A Dinner with One Piece Husbandos
Every year, the anime gods bless us with one of the most difficult events to secure a ticket for in nerd circles throughout Japan: Sanji's Restaurant.
Sanji's Restaruant is a dinner show that takes place at Universal Studios Japan every summer during their One Piece Premiere Summer event, which has been going on since 2010. One of the restaurants in the park is turned into a One Piece-themed restaurant with actors dressed as the characters serving their guests dinner. But the one thing that makes this themed restaurant different from any other themed restaurant or cafe in Japan is the amount of work and dedication that goes into the show every year.
I've only visited the restaurant once (or twice, depending) a year since 2014, but every
year, the voice work is different, the menu is different and the characters, aside from the main husbandos,
that make appearance are different. And because the actors can only "speak" along with the actual VA voice played over the restaurant speakers, that means scripts must be written and recorded every year, with actors keeping up with character miming in between lines.
This restaurant experience goes above and beyond what you would get at a regular themed-cafe, and it should seeing as you have to have a park ticket along with a separate ticket for the restaurant (if you're not a season pass holder, that could put you in the whole for 12,380 yen for one trip).
And while you may be thinking that's a lot of money for a themed restaurant, tickets for this show usually sell out the day the go on sale, despite the fact that there are on average 5 shows a day, every day, throughout the summer.
Originally, tickets for the entire summer went on sale in April, but tickets for the entire would end up selling out within a day or two, so Universal updated their system two years ago so that dinner show tickets only go on sale 1 month in advance (i.e. tickets for a show in August become available July 1st), giving more park goers a chance to see their husbandos.
The dinner show takes place in Lombard's Seafood Grille, inside the park. The restaurant is pretty spacious, leaving plenty of space for the actors to run around and play with the guests. There are tables arranged along the walls of the restaurant, as well as in the center, and you cannot choose your seat when you purchase your ticket, so sadly, that will be left up to chance. Luckily, though, the actors are always moving around, so you'll likely have plenty of chances to see your husbando.
Thirty-minutes before the show starts, guests line up in front to confirm their ticket with a photo-ID and get their table numbers. Now, you might be wondering why a photo-ID would be needed for a silly little themed-restaurant, but USJ (and a lot of J-events in general) has a very aggressive policy when it comes reselling tickets.
Customers are strictly forbidden from doing so, and refunds are only given in special cases. This is a great system to prevent artificially inflated ticket-prices, but it does make it a little harder to plan an outing with a group. What other customers will often do is purchase a table-full of tickets, then invite other customers to join them via Twitter or Instagram. Sometimes there is even an interview process needed to join.
The food varies year by year, and sometimes there is a particular theme attached to the meal as well (I believe one year was some Japanese-fusion menu), but for the most part, every year they often an appetizer, a meat or seafood dish, and a dessert. It is a full course, that includes a drink (juice or tea), so for the 4,980 yen price tag, it's not a bad deal.
Taste wise, I would also say that it's better than most other themed-cafe I've been too. The food doesn't taste like it's recently been thawed, and though I am fairly certain they're not in the kitchen making things by hand, I do believe that they go out of their way to make sure it is quite edible.
Specialty drinks are available, but must be purchased separately from the course meal. These specialty drinks will also vary year by year, but usually there is a drink for Sanji and Zoro, as these are the most popular One Piece husbandos.
The husbandos that seem to make a yearly appearance are the Mugiwara husbandos Luffy, Zoro and of course Sanji. Before and during the Dressrosa Arc, Law was a fairly consistent presence, but for the last few years, side character husbandos like Buggy the Clown and Bartolomeo.
Actors for any of the main characters in the series will not speak without the voice-over, but when they don't have lines, they are more than happy to entertain guests by horsing around and trying to eat their food (this is usually just Luffy though). Side characters, on the other hand, will speak and interpret the main character's miming or ad-lib along with the voice-actors playing over the speakers.
And since there are 5 shows a day, there will be different actors playing different characters throughout the day. More diligent persons than myself have compiled a complete list of all the actors in the show for various years, and fans will often call for their favorite actors by saying 'Morikawa Luffy' or 'Morishita Zoro'. Unfortunately, some of the more rabid fans have gone a little too far, leading to USJ to ban physical contact with actors, specifically during the group photo.
But all painful awkwardness aside, the actors do an amazing job staying in character and making sure the fans get all the munekyun they can to hold them over until they do it all again next year.