Tagame, Gengoroh. “My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1”, (Pantheon Graphic Novels), translated by Anne Ishii, Pantheon, 2017.
Struggling for Acceptance in Japan
Yaichi, a work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo who was once married to Natsuki and is father to their young daughter, Kana. Suddenly a Canadian named Mike Flanagan shows up at their home claiming to be the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin, Ryoji. Mike wants to explore Ryoji’s past, and the family reluctantly takes him in. From this point on we get an unprecedented and heartbreaking look at the state of Japanese gay culture that is still somewhat closeted today despite the influence of the West. There is hope, however, that the t next generation will be able to change the preconceptions about it and prejudices against it. With his young daughter Kana leading the way, Yaichi rethinks his assumptions about what makes a family.
The surprise here is that this is a graphic novel by famed manga artist Gengoroh Tagame who this time changes directions in his narratives and gives us a very different story that what he usually writes and this is a delight to read. We get opposing emotions here in that the story is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Quite basically this is a beautifully presented meditation on the struggle for gay acceptance in today’s Japan.
The art of the manga is wonderfully detailed and we see so much in the faces of the characters— confusion, relief, hurt, etc. This is a very sensitive look at what a family goes through when dealing with the coming-out process. Secrets are exposed with grace and style and I understand that when volume 2 is published we will have a complete look at grief, reconciliation and the strength to be who one is. The focus is on the uneasy relationship between Yaichi, a single father raising his daughter, and Mike Flanagan, who was married to Yaichi’s recently deceased (and estranged) twin brother, Ryoji. Tagame beautifully handles “Yaichi’s coming to terms with his feelings about his brother that’s rarely seen in mainstream comics. Rather than treating the tension between Mike and Yaichi as a massively dramatic point on conflict, the book instead treats it like the complicated and messy holding pattern that it is”. We clearly see that “quiet, subtle bigotry can be just as harmful as loud, bombastic bigotry”. —isn’t always an easy one to process. Tagame understands that and hopefully, as the rest of the book unfolds, readers will too.”
“The story provides a very interesting look at Japanese society through Yaichi’s struggle to come to terms with his brother’s sexuality, revealing some of the struggles the Japanese gay community faces at the same time”. It is Kana’s open heart and mind of a child that is responsible for the opening of her father’s heart and mind. We get a new and thought provoking perspective on homosexual relationships that is beautiful as well as creative and realistic.
Silly prejudices that are brought about through ignorance and closed minds is what separates us and here we see how to avoid that.