Message to Adolf is a title I have heard a lot about, but never had a chance to read since it was first released in English by Viz back in the mid nineties, and volumes are difficult to come by. But Vertical has solved that problem by re-releasing the series in a 2 volume omnibus set in hardback. Finally being given the chance to read this, I had to take it and see what everyone was talking about. Like so many of Tezuka’s other thrillers, Message to Adolf is a provocative and compelling read, but like the subject matter, not for the faint of heart.
Message to Adolf is about three men named Adolf; Kamil, a Jew who lives in Kobe, Japan, Kaufman, the son of a German Consulate father and Japanese mother who also lives in Kobe, and of course, Hitler. At the heart of the story is some secret information about Hitler, that if is got out, could bring down Hitler and the Nazi party. Both of the boys as well as a Japanese reporter named Sohei Toge become involved in the search for the information that the Nazis will do anything to keep from getting out. This first volume shows what lengths they will go to with Toge, while Kamil and Kaufman try and stay friends despite their families, but it becomes difficult as Kaufman is sent to Germany to an AHS, a Hitler Youth school, where he is indoctrinated in Nazism.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading so many of the mature Tezuka titles that have come out lately, it’s that he knows how to write a good thriller. This title is no different. It’s filled with lots of action, as people are hunted and chased, and as in the case of Toge, getting beat up. A lot. Toge gets a lot of the focus in this first volume as he searches for the information that is tied to the death of his younger brother that he also wants justice for. He is beaten and tortured by both the SS and the Japanese special police, but he never wavers in his convictions. His reward for this seems to have women fall for him, even though he is too clueless to notice their attention, much like Gohomatsu from Swallowing the Earth. There are plenty of chases, with a big battle on a small island with an SS agent.
While I enjoyed all the action, it was the anti-war sentiment that ran throughout the volume that really fascinated me. Throughout the volume, there would be short scenes showing the change in Japan to a more militaristic and imperialistic nation. It starts with the 2-26 incident in 1936, and continues with scenes of the military gain more control in the government, the battles against China, and the growing propaganda at home to keep the people supporting the wars. Tezuka uses both words and images to not-so-subtly show his disdain for what the Japanese government was doing.
His take on the Germans and Nazis was also interesting. There are a lot of shades of grey with in them. Through Kaufman’s father, we see how loyalty to the Nazi party slowly changes him into someone dark and eventually takes his life. He does terrible things, but when on his deathbed, he doesn’t seem so monstrous. Even Hitler gets a little humanized when he meets Kaufman and some of his classmates because of their academic performance. You can almost imagine him being just another leader when he’s smiling and talking with the boys. He doesn’t seem the scary visage that is usually used to portray him. Kaufman’s difficulty in reconciling the teachings in the AHS and his personal feelings really ring true. He is taught that Jews are vile, but he can’t imagine his friend, Kamil as being anything like he’s told. And then there’s his own mixed blood. Before he goes to Germany, he’s ready to give up his German citizenship to stay in Japan. But after so much indoctrination, he is ready to give up his Japanese heritage to be a pure blood German. But his conflicting emotions don’t stop there, as he becomes infatuated with a Jewish girl, Elsa.
The most disturbing part of this volume is at the end, when Kamil’s father, Isaac, goes to Europe to try to help some fellow Jews. He loses his papers and is rounded up and sent to a Jewish camp. He becomes part of a group of Jews that are used to teach boys from the AHS essentially how to kill. Kaufman kills Isaac more it seem to keep the others from finding out that he knows him than from anything else. It’s really disturbing how easily Kaufman could turn his back on Isaac, knowing he was the father of the boy he considered his best friend. What made the scene more disturbingly real is the way the boys reacted after killing a human. They weren’t shown to be excited or happy. They were nervous to do it, and then sick and vomiting afterwards. That their instructor assured them it would get easier was just sickening.
Message to Adolf takes a very stark look at a dark period in both Japan and Germany, but does so in a very personal manner. Through the eyes of the three protagonists, we are shown both the good and the bad in people, and how easily circumstances can change a person’s fate. It really is a compelling read, but the dark and violent nature of the title makes it a difficult one for me to want to re-read. Vertical’s presentation of volume is excellently done, as usual, with a well made hardcover and stitched instead of glued pages. I would highly recommend Message to Adolf, not just to fans of Tezuka, but to anyone with an interest in Japanese or World War II history. There are some good insights, and good reasons why this is a history that shouldn’t be repeated.
Review copy provided by publisher.