Cool Japan is an anime and pop culture special event held from January until June each year in Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan. In this post, we’ll share info and tips for visiting, attraction strategy to save you time, and provide our Cool Japan review.
Each year, the details and properties featured in Cool Japan, but the concept remains the same. Every year, there are four attraction overlays: an XR roller coaster overlay on Space Fantasy, a 4D show, a live action roleplaying game, and an escape game. For 2018, the overlays feature Final Fantasy, Sailor Moon, Monster Hunter, and Detective Conan. While these attractions are the highlight, special food (including, of course, cute snacks) and merchandise are available.
In the interest of full disclosure, I probably should share that I know next to nothing about any of the franchises featured in Cool Japan this year. Between that and the fact that I don’t speak any Japanese, my enjoyment of Cool Japan is definitely more limited than someone who is an uber-fan of these things. (Are Metal Gear and Resident Evil not “kawaii” enough to be featured in Cool Japan?!) Nevertheless, I enjoyed Cool Japan and thought I’d share my thoughts on it here…
Let’s start with the Final Fantasy XR, which is a VR roller coaster replacing Space Fantasy, one of my favorite attractions at Universal Studios Japan (that, unfortunately, I rarely get to experience since it now has perpetual overlays). By the way, photos are not allowed inside any of these attractions, so I’m just going to intersperse random Cool Japan photos throughout this post.
Final Fantasy XR puts guests in the midst of Sephiroth and Cloud’s intense battle, with Moogle as your co-pilot aboard the Mog ship. I don’t know who any of those characters or things are, I just Googled it. This is accomplished via a VR headset and all set in detailed environments that are beautifully-rendered.
Final Fantasy XR is the one attraction of the bunch that works regardless of whether you speak Japanese or are a Final Fantasy fan. You might not know exactly what the characters are saying or who they are, but you can surmise a lot from the context. It’s a fun experience with visuals that fit the ride profile of the roller coaster. I’d definitely recommend doing Final Fantasy XR.
This was my first time doing a VR roller coaster, and I found the experience interesting. The concept definitely has potential and the 360-degree nature of the ride made it really immersive; I’m looking forward to seeing how VR coaster tech like this evolves in the future, as I could see this being the next big thing to turn plain coasters into something more. (Imagine Hulk at Islands of Adventure getting something like this?!)
I’m not sure this is the best use of the technology, but that’s primarily because Space Fantasy is an indoor roller coaster with show scenes. I think VR is a great way to take a plain, un-themed roller coaster and make it something that’s themed, but that really isn’t necessary here. Why not add this to Hollywood Dream, or build a new coaster from the ground up?
Other quibbles include a couple instances of graphics slowdown, which were really minor and I assume are a natural growing pain with this nascent technology. My other complaint would be that adding XR halved capacity on an already popular attraction. This is because Space Fantasy normally has front and rear-facing seats, and only half could be loaded with Final Fantasy XR (presumably because another set of visuals would’ve been needed for the rear-facing vehicles).
In a park that already is lacking capacity, I have a really tough time with reducing ride capacity even further. As a side effect of ride capacity being cut in half, you’ll also want to prioritize Final Fantasy XR if visiting during Cool Japan. We did this via Single Rider with maybe a 20-30 minute wait, but it was our rope drop attraction. Later in the day, even the Single Rider line was over 100 minutes (and this was on an off-season weekday!).
As a bit of an aside, but we noticed that Single Rider lines were higher across the board than on previous visits. In the past, I’ve been able to do Hollywood Dream, Flying Dinosaur, and Space Fantasy all in 5-15 minutes via the Single Rider line. During this visit, we noticed Single Rider lines regularly over an hour, and sometimes only ~20 minutes less than standby.
I’ve updated our 2018 Universal Studios Japan Strategy Guide & Tips post to reflect this. Part of me wonders if Universal is intentionally keeping Single Rider wait times high to push people towards Express Pass (which is now almost a must due to the Single Rider waits).
The other Cool Japan attractions didn’t do a ton for us. Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Miracle 4D is a fun show, even if the only things I knew about Sailor Moon were that she exists, and looks kind of like Donald Duck prior to this. My own quibble with this show is that the amusing cats from the pre-show didn’t have a presence in the main show. (Cat hi-jinx are one of the few universal languages.)
Monster Hunter: The Real was a real disappointment. I’ve been wanting to do one of these “the Real” experiences for ages, ever since the Biohazard one. Unfortunately, this was more of a glorified photo op than a live action role playing game, and it seemed the primary aim was to get as many guests to purchase the photo packages as possible, with a huge emphasis on striking poses for the camera when “defeating” the monsters. It’s a total waste of time if you’re not buying the photos.
We try out Detective Conan: The Escape, which is too bad since this mystery can be solved via multiple languages and is solved via team-work. The downside to Detective Conan: The Escape is that it’s separately ticketed, so you either have to pay ~$25 for just it, or ~$60 for a Cool Japan Express Pass. Even without having done this, I can say there’s zero chance this is worse than Monster Hunter: The Real, so do this if you have to choose between the two.
In terms of other strategy, you should prioritize Final Fantasy XR as your first attraction of the day, with our regular Universal Studios Japan itinerary (from our strategy guide mentioned above) after that. Do Sailor Moon 4D later in the day, and skip Monster Hunter: the Real. If you’re really into the Cool Japan stuff or want to do all 4 attractions, we highly recommend the Cool Japan Express Pass, which you can purchase from Klook.
Ultimately, Cool Japan is a neat addition to Universal Studios Japan, but not an all-encompassing special event. The attraction overlays are a mixed bag, and some of the special foods and merchandise are neat, but you don’t get the sense that this is a true celebration at USJ. Most of the ‘event’ is self-contained at the attractions with the overlays, and outside of that, you may not realize Cool Japan is even occurring. Perhaps we’ve become too accustomed to special events at Tokyo Disneyland, where they really go all out to create a special vibe, but this mostly seemed like business as usual at Universal Studios Japan.
If you’re visiting Osaka and thinking about doing a day here, be sure to read our comprehensive Universal Studios Japan Planning Guide. USJ is one of the busiest theme parks in the world, and we offer tips & tricks for beating the crowds, and saving time & money!
If you’ve visited Universal Studios Japan during Cool Japan, what did you think of the experience? Did you experience the attraction overlays, purchase merchandise, or buy the special foods? Any additional Cool Japan tips to add? Does this event interest you? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!