Considered the “godfather of manga,” Osamu Tezuka is internationally renowned for his iconic Astro Boy. Introduced in Japan in 1951 as Tetsuwan Atom (Mighty Atom), Tezuka’s signature creation remains an international phenomenon across multiple platforms, rising off the page and landing in television, films, video games, and every product that could possibly be sold with an adorable little android decoration; in fact, the animated serial incarnation of Astro Boy is regarded as the progenitor of the pop culture genre known as anime. In spite of the charming little robot’s legions of young devotees, Tezuka’s initial creative impetus was clearly a personal response to the death and destruction associated with Nagasaki and Hiroshima which ended World War II just six years before: Tezuka baptized his robot Tetsuwan Atom – think atom bomb – for obvious reasons.
While that darkness in Astro Boy was mostly glossed over with irrepressible cuteness, Message to Adolf – which debuted in Japan in the 1980s, not long before Tezuka’s death in 1989 – has no such sugar-coating. Be warned: Message is quite possibly Tezuka’s most violent, disturbing work, and surely not meant for younger readers.
“This is the story of three men named Adolf,” the manga begins. “Now that the last of the Adolfs lies here dead, I would like to relate their tale for future generations,” the narrator offers. That narrator, Sohei Toge, is a Japanese journalist who promises to avenge his younger brother after he’s murdered in Berlin, Germany, for stumbling upon a secret so shocking it could destroy Hitler and the Nazi party. Toge willingly risks everything he has – his career, his relationships, his freedom, even his humanity – to protect his brother’s secret and seek justice.
Meanwhile, back in Japan, two younger Adolfs are coming of age in the mid-1930s, just as Hitler’s power matures. Adolf Kaufmann, in spite of a Japanese mother, is the perfect Aryan prototype; his father is a powerful German consulate official who’s been stationed in Kobe, Japan for 15 years, whose Nazi ties have turned him into a lying, cheating murderer. Adolf Kamil, who also lives in Kobe with his Jewish parents who run a bakery, whose family managed to escape Germany just in time, is Kaufmann’s best friend, but the two boys are not allowed to play together because of their vastly different backgrounds. Kaufmann is sent to Germany against his wishes to be trained as a proper Nazi. Kamil discovers the same secret that killed Toge’s brother. Meanwhile, Toge will do anything to find his brother’s papers which contain the evidence that could change history …
A previous English translation in five volumes appeared in 1995 from VIZ Media and is out of print (although Amazon has both new and used copies), but this new Vertical, Inc. edition is apparently much closer to Tezuka’s original. “Dear Readers,” an endnote explains, “Social situations have changed a lot since Osamu Tezuka’s works were written and some expressions incorporated in the works, which were accepted at the time, may seem awkward today. However, what underlies his work is his strong love of humanity … Now as we distribute his works, it is our intention to present the original materials faithfully, as we have done with his many translated books.”
At 650 pages, this is still just half the story [part 2 hits shelves in November]. At 650 pages, it’s also such an action-packed, never-pausing adventure, you’ll probably end up reading it in one sitting. Even as we know better, the hopeful thought that history might have somehow been changed keeps the pages turning swiftly; that lure of ‘what-if’ proves irresistible.
Published: 2012 (United States)