When my parents died… I wasn’t able to cry. Not one bit. – Yaichi
Manga Review: My Brother's Husband by Gengoroh Tagame
Diving into manga or anime – if I’m being honest, I would add “most of the canon of western sequential art” to that as well – you might be disappointed at the lack of offerings in the way of narrative written from the point of view of people who fall in the LGBTQ spectrum. Heck, finding positive (meaningful and not frankly insulting) depictions of LGBTQ characters is a chore in and of itself!
While that’s not to say that the work that does exist is not in and of itself praise worthy and wonderful in many cases (the critically acclaimed Fun Home springs immediately to mind), but by no stretch of the imagination is there an embarrassment of riches to choose from. If you were to file that amount down to a manga that is remarkably emotionally intelligent, as well as aimed at either the young or young at heart (and has been translated into English and released in the west!), then you have very little to choose from. Mind you, I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who is barely scratching the surface on a true understanding of manga. And I am not talking about the vast array of manga with a focus on gay relationships, which have a different intent and audience in mind than this one does.
As I understand it (and I am, again, admittedly very ignorant when speaking on this matter, so please bear that in mind) Japanese culture is currently going through an identity crisis related to its real and present LGBTQ population. It makes manga like My Brother’s Husband already an interesting addition to the canon. Now released in English, Tagame’s story is not just an important work appearing during a period pivotal to its subject, but is one worthy of being read, even without the tie it has to the still marginalized culture of LGBTQ folk, providing crucial characterization that proves to be far from being cliched representatives.
My Brother’s Husband has thus far only had a single omnibus released in English, but having read it, I am already excited to recommend it to anybody and everybody. Heartfelt? Check. Adorable? Check. Truly, albeit quietly, groundbreaking? Oh, you’d better believe it.
The story focuses on themes of loss, family, masculinity, love, and emotional honesty. The story begins with the death of Yaichi’s twin brother, Ryoji. Still trying to contextualize the feelings that Yaichi is haunted by for his brother – a sorrow over his death that he feels unable to express and articulate, as well as a lingering feeling of betrayal, leftover from when Ryoji announced that he was gay – Yaichi finds himself the mostly unwilling host to the biggest shock he could have imagined –
His brother’s very large, very Canadian widower, Mike Flanagan.
If not for the fact that Yaichi’s ultra adorable and headstrong daughter Kana is absolutely taken by the thought of having a Canadian uncle, he might never get the courage to get to know his brother’s widower. What makes Yaichi a truly interesting character is that far from being treated as a character who only needs to be this narrative's straw man, he is a stay at home dad and from what I have learned, appears to be an accurate representation of modern Japan’s cisgender struggle with their own homosexual population in the face of a world that is increasingly accepting their own population of LGBTQ peoples.
Truly remarkable is the realistic manner in which Yaichi begins the story afraid to have his shirt off while around Mike, out of a lingering fear that toxic culture has taught him, which is that Mike may just try “something” with him. The idea that Mike - and his brother, for that matter - are deviants is something that lingers often in the periphery of the way that Yaichi views his house guest, sometimes acted out, in spite of his desire to provide a good standard of hospitality.
Mike isn’t a boring character either, in fact is far from it. I’ve always wondered how Japanophiles would be treated in a manga (aside from what I’ve seen in Oishinbo) and Mike is an out and out fanboy of his widow’s culture. I think what is most important in this story is that this is not a one-sided story or education, but is rather a sharing of knowledge between two very different outlooks on life and a realization of how two different people cope with emotional trauma and culture shock.
Everything about the book is quite heart warming, and Tagame’s ability to bring across the subtleties of masculine emotions is unlike anything else in manga. Interestingly, the book features many instances of near-male nudity, and after some time spent thinking about that addition in a book that would “otherwise” be suitable for people of all ages, I realized that the way that the mature adult male body is portrayed in this book is not unlike the manner that female bodies are portrays in a lot of modern manga. The muscular, thick bodies of men are portrayed as things of beauty, sometimes almost coming off as, somehow, delicate. It’s truly striking to see the male form treated as an object of admiration, in much the same way that a female’s body is often viewed in the same manner.
For this being Gengoroh Tagame’s first foray into family friendly work, I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed and would highly recommend this story to anyone.
Kayla loves all things weird, wonderful, and macabre. Her soul’s in writing, and her hobbies include gaming, watching movies and television shows, and reading anything and everything. Her black cat’s TOTALLY, 100%, not evil.