Otaku Olympics: The Best Anime References at the 2020 Games

From beloved cartoon classics to new flashy hits, anime adoration is always growing as a global phenomenon. Nothing brings out this spirited appreciation of Japanese art like venturing to the bustling city of Tokyo, so having the 2020 Olympic games situated there naturally encouraged athletes and presenters to show off their inner otaku.

Because the Olympics reach such a broad audience, numerous anime fans were thrilled to see athletes making references to their favorite series. Whether it be costumes, performances or music, let’s give some glory to a few of the best anime references featured at the 2020 Olympics.

Demon Slayer’s Opening Song Played in the Closing Ceremony

The reference getting some of the most buzz is most definitely the Olympics' homage to Japan’s biggest anime right now: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. The Olympic Games Closing Ceremony featured Demon Slayer’s signature opening theme song “Gurenge,” composed by Kayoko Kusano and sung by LiSA. The Japanese bop was performed by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra alongside a squad of festive dancers.

“Gurenge” is nearly as hyped as Demon Slayer itself, the song even climbing to the #2 spot on Billboard Japan's Hot 100 rankings at one point. It also made history as Japan’s first song by a female artist to exceed over 1 million paid downloads.

Synchronized Swimmers Wore Avatar’s Koi Fish Suits

It’s not every day that athletes get to show off their nerdy side. Mexico's synchronized swimming duo, Nuria Diosdado and Joana Jiménez, took their opportunity in the Olympic spotlight to show off their love for the anime-inspired cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The aquatic athletes donned black and white swimsuits designed to resemble Tui and La, the Moon Spirit koi fish – the first water benders in ATLA. The back of their custom leotards also featured symbols of each of the Four Nations: Water, Fire, Earth and Air. The gorgeous suits were created by Mexican brand Gilling Activewear, their dazzling design helping the two excel in their artistic swimming category.

Haikyuu!! OP Played for Japanese Volleyball Players

Shoyo Hinata with the Karasuno High School volleyball team.

While it’s fun to see big hits like Demon Slayer referenced, there are also plenty of sports anime even more fitting for Olympic events. Volleyball series Haikyuu!! is one of the most celebrated sports anime, so it’s no surprise it made an appearance during the Tokyo Olympics.

Haikyuu!! made its debut during the match between Japan and Venezuela's Men's Volleyball teams. In a perfect anime moment, the opening theme "Imagination" by SPYAIR played after Japan claimed victory with a straight 3-0 win. The volleyball series is held in high regard by anime fans and athletes alike for its accurate depiction of the sport as well as its characters striving to take their talents all the way to the Olympics.

Olympic Archers Quote Fate & Is the Order a Rabbit?

Many devoted anime fans know their favorite lines by heart, and this holds true for Olympians. After scoring a bronze medal for Japan’s men’s archery team, Takaharu Furukawa gushed on TV, “My heart feels like it's bouncing (pyonpyon).” The idyllic words expressing his delight are actually a reference to “Daydream Cafe,” the opening song to the slice of life anime Is the Order a Rabbit?

Furukawa isn’t the only archer otaku – Deng Yu-Cheng of the Chinese Taipei team also quoted an anime. The silver-medalist revealed that he’s a Fate fan on Instagram when replying to a fan who asked, “"When you shoot off an arrow, do you say 'I am the bone of my sword'?" Referencing Arash (of the Archer class) in Fate/Grand Order, the Olympic archer said, ‘No, actually, I generally say "Stella!!!!!’”

A Dutch Windsurfer Styled His Hair Into Aang’s Blue Arrow

What are windsurfers but real-life airbenders? Dutch Olympic medalist Kiran Badloe paid tribute to his favorite cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender by becoming the airbending legend Aang himself. Badloe copied the look of Aang’s blue arrow tattooed on his forehead by shaving his hair in the same shape and coloring it blue.

The Dutch gold-medalist attributes his victory for the Netherlands to Aang, saying “[Aang] controls the wind … to do something great, and I'm doing the same here.” Badloe’s incredible way with the wind may not be as strong as the Avatar’s, but the inspiration alone sent the Olympian soaring ahead, winning at the Olympics for the third time in a row.

Multiple Olympians Strike One Piece Poses

What’s more iconic than anime songs or costumes? Poses, of course. No anime has better poses to copy than long-running shonen hit One Piece. The pirate anime has clearly worked its way into the hearts of many fans, including Olympians.

USA shot putter Payton Otterdahl mimicked the signature fists-in-the-air pose of Straw Hat member Franky while mouthing the character’s catchphrase, “Super.” The One Piece Twitter even thanked the athlete for his nod, giving their respect for his “efforts and achievements.”

However, Otterdahl isn’t the only One Piece pirate poser. Greek long jumper Miltiadis Tentoglou struck Luffy's Gear Second pose, while Italian race walk winner Massimo Stano did Luffy’s Gear Third pose.

Uzbekistan Gymnasts Wear Sailor Moon Costumes

One of the first anime to reach a global audience of young girls was the classic Sailor Moon. This magical girl saga has become a favorite all over the world, apparently including Uzbekistan. The 2020 Olympics gave Uzbekistan’s rhythmic gymnastics team a chance to show off their appreciation for the classic anime.

The team suited up in Sailor Moon-inspired costumes and performed their routine to the cartoon’s classic opening theme song. Tossing balls and flipping around to the music, the girls certainly put on a magical show.

Belgian Gymnast Coach Shows Her Legend of Zelda Charm

While anime and manga may have been most recognized at the Tokyo Olympics, plenty of wonderful Japanese video games have also captured the world’s attention. Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda got a call-out during the 2020 games when Belgian Gymnast Coach Marjorie Heuls revealed her special good luck charm.

The charm is an Amiibo of Link from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Heuls displayed the Nintendo token with pride after her pupil’s gold medal win during the women’s uneven bars event. Though the coach mistakenly calls the figurine “Zelda,” she holds it dear for its sentimental value as a good luck charm given by her daughter.

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