After I arranged to review this book, the publisher sent me a physical copy of the second installment of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband. This is the first time I’ve received a physical review copy of a text, making My Brother’s Husband: Volume 2 a bit of an outlier in my review experience. The decision to send a physical book is eminent, as it drew my attention to several features and oddities inherent to the text. My Brother’s Husband is a manga, which means that it is meant to be read from right to left (the reverse of traditional left-to-right page and book orientation in most of Western publishing). For a Canadian reader who is broadly unfamiliar with Japanese publishing, and with manga in particular, the experience of reading this text was different; my awareness of page layouts and pacing was heightened, and I was vividly reminded of the text’s form every time I turned a page. The decision, then, to send a physical copy of the text was pragmatic, as it enabled me to make a closer, more detailed account of the ways that My Brother’s Husband is, at its core, a queer text.
While the experience of reading My Brother’s Husband might be a unique experience for Western readers with similar reading histories to mine, it might also be a unique experience for readers more familiar with manga conventions. My Brother’s Husband ends with the second installment, making it an outlier as a manga text— manga series tend to have long runs, often spanning years. Two books is incredibly short-lived by those standards. If the form of My Brother’s Keeper isn’t adequately and convincingly queer, the first installment is blurbed by the patron saint of queer comics herself: Alison Bechdel.
The content of this short series is serious; it is heartbreaking in one moment, and heart-wrenchingly redeemed in the next. Volume 2 picks up where Volume 1 leaves off. Yaichi, who is described as a “work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo” on the dust jacket of Volume 1, has recently met, and is coming to terms with the existence of, his twin brother Ryoji’s husband. The husband in question is a composite image of Canadian stereotypes, but in the cutest possible way: He is Mike Flannagan, and he’s a big, cuddly bear who hails simply from Canada. In Volume 1, we learn that Ryoji is recently deceased, and we follow Yaichi as he oscillates between his own disgust, and then mere hesitancy about Mike, and as his daughter Kana demonstrates a child’s impetus for both love and curiosity that eventually influences Yaichi to begin to accept his new brother-in-law.
In Volume 2, Yaichi and Mike get to know each other, and Mike reveals the true purpose of his trip: Before Ryoji’s death, he had promised that they would go to Japan together. Yaichi still has his hesitations, and Mike and Yaichi exhibit cultural differences that cause tension (Mike is unaware of the Japanese cultural discomfort with hugging and crosses a personal bubble boundary by hugging Yaichi.), but, ultimately, they close out the text with more understanding of each other’s position than in the beginning.
My Brother’s Husband is beautifully drawn and is especially effective in the rendering of space. Gengoroh’s Tokyo feels lively, the space of the home feels comfortable, and the gravesite to which Yaichi brings Mike so that he can be introduced to his in-laws has a distinguished, sacred aura to it. Gengoroh uses the comics form expertly in his depictions of Yaichi’s inner monologue, too. Split frames and distinctly separate text bubbles allow readers to see both what Yaichi thinks. (Often, thoughts represented this way include his discomfort, and they are sometimes explicitly homophobic.) and what he says (He remains exceedingly polite in his actions, a factor that contributes to the underlying tension, but also makes the Canadian connection feel very natural.) Though My Brother’s Husband is a definite stylistic accomplishment, it stands out for its narrative importance; it allows the reader to better understand the ways that homophobia is culturally produced and maintained and to revel in the beauty of queer families and queer family connections.
Creative Team: Gengoroh Tagame (writer/artist), Anne Ishii (translator)
Publisher: Pantheon Books (English translation)
Click here to purchase.