My Brother's Husband is a deeply empathetic and surprising manga about a Japanese family coming to terms with a relative's homosexuality. It's hot AND family-friendly. (Also, manga reads right-to-left, just like traditional Japanese.) Courtesy Penguin Random House
When I started reading manga artist Gengoroh Tagame's My Brother's Husband
, I felt like I was getting into a regular Tagame manga. Its main character, a fit stay-at-home dad named Yaichi, gets out of bed while the manga's panels suggestively shift from his armpit to thick underwear bulge. It's hot, if you're into armpits and underwear bulges, but not sizzling.
I assumed the following pages of My Brother's Husband would tip into open homoeroticism, like all of Tagame's work, and be full of masculine power tops and gay bathhouse energy—but nope, not exactly. It turns out My Brother's Husband is remarkably unlike anything Tagame has ever created, in that it's family-friendly.
One bear, one dad, and one kid. Courtesy Penguin Random House
Gengoroh Tagame is one of the most prominent and important gay manga artists alive, beloved for his exceptionally kinky, hypermasculine, and hardcore bear erotica—the gay kind, not the furry kind. (A quick Google search will show you what I mean: NSFW
.) He is often an anomaly in the straight world of manga, which has earned him a substantial international fanbase.
My Brother's Husband is a big departure for those fans. This award-winning all-ages manga is about a Japanese father getting to know the gay Canadian partner of his deceased, estranged twin brother. It's a deeply empathetic story about a Japanese family coming to terms with a gay relative, an exploration of the sneakiness of grief, and—shockingly—appropriate to give to kids (although I don't recommend they explore the rest of Tagame's horny oeuvre).
Just a dad in a bath! Courtesy Penguin Random House
Because it's Tagame, the manga can't help that it's a little
horny. The characters are frequently bathing, and these scenes will satisfy a regular Tagame reader. But it's also Japan—people bathe a lot! While there isn't one overtly sexual scene in the entire manga, Tagame constantly teases his adult readers' expectations.
Early on in My Brother's Husband, Yaichi, the father, encounters his daughter rubbing the chest hair of Mike, the gay uncle. "HE'S HAIRY ALL OVER HIS BODY," the daughter yells. Yaichi scolds Mike and tells him to put his clothes back on. The room fills with confusion and shame. "Dad usually comes out of the bath in just his underwear. I always tell him to put on clothes but he insists on being naked!" The daughter yells, pointing out her dad's hypocrisy. He's sexualizing Mike just because he's gay. Tagame plays with this dynamic throughout the manga.
In Japan, it's not customary to hug, apparently. Courtesy Penguin Random House
In another scene later on in the series, Mike breaks down, sobbing out of grief. Yaichi comforts him, holding him in his lap. It's a gentle and touching moment, but there's a visual euphemism. Mike, with his head squarely in Yaichi's crotch, looks like he's blowing Yaichi. Out of context, the scene is almost flagrantly sexual. But in context, it's completely tender and appropriate. A child would read this scene without the undertone. I don't think Tagame does this to be lewd, but to play with presumptions. It feels masterful.
I thought I'd find this corny but I couldn't stop reading. And it's long! 704 pages! Courtesy Penguin Random House
A brand new complete paperback version of My Brother's Husband
comes out today—Tuesday, February 11. Previously, the manga was only available serialized or in two volumes. This new one is a good price ($29.95) and in a big, easy-to-read format. It comes in at 704 pages. I can't recommend it enough.
Buy this so we can talk about it! CB