Escape the Crate: Circus Heist Game Review

I adore the escape game phenomenon, and the home game variations it inspired including the excellent Exit series.

A subscription box service version called Escape the Crate came to my attention, and here’s a SPOILER FREE look at my first experience with them.

The subscription service delivers a new “crate” every other month. Some of their “retired” (past) boxes are available for individual purchase (at a higher price than getting them blind as they come out through the subscription). It’s nice to have the option to pick up old ones, and makes sense to offer them as possible given the effort that goes in putting this type of experience together.

The box for Escape the Circus Heist contained an introductory letter directing the player to a required website, a few props, several cards, envelopes, and sheets for the puzzles, and a dedicated sheet to be cut up and written on that can be reprinted (so the other elements remain undamaged and the box can be reset/replayed). There are also a number of puzzle and theme related elements printed on the inside of the box itself, which is a wonderful, immersive touch.

I was a little trepidatious about the required internet aspect but it really adds to the experience. Most of the actual puzzle elements are in the box, with the website providing setup, story, and hints (if wanted). It allows the game to be deeper and more fully formed and makes it very clear at any point which items are in play. There are also extra touches like recordings of the framing elements to play if preferred to reading them.

Every visited page is password protected, with general pages for the box being played requiring a password given in the introductory letter and puzzle solutions (generally a series of numbers or letters) used as the passwords for subsequent pages as the player advances. It’s a clever way to do things, as it means means players can check their solutions without spoiling the right answer if they are incorrect.

Of course the most important part of something like this is the puzzles themselves. They were solid, logical, and fun. I thought the difficulty was reasonable, neither so difficult to be frustrating nor so easy to be boring. Experienced puzzlers won’t struggle with this, but it was quite satisfying progressing through. The target time is an hour to an hour and a half depending on the player’s experience, which is standard for games of this type.

The nature of this type of production model makes it more expensive than some of the other options available, but I found this worth it so far (and unlike examples like the Exit games these are resettable).

Overall I really like how this all came together, and am looking forward to playing another. 

Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 3

Welcome back for another look at some great art featuring professional wrestlers.

In Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art I talked about the wrestling centric work of Rob Schamberger. The subsequent Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 2 featured more from Rob, some of the wonderfully stark, hyper realistic black and white ink drawings of Shining Wizard Designs, and an artist readers of this blog will be well familiar with who entered the realm of drawing professional wrestlers as the result of commission requests (from me).

Here I’d like to share a couple more of Juri H Chinchilla’s pieces, then spotlight a new artist to these articles who’s a bit of an awesomely unusual case.

As I’ve mentioned often, I’ve been a fan of Juri’s amazing art for several years, and her work never ceases to amaze me.

Her Personal Sketch Cards have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements, and she’s done an amazing job with depictions of subjects both priorly familiar and not.

Sareee is a truly incredible wrestler who has recently signed with WWE and was set to come stateside in February (before the pandemic necessitated her remaining in Japan for now). She’s a nine year veteran who trained and wrestled with Ring of Honor’s Jenny Rose (a ten year veteran herself) under the Diana promotion in Japan early on in both of their careers. Last December Jenny traveled back to Japan to appear on Sareee’s Special Night, an excellent show produced by Sareee herself.

Juri’s rendition of the pair of best friends is stunning, highlighted by a wonderful metallic background that makes the image of subjects themselves really pop.

Also pictured is Juri’s representation of the recently retired Tequila Saya from Ice Ribbon, showing off Saya’s great entrance gear including a gun shaped tequila bottle and bandolier of shot glasses against a colorful background befitting the Gran Maestro de Tequila.

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

The next artist doesn’t just make art about wrestling on paper: as a wrestler herself she makes a different type of art in the ring as well.

