Tokyo Joshi Pro 9/29/18 Live Thoughts

September 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro has grown into a really entertaining promotion with several excellent performers. This was my first time seeing TJP at a venue other than Korakuen Hall, and I was curious to see what one of their “smaller” shows would be like. Greenhall’s a great venue itself, so this looked to be a fun afternoon.

 

 

 

The Up Up Girls came out to dance to kick things off. I saw them debut against each other in a tag match to open TJP’s 1/4/18 show, so all four are still in their rookie year. Here the show proper once again opened with an inter-group match, in this case Hikari vs Raku in a singles contest.  A fine outing for both, although they’re still a bit tentative and have awkward exchanges at times. Hikari seemed just a touch more polished, and also picked up the victory. Decent for what it was.

 

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The 3 Way match of Yuu vs Yuna Manase vs Yuki Kamifuku was all story, revolving around Yuna and Yuki trying to seduce Yuu into helping them instead of the other. Yuki had the alliance advantage early on after giving Yuu a magazine featuring pictures of Yuki, but miscommunications and Yuna flaunting her body keep things switching around. No, I’m not joking about any of this. Eventually both screwed up often enough that Yuu had enough, so they teamed instead. Yuu of course eventually won, being quite a bit above either on the card. Some amusing bits, but overall the comedy fell a little flat with me and this was just kinda there.

 

 

 

Azusa Takigawa is winding down her career and back in her regular persona after her brainwashed “Azusa Christie” phase. Here she teamed with the Muscle Idol Reika Saiki against Hyper Misao & Shoko Nakajima. The latter team came out with signs apparently protesting Azusa’s retirement, and Reika joined in the protest for a bit. Seeing the tiny kaiju enthusiastically copying Misao was highly amusing. Azusa eventually attacked her opponents and slapped her partner upside the head to get things started.

 

 

 

This was really the best of both worlds of TJP’s match types. Reika and Shoko absolutely tore it down action-wise, then when things slowed down/stopped for the sake of the story it was well done. A lot of that was thanks to attention to detail and the wrestlers themselves being heavily invested, such as when Reika and Shoko got so caught up in Misao’s apparent selfless act in the ring that they stopped fighting on the outside and watched, as captivated as the audience.

Misao offered to take Azusa’s second rope elbow to end the match, giving the latter a win as a retirement gift. Then she kicked out instead. Reika, angered by Misao not following through on her word, got involved but Azusa begged off saying it was reflex and offered to do it again. This time Misao countered the elbow into a backslide for a close 2 to try and steal the match. At that point even Shoko’s pissed, and she joined her opponents in a series of finishers and a three person dogpile to put Misao away.

 

 

 

The way Azusa, Reika, and even the ref went ahead and celebrated with Shoko as if it was a 3 vs 1 all along and Shoko’s excitement at “winning” were fantastic. Everyone makes up afterwards, Misao tearfully congratulates Azusa, and they all leave together. Far and away the most I’ve ever enjoyed Misao’s antics, precisely because there was a strong framework for them and they were supported by an exciting match, with Reika and Shoko being their usual exceptional selves.  I talk a lot about Reika, Maki Itoh, and Yuka Sakazaki in terms of incredible presence and charisma, but Shoko is right up there too and is perhaps TJP’s most underrated performer. Loved this.

 

 

 

Up Up Girls member Hinano was outmatched in non-title action against TJP’s Princess of Princess champion Miyu Yamashita and knew it, resorting to bouts of fake crying, etc to try and throw her opponent off her game. Hinano managed to get a bit of back and forth going out of it, but Miyu dispatched her in short order once the champ got serious. Fine way to get the rookie some experience against TJP’s ace and let her look good while still telling a story that made sense for those involved. 

 

 

 

The main event was a 6-woman tag between Yuka Sakazaki, Mizuki & Maki Itoh and Nodoka Tenma, Yuki Aino & Miu. It’s interesting for me to see Yuka now tag champs w/ Mizuki given last time I saw TJP back in January Yuka defended those same belts (w/ Shoko) against Mizuki (w/ Gatoh Move’s Riho). Yuka’s a personal favorite and always a joy to watch, and Mizuki’s right up with her as one of TJP’s most consistently great workers. Add in the rising superstar with nuclear levels of fan support and charisma Itoh and their trio is a bit of a superteam.

I like Nodoka’s new gimmick (I am perhaps the only TJP fan thrilled to see her put Nodoka-Oneesan behind her) and her team with Yuki is clicking nicely. Miu’s generally considered the current top prospect of the Up Up Girls, and I understand why.

So with all the elements put together this was an engaging, solidly worked match with flashes of brilliance. Nodoka’s trio put up a good fight, but eventually came up short when Miyu fell to a high flying assault from TJP’s tag champs. The way Yuka in particular soars around the ring is amazing, and I honestly think she’s one of the best fliers in wrestling (right up with Dash Chisako at the top of the heap in my mind, and that’s saying a lot).

 

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Afterwards Nodoka & Yuki stake a claim for a shot at the tag titles, which I believe the champs eventually accepted. During the whole exchange a somewhat bored looking Itoh sat on the ropes patiently waiting for her partners’ business to be concluded. Her trying to be supportive while just barely being unable to hide a touch of disinterest was a great character moment.

