January 2, 2010

Osamu Tezuka – Viz – 1995 – 5 volumes

I wrote a long series review/overview for the Classics Corner column at Manga Recon, so I invite you to check it out over there.

I like Osamu Tezuka a lot, but this is by far my favorite work of his.  Black Jack doesn’t even come close, nor do some of the shorter, serious works I’ve read like Ode to Kirihito and Apollo’s song.  There’s just very little that can measure up to Adolf.

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September 11, 2007

Osamu Tezuka – Viz – 1997 – 5 volumes

Reading the last volume of this series was such an experience that it made me physically ill, and I had to take 24 hours to recover.  This may actually be true.

The horrible things that Adolf Kaufmann gets up to are… quite horrible, really.  He commits just about every type of atrocity you can think of, including rape, murder, torture, etc.  He’s such a horrible guy now, and its hard to watch these things going on in his hometown.  Even his mom doesn’t want him anymore.  He really is… well, what the story is about.  I know that sounds silly, but the changes in him are just incredible, and having this character is what makes Adolf so powerful.

The bombings in Japan were hard to sit through, too.  They… did a lot of damage.

The final showdown is not as I would have imagined it.  It felt a little less epic than I thought it would, and I was kind of on unfamiliar ground with the PLO, so I felt a bit disoriented reading the actual conclusion to the story.

I’m glad Toge wound up being the last featured character.  And, despite the fact that it was bad for Toge, I’m glad we got one more round with insane Hamegg as well.

This was a fantastic series.  My slight dislike of the ending aside, nearly everything about it was almost perfectly executed.  I believe it was in Annette Roman’s essay where it mentioned the story revolved around a somewhat contrived plot device (a secret about Hitler being 1/4 Jewish is what Toge fights for the entire time), and that’s probably one of the only things that bothered me about it.  As well-done as everything else was, it seems like there could be a better secret the Nazis are going after… though personal information about Hitler is kind of fitting since he’s depicted as quite insane later in the series.

But really, my favorite part of this volume is a spoiler, so don’t read any farther down than this if you don’t want to be spoiled.




Lamp shot Hilter in the face.  Thank you, Osamu Tezuka.

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September 10, 2007

Osamu Tezuka – Viz – 1996 – 5 volumes

One of the things I’ve mentioned only peripherally so far, but really appreciate, are the essays that open each volume of this series.  The first essay was written by Frederik Schodt, the second by Matt Thorn, the third by Yuji Oniki, and this one was by Annette Roman.  Cheating, the last volume was written by Gerard Jones.  These are all names I recognize, and they all write really good essays and discuss several relevant topics for Adolf.  I really enjoyed Annette Roman’s essay in this volume, which was about editing the series.  She talks about not only the need to scan every page copiously for swastikas to flip them (since the pages are flipped, the swastikas need to be flipped back), but the amount of research she needed to put into things in order to make sure the translation worked okay.  She mentioned pouring over volumes about Nazi medals and marveling about the neutral tone the author kept while discussing them, having to pour over volumes to try and determine which Nazi officials names are meant when the names come back romanized from Japanese, and also talked about shooting the photo of the little boy for the cover of one of the books and having to make sure that the “Heil Hitler” was done correctly.  These are things which can be really terrible and really hard to research, but are important since they can be details which, if done incorrectly, will either misinform or… you know, take away from the work.  Her essay has been the most fascinating so far.

This volume was largely about Adolf Kauffman.  He’s gone more than a bit off the deep end at this point, and it’s just so hard to see the cute little boy from the first volume who did not want to be a Nazi being what is, for all intents and purposes, the perfect Nazi.  He… rounds up the Jewish people and all that, though he doesn’t do the killing himself.  He still has his limits though, which sort of brings about his downfall, but as a result he gets to talk to Lamp a little bit.  He also has more dialogues with  Hitler himself, who is clearly being portrayed as more and more insane.  Adolf questions Lamp about this at one point, and several other characters remark that such an unbalanced leader needs unbalanced followers.  Adolf begins to show signs of mental instability, not only because he is portrayed with zero humanity as a Nazi, but because he literally goes insane at one point as his conscience plagues him about all the deaths he’s caused directly and indirectly.  It works quite well, and it probably works as my second favorite scene in the series so far.

