Page 45 Review by Stephen
A very gentle graphic novel full of quiet conversations and even quieter contemplations with such a huge amount of space that I devoured the entire 700 pages in a couple of hours, and I am a very slow reader.
It's certainly no car crash or culture clash - this isn't a book of conflict - but certainly eyes are opened and I learned stuff too. I did know that there is a tattoo ban in public swimming pools because my mate Ryz visited and she is covered in tats (tattoos are associated with organised crime), but I didn't know that the Japanese don't hug. Although young Kana does becomes delightedly addicted to this novelty.
Young Kana is delighted by most things and inquisitive about everything, so when burly and bearded Mike Flanagan from Canada arrives on her Dad's doorstep she is stunned then uncontainably excited to learn that a) Mike was her Dad's recently deceased brother's husband b) in some countries outside of Japan, therefore, men can marry men and c) that her Dad even had a brother. But what she has now is a hugely exotic new uncle: a great big bear of a man with chest hair and everything! And he gives hugs!
He probably shouldn't have hugged her Dad, though.
Immediately young Kana invites Mike to stay which puts her Dad in an awkward position because... well, her Dad, Yaichi, feels pretty awkward about all of it, and he begins to realise that he has a lot of thinking to do, and not a little soul-searching ahead of him about his twin brother, why they became so distanced (after an early, closely knit childhood), and his attitude towards sexuality.
I'd like to emphasise right now that Yaichi isn't homophobic: he's a thoroughly decent bloke and devoted single father, but there is a lot that this sensitive man has avoided until now and initially he catches himself having double standards that he's ashamed of. For example, he's used to wandering around the house in nothing but his boxers after bathing, but feels the need to cover up now that there's a gay guy in the house. Especially since his brother Ryoji and he were pretty much identical twins haha! But then, he'd probably have thought to cover himself up with any strange man new in the house... I always have.
Basically he massively over-thinks things, realises he's massively over-thinking things, and then becomes embarrassed about that. I think it's all thoroughly forgivable, endearing indeed, don't you?
In the meantime Kana is a whirlwind of enthusiasm - it's Mike this, Mike that, Mike the other - and asks the bluntest of questions as kids do, even though she's not quite aware of what she's asking. Too, too funny!
It's his daughter's wide-eyed, unwavering adoration that bonds Yaichi to Mike in these vital early stages and gradually Yaichi begins to come around to the idea of showing Mike round all the local haunts where he and Ryoji used to hang out. Opening up about Ryoji might take a little longer, but Mike's a very, very patient guy...
As I say, this isn't a culture clash - Mike is well versed in Japanese culture because he was married to a Japanese guy and he doesn't go round wearing the pink triangle you see on the front - but where things grow slightly askew is after Kana, desperate to introduce Mike to her friends, learns from a friend's mother the term "negative influence". And her father, having become completely comfortable with his new brother-in-law, is horrified at the prospect of his daughter being taught prejudice.
There's so much more in these pages for you discover yourselves, including a deeply affecting silent scene which has nothing to do with Yaichi or his brother, plus on top of that there's Kana's Mum's place in the family to unfold.
I like that Kana's drawn in the perceived 'classic' style of sugar-buzz manga (see YOTSUBA! for equally unbridled curiosity) which suits her personality perfectly, whereas the men are slightly closer to Taniguchi, if on steroids. The parks where the boys played have that same Taniguchi serenity too.
The sentences are much shorter than mine - markedly so - and this helps keep things free from melodrama, mawkishness, and didactic proselytizing.