SOTUS: The Series currently ranks as the highest rated Thai drama on My Drama List. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that this show ranked up there with the likes of popular K-Dramas, Tunnel and Healer. Granted it was not watched by as many people, I still think it is a big deal. There are not very many Thai dramas among the top rated dramas. The only other one anywhere close is the Thai remake of Full House. SOTUS must have done something right to become this popular considering it is a BL drama which is already a niche market.
I am not complaining at all. In fact, I think SOTUS deserves the praise it receives, BL or not. But I wonder how much of the show’s popularity comes from being far better than most BL dramas we get as opposed to the actual merits of the show. I think part of the reason it did so well is that appealed to a wider audience than the relatively small group of BL lovers. If that is the case, what did SOTUS do differently? What does it take for a BL show to be viewed as any other romance rather than one that is only watched by a select few? Here I would like to discuss some of the ways in which SOTUS took a unique approach compared to other popular series like Lovesick or Addicted.
Synopsis: SOTUS stands for Seniority, Order, Tradition, Unity and Spirit, a university tradition for welcoming freshmen. The freshmen are meant to gain the respect and mentorship of their seniors by performing many challenging activities, many of which can be described as bullying. In our show, Arthit (Sangpotirat Perawat aka Krist), a very strict head hazer is faced with a stubborn and rebellious freshman, Kongpob (Ruangroj Prachaya aka Singto). The show follows their evolving relationship in their first year together at college.
Re-Watch Value: I re-watched this show, last week, during the longest slump in my 7 years of drama watching. I realized that I enjoyed SOTUS just as much as I did when I first watched it sometime this February. It was just as interesting and gripping. When I read the comments I noticed that most people gave this drama a high rewatch value and that plays a big part in popularity. A simple story that is conducive to repeat watching is always a good strategy for success. It becomes a brand that people want to continue to follow.
My analysis suggests that SOTUS did not use many of the same tropes that we have come to associate with BL. It contradicts many of the ideas I presented in my previous posts, about why the female audience loves BL. Here I want to talk about what makes this show different and well-liked.
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead
Firstly, SOTUS did not feel like a BL story. It felt like just any other college romance. I am not sure I can explain it well but the atmosphere it created was quite different from what we are used to. Overall it felt a lot less angsty than some of the other shows. It was a simple love story of two people falling in love. In fact, I would say that foes-turned-lovers would be the main trope as opposed to BL. This is a much loved drama theme and all types of drama lovers are drawn to it.
Though many of us have never experienced hazing and probably never will, SOTUS creates an atmosphere that many of us can relate to. They have many of the same struggles that most of us face in college. Deciding a career path, heartbreak and getting adjusted to a whole new life away from home are some of the challenges faced by our characters.
As I have mentioned in the past, I think violent relationships in BL are not uncommon one of the biggest turnoffs for viewers. This show was much more comfortable to watch because there was no violence within the relationship. The drama is set in a college hazing environment therefore there are some acts of bullying but the relationship between our main leads is very respectful with no attacks or aggressive behavior.
But the portrayal of their relationship is not without issues. Arthit and Kongpob’s feelings for each other has been also described as the biggest flaw of this drama. It definitely makes sense that the leads take time to figure out what their feelings are because it is all new to them. But when Em expresses his surprise about Kongbop being gay, he explains that he is in love with Arthit and that would not be the case if it were another man.
It is not uncommon in Asian BL stories to present the couple as being attracted to one another only because it is their “one true love” but otherwise they are “not gay.” Although I understand that producers might want to create this image in order to make the relationship more acceptable to a relatively conservative audience, it is extremely problematic. It further reinforces the idea that one’s sexual preference is something that one chooses and can apply on a case-by-case basis.
Despite, its problematic treatment of homosexuality, I must say this drama has some of my favorite romantic scenes ever. I am not one to normally fangirl over proclamations of love but the party scene where Arthit announces that he and Kongpob were dating was one of the sweetest things ever. That scene best captures the acting abilities of Krist and Singto. No words are spoken but expressions alone convey that Kongpob was taken aback but overjoyed and Arthit seemed ecstatic and confident to finally accept their relationship.
There was a significant supporting cast all of whom did an amazing job. There were some interesting friendships and relationships that I wish could have been further explored. As one of the actors said, he would like to see viewers enjoy the show not just to fangirl over Arthit and Kongpob but also enjoy the stories of all the other characters and there is plenty to enjoy. Of course our main leads got the bulk of the attention but it was definitely not for the skinship. All we got were 2 kiss scenes but, I think most fans would agree, they were perfectly squee worthy. There was very little fanservice catering specifically to to the BL fan audience and I think it made some viewers more comfortable.
SOTUS reminded us that you don’t need some unrealistic villain to keep the plot interesting or maintain the drama. Unlike many dramas, the leads did not even have to deal with disapproving parents, or society frowning upon their relationship. I am sucker for all stories portraying inner conflict and that’s what SOTUS does. It uses Arthit trying to figure out his feelings for Kongpob as the driving force to keep the story interesting and moving forward.
SOTUS has been so successful, in Thailand and other parts of Asia, that they will be making a second season. It is going to be challenging for the show to live up to the expectations of its fans but since we have the same team, I am not too concerned. The next season will be focus on Kongpob as the head hazer and Arthit as a college graduate in the workforce. I am very much looking forward to season 2 that comes out at the end of this year.
Did you enjoy SOTUS? What do you think made it so popular?