We get some resolution as far as Toge’s documents go.  The story touches briefly on spy activity in Japan, and a really admirable character does what he can to get Toge’s documents to the proper authorities.  His story is an extremely sad one, and you find yourself rooting for all the spies that are featured in this part, even the real-life ones that helped out America.

There’s a really sad story about Japanese racism in Manchuria that is related by the main character for this spy segment.  It works really well not only to show that it is monstrous even if the Nazis aren’t involved, but also to show that the problem wasn’t strictly a German one (if that made any sense, the two points are kind of related).  It was particularly interesting since this is being told from a Japanese perspective to a Japanese audience.

I still maintain that if you get the opportunity to read this series, you really should.  It continues to be fantastic.

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September 8, 2007

Osamu Tezuka – Viz – 1996 – 5 volumes

This is really kind of hard to read.  It’s quite brutal in its depictions of the Nazis, and its made worse by all of it being true.  It broke my heart to see the sweet little boy that didn’t want to go to Nazi school do the terrible things to his former associates that he did here.  The transformation of Adolf Kaufmann has so far been the hardest thing for me, especially since he hasn’t lost all his judgment (which is apparent later on in the volume), so it’s hard to understand why he can do some things and not others.

While Adolf Kaufmann is off committing Nazi atrocities and getting buddy-buddy with Hitler, I’m glad Toge is spared and catches several breaks.  I couldn’t handle Adolf killing people and Toge getting beat up simultaneously in every chapter.  Toge only takes one beating early on, and then its somewhat smooth sailing for him.

Also, I was wrong about Lamp and Hamegg last time.  Apparently Hamegg didn’t die.  I had thought that he had either been shot by Lamp, which would be truly tragic, or had fallen to his death since his body is shown motionless at the end of the last volume.  The aftermath of that final incident turns out to be good for both the good and bad guys involved.

You know, sometimes the art style and the way the characters look here reminds me of Naoki Urasawa’s style.  There are some very few character expressions which… just look so much like Urasawa, to the point where if you told me it was possible he drew them, I would believe you.  Take that for what it’s worth.

You may not get this from my ramblings, but this series really is fantastic.  It’s not over-the-top in the same way that Apollo’s Song and Ode to Kirihito, and it’s not quite as… ambitious, I suppose, as Phoenix, but it’s epic and wonderful and plays the gamut of emotions and does what it needs to do almost perfectly in every way.  It’s over the top in its own way, and it’s ambitious in its own way, but it’s doing everything it needs to do and saying so much with just a few characters and 200 pages per volume.  It’s deep, I understand pretty much everything that’s going on and all the implications of the actions, and it’s just marvelous.  I can see this series as a gateway to serious manga more than anything else I’ve read, I think.

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September 7, 2007

Osamu Tezuka – Viz – 1996 – 5 volumes

This volume focuses mainly on the documents that Toge, the main character, is trying to protect. Hamegg (called Akabane in this series, but I like to think of breakfast as I talk about him) is the head of the secret police in Japan, and he basically spends all volume following him around, destroying his life, until Toge agrees to hand over the documents. Hamegg ensures that Toge can’t do things like hold a job for more than a day or find a roof to sleep under. Eventually Toge winds up a bum. Poor Toge.

The German/Japanese Adolf is mentioned briefly, and there are a couple chapters about him going through Nazi school. He seems to like being a Nazi, but can’t reconcile their vision of the Jewish with his friend Adolf from Japan. There’s a pretty powerful scene where Jewish Adolf sits behind him as he reads Mein Kampf and struggles with the comparison of his best friend to what is written.

