by Osamu Tezuka
published by Vertical; $26.95 US
It shouldn’t surprise me that I enjoyed the first volume more than this one. If you’re trying to build excitement, it’s a lot easier to keep introducing new twists and turns than to wrap them up in coherent fashion. Plus, there are a lot of years of war still to cover, although we do get quite the time jump on several occasions.
I’m sure the experience would have been much different, and perhaps preferable, if I wasn’t reading all these installments in one sitting, too. (The 19 chapters were originally published over two years.) Maybe then some of the events wouldn’t seem so abrupt.
As the book opens, the German Adolf is trying to tell Elisa, a Jewish girl he has a crush on, and her parents to leave the country to avoid a coming roundup. When the father (who strikes me as a collaborator) refuses, Adolf forces them to do what he says. There’s an intriguing theme here — that isn’t followed up on or made explicit, because this was an adventure comic — that even though Adolf is trying to help these Jews that mean something to him, he still views them as animals that he can tell what to do. Since they’re less than him, they should do whatever he says.
This Adolf remains an odd choice for protagonist, since his actions are despicable. He thinks nothing of asking for favors from a boy whose father he killed (although the boy doesn’t know that, of course). It’s odd positioning, where we’re reading about someone we shouldn’t identify with — but due to the genre, there’s a certain amount of empathizing with the lead character, since we spend so much time with him.
The hidden document with a devastating secret about Hitler once again appears, and frankly, I’m tired of it as a plot device. Especially since it provides a reason for Tezuka to beat up his characters, especially the women, while making me question why no one’s taken it public yet while constantly talking about how important it is to do so. I think I understand why the women keep getting beaten — I think it’s a way to rachet up the drama artificially for the male audience, similar to the way it’s become a cliche today for a writer to have a villain kill someone randomly to show how bad they are. However, it’s still tiring to read yet another scene of a female character getting raped or beaten or tortured.
I suspect the plotline with Colonel Honda’s son, who gets wrapped back into the story by turning out to be the nephew of a dead geisha from way back in the first book, and how he wants “to do my bit to help bury Japanese militarism” would mean more to the original readers. It may be that Japan’s occupation of Manchuria and their behavior during that period makes for an intriguing parallel to the Nazis, but I just don’t know enough about that foreign history.
Possibly the most impressive sequence in this volume is a short series illustrating the attack on Pearl Harbor, an event that Tezuka speculates was known to be happening ahead of time by President Roosevelt. The art there is much darker and detailed, a surprising contrast from the cartoony figures used elsewhere.
Halfway through the book, after jumping ahead a number of years, the main characters are finally reunited, as the German Adolf returns to Japan to discover his mother has married Mr. Toge, who originally opened the series. The result is various threats and battles. It’s at this point, over 75% of the way through, that I began seriously feeling sympathy for Adolf, just because the author clearly has it out for him so badly. Misled, a mutt, he goes crazy, and everyone hates him. Yet he does relatively well for many years, while it’s a shame that he has to ruin so many others’ lives on his eventual way down.
The last two chapters jump ahead to the battles with the Arabs in the newly formed Israeli state, which feels out of place to me. (The publisher provided a review copy.)