At the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, athletes from around the world entered the stadium to a particularly Japanese soundtrack: a medley of themes from popular video games.
The first track was an overture from the game Dragon Quest, according to a list of songs in the medley published by Nikkei. It was followed by tracks including “Victory Fanfare” and the main theme from Final Fantasy, “Olympus Coliseum” and “Hero’s Fanfare” from Kingdom Hearts, “First Flight” from Ace Combat, “Robo’s Theme” from Chrono Trigger, “Star Light Zone” from Sonic the Hedgehog, and at the end, “The Brave New Stage of History” from Soulcalibur.
The country names of each contingent, meanwhile, appeared in the form of speech bubbles from manga comics held aloft on placards.
Video games are central to Japan’s global image
The choices helped lift the mood of the opening ceremony, where the lack of a crowd served as a reminder of the pandemic. They also reflect the importance of video games and manga in Japan’s global image, which it has at times used the worldwide visibility of the Olympics to shape. When Tokyo hosted the games in 1964, in the aftermath of World War II, Japan took the opportunity to put its rapid economic recovery on display and rebrand itself as a peaceful and prosperous nation.
These days, Japan has a very different image—that of a maker of whimsical fantasylands, thanks largely to the success of cultural exports such as video games. The Olympics offer the country a moment to celebrate that image, as former prime minister Shinzo Abe did during the 2016 Rio Olympics, when he dressed as Super Mario during the closing ceremony to introduce Tokyo as the next host of the summer games.