I am going to come right out and say it: I LOVED THIS SERIES! It is pure escapism and entertained me despite all its cheesiness, tropes, and flat-affect acting. I did not care about any of that. What it did was to allow me for a moment to become a child again and muse. Additionally, whether realized or not, I think this series is ground-breaking for several very important reasons:
1. It is the first ever musical BL. All the songs are original and most landed. They were creative, endearing, cute, and I found myself singing along with them. They were well placed and gave this series an extra dimension of kawaiiness. Sure, they are very Disney-like but the songs are very catchy and a few were quite touching. They worked! For that alone, they deserve kudos. I thought it was bold and original to rebrand a BL into a musical.
2. This is the FIRST gay, gay, gay BL. It was GAY. Unabashedly, openly, and throughout. No pretentiousness and no trying to hide it. The main characters were gay. No obtuseness, no slight-of-hand, or dubiousness. It was fully developed as a gay fantasy and fairytale. In other words, gay was everywhere. How refreshing! No second guessing about falling in love with the person or the gender nonsense. They liked each other because they are cute and male. Nothing more gay than that!
3. The acting, which seems to be the major criticism of this series, I found it to be made up of real people. It is organic and honest. Our inclination is to want people to ‘act’ and when they are themselves, we call it bad. Most of these characters, if they were real, are ordinary and they played them that way. They acted like themselves. It is really like watching a musical play. It is very campy, cheesy, and never ever takes itself seriously. Just relax folks and enjoy the ride. This is a fantasy! It is a fairytale story not meant to be deep. It is all superficial and that is what you get. It is called tongue-in-cheek and I loved it. It was played that way throughout, which gave it an endearing charm. They created a new genre – it is a parody of a fairytale. You simply cannot get more creative than that!
4. They declare that they LOVE each other! Wow! Finally, a series where we hear the word love rather than like. It is unabashedly real and is said without hesitation or timidity. This is a genuine fairytale of two boys falling in love – a prince and a bourgeois.
5. Not to be indelicate, but this series was the first that ever mentioned what happens sometimes in bed when two people are sleeping together. One of them ‘farted’! Finally, a reference to realism that ironically is dealt with in a fantasy. I loved the honesty of that and the way it was handled with humor and then transitions into singing.
This is a simple fairytale story that happens to be completely gay-oriented. Prince Zeyn (Adrain Dionisio). Adrain, admittedly is an astonishing handsome individual who has the body of a Greed god, as you will see when you watch this series. While I know that some of the scenes when he is in a speedo are rather amorous and perhaps even salacious, my response is: YEA! There is no question that he has a stunning physique. Is this not a fantasy and the usual boundaries for decorum can be bent a bit to show that if you have a fantasy prince; would you not want that prince to be the prince of your dreams?! Now let us address the other ‘elephant in the room’, so as to speak. His acting skills. Are they laid back? For sure! But do they convey a deeper understanding of his character? Absolutely! Does he convey with complete sincerity the following: care, compassion, empathy, humility, understanding, appreciation of others, an attitude that he is no better than anyone else, and finally, love? YES, to all of those and more. I felt those emotions much stronger in him, simply in the way he conveyed his character. While humble, he still maintained a certain level of regalness. When he needed to be emotional, he was. I think criticism of his laid-back approach to the role is unwarranted. He conveyed who he was with his deeds, not gestures. I think that point was lost, unfortunately.
