My Brother’s Husband is an award-winning manga created by Gengoroh Tagame, a mangaka known for his works targeted towards gay men. My Brother’s Husband marks his first foray into creating an all-ages title and his uncluttered art style and straightforward writing lends itself well to the didactic nature of the story he’s telling, making this a very accessible exploration of the issues facing LGBTQ people, both in Japan and around the world.
When Yaichi’s twin brother, Ryoji, told him he was gay, Yaichi accepted it but found that he didn’t know how to act around his brother anymore. Things became awkward between them and they grew distant, to the point that when Ryoji moved overseas to Canada they fell out of contact with each other all together. It’s only after Ryoji passes away, and his husband, Mike, comes to Japan to see where his late-husband grew up, that Yaichi meets the man that his brother married for the first time. Mike’s presence makes Yaichi uncomfortable, but the ease with which his young daughter, Kana, takes the idea of gay marriage in stride and quickly comes to love her Canadian Uncle forces Yaichi to confront his own preconceptions and prejudices. Through Mike, Yaichi becomes more aware of the difficulties that gay people face and finally comes to understand what Ryoji had been going through when they were young and the role that his attitudes played in the deterioration of their relationship.
My Brother’s Husband is primarily an educational piece that’s designed to help disabuse readers of misconceptions they might have absorbed and encourage them to empathize with groups who are othered by society. The main focus is on the discrimination that gay people experience in Japan, but the manga also touches on other types of prejudice, such as bigotry against foreigners or how judgemental people can be of family situations that fall outside of the norm, such as single parent households, like Yaichi and Kana’s. To aid in the goal of leading the audience to a more enlightened viewpoint, Yaichi is written as something of an everyman who, while not exactly hateful, holds a lot of stereotypical/incorrect views about gay people and their relationships and is fairly closed minded. This approach allows the reader, who may hold similar views, to learn along with Yaichi as he starts to think through some of his opinions and is confronted with the impact that his attitudes have had on other people. This process is aided by Kana’s insatiable curiosity and the fact that she’s young enough to still be unbiased on these issues. She can ask questions that Yaichi’s too polite to bring up and trying to explain things to Kana forces Yaichi to confront the lack of logic behind some of the beliefs he’s held and clearly never questioned. Mike is unflappably patient with Yaichi throughout all of this. He seems aware of Yaichi’s early discomfort with him and his foreign habits, like hugging (something that isn’t typically practiced in Japanese culture), but he maintains a friendly and upbeat attitude regardless and answers all of Kana’s questions with a smile. Sadly, Mike doesn’t wind up getting as much focus in the story as Yaichi, but I feel that the manga was able to avoid the trap that many stories of a similar nature fall into, where the minority character can wind up feeling like a prop who exists in the narrative solely to further the protagonist’s growth. Mike is a fully realized character; he has a goal that he’s trying to achieve and we see him coping with his grief over Ryoji’s death and occasionally struggle to adapt to Japanese culture. In spite of everything he’s going through, Mike maintains a cheerful demeanor and is compassionate to everyone he meets. He’s a really great guy who’s impossible not to like, and it isn’t long before he’s won Yaichi over, in spite of the man’s early misgivings. It would have been nice if Mike had received a bit more development, but, overall, I felt that his character was well handled.
A major source of humor throughout the series is that Yaichi will often think one thing, but then say something else in order to avoid being rude or creating an awkward situation. The manga will often display the thing that Yaichi wants to say in a thought bubble directly above the more diplomatic thing that he actually says, a contrast that’s often very funny. This also helps to illustrate the shift in his views over the course of the manga. He starts out wanting to scream at Mike for hugging him in the first chapter and ends up wanting to tell off a teacher for having a homophobic attitude in the later chapters. It’s touching to see how much Yaichi grows thanks to meeting Mike. He begins the story thinking to himself that he doesn’t understand the point of two men marrying each other and ends the series in a place where he can’t believe that a teacher would suggest that gay marriage was an inappropriate topic for children to be discussing. As beautiful as this transformation is, there is a bitter-sweetness to his journey, as, no matter what revelations he experiences, it is now too late for Yaichi to mend his relationship with his brother. Still, Yaichi is able to reconcile with Ryoji within his own heart and vows to make amends in the ways that he can, not just by accepting Mike as a part of his family, but by ensuring that he raises Kana to be the kind of person who won’t cause harm to others due to prejudice. It’s a moving resolution that reminds us all of the importance of being kind and reaching out to others while we have the chance.
At its core, My Brother’s Husband is a story about family. Yaichi’s journey not only allows him to become a better person, it allows him to reconnect with his brother, even if they can only be connected now in spirit. It’s a lovely and real story that tears down societal prejudices with honesty, humor and love. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this manga and I’d recommend this series to everyone and anyone who’s interested in reading a sweet and poignant tale about personal growth and overcoming prejudice.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
For more information on this series, visit the publisher’s website: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/545416/my-brothers-husband-volumes-1-and-2-by-gengoroh-tagame/
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