 

 

 

So the card obviously wasn’t quite as stacked as the Korakuen shows, but was still quite good with enough here to satisfy and some really strong performances from the expected names.

In contrast the merchandise situation was fantastic, far better than the madness at Korakuen.  Post show there was more time and space, which made a ton of difference. Everyone stayed until their personal line was done, with staff announcing as someone was getting ready to leave so fans had one last chance to go over. I finally got to meet several wrestlers I’m a big fan of for the first time, and I appreciate all the effort and enthusiasm both the company and wrestlers put into it all.

Tokyo Joshi Pro continues to excel at emphasizing its strengths and nurturing a roster that’s fully committed to improving every time they go out, to great effect. This was a different type of show than the previous ones I saw of theirs, but just as worthwhile and enjoyable.

Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 2

In Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art I talked about the the wrestling centric work of Rob Schamberger. Here, in addition to featuring more from Rob, I’d also like to spotlight another artist who specializes in wrestling related creations as well as an artist readers of this blog will be well familiar with who has entered the realm of drawing professional wrestlers as the result of commission requests from me. 😉

 

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A mix of originals and prints of Rob Schamberger’s striking work.

 

WWE’s Asuka (formerly Kana) is a longtime favorite of mine, and was the subject of first wrestling related commission request I ever made (top left above). She has remained central to collection (and will come up again later), particularly in terms of Rob’s wonderful mixed media creations which generally start with a framework from a photo of the subject and grow from there via Rob’s creativity, expert techniques, and incredible use of color. I’ve also added an original painting (as well as signed print) of current NXT Women’s Champion and Stardom alumni Kairi Sane (formerly Kairi Hojo) that nicely capture the unique presence and charisma of the Pirate Princess.

 

More information about Rob’s art can be found on his website.

 

 

 

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams and Beautiful Dreams 2, I’ve been a fan of Juri H Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work.

One of the more unique requests I made among a plethora of video game and anime characters was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. I thought Juri’s style would be perfect for this and it came out far beyond my high expectations. I specified only the subject here, and I adore the incredible way Juri captured and combined Mitsuru’s strength, determination, grace, and beauty in her remarkable hand drawn rendition. From there I got even more excited about having her draw more wrestlers. Asuka of course was on the list, and Juri wonderfully depicted her striking presence and style.

Aoi Kizuki is a personal favorite of mine who recently retired, so Juri’s fantastic rendition of her will be a treasured momento of a wrestler who will be greatly missed. The little details, like the patterns and textures on both Aoi’s and Asuka’s outfits and the highlighting use of metallics really make these incredible works come to life.

 

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Dash Chisako PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

 

Sendai Girl’s Dash Chisako is my favorite high flyer in all of wrestling, and I’m amazed and ecstatic with how perfectly Juri captured Dash mid flight performing her trademark frog splash. Having Dash performing one of her flying moves is the most specific I got with any of my wrestler requests for Juri, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. The likeness, colors, sense of motion, etc are all pitch perfect.

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page.

 

 

 

Shining Wizard Designs is another artist who specializes in depictions of wrestlers, in this case wonderfully stark, hyper realistic black and white ink drawings he regularly shares on social media. I adore the striking assortment of pieces of his I’ve gotten, and have been lucky enough to get a few of them signed by the wrestlers. In addition to excellent versions of the previously mentioned Asuka and Dash, SWD drew the reigning Wave Pro Tag Team Champions Bossy to Mammy (Marvelous’ rising star Mio Momono and Wave veteran Yumi Ohka) as well as Ice Ribbon’s MMA trained rookies Team DATE (Hana, Nao, Nori, and Karen) for me.

Aoi isn’t the only wrestler I follow retiring this year, so in tribute I commissioned a combination piece featuring Aoi, Wave’s Mika Iida, and Tokyo Joshi Pro’s Maho Kurone, as well as a stand alone piece of Wave’s Misaki Ohata (who will retire in December) doing one of her gorgeous flying cross bodies. Of course later even more retirements were announced, which gives subjects for the future I suppose. 😉 I will miss all of these wrestlers greatly but wish them the best.

 

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Gatoh Move (Mitsuru Konno, Sayaka Obihiro, Emi Sakura, and Riho) by Shining Wizard Designs.

 

Finally, I had a piece done featuring some of the core members of Gatoh Move, a small, wonderful company run by the incredible Emi Sakura. In addition to Emi and Mitsuru (from Juri’s work above), Gatoh’s ace Riho and lynchpin Sayaka Obihiro are also pictured. I’m extremely happy with SWD’s work and greatly appreciate the opportunity to get these done.

 

More information about Shining Wizard Designs art can be found on Twitter.

 

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Thanks again to all three of these artists for their impressive creations.

Studio Ghibli Papercraft: Porco Rosso

I recently put together my first “papercraft” model: an excellent depiction of an iconic image from my favorite Studio Ghibli movie. There are various types of papercraft, with some looking like “traditional” plastic or wooden models as 3D representations of their subjects. This type is instead a series of flat, different colored sections with designs cut out that create a layered image when placed one behind the other with small spacing between the layers.

