Friday, 17 January 2014

Message To Adolf Part 1 Review (Osamu Tezuka)

You’ve probably heard the rumour that Hitler was part-Jewish thanks to a distant relative – the shock, the irony! etc. The rumour’s long been debunked but comics legend Osamu Tezuka took the idea and ran with it in his massive 1300+ page book, Message to Adolf, with Part 1 clocking in at a whopping 650 pages! It sounded like an interesting comic, especially with Tezuka behind it, but disappointingly, it wasn’t – in fact, I ended up hating it. 

Our story begins during the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games when Japanese journalist Sohei Toge receives an urgent call from his brother about a dire secret he has to tell him (but not over the phone!) and, when he goes to meet him, he discovers his brother has been murdered! Hot on the trail of his brother’s killer, Toge finds out his brother had papers proving Hitler had Jewish relatives and therefore made him part Jewish – such a revelation would bring about the fall of the Third Reich! Meanwhile in Japan, two young Germans boys, both called Adolf, one of which is Jewish, are torn apart when the non-Jewish Adolf is sent back to Germany to be taught at a Hitler School. And all the while, Nazi Germany is gearing up for the war to end all wars…

Let’s start with the premise: it’s extremely flimsy. Some paperwork that somehow proves that Hitler’s grandparents were part Jewish would bring about the fall of the Third Reich? Take Obama (and, without getting too political, I actually like Obama and don’t think he’s a secret Muslim socialist from Kenya who’s also the Antichrist) and the matter of his birth certificate. Even after he produced it, showing he was an American citizen, look how many idiots refused to believe it was real. Even if a Japanese newspaper printed this bizarre paperwork, would enough people in Germany see it AND believe it to be true, so much so that they would overthrow the Fuhrer? I’m not convinced. 

And if they – the majority of the German people - did overthrow the Fuhrer, what then? By their very actions, they would prove that they still hated Jews, so much so that they killed their beloved dictator for having 1/16th Jewish blood, and the march toward war and the Holocaust would likely still happen. Another high ranking Nazi official – Goebbels maybe – would take over and WW2 would continue forward. The whole point of this book seems utterly futile! 

The premise bothered me but not nearly as much as the characters. When they weren’t loathsome, they were stupid, and I mean REALLY stupid, like how-the-hell-did-they-dress-themselves-this-morning stupid. 

Take, for example, the Jewish Adolf character. Through a series of events, he winds up with the papers and, being just a kid, should probably hand them over to a trustworthy adult like his dad who also happens to be an important figure in the Jewish community in Japan – perfect, right? Except idiot Adolf gets all bashful and cryptically tells his dad to look at these papers when he’s got time as they’re important. The dad, of course not fully understanding their import, doesn’t get around to looking at them and, through a bizarre sequence of events, ends up going back to Germany and straight into a concentration camp! Idiot kid Adolf could’ve stopped all of that if he’d just told him – “Dad, Hitler’s Jewish and these are the papers to prove it.” Simple, right? They were sat at dinner with no interruptions, one sentence, done – AND he’d have saved his dad’s life! 

Another example of moronic characters is the Gestapo goon chasing Toge whose name is, and I’m not joking, Acetylene Lamp. After somehow tracking down Toge from Berlin to a small mountain road in rural Japan, he’s driving alongside the bus carrying Toge and decides to drive ahead of the bus and wait for Toge in the next town. Now, after such a feat as to track down Toge to this very specific location, wouldn’t he rather make sure not to let him out of his sight by driving behind the bus until it arrives at its destination AND THEN grabbing him? But no, he drives ahead giving Toge the chance to escape, which he does. IDIOT! 

These are just two examples of every one of these characters behaving like twits but I could go on and on about scenes that just played out like a child wrote them (that retarded shootout sequence!). Simple decisions escape them as they bumble around foolishly, making bad choices, one after the other. The Nazi characters on the other hand are character-less – they’re just one-dimensional bad guys. And while there wasn’t anyone in the cast I particularly liked, I hated the protagonist the most: Sohei Toge. 

At first he’s your generic hero – good looking, upbeat, idealistic and he’s fighting for a good cause, to avenge his brother’s death and bring about the downfall of Hitler. 

