After a little jaunt around Osaka City the day before, my second day in Kansai was the main event.
Choosing to postpone it by 24 hours because I’d anticipated getting a poor amount of sleep on the bus, I knew from previous experience that I would not be awake enough to tackle Universal Studios on day one.
Opting to not bother with make-up because it would just melt off anyway, I left the hostel as soon as I could in the morning. USJ has a system where they only allow people with specific tickets into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter if it’s busy, and I was not one of those people. I was determined to get in so I tried to arrive before the rush. After all, I’m a British millennial; Harry Potter is my culture.
I got through the gates at 10am, and made a beeline to Hogsmeade, realising on the way that while my outfit did suit the aesthetic, I had none of my house colours. I’ve been a Hufflepuff for the last 19 years and there I was… wearing red. Obviously I wasn’t taking myself too seriously, so I muttered a quick “typical” to myself before brushing the thought aside. To be honest, I’d chosen my clothes with another attraction in mind…
Stepping through the archway, it actually felt a little bit like home. I’ve already visited the one in Florida and there weren’t many differences, so it wasn’t like it was a big surprise or anything, but I could feel a big smile spread across my face. Even forgetting about the Harry Potter part, the British influences from the series felt so comforting, and I was so glad to be there.
Besides, the fact that it was Harry Potter was even better, and I could allow myself to be unabashedly enthused over one of the biggest fandoms of my childhood. My sister can tell you better than anyone… I was annoyingly obsessed.
I jumped straight into the queue for the “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” ride, in such a hurry to get in line that I barely looked at the wait time display. The majority was outdoors and like the day before, it was hot. I was already wearing a hat, and I kept sipping at my sports drink, alternating between that and fanning myself. The time seemed to drag on forever and when I finally reached the shade of the ‘greenhouses’ I checked my phone to see how long it had been. I’d been in line for over an hour and by this point I was very uncomfortable.
Obviously, theme parks like USJ are going to have longer wait times than other parks and having more than enough experience in the matter I’d accepted it as part of a regular day at Universal. But nothing seemed to be moving so I asked a staff member approximately how long it would take from my point in the queue. When she said that it would be another two hours, that’s when I made my mind up.
What was the point in wasting another two hours waiting for a ride that I’d already been on in a different country when I could be exploring the rest of the park and enjoying stuff I could only do in Japan? Yeah, it was Hogwarts, but there was nothing stopping me from coming back later when I was finished.
I asked the lady if it was okay if I exited then and she indicated the path to leave.
Suddenly being able to walk as fast I liked felt like a weird sense of freedom. I took a look round the shops in Hogsmeade but not too closely because most of it was the same as Florida. I did, however, find part of my sister’s birthday present there because part of the reason I ended up sending it late was waiting to get something from USJ.
On the main crossroad by the entrance was a movie theatre style attraction that played two different shows depending on time of day it was. This was part of Universal’s Cool Japan campaign, and featured two of my favourite anime of all time: Sailor Moon and Evangelion. Naturally, the Sailor Moon one played earlier in the day as it’s a little more family friendly so that was the one available when I got there.
That 4D show followed a pretty standard plot for a Sailor Moon episode with a big baddie trying to steal the Legendary Silver Crystal, but no-one is there for the storyline really. They’re there to see the Senshi kick butt with all the added special effects, like being sprayed with water when Mercury activates her powers, or feeling the heat of Mars’ Burning Mandala.
There’s something about Sailor Moon that does get me choked up, especially when I’m experiencing it in Japan. I cried a little watching the musical in Fukuoka three years ago, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up this time too. I suppose it’s because the Jenny who used to watch the series after primary school would be super proud of who I am today. I’m an adult now, and the strong message of girl power that Sailor Moon promotes resonates with me now more than ever.
When I left the theatre, the corridor led to a gift shop filled with all things Sailor Senshi. I gazed longingly around the store, knowing that I wouldn’t really justify buying anything. While I was there, I came across a pair of cosplayers dressed as Uranus and Neptune. My sapphic fangirl heart was squealing but I played it as cool as I could and casually asked if I could take a photo of them. After all (and I hate to use such strong language), anyone who takes pictures of cosplayers without asking first is an asshole, even outside of Japan’s privacy culture.