Yappy wrestles for a women’s wrestling company in Japan named Ice Ribbon and is a little over a year into her career. She has a naturally likable presence that makes her easy to cheer for, is energetic and exciting in her matches, and is always pushing to improve and learn in these early stages of her wrestling journey. She’s heavily involved in Ice Ribbon’s interactions with foreign fans and has done a lot to reach out to and help them with things like English updates and event information and overseas purchase of Ice Ribbon merchandise.

After her debut Yappy’s personal fan art also started to gain a wider audience, and it really started to turn heads with her incredible piece depicting Ice Ribbon’s ace Tsukasa Fujimoto.

Tsukasa Fujimoto by Yappy (print also signed by Tsukka).

Yappy’s full illustrations are gorgeous. They feature vibrant colors, fantastic little touches and details, and often a real, dynamic sense of motion. They also capture the personalities of the subjects in a really great way.

Tequila Saya by Yappy (print also signed by Saya).

Yappy also did a striking Tequila Saya and an energetic depiction of Ice Ribbon’s resident bratty prodigy (and I mean that in the best way possible), Tsukushi. Amid well deserved rising fan interest in her creations, these three pieces were the initial offerings via Ice Ribbon’s online shop as both the originals and limited edition prints.

Her second batch (of course again all of Ice Ribbon wrestlers) featured reigning Ice Cross Infinity Champion Maya Yukihi, Maya’s frequent Azure Revolution tag partner (and former champion herself) Risa Sera, and two of Ice Ribbon’s rookie rising stars in Suzu Suzuki and Asahi, with more likely to come. Looking forward to it. Again the way the individual wrestlers’ personalities, gimmicks, and styles are incorporated into the themes of Yappy’s art is exceptional.

Satsuki Totoro sketch by Yappy.

Another really wonderful thing about Yappy’s art is the different styles she experiments with. She’s done some smaller pieces as thank you’s for the live signing streams including things like fun quick sketches and really cute chibi style headshots. Her work always puts a smile on my face and I hope she continues to create for a long time to come.

A variety of Ice Ribbon wrestlers and staff drawn by Yappy (picture from Yappy’s Twitter).

More information about both Yappy’s art and her wrestling can be found on Twitter.

Nao Ishikawa by Yappy.

——-

Thanks again to both of these artists for their impressive creations.

ChocoPro 34 Live Stream Thoughts

July 24, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

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

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.

Without an audience and thus not having anyone trying to watching outside, the two large sliding windows on the “back” wall are left in but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

ChocoPro 34

Mei (in her green “Lettuce-chan” costume) excitedly reclaims squat song duties… and has an absolute blast singing Bobby Roode’s theme Glorious. Fun stuff.

1) Baliyan Akki vs Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Emi Sakura)

“1+1= infinity.” – Emi Pencil

Lulu lasted until the final 15 seconds of her match against against Akki last show. Sakura pondered that Lulu could win rematch, and to make sure of it she added herself and made this ChocoPro’s first ever handicap match.

The Pencil Army stuff is really leading to extra dimensions and wonderfully well integrated humor and action. This was a excellent example of it all, right from the opening moment when Akki wiped out Emi with a superkick and nearly stole it with a rollup on Lulu.

Little touches like Emi using the camera to check her face after the second of Akki’s brutal superkicks and Mei’s highly amusing commentary added a lot.

Lulu continues to keep pushing herself to get better each match and hangs on for dear life while applying a sleeper to Akki late, but Akki pushes off of Emi to bridge back and uses Emi’s weight to help keep Lulu down for the upset(?) win. Exactly what it should have been, and Lulu’s quest for success in wrestling continues.

2) Mei Suruga vs Tokiko Kirihara

Tokiko was quite angry after being beaten by Emi Pencil in under two minutes, and once her next opponent was announced as her debut opponent Mei the two started sniping at each other big time.

So the opening face off and introductions were rather tense, and when the bell rang Tokiko charged Mei so fast/hard she intercepted before Mei got into frame and then judo tossed her in. Really different and awesome.