I digress. Summarily, Prince Zeyn is the next in line for the throne in the Kingdom of Zurbania. For those unfamiliar with the kingdom of Zurbania, it is north of the Island of Misfit Toys, south of Hogsmeade, east of Fantasy Island, and West of Neverland. His father, the King, dies suddenly, and before Zeyn can assume the throne, there is a coup attempt by his Uncle Zafar, played so sinisterly by Apollo Abraham. He is the Ursula of this story. The prince is rescued by his bodyguard and faithful trustee, who both pledge their complete loyalty. Because of some contacts that are known in the Philippines, they escape to Manila. Through a series of astonishingly good connections and circumstances, Zeyn’s ‘father’ (his trustee) ends up working at the Grand Hotel. The General Manager of the Hotel is Madame V, played very elegantly by Dovee Park. She, naturally, has a stunningly handsome son named Mikey (Eurwin Canzana). He is working there at the hotel and as circumstances would have it, Zeyn and he met. Zeyn, now identified as Art, is immediately smitten by Mikey. Mikey is cautious as has been hurt by his old boyfriend, Kevin, played I thought with great depth by Nico Librojo. The relationship development between Mickey and Art is a beautifully told story of fantasy. It is neither overly saccharine nor fraught with misunderstanding. But the looming sword that hangs over this relationship is that Mikey has no idea who Art really is. When he does find out, he is devastated because once again he has been lied to by a person he deeply loves. In addition, that person has not been completely open and honest with him.
As a side note, there are some brilliant scenes in this series between Mikey and Kevin. I thought the whole reason for their breakup, and Kevin’s futile attempts to reconnect, along with Mikey’s steadfast commitment to never be with him again, is one of the best depictions of what (gay) breakups are really like. It was handled with great sensitivity, realism, delicacy, and understanding. I felt and appreciated both sides to this breakup and thought its resolution showed complete depth to the characters. Kevin was presented as someone who made a mistake, regrets it and becomes worthy of forgiveness; not a villain, and perhaps may still establish the foundation for a lifelong friendship. He also, in the end becomes an intermediary between Art and Mikey that is worthy of the term: integrity. Kudos!
Two attributes in this story transports it to another level of radiance that has gotten overlooked in reviews. One is that Mikey has a significant support foundation from his family. His twin sister, Livy, played by the stunningly beautiful Leilani Kate Yalung, is an unquestionable pillar of support for her brother. Being twins, there is something organic about their connection that is manifested in honestly and reality. These two performers made it work with stunning authenticity. His mother was also a tower of strength for Mikey. She not only supported her son but understood him to the point that when she deduced that he was attracted to Art, she became comfortable enough to joke and bedevil their connection and warn him about using ‘protection’. In other words, she saw him fall in love, accepted it, nurtured this love, and embraced Art as part of the family. She made their love – ordinary. Mikey’s second support group was his gay friends. Mostly drag queens. Not only was this support deep and healthy, but it was also felt on acutely personal and emotional levels. Some of their musical numbers from the drag queens are just a joy to watch and are as campy as you can get, which simply made them better. This series showed with fervency the beautiful and intensity of acceptance and personal support for anyone who was going through some rough patches. Not reality? Perhaps not, but is it not the responsibility of a fantasy to imagine the world as Eden and wishing it was so?
There are two side relationships that I found quite interesting and worthy of attention. One was between Malik (Yani de Dios) and Ken (Ken Carpena). Malik is the son of the uncle who is attempting to steal the throne from Zeyn. However, he does not agree with or support his father and is deeply ashamed of his father’s behavior. Nonetheless, everyone around Zeyn, including Zeyn himself, are skeptical of his real intensions. He meets and falls for the receptionist, Ken, at the Grand Hotel where he is staying. Although their love story develops with mellowness, a strong bond develops between them. It feels subtly intense, even though we do not see much happening between them. But we perceive it. Perhaps because both discern that they do not quite fit in, or are even a part of society, or are perhaps not thought of as real mover and shakers of society. This is what makes this love story so ironic. Neither understood their significance or importance and therefore they found solace in each other. It is a rather heartfelt love story told with great tenderness and softness. Their song together moved me so ardently I literally cried. I understood them and felt their pain of having to separate without ever experiencing the beauty of intimacy between them and the realization that maybe, just maybe, they might never be able to feel that intimate physical relationship. I personally felt their connection even stronger than I did with Art and Mikey, perhaps because they seem like such sad, lonely, misunderstood figures and believe that they aren’t worthy of love. When they kissed, I was entranced.
