his story. Hint: he is very protective of his family and goes to great lengths to protect his family from any danger.
Frank Frink(portrayed by Rupert Evans): A Jewish-American man who is one of Juliana Crain’s love interests(it’s complicated). He seems to live a ordinary life at first without much issues considering that he lives in the Japanese pacific states where Jews don’t face persecution. But eventually he gets intertwined with Julia’s own struggles causing his life to change. He’s a very ambitious and determined character that always finds a way to get the job done. In my opinion he’s a very likeable character.
Joe Blake(portrayed by Luke Kleintank): A Nazi agent working undercover for John Smith. Unlike John, this man isn’t as loyal to the Nazi regime and his true alignment remains ambiguous. He does appear to be a good person but there are occasions where he appears to be a typical Nazi. This character is very interesting because, the viewers never know if he’s going to go full on Nazi at any moment.
Chief inspector Kiddo(portrayed by Joel De La Fuente): A WWII Imperial Japanese veteran who for most of the show is depicted as merciless and emotionless. He is extremely loyal to the Imperial Japanese gov’t and follows all orders without question, he’s often at odds with Nobuske Tagomi.
Ed Mcarthy(portrayed by DJ Qualls): Ed is a closeted homosexual who is also Frank’s best friend. Unlike the daredevil Frank, Ed is a more calm character who tries to avoid as much trouble as possible and also cares about Frank as a friend.
2.)How did the axis win? The main cause of the axis victory in this alternate timeline is that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was assasinated in 1933. The two presidents that would succeed him would fail to bring the US out of the Great Depression and continue to play the isolationist policy and not give any help(lend lease or military) to the allies fighting the axis. This allowed the third Reich to soundly defeat the Soviet Union and the British Empire. While imperial Japan defeated China and Australia.
Imperial Japan did attack Pearl Harbor and did much more damage in this alternate timeline than they did in real life. The US was invaded by the third Reich and Imperial Japan in 1945, the US managed to put up a good fight but eventually surrendered when the Nazis dropped an atom bomb(Heisenberg device) on Washington DC. Strong American resistance continued until 1947 when the Axis managed to finish off most of the resistance fighters and declare “VA-Day” or Victory in America day. With the capitulation of the US, every other country in the Americas was forced to yield to the two new powers. A interesting thing to note is that in this alternate timeline, Winston Churchill was assasinated in 1940 while Stalin himself was captured by the Nazis and Executed in 1949.
In my opinion this is a very realistic alternate History scenario, it’s not over exaggerated and doesn’t have any holes in it. Many historians also agree that removing certain historical figures from the equation and or removing at least one of the three big bruisers(USA, British Empire or USSR) from the equation would have yielded a different outcome in WWII.
3.)The genres: The fact this show doesn’t fall under the “action” catergory is perhaps one of the main reasons why the show is doing so well. Normally I love movies and tv shows that have a lot of action but in this tv show, the action genre would not have worked. Action would have turned the tv show into a Wolfenstein wannabe. So if you are expecting the show to feature some blazkowicz lookalike taking down a bunch of axis soldiers while leading a resistance to victory, you’ll probably be disappointed unless you can comprise.
This show falls under the mystery, drama, thriller and sci fi genres. That doesn’t mean it’s devoid of gunfights, explosions and brawls/scuffles but they are done in a more realistic manner.
4.) Realistic fight scenes: As I mentioned above, the brawls/scuffles are done in a much more realistic manner. There is no fancy camera cuts, the fights don’t last longer than a minute and they show that no matter how much bigger you are, you are not invulnerable.
5.)multiple points of view: Another great thing about this series is that it doesn’t just focus on one character, it focuses on multiple characters on each side of the conflict, making it unbiased. We see things from the Nazi perspective, the Imperial Japanese perspective, the resistance perspective and from the perspective of people who want no part of the conflict. This allows the viewer to see how everyone goes with their day in this parallel world.
6.)A Puma and a bear(my fan theory): The keypoint of this story is the Cold War scenario between Imperial Japan and the third Reich. Unlike the real life Cold War, this Cold War is being waged based on race. The Nazis consider themselves the master race and therefore should rule over all people, while the Imperial Japanese consider themselves divine. The Nazis have the technological edge but they have one major weakness, which is division amongst themselves. Some Nazis support a war with Japan, while others don’t. There is also competition amongst high ranking Nazis for even higher ranks. The Imperial Japanese are not as technologically advanced as the Nazis but are more united than the Nazis.
