SOTUS Sets a high bar for BL

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 HouseSOTUS 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?

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Grey Rainbow (2016): It’s a “Happily-ever-after”

Summary: Grey Rainbow tells the story of Nuer and Porsche, best friends, who struggle with their feelings for each other. Nuer is the son of an elephant camp owner while Posrsche is a law student. They room together in college and start a relationship and the drama focuses on their life after college as they come to terms with their love.

Quick Review: This is one of the best romances I have ever watched. Grey Rainbow is now among my top 5 dramas of all time. The cinematography was outstanding. The drama is set in Chiang Mang, Thailand and the drama captures the beauty of the land perfectly. Although the main leads are relatively young, it is refreshing to have a Thai BL drama set outside a high school setting. The mature characters also had to deal with more “adult” problems faced by the LGBT population, such as violence, marriage laws, and adopting children. I would not have guessed that neither Hongladaromp Kasidej nor Rattanamongkol Nutchapon were professional actors. The transformation of their relationship from best friends to lovers was portrayed brilliantly. This is not an angsty drama and is not the right fit for someone looking for a “hot” drama either. It is what one might call a “slow-burn” romance. Most people disliked the ending and called it ridiculous or even unnecessary.

I watched the drama, I loved it… even the ending. I hold an opinion that is different from most I have read and want to use this space to share why I think Grey Rainbow had the perfect ending.

Warning: Lots of Spoilers

I did not start Grey Rainbow because I was looking for a melodrama. In fact, I held off on watching it because I was warned about the “horrible” ending. I read comments that suggested not watching the last episode in order to enjoy the good parts and not be disappointed. This made me curious. What drama could be so good that the audience was okay with quitting three quarters of the way through and still find it worthwhile? After watching the first 20 minutes I knew why this was going to be a special show. What I learned is that it was not a bad ending. It was not illogical, rushed, or insensitive. It was not just thrown in there so that we could get another tragic Thai BL. It was just not what we wanted to see. It was not what most people considered a “happily-ever-after.”

This does not mean that the I was not sadden by the ending. In fact, I was sobbing for the entire last episode. At the same time, the joy I felt watching Nuer and Porsche’s relationship was equally intense. It ended with a feeling of happiness and comfort about what was, as opposed to disappointment about what could have been. Of course, it could have ended with Porsche and Nuer living together forever and having children and grandchildren but that would not have been as satisfying as this bittersweet ending.

“It takes a second to take a picture. But the picture can be significant to one’s life FOREVER. “ – Posrche

Every episode starts with this quote. Porsche is the storyteller and he seems to be reading from his journal while including quotes, a little “picture”, for how he felt during his time with Nuer. I do not think he was able to express these to Nuer when he was alive but when he reflects on their past, he is able to say what he wished he had. His final quote at the end of the series is, “Our love… will live on forever.” This is the only one he is able to express at the moment, when Nuer is already gone.

I judged the ending using the question, “Are the characters miserable at the end of it?” And the answer is very clearly, no. Of course Porsche and Neur raising their daughter together would have been a happier ending. Bt not all happy endings mean that lovers live together for all of eternity. In fact, most happy endings leave me wondering what happens during the rest of their time together. Are they happy forever? Do we ever really know that?

Nuer’s death saddened Porsche greatly but it also changed him greatly, in ways that I would argue, made him better able to face life’s challenges. It changed the way he interacted with himself when he was finally able to express all the love he felt for Nuer. In fact, Nuer becomes an even more important part of Porsche’s life. Of course, we can only assume that Nuer is okay after death, but as for Porsche, he seems happy and capable of living life as well as could. We see him do things like ride the motorcycle and care for Tang On, all by himself while he was dependent on Nuer in the past.

I knew that Grey Rainbow was going to be a complicated show and therefore I paid careful attention to all the little details. I am not going to pretend that I was able to understand everything that the makers intended, but, Nuer’s death was not shocking. There were plenty of scenes throughout the show that seemed out of place and indicated that something unexpected would happen. I am not really sure if Porsche knew of Nuer’s impending death. His actions seem to suggest that he did and if he did, Nuer’s heart attack makes sense. He needed that knowledge to stop time and use that “second” to say goodbye to Nuer. I know I need multiple rewatches before I am able to catch all the details. But if you are interested, there are many explanations and theories being discussed in online forums so do check them out.

In the last scene, Nuer, in the form of Porsche’s thought, says “Everything changes, Porsche. Except my love to you that will always remain the same.” This statement makes complete sense in this context because Nuer being dead now means that Porsche will never know anything different. He knew how much Nuer cared for him when he was alive and now he can continue living with that memory knowing that’s unchanging. This sentiment is not uncommon in male-female romance dramas but we rarely get to see that in our BL dramas. I  will always be glad to Grey Rainbow for giving our boys that happy ending.

What did you think about Grey Rainbow? What did you think of the ending in particular?

Yaoi: Boys’ Love and the Women Who Love Them- Part 2

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Yaoi Manga  
                             Courtesy: Danny Choo                                   https://www.flickr.com/photos/dannychoo/8276325511

 

Yaoi/ BL (Boys’ Love) is not without criticism. Not all these stories are happy and rosy. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of BL is that they are often tragedies. When looking for reviews one of the first things viewers ask is, “Does it have a happy ending?” More than half the time the answer is no.

Personally, I find them to be still worth watching because the stories are just so touching. When I need a good cry, nothing does it better than a good Yaoi love story. Yesterday I took the plunge and started watching the Thai drama special, Grey Rainbow. In terms of cinematography and acting, its probably the best I have seen in BL. But I am preparing myself for the tears.

