What I’m watching: SOTUS the series
(2016, first season streaming on Netflix)
Seniority. Order. Tradition. Unity. Spirit.
No, not an alternative acronym for the Pride flag – but the motto of a Thai Faculty of Engineering, in this unexpectedly adorable romantic drama available on Netflix.
SOTUS tells the story of Kongpob, a confident and popular freshman engineering student, and his defiance of the hazing rituals foisted on him and his fellow freshmen by the seniors, led by the moody, angsty Arthit. As Kongpob becomes the de-facto freshman leader, he and Arthit publicly butt heads at every initiation ritual – and indeed, in every personal encounter as well, from the sports field to the cafeteria. However, as the 16 40-minute episodes unfold, their clashes grow increasingly flirtatious, and a romance slowly, tentatively starts to blossom.
SOTUS is a notable example of the popular East Asian “Yaoi” genre – known in English as “Boy Love” or BL. Yaoi emerged in the 1980s as a Japanese media form featuring homoerotic relationships between male characters, but is usually created by women, for women.
Yaoi was embraced in Thailand from the 1990s onwards, where it developed into its own powerful and popular genre known as “BL”. Thai BL comics, novels and TV series are now exported across the region, and draw legions of (still primarily female) fans. SOTUS itself started life as an online novel before being adapted for the small screen by major Thai TV production and talent agency GMMTV, going on to become a major commercial and international success.
Unlike many more traditional Yaoi stories, SOTUS works well for queer audiences. The show deals sensitively with issues such as coming out and self-acceptance. Whilst Kongbob is the more assured of the two romantic leads, he still grapples with whether to tell his parents, and the fear and confusion that come with confessing your feelings. Arthit meanwhile is often paralysed with indecision, worrying about what his friends and wider society would think of their relationship, and constantly looking over his shoulder every time Kongpob attempts some PDA.
It isn’t perfect: there is an awful lot of time spent on the initiation rituals, which can drag and may seem overly cruel to a UK audience unfamiliar with “hazing”. However the supporting cast are well developed and believable, with their own dreams and heartaches. The chemistry between the two handsome leads is undeniable, and the romance unfolds so achingly slowly that it really works its way under your skin and pulls at your heart strings. By the season finale I was completely invested!
SOTUS is a fantastic introduction to the world of Yaoi and BL, and the slow burn romance will hook you in and leave you swooning.
John Mason – Volunteer