 

 

The envelope for this comes with directions and several mini sheets of sturdy paper with designs cut into them. Some models are marked with “English instructions included,” but this one only had Japanese instructions. But the pictures show all the pieces needed at each step and the pieces are labeled on their punchcards with the “layer” they belong on so there’s sufficient guidance provided to complete the model even with the language barrier.

 

 

I did look up English directions for a similar papercraft and the only thing that would have been overlooked otherwise is a wise suggestion to apply glue the “non-visible” side of whatever is being glues together (so to the base layer if attaching a piece to the back of the layer, and to the back of the piece if it’s being glued to the front of a layer), and the suggested tool list which I’ll discuss below.

 

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To achieve minor visual details that really bring the image to life some of the pieces are TINY and admittedly quite difficult to cut out, keep intact, and paste together. So while for the first few pieces it seemed I’d be ok just using my hands and the hobby glue bottle directly, the additional recommended tools of an exacto knife (for removing the small pieces from the punchcards), tweezers (to hold and position pieces), and toothpick and/or small glue brush (for applying glue) are essential. One or two pieces were so small and delicate I almost destroyed them, but it all worked out in the end and wasn’t difficult to put together overall with some patience and care. It took me about an hour and the result looks fantastic.

 

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While the model is nice and stable once together and doesn’t require a case, they are available and I’m happy with having a bit of protection against both damage and dust as well as how it looks. I got a light up version for this one and the soft, alternating color lights poking through the tiny exposed areas in the completed piece looks amazing.  Really pleased with this and will likely try more in the future.

Japan Trip Spring 2018: Top 10 Matches (Live)

I ended up managing to write up thoughts on all the shows from Spring trip just before going back to Japan, but there is one last entry I’d like to share highlighting my favorite matches from those Spring shows before moving on to Fall.

During this trip I saw 14 shows from 8 promotions (considering P’s Party part of Ice Ribbon) with 68 matches featuring 118 different wrestlers, and as usual the vast majority of what I saw was great. So even featuring my top ten matches plus honorable mentions then there are still a LOT of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

Match reviews copied/modified from my show specific blogs when appropriate.

 

Here’s a breakdown of matches I saw by company: Gatoh Move: 14 matches, Ice Ribbon (including P’s Party): 19 matches, Kani King Produce: 4 matches, Marvelous: 6 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 6 matches, Pure-J:  4 matches, Seadlinnng: 9 matches, and Sendai Girls: 6 matches.

 

Honorable mentions:

I saw a ton of excellent tag team wrestling (including an entire tournament) this trip and it was difficult to narrow down. In the end little things and the involvement of personal favorites determined what made the list, but the entire Go Go Green Curry Cup, New Tra vs Tsukka & Ibuki Hoshi, Best Friends vs Command Bolshoi & Yoshiko, Team DATE vs Tsukka, Miyako Matsumoto, & Hamuko Hoshi, etc were all great examples of well worked, engaging tag team wrestling.

 

 Iida’s retirement – Wave 5/4/18

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Mika Iida wrapped up her career in a pair of fun matches and a goodbye ceremony that all were infused with her enthusiasm, self aware personality, and a real sense of joyousness despite the emotional nature of the show. It was a privilege to be able to attend.

 

Honda brings the comedy – Gatoh Move 4/28/18 and 4/29/18

Antonio Honda’s brand of humor can be hit or miss with me, but at his best wrestling and comedy combine seamlessly in wonderfully entertaining spectacles. This time there were two wonderful examples, each also involving a personal favorite of mine in recently retired Aoi Kizuki and Gatoh Move rookie Mitsuru Konno respectively.

 

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Honda & Aoi teamed in Gatoh Move’s mixed tag tournament, a pairing that seemed pitch perfect after seeing them face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show. They faced reigning tag champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takahashi, who displayed their versatility and showed they’re just as good at being silly as they are at precision wrestling, and these four were clearly having as much fun as the audience.

 

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At Ichigaya Honda and Mitsuru had what can only be properly described as a pictionary match. Whenever one of them achieved a count on the other, the referee gave them a person to draw and if they could get judge Obi to correctly guess who it was they’d get a point. After the 10 minute time limit elapsed the person with the most points would win the match. Totally ridiculous, and yet a lot of fun.

Both were pretty good with the sketches (Mitsuru used to routinely draw pictures on autograph boards that audience members could get the right to purchase via audience wide rock, paper, scissors games), and the subjects were a mix of famous people and wrestlers, which made this engaging even with me being unable to read the clues. And it’s great to see a rare Mitsuru victory no matter the format. 😉 She’d also later use the sketchpad from the match to reveal a pre-drawn announcement of her starting a Twitter account.

 

 

Catch the Wave Finals: Rina Yamishta vs Ayako Hamada

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When the Violence Block came down to a three way playoff match I had expected Arisa to take it and continue her feud with Misaki. Once Hamada took it instead I fully expected her to win here. In retrospect Wave was quite lucky they made the other choice.