Hitler meets German/Japanese Adolf and pins a medal to his chest. That was one of the weirder, more surreal scenes in the volume. Hitler as a character in a manga who addresses fictional characters is probably what makes it weird. It’s hard for me to see Hitler in any type of fictitious context, but he works as a background character in this series since everything he’s done so far other than this meeting has been, as far as I can tell, historically accurate.

But the single best scene in this volume, and probably in the series, is when Toge is fighting Hamegg in a dump in one of their last fights. The phrase “I SAID EAT THE GODDAMN TRASH!” is used in one of the most dramatic and awesome confrontations ever. Eventually, the dump is torched and the two still fight. Lots of awesome things happen, and the end of the fight is very satisfying.

Hamegg’s ultimate end is also one of the most astonishing things EVER. This was probably the last major appearance of Hamegg in a Tezuka work. Here, he’s basically just as horribly evil as Lamp is, and kind of worse in a lot of ways. He uses more traditional strongarm methods of abuse than Lamp’s Nazi Torture, but he still ruins Toge’s life on a grand scale. What eventually happens to him is pretty awful, but as you’re sitting there watching his final scene play out you can’t help but think that it’s a fitting end for a dirty, crooked, robot-abusing ringmaster. Not even Lamp gets as good a final scene as Hamegg.

But… how does his hair grow in straight? It’s… he’s… he’s the only one with curly hair, you see. It’s curly. Even in this series. You can see it when he takes his hat off or gets kicked in the balls. It’s what makes him seedy.

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September 6, 2007

Osamu Tezuka – Viz – 1996 – 5 volumes

Hey friend! I’m not done reading Tezuka in English yet! While I’m not going to bother tracking down Black Jack since its incomplete, I thought I’d pick up this five-volume series instead of just feeling guilty about it.

This volume has a really nice forward by Fredrik Schodt which, among other things, explains how Tezuka got punched by a drunk American serviceman during the occupation of Japan. Huh.

Anyway, this series is already much, MUCH different than anything else I’ve read by him. The drawing style alone sets it apart, as it is rendered in a much more realistic and less cartoony style than he usually uses. His regular cast of characters is absent (for the most part, Lamp and Hamegg stick their heads in), and instead we get a much more serious group.

Though the plot summary is about two kids named Adolf going through WWII, the series starts off with a Japanese reporter covering the Berlin Olympics and getting stuck on a murder. The victim may have had Communist ties, and when the body disappears without a trace and the reporter’s only lead is killed quite brutally, he suspects the Nazis are covering something up. Among other things, the opening chapters feature scenes from the Berlin Olympics and a huge Nazi rally. Leni Riefenstahl’s films “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia” inform these scenes mightily (as well as showing you the full-blown creepiness of the huge Nazi rallies). I can vouch for that reporter – the high jump event that kept him at the Olympics that night was EPIC.

Our friend Acetylene Lamp is present and accounted for, and in one of his final and most fitting appearances, he plays the role of Nazi Torturer. He beats up the main character, straps him to a chair, then shocks him with an electric needle until he passes out to try to get information. Of course the main character does not have said information, but, you know, Lamp’s a Nazi now, so… yeah. Even in the realistic style, he’s still quite recognizable as Lamp, and when his face first melts out of the shadows and you do a doubletake to wonder if it really is him, the second panel showing his face has the candle.

Later, we move into the plot with the children, which is quite heartbreaking even by the end of the volume. Having the series take place across two continents like this and involving several different nationalities is quite nice, because it gives you several different perspectives of what’s going on, and it also does a nice job of making these perspectives clash. It also makes out almost everyone in power to be really horrible and corrupt (and mostly Nazis), so there’s a real sense of doom et al, even for characters who aren’t Jewish or wouldn’t normally be in any particular danger.

Epic, my friend. Epic.