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Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Rise of “Philippine BL”

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You’ve probably noticed the sudden influx of unfamiliar content trending on Twitter these past few months. If these feature two boys shown as a love team, you are probably looking at a form of BL.

To the unacquainted, BL or “Boys Love” is a genre of fictional media which prominently features homoerotic relationships between male characters. While it has roots in Japan (as Yaoi), the past decade has seen Asian countries like Taiwan and Thailand push the genre to greater heights. I will not go into a deep dive of its history, tropes, and technical definition as those are still subject of so much debate. But if there is one thing you must remember about BL, the content is marketed more towards a female audience (or “Fujoshi”) rather than the LGBTQIA+ community.

But this year, the Philippines is diving deep into the world of BL and throwing its hat into the ring while redefining what BL is for a Filipino audience, with a noticeable pivot to the LGBTQIA+ audience.

The first one out of the gate was The IdeaFirst Company’s “Gameboys”. The show came out at the latter part of May unannounced, without any prior media fanfare and no promotion. Gameboys is a digital series which features indie scene darlings Kokoy De Santos (as Gavreel) and Elijah Canlas (as Cairo). The show quickly grew its fan base both in and outside the Philippines, and now boasts more than 8 million Youtube views (and counting) across its 11 Episodes as of this writing. The appeal is not surprising because the show capitalized on the lack of relatable content during the early days of the Philippines’ lockdown. Also, the show was not shy in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic head on. Without giving you any spoilers, the couple’s struggles revolved around the limitations and challenges that the pandemic brought. The show’s writer Ash Malanum was also not shy in breaking traditional BL tropes (i.e. girls as villains, and the main characters not declaring their sexuality).

The IdeaFirst Company took a risk with an unproven formula (at least in the Philippine context), and they are now reaping the fruits, with big name sponsors coming in like Bench, TM, and Silverworks. They have even announced a movie sequel due to the huge demand. Now everyone seems to be joining the fray. Production houses, from content veterans like ABS-CBN (Hello Stranger and Oh Mando), Regal Films (Ben x Jim), Globe Studios (Gaya sa Pelikula), to new production houses like USPHTV (In Between), Oxin Films (My Day), Unframed Film Production (Better Days), Asterisk Digital Entertainment (My Extraordinary), Ticket2Me (Boys Lockdown) and Star Image Management (Amore), are all investing in the genre.

Most notable of which is ABS-CBN. The content behemoth (sans its congressional franchise) has pushed its subsidiaries into the BL world. First is “Hello Stranger” by Black Sheep, a unit of ABS-CBN’s Star Cinema. The show features ABS-CBN stars Tony Labrusca (as Xavier) and JC Alcantara (as Mico) across 8 episodes. The show ended last August 19 and has garnered more than 8 million Youtube views, with a movie sequel in the works. Without going into spoilers, the series revolved around the pandemic and featured a unique blend of a coming-of-age story with a sprinkle of reference to Philippine poetry and cinema. The second BL series from ABS-CBN is produced by its content unit Dreamscape. “Oh Mando” will be headlined by Kokoy De Santos and Alexander Diaz, directed by Eduardo Roy Jr. (of Pamilya Ordinaryo and F#*@bois), and is set to be released this September after the international launch of ABS-CBN’s new digital platform “iWant TFC”.

Another notable entry is Asterisk Digital Entertainment. [PxxxT] While relatively new to the entertainment industry, Asterisk has partnered with TV5 to broadcast “My Extraordinary”. The series is set to be the first BL series on Philippine broadcast TV (without counting GMA 7’s My Husband’s Love, which others do not consider as BL). Asterisk will release My Extraordinary on both on TV5 and Youtube this September.

If the success of Gameboys, Hello Stranger and the other currently streaming BL series are any indication, we will definitely see more BL content coming our way this year. Whether these new contents will tell the LGBTQIA+ story or maintain toxic BL tropes, is still something that remains to be seen. We of course hope that Philippine BL will carve its own space, let go of problematic storylines, and share our unique Pinoy queer experience and stories to the world.

Biboy is a lawyer by day, Youtube reactor by night. Visit and subscribe to his Youtube channel to get BL recommendations at ‘Biboy in the Wild’. He is part of the BL Reactors Online Society (follow the group on Twitter @BROSofficial3).

WATCH: Biboy in the wild reaction videos

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