Kirihara continued to be really aggressive and gave the more experienced Mei trouble … but Mei managed to use Tokiko’s energy against her and held her down in a rough rollup for the win in about three minutes. Mei condescendingly pats Otoki on the head after the match in an extraordinary display of bad judgement, and gets tossed out the window.

Referee Sakura manages to pull Otoki away as she goes for Lulu ebhind the camera like she did last show, so she judo tosses Emi and then Akki for good measure. Frustrated, rampaging Tokiko is a very interesting development.

3) Mitsuru Konno vs Yuna Mizumori

After a bit of an epiphany following her match with Mei at ChocoPro 33, Mitsuru decided to approach this match with Yuna a bit differently. Her attempted talks with Yuna led to both of them discovering things about themselves, but it was a bumpy ride. Mitsuru sat down with Akki for a excellent summary discussion the night before this show.

With the timed nature Mitsuru applied to their talks causing a bit of friction, Sakura decided to make this a no time limit match. Now all the talking is done and two of ChocoPro and Gatoh Move’s lynchpins collide in a situation where there must be a winner.

There’s a great “roughness” to the early chain wrestling that felt really visceral. Both wrestlers are in a different place here and the match is quite different from all the other great matches the two have been having with others lately, but in a wonderful way.

This got wild, including a crazy exchange up against the tables leaning against the far wall and a heart stopping moment when Mitsuru slammed Yuna against the giant glass window on the other side of the venue.

Their striking was vicious. At one point they absolutely WAYLAID each other with forearms, and in a late moment that made me wince Yuna did a full charge right into Mitsuru’s Sekkai Volley (overhand volleyball spike style strike).

Yet another significant, well integrated aspect of the match with the holds and counters. Mitsuru’s submission game is amazing, and the way she continually works and modifies her holds makes everything riveting. Little touches from Yuna were equally important, like the way she fought tooth and nail every time she found herself confined and a smart detail of holding on to and pulling on the mat to help with counters and escapes.

Yuna spins out of Mitsuru’s attempt at her version of the Overdrive but unfortunately turns right into a dragon sleeper. With some effort Mitsuru fully converts into her Doragram Sleeper (dragon sleeper with a leg lace and her knee in the opponent’s back) for the win in about 23 minutes. Fantastic, hard fought match that really lived up to its potential and had a little bit of everything.

Afterwards Yuna slaps away Mitsuru’s hand… but gestures for a hug instead. She’s torn up and crying at losing, but says they’re tears of happiness. She wanted to show Mitsuru how far she’s come by winning, but after all this time trial and error today she’s proceeded at least one step towards where she wants to go, even in a loss.

The janken tournament was as usual really fun and interesting. Emi once again teaching Lulu all the wrong lessons by giving herself the bye. Tokiko played major mindgames with Mei throwing so close to Mei’s face it looked like she was trying to punch her or put her eyes out (with throws of rock and scissors respectively). Yuna faced Mitsuru again and seemed perfectly happy even if she lost again… but didn’t. In the end a calm and collected Akki beat Lulu, Yuna, then Emi to claim the prize chocolate.

Post show Mitsuru does a special cheer with everyone, but pushes Akki with camera out of participating because he’s doing the camera and she doesn’ think it’ll look good for viewers. Everyone else is a little aghast, so Sakura makes Mitsuru vs Akki for the next ChocoPro.

What a string of amazing shows. Several things that have been building tied up in emotional and cheerful fashion. Yuna even gave Sakura a hug during the end song to everyone’s shock. This almost felt like a good place to end the season, but there were two shows to go and Akki is one of the last big singles matches left for Mitsuru among the regular that hadn’t happened yet so is a good choice for next show. Great stuff.

——-

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

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

ChocoPro 33 Live Stream Thoughts

July 19, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

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

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.

Without an audience and thus not having anyone trying to watching outside, the two large sliding windows on the “back” wall are left in but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

ChocoPro 33

Mitsuru sings an old favorite song of hers during the squats, and it’s the longest squat song ever. Pretty sure Sakura’s not going to nominate Mitsuru for this duty again. 😉

1) Baliyan Akki vs Lulu Pencil

Lulu can barely breath from Mitsuru’s extended squats. And Akki was on camera duty so he’s well rested. Akki explains he’s not just facing Lulu, he feels he facing the whole Pencil Army so he’s extra determined.

