Gatoh Move 10/6/18 & 10/7/18 Live Thoughts

October 6 and 7, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My third and fourth (and final) Gatoh Move shows this trip continued on consecutive after 10/4 and 10/5.

 

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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).

 

10/6/18:

This show opened with a contest between Darcy Stone and Sakura Emi. It was Darcy’s final match of the tour, against GM’s founder and the person who brought her in. Hard hitting, good opener. Darcy’s chest was bright red, and she mentioned to me after the show that she noticed the bruises on someone’s chest the night before after they faced Emi and Emi said to her “that’s you tomorrow.”  Rite of passage passed I guess. 😉 I hope Darcy returns.

 

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I have to be honest – I don’t remember Joji Otani vs Yu Iizuka at all. ^_^; So nothing particular stellar nor particularly poor here.

 

 

I go on and on about how wonderful all the 6-person tag matches are at Ichigaya, but it’s well deserved. The core roster knows the environment and how to use it effectively so well whenever several of them are in a match like that it’s always fast paced, exciting, and flat out fun. Not only was Mei Sagura, Mitsuru Konno, & Balliyan Akki vs Kaori Yoneyama, Saki, & Yuna Mizomori  no exception to that, I think this was one of the best I’ve seen. Something about the structure and execution of this one made it stand out a bit even among all the excellent matches of this type Gatoh does. The relative rookie team of Mei, Mitsuru, & Akki battled veteran Yoneyama and the then reigning Gatoh Move tag team champions to a time limit draw in a fantastic main event.

 

 

10/7/18:

This show was in the evening after  Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show, and several Gatoh Move talents appeared there as well. Most everyone that was involved in that show wore Aoi t-shirts after this one, which was really cool.

 

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Mitsuru was at Aoi’s show selling merchandise and cornering for her compatriots, but wasn’t feeling well and ended up being pulled from this show. So it was announced that the winner of the opening triple threat of Riho vs Yuna Mizumori vs Kuishinbo Kamen would take her place in the second match.

 

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I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with Kuishinbo, so didn’t understand his status nor why on Earth he’d end up double pinning the Super Asia champ AND half of the reigning tag champs. It was well done, and the rest of the audience was really into him, but since a lot of his act is verbal and/or playing off the fans knowing his act and moves it fell flat for me. Action was good when things picked up, and despite my personal dislike of the result the finish is a cool one to occasionally bust out for triple threats (Riho and Yuna were fighting over a backslide and Kuishinbo flipped them both over to pin them simultaneously).

During entrances fans placed necklaces made of snacks around the necks of each competitor. Mei’s amusingly covered her head.

 

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So Kuishinbo Kamen immediately wrestled again as the partner of Balliyan Akki against Makoto & Saki. This was fine, although again I didn’t have the context to follow Kuishinbo’s antics and two matches in a row that had heavy comedy overtones (of the same type no less) was a bit much. Good effort all around though, and the other half of Gatoh Move’s tag team champions (Saki) got some payback for her partner by picking up the win at Kuishinbo’s expense.

I was concerned for Mitsusu and clearly since she wasn’t well enough to compete she shouldn’t have, but she is a favorite of mine and her participation in this match was definitely missed.

 

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In a bit of a completion thematically of the main events from 10/4 and 10/5 (as well as being appropriate for the day), Aoi’s two opponents from those days, her partner protege Sagura Mei and her trainer Emi Sakura, faced off here. This was incredible, with the fiery Mei giving Gatoh’s lynchpin everything she could handle until Emi weathered the storm long enough and experience won out. Fantastic.

Even more impressively, Sakura had to be helped out of the ring during Aoi’s show and limped into this one, but you’d never know it from her work during the matches. Her performances were amazing, and a admittedly a little worrisome as I really hope she’s not overdoing it. She’s one of the very best in the world.

