Saturday, September 29, 2012

Adolf's Secret Essays

(Alternate title; Hitler's Secret Essays)

With Vertical's re-licensing of the legendary Tezuka Adolph Manga (retitled to Message to Adolph), I thought it would be prudent to share the five individual essays that were present at the beginning of Viz's Cadence Books, along with my thoughts while reading this piece of work for the first time.  This isn't the first Manga to have an essay beforehand, but it's the most notable.  Other examples include an introduction to Domu, which is another Katsuhiro Otomo Manga deserving of wider recognition.  Another is an introduction to the anthology, Four Shoujo Stories, which had an aborted print run because the Manga creators didn't want their works compiled together.

The Adolf essay authors are as follows; Fredrik Schodt, Yuji Oniki, Matt Thorn, Annette Roman and Gerard Jones.  If there's any objections from any of the authors to having their introductions printed without permission, I'll take down the download link immediately.
http://slightlybiasedmanga.com/category/series/adolf/

In tribute to Covered's sudden retirement, I thought it'd be interesting to compare the American covers with the Japanese ones.  The realistic art come from some of Viz's editorial staff.  There's also some alternate covers that can be found here:

Adolf: A Tale of the Twentieth Century 

Although this is the first volume, I wouldn't get to read this book until I ordered it MUCH later, when I'd already finished the rest of the series.  Before the Tokyopop Manga Explosion, there was a deprivation of available English Manga when I was beginning to grow an increasingly taste for more of the stuff, forcing me to scour the backlog of past books in a hope to feed my increasing addiction.  When you're in need of a fix, you're willing to try anything new, even if you know you'll hate it in the process.  I got the two Yoshihisa Tagami Mangas, Horobi (a talking heads monster story) and Grey, a dystopian future.  I reluctantly picked up the Nausicca Manga Perfect collection with the itty-bitty page size.  I collected Rebel Sword and Venus Wars both by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, and released by Dark Horse.  I even collected the rather boring 2001 Nights once I'd gotten everything else.

My formula for getting any new comic was based on whether I'd read it beforehand, whether it was worth rereading a second time, and whether I would be able to get the whole story available.  I first became aware of Adolf when I saw that there were volumes of the stuff offered at comic book conventions at a discount.  But these were always the later books, and never the first.  Naturally, I declined paying for them, because why get something if you don't have the whole story?  Sadly, I passed over some Ranma 1/2 and Maison Ikkoku volumes that were going for $5 each when those books were selling for 4 times that amount at the Canadian price.  I foolishly thought I would get a second chance at the next convention when I brought some more money.

Coming into this after having already read the rest of the story revolving around the possibility of secret documents revealing Hitler's Jewish lineage, I was rather less than impressed with the overall setup.  The story begins and ends at an Israeli graveyard, with the claim that it's about three different men named Adolf.  Actually, it starts off with a sports reporter named Sohei, and doesn't begin to focus on the other Adolfs until about 100 pages in.  Starting out, Adolf Kaufmann, and Adolf Kamil, a German and a Jew are good friends, but circumstances will eventually drive them apart, despite all their attempts to prevent doing so otherwise.  Surprisingly enough, while mentioned as one of the three topical men, Hitler has the least screentime as the other Adolfs.

Interestingly enough, both covers deal with a dead body, but the Japanese version focuses on Sohei's brother's body, while the American version has the murdered Geisha, who winds up getting more investigation details later in the story.  In fact, she shows up more often even though she's dead, while Sohei's brother is practically an afterthought in comparison.  Special attention should be paid to the schoolkid with the letter where only the words "Der Fuhrer" can be seen.  The next two words, "Ist Jude" are only revealed inside, revealing a deep dark secret that would be the driving force of the story.

