Haikyu!! (2012), one of the most well-known and popular sports anime of all time, exemplifies the role of character design in what scholar Marc Steinberg has identified as the “Japanese media mix”. Not only have there been multiple movies, series, songs, and figurines of the central characters, the Haikyu!! marketing reach extends to sporting goods and clothing lines through its narrative connection to volleyball. There are even tie-ins with professional sporting leagues. The distribution of Haikyu!! characters across multiple goods and media forms has propelled its popularity and continues to encourage consumer participation with the franchise.
Sports anime are an interesting sub-genre to consider with regards to the media mix in the sense that they offer a participatory experience external to the goods and media created within a franchise that highlights physicality. Many who love Haikyu!! develop an interest in volleyball and become motivated to try out the sport. This builds a connection to the character and story that is different from other products of the media mix and becomes a new embodied way for consumers to participate in their favourite anime beyond the mode of consumption practices. The hours that it takes to perfect a serve or to experience the satisfaction of returning a hard spike is a practice of labor and production connected to ideas of leisure. There is also a narratological bridge: becoming a volleyball player helps fans connect to the struggle that Haikyu!! characters have faced and potentially builds a deeper understanding of the narrative on a physical, deeply personal, level.
This unique connection between “real life action” and media franchise then raises the following question: how does the media mix, anchored in anime and manga, and participatory culture become influenced by video games? Video games act as a new form of media that further expands on the consumer's ability to interact with and play as their favourite character. The connection between anime, video games, and sports brings forth a new avenue for consumers to experience the anime’s narrative and provides an opportunity for fans to participate in ways they have not been able to before. Instead of observing, video games now allow fans to be active participants, therefore incorporating video games into a well known anime franchise expands the ways in which fans can reproduce and consume content. With the development of Haikyu!! video games, fans can experience the show’s most iconic moments at the tips of their fingers without actually having to learn volleyball itself. This creates opportunities of accessibility for fans who may not have the same mobility as characters across texts in the media mix.
With Haikyu!! as a prime example, it is apparent that video games can act as an alternate space for a wider range of individuals to experience the physicality of sport. Running, jumping, and spiking a ball can now be done through pushing a button and toggling a joystick on a controller. Although these actions may seem small in scale, the coordination and skill it takes can bring tremendous satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment to the player, similar to scoring a point in a real life game. Therefore, this genre of video games provide an opportunity for individuals to access the originally exclusive space of sport. Playing volleyball can now be done in the comfort of one’s own home reducing the barrier of mobility and accessibility. Incorporating this mode of media extends not only the possible ways in which fans can participate and connect with their favourite characters but also broadens the reach to generate new experiences.
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Satomi Saito. (2015). Beyond the Horizon of the Possible Worlds: A Historical Overview of Japanese Media Franchises. Mechademia: Second Arc, 10, 143–161. https://doi.org/10.5749/mech.10.2015.0143
Steinberg, M. (2012). Anime’s Media Mix Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan. University of Minnesota Press.