The match was a fantastic twenty minute battle, and since it seems to have been Hamada’s last it was a high note to finish on. I hope things improve for her and she’s able to put her demons behind her. The victory meant Rina won her second Catch the Wave in a row looked like an absolute world beater putting down the legend.

 

 

Top 10:

10.  Mio & Kyuuri vs Maki & Yamagata Marvelous 5/5/18

 

In the main event of Marvelous’ show on 5/5/18, Kyuuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL 5 (Maki Natsumi & Yuu Yamagata). Like with Saori Anou and Tae Honma last December I thought this was my first look at Maki when watching live, but I had actually seen all three of them in a random tag match at Reina early in their careers.

I remarked that the match was nothing spectacular but featured decent work from those involved. And I honestly promptly forgot about them among the incredible number of new wrestlers I was introduced to that trip (as they didn’t appear in other promotions I was watching at the time) and didn’t connect that match to the names when I later started hearing about rising stars in the ActWres promotion.

 

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The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I was beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move (which didn’t end up happening as planned due to a typhoon O_o). Great stuff, and the countout victory makes sense to put Mio & Kyuuri over without being definitive. However I share Maki’s expressed confusion (pictured above) over losing by countout when people were rolling in and out of the ring during the count. As much as I adore Mio & Kyuuri, Maki & Yuu were robbed here. Minor complaint though, and the match was excellent overall.

 

 

9.  Mio Momono, Kyuuri, & Tsukushi vs Saori Anou, Tae Honma, & Maika Ozaki- Ice Ribbon 5/5/18

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With Maruko out with injury the planned ActWres vs Outsiders semi-final of Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament was scrapped and ActWres received a bye to the final. However the match itself essentially still happened with Tsukushi swapped in for Maruko. So she teamed with Kyuuri & Mio Momono vs Maika Ozaki, Saori Anou, & Tae Honma, and with ActWres proving victorious I don’t understand why this couldn’t have simply been the tourney match as planned.

That aside, this match was great fun and perhaps my favorite of the show. The bratty Tsukushi didn’t seem to appreciate being an Outsider for a night which made for an interesting dynamic, particularly when combined with all the issues surrounding Kyuuri’s feud with Tae and Saori with Maika being caught in the middle.

 

 

8. Asahi vs Misaki Ohata – P’s Party 4/25/18

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This was almost a “Asahi vs veterans” entry under Honorable Mentions like with Mitsuru in my last list, but while they were all quite good with the booking context around the Miyako match and Yoshiko being Yoshiko I actually did like this match just a bit better than the others.

Asahi is one of Ice Ribbon’s youngest and newest rookies. She debuted last August against Manami Toyota and immediately made a big impression on me. She plays a phenomenal underdog and makes the absolute most of her limited moveset, drawing the audience in and getting them behind her to the point where a simple dropkick garners a strong reaction. I’ve really enjoyed every opportunity I’ve had to see her and think she has huge potential as she continues to learn and refine her craft in the years to come.

It would seem that Ice Ribbon management hold similar opinions, as including her previously mentioned debut against a legend she’s been fairly regularly put in singles matches with decorated veterans (including the previously referred to Miyako and Yoshiko matches). Here she faced Misaki Ohata, a twelve year vet and a personal favorite of mine who was Pro Wrestling Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave Champion at the time.

 

 

7.  Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Mask — Gatoh Move 4/28/18

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Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit, coming to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif (more on the mask in my write up of Gatoh Move 5/4). They had a tall order in front of them in the form of a team of title holders: Gatoh Move’s Super Asia Champion Riho and their Thailand branch’s One and Only Champion Golem Thai.

As much as I adore Riho and was incredibly impressed with my first look at Golem, I find myself a bit biased towards Mitsuru and was really hoping for a stunning upset. It wouldn’t happen here however, and after an incredibly competitive, intense match the powerhouse team prevailed and moved on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho & Golem would move on to face one of the two teams who randomly drew a first round bye.

This was a great way to open the tournament and in some ways a “proof of concept.” Gatoh Move excels at intergender wrestling, and everything here was logical and believable, with the smaller athletes using speed and fire to counter the strength advantage and Golem periodically responding by bulldozing people. As expected with the close knit roster and unique environment they train and often perform in, Riho and Mitsuru have particularly great chemistry and it’s always a treat to see them face off.

 

6. Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami – Seadlinnng 5/5/18

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This was one person removed from Best Friends vs Avid Rival, my favorite tag rivalry of all time. And while Akane isn’t Misaki Ohata she’s an strong, underrated talent who fit right in with her more experienced compatriots. As expected with the four involved and a nice amount of time to perform in a main event role this was excellent.

They wrestled to a 15 minute time limit draw, and in Seadlinnng tournaments that meant they then continued under 2-count rules. I love that approach. It allows a lot of booking leeway, and the atmosphere and sense of desperation in the overtime is always palpable. Best Friends prevailed after another five minutes of intense action.

