Adolf, written by the father of manga Tezuka Osamu, is not your basic average manga. Rather than using fluffy shoujo plot devices or muscly shounen characters, Adolf ties together three different worlds in a political thriller both intelligent and captivating.
Adolf, by father of manga Tezuka Osamu, is a microcosm of three distinct societies during the 1930s and 1940s: Japanese society, German society, and Jewish society. Using three main characters, Tezuka allows these three worlds to meet.
Toge Sohei is a Japanese reporter who finds himself in Germany at the time of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. On the final day of the Olympics, Sohei receives a frantic phone call from his brother and political activist Toge Isao. Isao, who lives in Germany, tells his brother that he has something to tell important to tell him, and begs him to arrive at 8 o’clock sharp. When the final competitions in the 1936 Berlin Olympics are delayed, Sohei, not understanding the urgency in his brother’s pleas, decides to stay until the end of the last competition.
Sohei arrives at his brothers flat at 10 p.m. to find the room in shambles and a broken window. His brother is missing. Looking through that broken window at a tree standing outside, he finds Isao’s bloodied corpse caught in the tree’s branches. Sohei is then caught by the Nazi police, tortured and questioned. And so begins Toge Sohei’s hatred of the Nazi party and his pursuit of justice for his beloved brother. His quest continues when he returns to Kobe, Japan after his boss forces him to return from Germany.
Adolf Kaufmann is the son of German diplomat Wolfgang Kaufmann, who works at the German consulate in Kobe, and his wife Yukie, a Japanese woman. Adolf is thus raised on the ideals of the Nazi party, but he constantly questions its ideas on Jewish people. His best friend is a German Jew also living in Kobe, and Adolf cannot understand how his best friend, a good and moral person, can be filthy or of an inferior-race.
Adolf Kamil is a German Jewish boy living in Kobe with his father Isaac Kamil and his mother Malte Kamil who run a pastry shop. Although his family shows a deep-seated hatred of the Nazi party, Adolf Kamil befriends Adolf Kaufmann at school, and they become best friends. Despite their parents’ disapproval, the two boys continue to meet, and Adolf Kamil ends up sharing his deepest secret with Adolf Kaufmann.
This manga’s plot is a masterpiece. Using history as a base, Tezuka spins the tales of three unique individuals whose lives spark an intriguing plot ripe with political commentary.
Adolf is an extremely intelligent work. Rather than using melodrama to keep the reader hooked and to propel the plot forward, Tezuka constructs a political intrigue that ensnares the reader from the first chapter. Murder, disappearances, and liaisons with geishas are just a few of the grittier elements used to veil the manga in mystery. But this plot is rooted in the Europe and Japan of the 1940s. Tezuka uses historical context as a springboard by intertwining the fiction carefully with significant historical events from the period.
The flawed nature of the protagonists contributes to the realism of this manga. While basically good people, this does not prevent them from displaying loyalty to the political ideals of the time or occasionally committing crimes. Tezuka also masterfully demonstrates the effect of society on the individual. Adolf convincingly illustrates how a good person can be brainwashed to believe what he or she originally knew was wrong.
Even more interesting is the way that Tezuka portrays the government. Rather than blame the government in and of itself for all of the pain and suffering caused by World War II, Tezuka points a finger at the individual. The government as an institution is not bad; rather, it is the people who run it and their decisions that are wrong.
The action and mystery of this manga are also fantastic. The reader never really knows what is going to happen next, but this is done in a way that is both reasonable and well organized. In a story with three main characters whose goals are different, the mangaka is challenged with the task of transitioning between their stories in a sensible manner. If the mangaka is unable to achieve this effect, his or her manga will be clunky and difficult to understand. Tezuka never fails to meet this challenge. He more than sensibly transitions between the characters’ stories and skillfully ensnares them into a shared destiny.
Tezuka Osamu’s artwork is incredibly unique. Often called “manga no kami-sama,” which translates to the “god of manga,” Tezuka is considered the father of manga as we know it. His style draws greatly upon the animation styles of his time. Many mangakas have drawn inspiration from his style, resulting in many manga series whose artwork looks similar to Tezuka’s, however Tezuka’s style is truly his own.
Adolf is drawn in Tezuka’s typical style, which helps the realistic aesthetic. Many modern mangaka avoid drawing characters that are not aesthetically pleasing. Tezuka, however, draws a much more accurate portrait of society. Although his characters are drawn in a style that can definitely be considered “cartoony,” he draws characters in all shapes and sizes while at the same time paying attention to certain physical characteristics that differ between Asians and Europeans.
Tezuka’s political commentary is only enhanced by his realistic depictions of the manga’s settings. Tezuka distinguishes between eastern and western with great finesse, but without making the two societies seem so far apart that the connection between his characters seems unfounded. Rather he uses the westernization of Japan at the time to expertly intertwine European and Japanese culture. He also makes sure to accurately portray the war without being overly graphic, allowing the reader to truly grasp the historical context.
Readers will most likely find Adolf‘s artwork refreshing. It is very different from the style of modern mangakas and it fits perfectly with the sort of plot that it is used to portray. It is not a style characterized by beautiful and effeminate men or big-breasted women, but one deeply anchored in reality.
Adolf is a classic manga everyone interested in the genre should read. Even if historical fiction or political commentaries are not normally your style, you should still read this manga. It is a great window into the roots of the medium that has become manga as we know it.
History buffs should especially enjoy this manga, as it is an excellent work of historical fiction. However, an extensive knowledge of world history is not necessary to enjoy this manga.
Because of the content of this manga, I would recommend that it be read by those 16 and up. It is not a kid’s manga and its content is more appropriate for an older audience. This is due in part to sexual content. While not graphic, events of a sexual nature are portrayed between the characters.
Young audiences will also most likely be unable to enjoy the richest parts of this manga. Its political commentary is not that complicated, however, it will be much more easily grasped and much better appreciated by older readers.
This manga is worth your time and effort. Whether its genre is normally your cup of tea or not, it’s worth a read. At only five volumes, it is also a series that is not terribly time-consuming to read. Adolf will not disappoint.