The other budding love story is between Kevin, Mickey’s old boyfriend and Ryan, the hotel’s concierge (JoJo Bragais). Their relationship starts out a bit mercenary, but over time those walls break down and Ryan teaches Kevin to forgive himself and permit himself to open his heart to others. It is just a budding romance, but one that feels as if it will be fruitful. After all, is this not a fairytale?
The two main actors, Adrain and Eurwin, are both formidable, with Eurwin perhaps a bit more animated in his role. Together, both are convincingly good and there is a certain strong chemistry between the two that makes watching them together fun. And the two together as they develop their relationship are a joy to watch as they go through the stages of excitement, nervousness, and clumsy moves. Neither ever overplays their parts and at a gut level, I found them believable. One could make the argument that Mikey was insensitive and overreacting when he finally finds out about Art (Zeyn), but his reactions were also understandable. But after reflection, you could sense that he knows Art had little choice. I thought he captured those feelings convincingly. But the two who really captured my heart and soul were Yani de Dios as Malik and Ken Carpena as Ken. These two have such great chemistry together as well as astonishingly attractive boy-next-door looks. Both gave such life to their characters. They brought them out of the shadows of not just being sympatric and fated to be in the background, but fostering a relationship that on every front simply should not be. Both quiet, responsible, but for the most part buried in the background and at times sad, lonely, and a bit hapless. To some degree, each felt unworthy of love, and both were in need of companionship that understood each other. Fortune smiles at those who seek. Their characterizations are subtle, awkward at times, and filled with fear of rejection. And this was seen throughout and when the walls of all of that were finally broken down, they must deal with the realization that Malik must go back to his home country, leaving Ryan devastated and lonely. Ken’s projection of loneliness was spot-on and felt so real and Yani’s demeanor of having to say goodbye was filled with expressions of anxiety and fear on his face. And as I stated, their goodbye song together moved me to tears with its sincerity and poignancy. For me, this is one of the finest acting in this series as you just deeply feel their connection.
I am honestly not trying to get others to like this series (well, maybe just a little). I understand what some of the issues are, but this series is such a walk down the feel-good road to escapism that I binged watched it, which I never ever do. It had me hooked from the beginning with its upbeat songs, good singing, and its Disney-like story. (I am a sentimentalist and love Disney. My husband and I had annual passes to the original Disneyland and so my heart skips a beat when something magical happens that makes those feelings return). Its humor, while trite at times, is so dead pan in its delivery that I laughed out loud more than once. I know the acting is not deep, but there was something so real and organic about it. I have met so many people just like these characters who act like and are just like them. Perhaps that is why I found it so relatable.
Being somewhat pensive, the reason this series touched me so deeply is the fact that it is a gay fairytale. If only I had such a story to relate to as a child growing up, I believe my life would have been so different. I know that I would not have felt so alone. And I would have been able to dream, with some real hope, that a Prince would come into my life. You have no idea what that would have meant to me. So, if there is just one young person out there who is struggling with their identity and sees this series like I do and believes, then this visual imagery will be with them for the rest of their lives. That is a profound legacy.
There is such commitment to this series, and I thought the overall production was spot on. The OST was perfect for this series. The story, however, is not without a major flaw and I glossed over this weakness in this case because of the keen development to this story. And that flaw was the lack of kissing between Art and Mikey until the very end scene. Quite disappointing and one that deviated from the true development of a love story between two males. One of the first commitments to developing a relationship is a kiss, not its last. That did disappoint me. Nonetheless, their passion to presenting a truly gay BL is worthy of praise and will be most assuredly in my top 10 for this year and so far, a serious contender for the “best” Bl for 2022.
For me, this is how much I loved, enjoyed, felt, and deeply respected this series
Rating: 4.85 out of 5