Cool Japan Wonderland-What’s New at Universal Studios’ Cool Japan 2018 

Sabrina Zirakzadeh (Osaka)

It’s that time of year again: the moment that puts the “Japan” in Universal Studios Japan. While USJ’s limited-time event attractions are well-known, in 2015 the theme park decided to launch an event to fill the awkward time between its holiday illuminations and the summer extravaganzas, one with a decidedly regional spin. Every year since, Universal Cool Japan has been a major attraction, one so successful that its initial January-March run was expanded to January-June, yet the crowds are still overwhelming. Universal Cool Japan puts the spotlight on four key pieces of Japanese pop culture every year in the form of rides, 4D attractions, escape games, and more, and 2018 looks to be just as exciting as the previous three years. In fact, USJ has some special surprises in store!

The History of Universal Cool Japan

Universal Cool Japan 2018 logo In 2015, the first Universal Cool Japan event focused on four major pieces of Japanese popular culture: the Monster Hunter and Biohazard (Resident Evil in the West) video game franchises, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the then-new media juggernaut of Attack on Titan. Each had a single unique attraction with some themed merchandise available, with the Attack on Titan area even having a themed food truck. Monster Hunter used a 4D adventure ride format, Evangelion received a 4D movie experience, Biohazard debuted its first puzzle-themed escape game, and Attack on Titan had — well, a let-down. While the first three attractions were popular and enjoyed by many, the walk-through, big-screen recap of key scenes from the anime coupled with a few live action set pieces and a chance for photos with life-sized statues of some of the lead characters was generally seen to be far from worth the average three hour wait time just to get tickets. Luckily, the free photos that fans could take with the giant Titans set up around the Cool Japan area had much shorter waits, and were a big enough hit that they were brought back in 2016 as well.

The second year was much the same as the first, but with the addition of a fifth attraction, the Kyary Pamyu-Pamyu XD Ride. In addition, the Attack on Titan experience was upgraded to a virtual adventure ride, which was still less popular than the other three attractions but got much better reviews. 2017 saw a major overhaul with: Attack on Titan finally giving fans a chance to fight (and get Promotional image for Monster Hunter: The Realeaten by) Titans in a virtual 4D adventure ride, new photo spots and statues going up; Monster Hunter getting an upgrade to build hype for the new Nintendo Switch games; Kyary Pamyu-Pamyu being replaced with a 4D rollercoaster for Godzilla; and Biohazard bowing out to debut an incredibly successful Detective Conan escape room, complete with minor interaction with cast members in the mystery and a new themed food truck.

However, in 2017 the numbers for Cool Japan dropped a bit compared with previous years. This may have been due to the opening of the new Minions park at USJ, but this year, Cool Japan is taking no chances and is ready to strike a chord with all new fans of Japanese pop culture!

The 2018 Attractions

Promotional Image for Detective Conan: The WorldWhile numbers may have declined overall in 2017, the attendance for the Detective Conan experience surpassed that of the Biohazard escape. Perhaps it was due to being more family-friendly, or maybe being a detective lends itself to more immersive puzzles than Raccoon City Studios. Whatever the reason, the Detective Conan escape will be back with new puzzles, new story, expanded challenges, and a full themed restaurant this year. Whether you know the story or not, this is a must-see for mystery fans and adrenaline junkies alike.

For video game fans, Monster Hunter: The Real will continue to run, but with new graphics and layouts related to the Monster Hunter World game and a Promotional image for Final Fantasy XR Ridestreamlined waiting system to combat increasing crowd congestion. In addition, this year will see Cool Japan’s first-ever Final Fantasy event, using USJ’s popular XR virtual roller coaster to immerse fans in the world of Midgar and Final Fantasy VII. This is probably the main attraction for this year’s Cool Japan event, so be sure to get advance timed tickets or be prepared for long lines to get in.

Promotional image for Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Miracle 4DThe biggest change will be the fourth focus. All previous Cool Japan events catered heavily toward shounen fandoms. This year, however, Cool Japan is debuting its first shoujo attraction — and halfway through the event! Beginning on March 16th, the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Miracle 4D attraction will open, giving magical girl fans of all ages the chance to join the Sailor Senshi in their battles against evil. Having an event themed around a “girl” series, especially one premiering partway through Cool Japan, may seem risky, but USJ cut back on additional attractions to make sure this 4D event (and the other Cool Japan features) get all of the focus and skill of the park’s designers and performers to give guests the best experience possible.

So, what are you waiting for? If you’ve never been to Universal Studios Japan, now is the perfect time to go, and even if you’ve been before, this limited, revamped event is still worth checking out. Get your geek on, join other Japanophiles from around the world, and head over to Universal Cool Japan while you can!

Universal Cool Japan is held in Osaka from January 19th-June 24th, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come On Over to Comic-Con

Chad Grover (Tokyo)

The second ever Tokyo Comic-Con took place from December 1st-3rd, 2017, at Chiba’s Makuhari Messe convention center. Japanese fans and expats alike from across the country arrived in droves to celebrate their love of Western comics, science-fiction, and fantasy series.

