Superman: Secret Identity Review

“A story that takes the concept of the secret identity and uses it as a metaphor for our own inner selves, the part of us that most of the world doesn’t get to see, that we share with few others across a lifetime.” – Kurt Busiek’s own description from the forward. 

(Note: This was written and shared on Goodreads when I first read the comic in 2013. My opinions stand on reread and am sharing it here for the first time)

Superman was never a character that really called out to me. For “normal” superhero adventures a neigh-invulnerable man never interested me much. But the potential for more was always there, and when creators really embrace the problems someone with super powers WOULD have I find the results are quite spectacular. One such story was For All Seasons, in which Loeb and Sale examine the insecurities a normal farm boy would face when he grew up to be more than normal. For years it was easily my favorite Superman story… 

Until Busiek and Immonen produced a tale of a Clark Kent that READ those stories along with me. SI’s Clark is a boy in the real world, who’s been taunted all his life due to his parents’ unfortunate sense of humor and the decision to name him after Superman. His concerns are school, bullies and the girl he likes. Then the unthinkable happens, and Clark finds his both choices and troubles multiplied a hundredfold.

The greatest fiction gives readers something to relate to. Suspension of disbelief becomes easier if the reader cares about what’s happening. Secret Identity, in line with Busiek’s lofty goal from the above quote, shares the journey of a man with extraordinary powers, but worries and problems common to us all. It’s remarkable how genuine and real it all feels given it stars a boy who can fly. We know how Clark feels. We’ve been there in some way. The shared emotion pulls us in and makes us really care about what happens to Clark.

Stuart Immonen’s art is an incredibly vital piece of this accomplishment. The subdued color palette and softer character designs enhance the desired atmosphere of Clark’s world being our own, and the intricacies of Busiek’s nuanced layers to the story would be lost without Immonen’s excellent facial expressions and detail work to convey tone and meaning.

Secret Identity is one of the most resonant comic stories I’ve ever read, and instantly one of my favorites.

That’s J-PW #1 Stream Thoughts

April 12, 2011 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling has several interesting, new initiatives starting to expand the type of content they offer. A couple weeks ago they premiered Inspiration, shorter than usual shows (three matches, around an hour) that run every few months and can include things outside of TJPW’s normal purview.

This was the first episode of That’s J-PW, airing single matches specials with English commentary semiweekly.

Show opened with DDT’s Chris Brookes and ChocoPro’s Baliyan Akki, who will be the commentary team, introducing the concept and bringing out the participating teams for comments.

Sena & Hikari were all smiles and managed to introduce themselves then get out a couple of words about their opponents’ power. Neither can speak much English but the effort alone was the point here, and it’s a cute introduction to the duo for those that might not know them.

Miu & Mirai’s were next and also talked about their power, but then said their opponents have speed and are good friends. Mirai did the best of the four with English all around, introducing herself with an excellent summary of her style in catchphrase form:

“Strong style lives with me. No stereotypes. Open up a new world.”

Sayuri Namba on announcing duties as usual for TJPW, but again in English. Like Chris Brookes’ recent produce shows (as well as the AEW Japan bracket), this took place at Warabi Wrestle Arena (the Ice Ribbon dojo).

Miu Watanabe & Mirai Maiumi vs HikaShoi (Hikari Noa & Sena Shiori)

Miu and Hikari were also a part of Inspiration, with Hikari in the main event in TJPW’s first ever hardcore match.

Hikari & Sena are a regular team, but Miu is a former tag team champion and Mirai perhaps TJPW’s top rookie so this looked pretty even going in.

This was a solid tag match wrestled at a good clip built around the foreshadowed conflict of power versus speed. HikaShoi used quick strikes and teamwork to try to sustain an advantage while Miu & Mirai often countered using their strength. Highlights included a beautiful straightjacket pin by Sena, a particularly vicious series of dropkicks by Hikari, and Miu & Mirai throwing their opponents about and grabbing them out of the air into holds.

Akki and Chris made a natural team on commentary, and did a really good job emphasizing the action and adding context and depth to what was going on.

Eventually it came done to Miu against Sena and Miu wiped her out with the Teardop (over-the-shoulder faceplant) for the win.

Shame to see the regular team (and Hikari in particular) lose, but Sena was the most likely of the four to take the pin from the start and they still looked quite good in defeat. The match was fun and a good way to kick off this new program.

Quick post show plug has Kamiyu talking about TJPW’s big 4/17 event (in English as with everything else this show) to close things out.

This was a nice little 15 minute show, and I think these will help do exactly what they’re intended to do: further expand and engage TJPW’s international fanbase in a thoroughly enjoyable way.

That’s J-PW and TJPW’s other shows can be viewed with a Wrestle Universe subscription (which includes other promotions as well and is a great value at 900 yen a month).

TJPW Inspiration #1 Live Stream Thoughts

April 1, 2011 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro has several interesting, new initiatives coming to expand the type of content they offer. In a couple weeks they will be starting airing single matches specials with English commentary semiweekly. This is the start of another project: TJPW Inspiration.

Inspiration is an experiment in doing shorter than usual shows (three matches, around an hour) that can include things outside of TJPW’s normal purview. This premiere event looks like a great proof of concept, with all three Up Up Girls getting spotlight singles opportunities against major opponents including the Deathmatch loving Hikari having her (and TJPW’s) first ever hardcore match in the main event.

Namba announced that Inspiration will run every few months, with the next event set for July 1.

1) Miu Watanabe vs Mizuki

Mizuki recently had another unusual appearance wrestling in the unique confines of Ichigaya Chocolate Square  against Mei Suruga for ChocoPro 100.

There was a lot of grappling and matwork early that set the tone for this as a struggle, and it continued all the way through. Whenever they were vertical it became the perhaps expected battle of Miu’s power vs Mizuki’s speed, but even then no one ever had a sustained advantage and it felt like a war of attrition.

It felt different to me than the other matches I’ve seen of Miu’s in a great way. She pushed Mizuki to the limit and the Sugar Rabbit needed to rely on the ropes to break holds and pins at a few points.

Eventually though Mizuki busted out her incredible Whirling Candy (spinning crossbody) to set up the top rope double stomp to win with just a couple minutes left. Great opener.

2) Raku vs Rika Tatsumi

Rika is the reigning Princess of Princess Champion, so this is a huge chance for Raku to make a statement.

Raku disappeared under the ring during Rika’s entrance leaving a confused Rika behind. Rika couldn’t find her and went to the back at which point Raku emerged and quietly followed her around back to the ring. There she ambushed Rika and taped her pillow to Rika’s backside to blunt Rika’s signature attacks. It largely worked as Rina threw a few jumping hip attacks at Raku to little effect, but the pillow fell off pretty quickly.

Once the match proper got underway it was a story of Rika working the leg interspersed with strike exchanges and Raku’s signature offense. Down the stretch Rika hit the top rope hip attack for the expected win.

Pretty standard match from both, which is perfectly fine for the position they were in. Decent but nothing particularly memorable (which to be honest is how I generally find Rika’s matches, so your milage may vary).

3) Hardcore Match: Hikari Noa vs Rina Yamashita

So excited for Hikari to get this opportunity. Rina is an incredible wrestler an opponent for her to face in the first place, on top of being known for the style of wrestling Hikari adores.

The ring was pre-loaded with plunder including chairs, a ladder, and a glow stick adored board. Hikari has special hardcore/deathmatch gear, wisely including long pants. Pinfall, submission, KO, or TKO all in effect with no rope breaks or countouts. Everything is legal unless the referee finds it particularly life threatening (good thing to make clear I suppose).

