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Book Review < Back

A Tale of the Twentieth Century (vol. 1)

Credits: Written and Illustrated by Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Viz


There's a story told, in the preface to ADOLF volume 1, about the funeral of Osamu Tezuka. He passed away shortly after Emperor Hirohito, and Tezuka's funeral was nearly covered with the same intensity by the Japanese media. When foreigners in country to report on the passing of Hirohito began to wonder why so many Japanese read comics (called manga in Japan), and why on Earth a guy that made comic books could become so revered in both life and death, an editorial in the prestigious Asahi newspaper opined that this was because "Japan had Osamu Tezuka, whereas other nations did not." In his lifetime, Tezuka was called "God of Manga." In his death, an international artform lost one of its true masters.

ADOLF is a complex historical fiction in five volumes. It begins in 1936, as three people named Adolf - one of which is, of course, Adolf Hitler - become intertwined during the start of the Second World War. While Hitler's presence is the driving force of the book, the story is really about two childhood friends: Adolf Kamil is a German Jew living in exile with his family in Japan; his best friend is Adolf Kaufmann, a half-German, half-Japanese boy who grow up together in the port city of Kobe. Kaufmann's German father pushes his son into the Hitler Youth, while the Third Reich pursues the source of certain information that could literally reduce the Reich, and Der Furher, to the dustbin of history. The entirety of ADOLF spans decades and we watch the boys grow up and become twisted by the secret hunted by the Reich; twisted by the War; and grow twisted ultimately by themselves. It is a brutal and horrific saga, World War Two in microcosm, fought across the hearts and minds of these boys and the men they grow up to be.

There's an odd disconnect between Tezuka's style and his content. Something almost sweet and naïve permeates his line-work: his characters are the very essence of cartoon illustration, and as a westerner there's a natural raised-eyebrow that comes from seeing such fierce material illustrated in a style I'd consider the polar opposite.

But then, I'd never read Osamu Tezuka before, so what did I know?

-- Matt Fraction

Matt Fraction splits his time between motion graphics and design house MK12, writing comics, and reading comics. He is the author of the graphic novels The Annotated Mantooth and Last of the Independents, both available from AiT/Planet Lar. He can be found on the web at mattfraction.com. His wife is hot.


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