Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Brother's Husband
Yaichi lost contact with his twin brother Ryoji when the two grew up, and Ryoji eventually moved to Canada. Now, years later, Ryoji has passed away and the man he married overseas, Canadian Mike Flanagan, has come to visit his husband's family. While Yaichi never outwardly expressed homophobia, Japanese culture isn't as accepting of homosexuality as Canada, and Yaichi finds himself struggling to understand his brother and himself, as both he and his elementary-aged daughter come to accept Mike as family.
Yaoi manga does not depict reality. That may seem like an obvious statement – it is fiction, after all – but the genre has led to some misconceptions of LBGTQ life in Japan. Gengoroh Tagame's work is different not only in that his characters are typically much more masculine in appearance, but in that he is a gay man (rather than a straight woman) writing about male/male relationships. But that's almost incidental to Pantheon Books' release of his series My Brother's Husband, which deals with a man meeting his deceased twin brother's Canadian spouse for the first time and finding himself dealing with not only his own homophobia, but the rest of the neighborhood's as well.
The story is told through the eyes of Yaichi, a stay-at-home single dad to his elementary-aged daughter Kana. Yaichi hasn't seen his twin brother Ryoji in years, so he's still struggling to cope with his brother's death in Canada, where he'd married a man named Mike Flanagan. Mike has contacted Yaichi about visiting, something Yaichi has conflicted feelings about. He's not quite able to voice them, although we do see him reluctant to touch Mike or let him touch Kana when she comes home from school, emotions he can't quite reconcile with himself. For example, rather than assume that Mike's friendliness and physicality come from his being North American, Yaichi finds himself assuming that they're because he's gay, somehow making him a predator – never even considering how ridiculous that sounds when he finds Kana fascinated by Mike's chest hair, which Mike allows her to touch.
Tagame's depiction of Yaichi's discomfort is well done. Not only does he often give us two identical panels next to each other, one with Yaichi's homophobic thoughts and another with the polite things he actually says, but he also contrasts Yaichi with Kana, whose reactions are simpy excitement over having a new uncle. The seven or eight-year old Kana is initially shocked that she could have an uncle from a foreign country, but quickly begins to love Mike wholeheartedly. As a child with no preconceptions about homosexuality (Yaichi has never have brought it up), Kana simply accepts that two men could marry each other and just wants to know if two women could as well, and why that isn't allowed everywhere. This surprises Yaichi, who expects her to be as grossed out by the concept as he is, and Kana's embrace of her new uncle makes him reconsider his own preconceived notions.
It's clear that he's been thinking about it, possibly since his brother came out to him when they were fifteen. At one point, after taking a bath, Yaichi decides that he'd better get dressed rather than walk to his room in his underwear, as he usually does. He thinks about how “the man on TV” said that gay men wouldn't just jump on anyone, but still feels uncomfortable not putting clothes on; this is the first sign that he's really thinking about his own issues as his problem rather than Mike's or his dead brother's. As the book progresses, Yaichi finds himself having to combat homophobia in Kana's friends' parents, having to explain why Yuki's mom won't let her meet Mike. This forces him to the uncomfortable realization that he used to be that way as well and marks the start of his “conversations” with Ryoji, who takes the form of his reflection in the mirror or his shadow. Yaichi's own thought evolution truly begins when he realizes how much Mike loved Ryoji. As he sees how Kana is hurt by others' reactions, he starts to understand that to protect her, he will have to fully accept Mike as well.
To say that this is an emotional book would be an understatement. It isn't loud about its themes or its difficult moments, but individual scenes hold a lot of power. Tagame's decision not to show Yaichi's face when he's first able to cry for his brother's death but instead to simply show a blurred image of the night sky is a perfect example of how the emotional content is handled, as well as remaining true to Yaichi's private character. A later scene toward the end of the book, when a young neighborhood boy seeks out Mike as the only gay man he's ever met in a desperate bid to be told that he's not bad or abnormal for coming out is especially strong. It speaks to what happens to kids when there's no acceptance available, and this moment reaches Yaichi in a way that nothing else could – in seeing this boy who was so bottled up and miserable be relieved by Mike's easy manner and willingness to talk, Yaichi is forced to really think about Ryoji and how he'd handle a similar situation with his own child.
My Brother's Husband is an honest, quietly emotional look at how prejudices and preconceptions can hurt not only the people we're biased against, but also ourselves. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, this first volume is well worth reading, and Tagame's solid, clean artwork with attention to details like body hair that we don't often see in mainstream manga, help to ground the story in reality. It's the kind of book that you can devour in one sitting but wish that you didn't – not only because there's so much to think about, but also because it's good enough that you don't actually want it to end.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B
+ Emotional without being manipulative, does an excellent job showing how prejudice is learned, Kana acts like a real child, good human detail in the art
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