Sunday, May 13, 2018

REVIEW: Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light (live action TV series)

Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light could be called a slice-of-life series, or maybe a family drama. It's very short. Each episode is only 25 or so minutes long, and there are only 8 episodes total, with the final episode partly devoted to an extra story involving two minor characters from the series.

This post includes slight spoilers.


I'm not sure how I feel about this. I had it in my Netflix queue for ages but only started watching it after I stumbled across several enthusiastic recommendations for it. Each recommendation talked about how surprisingly good and heart-warming it was despite essentially being a game ad.

The main characters are Hakutaro and Akio, a father and son. When Akio was very young, he and his father bonded over their mutual enjoyment of Final Fantasy. However, as Hakutaro was given more responsibilities at work, he ended up with less time to play video games. He became sterner and more unapproachable, to the point that grown-up Akio realized that they hadn't really talked in longer than he could remember.

One day, Hakutaro comes home with a shocking announcement: he has decided to retire. It was assumed that he'd become his company's next CEO, so this is a huge change. Although Hakutaro never discussed his decision to retire with his wife, she just rolls with it. Akio, meanwhile, decides to take this opportunity to try to rekindle his relationship with his father. He gives his father a gaming console and Final Fantasy XIV as a retirement present and begins his secret plan to befriend his father via the game. After they beat the final boss, he'll confess his true identity. However, things don't go quite as planned.

I was as enthusiastic about this show as everyone else when I first started watching. Yes, it was basically a giant ad for Final Fantasy XIV, but it had a lot of heart and was awkward in a kind of adorable way. The stuff with Hakutaro and young Akio bonding over Final Fantasy reminded me of the way I used to sit with my dad while he played shoot 'em ups. Also, the early in-game scenes were hilarious (although sometimes a bit weird, as certain pauses and scenes went on a beat or two longer than was comfortable). That said, the one thing I disliked right from the get-go was Akio's plan to anonymously befriend his father and not reveal the truth until weeks or months later. It seemed like something that could backfire in a major way.

One of the things the show really nailed was the newbie learning curve. Hakutaro's last gaming experience was a relatively simple, all offline, and possibly single-player-only game (I've never played any of the Final Fantasy games myself, and am not sure about the details of that first game he and Akio played). He went from that to Final Fantasy XIV, a MMORPG with lots of character customization, much more complex gameplay, and opportunities to interact with characters played by real people. Even just creating and naming his character was a different experience for him. Akio, who'd had much longer to get used to this type of game, tried to help his father out but kept forgetting that there were very basic things he might not have the ability or knowledge to do, like talk to other players or use emotes. There were some very funny moments during the first meetings between Hakutaro's character and Akio's character.

The show alternated between scenes in the game and scenes in the real world, following both Hakutaro and Akio. Hakutaro was extremely quiet and private, although there were hints of his reasons for retiring fairly early on in the series. Many of Akio's scenes took place at his work. He was a junior member of his workplace and still learning the ropes. Sometimes his job and his experiences in Final Fantasy XIV meshed well, but the two activities both took up a lot of his time. As Akio got better at his job and acquired more duties, I worried that he'd have less time to play with his father. I couldn't see how he'd be able to balance both things and, unfortunately, the show's answer to this was for it to magically just happen.

One of the reasons why I'm torn on this show is because 1) it glossed over a lot and, as a result, made suspension of disbelief more difficult and 2) it handled its female characters terribly. I already mentioned the issue of Akio just sort of magically balancing his job and his gaming. There was also the issue of Hakutaro's reason for retiring, which was never covered in the kind of detail I'd have liked. Yes, he was ill, but I wanted to know what with. Whatever it was, he seemed to think losing weight and being more active would help, and surgery was his doctor's ultimate recommendation. The fact that viewers never learned what, exactly, he was sick with bugged me.

As far as the female characters went, for the bulk of the series this was limited to one of Akio's coworkers and his mother. Early on in the series, Akio was asked to discover why female employee retention was so bad at his company. I expected the answer to be sexual harassment, considering that there was an on-screen example of this shortly after Akio was given his assignment. However, it turned out to be much simpler (and more insulting): the female employees didn't think their uniform was cute enough. The uniforms were changed (although it looked like some female employees opted to keep wearing the old one), and presto, the female employees were suddenly happy.

Then there was Akio's mother, who was mindbogglingly understanding. Her husband never once talked to her about his reasons for suddenly retiring, but she took it in a stride. The one thing that did bug her? The fact that Hakutaro's gaming made it more difficult for her to watch her favorite show, a problem he was able to smooth over relatively easily.

During the bulk of the series, there was very little evidence that the series creators recognized the existence of female gamers. The bonus story at the very end of the series addressed this a little, but part of me wished that Akio's one coworker (I think her name was Shoda?) had been revealed to have an interest in Final Fantasy XIV as well, preferably from long before she met Akio so as to dispel even a whiff of possibility that she started playing in order to capture his attention.

All in all, this was a nice enough series with a few excellent feel-good moments, but it was hampered by Akio choosing to hide his identity from his father. Every feel-good father-son moment reminded me that, to Hakutaro at least, it wasn't a father-son moment but rather a positive interaction with an online stranger/friend (on a related note, this show made Final Fantasy XIV look like it had the nicest online community in existence - no griefers anywhere). Also, that moment where changing the women's work uniform to something pink solved all their female employee retention problems really stuck in my craw.


The final episode was a combination clips episode (recap of past events with clips to illustrate it) and short extra story focused on Aru and Yukki (I think I have the spelling from the subtitles right, but it might be Yuki). Aru was definitely a member of Akio's party, but I'm not sure about Yukki.

The bonus story dealt with Aru and Yukki's real-life relationship. They met in the game and eventually started dating in real-life, but they hadn't gotten around to getting married because Yukki's work required that he travel a lot. Aru secretly wanted to get married but was resigned to the possibility that it would never happen. Akio encouraged his in-game friends to form a marriage-like bond in the game instead, which led to some heart-warming real-life developments.

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