Business / Tech

Tokyo VR attraction puts you in the heart of a Gundam battle

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

In 2009, anime fans were delighted when a life-size statue of a Gundam robot was unveiled in Tokyo’s Odaiba district. The statue has now become a landmark attraction in the shopping and entertainment area.

And this year, there’s finally some action as Gundam fights with another robot, something you get to see from a premium seat — Gundam’s gigantic hand.

All this excitement comes thanks to virtual reality, launched last week by Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc. at VR Zone Project i Can in Odaiba.

“When you see Gundam’s statue, I think many people begin to imagine what would happen if that thing actually started moving,” said Yukiharu Tamiya, the facility’s manager. “We’ve brought that to life.”

The arcade-like VR Zone is in the Divercity Tokyo Plaza shopping complex located just in front of Gundam’s statue.

A user dons a headset with a monitor that offers a 360-degree virtual view. Complemented by stereo headphones, it offers a totally immersive experience in the virtual world.

| ©SOTSU·SUNRISE

The 8-minute Gundam VR program begins with a scene just outside the Divercity Tokyo Plaza building, where the user appears to stand beneath the statue.

Shots ring out, and Zaku, a robot from the popular anime, attacks from behind.

The Gundam statue then starts to move and the player is offered a chance to sit in its palm and be protected. Gundam starts battling Zaku while the user watches the battle play out from the safety of Gundam’s hands.

| ©SOTSU·SUNRISE

The robot’s hand is in reality a kind of couch, which the user sits on.

Players describe the content as immersive. For instance, when they sit in Gundam’s hand and the robot raises it, they describe the feeling that they really are ascending — even though the chair is static.

And as players look down at the ground from the raised hand, they get a distinct sense of height.

At the same time, the sound of the earth rumbling and vibrations add additional reality.

A gamer wears a headset during a virtual reality battle from the safety of Gundam
A gamer wears a headset during a virtual reality battle from the safety of Gundam’s palm, at VR Zone Project i Can in Tokyo’s Odaiba district on Thursday. A heat lamp adds realism. | KAZUAKI NAGATA

Tamiya noted that Bandai Namco already provides an arcade game enabling players to control a Gundam robot from a cockpit. He said the designers thought it would be more thrilling for players to get to sit in Gundam’s hand rather than in a cockpit — something that many players have probably already experienced.

“We’ve seen that people react with surprise when they are put in dangerous situations in virtual reality,” he said.

Fans need to apply online for a slot to visit the VR Zone facility, where eight attractions are on offer in all.

The others include a virtual stage performance, from the point of view of a band member, and having to escape from a creepy abandoned building.

Visitors pay ¥700 to ¥1,000 per VR experience.

The facility opened in April but will close on Oct. 10, as Bandai Namco is running it only as a trial to test the viability of commercial VR entertainment. It may use the know-how gained to create business models in the future.

“This is the first time for us to provide VR content to the general public at a facility like this … everything has been an experiment, including whether we can establish a business model and whether people accept this kind of content,” Tamiya said.

Bandai Namco said so far the VR Zone has been well received.

The facility accepts visitors only through online reservations and opens slots 30 days in advance. A check of the bookings system on Tuesday showed that only a few remain available in the next 30 days.

Reservations: https://project-ican.com