And then he rapes a woman. 

Whaaat?! Yup, before the first 100 pages are over, he’s beaten up and raped his brother’s German girlfriend. Oh and the girl kills herself shortly afterwards. I’m not going to list the qualities that makes the main character of any story sympathetic, but the one quality you wouldn’t expect to see would be a tendency to sexually assault women. That scene not only made me hate the protagonist instantly and made me indifferent to the many challenges he has to overcome, but it was a warning sign that I should’ve just closed the book there. Then again, how many main characters commit a rape in the first act? I had to read on. BIG mistake! 

But I did finish it. I struggled with the last 200 pages but I got there in the end and that says something – this book, while dislikeable on so many levels, is readable and that’s thanks to Tezuka’s prowess with the comics medium. He knows how to tell a story so that it’s beats are just so, fast or slow when it needs to be, with scenes flowing nicely into one another and the art is generally good too. While reading a 650-page manga isn’t the same as reading a 650-page prose novel, not least in terms of time commitment, I have abandoned shorter books for being unreadable and I kept going with Message to Adolf Part 1. That’s about all I’m going to give this one though. 

Tezuka tries to make his poorly constructed story have an emotional atmosphere by shoe-horning in tragic events like war, discrimination, fascism, and so on, even plopping in historical events to set the time, but it’s ineffective here. Sure, WW2 and everything that led up to and during it were awful and moving, but here it sits awkwardly alongside the bad fiction, flat and separate from the story, like a b-movie director ineptly using stock footage in-between his poorly filmed scenes. Also, Tezuka doesn’t even seem to quite grasp the Nazi/Jewish situation – it was a racially motivated prejudice, but he presents it here as religious based, that is, if the Jews converted to Christianity the Nazis would have left them alone, which couldn’t’ve been more wrong. 

Message to Adolf Part 1 is simply an overstuffed book. Non-Jewish Adolf’s father gets his own storyline which is a murder mystery but it’s never resolved as everyone involved dies and disappears and none of it matters anyway (not to mention how unconvincing it was for a white supremacist openly marrying a non-white). Too many story threads are set up that never go anywhere or are even relevant to the plot. There are too many contrived coincidences in the story, too many moments that are done to make the plot seem to work rather than make sense in themselves – Jewish Adolf’s father having to suddenly go back to Germany for instance – for it to be even halfway convincing as a grown-up story, despite it’s mature subject matter. 

This book shows Tezuka’s limitations as writer. He’s unable to create even semi-realistic characters and everything from the core premise to the execution, to many key scenes didn’t make any sense at all. The writing itself is very sloppy with characters literally saying what they’re feeling because Tezuka doesn’t seem to know how else to do it – a beautiful bar owner falls in love with rapist Toge (women are constantly throwing themselves at him in this book – probably because he’s a superhero. The dude caught up to a train despite being shot and running uphill!) and when he’s talking with a younger woman she says “I love him, I must make sure he doesn’t fall in love with that girl and go away with her. He must stay with me here” (I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea). Tezuka’s writing in this book is amateurish at best, which is surprising given that this book was written at the tail end of his career, after literally decades of working in the comics medium! 

The dialogue is just bad in general. The Japanese style of melodramatic declarations and over-emotional, hammy even, physical gestures to get across a cheesy line is acceptable in most manga; in a supposedly serious historical fiction like Message to Adolf, Tezuka really should’ve left that stuff out to give the story more weight. Sometimes less is more, and more restrained scenes are infinitely more powerful to the reader – abandoning that for cartoony scenes disrupts the tone and takes away the potential artistic merit of the book.

I just about made it through Part 1 but I won’t be picking up Part 2 to see how it all ends. If you’re looking for a good Tezuka book, try Buddha instead of this drivel.

Message to Adolf, Vol. 1

1 comment:

  1. I hate Toge (my hated Tezuka characters with the surgeon black market Black Jack,but my favourite of all is Skunk from Astro Boy 2003 anime) he's a rapist without regret, and he breaks the relationship son/mother between Yukie and Adolf Kauffman.
    And Hitler is not completely a jew!