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Daily Helping for August 8th, 2021 – Manner of Death

A promotional still from the TV show Manner of Death. Lead actors Max Nattapol Diloknawarit and Tul Pakorn Thanasrivanitchai are sitting behind a table wearing suits, their hands connected by handcuffs.

I have previously featured Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean BL tv shows as daily helpings. This prompted a rec to come through telling me to check out Thai BL. According to the reccer, “They’re the best.” Which is how I landed on the 2020 drama Manner of Death, starring Max Nattapol Diloknawarit and Tul Pakorn Thanasrivanitchai. But before I did, I wanted to know more about the genre of BL in general. I wanted to know why it was such a phenomenon. Let’s just say I was not prepared for the rabbit hole of information that I promptly fell into.

So what exactly is BL? Well, BL stands for boys love, and it is a genre of media that originated in Japan in the 1970s. BL, or yaoi, was a subgenre of Shōjo manga, meaning comics created for teenage girls that depicted same-sex relationships between male characters. This new genre soon expanded to encompass anime, tv shows, novels, films, and video games. By the 1990s, yaoi had become a popular mainstream commodity, reaching increasingly international audiences.

Fast forward about 20 years, and BL stories experienced a boom in popularity with the advent of digital publishing. BL web novels started to become incredibly popular, and production companies began licensing them to be adapted into television shows. The clampdown on depictions of same-sex relations on broadcast networks led to a rise in online streaming platforms, and in the past five years, there has been a surge in BL shows being produced all over Asia. This is especially true in Thailand, where over 80 BL shows were produced in 2020 alone. Yes, you read that right. 80!

Given all of the above, I was curious as to why BL as a genre is so popular. This is where the aforementioned rabbit hole comes into play, because yaoi and BL has been studied for decades in an effort to answer that very question. I read dozens of articles, all of which were fascinating reading. They also offered a myriad of explanations for BL’s growing popularity.

One of the most obvious is that audiences in conservative Asian countries are starved for LGBTQ representation. For many, these shows are the only depiction of their community available to them. But that doesn’t explain why these stories of male-male relationships are predominately watched by female audiences. Some people speculate that these shows offer an alternative to the often toxic hyper-masculinity that can be present in heterosexual stories. Others have pointed to the fact that the lack of female characters offer female viewers a break from the often rigid social norms that are usually placed on those characters. And those who are less charitable claim that women simply want to watch good looking men getting it on.

Whatever the reason, BL tv shows are a booming powerhouse in Asian entertainment across the board. One article I read claimed that over 60 BL web novel adaptations are currently in the works in China, despite the increasing censorship of LGBTQ content. 60 television shows based on web novels about a gay romance. That’s simply extraordinary.

Which brings me back to today’s daily helping, because yes, I did actually manage to watch Manner of Death in between all of the research, and I quite enjoyed it. It’s a classic crime show about a medical examiner who determines that a supposed suicide was actually a murder. He teams up with a local teacher to find the killer, ultimately discovering a conspiracy that goes right to the top. And of course, along the way, the two of them fall in love.

Now, is Manner of Death the best show I’ve ever seen? Absolutely not. In fact, I’m pretty sure I got whiplash from how quickly it would veer between being a crime drama and being a romance. But it was also the first show I’ve seen in years where a romance between two people of the same sex was treated exactly the same as one with members of the opposite sex. There was no angst at all about their pairing, no over the top coming out scene. In the first episode, one of them drunkenly kisses the other at a bar, and there’s no recriminations, no frantic claims of “No Homo”. Just two people who meet and fall in love who just happen to be men. I can’t tell you unbelievably refreshing it was to watch.

So are Thai BL shows really the best? I have no idea. But Manner of Death certainly was a fun watch with two leads who have smoking chemistry. If all Thai BL shows are the same, I’d say they’d have a decent claim to that title.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!