My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 2

By Gengoroh Tagame. Released in Japan in two separate volumes by Futabasha, serialized in the magazine Gekkan Action. Released in North America by Pantheon Books. Translated by Anne Ishii.

Last time I wondered if Mike giving advice to a young Japanese teen who was also gay would lead to larger drama, and I’m happy to report that it did not. Not that this final volume is conflict-free, but the conflict is as low-key as the first volume was, In fact, it’s almost lampshaded by the author, as Mike has apparently said that Japan is not as bigoted about homosexuality as the West. But that’s only overtly, and we see some good examples of it being something that people quietly want to go away. This leads to Yaichi having a meeting with Kana’s teacher, who is upset that Kana is mentioning a gay an to her classmates, as the teacher says being gay is “an adult topic” kids shouldn’t discuss. Yaichi’s inner monologue comes to life again, as we saw in the first volume, and once again he represses the emotion, but this time he does not repress the objection, and this leads to a great moment where he defends Kana.

Speaking of Kana, she continues to be a terrific kid, and we see her bond with Mike grow more as the book goes forward. This actually leads to a bit of an emotional climax, as of course Mike can’t stay there forever – he’s going back home, and Kana is trying her best to repress her emotions (as her father does naturally), but isn’t really making it work as well. (Earlier she was given a version of Romeo and Juliet to read by a classmate – it devastated her, and we see her sobbing.) This leads to one of the best scenes in the book, where she asks Mike if he swears he’ll come back to Japan again, and he says he can’t do that, because he swore to Ryoji they’d come to Canada, but then Ryoji died. This leads to him teaching her the English phrase “see you soon”, which immediately lightens the mood and is quite heartwarming. Each moment of emotion or turmoil in the book is quickly followed by release or a gentle scene.

We also see more of Natsuki, Yaichi’s ex-wife. There’s a few more scenes that show they still have feelings for each other, but any reunion on their part is left implied on the final page, because this is not meant to be about Yaichi, but about the relationship between Yaichi and Mike. Yaichi’s growth in a mere three weeks is great to see, as is the final hug between the two men. And I loved the pictures we saw of Ryoji and Mike’s wedding, which looked like an absolute blast, though also led to us hearing that Ryoji blamed himself for the rift between him and his twin. As with the first volume, there isn’t a lot of big emotion here – many pages go by with no dialogue and just facial expressions, and sometimes the facial expressions are ambiguous. But Tagame is such a good artist that you understand what he’s trying to convey despite the ambiguity.

This ran in a mainstream magazine for young men, and thus tries its hardest to be friendly and easy to read. It succeeds brilliantly, and I finished the second volume wanting to immediately go back and read the first. Everyone will want to read the story of Yaichi, Mike, and Kana, and I urge them to add this series to their library as soon as they are able.

My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 1

By Gengoroh Tagame. Released in Japan in two separate volumes by Futabasha, serialized in the magazine Gekkan Action. Released in North America by Pantheon Books. Translated by Anne Ishii.

This has been a book I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. I was at last year’s TCAF panel with the author, where he discussed his works and the challenges of a serialization like this one. It has since finished (at four volumes, meaning there will be one more omnibus), and this first omnibus is a handsome hardvoer with great reproduction and quality translation. But most importantly, the story and art are top notch. Fans of Gengoroh Tagame who know him for his Bara work (n.b. – Bara is gay manga, as opposed to yaoi/BL, whose primary audience is women) will love this, and those who aren’t into the gay bondage thing but want a good story about sexuality, grief, loss, and the intermingling of the three will also be delighted with this story.

The story deals with Yaichi, a single man raising his young daughter Kana. He’s a twin, and his twin brother has recently passed away. His twin brother was also gay, and his husband, a Canadian man named Mike, has come to visit Yaichi. What follows is partly slice-of-life – they go to visit places in the town, they make breakfast, they go to a gym – but there’s a lot more to it. Yaichi has inbuilt “ew, gay” prejudices that can’t simply be shrugged off, even if he is basically a nice guy at heart. Moreover, having a gay man living openly in their household is starting to make the neighbors talk, and the talk isn’t good. That said, Yaichi knows how he should be behaving despite his prejudices, and Kana simply adores Mike. As for Mike, he’s seemingly a happy-go-lucky guy, but is still dealing with grief over the loss of his husband, which is not helped by Yaichi being his identical twin.

My favorite thing about this release is how well the art and story complement each other. Tagame’s characters have amazing expressions, sometimes written all over their face (Yaichi), and sometimes seemingly poker-faced, but always drawn in a way that you know just what they’re thinking. The start of the story has an artistic conceit where the top half of a page has Yaichi acting out his (homophobic) thoughts, while the bottom half has the reality of his reserved Japanese response. I wasn’t expecting Yaichi to be as likeable as he is – yes, he’s a bit creeped out by the idea of Mike being gay at first, mostly due to how it ties into his brother, but he’s also prioritized being a good dad to his kid. (Taichi’s ex-wife shows up at one point – leading to a very funny reaction from Mike, who assumed she was dead by the photos in the house – and they get on quite well despite being divorced – it’s implied they broke up as she’s devoted to her work more than anything else.)

Mike can sometimes be a cipher, but that goes away as the book progresses, and we realize just how much he’s dealing with (and repressing, to a certain extent) his loss. His relationship with Kana is fantastic, as she’s constantly curious and trying to figure out things that adults haven’t really explained properly. And while some in the neighborhood call him a “negative influence”, that goes the other way as well, as he’s able to advise a young teen who comes to him and reveals that he’s gay. (This is right at the end of the volume, and I worry it may lead to bad things next time – I hope not, but the drama has been very low key so far.) And, as I said before, Tagame’s art is just terrific, giving added depth to characters just from a knowing look or a stressed out sigh.

To sum up, this book is simply compulsively readable, with its sole flaw being that we don’t know the date for the next volume yet. I was expecting to enjoy the series, but I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it, and how great all the characters were. And “being a gay foreigner in Japan” is treated just right. An absolute must-read.