I, like a lot of girls that developed crushes on Usagi Tsukino or Spike Spiegel in their childhood, went through a manga phase. But mine has seemed to follow me all my life. I remember being in middle school, sneakily reading yaoi manga in the aisles of Barnes and Noble, or renting the life-affirming Fruits Basket (1998) from the local library. As I grew older, my taste in manga matured too. I read Ai Yazawa’s Nana (2000), a harrowing coming-of-age epic following two girls that share the same name and befriend one another by pure chance. Reading manga has been a constant pleasure in my life that I can only see myself enjoying in the analog sense, with a book firmly in my grasp. But now, Square Enix is hoping to twist that narrative. At Tokyo Game Show last week, they introduced a new way to experience manga, with the proof of concept experiment Project Hikari: VR x MANGA.
Project Hikari is a hybrid of VR and manga, where the reader steps into the world of the manga, panel by panel. In the demo shown at Tokyo Game Show, according to Wired, the reader isn’t necessarily stepping directly into the frames. The manga’s dialogue is read aloud in the VR experience, and the reader has the opportunity to drag panels up close to peek at details, and push them far away to get a view of the entirety of the picture. The larger panels in the experience were even in 3D, emitting an experience similar to peering through a window.
Beyond paperback, into VR
“We would not be doing this if it were not intended to let more people have access to this type of content,” lead developer Kaei Sou told Wired. “Rather than try to recreate real life in a virtual space, let’s make something that could not exist in real life.” Project Hikari longs to exist somewhere between traditional manga, and the more frenetic animated action of anime. In a way, it’s kind of a blend of both, while offering a fresh digital way to experience something that would typically reside within paperback.
Project Hikari showcases only a single example in its demo: the popular manga series Tales of Wedding Rings (2014). If Project Hikari were to see life beyond Tokyo Game Show, it’d be easy to see us stepping into more manga worlds we love. Whether you’re a fan of the classic action in Fullmetal Alchemist or the shoujo bliss of Love Com, a future of Project Hikari expanding to other titles would be a treat for any manga fan.
Project Hikari is merely a proof of concept experiment at this point, or a work in progress, but you can view the project’s site here.