This was the story of the Deathmatch Fangirl Idol reveling in taking a new step on her journey while simultaneously proving she was tough enough to deserve to be there. The structure and little details were PERFECT, including a brilliant spot where Hikari put the ladder on her hand and shoulder and spun to try to attack but the hardcore match veteran simply backed out of range and then hit the spinning ladder with a chair to make Hikari pay.

Early on Hikari ended a short feeling out period by upending a box of glow sticks and Up Up Girls CDs on herself to start the chaos, and Rina shortly thereafter broke a couple of the CDs with her bare hands.

Hikari’s full welcome to the hardcore style would come as the culmination of a well built sequence. Rina set Hikari on a table outside and went to the apron but Hikari got up and they had a tense extended fight for the advantage. It ended when Rina managed to hoist Hikari up and hit a FIRE THUNDER DRIVER (over the shoulder sitout tombstone piledriver) through the table. Insane.

From there Rina controlled most of the match and Hikari endured a multitude of punishment like being slammed on slam the on ladder and having Rina stack chairs on her then hit them with another chair. Hikari remained resilient and defiant though, and even kicked out at 1 after eating Rina’s lariat in an awesome moment. When she later swung the momentum around in her favor with some vicious use of chairs, the “fan of the style tries things she’s seen done” vibe continued when she got a huge near fall off using Jun Kasai’s Pearl Harbor Splash (complete with goggles).

Eventually the larger, more experienced Rina pulled ahead, but Hikari made her fight for every inch and successively kicked out of two lariats late (albeit barely). She made Rina resort to Splash Mountain (sitout poweromb from Razor’s Edge position) ONTO THE CHAIRS to win.

Phenomenal first hardcore match for Hikari against the Deathmatch Queen, and further validation that Hikari can totally hang in a main event position. True deathmatches are not my style, but I’m thrilled that Hikari (as well as Ice Ribbon’s Suzu Suzuki) is getting the opportunity to proceed towards her dream of participating in the type of match that inspired her personal love for wrestling.

Afterwards Hikari says she hurts but it was fun, and she wants to do it again tomorrow. Rina says she’s booked tomorrow but they’ll do it again someday and she thinks that Hikari will be welcomed into the deathmatch/hardcore world. Hikari ends the show saying hardcore isn’t enough, she wants a deathmatch! This was all done so well.

This show was everything it promised and extremely smartly put together. I adore the chances TJPW is taking and the new things they are trying and this one was definitely a huge success.

Inspiration and TJPW’s other shows can be viewed with a Wrestle Universe subscription (which includes other promotions as well and is a great value at 900 yen a month).

P’s Party 68 Live Stream Thoughts

March 10, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan

P’s League 2021 started off with some nice surprises, and has continued in fine form. On tap for this show were three more matches in the round robin tournament, plus a big 6-woman tag in the main event.

The standings going into this show were:

Block A:
Itsuki Aoki (Shawn Capture) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
Momo Kohgo (Actwres) – 2 pts (1-0-0)
Yappy – 0 pts (0-1-0)
Nao Ishikawa – 1 pt (0-0-1)
Yuuki Mashiro – 0 pts (0-1-0)

Block B:
Totoro Satsuki – 0 pts (0-1-0)
Rina Shingaki (2AW) – 2 pts (1-0-0)
Banny Oikawa – 1 pts (0-0-1)
Madeline (Diana) – 1 pts (0-0-1)
Honori Hana (SEAdLINNNG) – 2 pts (1-1-0)

Each match will have a 19 count on the floor (as per IW-19 rules) and a 10 minute time limit. A win is worth 2 points, a draw 1, and a loss 0.

The winner of each block will face in the finals (no time limit), with the winner of that match receiving an IW-19 title match at Yokohama Party on May 4, 2021. In case of a score tie in a block, a tie breaker match will be held to determine who advances to the finals.

P’s Party 68

Nao Ishikawa addressed the audience during the opening. She has to pull out of P’s League due to injury, and her remaining opponents (Momo, Yappy, and Yuuki) will each receive 2 points for her forfeits.

Shame to see her have to deal with another setback. I’m really glad she got the early surprise draw in what became her only P’s League match and her first victory at a recent Ice Ribbon show before her hiatus. Wishing her a speedy recovery.

1) P’s League A Block: Yappy vs Yuuki Mashiro

Yappy has the size and experience advantage, but Mashiro’s way of approaching things tends to befuddle her opponents. They both need the win to stay alive in the tournament, so this is pretty hard to call. Normally the more senior wrestler would be the safer bet, but Mashiro has had a significant upset or two and is in the spotlight after receiving her Rookie of the Year award. Flip a coin.

Speaking of unique approaches, Mashiro initiated a test of strength to start the match, which went about as we’ll as expected against a power wrestler.

Yappy played the bratty senior to the hilt, including the almost traditional choke in the corner. Yappy offense is quite unique as well and she’s slowly developing a deep moveset that works well together.

Despite Mashiro’s character and experience level, strong fundamentals shine through. One thing that stood out was an excellent arm drag off the second rope transitioned into a triangle armlock.

In an incredibly fun sequence Mashiro countered Yappy’s against the rope splash and bounced Yappy on the mat a few times while she was tied in the ropes. But she tried to cover with Yappy still in ropes, then had to use all her strength to drag Yappy out for a proper cover… for 1. Later Mashiro countered the choke bomb with a … body scissors face hug? It worked and fit well enough with Mashiro’s general style whatever it was.

Late in the match Mashiro finally hit the second rope crossbody for 2, but then got caught off the ropes into a fireman carry. Mashiro countered into a sunset rollup. Which Yappy reversed. Which Mashiro reversed. Which Yappy reversed. At which point Yappy carelessly ran her eye into Mashiro’s finger allowing Mashiro to reverse one final time and get the win! Yappy’s claiming it was an eye poke and has been tormenting Mashiro since, but we all know what really happened.

Fun match with an interesting result that could lead to a lot of different things.

In one last awesome little touch, Yuuki didn’t realize she won until Suzu came in and told her it was 3.

All hail the Gacha King.

2) P’s League B Block: Banny Oikawa vs Honori Hana

Banny’s been training with Cherry, has seriously upped her ground game. I didn’t get a chance to write them up, but I saw some of the other P’s League matches and her match with Maddie was quite good and surprisingly even. It was a different type of match for P’s Party as someone went straight at Maddie with her own game, and the strategy was good enough at it to force a draw.

Likewise here Banny tried to focus on grappling. It’s a good approach for her and was cool to see how she adjusted to use it against a larger opponent. It also gave Honori the opportunity to show off her grappling skills a bit too.

The pace was deliberate (in a good way) when Banny controlled, and the brilliance of how things have been booked in the tournament so far is that a little bit of doubt crept in about who would win at points. Banny controlled more of this than I expected and looked really good. One particular series of brutal low kicks really illustrated how much improvement she’s making and how much more comfortable she’s getting in the ring and with her style the more she wrestles.

When the pace quickened, Honori took over. That type of back and forth dynamic always make for a compelling match. Eventually, after a (admittedly awkward) spear, Honori hit a belly to back suplex for the victory.

3) P’s League B Block: Totoro Satsuki vs Madeline

In an amusing touch Maddy’s in tiger print here to match her opponent.

