Adolf 2: An Exile in Japan by Osamu Tezuka: A

From the back cover:
Japanese reporter Sohei Toge returns to his homeland, where he finally learns the secret that led to his brother’s brutal murder at the hands of the Gestapo. But now the Japanese secret police are on his tail, and the SS officer who tortured him in Germany has followed him to Japan to hush him up—permanently!

As fate would have it, Yukie Kaufmann, the Japanese widow of a high-ranking German Nazi, is Sohei’s only hope for survival. Meanwhile, Yukie’s son, Adolf, is being brainwashed by his teachers at an elite German school for the Hitler Youth. Why are they trying to make him hate Jews, including his best friend, Adolf Kamil!?

As the second volume of Tezuka’s masterful Adolf begins, two years have passed since the death of reporter Sohei Toge’s brother, Isao. Isao was in possession of documents that he believed would bring down Hitler, and Toge is trying to fulfill his promise to ensure that it happens.

Toge finally succeeds in locating the documents in the beginning of the volume, but his life rapidly deteriorates from there as Nazis, secret police, and foreign agents converge on him to try to claim the papers for themselves. He’s tortured, watched day and night, fired from his job, ousted from his residence, and ends up a destitute day laborer who experiences periodic visits from one especially determined investigator named Akabane.

All of this is quite riveting, but the accumulation of bad luck as hardship after hardship is heaped upon Toge makes for a painful read. When he’s mistakenly arrested for arson after losing the documents, his spirits are finally broken and he doesn’t even care if he’s charged and sent away. Of course, no rest waits for Toge, and after a brief interval in jail, he returns to a life of running, train-hopping, deserted islands, and shootouts, though with a kindly police detective on his side.

Most of this volume focuses on Toge, whose action-heavy story reads like a thriller and can be enjoyed extensively on that level. More disturbing and subtle are the glimpses we get of Adolf Kaufmann, whom we last saw as he was being unwillingly shipped off to the Adolf Hitler Schule to learn to be a good Nazi. While Adolf is doing exceptionally well academically, his tolerant attitude toward Jews doesn’t sit well with the school administrators. His top grades entitle him to receive an award from Hitler himself, and after a brief time in that charismatic man’s company, he comes out a changed boy, writing to his mother of his desire to shed blood for Germany, and beginning to parrot the rhetoric he’s read and heard about the inferiority of other races.

It was inevitable that Kaufmann’s innocence would be corrupted in this way, and there’s really nothing else he could do in such circumstances, but his transformation is, to me, a greater tragedy than the death of Isao or all of the misfortunes Toge endures. With his depiction of Kaufmann, Tezuka seems to have some sympathy for the regular citizens who were swept up in Nazi fervor, not unlike Americans who oppose the war but still support the troops who are waging it. We typically think of Nazis as the personification of evil, but the real truth is not so black-and-white.

My one regret with this volume is that it does not further the story of Adolf Kamil, the Jew living with his family in Kobe, at all. We know little of him, compared to Toge and Kaufmann, so perhaps he is not meant to be a star in his own right, but rather to represent a constant about which Kaufmann’s feelings will radically change through his experience in the Hitler Youth. The volume’s introduction does mention the racism he experiences as a non-Asian living in Japan, however, so perhaps there will be more to come later on.

I would not hesitate to call Adolf a manga classic. Like the best classics, it’s not only required reading, it’s also absorbing and unforgettable.

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