Akihabara Electric Town Comes Home

Getting married is a rite of passage. Rites of passages usually signify a transition from one life stage to another. But, not always. Jim may have grown older but has defined growing up his own way. He’s been a toy-tech, the voice of Optimus Prime and Cobra Commander and has played more video games than that spoiled cousin you had growing up. 
There are certain places and events that are pretty much standard on every geek’s bucket list. San Diego Comic-Con. E3. Skywalker Ranch. But for methere is one place that resides above all of those. It is legendary among video game, animation, toy and movie nerds. (Or to use the Japanese analogy, otaku.)
                                                                     
I’m talking about Akihabara Electric Town in Tokyo, Japan.



The first time I ever went to Akihabara was in 2005, along with my wife Karin (whom you may remember from before). We rode in on the Tokyo Metro along the Ginza Line. G14. That is the stop. Having zipped into the station underground, everything had been hidden from sight. I had seen pictures of the place and read about it for years, especially when preparing for our trip. Every step up toward the surface added to the anticipation exponentially. I was so close. We passed through the exit turnstiles, showing our passes to the nice man in the window and exited the station.
Combine the cinematic feelings of Willy Wonka opening the door to the chocolate factory, Eddie Valiant driving through the tunnel into Toontown and Obi Wan Kenobi realizing “that’s no moon” and you have the sensation of your very first step into the place.

Here, if you’re looking for it, you’ll find it. From video games to PC parts to the latest Apple products. Every movie. Every CD. Arcade games with smiling taiko drums. Prize machines galore. A restaurant with over 100 different types of ramen noodles. The latest cameras and televisions. Things with lights and buttons. Lights with buttons. T-shirts, watches, suits, shoes, costumes or lingerie. Toy trains, action figures, Hello Kitty or hardcore pornography– sometimes all in the same store. Pick up a comic featuring Street Fighter’s Chun Li and Cammy making out. Or one with Ken and Ryu making out, if you prefer.
IT’S EVERYTHING, RIGHT IN THIS ONE PLACE. And I miss it so much.

If you don’t have the means to visit Akihabara but have access to a current Sony PlayStation console/handheld of your choice, you’re in luck, thanks to a recent game release called Akiba’s Trip. (NOTE: The PS4 version comes out in November.) The game recreates all of Akihabara, complete with virtual versions of real-world stores. Of course, walking around a real place in a video game would be boring without something to make it an actual game, right?
Unlike the open worlds of GTA and Saints Row, where you delve into a hotbed of organized crime, in Akiba’s Trip you’re part of a club that stumbles upon a conspiracy of soul-sucking vampires preying upon the unwitting citizens of Tokyo.
How will you stop these genetically-engineered vampires, or “Synthisters” as they’re called in-game? By punching, kicking and whacking them with the various items you find in Akihabara: Laptops, rolled-up posters, giant kitten paw-shaped mittens and the like.

But in the story, you’re not actually aiming for your immortal enemies– you’re hitting them in the clothes– until you get ‘em down to their skivvies. STRIP-BATTLING! This exposes the maximum amount of their skin to sunlight, defeating said Synthister/vampire person and you save the day. Perfectly logical.

Elsewhere on the internet this game has been maligned as some horrible misogynistic monstrosity by people who haven’t actually played it. Otherwise, they’d know that the game’s enemies are both male and female. They’d know that the plucky gang of college kids fighting to save Akihabara consists of girls and guys battling alongside each other. Heck, even the unlockable in-game fanservice/pin-up wallpapers have male and female options. It is an equal opportunity vampire-stripping game– quite refreshing because equal-opportunity anything is uncommon in the videogame world.
But what makes this game so great to me is how, even with all its goofiness, it captures the spirit of Akihabara itself. It just “feels” like being there. As much as a video game can.
Someday Karin and I will go back to the real Akihabara. And if it so happens to be infested with vampires, we’ll know exactly what to do.


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