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the Complete Review
the complete review - comic

     

Message to Adolf

by
Tezuka Osamu


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Message to Adolf



Title: Message to Adolf
Author: Tezuka Osamu
Genre: Comic
Written: 1983-5 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 647 + 602 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Message to Adolf: Part 1 and Part 2 - US
Message to Adolf: Part 1 and Part 2 - UK
Message to Adolf: Part 1 and Part 2 - Canada
Message to Adolf: Part 1 and Part 2 - India
L'histoire des 3 Adolf (vol. 1) - France
Adolf (Band 1) - Deutschland
La storia dei tre Adolf - Italia
Adolf - España
  • Japanese title: アドルフに告ぐ
  • Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian
  • Previously published in five volumes as Adolf (1995), in a translation by by Yuji Oniki

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Our Assessment:

B- : action-packed, transnational historic adventures; decent frame by frame, a bit silly taken as a whole

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Tezuka Osamu's massive comic-strip novel Message to Adolf, now published in two volumes in English, is, indeed, about that Adolf -- or rather, as the opening words explain:

This is the story of three men named Adolf.
       Yes, one of them is Hitler himself, but the two other are, in fact, just young boys when the novel begins in 1936: baker's son Adolf Kamil is the son of German immigrants living in Kobe, while Adolf Kaufmann is the son of a German diplomat stationed there and his Japanese wife. They attend different schools but become friends -- but there's a problem: Kaufmann's father is a loyal Nazi, and Kamil is ... Jewish.
       The novel actually begins in Berlin, where journalist Sohei Toge is reporting on the 1936 Olympics. His brother Isao is a student in Germany at this time, and Isao desperately wants to pass something on to his brother, but by the time Sohei reaches him Isao has been murdered. Sohei dedicates himself to trying to figure out what happened, and why.
       The secret Isao wanted to pass on has to do with Hitler's identity -- proof of something that, if it becomes public: "will shock the whole world". The package containing the proof makes its way through several hands, including, when he's back in Japan, Sohei's, but inexplicably no one goes public with it. His obsession with finding the truth behind his brother's murder and his dedication to the truth costs Sohei practically everything, as he can't hold a job or get a place to stay -- though he does come across several women who quickly fall for him and try to help him out; one of them is one of the Adolfs' mothers.
       Meanwhile, Adolf Kaufmann is sent off to Germany, to boarding school at an elite Adolf Hitler School. He's an excellent little Nazi student, but his mixed-race status (mom is Japanese, after all, and even though they're allies of the Germans, Hitler considers them an inferior race, too) and lingering doubts about this whole idea of the Jews being the enemy cause him problems along the way. Nevertheless, in the thick of (Nazi) things, it's hard for him to escape the prevailing mood and ideology: he joins in the humiliation of Jews -- and worse. Much worse, as he runs into someone he knew from Kobe and is forced to do the unthinkable (that, at the time, was becoming commonplace).
       Time flies, and Kaufmann gets more entrenched in the Nazi system and ideology. Bad luck that he falls for a local Jewish girl, Elise Gerstheimer. Hearing that the local Jews are going to be rounded up and packed off to the camps he even warns her and her family to clear out in time -- and then even arranges to smuggle them out of the country -- but the plan doesn't work out quite as planned. Still, Elise escapes -- and Kaufmann turns to his friend Kamil back home to look after her, a decision that, of course, comes back to haunt him.
       Kaufmann manages to find favor with the Führer himself, and gets a position serving him -- giving him some insight into Hitler's troubled mind (and also confirming that the big, dark secret about the Führer is true). There are ups and downs, but eventually Kaufmann is sent back to Japan to retrieve the damaging package, and to settle some old scores. Years have passed, and the war is winding down, and Kaufmann finds much changed upon his return. For one, his mother has reasserted her Japanese identity -- something the Aryan-indoctrinated Kaufmann has difficulty accepting. But there's more -- and worse.
       Ultimately, Kaufmann is successful in his mission -- but by then it's too late. All has been lost, Hitler has been murdered (yes, Tezuka offers a slight spin on some historical facts along the way). In a curious coda, lost Kaufmann winds up in the Middle East and, two decades after the end of the war, continues the fight against the Jews, becoming a member of the Palestinian Liberation Front. He doesn't feel too great about what he's become -- "the worthless hitman that I am" -- but three guesses as to who is also in the area, a lieutenant in the Israeli army and whether or not it comes to a final showdown .....
       The story moves back and forth between Germany and Japan (with that coda in the Middle East). Among the most successful parts are those describing the changing situation as the Second World War progressed in the two countries that came out on the losing end. From Kaufmann's mother opening a restaurant to the terrible attacks on Japan to the treatment of the Jews in Germany, there are decent descriptive scenes. As to the main plot, it wears rather thin. From the truly cartoon evil characters to Kaufmann's tortured identity-issues, Tezuka's story is pretty basic in every respect -- though there is certainly enough action along the way.
       The odd handling of the big secret is particularly unfortunate. After all, these are:
Documents that would be fatal to the Nazis ! If a third party made them known worldwide, Hitler would fall and the Nazi philosophy itself would crumble. Millions of Jews would be saved !
       You'd think there'd be a sense of urgency about publicizing this stuff, but there hardly is. Admittedly, there are times -- especially later on -- when it's hard to find the proper party one might give the papers to, but certainly early on they really don't try very hard.
       The drawings in Message to Adolf are fine and occasionally marvelously expressive; the occasional shift from pure realism -- as in a rape scene -- is particularly impressive. But all in all this is all pretty basic stuff: a simplified overview of the Second World War (though Tezuka admirably does try top stuff a lot in here), personal conflicts that shift from black to white and back again quicker than the wind -- and a pretty bizarre and hurried way of tying it all together with that final showdown.
       Obviously, one can't separate text from illustrations here, but the text and story alone really are almost embarrassingly shallow, in every respect (the characters, the philosophy and morality, the history, etc. etc.), The illustrations make it all bearable, but even here there's a limited amount that really adds a creative dimension to the story that is being told. It's fine for the comic it is, I suppose, but it's not much more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 January 2013

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Links:

Message to Adolf: Reviews (* review of previous translation): Tezuka Osamu: Other books by Tezuka Osamu under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Prolific Japanese cartoonist Tezuka Osamu (手塚治虫) lived 1928 to 1989.

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© 2013 the complete review

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