Sunday, September 11, 2011

[OSAKA] Universal Studios Osaka

When I was a kid I found out from two cousins from the US that there exists a magical place called Disneyland where one can ride roller coasters and Ferris wheels. Later on I also found out about Universal Studios which they say is actually more exciting than Disney. Now as an adult I have experienced both, although they are not located in the United States. Hong Kong Disneyland is boring and not advisable for the thrill seeker even though one could not dismiss it as worthless because Disneyland HK is cool, in a sentimental and trip-down-memory-lane kind of way. Universal Studios Osaka is the place for adventurers. If you want thrill rides and jaw dropping effects laden live shows, this is the place for you. I haven’t been to Tokyo Disneyland by the way, so forgive me if I say that Universal Studios Osaka just overtook Everland in my book as the best theme park ever, again, if thrill is the sole criterion.

Board the JR Osaka Loop headed to Nishikujo. You have to transfer trains there but you only get charged once. From Shin-Imamiya it was 170 yen. Universal City is the name of the station. Upon getting off the train you just follow the crowd towards the exit and you will find yourself at Universal City Walk which is an avenue full of stores and restaurants. Call it a mall if you like. The entrance to the theme park is not so far away. In fact, it won’t take long before you see the Hollywood Dream roller coaster, which made me go “Wow. Wow. Wow.” My last roller coaster ride was at Genting and for reasons that still baffle me, I don’t know why I skipped China and Taiwan’s theme parks. Understandably, I was excited. But before you go, be warned that the only ATM machine they have at the entrance only accepts cards issued in Japan. The one that accepts Visa and Mastercard has been shut down. My debit card was accepted at the cashier. The entrance fee is 6,800 yen for a full day pass. There are other passes available depending on the schedule that you like.

After the queue, make sure you go back to the spinning Universal Studios globe. That is the de facto souvenir photo spot for everybody and you won’t have to wonder why when you see it: perfect lighting from the sun, perfect combination of colors, gigantic enough for your head not to cover it when you strike a pose. Plenty of reasons. After that, you can go inside and walk down the avenues with buildings that look like downtown Manhattan. It is not hard to tell that America is the theme. Besides, Universal Studios is an American phenomenon, and all of the attractions here are inspired by it, otherwise they won’t name it as such!

All in all there are just two outdoor roller coasters here. The more popular one is the Hollywood Dream ride where you are in a comfortable seating position listening to J-POP while plunging down the steep drops. There are no loops, just highs and lows, but still exhilarating. The only caveat is the line, which is moving but always long. This is one of the more popular rides in the park probably because it is the closest to the entrance. The other outdoor roller coaster is the Snoopy ride which I snubbed because it seemed like a kiddie ride to me. But then I road a kiddie roller coaster ride at Everland! Maybe I was just turned off by the heat of the sun. Boy, was it hot that day!

Don’t be surprised if you see locals with mats on the sidewalk loitering there as if they were fire victims waiting for government aid. I would have joined them if I had a mat. Though not that big, walking around the park under that intense heat of the sun was just energy-draining. Segue, there was a Hello Kitty shop but no Hello Kitty component. Sorry, Ma, your Hello Kitty souvenir seems to be non-existent. Looking for my next adventure, I found myself passing by the Jaws area which is hard to miss because of the giant fake shark hung as a centerpiece under the blazing sun. If I am not mistaken, there is a flume or boat ride of some sort, which I also snubbed. Instead, I found myself lining up for the Waterworld attraction.

Now I have not seen this movie but it seemed interesting enough. Since the next show was about to start, I fell in line. What I noticed about Universal Studios Osaka is that despite the long line, people are not that bored because there are displays all around you featuring the corresponding movie. For Waterworld, they had the props and sets used for the film like the jet ski (and its evolution from crisp and clean to dirty and rusty) and some more like tables and dinnerware.

