Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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In Japan, you can hold a Gundam’s hand in VR right now

In Japan, you can hold a Gundam’s hand in VR right now

Japan is one of the few countries to really embrace VR. Sometimes its passion for VR escalates to an eyebrow-raising state, like the time a VR porn conference got cancelled because too many people showed up. Sometimes Japan’s VR-fascination leans to the more experimental spectrum, like when game developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s vibrating Synesthesia Suit for Rez Infinite VR was demo-able and on display in Roppongi Hills, where it overlooked the actual neon sights of Tokyo. In the latest addition to Tokyo’s VR Zone: Project i Can, where for a price attendees can try a variety of VR experiences, a familiar property is being explored—the classic mecha anime series Mobile Suit Gundam (1979).

As close as can get to seeing a mecha from our dreams in reality

Tokyo’s relationship with Gundam is an ongoing, loving one. In the delightful neighborhood Akihabara, there’s the quaint Gundam Cafe, located next to an equally niche restaurant, the AKB48 Cafe (themed after the immensely popular and massive idol group). The Gundam Cafe is fully outfitted in themed decor and food from the series. But Tokyo’s love affair with the landmark anime series doesn’t end with a cafe. Tokyo is home to another Gundam thing, a giant life-sized mecha statue that towers high in Odaiba. I didn’t see it myself when I was in Tokyo earlier this year—I forgot—but from its pictures, it looks astounding. As close as can get to seeing a mecha from our dreams in reality.

In fact, the Gundam VR experience for VR Zone: Project i Can even features that very tourist stop. Except with one notable difference: that statue comes to life. As per its description, you’re not piloting the Gundam itself in VR, but you’re holding onto its hand. The video preview for the eight-minute experience is scant on actual visuals, with VHS-esque distortion overlaying the brief glimpses of we get of the Gundam in action. We do see one charging with an axe, and the individual witnessing this in VR yelling in terror as they cling to a chair for dear life. It’s noted that the Gundam is battling an enemy Mobile Suit, as chaos unravels around them in the real-life location of Festival Plaza of DiverCity Tokyo Plaza.

Hold onto that chair, buddy.
Hold onto that chair, buddy.

If there were any specific property ripe for a borderline-gimmicky VR experience, it was one with mechas. Given that Gundam is arguably the most directly recognizable mecha property, its adaptation for the 360-degree realm is as understandable as can be. After all, with a Neon Genesis Evangelion VR experience, there’d have to be psychological trauma of some sort thrown in for fun. And that could get rightfully messy and complicated. Better just to stick to giant robots fighting each other, as they do best.

If you’re in Tokyo, make your way to the VR Zone: Project i Can to experience Gundam VR: Daiba Assault starting August 26th, before it closes on October 10th.

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