True to form, I end these holiday reviews with a story that's all about family and acceptance, as well as yet another stand-out LGBTQ-themed book from another unexpected source.
MY BROTHER'S HUSBAND (Ototo no Otto), by Gengoroh Tagame. First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2017.
Yaichi leads a largely comfortable life raising his daughter Kana, even as he tries to come to terms with the recent death of his estranged twin brother Ryoji. Then one day his brother's widower shows up at his door, a big, burly, gentle ginger giant named Mike. Mike has come to Japan to learn about his late husband's family and early life, but his presence ends up forcing Yaichi to come to terms with not only his own prejudices, but his own past as well.
Reading this, you would never guess that Tagame is primarily known for his hardcore S&M-flavored gay porn. It's not like most mangaka didn't make some form of porn at one point or another, but it just makes it all the more remarkable to see him turn around and make something that's so heartwarming and thoughtful.
My Brother's Husband is a story about acceptance and understanding. Obviously a big part of that is Yaichi getting over his assumptions about homosexuality, but it's also about him coming to terms with his own past. Yaichi isn't a ranting, raving bigot but instead a guy who tends to repress anything that makes him uncomfortable or self-conscious. In doing so not only has he internalized a lot of generalized stereotypes about gay people, but also indirectly drove away the brother he was previously so close to. He comes to these realizations slowly over the course of the volume, helped in no small part by Kana's blunt questions and unquestioning acceptance of her novel new uncle as well as some conversations late in the book about the difficulties of coming out.
It's also about accepting and understanding grief and coming to term with one's past. Both Yaichi and Mike feel Ryoji's absence keenly, and we see a lot of visual references to that: mirror reflections, shadows, blurred faces, etc. It's only after Yaichi starts to get over his homophobia that he's truly able to start coming to terms with his grief for his brother, leading to some of the most quietly affecting moments in the whole volume. Meanwhile, Mike is only starting to get comfortable enough with his newfound family to let his endlessly pleasant demeanor slip to reveal a glimpse of the raw grief in his heart, which leaves his emotional arc feeling a little incomplete by the omnibus's end. Yet it's these moments, along with the slightly preachier ones dealing with Yaichi's homophobia, that lend My Brother's Husband both heart and soul.
Of course, Tagame wasn't going to be able to completely get away from his roots when it came to the art. Yaichi and Mike are both built along the broad, muscular lines that Tagame likes so much, although Mike is portlier while Yaichi is more slender and compact. Still, he draws wonderfully naturalistic faces on the adults, while Kana far more simple looking with her big eyes and flappy mouth. The backgrounds are mundane but cozy, which is only emphasized by the straightforward composition and the heavy focus on faces. Still, there are some quietly elegant moments that manage to capture a lot of emotion, like the chapter that puts the reader in Yaichi's place as his eyes blur with tears.
Anne Ishii's translation is good (which is no surprise, considering how familiar she got with Tagame's material in the Massive collection), but the detail I liked best is that Mike's dialogue is noticeably simple yet slightly stiff and formal, even when he's not grasping for borrowed words in katakana. In other words, it's the way that a foreigner speaking Japanese as a second language would likely sound to a native speaker and it's a wonderful little touch. Another wonderful touch is the inclusion of some of Tagame's drafts, which demonstrate just what a great draftsman he is.
My Brother's Husband manages to deliver both the snug, happy feelings of your average iyashikei set-up with a healthy dose of introspection and a good message to boot. As the young people say, this will hit you right in the feels and I can't wait to see how it wraps up next year.
This series is published by Pantheon Books. This series is complete in Japan with 4 volumes available. 2 volumes have been released in a 2-in-1 omnibus and are currently in print.
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