 

 

5. Misaki Ohata, Aoi Kizuki, & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Makoto, Nagisa Nozaki, & Ryo Mizunami  – SEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

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So every 3 minutes the rules of this 6-woman tag switched from a regular match to high speed rules, where pinfalls could only be attempted after hitting the ropes or specific kinds of quick rollups and high speed referee Natsuki counted such pin attempts super-fast. It initially sounded overly complicated, but they went long enough for several switches to really get across the format and take full advantage of it leading to a wonderfully enjoyable contest that was absurd in all the best possible ways. The level of talent involved was key in making everything click together smoothly. Avid Rival is perhaps the greatest pair in all of wrestling right now, either as partners or opponents, and Misaki’s trio here was somewhat of a dream team of favorites of mine. To be honest Nagisa and Makoto were slightly overshadowed by the others, but still fit in reasonably well and contributed to some highlights such as Nagisa regularly trying to kick peoples’ heads off.

Natuski’s tradition of getting involved in the matches she refs continued, with Hiroyo her frequent victim this time. The Lady Destroyer did a great job with selling resentment and annoyance at Natsuki’s antics, right up through the post match celebration with her partners accepting Natsuki raising their arms and Hiroyo eyeing her with distrust instead and threatening to strike her. Following through with little details like that is so important for achieving maximum potential and impact.

The action was excellent, including a particularly fantastic spot where 3 rollups were happening simultaneously and constantly being reversed during a high speed section with Natsuki counting everything, leading to all 6 wrestlers plus her eventually being wiped out on the mat with exhaustion.

 

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After the show I spoke briefly with four of the six wrestlers in this match. Amusingly all commented about being especially tired and a couple expressed a desire to never do high speed rules again. I made sure to thank them for their effort and express my sympathy for their sacrifice and appreciation for the match. 🙂 Loved this all around.

 

4. Hamuko Hoshi & Kyuuri vs. Maika Ozaki & Miyako Matsumoto – Ice Ribbon 4/28/18

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This interesting mix-and-match tag featured regular partners Kyuuri and Maika on opposites sides teaming with Hammy and Miyako respectively, who were trios partners at the time while Hammy was also gunning for Miyako’s Ice Cross Infinity title. This was my favorite match of a strong show. It had a wonderful feeling of escalation throughout and a real, palpable sense of desperation as time ran down and everyone became frantic to win. This was as fine a worked time limit draw as I’ve ever seen.

 

3. Catch the WAVE Tournament Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Mio MomonoSEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

 

I was beyond thrilled when I found out this matchup from Wave’s annual Catch the Wave tournament was rescheduled to this show, and that I would make it to Tokyo just in time to see it. Mio’s incredible for her experience and, in my opinion, the brightest star among any rookies in the business (in an extremely strong field to boot). Arisa is simply one of the best wrestlers in the world. 

With Arisa also scheduled for the main event I suspected this might be kept on the shorter side, resulting in a good back and forth match under 10 minutes. Instead these two waged war for just under 15. This had overtones of the dismissive veteran dealing with a cocky upstart who was perhaps more of a fight than expected. Both played their roles perfectly, and the action itself was the excellent affair expected from these two. The first match I saw this trip, and it was immediately recognizable that it’d be one of the best.

 

 

2. Io Shirai vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 on of the best matches I saw was the main event of Stardom’s Climax 2015. It featured what were then and are still two of the best wrestlers in the world wrestling for Stardom’s top prize as company ace Io Shirai challenged reigning outsider champion Meiko Satomura. I was beyond psyched when a rematch was announced for this show in Meiko’s home promotion. Seeing how it would be different over two years from their previous encounter I was lucky enough to witness live was intriguing, as is looking back on both matches now as the (slight) possibility of the two facing off in a WWE ring during the Mae Young Classic looms.

As should come as no surprise, this was excellent. I’m not sure Meiko can have a bad match (note to wrestlers: that’s not a challenge), and Io’s likewise a top tier talent constantly firing on all cylinders. The fact that their first match I saw was building to a big moment while this one was fairly obviously going to a time limit draw affected the structure and I think puts the prior just a touch above this one, but it was still an excellent encounter between two masters which will no doubt make my list of top matches for this trip. Meiko brings out the very best in everyone she faces, and in the case of someone who’s already performing at as high a level as Io does the results are always something special.

 

 

1.  Sendai Girls Championship: Chihiro Hashimoto (c) vs Ayako Hamada – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

Speaking of Meiko bringing out the best in her opponents, her #1 contenders match in the main event of the 1/6 show against fellow legend Ayako Hamada was an incredible contest that was my top match of the entire trip. In a stroke of pure luck, my return to Tokyo four months later coincided with the result of that match: Hamada getting her title shot at Chihiro Hashimoto.

 

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This was a hard hitting, all out war that saw Chihiro throw everything she had at the veteran but eventually prove unable to withstand Hamada’s assault resulting in the Wave Pro outsider claiming Sendai Girls’ top belt. At the risk of blasphemy, I actually liked this just a touch more than the semi-main. What an incredible one-two punch to end that show. This is bittersweet to look back on given Hamada’s troubles and exit from wrestling, but this was my #1 match of that trip and deserves to be acknowledged as such.

 

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That does it for this trip. Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible.

