Osamu Tezuka is one of the giants of manga. While he’s best known for Astro Boy, he has an extensive list of works most Westerners are unaware of. But Vertical has recently made one more of his books available in English: his espionage thriller Message to Adolf. Part 2 has just been released and you can read on for the review. (For a review of Part 1, click here.)
Back Cover Blurb
In part two of Message to Adolf, with World War II escalating things have become quite heated for the Adolfs. Adolf Kaufman is now enrolled in a Hitler Youth Academy. While there he quickly is taught to distinguish between races and religions. He would eventually hand out stars of David to Jews in his community. His work, some of which would be physically difficult, would lead to a visit with the Führer. Unfortunately as young Kaufman would reach such heights, he like Kamil and Toge before him would find out that Hitler may have a very heavy secret he is hiding.
While “secondary character” Toge dominates Volume 1 of Message to Adolf, Volume 2 focuses predominantly on Adolf Kaufmann, the half-Japanese boy who gets shipped off to Adolf Hitler School. It follows his Nazi indoctrination, and you sympathize with his plight as he struggles to reconcile Hitler’s ideals with his mixed ethnic heritage and his friendship with Jew Adolf Kamil. To complicate matters, Kaufmann falls in love with Elisa, a Jewish girl, and on top of that, discovers by accident the secret of Hitler’s lineage.
All these factors add up to mold Kaufmann into an SD officer with a twisted personality. Having gained Hitler’s favor, he devotes himself wholeheartedly to the Nazis, but he must continually delude himself to justify the inconsistencies between the Nazi worldview and reality – not the least of which is the fact that the Fuehrer is part Jewish. But he can’t completely ignore his conscience. En route through the Arctic Ocean via submarine, he nearly loses his grip on sanity as the ghosts of the hundreds of Jews he’s murdered come to haunt him.
In a sense, Kaufman is a reflection of the entire Nazi party. Blinded by patriotism and fervor, Hitler’s deranged minions carry out his brutal and pointless orders unquestioningly while anyone trying to be a voice of reason gets killed off as a traitor. Even after Hitler’s paranoia nearly results in Kaufmann’s execution, Kaufmann remains loyal despite knowing that his Fuehrer isn’t right in the head. And the decline of Kaufmann’s fortunes in the SD coincide with the Nazis’ fall on the world stage.
As for the other Adolfs, Hitler serves mainly as a caricature of himself. A couple times Tezuka-sensei does show him agonizing about his impure heritage. Other than that, he’s just a standard crazed dictator. Meanwhile, back in Japan, Kamil continues the espionage arc and also provides Kaufmann someone to hate when he returns to Japan.
The impetus for Kaufmann’s return, of course, is the secret documents. But although intrigue remains an element of the plot, the main drama arises when the Nazi-brainwashed Kaufmann clashes with the people he once knew. In fact, the fall of Germany turns the Hitler documents into a non-issue, but the story continues past World War II to show how utterly Nazi doctrine estranges Kaufmann from former loved ones and ruins his life.
As in Volume 1, Tezuka-sensei doesn’t hesitate to depict the worst of humanity. Between the Nazi party and Japanese militarists, Volume 2 includes torture, rape, and genocide as well as the harrowing aftermath of war strikes. However, Tezuka-sensei’s intent clearly isn’t to glorify violence but to warn against it, and his illustrations of the casualties of war aren’t nearly as graphic as, say, Barefoot Gen.
Although the manga opener states that this story is about three Adolfs, the half-Japanese Nazi officer Adolf Kaufmann gets the lion’s share of the narrative in Volume 2. While the Hitler documents do remain as a plot driver to torment Adolf Hitler, these chapters are less cat and mouse espionage and more a commentary on Nazi atrocities and the horrors of human violence in general. Tezuka-sensei keeps the content from getting dry with the grudge that arises between Kaufmann and his former Jewish friend Kamil, but the story does takes a preachy tone at its conclusion.
First published at the Fandom Post.