Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Brother's Husband
It is something of a shock to realize that the entirety of My Brother’s Husband, of which this is the final omnibus volume, takes place over only three weeks. That's probably because they are such full weeks for the three main characters of Gengoroh Tagame's first all-ages manga, particularly for Yaichi, the point-of-view character. Mike's appearance on his doorstep marked the start of an emotional confrontation he had to have with himself, one which forced him to really think about how he treated his late twin brother after Ryoichi came out to him in high school. The answers aren't pretty, but Yaichi needs to understand that about himself, especially as he considers the possibility that his daughter Kana could grow up and fall in love with a woman.
All of this began in volume one, with Yaichi learning that no matter that he is gay, Mike is, first and foremost, a human being, and one mourning the death of a spouse he truly loved. In his way, Yaichi thought he had already mourned his twin's death, but the appearance of Mike on his doorstep forces him to see that while he may have done that to a degree, he never mourned the loss of their relationship. In this volume he's truly forced to confront the fact that he somehow saw Ryoichi as lesser when he came out, and that he backed away from his brother. Mike, particularly at the end of this volume, helps him to understand that there's more grief to deal with, and if Yaichi has only taken the first steps towards that, it still feels like he's on his way there.
Essentially this book is where we see the blossoming of the seeds planted in the first omnibus. Some of it is fairly subtle, such as Yaichi not even batting an eye when he and Mike share a hot springs bath or the four futons (for Yaichi, his ex-wife, Kana, and Mike) are all laid out together – in fact, when he looks at Kana's empty futon after she's crawled into her mother's, you wonder if he's seeing her growing up and away from him or seeing that empty bed as belonging to Ryoichi, who can't be there with them. But it is really in the final few chapters of the book that we see how far Yaichi has come and how strong he is becoming.
While there are several key moments, a major one comes after Mike has dropped off Kana's recorder at school after she forgot it. It results in Kana's teacher calling Yaichi in to talk about how Kana has been discussing “inappropriate” subjects at school – namely, the fact that she has a gay uncle and that gay marriage is legal in Canada. For most of the conversation, we see Yaichi retorting only in his head (“You think marriage is an inappropriate subject? Or gay marriage?” is among the thoughts he does not voice), and there's a concern that Yaichi won't actually take the teacher to task. But then he does – and not only does he do so in a way that makes it clear that he sees the teacher as trying to condemn the way he's raising Kana, as a single dad, but also that he won't stand for it. The moment he refuses to let Kana's teacher denigrate Mike or Ryoichi marks the real moment of change for Yaichi as a character, when he is able to see outside his own prejudices and appreciate that there's a bigger world that he wants Kana to be a part of – and that he would like to be a part of as well.
At its heart, My Brother’s Husband is a story about acceptance. That means many things, from accepting that the world exists beyond how you see it to accepting people for who, and not what, they are. Tagame makes these points without the use of the sledgehammer of symbolism but instead through Yaichi's inner thoughts and the fact that Mike is a genuinely good person. Kana's immediate acceptance of him and love for him merely marks the start of Yaichi's understanding; it is his own observations of and conversations with his late brother's husband that truly make the difference. When he finally asks Mike to show him the pictures of his and Ryoichi's life together in Canada, it shows that he's both ready to see his brother as who he truly was, but also that he can acknowledge his own actions in distancing himself from Ryoichi. Taking Mike to “meet” his parents (visit their grave) forms the final step – no matter what, Mike is his brother-in-law, and he's not going to shy away from that any longer.
The final few chapters are emotional. It has been easy to forget that Mike hasn't moved in with Yaichi and Kana, but rather is visiting, so his return to Canada is difficult. Tagame's skill as a storyteller really comes through here, as he is able to make things bittersweet without saying too much or overdrawing the scenes. His art has its limitations – characters are generally a bit stiff – but he does a beautiful job with the story's finale, with a few pages that say many things without using a lot of words.
Will this series ultimately be able to make someone like Yaichi rethink their position on gay rights? Maybe. But it will open a window to their state in Japan and it is heartfelt and ultimately hopeful. On those three fronts alone it is a highly successful story, and this final book is beautiful in all the ways that matter.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Touching and bittersweet, Yaichi's evolution is clear without overplaying it
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