Adolf 1: A Tale of the Twentieth Century by Osamu Tezuka: A

adolf1From the back cover:
On the eve of World War II, the destinies of three men named “Adolf”—including the infamous dictator of Germany’s Third Reich—became inexorably intertwined…

I had already requested Adolf via interlibrary loan when Connie posted her excellent review of the series at Manga Recon. You can see what she has to say about it here.

In this later work, serialized between 1983 and 1985, Tezuka masterfully intertwines the stories of three men (though two are technically boys) named Adolf. The story begins in the summer of 1936, when Japanese journalist Sohei Toge is in Berlin covering the Olympics. His brother, Isao, is enrolled at the university there and when a suspenseful competition keeps Sohei from making it to a prearranged meeting with his brother, he arrives a couple of hours late to find his Isao’s body in a tree with what seems to be plaster dust under his nails, a clue that reminds Toge of the murder of a geisha he reported on back in Japan. Some policemen promptly show up and carry the body off, but when Toge makes his own way to the precinct they claimed to be from, nobody knows anything about the incident.

Thus begins Toge’s quest to find out what happened, aided by some initials Isao left behind on a scrap of paper, anonymous phone calls, and a woman named Rita who claims she was in love with Isao until he became obsessed with some radical groups on campus. In a riveting sequence, Toge is captured by Nazis just as he locates his brother’s body in a shallow grave and is tortured because, it is revealed later, Isao didn’t have what they were looking for and they believe he managed to pass it on to his brother. Toge’s story comes to a pause in 1936 after he brutally beats and, it is implied, rapes Rita after discovering her true allegiances. Probably we are supposed to excuse this because of all of his anger, fear, and frustration, but it (and the aftermath) is really quite horrible.

Next, the setting shifts to Japan where we encounter two boys named Adolf living in the city of Kobe. Adolf Kaufmann is the son of a German father and Japanese mother. His dad is a staunch Nazi supporter and forbids his son from befriending Adolf Kamil, a Jewish boy whose family runs a bakery. Kauffman can’t understand why it isn’t okay to play with Adolf, since he’s German too, and some poignant moments ensue when people attempt to essentially destroy his innocence with their views of Jews as an inferior race. Kamil’s parents aren’t keen on his friendship with Kaufmann, either. The boys’ story intertwines with that of Toge because Kaufmann’s dad is involved both with the murder of the geisha as well as the search for the information Isao was supposedly in possession of, and when, in 1938, the boys stumble upon this revolutionary bit of information, the fallout isn’t pleasant and ultimately results in Kaufmann being reluctantly shipped off to Germany to attend a school for Hitler youth.

As Connie attested in her review, Adolf is quite amazing. Tezuka’s storytelling is supremely skilled, combining passages of narration with an economical and cinematic visual flow that sweeps one along quite effortlessly. There are no awkward moments, nothing unnecessary, and though one might wish for a little more time spent on, say, the anguish of Adolf Kaufmann’s mother as her world falls apart, the fact remains that she is but a small part of this epic tale. In this grim world, only the children are truly innocent, but one wonders how long that will last; although the boys plan to reunite and remain friends, Kaufmann will undoubtedly be changed by his experiences in Germany while the security of Kamil’s parents in Kobe might be in peril.

By reading only the first volume, I feel I’ve just barely scratched the surface on what will surely develop to be an incredible series. Some awful things occur here, and some awful things are set in motion, and yet reading Adolf ultimately is a pleasurable experience simply because it is so very well done. Rest assured that, even before I finished this volume, my ILL request for volume two was submitted.

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  1. Great stuff. I really couldn’t believe just how firmly the first volume grabbed me, but it really starts to get going in two and three. There’s a lot of terrible things happening, and some of it stayed with me long after I finished.

    Will you be able to ILL the whole series?

    • I hope so. I’m doing it a volume at a time otherwise, like, volume 4 will come in when I’m still lacking 2 and 3. The paperback versions seem to be held in a number of in-state libraries, though, so that bodes well.


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