 

Final Happy: Farewell to Aoi Kizuki

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 I had great interest in Joshi pro-wrestling but only a little familiarity.  Ice Ribbon is a favorite promotion of the friends I was traveling with (and would become one of mine as well), and as such we were scheduled to see several of their shows. I was already a big fan of Tsukasa Fujimoto via her appearance in Shimmer, but was unfamiliar with the rest of the roster. The very first show I saw in Japan was an Ice Ribbon dojo show on 12/19/15, and among a really fun night and a talented crew all around, reigning champion Aoi Kizuki made a particularly strong impression.

 

 

Her natural charisma and unique moveset, including her impressive top rope moves where she spins on a vertical axis rather than a horizontal one, gave her an immediately engaging presence. She was naturally friendly when I got to talk to her post show too with an enthusiasm that’s infectious, and overall was one of the big parts of that first trip getting off to a great start for me.

I saw her wrestle five times during trip (including an appearance at Wave), with her biggest and best match being in the main event of Ribbonmania 2015 where she lost the Ice Cross Infinity title to Hamuko Hoshi. I was a bit disappointed at the switch, but clearly understood in retrospect a few days later at the 1/3/16 dojo show when Aoi announced her “graduation” from Ice Ribbon to go freelance after 10 years. The timing was pretty wild, as I just barely got introduced to her at Ice Ribbon before she left.

 

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Custom Funko Pop made of/for Aoi.

 

 

When I returned the following year Aoi was primarily wrestling at Oz Academy, who generally doesn’t run during the holidays, so my chances to see her were quite limited. Over that 2016/2017 holiday trip I was supposed to see her wrestle only twice times, and some unfortunate trouble finding the venue for a Diana show brought it down to a single time, at Gatoh Move’s Christmas Eve show at Itabashi Green Hall. The good news was that in that one match she was once again main eventing a show I was at with a title defense, and her & Sayaka Obihiro against Riho & Kotori was a great, quick paced and hard hitting contest. Although I did start joking at the time that I only ever seemed to come to see Aoi lose titles. :p

 

 

While that was the only match of hers I saw, Aoi also had a Christmas event that year I attended. It was a fun evening of singing and photos and me struggling to parse Japanese. ^_^;  One really cool thing was Aoi talking about her goals and expressing a wish to wrestle in the US, a wish that would come true the following November at Shimmer’s Fall weekend taping in Chicago.

 

 

I adore Shimmer and was really happy for Aoi’s debut. She had a strong debut match in a against the newly proclaimed “Joshi Gatekeeper” Mia Yim despite coming up short, showed off her aforementioned unique offense and enthusiasm in a pair of establishing wins over Veda Scott (who Aoi had worked with in Japan) and Chelsea Green in decent affairs, and teamed with a returning Joshi (and Shimmer mainstay) Hiroyo Matsumoto against Chelsea and her tag partner Britt Baker (known as Fire & Nice) to finish the weekend. The tag match was largely comedy, allowing the four to play around a bit with a lot of antics centered around Hiroyo’s Godzilla mask. Aoi seemed to be having a blast and was really excited about being there, which was wonderful to see.

 

 

During the 2017/2018 holidays I saw Aoi at Ichigaya for the first time in a amusing comedy match against Antonio Honda in which they were trying to “recreate” a Kagami mochi by getting a hat that looked like mochi onto Obi’s head (Obi was sitting apparently passively in a corner of the mat), then whoever placed an orange on top of the hat to complete it would win. As ridiculous as it sounds. I was then lucky enough to make a trip to back Japan this Spring for the wedding of two dear friends of mine. I’d see Honda and Aoi together again, this time as partners for Gatoh Move’s Go Go Green Curry Cup mixed tag tournament against Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi. These comedy heavy matches were a bit different than the previous matches I’d seen of Aoi’s (as was the unique and fantastic “high speed” 6 woman tag I saw her in at SEAdLINNNG), but were highly enjoyable none-the-less and it was cool seeing her clearly having a blast.

 

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During that Spring trip, and just a few days before fellow Joshi Mika Iida’s retirement show, Aoi announced her own retirement show titled “Final Happy” for October 7th. At the time I had no plans to be back in Japan until the December holidays, so managed to add in a Pure-J show on May 6th, to perhaps see Aoi wrestle one last time. She was involved in a surprisingly fun gauntlet battle royal, but as it turns out it wouldn’t be the last time I saw her after all.

 

 

I am extremely fortunate to have been able to arrange to come back to see Aoi’s final show, and the lead up was equally wonderful. Given how I initially became a fan of hers, it was particularly great to see her return to Ice Ribbon for a series of events this summer, and Ice Ribbon was among the companies that hosted a final appearance for Aoi during the week I was here before her retirement show. Not only was it a joy to see her last shows for Ice Ribbon, Pure-J, Wave, and Gatoh Move, but after some of the sparse appearance trips I’ve had the last couple years just seeing her wrestle so many times in general before she finished up was a special treat. I even missed a couple shows she was on due to other commitments, so Aoi’s schedule was certainly packed.

