Gundam cafe offers a robotic experience
BY FUMIYUKI NAKAGAWA STAFF WRITER
A waitress salutes customers at the front counter of Gundam Cafe in Kanda-Hanaoka, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. (Asahi Shimbun photo file)A Japanese dessert "pancake" shaped like a plastic model of a Gundam animation character (Asahi Shimbun photo file)
Gundam Cafe, a sparkling new establishment near JR Akihabara Station in Tokyo, is drawing hordes of fans of the Gundam robot animation experience.
The first Gundam TV series aired in 1979 and the 14th is scheduled to premier in October.
Wildly complicated plastic models of the anime's many robot characters have sold like hotcakes over the years.
Bandai Co., the manufacturer of the toys, opened the restaurant in April 2010. So far, a steady stream of fans, some 400,000 or so, have turned up.
"Welcome to Gundam Cafe," a waitress wearing a Gundam costume salutes customers as soon as they cross the threshold into what sort of resembles a superclean spaceship. A 1.5-meter-long scale model of a Gundam robot model soars nearby, in front of a space-themed wall.
The anime's many theme songs from different series play constantly throughout the restaurant, while new information on the latest series of robots is provided on LCD screens.
The food on the menu is naturally named after various Gundam characters, such as "Amuro Ray's pilot lunch" and "Char Zaku rice."
The restaurant also sells take-away "taiyaki" dessert pancakes shaped like Gundam characters at the entrance.
Customers can choose different fillings inside the pancakes, such as red bean paste and bacon mayonnaise. Fans have snapped up about 200,000 of the pancakes so far, the restaurant said.
Although it was a weekday, many customers spanning different generations--businessmen wearing suits, high school girls and parents with small children--were waiting for the restaurant to open at 10 a.m.
A Bandai staffer said customers come to Gundam Cafe for many reasons. Some Gundam fans bring their children to share their excitement with the kids, while businessmen stop to take a break from the daily grind.
About 5 percent of customers are from overseas, and 30 percent are from Japan outside the Kanto region, the staffer said.
A businessman from Okayama Prefecture--which is about 600 kilometers from Tokyo--took a couple of days off to visit the restaurant with two friends. He said he'd read about the cafe in a magazine.
He seemed most excited about the restaurant's bathroom, which he termed "amazing."
Upon entering a booth and pushing a button, the sound of Gundam characters taking off from their space ship fills the tiny room. Lights shaped like Gundam eyes begin to flash yellow, he said, and the dim room gradually brightens.
That bathroom attraction is designed to give fans the feeling they are in the cockpit of a Gundam robot.
This level of attention to detail in what is usually just a bathroom is representative of the restaurant's desire for its customers have fun. A popular line from the anime "Wish me luck!" seemed to float on the air.