Once you enter the arena there will be actors playing several characters who are there to keep you entertained while the main attraction is being prepared. This is one of the things I find cool about this Universal Studios. I don’t know if it is the same thing in the other Universal Studios, but the comedy bar acting here is plain funny. The dialogues were all in Japanese but I was laughing my head off anyway in spite of the language barrier. This is also true for the other attractions such as Terminator and the Sesame Street 4D movie (recorded, not live). The show itself is entertaining because of the special effects: a combination of water, fire and various pyrotechnics. I think I could spoil this one for you since it is already in the video anyway. At the end of the act, a dual propeller amphibian plane bursts from behind the giant wall with matching explosions and fire all over the place. If you don’t find that impressive, I don’t know what is.

Jurassic Park was next. At the entrance you'll find the waterfall and the big hole on the wall from where boats plunge for a wet finale. Fall in line. Waterproof Ponchos are available from vendo machines at 400 yen. It's a mechanical ride on a "rubber boat" with mechanical dinosaurs in the background moving via animatronics. This is a far cry from the Rio Grande ride at EK where you get annoyed more than entertained because you just get wet. Here, you get to experience Jurassic Park itself. You’ve seen it, now it’s time to be part of the cast. Once you reach the laboratory area it starts to get dark. The climax is when a T-Rex surprises you and threatens to flip your rubber boat over. At this moment you'll hear a Japanese announcement asking you to secure your personal belongings including your cameras. Why? Remember the plunge I was talking about earlier? It’s about to happen very soon.

You will get wet. Just lie on your back so that your chest would be the one to get wet instead of your back. If you visit the park during the summer, you’ll easily dry up under the sun in ten minutes after this ride. Just avoid getting your back wet to prevent any respiratory illnesses. Souvenir pictures are available for an astronomical price.

I tried that Backdraft attraction next. It seems to be a movie from the 80’s or 90’s about firemen, and it smelled like freshly baked bread at the venue that I suddenly got hungry. I didn’t know what I was lining up for. Later I found out that it was interesting after all. Whoever told you that this attraction is boring never reached the third act. There are three rows and I was in the front row. This is both a blessing and a curse. The first part is a boring talk from the producers dubbed in Japanese. If you don’t know Nihongo you wouldn’t be able to relate, or maybe just try deciphering the meaning through the images. The second one is a simulated fire accident where you'll see a lot of combustible drums in front of you. Of course those are fake, and I am paranoid. It is more like a lights show displaying a big glass window with fire breaking out inside. No shattered glass here, just a small fountain of fire from one of the drums. It gets a little hot if you are in front.

I do not recommend this attraction to anyone who has experienced a fire accident in his or her lifetime. The special effects are so believable that the trauma might just come back to haunt you. I’d say the same thing for people with a heart condition. The final act is set in a warehouse. There are combustible drums all over the place. The warehouse door explodes and fire starts to spread. By “fire” I mean real fire. You will get to feel the heat. If you are in front this would make you wish you took one of the rows behind you. The drums start to explode one by one as the warehouse collapses. You'll see falling stairs and steel bridges, ceilings falling down, and fire everywhere. Like I already mentioned, it starts to get hot in there. If you haven’t experienced a fire accident in your life, consider it done after seeing this attraction. I can’t say anything about safety issues. I’d bet they would shut that down if it were not carefully controlled. But still, it just seemed so authentic, and I was really paranoid for a while in there.

The Back to the Future ride is a cinematic experience where you are led to small room leading to another small room with a car in it. Six people fit in that car. At first you wouldn’t know if it is a roller coaster or not because of the darkness. Later on you'll find out that the walls are actually just removable barriers separating you from other cars. In front of you is a giant screen where a special movie plays while you car tilts here and there making it feel like you are flying. It is not that thrilling and would actually result in some body pain later on because the seats are not cushioned. Enjoyable, nonetheless, but I just prefer roller coasters.