 

 

Aoi’s self-produced retirement show was on October 7th, 2018 at Shinjuku FACE. In the main event Aoi teamed Riho & Mei Sugura against Emi Sakura, Hikaru Shida, & Makoto. It was a perfect way to finish up and a nice tribute to her trainer (Sakura) and other wrestlers she had a long history with. The sole exception was Mei, a rookie who became Aoi’s tag partner and seemingly something of  protege since her debut this spring. Mei’s already incredible for her experience level and seems to have big things ahead of her. The fact that Aoi ended up having her final singles match against Mei on October 5th (and put the rookie over to boot) and included her in this main event illustrates how close they became. In a particularly sweet gesture, Aoi gave Mei her rainbow “wings” from her entrance gear. Mei’s excitement about it as she wore them not only for this match but at Gatoh Move later in the day was clear and contagious.

 

 

The match was great and an appropriate end cap for Aoi’s career. Emi Sakura, bad back and all, gave 110% to give her former trainee a proper farewell throughout the match and busted out a freakin’ 450 to pin Aoi to end it. All of Aoi’s trademarks were also on display, including one more glimpse of her rare, incredible spinning top rope splash. Fun, emotional stuff from bell to bell.

 

 

The post show retirement ceremony was likewise emotional and a treat to be at. All in all it was a wonderful, bittersweet, and fitting show see Aoi off.

 

 

Although I’m sad to see her go, Aoi had a great 12 year career and I’m really happy I had the opportunity to say goodbye to her in person and wish her well. Whatever the future after wrestling holds for her I hope life is happy for the Happy Maker. 

 

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Farewell to a Pintsized Powerhouse

 

Gatoh Move is a company I enjoyed a lot and immediately became a big fan of during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. When I returned a year later the first show I saw of theirs had an interesting interpromotional 6-woman tag team match featuring respective veterans of REINA and Gatoh Move Makoto and Emi Sakura teaming with rookies from their promotions.

 

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Emi’s partners were both new to me, and made an immediate positive impression. One was Mitsuru Konno, just a couple of months from her debut, who was eliminated first yet had a striking aura about her and has since become an absolute favorite of mine. The other was Aasa Maika, who lasted until the end against opposing team captain Makoto, got a nice chance to shine and show off her wonderful style which I always describe as “pintsized powerhouse.” I’ve said before said before that at 5’2″ she perhaps doesn’t seem suited for such a gimmick, but then she’d start throwing herself at opponents like she was Big Van Vader and it was GLORIOUS. The power style was surprisingly perfect for her, and her overall enthusiasm and devotion to the gimmick gave a thoroughly compelling layer to her performances.

 

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I saw three other matches of the riceball fanatic that trip, all at Ichigaya in Gatoh Move’s unique home environment. She definitely struck me as someone with vast potential who was developing her skills and personal style rapidly.

 

I was fortunate to make a short, unexpected trip back to Tokyo in August 2017, and was treated to seeing the now retired Kotori vs Aasa in the semi-finals of the Super Asia Championship tournament as the main event of the 8/26/17 Ichigaya show. Kotori’s win was a foregone conclusion with her en route to face partner Riho in the finals, but she and Aasa created tension and drama regardless in a fantastic match that felt like the big deal it should be. There was a sequence in the match in which Aasa chased Kotori out the window and around the building back inside the door, at which point Kotori tried to ambush Aasa and the latter just LEVELED Kotori with one of her vertical Vader splashes instead. It was so cool and a spot that has totally and vividly stayed with me among the ridiculous amounts of wrestling I watch.

 

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I didn’t know it at the time, but that match would turn out to be the last time I got to see either of them wrestle live. Aasa was scheduled to compete at the Ichigaya shows I saw when I returned during the holidays, but couldn’t participate because she was sick. I would check back in with the other wrestlers when I could as time passed wishing Aasa well and hoping for her return. Just this week she announced her “graduation” (retirement) due to chronic illness and that she would be returning home to concentrate on her health.

 

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She will be greatly missed, but as someone well familiar with chronic illness myself I am happy that Aasa’s doing what she needs to to take care of herself. She was always friendly and a delight to talk to, as well as a unique, dynamic presence in the ring who made such an impression I feel like I saw far more of her matches live than the five I actually did. I wish her all the best in the future, whatever it holds.

 

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Addendum 10/5/18 11pm:

A few short hours after I posted this, Aasa made an appearance at a Gatoh Move show at Ichigaya to say goodbye. On an already emotional night featuring Aoi Kizuki’s final appearance for Gatoh (or anyone for that matter) before her retirement show in two days, Aasa coming out to talk about what everyone in Gatoh meant to her was both wonderful and heart wrenching. I am truly lucky to have seen her again and gotten a chance to wish her all the best in person, and I hope the warm welcome of the crowd and a chance to wrap things up will help her with whatever is next.

 

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3+ Years, 500 Posts, and Counting…

I considered doing a 3rd Anniversary post in August, but since I wasn’t far off  from 500 posts I decided to wait and share the regular stats along with something different.

 

Categories

First I’d like to share the same type of rundown I’ve done the previous two years.

Please see my post from Derailments of Thought’s one year anniversary for the original breakdown.