 

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As I mentioned in the Aoi tribute and the review of her final show, Aoi gave Mei her wings from her entrance gear. Mei was so clearly excited about them, and it was pretty adorable how she had to struggle a bit to get used to not tripping while jumping around in them since Aoi’s taller and thus the wings are a bit too big for Mei,

 

 

So-so undercard for me that everyone else seemed to really enjoy topped off by an excellent main event still made this a worthwhile show overall. Four days in a row of Gatoh Move was pretty awesome. 🙂

 

Aoi Kizuki’s Retirement Show 10/7/18

October 7, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

As I mentioned before, this trip was largely based around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement and seeing this, her self-produced final show. In the week leading up to this show I was lucky enough to see her wrestle several times, at her final appearances for Ice Ribbon, Pure-JWave, and Gatoh Move. Several wrestlers from those companies appeared on this show as well to see the Happy Maker off.

 

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The show opened with Hiroyo Matsumoto & Hanako Nakamori vs Totoro Satsuki & Saki. The Lady Destroyer Hiroyo’s a freelancer who wrestles most often for Oz Academy and was also in this year’s Mae Young Classic, Hanako is Pure-J’s reigning champion, and Totoro and Saki are from Ice Ribbon and Actwres Girlz respectively. All four are heavy hitters and this was a really good illustration of that style. I really liked the pairing of Saki and Totoro and would love to see them team again sometime.

 

 

Like Hanako from the opener, Haruhi Moeka is a former tag team partner of Aoi (they were called So On Flower, which I still don’t understand as a team name ^_^;) and it was nice to see her appear here. But she had the unenviable task of facing Oz Academy’s promoter and star Mayumi Ozaki, and this went pretty much as expected. Haruhi got some defiant offense here and there, while Ozaki countered by beating the hell out of her with a chain and of course eventually won.

 

 

The third match saw Gatoh Move rookie Yuna Mizumori & Seadlinnng founder Nanae Takahashi take on freelancer Kaori Yoneyama (who runs some shows under her own banner of YMZ) & Pure-J rising star Yako Fujigasaki in a decent tag encounter. Considering all the experience in match, Yuna looking the best here by just a tad says really positive things about her future (as well as my own personal taste/biases in wrestling styles I suppose).

 

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Aoi spent the vast majority of her career in Ice Ribbon before going freelance in her last couple of years, so it was great to see a majority of the current IR roster wrestle on this show. In a huge 10 woman tag the Lovely Butchers (reigning International Tag Ribbon champions Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi), Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera), & Ibuki Hoshi faced ICE Cross Infinity champ Tsukasa Fujimoto, This is Ice Ribbon (Tsukushi & Kurumi Hiragi), Asahi, & Miyako Matsumoto.

 

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This was really fun, and Tsukka breaking out the “partners as steps” spot always make me wonderfully happy.  In a cap to the running joke of Aoi not letting Tsukka do her “Youth Pyramid” pose because of her age, Tsukka finally managed to do it uninterrupted here and Aoi even did it with her during the after show ceremony.

The two rookies in the match (Asahi and Ibuki) became the focal point towards the end, end despite Asahi desperately struggling to prove herself she eventually fell victim to a trio of Hamuko Rolls from the Butchers & Ibuki and pinned by the latter.

 

 

It a perfect endcap to Aoi’s career, she teamed with Gatoh Move’s Riho, & Mei Sagura against Gatoh (and Ice Ribbon) founder Emi Sakura with freelancers Makoto & Hikaru Shida in the main event.  It was 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. Aoi herself came out for this match in special white gear that included an incredible, light up version of her wings.

 

 

The match was fantastic and an appropriate goodbye to Aoi. The traditional spot with everyone one the show and more (including Aoi’s best friend Jenny Rose, who came to Japan to be ringside) splashing Aoi in the corner was of course a lot of fun.

 

 

Emi, 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, and an absolute privilege to be at live.

 

 

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, she had a great 13 year career and I’m really glad 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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Ice Ribbon 10/6/18 Live Thoughts

October 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Being the first Ice Ribbon dojo show of October makes this a Shutter Ribbon, with pictures allowed. Combined with the special Aoi Last Ribbon show a week earlier and it was an unusual two shows in a row that could be photographed.