The Spider-Man Ride is an indoor roller coaster ride without loops or twists. Instead, the wagons rotate wildly while you, the rider, watch with your 3D glasses as Spider-Man’s enemies throw pumpkin bombs and other projectiles at you. Of course, the hero saves the day and the villains end up tangled in a giant web dangling over downtown Manhattan. The combination of cinema, 3D, and roller coaster makes it a fun ride. The seamless integration offers something unique to the regular roller coaster enthusiast. Don’t worry about the queue. The setting is inside the Daily Bugle complete with desks, trophy shelves, and walls meant for the glorification of John Jonah Jameson himself. Not one boring moment while waiting. Everything is in Japanese though. Have you forgotten? You are still in Kansai and here, Spider-Man and friends speak Japanese.

The Terminator attraction is a simulation of a Skynet seminar and what makes it fun is the female host who looks like an Air Asia stewardess. Her energy level is high. Her acting is so theatrical. Her quips are of comedy bar caliber judging from the reaction of the audience. This made me think. If only we could transform Enchanted Kingdom into something similar, we already have a truckload of comedy bar people to light up similar acts. If only! Back on topic, the place looks like the Skynet office, and again, you are invited to a seminar. Eventually the system will be hacked by Sarah Connor and her son.

Once inside the seminar room itself, robots will appear left and right. Everything goes on smoothly until the mother and son duo appears onstage. Live. What follows is a mix of live action and 3D movie experience as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s clone teams up with the two to defeat that liquid metal villain first seen in Terminator 2. As a part of the audience, you are snubbed. We are not the protagonists here, although we are still part of the show.

The other indoor rollercoaster is less thrilling than the Hollywood Dream ride, but they make up for it with special effects. The theme of the ride is a fantasy world complete with other galaxies and heavenly bodies. A wonderful lights show is inevitable but most of the ride is in the dark. If you want a photo, make sure you hide your camera well. The mechanics are the same for the Hollywood Dream ride and for this one. You leave your valuables in a locker, which would lock after you insert a hundred yen, which you would retrieve after getting your stuff after the ride. The crew is strict and would sometimes do spot checks. Fortunately, mine wasn’t found, but bringing it proved to be futile because of the darkness. If you really want a picture, there is one part before the end of the ride where you will be overwhelmed by a room of strobe lights. That’s your queue. Snap the photo there or record the video. It’s there or never. Make sure you hide it immediately afterwards because the exit comes next.

Last stop for me was the 4D Cinema experience. I wanted Shrek but only Sesame Street was playing during that time. It was still fun although I was already very tired by then that I just sat there lazily almost falling asleep. As it is 4D, expect your senses to be titillated by the scent of cookies, the sight of falling bubbles, and some water spraying. The show, once again, is in Japanese.

All in all Universal Studios Osaka now ranks as my favorite theme park of all time. The rides and attractions are few but the theme just meshes everything together into a renewed cinematic experience. We’ve seem most of those movies before. Why see them again? The answer is simple: Because here at Universal Studios, you are no longer just watching them. This time, you are part of the show. I can’t wait for Universal Studios Singapore, but it would be on a heavy disadvantage because this one just sets the bar high.

2 creature(s) gave a damn:

David Bryan said...

Cool! Can you give me some tips about Osaka. Me and my family are going there on summer. I love theme parks when you said USJ overtook Everland I got excited even more. :)) For me, Everland is the best theme park in Asia. I haven't been to Disneyland Tokyo or USJ though. We'll see if it's really better.

How big is it compared to USS? So far I already visited 2 Universal Studios one in Hollywood then another one in Singapore. :)

ihcahieh said...

Hello @David Ramos, sorry for the late reply. Anyway, to answer your question, it would depend on the traveler. If you want some thrill rides, I am afraid that Osaka's Unversal Studios only had one outdoor roller coaster. They have some indoors though. The template remains the same for Osaka and Singapore. The theme is still about the movies and they stay true to that.

Everland has a different appeal and benefits from the mere existence of T-Express, for thrill seekers, that is. USJ does not have that advantage. As for the comparison with Singapore, I could not really tell which is bigger. It seems as though they are just of the same size, or maybe that is because of the layout again, which is pretty much the same. They even have some attractions that are similar, for example, the Waterworld show.

As for Osaka in general, there are some sights to see, but I would suggest going to Kyoto or Nara if you want some dose of culture and history.

Hope that helped somehow. :)

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