Lulu rushes to start and Akki just lifts a foot and she wipes herself out, which set the tone for the whole match nicely. Akki was almost indignant about his upstart opponent.

After a little while Akki can’t handle not being cameraman so grabs it from Sakura for some first person holds and attacks. He pays for that later as Emi kicks over a submission attempt from behind the camera to aid her partner.

Every match is a progression for Lulu as she tries new things and becomes a little more effective while still approaching everything from a fundamentally different and weird perspective. Her attempt at a Vader splash was the most hilarious thing ever. She gets tougher each time out and late in the match survives an airplane spin she submitted to last time they faced. Akki became more frustrated and the longer Lulu lasted.

In the end Akki won with a mere 15 seconds left. O_o Lulu nearly pulled off a draw.

The victorious Akki is a bit dumbfounded by the level of fight he got from Lulu, especially after an equally difficult fight with Tokiko Kirihara the show before. “What is happening with the rookies? Why don’t you give up?”

“Passion for wrestling.”

Akki’s impressed and salutes the Pencil Army.

Solid, enjoyable match. Lulu’s gradual journey is being REALLY well done.

2) Emi Sakura vs Tokiko Kirihara

First singles match for Emi Pencil.

Interesting combination of regular old Sakura and her new character as she uses the cheerful Pencil Army chant as a taunt in the place of shaking hands.

Tokiko starts 100% full bore. She throws Emi all over and gets some quick, super close falls… then Sakura grabs a small package out of nowhere for the win in under a minute and a half.

Tokiko is NOT happy, and jumps Sakura then tosses her out the window. She continues with an attack on Emi’s partner Lulu (who is behind the camera, leading to a really interesting visual as we see a first person view of Tokiko choking her). Referee Akki tried to calm her down and she goes crazy on him as well.

Whether the length here was a result of Sakura’s bad back or not, it was done perfectly. Sakura survived due to her experience and her opponent’s emotions getting the better of her, having a really short match every once in while add a lot of unpredictability, and Tokiko got to show an incredible amount of fire that will be really intriguing going into her future matches.

3) Mitsuru Konno vs Mei Suruga

Mitsuru had harsh words at the end of ChocoPro 32, which were expanded into a more nuanced explanation in a ChocoTalk interview ChocoTalk interview with Emi Sakura the night before this show. Both are really must watch going into this.

This was exactly the incredible, fast paced, hard hitting war expected while being equally anchored by a well integrated style and perspective clash. It was absolutely incredible down the stretch, and pretty much the definition of must see.

After a late series of back and forth counters, Mitsuru turns a Propeller Clutch attempt by Mei into a harsh submission hold that she just keeps modifying as Mei hangs on until settling into a leg lace dragon sleeper (subsequently named the Doragram Sleeper) that Mei has to tap to.

Mei says she lost, but she had fun. Mitsuru doesn’t understand it all, but is in good spirits and says after last night it feels like she found something. It feels like she can go on to find out what it is.

Sakura says Mitsuru has a good look on her face. But she thinks Mitsuru needs to face someone else. On July 24th at 10am JST (July 23rd 9pm EDT) she’ll battle the other member of ChocoPro who has gone through a transformative journey lately, Yuna Mizumori.

As her janken match starts Mitsuru explains she slapped Mei so hard she bruised herself, she says that must have hurt but Mei is still smiling. She got hurt and lost but still had fun. Mitsuru’s kind of amazed. She thanks Mei for fighting her… then beats her again at Janken. Heh. And then she beats everyone else as well, as this turns out to be Mitsuru’s day all around and she enjoys the janken victor’s prize chocolate.