Like the previous match this was the battle of a grappler against a larger opponent, but the dynamics were quite different. Maddy has an advantage in technique over Totoro, but didn’t have the strength to properly take advantage of it. This created an interesting dynamic as Maddy repeatedly tried to outwrestle her standing opponent but ran into trouble as Totoro’s size and power advantage kept saving her.

Early on she yelled at Totoro to give up to wrist lock, while the latter looked more annoyed than in pain. Even when Maddy got Totoro down later and was stomping on her back, Totoro just pushed up to stop it.

But Maddy kept fighting tooth and nail which made this into a fairly even contest. At one point Totoro’s weight blocked a rolling arm bar attempt, so Maddy went into a Fujiwara instead. She also nailed a beautiful split sunset flip out of the corner for a close fall late in the match.

However Totoro weathered everything Maddy threw at her and a nice cross body counter laid out Maddy for the second rope senton, which gave Totoro the win. Really enjoyed this.

4) Tsukushi, Itsuki Aoki, & Momo Kohgo vs Suzu Suzuki, Uno Matsuya & Rina Shingaki

I was running out of time to finish watching the show before the archive period ended, so only got to watch the last third of this fifteen minute encounter.

Momo looked particularly good, which I believe was the point as almost the entire portion of the match I saw was an extended showdown between her and Uno. Late she was saved from the Mattsuya special by her partners, who then leveled Uno with successive running strikes to allow Momo to cover and get the win.

Really well done. Momo put up a strong enough fight that the win elevates her and didn’t look underserved, while the help from two of P’s Party’s strongest wrestlers means Uno doesn’t lose much from the defeat.

——-

So with the results of the above and Ishikawa’s unfortunate withdrawal, things stand as follows in P’s League:

Block A:
Itsuki Aoki (Shawn Capture) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
Momo Kohgo (Actwres) – 4 pts (2*-0-0)
Yappy – 2 pts (1*-2-0)
Nao Ishikawa – 1 pt (0-3*-1)
Yuuki Mashiro – 4 pts (2*-1-0)

*As mentioned above Nao’s remaining opponents received 2 points each. I am reflecting this as forfeits in the records.

If either Aoki or Momo win out they take the block. Beyond that nearly everything hinges on this week’s Aoki vs Mashiro match.

Yappy’s maximum points is now at 4 (if she defeats Momo when they face), so she’s out of contention for the block since no matter the result in Aoki vs Mashiro one of them will end up at 5 or more.

A Mashiro upset eliminates Aoki, but Mashiro would still need Momo to at best get a loss and a draw in her remaining matches to win outright. Momo winning one and losing one or tying both would force a tiebreaker match.

Mashiro and Aoki going to a draw is the most complex. Mashiro would need Aoki vs Momo to also go to a draw, AND Momo to lose to Yappy to force a 3-way tiebreaker match for the block.

Aoki defeating Mashiro is the most straightforward scenario. Only Aoki and Momo would be left in contention, and a clear winner in their match would take the block. If they go to a draw Momo’s success (or lack thereof) against Yappy would determine the block winner.

Block B:
Totoro Satsuki – 2 pts (1-1-0)
Rina Shingaki (2AW) – 2 pts (1-0-0)
Banny Oikawa – 1 pts (0-1-1)
Madeline (Diana) – 1 pts (0-1-1)
Honori Hana (SEAdLINNNG) – 4 pts (2-1-0)

Too much of B Block is left to get into scenarios, but both Maddy and Banny are in dire straights and must win out to be in contention. Honori’s looking a like a huge dark horse, although smart money still says the winner of Rina vs Totoro wins the block.

Although I do kind of hope something unexpected happens, so that both blocks don’t end up coming down to whoever wins the match between the two most experienced members of the block takes it. A playoff match in either block would be really interesting.

Shows like this continue to show the true value of P’s Party. Lesser experienced wrestlers get both more of a spotlight and an environment where they can try new things and learn without as much pressure on them. A little awkwardness is to be expected but they all cover so well in general it’s never a big deal anyway. Everyone gives it their all and the shows are always a lot of fun.

In addition P’s League has been great both in the matchups it provides and the interesting story choices being made (both in ring and results-wise). All the matches have felt different and there’s a real sense of progress throughout the tournament as wrestlers adjust based on their previous matches. Really hope this becomes a yearly tradition.

Show was great. Definitely want to revisit this one when it hits the general archive in a couple months (on Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico channel).

A Bit of Happiness in a Crazy Year: ChocoPro 100 Preview

One year ago, amid a rapidly changing global situation and the restrictions it brought, Emi Sakura decided to go all in on a chance to do things in a drastically different way in hopes of keeping her wrestling promotion afloat.

Gatoh Move is a small wrestling company whose home base is Ichigaya Chocolate Square, a venue that just barely holds a mat to wrestle on and a packed in audience of about 70 people maximum (including spectators watching through two large windows while standing in a side alley). Not only would they be unable to run shows during lockdowns, but the logistics of the space make it impossible to host socially distanced crowds even as restrictions slowly started to lift.

Years earlier, long before internet streamed events were common and while she was with a previous company she founded, Sakura experimented with an online only wrestling show. This time she took things even further, with daily streams supplementing the wrestling shows and EVERYTHING being put up for free on YouTube.

And so ChocoPro was born. The new name was honestly confusing at first. Was this not just Gatoh Move without a crowd? But making ChocoPro its own “promotion” signified Sakura’s approach: this would be a completely new effort to bring live wrestling to fans all over the world in a way specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square. ChocoPro is DESIGNED to be an online experience, where Gatoh Move (like most wrestling shows) feeds off having a live audience in attendance.

It’s been an amazing ride. Featuring a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances, ChocoPro has powered through 99 episodes. From an incredible start featuring Minoru Suzuki in their first main event, to long running stories like Yuna and Sakura’s feud and Lulu’s quest to regain her hat, to momentous single match shows and handful of special events at Shinkiba 1st Ring, it’s amazing how much significance and surprise has been packed into the promotion’s short history. Riho’s return happened in ChocoPro. Emi Sakura’s 25th Anniversary show happened in ChocoPro. Mitsuru’s retirement happened in ChocoPro.

This weekend, in a special two day event that includes the actual one year anniversary of ChocoPro 1, ChocoPro will mark 100 episodes with a huge lineup that celebrates everything the promotion has become.

ChocoPro Day 1

(9pm 3/26 EDT / 10am 3/27 JST – watch here!)

1) Asia Deam Championship: Best Bros (Baliyan Akki & Mei Suruga) (c) vs Emi Sakura & Minoru Fujita

Taking a cue from western wrestling shows, Sakura decided to open and close Day 1 with main event worthy title matches. Best Bros have become a dominant force in ChocoPro and taking Gatoh Move’s tag titles from Reset (Sakura & Kaori Yoneyama) made a strong statement. However they hit a giant roadblock on ChocoPro 99 when Sakura & Fujita, in their strongest forms with no trace of Emi or Mino Pencil to be found, defeated the champions in non-title competition. Mei & Akki are desperate to hold onto their titles (Mei in particular has a near unhealthy obsession with her physical belt), but will need to beat the team they couldn’t less than a week ago.

Also, this match will have extremely intriguing implications leading into Day 2…

2) Sayaka Obihiro & Sayaka vs Dragon Ninjas (Choun Shiryu & Sayuri)

Sayaka has been on a break from wrestling and last wrestled on ChocoPro 1. Her returning one year later on ChocoPro 100 is wonderfully fitting. With her return (and another key appearance on Day 2) the entire current Gatoh Move roster will be appearing during ChocoPro 100.

