12 Days of Anime: Day 10 – Shinsekai yori, but really a review of Tezuka’s “Adolf”

Day 10: Shinsekai yori (not really)

On the tenth day of anime my waifu gave to me,
ten karma demons…
nine sleeping Shiina’s,
eight Furugoori’s,
seven cloudy hues,
six girls a-fawning,
five metal vessals!
four Riki routes…
three Jormungands…
two rockin’ Joestars…
and a chu2 from KyoAni!

Adsad

The main cast of Shinsekai yori from left to right – Maria, Mamoru, Satoru, Shun, and Saki.

Once again, I don’t have much to say. Isn’t It Electrifying‘s posts on the series do a much more thorough job than anything I could come up with here in a single post. The only thing I’d like to explicitly highlight is that I find the type of dystopia that is explored in the show extremely interesting. Its heavy East Asian philosophy influence, with a small dash of science, and the almost anti-technology feel (I mean, they don’t need it) is a nice change-up from the Western technological dystopias frequently seen today (most recently we can look at Psycho-Pass, but sci-fi dystopias have been common for decades). Although the animation has been all over the map, I still find the show pretty good and look forward to seeing this concept explored.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get on to Adolf.

Preamble

So I’ve recently gotten more interested in exploring some of the history behind anime and otaku culture. Since then, I’ve started a sort of “literature study” or virtual pilgrimage of sorts, trying to read some more academic books about the field as well as going back and reading/watching some of the classics. It might take a while, but so far I’m slowly chugging through it.

I started with Azuma’s Otaku since I was interested in anime culture, which was overall a good read, but Azuma’s obsessed with this postmodernist ideology and so the central ideas are cluttered with all these unnecessary ideas and digressions (as well as obfuscating jargon). You can find a good overview of it at The Dragorol. From there, I moved on to Schodt’s Dreamland Japan in order to get a rundown of some of the history behind manga. It’s good – well written and informative, and encapsulates the feelings of the manga industry at the turn of the century. I’m hoping to check out more of his stuff in the future, since he seems to have written a number of things about anime/manga. Anyways, Dreamland Japan has a whole section dedicate to Osamu Tezuka’s life and his work, and thanks to that I ended up checking out one of the first manga to be seriously taken as literature – Adolf.

Adolf

Synopsis

In 1936, Japanese reporter Sohei Toge travels to Berlin to cover the Berlin Olympic Games. While there, his younger brother, who has been studying in Germany as an international student, requests to meet with him, claiming it’s extremely important. Toge ends up being a couple hours late due to the Games, and finds that his younger brother has been murdered, and that all traces of information regarding his younger brother’s study in Germany has vanished. Devastated, Toge discovers that his brother’s murder is connected to a document he mailed to Japan which contains proof that Adolf Hitler has Jewish blood. He then travels back to Japan in order to find and publicize these documents, in order to finish what his brother had started.

Wolfgang Kaufmann, a member of the Nazi Party living in Japan, is ordered to find the documents. He expects his son, Adolf Kaufmann, half-German and half-Japanese, to become a strong supporter of Adolf Hitler. However, Adolf Kaufmann is best friends with Adolf Kamil, a Jew living in Japan. Adolf Kaufmann is eventually sent to Germany to be part of the Hitler Youth, where he grapples with his the teachings of the Nazi party, his Japanese heritage, his friendship with Adolf Kamil, forbidden love, and the horrors of war. At the same time, Adolf Kamil continues to grapple with his foreign heritage whilst he lives in Japan, trying to fit into a society that continually sets him apart for no other reason than his appearance.

As events progress, the lives of the three Adolfs converge and become directly connected with Toge’s quest to justify his borther’s death. Romance abounds, as does the continual impacts (and tragedies) of war. The ending is tragic for two of the Adolfs (guess) and bittersweet for another, as their lives are eventually consumed by hatred and vengeance, torn apart by war and violence. Toge’s story is two parts tragic and one part bittersweet, and he survives to document their story in the form of a pseudo-narrator for the novel.

