My Brother’s Husband Volume 1
Gay characters have been portrayed in manga in a variety of ways. The best-known approach takes place in the yaoi genre, which concentrates on physical interactions and is aimed at women. My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame is the opposite, focused on normalizing a gay relationship to those who are uncomfortable with the idea.
Yaichi is raising his daughter Kana alone. In this way, the book starts as a domestic fantasy, like Yotsuba&! or Bunny Drop, with a cute kid and a hard-working father making a home for her. Then we find out that Yaichi had a twin, Royji, who passed away. More than that, Royji was married to a a bearded Canadian, Mike, a bear of a man.
Mike has come to visit Japan to honor Royji’s memory, although Yaichi is very uncomfortable even knowing that his brother was gay, let alone interacting with an out gay man. It’s up to Kana to bridge their gap. She, as a child, can come out and ask what Yaichi’s thinking but won’t say, things like “Men can marry each other?! Is that even allowed?!” Yaichi’s also resentful about Royji spending years apart from him, although it seems it was based in Royji’s need to find a place where he was accepted.
My Brother’s Husband is very much like a very special episode of a sitcom, one where the cast learns what it means to be gay and that it’s ok. That’s not a slam — there’s an audience and a need for works like this. I liked it.
Readers attracted to the subject matter, to seeing how this situation is portrayed, may find it simplistic in some ways. But someone who wants to read this story may not be the ideal audience for it. I think it’s really aimed at people who feel like Yaichi does — thinking they don’t know anyone who’s gay, feeling discomfort at being forced to deal with someone unlike what they’ve been raised to believe is normal. That’s even more of a struggle in a culture like Japan’s, where fitting in is more important than standing out.
The storytelling is straightforward, easy to read, particularly for those who might be new to the medium. There are plenty of panels that establish detail, so the reader gets a feel for this small family’s daily life. We sometimes see Yaichi’s thoughts, immediate reactions of dislike or recoil, but he’s too polite to express them. Still, it shows the reader what he’s really thinking under a proper exterior.
Mike is something of a paragon, a perfect homosexual who always knows the right thing to say, and a self-described Japanophile who loves the culture. That gives him an optimism that smoothes over what could otherwise be awkward moments. It’s a nice comparison to Kana’s naïveté. Since she hasn’t yet been corrupted by society’s expectations of what’s proper, she can relate to Mike more honestly and in friendly welcome. It’s charming and provides hope for the future. (The publisher provided an advance review copy.)