Her teaming with Gatoh’s other Sayaka here is interesting, as she and Obi will be on opposite sides on Day 2. Dragon Ninjas are a recently formed, impressive team with extremely complimentary styles. They got their first victory (over Chie & Sakura) on ChocoPro 97 and will no doubt be looking to spoil Sayaka’s return and keep their own momentum going.

3) Egg Tart (Hagane Shinno & Chie Koishikawa) vs Psycho & Chango

Originally scheduled to face Reset here, Chie is coming into this match annoyed about the change and with a big chip on her shoulder as she gets more and more desperate to prove herself. She and her sometimes reluctant, sometimes supportive partner Hagane have just as big a challenge ahead of them in their replacement opponents, who have been teaming for the better part of a decade. Psycho & Chango are the first of some big returns, and were last seen in Gatoh Move over three years ago.

4) Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Chris Brookes) vs Black Comaneci (Antonio Honda & Tokiko Kirihara)

There’s something special about Lulu Pencil that draws people to her side. Even after a bitter betrayal and long feud with Chris Brookes, Lulu recently reached out to him and gave him back the hat she had fought so hard to reclaim in a gesture to invite him into the Pencil Army. Chris accepted and here the only iteration of Pencil Army tag teams ever to be successful is reunited. They’re facing another reuniting tag team, as the outrageous Black Comaneci duo hasn’t teamed since ChocoPro 72, nearly four months ago. This one will be extremely weird in all sorts of wonderful ways.

5) Pure-J Open Class Championship: Kaori Yoneyama (c) vs Yuna Mizumori

Kaori Yoneyama winning Pure-J’s title and declaring all of her singles matches would be title matches threw a wrench in the original plans for this show in a way that was none-the-less appreciated by pretty much everyone (except Chie). Always one to seize an opportunity, Sakura called off the planned Egg Tart vs Reset match and set up a title defense for Yone in the main event. Based on a number of strong performances Yuna was given the opportunity, and what an opportunity it is. Win or lose a tough fight by Yuna could increase her spotlight significantly, and of course in the unlikely case of an upset she’d immediately be the one to beat in a promotion she’s never even set foot in. Wild, awesome way to wrap up Day 1.

Day 2

(9pm 3/27 EDT / 10am 3/28 JST – watch here!)

1) Sayaka Obihiro & Yuna Mizumori vs Sayaka & Rin Rin

Rin Rin has only been appearing during school breaks, and it’s great that she’s able to return for this. The gen 4* team will have their hands full with the powerhouse (and possible new Pure-J champ) Yuna and the second most experienced wrestler on the Gatoh roster Obi. Emi Sakura certainly isn’t taking it easy on the returning duo, but Sayak & Rin Rin are certainly up to the challenge.

* The six wrestlers who debuted on August 28, 2019 (Lulu, Chie, Tokiko, Sayaka, Sayuri, and Rin Rin) are being referred to as the fourth generation of Gatoh Move. Making up over half of the roster and the unusual circumstances of 2020 have challenged them harder and faster than normal. Even though they all still have under two years of experience, in recognition of their progress they are no longer being referred to as rookies by their seniors.

2) Egg Tart (Hagane Shinno & Chie Koishikawa) vs Dragon Ninjas (Choun Shiryu & Sayuri)

The complexion of this match will certainly be influenced by the success, or lack there of, of the two participating teams on Day 1. With the men on each team having over fifteen years experience and their partners less than two, this will be an interesting encounter that will likely come down to how well each team works together. One of my most anticipated matches of the weekend.

3) Pencil Army (Emi Sakura & Lulu Pencil) vs Gabai Ji-chan & Kuishinbo Kamen

Possibly a day removed from regaining the tag team championship, Emi Sakura will be back into Emi Pencil mode as the original Pencil Army duo faces an old man with a cane and a candy obsessed clown (and will still be the underdogs). This will be as ridiculous as I make it sound, and in all the right ways.

4) Mizuki vs Mei Suruga

Mizuki is a top star in Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, and regular partner of Yuka Sakazaki (who Mei faced in the ). Mizuki last wrestled in Gatoh Move in April 2019 against Yuna (available to watch here). Her last match before that was at the end of 2018… against Mei (available here). Both competitors have continued to improve and evolve their craft, and it will be great to see how this time is different. This is a huge challenge for Mei, although Mizuki could have her hands full facing an extremely surly and angry Apple Girl if the Best Bros are unsuccessful in their title defense on Day 1.

5) Super Asia Championship (currently vacant): Minoru Fujita vs Baliyan Akki

When Gatoh Move’s ace Riho left to go freelance in early July 2019, she vacated the Super Asia Championship (a title she won in the original crowning tournament and never lost). Emi Sakura shocked EVERYONE when she pulled the belt out on ChocoPro 99 and announced that this match would determine a new champion. This match highlights one of the other key differences between ChocoPro and Gatoh Move. Gatoh features frequent male guests and a lot of intergender wrestling, but it is still a joshi company. The main events always featured at least one woman wrestler and the singles titles were women’s championships. From the very start when Akki vs Minoru Suzuki main evented the first show ChocoPro has been a fully intergender promotion, or more precisely there is no distinction made in ChocoPro. Anyone can wrestle anyone else in any circumstances (resident boss and oni Emi Sakura permitting). Reintroducing Gatoh’s top title in this way really makes it a ChocoPro title now, which is an incredibly cool and exciting thing to do.

With both competitors being involved in Day 1’s Asia Dream Tag Title match, someone will be coming into this match with the opportunity to leave it as a double champion. This is a going to be an intense battle, and whoever wins will be a fitting successor to Riho’s run.

As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated, and I’m extremely happy to see them still going strong after a year and 99 shows. ChocoPro 100 looks to be an excellent representation of what they’ve done so far as well as a lead in to the future, and I hope everyone enjoys the shows.


Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. As previously mentioned everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal.

Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping for most physical goods as well as a variety of e-merch available, including sponsorship packages for ChocoPro 100 including special digital photos. Finally a ChocoPro 100 t-shirt, along with numerous other awesome designs (including Mitsuru Konno’s retirement shirts), is available on their PWTees store

AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Round 1 Live Thoughts

AEW’s sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship is underway. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner. That winner will face Shida at AEW’s Revolution PPV on March 7, 2021.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. See my preview of the first round for more information on the wrestlers as well as some thoughts on all four of these first time ever singles matches.

Now it’s time to see how they all turn out.

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga

All four of these matches are one fall with a twenty minute time limit.

The matches are taking place in Ice Ribbon’s home base, a venue I’m very familiar with (Ice Ribbon rents their dojo out for other events, and are not involved in this tournament).

This was one of the dream matches of the tournament and it’s great to see it happen. We’ve got two extremely quick and deceptively powerful wrestlers here. Yuka is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, and the former TJPW Princess of Princess champion has four and a half years experience over Gatoh Move’s prodigy.

Though Mei had been wrestling for TJPW the last few months, this is the first time she and Yuka are crossing paths in the ring at all. *

This was honestly not the match I expected them to have as a first time encounter to be seen by a lot of first time viewers. It was wrestled at a very fast pace and featured a ton of counters and dodges. It’s the type of match viewers like me who are familiar with the maneuvers of both competitors and can fully process every feint and counter-move love, and I adored it. But I wonder if fans unfamiliar with their moves got the same depth from it, especially when even commentary missed big things like Mei attempting but not completing her finishing submission Lucifer.