Short Review

So it’s Tezuka, which means he delivers. Some people might prefer the more “childish”, upbeat Tezuka mangas to some of the more “mature” stuff he published later in his life, but almost everyone agrees that all of his stuff was pretty good. Adolf falls very much in the latter half – there’s blood, characters die, the romance is much more “adult”, and, obviously, it explicitly deals with WWII. The manga very much reads like a movie – there are a lot of cinematic effects, playing with viewing angles, etc. The writing is excellent – I don’t think there wasn’t a single thread that wasn’t tied up (and writing very much in the style of Chekhov’s gun where no story element is wasted), and parallels popped up all over the place. Definitely a strong piece of work on the travesty’s of war (across all sides), and as much great storytelling as high-handed preaching. While some people might have a problem with that type of style (e.g. Cloud Atlas does a lot of this), I generally am fine with the sentiments. As for style, the largest Western counterpart for this type of story (grahic/comic format) is Speigelman’s Maus. Personally, I found Maus to be extremely bizarre and the juxtaposition of animals not at all effective (but I’m for the most part the exception), and in my opinion Tezuka’s manga skills are much more effective than Speigelman’s cartoon-y style for conveying the sentiments I think they were going for.

If you have some free time, I’d highly recommend giving it a try! There’s also a good review here, and even TV Tropes has something to say about it.

Themes

Anti-war. Tezuka’s known for this type of thing. Most of his adolescence and teen years were spent in the middle of WWII (he barely missed getting drafted), so war was a big deal to Tezuka. Throughout all of AdolfTezuka goes to great lengths to demonstrate just all the tragedies of war and nationalistic sentiment. All the main characters, and most (if not all) of the supporting cast, have their lives ended, ruined or tainted by war in some respect. The story of Adolf Kamil and Adolf Kaufmann especially tries to impress this upon us. Due to it’s focus on Japan, the story manages to make this “clear cut” war into a decent gray zone (similar to Slaughterhouse V) as well. Tezuka’s telling us that it doesn’t matter if there are “good guys” or “bad guys” – if there’s war, everyone suffers.

Discrimination and identity. All three Adolfs are conflicted about who they are – Hitler is (supposedly) part-Jewish, Kaufmann is part-Japanese, and Kamil is Jewish Japanese – and generally discriminated against because of it. Because of all the emphasis on racial identity and cultural identity, all three have trouble fitting in and find a place in society. We see two attempts to deny their racial identity in Hitler and Kaufmann (and the story gives you the answer to how that works out); Kamil tries to do the same to his Jewish heritage be “Japanese”, but eventually embraces it and moves to Israel – not necessarily the best solution either (he doesn’t actively “reject” his Japanese upbringing, but it becomes secondary to his racial heritage), but it works. Tezuka tries to make a strong case to stop discriminating simply based on appearance or race or national boundaries. Or anything of the sort.

True love. A strange juxtaposition here, with tragedy in the style of Romeo and Juliet (star-crossed characters, love at first sight) with more nuanced encounters. Throughout the novel there are several romantic encounters with varying levels of seriousness and duration, but twice characters form extremely strong connections almost instantaneously (and they last). Both end in tragedy. On a sidenote, I’m not sure what it is about the tall, buff, yet uncommitted (as in not interested in relationships) Japanese male that seems to attract women in stories such as these – while it’s fine in the context of a good story, I’ve seen it a couple times already in literature (e.g. Tengo in 1Q84) and wonder whether it’s a real thing.

Bonds. Throughout the story, it’s the bonds of family, love, and friendship that keep the ball rolling. In fact, the greatest tragedy of the story is when the friendship between the two Adolfs is finally destroyed by war and the hatred it inspires. Tezuka’s trying to convey to us the importance of the connections between people, and that we should treasure them at all times.

The anti-genocide themes and everything else associated with Nazis and WWII are present here and pretty clear, so I won’t go over them explicitly.

Anything else?

That’s pretty much it from me – I’m drawing a blank for any more, so let me know if I missed something. For anyone who’s interested in reading the series, it’s being republished under Message to Adolf since the old version is out of print. Happy pre-Chirstmas Eve!

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