I was ready for food at this point so I got myself a hot dog and sat along the pavement to eat, joining the others lining the street. I’d clearly timed things right because a parade was about to begin and I caught the first part just as I finished eating. Wanting to make my time as efficient as possible, I walked in the opposite direction in an attempt to ‘speed run’ the procession and get into my next attraction while a load of visitors were preoccupied.
The attraction is question was Shingeki no Kyojin: The Real. Based on the wildly popular anime Attack on Titan – a series which I have been following for the last five years – this was another theatrical event like Sailor Moon, but even more 4D. Not only did they have 3D video, and physical effects like moving chairs, but they also had a cast of actors performing the role of the Survey Corps: the people tasked with saving humanity from the Titans. Most of the cast weren’t recognisable as any particular character but it worked. As soon as they came on stage, I could almost feel my eyes ‘glimmering’ behind the 3D glasses (if that even makes sense).
A couple of years back, I’d had a very vivid daydream about forming a cosplay dance troupe after listening to the English version of Jiyuu no Tsubasa (the 2nd opening theme). I fantasised about how cool it would be to mix three of my passions together: anime, cosplay, and theatre. Obviously, that hasn’t happened, but watching the show dragged that memory from the back of my brain and I found myself thinking “that would be my dream job”. Well… it would be if the Titans didn’t look quite so creepy in real life, but I suppose that’s the point.
The cherry on the top of the cake was the fact that they played one of my favourite scenes on the overhead TV screens while we were queuing. I love that scene so much, in fact, that I dedicated a paragraph to it in my season review. If you like Shingeki no Kyojin and you ever wanted to hear the opinion of someone who kinda knows stuff about anime, you can check that review out here. (Beware- most posts are years old and therefore, embarrassingly cringey.)
Right next door was my absolute favourite ride at Universal. It’s something I always make sure to do and I’d actually co-ordinated my red and blue outfit to match. It is none other than the Spider-Man ride, which is an attraction where you sit in a news van on an assignment from The Daily Bugle, trying to catch a scoop on some trouble happening in New York City. On the way, you encounter Spidey’s most iconic villains and it’s up to the web-slinging protagonist to save the day. It’s part traditional ride, part emulator, and you really feel the action.
When I arrived the singles queue was only 15 minutes long and it seemed almost too good to be true, but even so I practically skipped in with zero hesitation. It was just as good as I remembered, although hearing the characters speak in Japanese was a little strange.
In true theme park style, the ride led out to another gift shop which sold Marvel-related stuff (whatever they were allowed to use by Disney, of course). I’m not usually the type to spend a lot, and I usually stop myself from buying stuff that’s obviously overpriced, but this was my birthday celebration and there was absolutely no room for that kind of mindset.
Overcoming my mental block at giving up my money, I treated myself to a t-shirt that had Spider-Man written in Japanese: honouring my favourite ride with something exclusive to USJ.
I looped round the surrounding area, coming across a photo spot where you could have your photo taken with an upside down statue of Spider-Man. I didn’t get one because a) the heat and humidity had made me look an absolute mess and b) I didn’t fancy paying for a photo where I’d look like a melted puddle of a person. By the time I’d left that part of the park, the theatre had switched over to the Evangelion show and I hurried back over.
The show started in the lobby, which had projections explaining that due to damage from the Second Impact, NERV headquarters had relocated to ‘Osaka III’. The ‘news reports’ promoted Osaka III and its role in the rebuild of Japan, but also mentioned strange weather patterns that were plaguing the city.
Over the speakers came the voice of none other than Misato Katsuragi, Operations Director of NERV. I got the warm fuzzies for a moment because this was a character I have cosplayed quite a few times. We were ushered through to the theatre, where the show continued. The audience were placed in the centre of the action, with us following the EVA Units via drone. All of a sudden Godzilla appears, and all three pilots go in pursuit of the new threat. Soon realising that they were wrong about his intentions, Shinji, Asuka, and Rei team up with Godzilla to defeat a greater foe: King Ghidorah.
I absolutely loved it, and I thought the mash-up of two cultural juggernauts was inspired. It would make sense to inroduce kaiju to the Evangelion universe as they already face off against giant supernatural beings a.k.a. Angels. The EVA units are already equipped to handle that kind of thing, but the kaiju are just different enough to pose a challenge.
I assume most people would check out that attraction for Godzilla because it’s way more famous worldwide and way older, but Neon Genesis Evangelion has been perennially popular for nearly 25 years, and it’s the series that I was more familiar with.