Both also have very unique and creative movesets, which led to a couple small moments of awkwardness as they got used to each other. It was noticeable enough to mention, particularly when Mei kind of fell off Yuka’s shoulders going for her trademark rollup out of victory roll position when Yuka turned the opposite way Mei expected, but the recoveries were spot on and overall they were just small blips.

Yuka took control late and broke out the jaw-dropping Magical Girl Chicken Dude (450 from the middle of the top rope) to put Mei away. The match was extremely good and served as a nice introduction for Mei before she was overwhelmed and defeated by who I believe is the Japan side favorite. As mentioned above, for me this hit all the right notes. Would love to see a rematch sometime.

* Japan has a strong, strange kind of quasi-kayfabe/willing suspension of disbelief that makes it a little difficult to discuss certain things sometimes. Wrestlers occasionally play different characters/personas in different companies, without masks and with no attempt to hide their identity, that they and fans will ham-fistedly pretend are unrelated. So when “Mei Saint-Michel,” the lost child found in a forest in France taken in by Saki-sama who’s clearly Mei in a maid outfit, appears in TJPW and Mei Suruga posts on Twitter wondering why people are tagging her in posts about “someone who isn’t me,” that’s what’s going on. Regardless, “neither” Mei has previous wrestled Yuka.

Emi Sakura vs Veny

Of note is that while she still came to the ring with cape, crown, and microphone, the Queen obsessed Emi Sakura wished to show more of the base of who she is and for the first time in AEW was not wearing her Freddie Mercury inspired gear. Big opportunity for Veny** to make a big impression on the international stage against the twenty-five year veteran, so both are coming in with something to prove.

This was the consensus best match of the first round, and opinion I’m in complete agreement with. Sakura lost a bit of weight in preparation for this match and showed off the resulting increase in speed and agility throughout. This had a bit of everything, with both wrestlers showing proficiency in strikes, submission holds, and anything else they could throw at each other. Short of full play-by-play I’m at a loss to convey the scope of this, so my best advice is simple to go watch.

After a lot of back and forth and fighting off each other’s signatures, Sakura was able to wear Veny down with a vicious looking under the arm dragon sleeper, then is finally able to nail the Tiger Driver to advance.

I expected (and wanted) Sakura to win, but a Veny upset was likely enough that this was particularly gripping down the stretch. Great showing by both, and it’s particularly nice to see AEW get a glimpse of what Sakura is truly capable of.

**Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh

The battle between two of the most charismatic wrestlers anywhere in the world was lighter fare than the rest of the opening round, but still featured two determined competitors due all they could to advance. Highlights included Itoh suckering Ryo in with fake crying to get an advantage only to blow it by charging the unmovable object and wiping herself herself out when Ryo didn’t budge, and Mizunami learning first hand that it’s unwise to underestimate how hard Itoh’s head is.

They wrestled a smart match and their styles worked well together. Ryo really can adjust to just about anything and is extremely underrated. Despite Itoh giving it her all, the veteran stayed one step ahead and after Itoh barely kicked out after a brutal spear Ryo used the momentum of Itoh’s kickout to apply an anaconda vice for the tapout victory.

While many newer fans expected Itoh’s immediate appeal with the unfamiliar fanbase to lead to a win here, this was the only way this was ever going to end. Even ignoring that the matches were likely taped before Itoh’s cheerful, curse filled introductory tweet went viral, her entire identity is the crass, defiant underdog continuing to be herself despite setbacks. Her immediately beating a stronger wrestler with 10+ more years experience is not the right story to tell with her. It’s the fight and doing things her way that matter with Itoh, and her battle here with the powerhouse was as good as a first impression as she could make.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura

“This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.”

That quote from my preview pretty much sums it all up. Kong dominated the youngster, but Rin took everything and kept fighting, earning her the immediate respect of everyone watching. At one point Kong spiked her with a particularly vicious piledriver, and Rin’s kickout had the chat going wild. Hanging in with Kong as long as she did made Rin look super tough, and she even got the monster down with a flurry of offense long enough to attempt the Ultra Rin (twisting senton).

Kong moved however, and absolutely planted Rin with a backdrop driver … for 2.999. I expected that to end it, and Rin looks super human for surviving it. Rin fights off the brain buster but gets leveled with a clothesline after a vicious right for another close 2, and the legend has had enough and finishes the upstart off with a monstrous top rope elbow drop. Exactly what this should have been.

——-

Expected strong showing all around from these intriguing, well chosen matchups showcasing several different styles. While I’d like to see a touch more research done, and things like getting the referee’s gender wrong are rather embarrassing mistakes, overall Excalibur did a decent job on commentary and sounded reasonably knowledgeable about and (most importantly) interested in the matches taking place.

No surprises in the results but that’s perfectly fine, especially with the awesome matchups that will result in the next round. Really good stuff, and a nice introduction to the new wrestlers regardless of their losses, who will all hopefully be brought back in the future. These matches are still available on their YouTube channel.

For more information on how to officially watch the home promotions of these wrestlers and a number of other Joshi companies see this thread.

The next round of the Japan bracket will air with two first round matches from the US side:

Emi Sakura vs Yuka Sakazaki
Ryo Mizunami vs Aja Kong
Nyla Rose vs Tay Conti
Britt Baker vs Madi Wrenkowski (subbing for the injured Anna Jay)

Check it out on AEW’s YouTube channel tonight at 7pm EST.

AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Preview

AEW has begun a sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. Four of the eight (Emi Sakura, Yuka Sakazaki, Ryo Mizunami, and Aja Kong) have competed in AEW in the past. The other four (Mei Suruga, Veny, Maki Itoh, and Rin Kadokura) are making their AEW debuts.

The champion herself has gone to Japan to oversee the matches, and the first round is absolutely stacked with four really interesting matchups. Furthermore, all four are first time ever singles encounters.

(Shida appeared as a special referee ChocoPro 89 which featured matches involving half of the Japan bracket participants, and also had a sit down talk with Emi Sakura after the show.)

Here is some more information on all eight participants, and a quick look at the first round contests:

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga




Nickname
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves






Twitter

Yuka Sakazaki
(坂崎ユカ)

Magical Girl
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 1, 2013
5’2″
24
Magical Girl Splash (middle of the top rope splash)
Magical Magical Girl Splash (MGS with horizontal rotation)
Magical Girl Chicken Dude (middle of the top rope 450)

YukaSakazaki

Mei Suruga
(駿河メ)

Apple Girl
Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
May 27, 2018
4’10”
21
Propeller Clutch
Lucifer (chicken wing Cattle Mutilation)




Mei_gtmv

Yuka Sakazaki is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, but also deceptively strong and more than capable of going strike for strike or hold for hold as well. The seven year pro has been Princess of Princess Champion twice (TJPW’s top singles title) and held their tag team titles with two different partners.

But for those unfamiliar with Mei Suruga: the term wrestling prodigy has perhaps never been more apt. She debuted in just twenty-one days of full training and wrestles with confidence and skill far beyond her two and a half years of experience. Mei’s had major upsets already in her short career, including singles victories over both Emi Sakura and Hikaru Shida. She recently won her first championship, Gatoh Move’s Asia Dream Tag Titles (with partner Baliyan Akki) and will no doubt be looking to ride that wave of momentum to victory here.

While I personally expect Yuka to win not only this match but perhaps the entire bracket, Mei’s the dark horse of the tournament and her adding Yuka’s name to her increasing list of upsets is not impossible. Either way this is a match between two extremely quick, skilled, and exciting competitors and is the first round match I’m most excited for.

