Here is a translation of the first of a series of a Japanese articles on Thai BL written by journalist Mayumi Mori of the Asahi Shimbun. I collaborated with Mayumi along with other researchers on this series of articles and I am sharing loose English translations here.
I haven’t got permission to share the images in the original article and this translation is produced for the purposes of teaching and research under the relevant fair-use laws under which I operate in Australia.
Boys Love is a genre of manga and drama focussing on the love between two men. The young women who like Ossan’s Love and other BL dramas like it are called fujoshi (rotten girls). As a culture that is said to originate in Japan, BL has been explosively expanding into Thailand and its broader region. Just how did this come about? This article introduces some of the BL dramas that people are watching around Asia.
“I’m not gay! I hate gays!” So shouts a boy as another young man steadily comes closer.
“But this gay is living with you,” the young man replies as he wraps his burly arms around the dainty shoulders of the other boy and then kisses him just like that –
TharnType the Series is a television drama that started on 7th October. This is a scene from the first episode. The setting is a university dormitory. A student named Type comes to share a room with a man named Tharn who announces that he is gay. Whilst Type begins a campaign to chase Tharn out of their room, the love and trust between the two eventually blooms. This is a typical BL story.
On the same day that the first episode ended with a drunk Tharn kissing Type, the title of the series became the number one trend on Thai Twitter. The number of people who streamed the online version of the episode reached 1.5 million. Soon afterwards, the episode was translated into English and Indonesian on unofficial websites.
“I cried out aaaaaah.” “Tharn’s hands when touching Type were amazing!” “555 (Thai internet slang for laughter).” These are just some of the comments that flooded the internet.
In the second episode, Tharn devotedly nurses Type after he falls ill, with the distance between the two gradually decreasing.
Planned to include 12 episodes, by the end of the 3rd episode the pair have had sex. From then on, the final 20 minutes of each week’s episode concluded with scenes of the two boys making out half-naked.
Broadcast every Monday in the late evening, TharnType is made available online via Live TV an hour later. The two unknown actors playing the leads have steadily been receiving offers for work across Asia and have now rapidly become well-known stars.
“BL has become a fad. It’s now a chance to become famous.” So hopes Run Kantheepop, who plays the friend of the protagonists in TharnType. However, there is no time to relax. This is because there are at least four other BL series being broadcast at the same time as TharnType and each is equally as popular.
More than K-Pop, it’s the T-Wind
For the past five years in Thailand, TV series telling the sweet stories of male couples falling in love have been broadcast and become big hits, especially among young women. This year alone there were at least 17 such shows broadcast. There have also been several new productions announced for next year.
Jaruporn Kamtornnoppakun, who has been continuously producing popular dramas over the last few years, discovered the popularity of Boys Love six years ago whilst searching for something to attract young people who had become disconnected from TV shows. On a popular portal site for young people, the past ten years have seen over 500,000 BL titles uploaded.
“I was told that young people didn’t read, that they might read as little as seven books a year, if that. But I was mistaken. Young people have their own ‘universe’ and it’s just that we didn’t know about it.”
In order to make content that would connect with this ‘universe’, Jaruporn produced two BL series. These two series became massive hits on SNSs such as Twitter. There were even calls from international fans for the series to be broadcast online, and thus Jaruporn began making BL dramas every year.
The Thai BL wave has also reached the world of TV advertising. In 2017, a commercial for lip cream even depicted a scenario where two high school boys tried to kiss but they suddenly stop at the last moment when one of the boys pauses to apply the cream to the other’s chapped lips. Even in a commercial for hojicha ice-cream broadcast this year, two high school boys kissed while sharing an ice-cream cone.
Although Korean culture has become popular via K-pop throughout Southeast Asia and the Sinosphere since the 2000s, lately it has been said that “more than K-pop, it’s the T-Wind.” Throughout these regions, Thai culture has gained popularity on the back of BL dramas.
“I Love ‘Y’ Series!”
It’s 10th November in a department store in the heart of Metro Manila.
“We love you–!” About 200 guests yelled this out, most of whom were women. Four young men in light make-up had just appeared before them on a stage. This was an event for four of the actors from the Thai BL series Love By Chance, who were meeting their fans from across Asia.
According to the event staff, the highest ticket price was 25,000 pesos and they had all sold out. The cheapest ticket was 3500 pesos, which is an especially high price in the Philippines.
One 21-year-old Filipina who worked as an English teacher in Manila had bought a VVIP ticket for 15000 pesos. “When I see boys in love, I feel a thrill. I love ‘Y’ dramas,” she laughed.
In Thailand, this genre of media depicting boys in love is more often called “Y (wai)” rather than “BL.” In Japan, young women who like BL are called fujoshi (rotten women), but in Thailand they are known as “Y girls” (sao wai).
The Origin: Japan’s “Yaoi”
The origin of this “Y” is the term “yaoi,” which has the same meaning as BL in Japan. One could say that the beginning of Thai BL dramas is the BL manga of Japan.
In order to explain how this all started, it is necessary to return to the 1970s. During the Japanese postwar economic miracle and the period of high economic growth, female manga authors who came to be known as the Year 24 Group since they were all born around the 24th year of the Showa Era (1949) began producing famous works that were known as shonen’ai. In particular, Takemiya Keiko’s Kaze to Ki no Uta (A Poem of the Wind and the Trees) became notorious for its explicit sex scenes and has become known as the ancestor of BL.
The fan culture known as dōjinshi, where fans draw their own manga, also blossomed at this time. The first Comic Market event (komike) also opened for the first time in 1975. While the number of participants at the first event was 600, by 2013 this had increased to 520,000 participants. BL and dōjinshi researcher Kaneda Junko explained that about “60-70% of participants and Comic Market are women” and that out of these women “more than half are fans of BL.”
The people who made such dōjinshi began to use the word yaoi to describe their works. A contraction of “yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi” (No climax, no fall, no meaning), this is how yaoi became another name for BL.
The yaoi of Japan, which currently comprises manga, dōjinshi and DVDs and which is said to have a market worth 20 billion yen, had spread to Thailand by the 1990s.
According to Poowin Bunyavejchewin, senior research fellow in Japanese Studies at Thammasat University, the popularity of yaoi all began with the sale of pirated goods by publishers in the Bangkok metropolitan area. These pirated comics came to be read secretly by young female students attending schools nearby these publishers’ stores and it is these young women who began to call these works “Y” among themselves.
“In Thailand, girls are expected to be good daughters, good mothers and good wives. They are therefore discouraged from expressing their desires openly in public. These girls began to enthusiastically support BL when they realised that the love between boys was free from gendered expectations and could likewise provide them the freedom to explore their own desires,” he explains.
Whilst Japan has recently seen shows such as Ossan’s Love and What did you eat yesterday that focus on romances between gay men, there are still few BL dramas on the scene.
On the other hand, thanks to resourceful fans who put up subtitles, Thai BL has become extremely popular among some fans in Japan. In December, there will be a fan event in Tokyo for the two stars of the famous Thai BL series SOTUS. In March 2020, there are plans to host a similar event for fans of Until We Meet Again, a BL series currently screening in Thailand.
According to Jaruporn Kamtornnoppakun, “In Thailand, BL is neither forbidden nor sub-cultural, it is now mainstream. Just like the pop culture of Korea that has become renowned across the globe, Thailand will now become the world’s centre for BL dramas.” (Mori Mayumi).