A war between the two would be catastrophic for the world but eventually the third Reich would probably be victorious(albeit pyrrhic) due to it’s technological edge. However, the way I see it. Regardless of who would win, the victor would be left in a weakened state and open to uprisings and coups within it’s territories. This may be one of the reasons why some Nazis don’t support a war with Imperial Japan. While Imperial Japan doesn’t want a war because they know the odds are against them.
It’s like pumas and bears, let bears represent the third Reich and pumas represent Imperial Japan. Bears are obviously the stronger of the two. But even though bears *usually* but not always come out on top(sometimes the puma comes out on top.) Both Bears and pumas are always wary around each other and rather not fight because no matter which of the two wins the scuffle, any wounds the victor receives can still be fatal.
7.)Interesting technological gap: I find the technological gap between the two powers interesting, the Imperial Japanese have access to technology you’d expect from the 1960s. While the Nazis have technology from the 1980s and early 1990s combined with some retro futuristic elements.
In regards to conventional weapons, both the Imperial Japanese and Nazis are on par with each other. Example: The Japanese standard issue rifle is the Hōwa type 64 which in real life was designed in post war Japan. While the standard issue rifle of the Nazis is the G3 which in real life was produced by West Germany. The Nazis also seem to be in the process of replacing their MP40s with MP5s. These are nice touches to the story.
The Nazis also somehow got a hold of a Soviet Dragunov rifle which in real life was designed by the Soviet Union post WWII. This is anachronistic due to the circumstances of the Nazis having defeated the Soviets in this parallel world.
Where the Japanese seem to lag in technology is in transportation, communication and nuclear weaponry. Examples: the Nazis have rocket technology, while the Imperial Japanese don’t. The Nazis have video telophony while the Imperial Japanese only have wired telephones.
8.) Interesting modus operandi of the factions: There are 4 major factions in this series that we’ve been introduced to so far, they are the Nazis, Japanese empire, The resistance and the Yakuza. There are also two minor factions that stay neutral, they are a small Jewish community in the neutral zone and a Aikido dojo in the Japanese pacific states.
Japanese empire: They may rule their zone with a iron fist but don’t openly persecute people. They let people do as they please for the most part as long as nobody gets in their way. Those who resist or are suspected of treason are arrested, brutally interrogated and depending the circumstances, executed. They don’t have any racial laws or anything against homosexuality. They are particularly fond of American culture. They still view non Japanese as subordinates but that doesn’t compare to their aberration of those who are only half Japanese(Hapa). They seem to tolerate most religions except for Christianity. They have a secret police force called the kempeitai, they are in charge of keeping people in check and performing recon on the Nazis.
It’s interesting, in reality when Japan was under US occupation, many US soldiers stationed in Japan were known for their fondness of Japanese culture and even brought back souvenirs. In this alternate timeline, it’s the Japanese who are fond of American culture(Cowboys and native Americans). While the Imperial Japanese are still depicted as brutal, they still don’t compare to the Nazis.
Greater Nazi Reich: The GNR is depicted as a technologically advanced nation. At first glance it may appear to be a Utopia but upon closer inspection it’s revealed to be more of a dystopia disguised as a utopia making it much more scary. Only pure white People or “aryans” are allowed to live in the GNR, every other race has either been deported, exterminated or enslaved. Their ideology considers the Japanese as “honorary aryans” even though not all Nazis think so. However being white doesn’t mean you are in the clear. If a person has any small defect(infertility, atrophy etc) the person will be euthanized. If the person takes part in “perversion”( homosexuality etc) the person will be in serious trouble(re-education). Both in accordance to Nazi law even if they are white. No religion is tolerated within the Reich. They also torture any prisoners they take. One key feature is their hatred for American culture as they are shown trying to eradicate it. Their secret police force are the SS, Gestapo and the SD.
I find this Nazi regime quite interesting. In real life the Nazis tolerated certain religions but in this show their attitude towards religion is similar to that of the communists. Their technology seems to surpass anything that was around in the real 1960s, this is probably based on how even in reality the Nazis were ahead of all nations in many fields of science and technology, so it kind of makes sense to assume that they would have continued their technological breakthroughs had they won.
The Yakuza: A Japanese criminal organization. The Yakusa seemed to have turned into a powerful crime syndicate that’s almost paramilitary. They are much more powerful than they are in reality. The fact they can make deals with the Nazis while pulling strings to keep the Japanese empire off their backs is quite impressive. They owe allegiance to nobody, they have their own agenda but since they are present in the Japanese territories, they occasionally help out the Japanese empire. They are the lesser evil when compared to the Japanese empire and Nazis. They are apolitical and don’t harm civilians as long they stay out their way.
I like that they included the Yakuza in this series and it depicts them in a very accurate manner.