 

Last times stats, as of 403 posts:

~36% reading reviews (18% of total manga, 9% comics and 8% prose)
~28% wrestling related
~19% gaming related (13% boardgames, 6% video games)
~9% movie reviews
~6% mystery box reviews
~2% other

 

Current stats, as of 500 posts:

~34% reading reviews (17% of total manga, 9% comics and 8% prose)
~31% wrestling related
~16% gaming related (11% boardgames, 5% video games)
~9% movie reviews
~5% art reviews
~5% other

Pretty consistent overall, with the wrestling percentage growing and the others dropping just a touch in turn. As I’ve mentioned previously those posts do tend to be longer in general, so the actual percentage of my writing focused on wrestling is probably closer to half. I dropped the mystery box percentage as I’m no longer reviewing those (and haven’t been for this entire update period) so it belongs lumped in with “other” now,  and my features on various types of artwork are increasing in number so that category gets its own line now.

Nothing unexpected here, but it’s still interesting to see broken down into categories. As with previous years the final ~5% catch all category is not to be overlooked, as some of my most interesting experiences end up outside of my comfort zones and can be found there. 

 

 

Specific Post Details

Derailments of Thought is 100% a personal hobby blog, and my little corner of the web is generally pretty modest in terms of views. More than half of my posts garner under 20, and the “highly viewed” posts generally end up with a few hundred. This is fine, and I greatly appreciate everyone who takes the time to read. I’m pointing it out for context for the extent in which a couple of my pieces have deviated from the norm. I’m sharing this short list because I find the mix of subject and other little details interesting.

 

 

Here are the top 5 posts from the blog in terms of views (the counts could be off by a few, but these numbers have generally stabilized):

 

5. A Suitably Marvelous Followup   357 Views

A few years ago Chigusa Nagayo tried to expand her brand a bit with NYC based shows for the US branch of her promotion Marvelous. They were an interesting experiment, and the third and final one she ran featured the wrestling debut of Mio Momono, who I believe to be the fastest rising star in wrestling. There was a fair amount of interest in this endeavor and when I wrote these up I remember getting linked to by a Japanese blog. Why this second show in particular, which was the only one of the three that didn’t feature any visiting Joshi talent wrestling, has been looked up the most I’m not sure. Although it likely has something to do with Kimber Lee and Patrick Clark in the main.

 

4. Welcome to Shimmer  500 views

Around the time of my favorite independent wrestling promotion’s 10th Anniversary I was inspired to write a piece talking about a few DVDs from Shimmer’s run that would be good starting points for new viewers. With the number of excellent talents that had gone on to WWE (including my favorite wrestler, Kana/Asuka), I added context highlighting appearance of those wrestlers appearances on the shows I had chosen. Last year I went back to this post and edited it to add further information regarding participants in WWE’s Mae Young Classic. I link back to this often as I really like the way it came out, I adore introducing new viewers to Shimmer, and I still think the three shows featured are wonderful places to jump in to watching. This (and other pieces I’ve written) has been shared on social media by Shimmer themselves as well as others, which was a wonderful compliment.

 

3. Raven’s of Thri Sahashri Beginner’s Guide  549 views

I adore board games, and have written about several and played tons more. A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a fantastic little 2-player cooperative game called Ravens of Thri Sahashri, that has extremely interesting asymmetric game role and a hook of no talking (players are supposed to communicate what they want the other person to do through the gameplay choices they make).

The drawback of its uniqueness and depth is it has a rather high learning curve, and it’s tough to get into from just the rulebook (although all the information is in there somewhere). I decided to write what I called a “Beginner’s Guide,” both to help others and to get things straight in my own mind. I offered some basic strategy hints and walked through the rules in what I thought was a more accessible way. I state in it that it’s not supposed to be a rulebook replacement, but by the time I was done it essentially is.

I haven’t promoted this one in particular nor reshared it at all. It became my 3rd (2nd actually until a month ago) most viewed post simply by people searching the game’s name and presumably looking for rule clarifications, etc. I hope it’s been helpful.

 

2. A Ray of Light Gone Too Soon  1,095 views

This is the most recent post on this list, and the toughest to talk about. In early 2016 professional wrestler Ray was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and summarily retired. She was always pushing herself and there always seemed some outside hope of recovery and a return. Sadly she passed away last month. This tribute was incredible hard to write and felt woefully inadequate. I’m touched it’s been read so much and I can only hope that means I managed to do some justice to someone I truly adored watching perform that was taken from us too soon.

 

1. Japan Cuts 2017: Mumon: The Land of Stealth   1,953 views

Until the post about Ray this review of a movie I saw at Japan Cuts (a Japanese Film Festival held every year in New York City) had 4 times the views of anything else I’ve written. Even now it’s still about double. I had no idea the fame of the main actor of this when watching, it was just a movie I really enjoyed. I’m grateful I was able to convey those feelings well, and for the way the review was shared on social media among the actor’s fandom. Someone even asked to translate it into Japanese, and the two versions are cross linked. A cool outlier for my modest little blog.

 

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I wrote less (post count-wise) this year than in the past, but still a good turnout I think and this blog is still an important outlet for me. I greatly appreciate everyone who’s read, shared, and or commented on things I’ve written.

Please stick around for much more to come. 🙂