We Could Have Had Akira and Mario at the Olympics Opening Ceremony
posted on by Kim Morrissy
The Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony featured popular video game tunes and placards evoking manga, yet Nintendo and AKIRA were noticeably absent. According to a proposal document submitted to the IOC in April last year, the original plans for the opening ceremony were significantly more ambitious.
The Weekly Bunshun tabloid, which obtained a copy of the 280-page proposal document, reported in April that the ceremony would have opened with a scene of AKIRA's iconic red bike bursting into the venue. AKIRA creator Katsuhiro Otomo would have drawn an illustration of the 2020 Neo Tokyo in a subversion of the apocalyptic events of the manga. The iconic Nintendo character Mario, among other beloved pop culture figures, was also planned to appear as a CG character as the athletes of each nation are introduced.
Other planned appearances include the dancers Daichi Miura, who has performed theme songs for anime such as Dragon Ball Super: Broly and Parasyte -the maxim-, and Koharu Sugawara. Comedian Naomi Watanabe would have given the "Ready?" signal during a callback to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Projection mapping would have been used to depict the city of Tokyo with a high-tech flourish.
Although Weekly Bunshun only revealed several pages of the document, the plan seems to have been an escalation of "Cool Japan" initiatives around the Olympics. Famously, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared at the 2016 Olympic Closing Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro cosplaying as Mario.
The IOC was reportedly delighted with the proposal at the time, only anticipating that a minor addition would have to be added to acknowledge the coronavirus. However, the plans were ultimately scrapped after choreographer Mikiko Mizuno stepped down as the organizing head for the ceremony a month later. She was replaced by advertising agency owner Hiroshi Sasaki, who resigned from the post this March after he suggested making Naomi Watanabe appear as an "Olympig" as a way of poking fun at her plus-sized figure.
After the scandal, the President of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee reportedly decided that it would be difficult to create an entirely new ceremony from scratch within four months. The proposal under Sasaki's team was used as the base for the ceremony which was carried out on Friday night.
Some insiders regret that the original plans did not come to fruition, telling Weekly Bunshun that Naomi Watanabe was enthused by Mizuno's vision. A report from The Japan Times suggests that Mizuno lost her influence after Sasaki became more involved, and stated that she and the other members of the original team left the prepping committee altogether in late 2020.
Nevertheless, the Games are still pushing the pop culture angle: a Haikyu!! opening theme song played after the Japanese Men's Volleyball team claimed victory in a match against Venezuela on Saturday. The win marked Japan's men's team's first in the sport in 29 years.
Experts say that the intent behind the pop culture representation is to project an image of Japan that is modern, cool, and broadly appealing overseas. It can also promote anime and manga sales abroad, as U.S.-based distributors report that the demand for these products have been climbing throughout the past year.
“People will be curious,” Dr. Susan Napier, a professor of rhetoric and Japanese studies at Tufts University, told The Washington Post. “Anime style is a very distinctive style, and if you're not used to it, you're going to say: 'Wow, what is this? This is cool.'”
On the other hand, the use of pop culture in a scaled-down presentation has also attracted criticism. Speaking about the opening ceremony, Mobile Suit Gundam Seed director Mitsuo Fukuda tweeted: "Things like the placards with manga speech bubbles feel out place. The outfits where you can feel the cultures of various countries are interesting. On the other hand, the presentation that leans too closely to games and manga in such a strange way gives off a cheap impression."
The political implications of using pop culture icons for promotional purposes were also highlighted in the leadup to the event. Characters from various anime series, including One Piece, Dragon Ball, and Naruto, have been appointed as Olympic ambassadors; however, detractors have argued that it feels out-of-character for characters with a strong sense of justice like Astro Boy's Atom and Sailor Moon's Usagi to support the Games during a pandemic.
A poll from the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper and the Social Survey Research Center on March 13 found that only 9% of people in Japan said the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics should be held as scheduled, while 32% said they should be canceled altogether. Although spectators are barred from attending the events, protesters marched outside the stadium during the opening ceremony to express their opposition to the Games.
Four days after the opening ceremony, Tokyo reported 2,848 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the most ever in one day.