Toole Japan Part II: Attack on Titan and Evangelion at Universal Studios Japanby Mike Toole,
After the glorious, unexpected insanity of the Nipponbashi Festa, Prairie and I figured that hitting Universal Japan on Monday would be a good idea, to avoid the crowds. After all, who goes to a theme park on a working day in March? So emboldened, we jumped onto the subway to Taisho. Upon our arrival at Taisho, we wandered in and out of the station several times, to the vast bemusement of the attendant, as we tried to find our transfer. Eventually, we found our way over to the Osaka Loop Line, and journeyed onward—in the wrong direction, so after a couple of stops we dashed across the platform to jump on the opposing train. Then that train continued in the same direction we were going, so resigned to our fate, we spent a glum 30 minutes heading all the way around the loop to Nishikujo. Being a clueless tourist rules!
At that point, approximately the entire population of Kansai boarded the train to Universal City, arousing our suspicions. Looking up the list of holidays in Japan revealed that this was no ordinary Monday, but the Feast of Maximum Occupancy. Alright, it's actually only the Spring Equinox, but that's still one of Japan's biggest stand-alone public holidays, a time for people to get out and enjoy the changing of the seasons. This particular holiday was beautiful, with crisp cool air and clear skies, so the park was gonna be crowded.
The real reason to go to places like this is to soak up the culture, which is really nothing like it is in America. This particular TGI Friday's doesn't even have bottomless appetizers! How crazy is that?!
Oh hey, Straw Hats and friends! The shopping district outside of the park has a number of specialty shops, including one featuring the Moomins and one dedicated to Shonen Jump stuff, stocked with cool and desirable Haikyu!! and Slam Dunk t-shirts.
Boy howdy, was the park ever crowded! Upon arrival at 10:15am, we waited in line to get off the train, then waited in line to get tickets. Then, there was the wait in line at the turnstiles.
Then, finally, I got into the park, and beheld the real reason for my visit – the Cool Japan 2016 pavilion!
Universal Japan's actually been in the Cool Japan racket for a while, but has gradually been diversifying its offerings over the past couple of years. A Resident Evil (or Biohazard, as they call it in Japan) exhibition has been around for some time, but a couple of years back they added Attack on Titan, then Evangelion, and Monster Hunter, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Because global viral hit songs from 2012 are what's cool, baby!
Before encountering the real horror of the ride lines, I was able to wander straight into the Attack on Titan exhibit, which featured the above cool, to-scale props. Then I turned around, and whooooaaa!
I found myself confronted by a seemingly very intense Armin, Eren, and Mikasa. These dummies looked fantastic! Also, kinda hopped up on goofballs. Let's have a closer look.
Then, I had to pay my respects to the boss. Hey there, tough guy. You come here often?
After that, it was outside to the real reason Attack on Titan has its own corner of the park: souvenirs, baby!
In fairness, the park grounds were awash with both adults and kids wearing the distinctive ponchos of the Survey Corps. And man, I love it when these parks dress up dumb, ordinary snacks as tie-ins to their licensed character attractions.
Then, there was the second fixed Attack on Titan exhibit – a wall featuring a colossal titan peeking out. People happily snapped themselves posing in front of it, but I really just wanted a look up its nose.
Yep, this titan is booger-free! His sinuses must be amazing.
After that? A meeting with a titan, specifically the one that ate Eren's mom. I tried to put on a brave face before being devoured. There was a sizable line for this, and it was wrangled by a platoon of park attendants in Survey Corps costumes, who enthusiastically played the parts of soldiers ordering “new recruits” into position for some photos.
Afterwards I snagged a souvenir photo card, which came in a really neat, detailed cover. Press a button, and the card plays “Guren no Yamina,” the Attack on Titan theme tune, inanely. The cost? A mere 2200 yen, or about $20 US. That's how the parks get your money, man!
Mon Hun! Mon Hun! Mon Hun! I'm not an especially avid Monster Hunter fan—I played the crap out of Monster Hunter 3 for PSP years ago, but that's it—but I really like saying “Mon Hun.” The Mon Hun pavilion, while not particularly interactive or thrilling, was actually damn nice. First, you follow a path around the building into the dragon's cave.
Damn!! The dragons inside are actually highly detailed and built to scale.
Best of all, one of them suddenly lights up and spews “fire,” which is really just water mist. This is a surprisingly effective little showcase that I watched several times before proceeding.
Then, it's into the main showcase, which features numerous armor and props from the world of Monster Hunter.
Once again, I was impressed with the presentation – the Attack on Titan exhibit was spartan, but not this one.
Monster Hunter is real, guys. Felynes are real. This little dude is real, and strong, and he's my friend.
After one more look at the monsters, I was ushered into the lobby, where dozens of people were camped out playing Mon Hun for 3DS. This was a good place to pick up some Street Passes.
Outside, there was one final attraction – a huge replica Dinovaldo, one of the big blue “flagship” monsters from the latest game. Yeah, I wasn't gonna pay another 2200 yen to get on that guy, sorry. Still impressive, though!
Afterwards, visitors were encouraged to recharge their HP with overpriced turkey legs. All around the world, it's the same song. Hey wait a minute, what does this humble item shop look like from the back?
It looks like an old-tyme train car, is what. Let's hear it for recycling old fixtures!
Believe it or not, that was actually it for the browse-able exhibits. From there, the only place to go was one of the interactive rides. I chose Attack on Titan first, because I basically had to. It was that or Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
Then, I waited in this enormous line for nearly three hours. Yeah, wait times for popular attractions were typically 180 minutes or more; it was just that kind of day. I was on assignment, so I hung in there. Eventually, I was ushered through a faux theatre lobby with a couple hundred other spectators, and then into a foyer with the Survey Corps crest hanging all around the room. I was not allowed to take photos during the attraction, but if you want a quick, spoiler-ish rundown of the ride, read the next paragraph. Otherwise, you can skip it.