This was two days before Oktober Ice Ribbon Fest at Korakuen Hall, and opponents in two key matches for that show would be on opposite sides of the ring in tag contests.

 

 

Things started out with Team DATE (Karen & Nao) vs Miyako Matsumoto & Uno Matsuya in a good match with some really amusing / great counter exchanges. The personalities of all four came through and made this a lot of fun. Little touches like Miyako getting a little more serious but still having to be herself (her going from the Mama Mia pose into a kick, for example) really add nice layers of depth. Still wish regular teams / groups losing to random pairings wasn’t such a theme in Ice Ribbon, but the match was great otherwise so it’s a minor complaint here.

 

 

Maya Yukihi vs Tequila Saya was incredibly well structured, with Saya fighting tooth and nail for her big move (a reverse pedigree) and Maya desperately countering several times before Saya finally hit it. Maya appropriately sold like it molten death. While I understand Saya was never winning this match, I wish they had at least done the foot on the rope escape for that. But Maya did kick out at the LAST possible second and made it look fearsome. This was top notch work from both, and a great example of how a simple focal point to build a story around can really enhance a match.

 

 

With a special challenge match against each other set to open the 10/8 show, reigning ICE Cross Infinity champion Tsukasa Fujimoto and Risa Sera faced off in tag action here teaming with Akane Fujita and Maika Ozaki respectively. I liked these teams and the chemistry between the four a great deal. Fast paced, exciting action from this one with several really cool counters worked in. Tsukka’s team picked up the win and momentum going into 10/8.

 

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In the main event, Mochi Miyagi & Kyuuri faced Tsukushi & Giulia. International Ribbon tag team champions The Lovely Butchers (Mochi & her regular partner Hamuko Hoshi) would be defending in the main event of the 10/8 show against This Is Ice Ribbon (Tsukushi & Kurumi Hiiragi, who vacated the belts when Tsukushi had her hiatus and career reset last year).  There was a lot of tension between the impending tag title opponents, with Kyuuri and Giulia’s involvement breaking things up a bit to let the anticipation grow.

Everyone looked good and this was a solid way to cap off the show. Tsukushi built some momentum going into her title shot with a victory, but she beat Kyuuri, not Mochi. Kyuuri losing also progressed the issue with her own regular partner  Maika temporarily splitting their team because she thought Kyuuri wasn’t serious enough about winning.

 

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During the post show roundtable Mochi and Tsukushi got in each others faces, and Mochi pissed Tsukushi off so much she bailed to the back and never came back out for merchandise/photos or anything after the show. Really nice job building the feud going into an important title match.

 

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I’d have to watch again on DVD to be sure, but live this felt like one of the best dojo shows I’ve ever seen from Ice Ribbon. Interesting matchups, great psychology and ringwork, and well done build for ongoing feuds and the upcoming big show at Korakuen.

Gatoh Move 10/4 & 10/5/18 Live Thoughts

October 4 & 5, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Gatoh Move’s October 4th show was supposed to be Aoi Kizuki’s last appearance for them and thus the fourth and final in my quasi-tour of her final shows with various companies before her self produced retirement show.

 

However a typhoon intervened (which was quite the experience O_o ) and the big Gatoh Move show at Itabashi Greenhall on 9/30 that was supposed to run after the Pure-J show I saw at the same venue in the early afternoon was cancelled. Aoi’s planned match that night was a special one for her, and with her retiring just a week later there wasn’t much time available to reschedule it.

 

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But she and Emi Sakura managed to do it anyway. An entirely new Ichigaya show was added on 10/5 (in addition to the already full schedule for both Aoi approaching her 10/7 retirement show and Gatoh Move already having shows set for 10/4, 10/6, and 10/7), and Aoi wasn’t the only wrestler Gatoh would say goodbye to that night…

 

 

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).