Emi Sakura vs Veny




Nickname/Tagline
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Emi Sakura
(さくらえみ)

“She will chop you.”
AEW, Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
August 17, 1995
5’1″
44
La Magistral
Nyan Nyan Press (450 Splash)
Tiger Driver
and many, many more

sakuraemi

Veny
(朱崇花, Asuka)*

The Genderless Pro Wrestler
Freelance
August 9, 2015
5’9″
22
Moonsault
Shooting Star Press
Sitout Chokeslam


asuka10272140

The Queen obsessed eccentric wrestler who AEW audiences are most familiar with is only one facet of the incredible twenty-five year veteran Emi Sakura. Capable of matching nearly any style and adapting to any challenge, the sole AEW contracted wrestler on this side of the bracket is one of the clear favorites. Beyond her significant wrestling prowess, Sakura is also a well renowned and highly respected trainer, having trained an incredibly long list of wrestlers including not only possible tournament opponents Mei Suruga and Riho, but the reigning AEW Women’s Champion Hikaru Shida as well.

However among the favorites Sakura has perhaps the toughest draw of the round. It’s easy to forget how young Veny is, as at 22 and with just five years in she fits right in going toe-to-toe with the veterans and has already held the top singles title in two different promotions. With Veny’s strength and fiery offense a victory is not impossible, and if she does shock Sakura in round one she could become a good bet to continue on quite far.

*Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Ryo Mizunami
(水波綾)

Aniki

Freelance
November 3, 2004
5’4″
32
Hot Limit (fireman’s carry into kneeling tombstone piledriver)
Running Lariat
Diving Guillotine Leg Drop

mizunami0324

Maki Itoh
(伊藤麻希)

The Cutest in the World,
The Fired Idol
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 11, 2016
5’3″
25
Falling Headbutt
Itoh Special (Texas Cloverleaf)



maki_itoh

TJPW’s lovable misfit immediately captured the imagination of a whole slew of new fans when she happily cursed out a welcome message when retweeting AEW’s announcement of her participation in the tournament. Itoh doesn’t do much the way one is “supposed” to and everyone adores her for it. She is who she is unapologetically and is always ready to take on the world, which she often has to. Itoh’s a straight ahead brawler who uses her hard head for a good portion of her offense, and while she has more in her arsenal then some give her credit for she is generally overmatched in technique against wrestlers with similar or greater levels of experience. But she’s defiant to the last and will fight tooth and nail trying to defeat her opponents through shear strength of will.

Which she’ll need to do to have any chance against the sixteen year veteran Mizunami. This will be Mizunami’s first appearance for AEW since their first pay-per-view, where she teamed with Riho & Shida to defeat Aja Kong, Emi Sakura, & Yuka Sakazaki. The powerhouse is capable of, and perhaps used to, running right over her opponents and will be a real test of Itoh’s fortitude. Mizunami is also the only one in the tournament who even comes close to matching Itoh in terms of raw charisma, so this match should be a really fun spectacle.

Itoh winning is not inconceivable, but make no mistake it would be a BIG upset. She has wrestled Aja Kong before though, and the possibility of a rematch in the second round here is intriguing.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves


Twitter

Aja Kong
(アジャコング)

N/A – the name “Aja Kong” speaks volumes all on it’s own
Oz Academy
1986
5’5″
50
Uraken (spinning back fist)
Brainbuster

ajakonguraken

Rin Kodakura
(門倉凛)

Cool Needlefish

Marvelous
May 3, 2016
5’1″
27
Ultra Rin (twisting senton)


Kazu_Marvelous

Aja Kong is a legendary thirty-four year veteran who is still going strong and still impressive and intimidating in the ring. Taking her out is going to be a tall task for anyone, and perhaps a near impossible one for Rin. Although I fully expect the talented, defiant spitfire from Marvelous to make the legend work for it, and Kong may find herself risking a disqualification if tempted to tee off on Rin with her ever present metal mini garbage can. This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.

——-

That wraps it up for now. AEW is premiering these first round matches on their YouTube channel Monday February 15 at 7pm EST.

For the first time ever I actually find myself rooting for all the favorites, as second round matches of Sakazaki vs Sakura and Mizunami vs Kong would be incredible and are legit dream matches. However as mentioned above nothing’s 100% here, and absolutely all of the possible second round matches look great. Really excited to see how this all plays out.

Beautiful Dreams 4: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

It’s been almost two years (wow 2020 threw off my sense of time) since my last spotlight on the work of my favorite artist, and I’d like to share and talk about more of her incredible work and some of the inspirations behind the pieces. See Beautiful DreamsBeautiful Dreams 2, and Beautiful Dream 3 for more about Juri H. Chinchilla’s art, including past pieces I’ll be mentioning in this write up.

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements. One of the more unique requests I’ve made was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and I adored it so much that I’ve followed up with several more since. Juri’s done an AMAZING job depicting these previously unfamiliar to her subjects and these are in many ways the pride of my entire art collection. See Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 3 for more about the above works featuring Jenny Rose & Sareee and retired Ice Ribbon wrestler Tequila Saya.

Gatoh Move is one of my favorite wrestling companies, and it’s so wonderful to see the roster represented in absolutely stunning form on the above six card PSC puzzle by Juri. The top row of cards feature Sayaka Obihiro & Mitsuru Konno, Emi Sakura & Riho, and Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara. The bottom row has Yuna Mizumori & Mei Suruga, Sayuri & Sayaka, and Lulu Pencil & Rin Rin.

The timing on these cards ended up being suitable in many ways. They were completed shortly after Sakura’s 25th Anniversary in wrestling and shortly before a personal favorite of mine, and the wrestler I’ve requested Juri draw the most, Mitsuru Konno retired.

Riho is Gatoh Move’s former ace, and shortly after she left to go freelance the company the core roster doubled in size with the debut of six rookies (Chie, Tokiko, Sayuri, Sayaka, Lulu, & Rin Rin). I love the encapsulation of the company’s past, present, and future around that time on this batch of cards and Juri knocked this out of the park. As usual I only specified the subjects and an occasional small detail like particular gear. The layout, poses, and incredible way these all fit together into a larger scene is all Juri and I couldn’t possibly be happier with how it all came together.  

One of the first PSCs I got from Juri was an incredible depiction of the Darkstalkers “sisters” Morrigan and Lilith, two of my favorite fighting game characters to play. In the last Beautiful Dreams feature I showed a larger, equally amazingly done drawing of the former. Later on Juri revisited and completed a wonderful Lilith companion piece I am very happy to add to my collection.

Juri’s range in styles and subjects is highlighted in striking renditions of video game, comic, and movie characters such as Nakoruru from Samurai Showdown, X-men’s Psylocke & Emma Frost, and DC’s Enchantress.

I discovered Perna Studios‘ high quality card sets through Juri’s art, and her work for them continues to be incredibly perfect for the subject matter. Her hauntingly beautiful black and white ghost from the Hallow-Ink set and fantastically playful Alice in Wonderland Artist Proof (AP) from Classic Fairy Tales 2.

Iconic Creations (which I hope to write about in more detail soon) has been releasing incredible card sets based around literature and legends. Juri’s sketch cards for the sets have been wonderfully evocative of the subject matter, particularly the stunning Snow Queen and swordswoman APs I got from the Christmas Literature and Way of the Sword sets.

