After visiting, I now can tell you that Magical Doll is, in basic terms, an otaku bar. And by otaku bar, I mean themed restaurant for anime/manga/etc. fanatics.
Magic Doll is one of those cafes that makes you think, “Yep. I’m in Japan.” It’s also one of those places that you initially laugh at the name of, considering it’s full name is “Layer Cafe Bar Magical Doll.” As their website explains, I guess if you’re in the loop, it makes sense. To me, it just seemed like a random amalgamation of English words, like you so often see in Japan.
And then when you actually get close to the door/staircase (it’s on the 2nd floor of a building), it’s the type of place that also makes you wonder, “Should I actually go in here, or is this some red light store that’s way more sketchy than it seems?” (as also happens so often in Japan). This is because, one, the name sounds a bit off (I’m a bit afraid to see what Googling “magical doll” comes up with here)–not to mention there’s a “ladies bar” right down the street–and also because as soon as you get close to the staircase, you are instantly blasted with anime music and images of cute anime/manga characters literally lining the stairs (which brings up the question as to whether this is a normal theme bar or a dubious fetish bar). The curtains on their windows are also drawn 24/7.
I was with a friend who is pretty into the anime/manga scene, and we first debated whether to go in or not, not quite knowing the “sketch level” of such a place. We walked up the stairs halfway and just completely chickened out, turned on our heels, and left. We decided it would be better to look it up at home first before stepping inside.
Which was a good enough idea, because the place really isn’t sketchy at all.
Their website explains the main theme of the bar:
Magical Doll is an area where the heroine of animated cartoon, cartoon, game, arcade, and special effects
etc (layer) and the information exchange and communications can be taken away.
It rises by layer and buds toques. (It is an abbreviation in Layer = year of costume play. )
So, now that you know this, the name actually makes quite sense. The drawn curtains also seem to be more for the privacy of the girls working there (see below) than because anything hanky-panky related is going on behind closed doors.
Their system is actually a bit complex, and I won’t pretend to understand it completely after just one visit and a glance at their website. But basically, while there is no cover charge, you have to buy a drink every 30 minutes to be allowed to stay in the cafe/bar, which also allows you access to their vast stores of manga, watching whatever anime they’re showing on their multiple TVs, admiring their various figurines and decorations, and, most importantly, talking to a cosplay girl. It seems if you go in the afternoon, you can also play certain games against the girls to win pictures with them. In addition to all of this, food/drink-wise, there are also courses and points and such, but that’s something that we didn’t bother dealing with.
However, I will discuss the drinks! As it’s a bar, of course they’re all overpriced, and they’re all pretty standard Japanese bar drinks (simple cocktails, like Screwdriver and Cassis+juice)–so standard, in fact, that we just asked for recommendations after our 1st round (the lady recommended us the “Akai Suisei” described below because it “looks pretty.” I can respect that). On the other hand, the fun thing is they’re all given interesting names (which, unsurprisingly, are related to different manga/anime)!
For example, their Cassis orange is called 赤い彗星 (“akai suisei”), which is the nickname for Char Aznable in the Gundam series. Their Mai Tai is called “Asuka Langley” (from the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise), and the Kalua milk I ordered was actually called “Amuro Ray” (also from Gundam). Don’t worry, you’re not blindly ordering, as long as you can read katakana–all of their drinks have their Magic Doll name and then their standard name in parenthesis underneath.
All except one.
“Devil Fruit” (悪魔の実), which appears in the One Piece series, has the tantalizing “(???)” right underneath it. So, of course you have to buy it and try it–and it was just okay. A bit bitter, a bit sweet, and blue-green. I still don’t know exactly what it was, but maybe a mix of a bitter alcohol with melon soda and one other flavor.
My main disappointment was when I tried to order my second round of drinks. Their menu says “Girls drink soft drinks for free (女の子の飲み物代0円です！(アルコールは別途）),” and when I inquired about me getting a free soft drink so I don’t need to pay to stay another 30 minutes, the flustered cosplay waitress explained that it’s only the girls working (and chatting with customers) who get free soft drinks (clients would need to pay for the girls to drink any alcohol)–which is very revealing of what type of clientele base they have, considering they don’t feel the need to distinguish female customers from female employees in their rule book (which is still not to say you will see 0 female clients, but you get my drift). Yet despite that, I didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable being there as a woman, which is a pretty good sign.
Looking at their website, they also have quite a list of costumes in the store. I’m not entirely clear on whether this means customers can wear them, or if they’re just for the girls working there, as we were never asked if we would like to do some cosplay, and no other customer in the building was dressed up either (which was disappointing, because they have an L costume from Death Note, and I think my friend could have really pulled it off).
Before I end, I also will post the warnings they have on their website and clearly with their menus, which is in all Japanese.
Warning 1: No touching the girls (draping your arm over her shoulder, wrapping your hands around her waist, etc.)
Warning 2: No taking pictures unless otherwise given specific permission.
Warning 3: You will be charged if you dirty or damage a girl’s costume.
Warning 4: If you throw up or make a mess anywhere besides the toilet, you will be charged a 3000 yen cleaning fee.
Warning 5: If you see one of the girls outside of the cafe, do not call out to them by their alias they use in the cafe.
These are all important, and all seem to be enforced (my friend tried to take a picture of a figurine at the table and was immediately stopped by the staff). For this reason, I don’t really have too many pictures to show you (I recommend you Google Image the place to get a feel for it, but luckily most of the customers have been honoring the rules of not taking and posting pictures), so you’ll have to just make a visit yourself to get the full effect. Also, since you need to keep ordering drinks every half hour, make sure you know your limit with alcohol so you don’t break any of the rules they set out.
Since I didn’t have any of their food, I can’t give a thorough evaluation at this point. This post is at most a baseline review of something that goes a bit deeper than your average bar or cafe. I can say, however, if you’re into anime/manga/gaming/cosplay/etc., or want to dabble into something and don’t know where to start, or just to get that “only-in-Japan” feel, I’d totally recommend going here. I’m sure the girls would have some recommendation to offer you on the spot. (Although I can’t guarantee any English level, just an FYI.)
In any case, here’s a place where y’all can get your moe on for real.
Layer Cafe Bar Magical Doll
〒320-0806 宇都宮市中央5丁目1-21 三橋ビル2F
Open 7 pm-12:30 am MTRF, 1-5 pm and 7 pm-12:30 am Sat./Sun.
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