Tagame-sensei is best known in North America for his overtly sexual comics by about and for gay men, with an emphasis on large, hairy men (what are called “bears” in western gay vernacular). The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame and Massive, an adult anthology, are available in English.
In an interview on Tokyo Underground, Tagame-sensei talks about drawing comics for gay men’s magazines and BL magazines. This series is his first gay series for a more mainstream men’s manga magazine, Monthly Action. This magazine is notably published by Futabasha, which also published Morinaga Milk’s GIRL FRIENDS. Clearly, there are some allies on the Futabasha staff.
The protagonist of Otouto no Otto (弟の夫) , My Brother’s Husband, is Yaichi, a single father, who has been estranged from his now late twin brother for many years. The volume begins on the day his brother’s widower, Mike Flanagan, arrives at Yaichi’s home. Yaichi is not at all comfortable with Mike, or the fact that his brother was gay, or married, but Kana, his daughter, can’t see the problem. The only problem she sees is that she had no idea she had an uncle at all! So when she invites Mike to stay, Yaichi can’t really say no.
The story is both realistic and very poignant, as Mike tries to stay close to his husband by visiting places from his past…and as Yaichi has to deal with the fact that he never really accepted his brother for who he was. Kana is terribly excited to share her newfound uncle with friends, and the only disapproval she expresses is when she learns that in Canada men can marry men, and women can marry women, but not in Japan. “That’s weird,” she says to which Yaichi responds “Right?” She explains patiently, “Its weird that they can’t marry each other here.”
Mike is instantly likable and his emotional range is refreshing and unusual in a manga. Yaichi is the more stereotypical manga male, his emotions left unexpressed and unresolved, while Mike, who is trying so hard to not offend, breaks down in open grief when given his husband’s boyhood bedroom to sleep in.
Overall, one of the most real comics I’ve ever read. Everyone is utterly believable, from Yaichi’s, quiet, non-violent, but omnipresent homophobia, to Kana and her friends’ curiosity about this completely new concept.
The manga ends with Kana’s mother coming over, which will throw another level of complexity into the mix. We do not yet know what her and Yaichi’s relationship is. How will she react to Mike? It’s an interesting cliffhanger for this family drama. Having said that, you know, this would make an excellent live-action TV drama.
Tagame’s art is lovely, favoring simple, realistic backgrounds and some great body language. And there’s a fair dollop of service for people who find the male body appealing. No willowy, long-haired bishounen, these are men with body hair and male genitalia.
I strongly recommend this series, but even more, I strongly hope that you’ll buy the book itself, even if you read it in scans. Your money will support the author and the magazine that threw itself into the ring for work like this. More realistic LGBTQ work in mainstream manga magazine is a very good thing. Think about it – this is a comic about gay men, running in a men’s manga magazine. Not an audience you’d think that would be terribly receptive to a comic about a big, muscular man grieving over the loss of his husband. And yet, so far the feedback seems to be positive.
I know what you’re all thinking right now …”Will it come out in English?” Maybe. Possibly. There is publisher interest and relationships in place that make it more probable than not. If I were a magic 8-ball, I’d say “Outlook Good.” But no promises. The world is complex.
2017 Update: Pantheon Books has released it in a gorgeous English-language (what will be 2 volume) edition. My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1 has launched!
Art – 9
Story – 9
Characters – 10
LGBTQ – 10
Service – 4
Overall – 10
For a hotly anticipated series, I have to say, Otouto no Otto actually manages to exceed expectations. And now I will anticipate Volume 2, when it becomes available.