Rape and other violent sexual acts are not uncommon in BL works. The Chinese drama/ novel Addicted is a good example of violence in relationships. As a society, we consider this unacceptable behavior, yet Addicted is one of the most popular BL dramas out there.

I think this is because aggressive behavior among 2 men is easier to accept for many people. It has to do with the power dynamics. You have 2 men considered to have  equal amounts of  power. In the case of a heterosexual relationship, the distribution is not balance and the woman is often considered “weaker.” This allows women to further distance themselves from the violence and see it as slightly less disturbing than when the aggressive behavior is directed towards a woman, like themselves.

If BL involves such aggressive and almost violent themes, why is it still appealing to so many? BL is definitely targeted towards women and is therefore written to appeal to their ideas of love and relationships. BL works tend to follow the, “I-hurt-you-only-because-I-love-you” trope. Despite being an aggressive individual, the seme (“top”) is often portrayed as being actually kind and caring towards his partner. I know that I keep citing Addicted as an example but this is another case where it is a good example.

In order to cater to this fantasy of a loving relationship, we are often provided with plenty of fan-service in the form of happy and fun BTS scenes. Viewers can continue their fantasies, often “shipping” the actors in real life. There is also plenty of fan fiction written about the most popular BL couples.

There might be plenty of “deep” psychological reasons that women enjoy BL but as I see it, at the core, its a form of light erotica. Its no wonder that it appeals to women when most of the porn out there is definitely not made for them. Sometimes the viewer just wants to watch 2 guys get it on. As one viewer said “The sex is just hotter.”

Not all BL works include sex scenes. Very often all you get is one kiss scene. But the more intense the scenes, the more popular the shows tend to be. Any BL story you find on YouTube will have associated, fan-made, “hot scenes” videos to go with it. I will admit that I have watched such videos multiple times and enjoyed them.

I am sure there are many more reasons out there for the popularity of  Yaoi/ BL. Whatever one’s reasons for enjoying them are, there are others who share your thoughts. I find the BL lovers community to be pretty open and inviting much like any K-Pop fandoms. The growing popularity and increased output of BL works shows that this genre is here to stay. And as a BL lover, that’s good news because the quality keeps improving.

This was not an easy piece to write considering that many of us hide the fact that we even like Yaoi/ BL. But I am a curious person and I want to know more. Share your thoughts. Why do you like BL?

Yaoi: Boys’ Love and the Women Who Love Them- Part 1

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“Yaoi, primarily known as Boys’ Love (BL) in Japan, is a Japanese genre of fictional media focusing on romantic or sexual relationships between male characters, typically marketed for a female audience and usually created by female authors.”
-Wikipedia

Let me start off by clarifying that I am a fan of Yaoi/ BL works. They have given me some of sweetest romances (Lovesick- The Series) and most realistic portrayals of relationships (Gay OK Bangkok 1 & 2). Lately I have been on a BL spree. I set aside all my other dramas and K-Pop to devote all my free time to reading and watching BL works; everything from Chinese novel translations to movies and dramas.

I am not new to the BL fandom. I started with the Thai drama Lovesick a few years ago and could not get enough of that show. As I consumed more BL works I started to wonder, “Why do I love this stuff?” And it wasn’t just me. There seemed to be a whole community that loved this sub-genre of Asian entertainment and I wanted to know why.

I had some ideas about why I enjoyed it but there had to more to it. I took to the internet to find some ideas. It seems like I am not the only one thinking about why women are drawn to Yaoi and BL works. There is even academic interest in the matter. What started as a niche market in Japan is now popular among (mostly) heterosexual females around the world.

Here I wanted to share my personal experience with Boys’ Love and some of the other opinions I found particularly compelling. These are just popular opinions and I know there are many more out there that I haven’t touched upon. This is a very complex question so I will have to split my post into 2 parts.

The most common reason people gave for enjoying BL is that they can enjoy unique plot-lines. Many Asian drama viewers found the romance to get repetitive after watching quite a few dramas (non-BL). As a person who has watched over 150 Asian dramas, I could not agree more. BL provides diversity within the romance genre.

I watch romance to fulfill my, true-love-conquers-all, fantasy and in the typical rom-com there wasn’t much to “conquer” in order to get to the happily every after. Disapproving parents, evil second-leads, and amnesia got old. By now I have a good idea of how these challenges are going to be overcome. I needed something more exciting.

Compared to a typical drama couple, the homosexual couple seem to have much bigger challenges. Characters have a lot of struggles as they try to come to terms with their sexuality. And even after that they have to deal with a society that their relationship forbidden. As a person who enjoys watching the internal conflict within characters, I tend to be a fan of most taboo drama tropes; be it age-gap relationships or affairs. BL works give me exactly what I am looking for. The bigger the challenges, the more satisfying a happy ending is.

Let’s talk about the BL characters. It is almost expected that the main leads in a Yaoi story are good looking. Why settle for one cute guy when you can get double the eye-candy in a BL drama or movie?

While a BL story gives you 2 hot men, it also takes away the, often annoying, female lead. I, for one, find myself unable to relate to most drama heroines because of their nonsensical behavior. I am sure there are other viewers that feel the same.  For others, who relate to the female lead, they tend to constantly compare themselves to her. Their fantasy bubble bursts when they realize that the “knight in shining armor” is only going to fall for the unrealistic heroine. You take out that female lead and replace it with another male; problem solved.

Yaoi distances the female viewer from the on-screen relationship and they become a third party watching the romance happen. After all if the leads are only going to fall for men, you cannot compare or compete. This does not mean the viewer has to be completely detached. BL stories often have a seme (“top”) and an uke (“bottom”) and allows the viewer an option to be drawn to one or the other.

To Be Contin-ewed…

If you watch Yaoi/ BL and want to share your experience, please do so in the comments. I want to know more.