Iconic’s sets feature a variety of way to showcase the stunning art they include, including special cards like wood sketch cards and other inventive variants. The prize centerpieces of their sets are the oversized wooden “box toppers.” I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to get Juri’s box topper AP from the Christmas set, and pull her box topper sketch card from Treasure Hunters. Both my requested Ghosts of Christmas AP and Juri’s mermaid are absolutely breathtaking.

I mentioned another favorite company of mine, Ice Ribbon, above in relation to Tequila Saya. Their ace is featured on one of the newest PSCs I’ve gotten from Juri. It’s part of a duo of cards I’ve had planned for a while. During my first trip to Japan I saw a match between two phenomenal teams that remains one of my favorites of all time, and Juri’s renditions of the two pairs are simply incredible.

SEAdLINNNG’s Arisa Nakajima & Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto, known as Best Friends, are two top tier singles competitors who are even more fearsome as a team. I adore Juri’s illustration of the pair with Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championship Belt.

The Jumonji Sisters, consisting of the since retired Sendai Sachiko & her sister Dash Chisako, were the epitome of poetry in motion. It was a privilege to get to see them in action live a couple of times before Sachiko retired, and the casual confidence and closeness Juri captured in their card is absolutely perfect.

Dash still wrestles for Sendai Girls and is simply incredible. She was previously featured in a solo PSC by Juri mid flight of her jaw dropping Hormone Splash (top rope frog splash).

Tokyo Joshi Pro is an incredibly fun promotion filled with a wide variety of characters and styles. I’m a huge fan of Hikari Noa, and Juri captured both her idol and wrestler aspects showing off the wonderfully cute side of the deathmatch loving Up Up Girl.

Yuka Sakazaki is arguably the best high flyer in all of wrestling, and always a joy to watch. I love the sense of motion Juri achieved in her beautifully detailed depiction of TJPW’s Magical Girl.

The last card I’ll talk about here card is special, as well as sad. Hana Kimura was an incredible young wrestler who tragically passed away last year due to suicide amid a myriad of online harassment and other factors. Hana was one of my favorite performers in her home promotion and had striking charisma. She was always fun to watch in the ring and always seemed to go out of her way to be friendly to fans and make sure everyone was having a good time

Juri wonderfully captured Hana in a gorgeous card that is a great remembrance to someone dearly missed.

Rest in Peace Hana.

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her wonderous creations for a long time to come. 🙂

P’s Party 65 Live Stream Thoughts

January 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan

With Tequila Saya’s departure from Ice Ribbon and pro wrestling altogether last month, P’s Party has been under the new management of Tsukushi Haruka.

After a recent chorus of volunteers among the roster wanting to be in line for a shot at Tsukushi’s IW-19 Championship, a tournament was set up to decide who will get that opportunity.

P’s League 2021 is a round robin tournament with two five wrestler blocks. Each match will have a 19 count on the floor (as per IW-19 rules) and a 10 minute time limit. A win is worth 2 points, a draw 1, and a loss 0.

The winner of each block will face in the finals (no time limit), with the winner of that match receiving an IW-19 title match at Yokohama Party on May 4, 2021. In case of a score tie in a block, a tie breaker match will be held to determine who advances to the finals.

The field is a great mix of the P’s roster, both Ice Ribbon members, regulars, and guests.

Block A:
Itsuki Aoki (Shawn Capture)
Momo Kohgo (Actwres)
Yappy
Nao Ishikawa
Yuuki Mashiro

Block B:
Totoro Satsuki
Rina Shingaki (2AW)
Banny Oikawa
Madeline (Diana)
Honori Hana (SEAdLINNNG)

Looks like each week will have a match from each block, and it all kicks off here.

Ps Party is broadcast on Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico channel.

P’s Party 65

Tequila Saya made a special appearance to open to promote her new endeavor as part of the idol group Otonatic Romance.

Then Yuuki Mashiro and Tsukasa Fujimoto are brought out. Yuuki receives her ShuPro (Weekly Pro-Wrestling Magazine) Rookie of the Year Award. This is a big deal and a well deserved honor for our quirky, determined Gacha King. Tsukka is presented with the new issue of ShuPro that features her on the cover. Both give some thoughts and then Yuuki leads a “P’s Party Yay!” call to start off the show.

1) Suzu Suzuki & Yappy vs Banny Oikawa & Yuuki Mashiro

Suzu is not happy about the absence of her recently lost title belt, and seemingly takes a lot of her frustrations out on the Gacha King early on. Straightforward, decent tag match with a lot of amusing highlights. At one point Yuuki attempts to do a repeated sit attack on Yappy’s back but has no weight behind it so Yappy just relaxes on the mat. Yappy’s hip/butt attacks are now named / punctuated with a call of “Big Ass!” by Mio on commentary, which is always going to make me chuckle. Yuuki & Banny’s less than effective double team attempts were also a nice touch, and Suzu hit a wild sliding apron kick at one point.

In the end Suzu finished Banny with a great looking Tequila Shot (rollup slam from the side).

2) P’s League A Block: Itsuki Aoki vs Nao Ishikawa

This match was supposed to be Nao vs Momo Kohgo, but the latter was injured in practice and is temporarily out. With Aoki having a shot at a different singles title in Ice Ribbon impending, she’s the one to beat in Block A. Nothing would make me happier than a strong showing for Nao in this tournament, but the rookie with no wins’ chances don’t look good here.

This was even early, but shortly settled into Aoki slowly picking Nao apart while the latter remained defiant.

Around the halfway point Nao rallied, including a hard fought for scoop slam and sweet crossbody. I love the spamming of repeated pin attempts spot and it made a lot of sense as Nao tried to keep the monster down.

Aoki fought back late and had Nao in trouble with a crazy looking half crab. There was a really good story with Aoki being extremely confident, and Nao just flat out being tougher than she expected.

With under a minute left Nao dodged top double stomp and went for a bunch of rollups in the last minute, not keeping Aoki down but eating time. She laid in increasingly weaker forearms, and Aoki LEVELD her with a lariat with ten seconds left… for 2.999! Aoki went for a German but clearly wasn’t moving fast enough and time expires as she starts to lift Nao.

NAO DIDN’T LOSE! Definite shock here, but a well done and believable one. As mentioned I’m a huge fan of Nao, and starting the tourney with a surprise is an awesome choice. Aoki looking around as if wondering what just happened was great too. Aoki goes over to Nao after but gets slapped in the face for her trouble, as a draw clearly wasn’t satisfactory enough for the fiery rookie. I pretty much adored every thing about this.

3) Tsukushi Haruka & Madeline vs Thekla & Tsukasa Fujimoto

With the previously mentioned change to the card due to Kohgo’s absence, newly crowned ICE Cross Infinity Champion Tsukka is taking Aoki’s place in this tag match.

Maddie’s the greatest, and her cheerfully brandishing Fairy’s wand is highly amusing. Tsukushi showed little tolerance for her partner here even during the entrances.

Thekla has a title shot against Tsukushi coming up, so there’s additional tension between the teams.

Maddie vs Tsukka to start! Tsukka hit the reverse pedigree pretty early (love the move although I wish someone else had inherited from Saya that as it’s finisher worthy and Tsukka already has somewhere around 7).

The match continued at a great, fast pace. Tsukka and Tsukushi went full bore whenever they were in against each other, and one particularly amazing spot saw Tsukka kip up out of a wheelbarrow rollup. In the middle of the match there was also a lot of great grappling on the mat with Thekla and Maddie. Maddie’s unique holds and rollups are amazing.

Late in the match Maddie was way too amused to be doing Tsukka’s back kicks to Tsukka. Tsukka absorbed them, then kicked Maddie in counter when soccer kick and showed the poor rookie how they were really to be done.

