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September 26, 2012

Bento Bako Lite: Message to Adolf part 1

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Message to Adolf
Author: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Volume: Part 1, $26.95 (HC)
Vintage: 1983-1985 by Bungei Shunju, August 2012 by Vertical Inc.
Genre: Historical drama, historical fiction, WWII

Message to Adolf is the story of three Adolfs: the infamous Adolf Hitler; a Jewish son of a baker in Japan, Adolf Kamil; and the son of a German consul and his Japanese wife living in Japan, Adolf Kaufmann. The story of Kamil and Kaufmann is entwined with the story of Japanese journalist Sohei Toge during the early days of WWII (at least for this first part). Toge receives an urgent message from his brother Isao in 1936 while covering the Olympics in Germany. Isao asks Toge to come see him immediately, but Toge is delayed. When he arrives at his younger brother’s house, it is too late; the apartment has been ransacked, and Toge soon finds his brother dead just outside. The death of his brother launches Toge on an unbelievable search for a collection of important documents that hold the key to toppling the Nazi party. Unfortunately, Toge gets no help from the government in Germany, and in fact everyone acts like Isao never existed. Toge has few leads, but he follows them like a man possessed, and eventually comes into contact with Isao’s girlfriend. Unfortunately, she is related to a German Gestapo who would do anything to get the information in the illusive documents, and believe Toge is the key to finding them. The officer, Lamp, hounds Toge all over Germany and back to Japan, but he is not Toge’s only concern. In Japan, Toge finally tracks down the documents he’s been searching for in the hands of Isao’s former teacher Miss Ogi. Unfortunately, Miss Ogi is being tailed by Special Police Inspector Akabane, and he wants those documents as desperately as Lamp. By chance, Toge runs into Yukie Kamil, the mother of Adolf Kamil, and receives unexpected aide from her. Unwilling to burden her, he quickly leaves, but finds that the police have made is nearly impossible for him to find a job or a place to live. In a vicious confrontation with Akabane, Toge is arrested and loses the documents he has made it his sole purpose in life to protect. As Germany marches on Poland, Toge finds himself questioned by the sympathetic Detective Nigawa. He tells Nigawa everything, and together they go on a search for the missing Akabane and the documents. Lamp is on their tail, however, and the ultimate confrontation ends up with more than one person dead.

Adolf Kaufmann is a young, innocent lad born to a German Consul and a Japanese woman. His father is a loyal member of the Nazi party, but got mixed up in the murder of a popular geisha while searching for the same documents that brought tragedy to Toge. Young Kaufmann, in defiance of his father’s wishes, is best friends with Adolf Kamil, a Jewish boy living in Japan. Kaufmann’s father demands that the friendship end immediately, and even enrolls Adolf into the Hitler Youth and an Adolf Hitler School in Germany. Adolf adamantly refuses, fearing that the Hitler Youth will make him hate Jews, and in effect, his best friend. Before his death, his father ensures that Adolf will be sent to Germany to become a Hitler Youth despite his mother’s protests and the boy’s unwillingness. Once in Germany and enrolled in the AHS, Kaufmann changes, fully embracing the Nazi ideology that is impressed upon the young men at the school. The one thing holding him back is his friendship with Adolf Kamil, which will not allow him to believe the Nazi’s ideas of the Jews as evil monsters. These confused feelings cause his performance at school to suffer, so he is chosen for a special assignment. Adolf Kamil, meanwhile, is fairly safe in Japan, but faces plenty of prejudice because he is white. His father is politically involved, and stays on top of news from Germany and the rest of Easter Europe. Eventually, his father is called upon to travel to Lithuania and bring Jewish refugees into Japan through China, but the trip goes horribly wrong.

Oh man, it’s been a while since I wrote a manga review. This is a great title to help me get back into the swing of things. Even at 647 pages. Yep, this hard cover collection is massive, but Vertical has done an amazing job with its presentation. Not that Tezuka needs much help, and this attempt in particular is especially marvelous. Tezuka put a lot of dedication, research, and care into these pages, both with the story and the highly detailed artwork, and Vertical has given it a stellar treatment. The bulk of the story, as is probably obvious from my summary above, centers on Sohei Toge. He is not only the narrator, but the thread that ties everything together. Well, technically the valuable documents are, but Toge is a living, active connection. The movement of the documents relies a lot on his choices. If there’s a hero in this story, it’s definitely Toge, whose athletic prowess as a former star track runner gives him an almost super-human edge. Throw in handsome, intelligent, and near suicidally brave, and it’s no wonder he draws so much attention (at least three women fall in love with him to top it off). I have so far avoided mentioning what the basis for this story is, what information is in those mysterious documents. If you don’t want to know, just know that this book is excellent, and move along. Tezuka draws on the conspiracy that Adolf Hitler himself was a Jew. Given how strongly the hatred and destruction of Jews resonates on the Nazi platform, such knowledge would topple Hitler and cripple the party. It makes for a great action-packed, high tension story. But of course, this being Tezuka, Message to Adolf is so much more. It’s also an exploration of humanity, of loyalty and deception. Watching Adolf Kaufmann struggle under his father’s Nazi-inspired rules, and later slowly transform from innocent boy to executioner in the Hitler Youth and AHS, is heartbreaking and very telling. Tezuka presents the pressures of conforming under such a strict regime with realism and care, but he doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the situation either. His depiction of Hitler himself is fantastic, filled with expressive and artistic interpretation that captures Hitler’s passion for theatrics. Tezuka even makes mention of the ties between Hitler and his love for Richard Wagner’s operas. The book’s official summary presents Adolf Kamil as an important element to the story, but he plays a small role in this collection, though things are set up for him to play a much larger part in the second collection (which comes out in November). Whether you’re a history buff or a manga fan, you should absolutely pick this volume up.




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