In My Brother’s Husband, writer and artist Gengoroh Tagame takes a heartfelt look at what it means to be a family and gay in Japan.
After sending his young daughter Kana off to elementary school, divorced stay-at-home dad Yaichi is surprised to find on his suburban Tokyo doorstep, a large, friendly, Canadian man who claims to be his dead brother’s husband. What follows is a sweet but awkward look into familial relationships and the cultural, social taboos still present in modern-day Japan. Kana serves as the bluntly honest conscience of this first volume by asking the questions adults are afraid to ask. This allows her bewildered father to ask questions about the biases of himself and of his community, ready to defend his new, albeit unusual, family member, and protect his daughter’s heart.
This is more of a slice-of-life story with larger issues at work but told in an easy-to-read language. It contains plenty of explanations of everyday life and customs in Japan for the hulking-but-affable Mike, as well as for the reader. The story covers some fairly common societal assumptions about homosexuality: whether gay individuals are a “bad influence” on children; do gay men find heterosexual men attractive; and how young gay people come out to their families. Bigger questions arise as Yaichi takes Mike on a tour of their hometown, which brings back memories of his twin, Ryoji. Mike, who’s still grieving, begins making an emotional connection with Yaichi and, especially, Kana.
Like Kana, I was charmed by Mike’s friendly, outgoing attitude and eagerness to learn more about his Japanese family. Her easy acceptance of the situation is what makes the story great. It is the adults who are most confused about the simple act of loving another human being. The child simply opens her heart and, I hope, her father and Japanese society follow suit. Gay marriage is not currently legal in Japan and, despite the openly embraced and highly-selling manga genres of yaoi, yuri, and bara, open homosexual relationships are still fairly taboo. I am definitely interested to see where the next volume takes the story. Yaichi has unresolved issues with his dead brother and subconscious worries about his daughter and Mike that manifest in dream sequences.
While the issue of gay marriage is an adult one, the manga is not inappropriate for teens or middle grade kids (depending on their maturity). The language, art, and ideas are presented in a straightforward manner without salacious details or sexual situations. This manga is Tagame’s first venture into an all-ages story. His previous work has been in mostly bara, sexually explicit manga geared towards homosexual readers. Tagame’s artwork isn’t typical of other manga genres. His male characters are hyper-masculine, sometimes bearish (common in bara). With simple, strong lines, and clean backgrounds, the characters’ faces are expressive and convey plenty of emotion to draw the reader into the story.
The comic was serialized in Japan in the seinen manga magazine Monthly Action in 2014. It’s been licensed in English and published in the US by Pantheon Books. Printed as a graphic novel in 2017, this volume is sold in a hardcover, omnibus edition, which makes it more expensive than most manga or graphic novels. It reads in classic manga style—right to left—and is also available in a Kindle version. The manga was adapted into a live-action television mini-series and aired in March of 2018.
As a realistic, slice-of-life manga it would fit in any collection. For yaoi fans like myself, it gives a different perspective on the real status of homosexuality and Japanese life.
My Brother’s Husband, vol. 1
by Gengoroh Tagame
Pantheon Books, NY, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: no rating