Now that Final Fantasy X has finally been remastered for the PS3, I decided to revisit the game. I did a series of in-depth reviews a while ago, and I still stand by most of what I said in them. As enjoyable as I find FFX, as much as I love it and recommend it, it is problematic in a lot of regards. And as I played through it again, it came to my attention that one of its problematic aspects is Tidus’s character design, namely his blond hair and blue eyes.
Before anyone starts making a fuss, let me just say that I know Tidus is a fictional character in a fictional story. As such, he can look however he wants. And it’s not as though his blond hair and blue eyes means that he was whitewashed. He, like all the other characters, is Japanese, despite his physical appearance. The idea that someone with lighter skin and eye color should automatically be considered white is a Western thing, specifically an American thing, because we’ve been taught to view being white as the default. For the Japanese, being Japanese is the default, unless otherwise specified. As such, characters don’t have to be accurate representations of the culture, which is why someone like Tidus can have blond hair and blue eyes and still be considered Japanese.
So what’s the problem with his character design then?
Well, it wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself, but his appearance is a useful example of internalized racism in Japanese culture in light of Westernized influences on beauty standards. In modern-day Japan, white standards of beauty are upheld as being the norm. People will actually go so far as to undergo plastic surgery and bleach their skin in order to look Caucasian. This form of internalized racism is so prominent that my own Japanese host mother and I ended up in a conversation about it, and she was shocked that I, as a Caucasian, didn’t believe Caucasians were inherently prettier than people from Asia. And this was a conversation where she tried explaining to me why I was prettier simply for being Caucasian. And we can see these beauty standards reflected in fictional characters like Tidus.
Originally, Tidus was conceived as having dark hair. We can even see some of that original design still in game as well. In flashbacks, for instance, the character model used for Tidus as a child has dark hair. I suppose we could argue that he later dyed his hair blond, but I doubt it. Furthermore, even if he had, the reason behind his change in hair color has less to do with his personality and more to do with aesthetics:
Tidus’s hair color was later changed, possibly to bring his appearance closer to the idea of the “sun”, a recurring theme for his character; Tidus’s name comes from the word tida, which means “sun” in Okinawan, and establishes a contrast between him and Yuna, whose name means “moon” in Okinawan. The contrast is represented by in-game items named for the sun and moon that empower Tidus’s and Yuna’s Celestial Weapons. (x)
While “sun” is a recurring theme for Tidus’s character, it still makes absolutely no sense for him to be blond. Additionally, this is a theme that has little to do with the narrative, and could very easily have been changed instead. When we take into account how many main characters from Japanese media are made to look Caucasian, this doesn’t come across as anything more than an excuse to give him blond hair. His appearance makes even less sense once we’re introduced to his dad.
This is Jecht, Tidus’s dad:
When I first played the game, I assumed that Jecht just had a really strong tan, but I no longer think that’s the case. Additionally, Tidus’s mother is also a brunette with dark eyes. While it is possible, albeit rare, that they could have produced a blond, blue-eyed, lighter-skinned child, that’s still not an excuse for perpetuating the idea that, even within Japanese media, protagonists must adhere to white standards of attractiveness.
This continues to make less sense when we take into account that the world these characters live in, Spira, is based entirely off Okinawan and other Asian cultures. We can see this in the architecture, the use of temples, the clothing, and even the game’s soundtrack. There is no Westernized area of this world that would have influenced the characters’ perceptions of beauty. These beauty standards existing make more sense for games like Final Fantasy VII and VIII that take place in worlds with more Westernized civilizations.
As Spira is a fictional world simply based on Okinawan and other Asian cultures, I highly doubt that it was trying to represent these cultures accurately. Regardless of what the story intended, it still created an in-depth world that ended up being rich with Okinawan influences—but this is not a world in which Westernized ideals should exist, which is why it’s such a shame that Tidus’s character design adheres to Western beauty standards.