Usagi Yojimbo Vol 32 Review

Mysteries is volume 32 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. It’s another volume that benefits from having read Usagi’s previous adventures but also stands reasonably well on its own and would not be a bad point to jump in.

 

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For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”

 

Detective Ishida is as much a main character as Usagi now, and I continue to enjoy the time the series is spending focusing on the two of them together solving mysteries. Things have a little bit of a different feel now that Usagi has been in one place for a while, but it still stays true to the heart of the series.

This volume starts with two single chapter stories, followed by two and three part stories respectively, then finishes with a couple short “Chibi Usagi” installments.

There are elements in the main stories that connect a bit, giving a nice sense of progression throughout the volume. The stories are interesting and the mystery elements well done as usual.

The inclusion of recurring characters Kitsune and Nezumi (in separate stories) is starting to present a characterization problem with Usagi. The lengths to which he trusts the thief who routinely takes advantage of him and distrusts the other (who has helped investigations and acts in a Robin Hood mold) are becoming exaggerated and risk making Usagi seem oblivious and borderline unsympathetic at times.

Outside of that though, this is another strong volume of intrigue and action. The Chibi Usagi shorts are light and amusingly silly.

 

 

Salvation of a Saint (Detective Galileo) Review

“Twist reality to fit your guesswork too much and you’ll break something, Detective.”

 

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This is apparently the fifth Detective Galileo book, although it’s labeled as the second in the US as only two of the first five have been translated. Since the other released book over here was the third and the stories are supposedly stand alone I started here due to this coming up for a book group read.

From a mystery point of view can be this can indeed be read without previous knowledge. Nothing in the mystery depends on nor spoils anything in previous books, so this stands alone from a plot point of view.

However it felt some recurring characters in the series weren’t properly introduced for new readers. For nearly half the book the titular character was nowhere to be seen, and the brief scene that finally brought him in gave little introduction (seemingly either expecting the readers to be familiar with him from prior books or not feeling any was necessary).

The detective that got the most “screentime,” and thus the defacto point if view character, acted a bit like an idiot as the book goes on. This made it hard to get into the dueling agendas and theories between him and his new junior detective, and for a majority of the book I was as annoyed as I was intrigued. I also felt certain things were foreshadowed too much and others not explained enough, although that’s admittedly an extremely difficult line to walk.

On the other hand, the mystery itself was interesting, when the characters got out of their own ways things progressed well, and there was clearly a lot of thought and creativity underlying the story. Also, part of my frustration was due to wanting to know more about the characters and for them to be presented better, indicating they are a reasonably interesting and potentially engaging bunch.

So I have major mixed feelings about this book, but despite some flaws and missed potential this is a solid “howdunnit” at its core, and just engrossing enough for me to give it a cautious recommendation. I would be open to giving the series another try.

Gatoh Move 4/28/19 Live Thoughts

April 28, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

This show was in an interesting spot being the day after one Itabashi Greenhall show for Gatoh Move and three days before another (thoughts on both to come).

 

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As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some souvenirs).

 

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1) Mitsuru Konno vs Saki 

This contest provided a fun contrast, as Mitsuru was developing a more serious attitude while Saki was having a bit of fun at her expense, turning every move into a Namashite in honor of her partner in the impending Go Go Green Curry Cup Akki. They had great chemistry, and fought all around building maintaining a high intensity level. It was also a very different match from the one they would have a month later going into Mitsuru & Sawasdee Kamen challenging for Saki & Yuna’s tag titles. Strong opener, with Saki picking up the expected win. It’s a slow build, but Mitsuru’s eventually going start racking up unexpected victories and it’ll be glorious.

 

 

2) Baliyan Akki vs Yuna Mizumori 

Speaking of Saki’s two regular tag partners in Gatoh Move, they faced each other in singles action here. This had some really cool, creative sequences and it’s awesome to see Akki’s progression as he starts having more singles intergender matches. He picked up the win against Gatoh Move’s resident lovable wrecking ball.

 

 

3) Emi Sakura x,  Masahiro Takanashi & Riho vs Ryuichi Sekine, Antonio Honda o, & Mei Suruga

Lots of comedy. Lots of chaos. Lots of fun. 😉 Honda pinned Sakura to give his team the win over Gatoh’s top veterans in yet another great 6-person tag at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

 

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During the post show roundtable the brackets were determined for Gatoh’s annual Go Go Green Curry Cup mixed tag tournament, which everyone on this show would be involved in.

 

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Gatoh Move keychains!

 

Not a lot else to say this time around. A solid, well worked, highly entertaining show from top to bottom.

Last Song for You: Riho’s “Graduation” from Gatoh Move

Later today (7/2/19) Riho, Gatoh Move’s ace, will have her final match with the company. She will be “graduating” (the term used in Japan when someone leaves a company to move on, whether it’s for retirement or a case like this) to go freelance.