During closing comments Lulu remarked “Today I am not defeated. Today’s defeat is only Emi Pencil. One step forward.” Akki comments that Lulu seems to be learning a lot from Sakura. Heh. Too true.

In an interesting twist, Mitsuru decided to take a different approach going into her match with Yuna and meet for some discussions ahead of time to try to properly communicate her feelings to avoid the type of situation that happened with Mei. It didn’t go well. Check out this fascinating discussion between Mitsuru and Akki going over it all less than twenty four hours before Misturu and Yuna collide.

——-

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

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

ChocoPro 32 Live Stream Thoughts

July 16, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

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

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.

Without an audience and thus not having anyone trying to watching outside, the two large sliding windows on the “back” wall are left in but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

ChocoPro 32

“Today’s main event: the team who is getting slaughtered and the team that is doing the slaughtering.” – Akki summarizing the impending clash of MonTsuru and Pencil Army.

Yuna sings Girls Just Want to Have Fun and leads twists instead of squats, saying it’s an exercise even someone with a bad back can do. Given how little Sakura participants (and Yuna’s resulting targeted annoyance) I don’t think this was the generous gesture she claims.

1) Mei Suruga vs Sayuri

Last time Sayuri appeared these two were teammates (in a losing effort against MonTsuru).

Mei takes issue with Sayuri pointing out that she’s actually taller than her opponent for a change, and stands extra straight during the handshake to appear otherwise.

Of course the flipside is that Mei is significantly stronger than her opponent for a change. This would come up a lot as she was able to shrug off numerous attempts by Sayuri to apply holds, etc. The elusive completion of the bodyslam attempt continues to elude Gatoh’s resident kunoichi.

I say it a lot, but it’s worth repeating that Sayuri is improving rapidly and really developing a strong character and presence. Her ninja stuff is great as it adds unique flair while still remaining well integrated and based in the concept of trying to win the match.

At a couple points Sayuri forces Mei into splits (one using the windowsill O_o) to immobilize her for a strike. Later she gets Mei down for a hold that’s just a knee on Mei’s back while she poses. Mei’s “are you for real?” look at Akki when he asks if she gives up is amazing.

They get locked in a backslide attempt by Mei, then Sayuri climbs the wall with her feet, has the window opened, then “walks” over to it and drops outside, slamming Mei’s back against the sill. She’s doing such creative, out-of-box stuff and Mei’s excellent skills provide a strong anchor to center the match.

Mei spins out of sleeper, but Sayuri keeps going back to it to wear her down. It’s a good move for her repertoire, and again her small size and distinct style allows for things like that wild counter by Mei.

By far Sayuri’s most competitive match yet, and it’s awesome to see her development. But the more experienced Mei weathers the storm and wins with her trademark Propeller Clutch.

2) Baliyan Akki vs Tokiko Kirihara

Otoki fires shots right away saying she’s happy to face a larger opponent because there’s more space to kick. Akki is not amused.

It all leads to a different kind of match right away as Tokiko squares up with the kicks and Akki has to take a sec then decisively respond in kind to force her to switch to a grapple based attack.

Really engrossing match alternating between tooth and nail grappling and hard strikes. Tokiko holds nothing back, especially with her fantastic judo throws. Akki had to reach down for some of the fire he had in the season one match with Yuna.

Akki tires of a Tokiko flurry of kicks late and DESTROYS her with a super kick. She gets the shoulder up at 2.999 and Akki is in shock. Namaste Press meets knees and Tokiko almost gets the upset with a knee bar. Akki powers up into a pin attempt to break it.

Akki counters a kick to tie Kirihara up in a leg lace cloverleaf variation, then grabs both her arms to force the submission for a hard fought win.

Like the opener this had a great showing for the rookie even in defeat, but was a great example of how different matches can be even with similar underlying stories. This show is shaping up to be one of ChocoPro’s strongest so far.

“You pushed me today, but there’s a well there and you’re happy with the bucket.” Akki getting philosophical and talking extreme trash at the same time.