In the foyer, you'll watch a video where Erwin Smith greets you as a new recruit and explains the Corps’ next assignment – the capture of Annie Leonhart, the female titan. This is done almost entirely with existing animation from the TV series. After that, it's into the theatre, which is one of those 4D deals with rocking seats, lighting effects, etc. And then there's ten minutes of… a pretty average featurette, to be honest. You'll feel like you're swinging around with Eren, Mikasa, and Levi as they battle Annie, or at the very least you'll feel like you're lurching back and forth in a chair while watching third-rate CG recreations of the manga and anime's key moments. The whole thing just felt perfunctory. The CG was serviceable but only just, coming off more like a PS3 cutscene than a high-profile short movie.
After the ride was up, it was time to head past some more cool replicas.
Then, exit through the gift shop, baby! Souvenirs, souvenirs, souvenirs! You could get Attack on Titan cookies, Evangelion towel wraps, toys, housewares, and a bunch of other silly, overpriced crap. As arduous as the wait was, however, most of the people around me seemed pretty satisfied with the ride, and queued right up to buy some goodies.
I couldn't stand the thought of getting back in line yet, so I hit the main drag for what turned it to be the big midday parade, the part where the park just brazenly copies Disney's Main Street U.S.A. This was an anniversary year for Universal Studios Japan, and there was reason to celebrate – the addition of both Harry Potter's Hogwarts attraction (which we passed on, not wanting to deal with the predicted 250-minute wait) and the Minions from those Despicable Me movies had really breathed some new life into the park, which had otherwise spent its years touting rides and stunt shows from the likes of Waterworld and Backdraft.
Think I'm joking about Waterworld?!
Hell, think I'm joking about Backdraft? This hype man had a Backdraft baseball jacket! I had to get a photo.
The parade was cute enough, featuring an obnoxious clap-along theme song in English and about a dozen floats. The first few were modestly impressive.
Then, this monstrosity appeared, spewing foam everywhere.
My favorite? This cute Taj Mahal recreation, with Hello Kitty decked out in a sari on top.
This was something I had to stop and think about: why is there a separate Cool Japan pavilion, but Hello Kitty, who's as Japanese as sushi, is off with the regular mascots?!
After the parade, the 4D ride theatre had been refitted for the afternoon's Evangelion THE REAL ride, so I headed back to get in line. Oh boy, the line was shorter! This probably wouldn't take more than an hour.
Yeah, it took about two and a half hours, because it turns out that there was some sort of printable coupon deal that gave you line skipping privileges. The line was smaller—actually only about half as long as the massive Attack on Titan mob—but it moved more slowly because goofballs with the coupons kept rolling up and getting shunted to the head of the line.
This time, in the same foyer, we were greeted with Gendo Ikari, being debriefed by SEELE. While featuring little animation, the segment was an immediate improvement on Attack on Titan, with cool lighting effects and directional audio helping to emphasize the shadowy organization's interrogation of their project leader. Then, it was time to go in – mild spoilers in the next paragraph.
First, you're briefed by Misato, who introduces you to the Evangelion pilots and explains that you'll be observing a direct sensory uplink from the cockpit of Mari Makinami Illustrious, the Eva team's newest pilot. What follows is a high-toned, CG recreation of the second Rebuild of Evangelion movie's climactic battle, all from the point of view of Mari. The pilot knows the theatregoers are watching over her shoulder, and amiably chats at them as she and her colleagues hammer the shit out of the Tenth Angel. The resulting experience isn't so much a ride, but a truly novel, immersive way of recreating the finale of Evangelion 2.22.
The Evangelion ride was pretty much the opposite of Attack on Titan, in terms of quality of presentation. The staff who created this film make dramatically better use of 3D, and really stick to the notion of recreating Mari's HUD and cockpit – the whole thing was pretty badass, and I didn't have a single regret for the long wait to see it.
Then, it was time for the real reason to for the whole trip: snacks!
I didn't jump for the LCL drink, despite the advertised qualities, but I couldn't say no to the enormous replica Evangelion head, which came filled with caramel popcorn.
It really is damn impressive. The thing lights up! Best of all, once the popcorn is gone, you can fill the cavity with anything you want. I've been using it as a purse.
And that was basically it, for my experience. I didn't make it to the Resident Evil ride, an “escape the room” style group experience, because it was sold out for the day when I swung by at 2:15pm. The Kyary Pamyu Pamyu VR ride (yes, that's what it was, apparently!) had an enormous line outside (pictured above) that never shrank, even slightly. Faced with the prospect of listening to “Pon! Pon! Pon!” on loop for three hours before getting in, I withdrew.
That was pretty much my entire day at Universal Studios Japan – two rides and a parade in eight and a half hours. I'm sure my experience wasn't typical, owing to the holiday and the excellent weather, but it was kind of a deathmarch just getting into the two rides. I was a little disappointed, but also really intrigued by the entire experience. Despite being a bit slapdash in parts, the Cool Japan exhibits were amongst the most popular at the park, drawing thousands and thousands of fans throughout the day. All around me, I could sense a palpable excitement for the attractions, right down to the eight year old girl skipping down the line, shrieking “Evangelion, Evangelion!” I felt like the locals were hungry, even desperate, for cool theme park attractions featuring their own movies and characters. Was it just the holiday?
I'll leave you with two final thoughts. One, don't go to Universal Studios Japan on a Sunday or a holiday. Two, see the Evangelion ride, if you have to pick one. And three, I really wonder why they don't just go all in and make an Attack on Titan roller coaster. Couldn't you just picture it?
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