I’m obviously ripping through a ton of different titles at the moment. So, apologies for the sort-of spamming of reviews that I’ve been doing these last few days.
This is all in prep for various up-coming MidAmericaCON II/WorldCON panels. I’m on two manga/anime panels. One about horror anime/manga, and the other about yaoi/yuri. I stumbled across a reference to Otouto no Otto/My Brother’s Husband while looking for some yuri, believe it or not. You can find the first three volumes of this on-going series at a number of places, I read it on MangaReader (on my iPad to cut down on the pop-up ads), but it’s also here: http://bato.to/comic/_/comics/otouto-no-otto-r17256.
I HIGHLY recommend this title in general, but to GLBT/Q readers specifically.
You can tell immediately that the Gengoroh-sensei is mostly known as a ‘bara’ mangaka. All of his men are barrel-chested, highly muscular, and, in the case of Uncle Mike, hairy as a bear (pun intended). It took me a little while to get used to this style, but it’s super-worth it to stick with this story, IMHO. My rec comes with one huge caveat, however. Keep in mind that seinen slice-of-life is one of my absolute favorite sub-genres. I would read all the slice-of-life available, but my favorites really are What Did You Eat Yesterday?/Kinou Nani Tabeta? and now this one.
And they’re both ‘kinda gay.’
The set-up for Otouto no Otto/My Brother’s Husband goes like this:
Ten years ago Yaichi’s twin brother moved to Canada and married a man called Mike. A month ago, he died.
Now Mike has arrived in Japan to meet Yaichi and his daughter Kana. Yaichi has to face his own preconceptions and come to terms with who his brother really was.
And, that pretty much sums up the entire story really nicely. The things I really enjoy about this manga series are that Mike is really very much like a lot of gay men I actually know. He’s not overly fabulous, but there’s a gentleness and openness to him that feels really queer. I will say, though, that Mike is my age, clearly. I have no idea how “real” Mike is going to feel to anyone under the age of, say, thirty-five. I also suspect that some of Yaichi’s conflicts are probably going to feel very 1980s to younger readers (and by “younger” I mean kind of anyone who isn’t in their late-40s.)
On the other hand, I don’t know anything about how this plays in Japan. I’ve done only moderate research into the current attitudes towards gay marriage in Japan, etc., but my sense is that this is probably a Very Important manga, if you know what I mean–like, very necessary in terms of educating a more conservative public. In the version I read, Mike gives little Gay Culture 101 bits at the end of the volumes explaining things that I can only presume are commonplace to American/European/English-speaking audiences, like what is a rainbow flag and why gay people wear pink triangles as a symbol of pride.
But, beyond all this, I found this story utterly adorable. Mike’s explanation to the young daughter, Kana, about “who is the missus?” in their relationship is really quite amazing and wonderful. (His answer, “We’re both misters. I was Ryoji’s husband, and Ryoji was my husband.”) I love this so hard because in a lot of yaoi manga there’s this insistence on the heteronormative sexual/emotional/domestic roles, which doesn’t reflect the reality of GLBT/Q families at ALL.
I also love the hell out of the fact that after this simple, but profound explanation we spend a lot of time with our straight, cis male hero, Yaichi, as he struggles with his own preconceptions about how gay marriage works and his own worries/fears/etc about his twin brother (and, by reflection, himself.)
Kana, the young daughter, is probably one of my favorites as well because Gengoroh-sensei really nailed how kids deal with GLBT/Q issues. When my wife and I were first considering having children we attended a class for lesbians about the how-to’s/what to expects and one of the things we were warned about is how kids do NOT respect “the closet.” One of the little boys there happily announced to anyone–the clerk at the grocery store, random strangers on the street that “my moms are less-beans.” I found that both adorable and horrifying. And that’s a lot how things with Kana play out in this manga. She does all the cute instant acceptance stuff kids do–with the corresponding part where dad, Yaichi is FREAKING OUT BECAUSE OMG SEX, while Mike is all ‘of course we married because we love each other.’ And then we even hit moments where all the kids are curious/accepting, but the parents of friends of Kana get all weird and restrictive and awkward, like they legit thinks kids can ‘catch the queer.’
Which, sadly, was very much how things were here in the U.S. as little as ten years ago.
So, for me, as an older queer woman this feels SUPER realistic and poignant–because the stupidest stuff made me bawl like a baby.
Therefore my recommendation is several thumbs up with the caveat that milage may vary depending your age. I can only imagine this whole thing reads as very basic and kind of stupid to ‘the kids these days’ who have (thankfully!) had the luxury of growing up when it wasn’t so scary to come out as gay or lesbian or bi. To those folks reading this manga, I say, “Yes, children, this is what it was like when gramma came out as queer.”