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Images courtesy of Universal Studios Japan

For the second year running, Universal Studios Japan (USJ) has teamed up with some of the country’s top names and brands from the world of manga, anime, games, music, and fashion, to recreate one-of-a-kind attractions—in fully immersive 3D and 4D experiences—at its entertainment park in Osaka.

Its latest manifestation, “Universal Cool Japan 2016,” showcases five new attractions: two 4D cinema experiences, two “participatory encounters,” and the world’s first XR ride. XR attractions combine a virtual reality (VR) headset and roller-coaster ride to create what USJ calls “super-real” experiences.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is the campaign ambassador.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is the campaign ambassador.

In a press release before the campaign opening, Japanese music and fashion icon Kyary Pamyu Pamyu—whose music inspired the XR attraction—said: “I’m really looking forward to witnessing the worlds of five big entertainment brands that represent Japan come alive with the scale and quality of [USJ]. As the [campaign’s] special ambassador, I want to reach out to the whole world about this event.”

In recreating some of the popular worlds of Japanese entertainment culture, the campaign “aspires to convey the charms of Japan not only within the country, but also to the entire world.” The US-based franchise draws a considerable number of visitors from Asia to its park in Japan.

According to a survey by CLSA, it was the third-most-visited theme park in Asia in 2013 and 2014 (behind Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea). The 2015 and 2016 campaigns were launched as part of the government’s Cool Japan strategy to help promote Japanese pop culture abroad.

This year, on opening day, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu said she not only felt completely immersed in the park’s experiences, but the up-close-and-personal nature of each attraction allowed her to enjoy some of her favorite genres, such as anime and manga, in a completely new way. Some of the attractions were “hair-raisingly fun,” she added.

The Journal was among a handful of international and domestic press that enjoyed the rides and attractions before they opened to the public.

The first item on the agenda was an invitation onto the set of “Biohazard: The Escape 2,” based on an entertainment franchise known as Resident Evil in the United States.

Inspired by an action-adventure film and horror-fiction video game of the same name, the attraction pits the wits of participants against those of attack zombies, who are played by actors in full costume with bloodied faces and a zombie-like gait.

Zombies attack at ”Biohazard: The Escape 2”

Zombies attack at ”Biohazard: The Escape 2”

In a several-storied building complete with ghoulish sound effects and industrial wasteland-esque detail, teams of players use clues to solve puzzles—all via interactive bilingual hand-held mobile devices—to find their way to safety.

However, visitors who are not Japanese speakers may find this activity challenging, as much of it is conducted in the local language.

According to USJ, the attraction lets you “experience the mounting horror and suspense of zombie attacks and bio-organic weapons as the clock ticks, [while you] discover a new sense of success and camaraderie at the end, [after having successfully navigated all the challenges].”

Along the same line of shock-and-awe entertainment, “Monster Hunter: The Real” brings participants face-to-face with giant, animated, fire-breathing creatures. It is based on the Monster Hunter series of role-play video games.

The attraction showcases new creatures from Monster Hunter X with steaming nostrils that are liable to leave unsuspecting visitors covered in a light film of “phlegm” (watery liquid emitted from 4D elements).

Lovers of anime, meanwhile, are treated to a rare cinematic experience of the popular animated TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion, developed in Japan. Called “Evangelion The Real 4D: 2.0,” the attraction provides a fully immersive 4D cinema experience.

This includes 3D goggles and seats that move in tune with the action, as well as gusts of wind and sprays of water that are synchronized with the on-screen action.

Guests, moreover, get to enjoy the action from the point of view of an Evangelion, a bio-robot being, as it goes into battle against monstrous creatures called Angels. The attraction aims to take the theater-going experience to a new dimension.

Fans of manga are also catered for in this year’s USJ offerings. An all-new 4D cinematic experience has been created based on the comic series Attack on Titan. Dubbed “Attack on Titan: The Real 2,” the attraction allows participants to experience the heat of battle against human-eating creatures called Titans.

“Become a member of the Survey Corps [a military unit that fights Titans] and fly around with Mikasa [and] Armin using three-dimensional maneuvering to fight back against an attacking Female of Titan,” a USJ press release implores visitors.

But the marquee attraction of Universal Cool Japan 2016 may well be the XR ride through Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s kawaii (cute) world, which is epitomized by her up-tempo pop music video “PonPonPon.” At the time of writing, the song had over 92 million views on YouTube.

According to USJ, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu XR Ride is the world’s first XR attraction, allowing visitors to “dive into a bewitching, 360-degree world of pop.”

The ride was designed to stimulate all six senses, taking riders beyond even 4D experiences, as they zoom unpredictably through the singer’s psychedelic bubble-gum world with fantastic speed.

The novelty of the XR experience, coupled with the growing popularity of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, made this ride the topic of conversation among gathered press and a location of perpetual long lines on opening day.

According to USJ, Universal Cool Japan brings together internationally praised Japanese entertainment icons and “applies . . . creativity, technology, and talent for high-quality reproductions [offering] attractions that have never been seen before.”

The campaigns from this year and last have reportedly earned high praise from visitors coming from both domestic locations and abroad, and were considerable draws for guests planning holidays in Japan. Universal Cool Japan 2016 attractions will be open until June 15.

”Attack on Titan: The Real 2” offers a 4D cinematic experience.

“Attack on Titan: The Real 2” offers a 4D cinematic experience.

John Amari is a writer and editor from the UK who specialises in articles on startups, entrepreneurs, science and tech and business.
The 2015 and 2016 campaigns were launched . . . to help promote Japanese pop culture abroad.