 

 

10/4/18:

 

 

 

Things started off with my first look at Darcy Stone against one half of Gatoh Move’s tag team champions in Yuna Mizumori. Darcy’s good and a fun addition to Gatoh’s lineup of visiting wrestlers. She seemed to have a rivalry building with Yuna, and got in some good offense before Yuna eventually went into full wrecking ball mode and picked up the win. As with all of Emi’s trainees on the core Gatoh Move roster Yuna is insanely good for her level of experience.

 

 

 

I’ve mentioned before how impressive and fun it is when Gatoh Move regulars are involved in a 6-person tag match in Ichigaya’s enclosed space, and Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Balliyan Akki vs Mei Sagura, Saki, & Masahiro Takanashi certainly continued this trend. Everyone involved is a part of the core roster or regular visitor, and as such they all know how to use the Ichigaya environment wonderfully and tell a story within its confines.  It was particularly great for me to see Mitsuru get a rare pinfall victory on her two year anniversary in wrestling. 🙂

 

 

 

In what was originally supposed to be Aoi Kizuki’s last Gatoh Move match, she faced her trainer and mentor Emi Sakura in the main event. This was another great match in Aoi’s goodbye tour, and at the time I would have been hard pressed to imagine a more appropriate way for Gatoh Move to say goodbye to her. Aoi defeated her mentor after thirteen minutes of back and forth, emotional, captivating wrestling with the Happy Clutch.

 

 

 

Emi had prepared a special song for Aoi (with audience participation) that was sung for Aoi during the post-show festivities. The show was super sold out, which was great to see. Fantastic night all around.

 

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10/5/18:

It’s wonderful that this show was put together and added in so Aoi Kizuki’s scheduled match from the cancelled show could still take place before she retired. I’ll talk about that more when we get to the main event, but in the meantime she came out and issued a special challenge… to her former tag team champion partner Sayaka Obihiro!!!  This was a big deal as Obi was out with a knee injury. It was an extremely short match (under 2 minutes) since Obi was obviously still not fully ready to return, but was a wonderful way to say goodbye to her friend and former partner and was really special to be at.

 

 

 

Makoto vs Darcy Stone was the first scheduled match, and like the main event to come was rescheduled from the cancelled Greenhall show. Fine “opener” that gave Darcy a chance to wrestle a much more experienced opponent.

 

 

 

An-cham, Balliyan Akki & Riho vs Emi Sakura, Yuna Mizumori, & Cherry  was another really fun 6-person tag anchored by Gatoh regulars. An-cham looked decent in my first time seeing her, before eventually being defeated by the force of nature that is Mizumori. Emi and Cherry were clearly having a blast with their quasi-heel antics (and celebrating their victory).

Akki is so comfortable and adapt within Ichigaya’s unique constraints now and impresses every time out, on top of being an inspiration for the way he’s gone to a foreign country to pursue his dream and is making it all a reality. Riho is Riho, and if more needs be said you haven’t been paying enough attention. 😉

 

 

 

The main event was the reason this show was added, with Aoi Kizuki facing her recent tag partner and protege of sorts in Gaoth Move’s newest rookie Mei Sagura in a match that was supposed to happen the previous Sunday at Gatoh’s cancelled Greenhall show. In a bit of a parallel with Aoi’s mentor Emi putting her over in their final singles match the day prior, Aoi put Mei over here giving the rookie a huge win.

The match itself was excellent, and I certainly understand all the hype arising around Mei. As I mentioned about the very first time I saw her wrestle (at Pure-J days prior to this), she very clearly “gets it” and seems to have natural instincts for wrestling in terms of drawing the audience into her matches and making maximum use of her skills and charisma. This was just as fitting a Gatoh Move goodbye to Aoi as her match with Emi would have been, and was a wonderful “passing the torch” moment.

 

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But the night’s emotional goodbyes weren’t limited to Aoi. A few days before this show Aasa, who had withdrawn from wrestling at the end of December 2017 due to what turned out to be chronic illness, announced she would not be returning and her retirement became official. She appeared at this show to say goodbye and greet the fans one last time, and it was nice to be able to thank her for her time in wrestling and wish her well in whatever lies ahead.