Stan Lee on the main stage at Tokyo Comic Con 2017

Special guest appearances included the legendary Stan Lee, creator of Marvel Comics’ X-Men and Spider-Man, who is largely credited for his role in helping bring Comic-Con to Japan in the first place. Not one to be outdone, DC Comics also arrived in full force to promote their newest film Justice League, released in Japan on November 20th last year. Both studios brought incredible exhibits for fans to gawk at as well (including the real Batman suit from The Dark Knight). The event was a rousing success, with staff proclaiming that the attendee list exceeded 50,000 people over the span of three days. While this is certainly an impressive turnout, the hall never felt overcrowded and navigation was a breeze, which was an added benefit.

To generate excitement for the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi,  which opened worldwide on December 15th, 2017, much of the show floor during the exhibition was dedicated to Star Wars memorabilia (including a life-size model of the famous Millennium Falcon). A wide variety of hobby shops and retailers also set up booths offering goods and merchandise that are unavailable elsewhere. Star Wars has been a global phenomenon since its inception in 1977 and Japan has always made up a significant chunk of its fandom. Creator George Lucas admitted that he was heavily inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai films when he first penned his story, helping the film evoke familiar themes and ideas a Japanese audience could easily relate to. Fans were also encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters for the Star Wars Cosplay Showcase held on the second day of the event.

Spiderman cosplay invasion!

Cosplay remained the central focus of the show throughout the weekend. While Japan’s other major fan conventions such as Comiket or Tokyo Game Show typically feature costumed characters from Japan-made anime, manga and video games, Tokyo Comic-Con was almost entirely dominated by cosplay from Western properties. In turn, this gave the event more of an international appeal. Attendees were also treated to a cosplay fashion show and group photo sessions, where they could witness the best and brightest costumes the venue had to offer.

Guests of honor from around the world

In addition to cosplay events, several guests of honor from overseas were invited to partake in the show’s programming on the main stage. Those who were patient enough to brave the long line also had the chance to meet each celebrity and receive their autograph. Special guests included actors Karl Urban, of Lord of the Rings and Star Trek fame, and Nathan Fillion from the cult-classic television series Firefly. Mads Mikkelsen, who garnered critical acclaim for his role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in television’s Hannibal, was also present. Mikkelsen recently landed a lead role in legendary Japanese video game designer Hideo Kojima’s upcoming title Death Stranding, giving fans another reason to be excited. Actor Michael Rooker, who played Yondu in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, was greeted by a number of fans in attendance cosplaying as the colorful outlaw.

One slight drawback: most of the event’s programming was conducted in Japanese; in other words, if you weren’t proficient in the language, understanding what presenters were saying might have posed a challenge, dampening accessibility for foreigners somewhat. Also, compared to its Western counterparts, Tokyo Comic-Con is not as eventful a convention as the others. Most people who attend Comic-Con in San Diego, California have a variety of options for how to spend their time. Whether you enjoy a particular niche show or are looking forward to the next big summer blockbuster, you can attend a panel of your favorite celebrities to ask them funny questions, hear embarrassing stories and so on; however, this is not yet the case for Tokyo Comic-Con. A great way for the convention to address this next year would be to fly more special guests out to create panels filled with people who share a common thread, beyond autograph sessions and main stage programming.

Back to the Future’s famous Delorean on display in the exhibition room

Despite this, Tokyo Comic-Con enjoyed considerable success for a convention still in its infancy. The number of attendees increased by sixty percent over its inaugural year in 2016, and its celebrities list was similarly bolstered. Is it worth making a trip across the country to attend? Not yet — but given the show’s rapid growth in one year, there may come a time when it’s worth every penny. Tokyo Comic-Con 2018 is currently scheduled for November 30th through December 2nd. If you are a diehard fan of comics and science fiction (or just really enjoy cosplay), and are within the Greater Tokyo Area, you owe it to yourself to check out Tokyo Comic-Con when it returns at the end of the year.

Chad Grover is a 4th Year JET rockin’ the suburbs in Tokyo. He thought Star Wars: The Last Jedi was one of the best movies released in 2017. You can argue with him over this claim on his Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February Releases

Sabrina Zirakzadeh (Osaka)

In need of entertainment? Each month, CONNECT brings you the latest information on upcoming releases and events in Japan. Here is the most anticipated entertainment for February!

Movies

1 Feb. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Crime Drama): Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell

16 Feb. The Greatest Showman (Musical Biography): Starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, and Zac Efron

23 Feb. The Big Sick (Romantic Comedy): Written by Kumail Nanjiani, starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, and Holly Hunter

Music

7 Feb. Candy Pop, TWICE (K-Pop)

10 Feb. The 69th Sapporo Snow Festival 10th K-POP FESTIVAL — Sapporo City, Hokkaido (K-Pop)

13-14, 27 Feb. UVERworld Live—Sapporo City, Hokkaido, and Tokyo (Pop/Rock)

21 Feb. Find The Answer, Arashi (Idol Pop)

26-27 Feb. Mogwai Japan National Tour — Tokyo and Osaka City, Osaka (Indie Rock)

Other Events

7 Feb.-April 8. Cirque du Soleil Presents Kurios — Tokyo (Circus)

10 Feb. Fuji Xerox Super Cup 2018 — Saitama City, Saitama (Soccer Tournament Cup)

16 Feb.-25 March The Poe Clan — Tokyo (Gothic Musical)

Games

1 Feb. Dragon Ball Fighter Z on Playstation 4, XBox One, and PC (Fighting)

8 Feb. Dynasty Warriors 9 on Playstation 4 (Fighting Platformer)

21 Feb. Metal Gear Survive on Playstation 4, XBox One, and PC (Action-Adventure Survival)