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"This is the story of three men named Adolf. Each Adolf lived a life that was very different from that of the other two… yet the three of them were bound together by a single twist of fate. Now that the last Adolf has died, I will recount the story for those who follow…"

Adolf: A Tale Of The Twentieth Century


And so begins what many manga fans regard as the greatest achievement of the late Osamu Tezuka - "Adolf". A series nearly 1300 pages long, and spanning decades, "Adolf" is, if nothing else, an ambitious project.

The premise is simple: Tezuka sets out to explore the Second World War through the eyes of three different protagonists. First, there is the young Adolf Kaufmann, son of a high-ranking German diplomat on duty in Japan. Confused about his identity, and confronted with racism from the Japanese, he befriends the son of the local baker, Adolf Kamil. Kamil is from a Jewish family who moved to Japan in the years leading up to the war when they realised where the tide of opinion in Germany was heading. The two bond instantly, united by their differences & the racism of the Japanese community.

This theme is one Tezuka returns to many times over the course of the five books; that racism isn't always perpetrated by white men; that hatred & discrimination on the basis of colour is a universal phenomenon.

The final Adolf in this tale, is, of course, Adolf Hitler. There has been some criticism of Tezuka's portrayal of Hitler, which I'll come back to later.

"Adolf" begins at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The National Socialists are in power, and the seeds are being sown that will lead Germany, and the rest of the world, into war.
Sohei Toge is working as a reporter for a Japanese newspaper covering the Games when he receives a mysterious phonecall from his brother, telling him of a secret that "will throw the Nazi party into utter chaos". They arrange to meet later, but Sohei is delayed & by the time he gets away, his brother is dead.

From here things spiral out of Sohei's control. His brother's body disappears, and the authorities deny all knowledge. Sohei is drawn into the underbelly of German pre-war politics in search of answers, answers that end up nearly killing him.

Over the course of the next four books, Tezuka deftly juggles Toge's obsessive quest with the tale of the three Adolfs, slipping easily from one to another, slowly unravelling the threads that tie them all together.

Midway through the story, Tezuka reveals the secret that Toge's brother had stumbled upon, and it nearly kills the story dead.
Without spoiling it for anyone who's yet to read "Adolf", suffice to say that this revelation stretches credulity, and it casts a shadow over the final books that seems unjust.
However, if you're prepared to look beyond, you'll discover that what seemed ludicrous at first actually lets Tezuka explore his thoughts on race & the nature of hatred in more depth than may have otherwise been possible.

As the final war years approach, the story picks up pace & former friends find themselves pitted against each other in battle & in love, a conflict that will destroy the bonds they once shared.

"Adolf" certainly isn't without it's flaws, namely in it's depiction of real-life figures who were central to the war, but Tezuka never claimed that this was going to be a history textbook. Even so, some of these misfiring characterisations may ruin the story for some.

As an accurate record of the war, "Adolf" falls down, but as a powerful & thought-provoking look at another side of the 20th century's greatest conflict it succeeds admirably.

"…and they in turn will pass it on to their descendants, so that billions all over the world may give some thought to what this thing called "justice" really is… it's just a little dream of mine…"

Adolf: 1945 And All That Remains

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