‘Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light’ shows how Japanese TV is moving from ‘sadistic’ to ‘charming’

by

Special To The Japan Times

“Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light” follows a story familiar to anyone who knows Japanese TV dramas. A son and father grow distant, so the young man thinks up a convoluted plan to bond with pops. In this case, the plan involves him secretly playing online video game “Final Fantasy XIV” with his Dad, which explains the show’s somewhat awkward title.

The program originally aired on TBS earlier this year, but came to streaming service Netflix shortly after. However, when it appeared on the U.S. version of the platform this month, it attracted surprising praise from overseas.

“‘Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light’ is better than it has any right to be,” wrote gaming site Polygon, while men’s lifestyle publication GQ declared, “I can’t stop watching Netflix’s goofy new ‘Final Fantasy’ soap opera.”

Netflix has altered the way people consume TV, shaking up the inner workings of studios around the world. Now, thanks to a constant demand for new content, the streaming service is altering the image of Japanese TV abroad.

A stereotype of Japanese TV has been forged by anime and “wacky” game shows for decades. Among the latter group, the 1980s game show “Takeshi’s Castle,” which featured people enduring painful-looking challenges, was syndicated worldwide. Comedy duo Downtown, meanwhile, popularized “punishment games” in the ’90s, which trickled out to the West and enjoyed a resurgence thanks to YouTube.

However, a new wave of television that opts for charming over sadistic is finding an audience on Netflix, which in turn is helping the company expand globally and feed the unrelenting appetite for new content. Alongside “Dad of Light,” slow-paced shows such as food drama “Samurai Gourmet” and reality show “Terrace House” have redefined ideas of Japanese TV. Netflix doesn’t share viewership statistics, so website articles and social media posts will have to do — with many English-language critics penning essays on the therapeutic sense of calm they get watching Japanese programs.

It’s interesting to note that while this new wave of Japanese television is dispelling “weird Japan” stereotypes, it is also exposing a broader audience to cultural differences that may not go over so well: “Terrace House” lacks the fist fights of the former MTV show “Jersey Shore,” but features a lot of passive aggression; “Samurai Gourmet” gets a bit problematic when the show’s only bad restaurant is a Chinese one; and “Dad of Light” celebrates Japan’s old-school work ethic, complete with everything from harmfully late working hours to somewhat sexist uniform codes.

Not everyone will agree with script choices, but at least these cultural nuances are more honest than what Western audiences have been presented with in the past. And they’re a lot more calming, too.