3) Pencil Army (Emi Sakura & Lulu Pencil) vs MonTsuru (Yuna Mizumori & Mitsuru Konno)

“Only for Yunamon.”

“I’m so angry. That’s all.”

Yuna looks determined even as she sings. Sakura got Mitsuru angry during the prior day’s chat, and unfortunately for the favorites today Mitsuru’s resulting comments put her at odds with the entire roster, including her tag partner. However they both still want to rip Sakura apart, so don’t bet against them yet.

In some sense Emi got what she “wanted,” as she had been mocking the duo for being too cheerful and having too much fun in their last match (which they WON, by the way). As a strategy going into this match though it might have been a gross miscalculation.

To rub salt in the wounds, Sakura comes out in full cheerful Emi Pencil mode. Lulu tries to start and MonTsuru run right by her to absolutely wipe the floor with Sakura for a bit.

I’m never more happy than when watching Mitsuru or Yuna in full berserker mode, and we got both here. This was 90% Lulu just trying to survive, with moments of her unorthodox offense and key distractions and flurries from Sakura to keep the Pencil Army in the match. And it was fantastic.

At one point Yuna pulls the mat up at teases a backdrop on Sakura, but Lulu pulls them out of position so Emi lands on the double mat instead to no ill effect. Later Emi applies the slowest La Magistral in history and an IRATE Mitsuru kicks out before 1 cursing Sakura out for messing with her.

Given Sakura’s bad back, when in Emi Pencil mode she often knocks an opponent down and uses them as as a step to get into/through the window, then drags them outside and does it again to get in proper position. It backfired MAJORLY here as both Mitsuru and Yuna recovered while she was still in the windowsill and she ended up surrounded by extremely angry opposition.

There were tons of creative moments and crazy action throughout anchored by an intense emotional core to the underlying issues of the encounter. Incredibly well done.

After a flurry of offense on Sakura by both Mitsuru & Yuna the former hits one more Volleyball Strike… for the WIN?! O_o MITSURU PINS SAKURA!!! Even in a tag match with Sakura in Emi Pencil mode, this is huge. Only Mitsuru’s second ever direct win over Sakura, and definitely Sakura’s first pinfall loss in ChocoPro (she lost one singles match to Antonio Honda by submission and her tag partner was pinned in all of her previous tag losses).

Mitsuru had harsh words for the state of Gatoh Move and ChocoPro afterwards, and said Riho leaving wasn’t the catalyst: it was Mei’s arrival. She made it a game. “I’m ashamed of the rookies that came after you. This is not a sports club.”

“Mitsuru’s job is to discipline them and be hated. But mine’s not and I’m not hated.”

Mitsuru takes control and sets up the janken brackets herself. It’s a pretty intense affair, apart from Akki who is determined to be calm and happy. It serves him well, as he claims the tourney and the chocolate.

Of note during their first round match Yuna tells Yuna Mitsuru beat Sakura because of their team, Mitsuru said no I did it myself. An upset, glaring Yuna is DEAD SILENT as she glares at Mitsuru through three ties and then beats Mitsuru with a flat look on her face.

During closing comments Lulu remarked “Today I am not defeated. Today’s defeat is only Emi Pencil. One step forward.” Akki comments that Lulu seems to be learning a lot from Sakura. He. Too true.

ChocoPro 33 will be July 19th at 10am JST (July 18 9pm EDT) and to no one’s surprise after the earlier comments will feature Mitsuru vs Mei.

This show was incredible. All three rookies looked great and are really stepping up very time out, and everyone in general was firing on all cylinders. Some of Mitsuru’s comments were especially harsh and like with Yuna’s feud with Sakura there could be a little too much blending of story and real frustration building (and fallout with the rookies getting dragged into the crossfire), but for now the effect is extremely compelling.

Seek this show out.

——-

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

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

P’s Party 48 Live Stream Thoughts

July 8, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

The future for P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party), Ice Ribbon’s related promotion run by Tequila Saya focusing on newer wrestlers, was uncertain when Saya retired from in-ring competition at the end of 2019.