An Exile in Japan

For many who missed out on the first book, this would most likely be most people's introduction to the Manga.  It also brings a much more comprehensive explanation of the MacGuffin secret documents that would be the overall driving source of the story.  In the first book, it would be regulated to background rumours and such, and was only fully fleshed out and clarified here.  The rumours of the Fuhrer's Jewish ancestry was quite surprising the first time I read it.  I was used to Manga's style of cartoony expressions, so I wasn't put off by Sohei's exaggerated reaction to the documents, but didn't exactly feel drawn into reading more.  I skimmed ahead with the intent of seeing whether it would improve, and it never quite felt polished.  Turns out I wasn't alone in my disatisfaction with the craft of the dialogue and narration.

This volume also stars my favorite of Tezuka's star characters, the eternally grinning mustachoid man, Hamegg.  (Better known as Astro Boy's circus slavedriver)  He deals a tremendous amount of escalating violence and mental torture on Sohei in order to get the secret documents.  What's remarkable is that despite the amount of unwarranted brutality dealt out, when Hamegg gets his comeuppance later, it pales in comparison to the damage he's done to the point that you begin to feel sorry for him.  Quite a remarkable feat to accomplish for such a reprehensible man.

I'm quite enamoured with Hamegg's overall appearance, simply because no other character quite looks like him.  It's not apparent at first, but the coolest incarnation of Hamegg would have to be Mudou, the scarf-wearing youth-balls villain in Kekkaishi.  Also check out Hamegg and Lamp's appearance in the BlackJack DS game, which looks like a cross between Trauma Team and Elite Beat Agents.  Needless to say, this game has never been attempted to try be translated, because of so much ingrained Manga text balloons and Lampe's portrayal as a Nazi agent in Adolf.

What really put me off was how after all the torture and suffering that Sohei goes through to save the documents, he winds up losing them along with everybody he's with and the book ends in an awful cliffhanger that felt like a pretty definitive ending.  After going through the wringer so many times, who would want to bother continuing to read some more?  That's probably why Vertical released Adolf as an omnibus collection, because they wouldn't want to scare off potential readers who'd been punished for investing so much of themselves into this story.

The Half-Aryan

After the depressing events of the last book, you'd think they'd relieve the tension of the fate of the secret documents, but no, the scene shifts instead to a female bartender who's taken a liking to Sohei, and agrees to help him recupperate.  Needless to say, it takes a good 40 pages before the documents are verified to be safe.  The act of delaying the reveal is very maddening for someone not accustomed to this kind of thing.

For anyone thinking that it would be far-fetched for a Jewish couple to be living in Japan, far away from prying Nazi eyes Japan wasn't the only Asian country to provide a safe haven; but China as well.  The story of how a Jewish family travelled there can be found in the biography Ten Green Bottles.

Near the end, there's a certain panel of a Jewish couple praying in a Christian manner (on their knees) rather than the typical autistic rocking method.  This is a minor technical mistake in a Manga noted for historical accuracy, and a footnote was added rather than change the artwork to reflect the correct religious method.  Though the confusion is understandable.  There are various methods of Jewish prayer, not just limited to going to the Synagogue, but also whether there's 10 men present, different rituals for men and women, torah readings, candle lightings, blessing foods, etc, etc.  Not to mention that visually speaking, kneeling with your hands clapsed together is a more striking image.  Judaism is notoriously famous for actively discourage anybody into joining their faith.  They don't want any namby-panby followers - they want people who'll actually want to go the distance of going to the trouble of following their traditions.  But then, Adolf is more about WWII as seen from a Japanese persepctive than a Jewish one.  Nowhere is this more evident than the focus of the next book: Ramsey.

Days of Infamy

Adolf Kamil decides to employ some outside help from Richard Sorge's information network in making the best use of the incriminating Hitler documents.  This was the first time I'd ever heard of Ramsey, and showed how differently other countries can focus on certain details depending on the realm they're in.  Russia is closer to Japan's waters, so it makes sense that they'd have more political ramfications there.