 

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Prior to my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015, I was primarily only had seen Joshi wrestlers that had come stateside for Shimmer. So, as I mentioned in my look back on Kotori’s career when she retired, I was largely unfamiliar with the professional wrestling company Gatoh Move and their wrestlers when I attended my first show of theirs on 12/22/15.

On that show freelancers Hikaru Shida and Makoto, who I knew from Shimmer, were on opposite sides from each other in a tag match paired with Gatoh Move roster members Kotori and Riho respectively.  It was quite good, and in particular Riho stood out with skills and instincts that seemed beyond what her 18 years of age would have implied.

 

 

And with good reason. “Young” in Joshi doesn’t necessarily correlate to experience, and Riho was in fact the most senior competitor in that match with nearly 10 years as a wrestler, incredibly starting at the age of just 9 years old. She grew and honed her craft under the training and tutelage of the incredible Emi Sakura, first in Ice Ribbon then following her mentor when Sakura split with the company in 2012 and started Gatoh Move.

 

 

So in my initial exposure to Riho, she was already an accomplished, polished veteran. And boy did it show. Particularly later that trip when I got a chance to see Gatoh Move in their home environment. The 12/22/15 show had been a “traditional” wrestling show with a traditional wrestling ring. The reason I specify is that Gatoh Move’s home venue, Ichigaya Chocolate Square, is a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

It’s such a unique environment, that not only provides something special for the audience but also forces the wrestlers to push themselves and adapt to the unusual constraints. And Riho is an absolute master of it. Her athleticism, creativity, and precision always combined in fantastic fashion as she bounced around the confined space, often utilizing not only the windowsill but also her opponents and partners as platforms to launch herself off of in lieu of ropes and turnbuckles.

 

 

As such, some of the most memorable moments of Riho in Ichigaya for me came from Gatoh’s incredible 6-person tag matches, including  Riho, Kotori, & Aasa vs Emi, Obi, & Mitsuru on 12/31/16, a similar variation two years later of  Riho teaming with Emi & Obi against Mitsuru, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori in a special “Old Gatoh Move” vs “New Gatoh Move”  match on 12/31/18  (which is up on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel!!!), and a fantastic match from just  last month  of Riho, Baliyan Akki, & An-Chamu vs Emi, Masahiro Takanashi, & Mei (also up on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel!!!).

 

 

At the risk of getting overly cliched, Riho has the presence of a star. The audience reactions when she appeared at other promotions, such as in a pair of great tag team title challenges in back to back years in Tokyo Joshi Pro’s biggest events, was always incredible.

 

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Riho’s greatest strength may be her ability to make whatever story she’s telling in the ring accessible and convincing. She’s believable as a threat, even against far larger opponents and in the many intergender matches she’s had. A particular favorite of mine was her no-rope match against Yaso Urano at Basara’s 12/28/17 show.

 

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This Spring I was extremely lucky to be able to attend some of Riho’s last matches in Gatoh Move, and there have certainly been a lot of high notes to go out on. At the beginning of May she faced DDT wrestler and regular Gatoh Move guest Masahiro Takanashi in an incredible encounter that’s one of my top matches of the year thus far. A few days later she won Gatoh’s annual Go Go Green Curry Cup (a mixed tag team tournament).

 

 

And just a month out from her final match, in her second to last “traditional” show for Gatoh, she successfully defended her Super-Asia Championship against rising star Mei Suruga in a wonderful match, after which she relinquished the title.

Tonight Riho will wrestle her trainer Emi Sakura one-on-one in her final Gatoh Move match. I can’t think of a more fitting farewell.

 

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Riho has already given fans a little glimpse of what’s to come after Gatoh Move, as she’s had a pair of good outings with AEW. She’s implied in a recent interview that she doesn’t intend to sign anywhere full time just yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if/where she wrestles in Japan in addition to continuing with AEW in the states (as of now nothing else has been announced/scheduled). It will also be interesting to watch Gatoh Move change and adapt after her departure.

I look forward to the continued success of both.

 

Pawn (Sibyl’s War Book 1) Review

Nicole does everything and anything she can, in excess, to try to ignore the mumbling voices whispering in the back of her head. When she’s dragged into trouble by a fellow gang member trying to kidnap a doctor to treat his wounds, the three find themselves the subject of an entirely different kind of kidnapping… and Nicole will be tasked with listening to the very voices she’s been trying to deny.  

 

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Pawn leaves its readers in the dark alongside its protagonist as Nicole slowly unravels the shroud of mystery around her new, unexpected life. There’s some really interesting ideas at the heart of this opener to Zahn’s latest trilogy. The world building has some great hooks and a couple of the characters are compelling enough to grab the reader’s attention. The writing style is of course smooth and engaging.

Admittedly though, plot necessities often drive character changes and choices rather than vise-versa. Several consequences of various characters’ actions are the result of their stubborn unwillingness to explain anything to each other, beyond what seems in character and reasonable. Some story elements also seem a little overly complicated and possibly unnecessary, although some of it could be setup for the next two installments. The approach could have been tweaked a bit for a more even, satisfying journey in my opinion.

