A little R&R for cosplay casualties By Jude Brand

April 27, 2007 at 12:42 pm | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Cosplay has become an integral part of Japan’s booming manga culture. The term generally refers to the practice of dressing up like your favorite pop-culture icon or a character from an animation or comic; think of a Trekkie convention, but with an even wider range of outfits to choose from. A quick run through Harajuku Station on a Sunday will bring you directly into contact with dozens of young practitioners — the girls in flounced Little Bo-Peep skirts and the boys looking sullen in too much face makeup. At Alcatraz E.R. in Shibuya, customers can enjoy a drink while locked up in cells SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTOS Tokyo’s first cosplay-themed nightspot, Alcatraz B.C., opened in Roppongi in 1998. The concept was.. the brainchild of a restaurant marketing company and not a personal project by an impassioned devotee of dressing up. “We were looking for a fresh new concept for a restaurant that would leave people thinking, ‘Wow, where am I? Where on earth could I be?’ ” says Tomoaki Shirai, the manager of Alcatraz E.R. in Shibuya. The idea took off so the company opened more restaurants in the same vein, although the Roppongi and Ginza restaurants eventually settled on a more traditional form of cosplay in Japan based on the myth of namahage, or mountain demons. According to folklore in Tohoku, namahage come down to the villages once a year to frighten lazy children into being productive — and they do, but nowadays it’s just a neighbor in a scary looking mask, though spankings can sometimes be in order. Alcatraz E.R. in Shibuya is the only surviving branch, which comes as no surprise. Shibuya is, after all, Tokyo’s biggest teen mecca and one train stop from Harajuku. Each version of Alcatraz incorporated some variation on the basic theme, and the Shibuya E.R. seems to strike the right balance with its unique blend of (im)pure cosplay. In short, it is both a maximum-security prison and an emergency medical room where it’s Halloween every night and ghoulish jailers and macabre medics take charge. Talk about a spanking. Fortunately, it is all just play. As soon as you step out of the elevator onto the second floor, you are in a holding cell. The doors are controlled from the inside, so you must wait until they are ready to admit you. Once inside, your induction will be “processed” by the resident on duty. The night nurse will be summoned to assist. It is her job to see that any potentially dangerous inmate in each fresh intake is securely handcuffed. Remember: good behavior will be rewarded, so be on your best or it might be you — or at your worst if you want it to be you. After that, disinfection procedures begin. There are simply no words to describe the size of that needle, except for maybe “ouch!” Well, not really. It is big, but I don’t want to spoil the gag by revealing exactly what they do with it. You’ll have to go and find out for yourself. Once incarceration procedures are complete, you will be led to your cell — one of many in the long two-story row that lines the main walk. The ones on the lower level are large enough for groups of offenders. The ones upstairs are tiny, the nastiest of which have nicknames like “The Cranium Cracker” stenciled above the hobbit-size opening through which you must crawl to enter. Safely inside, your handcuffs will be removed. And, after lock-down, you will have plenty of time before lights out to ruminate over the misdeeds that led you to your sorry state. Well, either that or you could spend your time picking your poison from the medicinal delights listed on the drink menu. Anyone interested in an early parole should avoid ordering the original — and sinful sounding — cocktails, like Doping, which is served with an upended vial sticking out of a fog of dry ice, or Big Breast/Small Breast, which is served in an appropriately proportioned baby bottle. And the lights do indeed go out, but only when it’s time for the show. Out of the sudden darkness, wailing sirens pierce the gloom. Then the deep commanding voice of the MC announces that all rioters will be shot. Random gunfire cracks through the room and, just as you’re starting to wonder what’s going on, a nurse appears and points a gun straight at you. Kiss kiss, bang bang. Then she’s gone and the silence seems deafening until you’re hit by the screams of some hapless inmate being dragged off for a special “treatment” at the hands of the doctor. And by the sound of it, you know it’s not going to be pleasant. During my time inside, it had something to do with yet another extremely large needle — for which “plunger” is definitely the right word. But, seriously, it’s all just a bit of fun, and the music is much scarier than the actual antics. Some people even volunteer to participate, but, more often than not, someone in your own cell block will have made a deal with the warden to make sure your number comes up, so make sure you know who your friends are if you have a birthday or wedding coming up on or near your visit. With three shows a night, there is ample opportunity, but you would want to book well in advance on a weekend, when large groups of young Japanese office workers regularly rock into the jail house to yank each other’s chains. Foreigners are also welcome and well represented, though I was a bit surprised to see an expat family there one night — just a regular mom and dad with two toddlers in tow who were all smiles and generally just hanging out and soaking up the vibe. Alcatraz E.R. (Shibuya), Harvest Building 2F, 2-13-5 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; tel (03) 3770-7100; http://www.hy-japan.com. Open 5 p.m.-midnight, Sun.-Thurs., and 5 p.m.-4 a.m., Fri.-Sat. Table charge 600 yen per person. Drinks from 600 yen; original Alcatraz cocktails from 700 yen. Birthday cakes with sparklers available for 1,500 yen (minimum of one day’s notice required).

Thanks to japantimes.co.jp

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