The resistance: A group of people who are at odds with the Nazis and the Japanese empire. They are the weakest of the 4 factions and are initially depicted as very selfish, reckless an cold. They usually take part in espionage, recon, assasinations and rescues. They can be opportunistic individuals who are willing to sacrifice civilian lives just to put pressure on the the two regimes and have a “You’re either with us or against us attitude.” But of course there are a few resistance members who are likeable.
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really like the resistance at first. Most weren’t likeable characters, I kept hoping the Kempetai and or the SS would raid their hideouts. They seem more of a liability to the main characters than they are of help. Even the Yakuza are more likeable.
9.)It’s not a guilt trip: An important part of this series that I really like is the fact that not all Japanese and German characters are depicted as evil. There are several Japanese and German characters who are depicted as being good people. Specifically Tagomi and Wegener who have become disillusioned with their regimes. Also I liked the one scene where one of the Japanese-American characters actually said something along the lines of “I’m Japanese-American not Japanese, there’s a difference between the two.” This is relatable even today since there are still people who don’t recognize Japanese-Americans as Americans simply because of their ethnicity.
10.)Japanese-Americans: One thing I wanted to know is what happened to Japanese-Americans. Well, just like in real life, many were interned in Manzanar during WWII. However in this timeline, the Japanese-American internees showed more defiance towards the guards similar to the civil rights protests. But when Imperial Japanese soldiers liberated the camp, the Imperial Japanese soldiers viewed the internees as traitors but did not kill them. There is one thing that hasn’t been answered and that is if the 442nd RCT existed in this timeline. Hopefully it will get answered in season 4.
11.)Wait What happened to Italy? It’s not directly stated but based on the map in the their world, it appears that the Nazis either turned them into a puppet or completely subjugated them. I guess that makes sense, since in reality Italy was considered the weak link of the axis.
12.)great soundtrack: The soundtrack of this story is amazing. What makes it even better is that some of the songs in this show are popular pop songs from the real 1930s-1960s. Among them are my favorites like “Lili Marleen”, “tomorrow belongs to me”, “edelweiss” and “Der gute kamerad”.
13.)Asian talent is used correctly: Unlike most motion pictures on the big screen where Asian actors and actresses get treated like cannon fodder, this tv series actually treats Asian talent with respect. The fact that two of the central characters are Asian is a refreshing change. Plus, all of the Asian characters get dominant roles, which is something we don’t usually get on the big screen. It’s also refreshing that none of the Asian characters get “whitewashed” which is having a Caucasian actor or actress play as a Asian character, *cough, cough* “ghost in a shell” .
14.)great usage of historical figures: A nice little touch to this series is that several historical figures make an appearance and play important roles in the story. Among them are the obvious like Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. But also unexpected guys like J. Edgar Hoover.
Adolf Hitler is portrayed in a way that’s much different than the way he’s usually portrayed in the media. He’s still a bad guy but he is also one of the characters that is preventing a war between the Nazis and the Japanese empire. He actually wants peace, which sounds funny. So even though he doesn’t get much screen time, he is still a very important character.
15.)The uniforms: The military uniforms of both the Japanese empire and the Nazis, didn’t change as much. Unlike in real life where most military uniforms around the world started to look less stylish. The Imperial Japanese uniforms and Nazi uniforms are still stylish but with a few more pockets, more insignia and newer color schemes. In my opinion the uniforms look very nice.
16.) Immersion: Usually feelings of immersion are associated with video games, it’s not common for motion pictures to actually do the same but this series can make the viewer get immersed as in feeling that they are part of the story. This may have to do with the relatable characters, chances are there is at least one character you’ll be able to relate to. There is one scene that can absolutely make the viewer feel as if they are there and that is the “Volkshalle” scene in the final episode of season two. That scene is absolutely powerful, I could already imagine how intense that scene would be if it were shown on the big screen.
17.) The importance of neutral zones: Neutral zones in this series are areas that are “independent” but powerless to oppose either regime. They are poor and lawless. Example of lawlessness: A individual can go in a bar and shoot a person or two and still be welcome to the bar. However just because it’s independent doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of Imperial Japanese or Nazi presence. There are undercover agents of both sides operating within the territory. Note, we only know about the neutral zone in the US, the daily life in other neutral zones around the world haven’t been revealed but they are most likely similar.
I find the concept of neutral zones rather unusual, you’d think both sides would take over all the world but that’s not the case, instead they use neutral zones as “buffer zones”.
18.)overall great story, direction and acting: The story itself is amazing and Frank Spotnitz did a great job directing this series. If you are a history buff like me, this series will be a treat for you and you’ll be able to recognize many parts of the story. The actors and actresses did a great job with their roles as well. I rate it 10/10. I can’t wait for season 4.