After the show I was hungry again. So far the day had been great, but it was reminding me of family. Most times I’ve been in a big theme park like Universal it had been with my mum, dad, and siblings, so to be alone was still an unfamiliar experience, despite having a solo trip to DisneySea last year. As soon as I saw one of the food stalls, I had a flashback to being either 10 or 13 (not sure which) when a passing comment turned into a family in-joke, and I knew exactly what I wanted to eat. I bought myself a turkey leg – a snack which has been cemented in my head as something super ‘American’ – and I sat gnawing at it while reminiscing about our past holidays in Florida.
I made sure to send a photo to my sister so I could share the moment with someone who understood what the big deal was.
I was sat near the noticeboard showing all the ride waiting times and when I’d finished eating, I saw that the Hogwarts ride had dropped to just 70 minutes. Realising that was probably the best time I was going to get, I rushed back to the Harry Potter section and jumped into the queue. It moved much faster the second time, that’s for sure.
Once I’d got to the lockers just before the boarding platform, I found that my rucksack was way too big and I had to explain to the staff member on duty. Fortunately, they have a system for incidents like that and I was instructed to put just my valuables in and take the rest of the bag to another employee.
Now feeling much lighter, I got onto the ride. Luckily, I was prepared this time, but my first experience of the attraction was a bit of a shock. I wasn’t expecting Dementors to be about a metre away from my face, and I remember screaming as hard as I could. This time though, all I did was say “well, that is not nice” in a very matter-of-fact tone, feeling like I was channeling my inner Hermione Granger. I call that character development.
The ride combines movement and projections to make you feel as though you’re flying through Hogwarts, including the Quidditch pitch, the Chamber of Secrets, and the Forbidden Forest. I would recommend it even if it has one of the longest lines in the entire park, but do be warned about the Dementors and spiders!
By this point I had just about enough time to fit in one more ride. This time, I chose one that I hadn’t been on in over a decade. Like Spider-Man, the singles line only took 15 minutes and I swept past the main queue really quickly. I got in the boat for Jaws, uncomfortably aware that I was on the outside of the bench. It had also grown dark so visibility wasn’t great either. I began to realise that I hadn’t really thought this through, but it was too late for that.
Fortunately, it wasn’t as scary as remembered it to be.
The boat rode round the water, ominous messages crackling over the driver’s walkie-talkie. A destroyed boat served as a warning of what was about to come and when the tension had built up just enough, the shark emerged from below the surface, getting a few screams from people on the other side. I really like boat rides at theme parks, and now I’m not a frightened 13 year old anymore, Jaws might turn into one of my Universal staples.
It was very dark by then and I’d heard that there would be a final parade in the evening. I wasn’t too bothered about it, thinking more about how early I’d need to be up the next day and how many people would be filtering onto the train after closing time. I’d stayed until one of the last trains home at DisneySea and to say it was busy was an understatement. It would be better to skip the parade and beat the rush in my opinion.
But there was one last thing I wanted.
Earlier on in the day, I’d spotted a food stall that sold Shingeki no Kyojin churros and I needed one. Churros are a old favourite in terms of theme park food, and here was one that appealed to me directly. I could kick myself for being sucked in by the marketing because it was Captain Levi and I don’t even like him that much, but I do like the series and the flavour combination they’d chosen. I’ve never seen a chocolate orange churro before and it was beautiful. With a chocolate batter, orange sugar and pieces of candied orange on top it was certainly new to me and even if it wasn’t the best churro I’ve ever had it was still good.
I sat down to eat, breathing in the Universal Studios atmosphere before I had to leave, desperately trying to make the most of it. My day had been amazing and this might sound very privileged, but I was proud of myself for paying for all of it with my own money. Like I said earlier, I’m awful at actually spending but – other than choosing a night bus and hostel instead of a shinkansen and hotel – I didn’t cut any corners and that was a fact worth celebrating.
It also reinforced my appreciation for everything my parents gave me growing up. I’ve felt very fortunate for a long time but if you’re reading this (which you probably will at some point) Mum, Dad… I love you and thank you so much!
I managed to slip away just before the parade began and even if there were a lot of people on the train, I knew it would have been worse if I’d waited. I went back to the hostel a very happy girl, if not very tired.
What part of USJ would you most like to experience? Also, if there are any more people who prefer the calmer, show based attractions please let me know because there are definitely not enough of us out there!