Maddie hung in with the champ well, but eventually Tsukka used Maddie’s own kickout momentum to pull her into the stranglehold for the win (I always love transitions/reversals like that).

Really good match with a lot of interesting action.

4) P’s League B Block: Totoro Satsuki vs Honori Hana

We have a direct parallel of the Block A match here, with the most experienced wrestler in Block B facing a rookie with little success in singles matches.

Perhaps learning the lessons of the earlier P’s League match, this started off fast with the two just flat out charging at each other.

A bit in there was a really imaginative spot to highlight the tournament rules that saw them brawl to back area where Totoro locked Honori in and went back to the ring. After a couple of futile attempts to open the door, Honori realized she could go outside then enter back in through the audience door and she just beat the count reentering the ring at 18.

Totoro was relentless and pretty much in control all match until Honori took over with a great extended series of shoulder tackles. She later hit a spear and spammed pin attempts to wear Totoro down. Totoro fired back with several sentons for close counts, then went up to the second rope.

Totoro missed the second rope senton, but got up and charged Honori in the corner. Honori dodged and rolled Totoro into a deep schoolboy… for 3!

Another brilliant in ring story as Honori disrupted Totoro’s dominance with a flurry leading a rattled to over rely on her strongest move, and it led to an opportunity for the big upset.

——-

Can’t compliment the way things unfolded here enough. There were two very different upsets to kick off P’s League and make everything feel unpredictable. In one match the confident favorite wasn’t quite wrestling with the needed urgency to put her opponent away in time, and the other favorite couldn’t recover from having her well built momentum thrown off. Both Itsuki and Totoro still looked crazy strong without either upset feeling like a fluke. Well done all around.

Add in a pair of good tag matches and this was a really strong show. P’s Party continues to be a great showcase and playground for lesser experienced wrestlers and a ton of fun.

ChocoPro 85: Mitsuru’s Graduation Live Stream Thoughts

January 29, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan

Important night for a variety of reasons, with a loaded card to boot.

ChocoPro is a unique effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world and take full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery.

This is one of their rare ring shows at Shinkiba 1st Ring. Masahiro Takanashi has been out with injury for nine months. His originally scheduled self-produced return show had to be cancelled due to renewed Covid restrictions in Tokyo. He gave the reserved venue spot to ChocoPro for this special show, and while he won’t be doing a full comeback match he will make his return in a five minute exhibition.

Emotional show for me as one of my favorite wrestlers is officially retiring (which in Japan is often referred to as “graduating” from the company or field). Check out my farewell piece for more thoughts and a personal look back on Mitsuru’s career.

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In a great touch, Mitsuru is out with Akki to open and handles announcing duties all show.

1) Tokiko Kirihara, Lulu Pencil, & Chie Koishikawa vs Antonio Honda, Hagane Shinnou, & Ryuichi Sekine

As the veteran trio comes out Sekine is playing saxophone, Hagane guitar, and Honda is singing. They are apparently a regular band, and this was a cool way to have a little music in the show (entrance themes are generally not played for ChocoPro shows as any type of recorded music tends to flag YouTube’s overeager copyright algorithms).

This is a huge match for the gen 4 trio*, and the first time they’re teaming in six-person competition.

I love the way this progressed. The men’s team was joyfully heelish, while their opponents persevered and slowly built up momentum. Eventually after their powerhouse Tokiko ran wild they had established and maintained a small but definite advantage.

At which point Honda called the band in for a Mitsuru tribute to deflect from the trouble he was in. He suckered his opponents into dancing, then eye poked them all and finished Lulu with a fist drop from the second rope (while Hagane and Sekine were still playing their instruments).

Absurd in a pretty great way, this match combined comedy and action well and in a way that let the overmatched trio really shine even in defeat.

* The six wrestlers who debuted on August 28, 2019 (Lulu, Chie, Tokiko, Sayaka, Sayuri, and Rin Rin) are being referred to as the fourth generation of Gatoh Move. Making up over half of the roster and the unusual circumstances of 2020 have challenged them harder and faster than normal. Even though they all still have under two years of experience, in recognition of their progress they are no longer being referred to as rookies by their seniors.

2) Emi Sakura & Sayaka Obihiro vs Sayuri & Sawasdee Kamen

Sayuri’s back! And with awesome new gear! Sawasdee was a regular partner of Mitsuru, so it’s really nice to see him on this show. They’ll make a good team against Gatoh Move’s most senior roster members.

Sayuri looked really good here. She always seems to somehow sharpen her skills and come back even stronger and smoother whenever she’s out for a bit. The match was largely about her tenacity, hanging in against Obi & Emi’s assault to set things up for her more experienced partner.

Late in the match Obi & Emi seemed not to be on same page, but it lead to suckering the other team in when they exaggerated their displeasure with each other. Little touches like this that build a bit throughout the match provide a lot of additional depth that’s often felt even more than it’s noticed, and Emi’s a master at it.

Emi pulled out the freaking 450 for the win (into a double knee drop on Sawasdee’s stomach/chest… ouch). My jaw always drops when I see her do it. I believe the last time we were treated to that amazing spectacle was at the retirement show of Aoi Kizuki, another of Emi’s trainees.

An emotional Emi speaks briefly to Mitsuru after the match, and Sawasdee hands Mitsuru her hero mask on his way out.

Exhibition: Masahiro Takanashi vs Choun Shiryu

Exactly the technical masterclass to be expected from these two. Fantastic to see Masa back from injury and looking to be in great shape/spirits/form. He was favoring the leg a bit by the end, but seemed ok overall. Masa set up his finish just as the five minute time limit ran out making this exhibition a draw.

UMA and Haru Miyako came out afterwards to present a congratulatory bottle to Masa. Masa shook hands with UMA but fell as UMA’s arm stretched out a couple feet.

3) Asia Deam Tag Team Championship: Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) (c) vs TropiCalamari (Yuna Mizumori & Chris Brookes)

The main event planned for ChocoPro’s first ring show was Chris & Mitsuru vs Best Bros. However Mitsuru was injured during practice leading up to the show, and would not end up returning to the ring. This variation on that planned match is an incredibly suitable match to head up Mitsuru’s official retirement show.

This was an incredibly strong main event with a classic feeling tag formula at times. The tension was palpable between the Bros and Chris and the overall atmosphere electric.

They honestly never really got me to buy into the possibility of Best Bros losing the championship in their first defense, but there were some amazing close falls none-the-less and the match was excellent regardless. In the end Akki countered a lariat by Yuna into a tight rollup to escape with the titles. The Bros give their rapidly becoming usual equal mix smug and heartfelt post match thoughts.

Mitsuru Konno Retirement Ceremony

This was done really well as an abbreviated form of the traditional Japanese retirement ceremony. The usual departing gifts were represented by just Yuna and Chris, with the latter acknowledging that he was traditionally supposed to give flowers but felt alcohol was a more fitting gesture for Mitsuru (who certainly approved). Mitsuru gave a speech followed by the 10 bell salute and everyone came in for a joyful cheer to wish Mitsuru well to wrap things up. Mitsuru will be missed, but it’s awesome to see her leave largely on her own terms and with a smile.

Great show all around, and a wonderful way to wish Mitsuru well and welcome Masa back.

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As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content, including the replay of this show. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their brand new merchandise store with international shipping for most physical goods as well as a variety of e-merch available!

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Best wishes to Mitsuru with all that lies ahead. Beer Buddies forever.