That said, overall this was still a really enjoyable and intriguing read. I got caught up in Nicole’s situation, and I am quite invested in finding out where it all goes in the end.

 

 

The Snow Queen’s Shadow (Princess Book 4) Review

“Be careful.”

“Why start now?”

 

This is the fourth and final book in the Princess series, and it addresses several major, long running plot threads. Best to start with The Stepsister Scheme (book 1).

** I will keep this review as spoiler free as possible, both for this book and for the series as a whole. **

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I read the first three books of this series years ago, but while interested didn’t get a chance read this last one when it first came out and it kind of slipped through the list until now. I recently reread the rest to make sure all the little details were fresh in my mind going in.

The Snow Queen’s Shadow is on par with Red Hood’s Revenge as the best in the series, providing the end of character journeys that have been building since the very beginning. There was a blend of things I’ve been expecting/waiting for and interesting additional layers, including a clever way to work another aspect of one of the main protagonist’s fairy tale in that I imagine there will be a lot of mixed feelings about.

A lot of groundwork for the events here was laid in previous books, but I suspect many readers didn’t pick up on the clues since it’s not necessarily a direction people wanted things to go. But it fits, and is an appropriate culmination of all that’s come before.

All in all a well done finale for a great series.

 

 

 

DIANA 5/12/19 Live Thoughts

May 12, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

It’d been a long time since my only previous DIANA show, but I’ve certainly been aware of their rising star. I had the privilege of seeing Sareee in person at Sendai Girls’ shows against Chihiro in January and against DASH Chisako just a couple weeks prior to this in a pair of fantastic matches, and anticipation for her vs Kong III was through the roof.

Beyond the general awesomeness of being at Korakuen and the huge main event, there were a number of interesting aspects to the undercard that had me particularly excited for this show.

 

1) Ayako Sato vs Madeline 

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I was really impressed with Madeline here. In fact, I was about to write “this was my first time seeing Madeline,” momentarily forgetting it had to be as it was in fact her DEBUT.

 

 

Sato’s assault was spot on for letting the rookie shine and get a good amount of offense while keeping things reasonable. Madeline has a distinct style already, with an expressiveness that really draws the audience into her match and strong fundamentals. Fantastic first impression made.

 

2) Emi Sakura vs Haruka Umesaki 

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As a huge fan of Sakura and her promotion Gatoh Move, this match seeing her face a former student from DareJyo (who I was previously unfamiliar with) was another big reason I made a point of attending this show.

 

 

This was really fun. Every little detail was on point, from even before the match started and Emi took issue to Haruka being presented with a gift before the match and her not. Emi’s a master, Haruka rose to the challenge, they got a decent amount of time to play with, and this was an extremely good match.

 

3) Queen Elizabeth Championship: Jaguar Yokota (c) vs Sakura Hirota vs Yumi Ohka 

 

Fine 3-way with Hirota being Hirota, Ohka holding everything together with liberal application of kicks, and Yokota picking her spots to capitalize and retain her title.

 

4) DIANA Tag Team Championship: Kaoru Ito & Tomoko Watanabe (c) defeat Double Inoue (Kyoko Inoue & Takako Inoue) 

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It was a treat to see Double Inoue, and in a title match to boot. Absolutely brutal at points, and admittedly got excessive at the end. Watching Kyoko take FIVE top rope doublestomps to the stomach from Ito was cringe inducing, and that many wasn’t needed to get the point across. That small criticism aside though, this was great.

 

5) DIANA World Championship: Aja Kong (c) vs Sareee 

I’d heard a lot about their previous encounters and have become a huge fan of Sareee in general, so as mentioned above the expectations were high for this one.

 

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It was A LOT more lopsided than I expected at first, with Kong largely wiping the mat with Sareee for the first third to half of the match. Then Sareee found a weakness to capitalize on when Kong missed a charge and “injured” her arm, and Sareee showed she could give as good as she got.

 

 

The back and forth battle raged on, with Sareee weathering the storm long enough to shock the monster with a rollup for the win and the title. This built to a moment, and was pretty excellent along the way. Chihiro Hashimoto comes out afterwards and appears to challenge Sareee to a double title match.

 

 

Sareee is wrestling’s next big star, and everyone clearly knows it. She recently won said double title match so is currently a reigning double singles champion across two companies. On her way to the Sendai title she pinned their legendary owner Meiko Satomura, as well as DASH Chisako and other top competitors. And of course any sort of victory over Kong is a huge deal, let alone a singles pinfall. The important part of course is Sareee’s completely believable and natural in this role, with both the technical skills and charisma/mannerisms to pull it all off.

 

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Wonderful show from top to bottom, with a variety of match styles and points of interest. DIANA delivered big time here.