 

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So this was a pair of heavily emotional shows, on top of being some of the best wrestling-wise I’ve ever seen in Ichigaya. A wonderful, special couple of nights.

After Hours Volume 3 Review

“This is a scene that will only ever exist here… and we made it ourselves!”

Past some major concerns and milestones and seemingly comfortable, Emi and Kei’s focus shifts to preparing for their dream event.

 

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This is the final installment of After Hours, and it serves as a fitting endcap to the story of Emi and Kei’s romance all in all. The rave event was extremely well done, with things progressing well and retaining the feel of the previous volumes I adored so much.

However towards the end things felt more constructed, which is understandable but one of the wonders of this tale was how natural and real things felt. A recurring theme in manga I don’t care for is used and it starts to feel like the characters are acting in certain ways to serve the story, instead of the story arising from their personalities and actions. There were a couple of points where I felt the characters had easier outs than what they actually did/said, and the emotions and motivations behind those choices weren’t as well developed or explained as in the previous volumes.

That said, a third of this volume being a slight step down from the lofty heights of the rest of the series still leaves this as a great read overall. In my review of volume 2 I said this short manga was becoming something special, and that opinion stands in retrospect.

Wave 10/1/18 Live Thoughts

October 1, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Third in my quasi-tour of Aoi Kizuki’s final shows with various companies as she approached her retirement was a weekday Wave. Smaller audience than I’m used to for shows I’ve seen from other companies at Shinkiba 1st Ring, but it was still an excited crowd and I also lucked into running into a friend and getting to watch the show together.

 

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First up was Miyuki Takase vs Yuki Miyazaki. Miyuki is a promising wrestler from the Actwres girlZ promotion who’s in her second year, and looked good when on offense here. To be honest, Miyazaki’s style of comedy isn’t really my style so as happens often with her matches this ended up in strictly inoffensive but unremarkable territory for me.

 

 

 

Next was Men’s Wave featuring Keisuke Goto vs Shoki Kitamura. It was a basic match and honestly too long for what it was. They weren’t quite ready to fill time for a time limit draw (so many chinlocks…), and the result was a bit bland. Nothing actively bad though, and instincts for pacing, etc will develop with more experience.

 

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Rina Yamashita & Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave champion Asuka vs Ryo Mizunami & Nagisa Nozaki was a nice tag match wrestled at a good clip (as always this is a Wave review and as such I’m talking about their Asuka and not the former Kana). All four have high impact strike variations, so this was hard hitting and exciting.

 

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Aoi Kizuki‘s final Wave match was a singles contest against Hiroe Nagahama in the semi-main. In a bit of a parallel I also saw Hiroe wrestle Mika Iida on the latter’s retirement show  retirement show back in May. This was a really good match, and I was thrilled to see Aoi get a singles spotlight like this on her way out.

It’s also great in general how different each of Aoi’s final matches with the various companies were while all being highly enjoyable. Nagisa got involved late in the match on Aoi behalf, and Aoi won with her sideways rotating top rope splash (Twisted Bliss).

 

 

 

The main event was focused around another upcoming retiree, in this case one of Wave’s top stars in Misaki Ohata. She’s is engaged to DDT’s Makoto Oishi, and this match was a 6-woman tag that seemed to be a pro-marriage team of Ohata, Sakura Hirota, & KAROU against the anti-marriage team of Cherry, Yumi Ohka, & Kaori Yoneyama.

 

 

 

Now THIS was my type of comedy. Even without understanding the verbal exchanges the intent and attitudes of the participants came through and I was highly amused. There was also great action mixed in (particularly from Yumi & Misaki) to anchor the match and its humor. This was a blast.

 

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After a couple of so-so matches, everything kicked into gear and three very different, yet all extremely good, matches were presented that made this a really fun time live overall. And again, I’m a huge fan of both Aoi and Misaki and feel extremely lucky to be able to see them wrestle so many times as their careers wind down.

 

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