It also has the most references to the 1st book, particularly the murdered Geisha who continues to get screentime beyond the grave.  Interestingly enough, even though there's some inquiry over her past from what anybody who'd read the first book would know, the characters themselves have no idea who killed her.  (The killer's face is blocked out by a word balloon)

For the most part, the first half suffers from an exeunt of trivia and soap Opera-ish tendencies that dull an otherwise intriguing story.  The romantic elements that crop up feels amateurish and out of place, particularly the exposition of the characters spouting lines such as; "Why do I feel this way? I can't stop thinking about her!"  But it makes up for that with the second half, with Adolf Kaufmann's fully embracing the Nazi role he'd so heavily resisted during the early years of his life.  This is further exacerbated with Hitler's continuing internal rambling shouting tendencies that would be the foundation for the hundreds of Downfall Youtube parodies.  There's probably some unwritten rule requiring all dictators to do so.

One of the hallmarks of Manga is its ability to portray a series of events in such a way that the reader becomes emotionally invested.  If I'm not feeling a sense of being there, then the author/artist has failed to convey that sense of emotion in the story, and I consider the work to be wasted.  To this day, I STILL get chills while reading the  DragonBall Saiyan Saga.  That's generally what I get when Adolf Eichman goes on his definitive journey back to Japan.

1945 and All that Remains

This is where it all comes together or falls apart under of its weight.  The two Adolfs finally meet each other again in a tearful reunion after nearly a decade apart.  But it soon becomes apparent that their ideologies are completely incompatible with each other, and a conflict begins that won't stop until one or the other is dead.
This intense rivalry was mentioned as a similar metaphor in Tezuka's other Magnum Opus, Phoenix.  In the Civil War arc (titled Turbulent Times in the essay for some reason) where two tribes of monkeys and dogs become fast acquaintances, but eventually their differences become too wide to fully reconcile, and their relationship disintegrates into a war between the two of them.  This was where I first learned the Japanese metaphor of dogs and monkeys being incompatible with each other, as mentioned on an episode of Medabots.  When I finally was able to read the relevant Phoenix arc, that subplot was all I could think of, and I was disappointed when it turned out to play a minor point, only cropping up near the end.

While the two Adolfs are fighting each other over the location of birthright documents, the most memorable finale of Adolf Hitler is shown.  What surprised me other about Hitler's last hours was how sad and pathetic he'd become compared to his charismastic behavior.  The last image of Hitler and Eva Braun's bodies being doused in gasoline was more sorrowful than I would've expected.  Particular note should be paid to the revisionist history of his suicide.

In the end, the documents turn up playing no real major outcome in the end of the war, though it's hinted that they might've contributed to the Fuhrer's mental collapse.  Possibly the real irony is how in his final moments, Hitler reveals a prophecy that after recieving a setback in 1945, he would make a comeback in 1948 to revive his great nation.  And yet, it was simply because of Hitler's fanaticism that made the foundation of Israel a reality when past anti-semitic measures failed to support the Jew's cause of having their own country.

It's only after you reach the end that we get some explanation for the man decked out in Arabic clothing.  The conflict doesn't simply end with the end of the war.  You'd think that having a genocide against a certain "race" of a faith would be proof enough to reach a consensus for playing nice, but as history has shown us, that is not the case.  Rather than one war leading to an everlasting peace, there are brief periods of peace continually broken up with various wars.  Already, there are rumblings that the Greek's Golden Dawn organization has anti-semitic overtones, along with their symbol that disturbingly looks like a swastika.

Despite Gerard Jones' discomfort with comparing the Nazis with the PLO, the metaphor is somewhat apt. Any nation that has the majority of its foundation completely demeaning and calling for the destruction of a religion 1000 times smaller than its own should raise some eyebrows.  As pointed out in The Wave, 90% of Germans weren't Nazis, yet they simply sat back and let them get away with the atrocities they later became well known for.  They knew what they were up to, and did nothing to confront them, because they were afraid.  Simply accommodating fanatics isn't going to discourage them - it's only enabling their activity.  How many times does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have to keep promising to wipe Israel off the map, while simultaneously saying that his Nuclear program is for peaceful purposes?  At some point, you've got to  connect the dots before it's too late.

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