Monday, 7 June 2010


Since we ended up cancelling our Universal Studios Japan plans a couple of weeks ago, we decided, on Friday, to get bus tickets for Sunday, when the weather looked okay. Unfortunately this meant getting up at 5.30am to get the bus at 7. On a weekend!
 Now, this is my third time to USJ in the short three years I've been to Japan. The first time, it snowed for six hours and all of the outdoor rides were closed. The second time was scorching hot. Between these two times I'd already done almost everything there is to do at USJ. Really, it's possible to do everything in a single day - especially if you get an express pass booklet which lets you skip a large part of the queueing process. Still, there are a few good rides and it's nice to hang around somewhere that's so totally artificial every once in a while. Plus, since the last time I'd been there they'd removed the E.T. Adventure ride and replaced it with something new, so I was curious how that would be.

Though Em and I splashed out on express tickets, the wait times for the rides never seemed to get as long as I had seen in the past. We went to the Spider-man ride as soon as we got in the park, and seeing that the wait was only about 25 minutes, we decided to join the regular queue and save the express ticket for later. I'm not sure if the park was less busy than it usually is, but we were able to ride stuff more times in a single day than I'd managed the previous two times. We rode Jurassic Park with the express pass once, then later went back and queued regularly (in my opinion, the ride is only worth it for the final drop, but it is quite a drop) for a second go. Then there was Space Fantasy. Ah, Space Fantasy.
This is what they replaced E.T. Adventure with. Now, E.T. Adventure was undoubtedly the worst ride that they had express ticketing for. I'm not sure what's worse - spending extra money for the chance to get on it faster, or actually having to queue for 50 minutes for the privilege. On entering a small foyer at the end of the initial queueing area, you would be greeted by a video of Stephen Spielberg (dubbed into Japanese in our version, of course) telling you how you had to help E.T. save his home planet. Or whatever. Then after a second queueing area during which you would give your name to a receptionist-type and get a 'passport', you would board a vehicle that looked like bicycles welded together which was suspended from the ceiling. Then you would move through a set of scenes that were straight from the climax of the movie, before moving onto E.T.'s planet, where you would be greeted by a bunch of animatronic aliens dancing around in an LSD-inspired landscape. It was like a lot of so-called 'dark-rides' you get at Disney theme parks, but the animatronic characters looked really lame and the ride's only redeeming feature was that E.T. would say (or try to say) your name as you left the ride - that's why they took your name at the reception desk.

So I was quite intrigued to see that they had replaced the mediocre E.T. ride with. When we got our tickets at the main entrance of the park, we were given complimentary express tickets for Space Fantasy (they replaced the E.T. express booklet ticket with one for Backdraft...which I'll get to later). When we got to the ride we were told we had to exchange these tickets at some other building to get the actual express ticket. When we gave our exchange pass over, we received something like a fast pass at Disney Land - you come back at a specific time and then you can skip the line. The time on our ticket was about fifteen minutes from the current time, so we waited around until they let us in.

The first interesting thing was that we had to lock our stuff away in a locker. I thought this seemed promising. During the queue, you have your photo taken on a green screen, though this is just to sell you a picture on your way out of the ride. After that, you come to a room with a sort of robot thing suspended from the ceiling that looked and moved like the ship's computer from Flight of the Navigator:
 This, along with a cartoony star princess inside a crystal (who explains that it's your mission to rekindle the dying sun) made me think the ride might be a little child-oriented and therefore dull, but this expectation was happily confounded.

Space Fantasy could so easily be described as a rip-off of Space Mountain. It's an indoor rollercoaster where you fly around in dark with stars on the walls. Actually, Space Fantasy isn't as long as Space Mountain, but it's better in a number of ways. Instead of sitting two to a cart and facing forward the whole time, the carts in Space Fantasy are vaguely circular in shape, with two sitting in the front facing forward and two in the back facing backward. The cart rotates as you rise and drop, spinning around planet with beautiful colors, so that sometimes you're whizzing straight ahead watching the comets and the stars coming at you, and sometimes you're watching them disappear as you're dragged backwards. I actually found myself shouting out "Wooooow...wooooooohooooooo!" in spite of myself. The best bit, however, is when these two buttons on the console light up, and the princess tells you to press them to activate the stardust power (or something) and so you're jabbing away at the button, not sure if it's actually doing anything, then you dive into a huge room with shiny, mirrored surfaces, meant to be the inside of the dying sun, and you keep pressing the buttons and the whole room explodes and lights up and you're sent zooming off to the end of the ride. I couldn't help but smile as a result of all the sensory input, which is rare for me.

Emily and I decided to go back on later, and it was even better the second time. It never feels quite the same any two times. I know because we went on a third time, when we saw that the line was only 35 minutes after getting off the second time. We might have gone on again, but the park was closing by then so we didn't get a chance.

I had one other noteworthy experience at the park. As I said before, the replaced the E.T. Adventure express booklet ticket with one for Backdraft - quite a cheap move when Backdraft isn't even a ride, isn't particularly popular and, due to only one group being able to go through it at one time, can't be skipped-ahead in the same way you can skip lines for other attractions. Anyway, we went there because we had the ticket and we thought we might as well do everything there was to do. Your group is led into a room set up to look like a warehouse, and you get an intro video from Ron Howard who tells you about making the Backdraft movie. Then you move into another room where they simulate a building catching fire, as seen from outside. Then they show you another film where actors from the film talk about their experiences. It was around this point that a toddler in the walkway behind us started bawling his eyes out. He only seemed to get louder when Kurt Russell appeared on screen. (Funnily enough, during the third and final room, where the whole place explodes with fire and you can feel the heat on your skin, and the roof above you starts to collapse, didn't seem to bother him at all). Anyway, while watching dubbed Ron Howard and dubbed Kurt Russell, I thought about maybe watching Backdraft when I got home. Except in my head, I was thinking home meaning Scotland. For a few seconds I forgot that I lived in Tokushima, and will be for at least another month and a half. I've had this sort of experience before at theme parks like this. Despite the fact that everything's in Japanese, the sheer Western-ness of everything can make you forget where you are.

Anyways, after our third Space Fantasy adventure we left the park and (after a stop-off at the new Shonen Jump store that opened in Universal City on Friday) got the train to Osaka, then the bus to Tokushima. I got back to my apartment around midnight, after some uneasy sleep on the bus. Then I slept through the night, most of the morning and some of the afternoon. Sleep is great. I should do it more often.

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