Japan is in full view as Tokyo Olympics features video game music, manga and nearby protest

The year 2020 is a memory of seemingly endless bleak news headlines, fatality statistics and quarantine. To state the painfully obvious, it was incredibly bad. For some, it was a year of protest and political division. For many more, it was a year of anguish and mourning for loved ones taken far too soon. Now another seven months into the pandemic, in a time when the world could possibly use a little distraction, all eyes are on Tokyo.

Delayed into 2021, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games began Friday. Empty due to coronavirus restrictions, Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium hosted the opening ceremony as a scattering of protesters just outside the hollow stadium demanded that the Olympic games be cancelled due to Japan’s rising Covid-19 cases. Still, the show moved on.

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron after being relayed the prized Olympic flame. Soon after, the famed Parade of Nations kicked off from within the Olympic Stadium. Almost in defiance of the sea of empty seats, the show was spectacularly done. Each nation marched into view with pride and excitement, wielding text bubbles stylized after the highly popular Japanese storytelling medium known as manga. Japan used the parade as an opportunity to double down on its contemporary culture. The Japanese orchestra played classic theme songs from video games developed by Japanese studios as each nation made itself known.

The orchestral roar of themes was a splendid surprise for video game fans worldwide. Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Monster Hunter, Kingdom Hearts and Nier Automata are just some of the Japanese games that melodically graced the event. Watching masked athletes march their way through the famed Olympic Parade of Nations to “Star Light Zone” from Sonic the Hedgehog as an empty arena stares back at them in complete silence is a sight to be witnessed. Japan is on display, and everyone is watching — even if it is from their coronavirus-free computer and television screens at home.

As a feared second wave of coronavirus cases begins to rear its macabre head back again, arguments for and against this year’s delayed Summer Olympic Games have grown immensely. Even at the time of this writing, protesters continue to stand outside the Olympic Stadium. Meanwhile, those looking for a distraction from the chaos have found an undeniably fascinating and unique Olympic ceremony to behold.

Japan has put on a tightly choreographed ceremony this Olympic season. Then again, world-class pomp and flair is nothing new for the Olympic Games. Contrasted by the protest reverberating off of the stadium’s outer walls, the nice and neat order of the Parade of Nations feels almost sterile to the outside world. Yet, perhaps that is exactly the distraction many suffering from the pandemic are pining for. For better or worse, Japan is on display to the world. What that says of the first day of the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games is another matter entirely.