However Saya stayed involved with Ice Ribbon in a commentary capacity, and after five months in limbo P’s Party would return in May as a weekly show (with of course no live audience at the time). P’s Party is a lot of fun and I was thrilled to see it come back.

Ps Party is broadcast on Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico channel. During June there was a small additional ppv price for the live viewings, but all P’s Party shows go up as part of the subscription service as replays. Now with small audiences starting to be allowed again, P’s Party is back to a two week schedule and fully included in the channel subscription even for live viewing.

I’ve been especially thrilled to see Diana’s Madeline and Haruka Umesaki as regulars since the restart (although Haruka isn’t on this show), along with other guests as well as of course Ice Ribbon’s own rookies (and a great selection of veterans sprinkled in for them to work with and learn from).

There was a particularly special guest this time around: Wave’s HIRO’e is appearing on both of this month’s P’s Party shows as she approaches her retirement.

Saya herself is on commentary.

Side note: During the no audience time period Ice Ribbon put in new lights in the dojo. They’re great for visibility (and likely great for Shutter Ribbon events as well), although do take just a little getting used to as brighter lights mean the shadows of the ropes and wrestlers are more noticeable and the mat’s a bit bright itself (the logos on the back part of the mat are pretty much completely washed out).

P’s Party 48

1) Tsukushi vs Honori Hana

Honori is a first year rookie from SEAdLINNNG, and looked good in her debut against SEAdLINNNG champion Arisa Nakajima on 12/23/19 (the only match I’ve seen in her in previously).

A little awkward at first, but they got on the same page quick. Honori impressively hits pretty much as hard as Tsukushi (who’s known for vicious shots) during an early forearm exchange.

Emphatic win for Tsukushi with a small flurry of offense for Honori in the middle. Good for what it was, and it was nice to see Honori in P’s Party. I hope she comes back.

Tsukushi’s issues with referee Mio continued as she was being a brat and antagonizing Mio (including tieing her up with Honori for the rope dropkick, although that backfired when Mio couldn’t count her subsequent cover). After the match Mio calls Tsukushi back to the ring and Yappy (and later Totoro) come out to seemingly continue to story of trying to get Tsukushi to respect the rules. Lost cause.

2) Uno Matsuya & Yappy vs Thekla & Satsuki Totoro

Preview of Uno’s upcoming shot at Thekla’s WUW World Championess title this Sunday at “Ice Ribbon in 176BOX” with them on opposing sides here.

Solid tag match that did a good job of building tension for Sunday, with strong support from Totoro and Yappy. I really like how Yappy is turning her facelock spin into a facebuster at the end now. Looks vicious.

Thelka & Totoro were in firm control late, but Uno reverses a fireman’s carry into a cross armbreaker and makes Totoro submit for the win. Nice establishment of that hold as a real threat going into Uno’s title match.

3) Banny Oikawa & Madeline vs Suzu Suzuki & Rina Shingaki

Partners Banny & Madeline faced in a singles match at P’s Party 44. They’ll make an amusing team. As with that match when she stole it for some posing, Madeline is still fascinated by Banny’s tail here.

Rina’s been a P’s Party regular since early on and it’s been great to see her develop. She’s actually the most senior wrestler in this match experience-wise at just over two years.

Don’t know if this is still a minority opinion, but I greatly prefer Suzu’s new gimmick and style to the Chirin Chirin days. She looked great here, and her sections against Madeline were a treat. Also, late in the match Suzu avoided a high kick from Banny with the smoothest matrix evasion I’ve seen.

Banny’s still a bit awkward with ring positioning , etc at times, but nothing too bad or too often, the effort is always there, and she’s continually improving bit by bit. Mid-match she hit a beautiful through-the-legs trip into a bridging pinfall attempt.

Suzu & Rina taunted their opponents heavily mid-match with the appropriation of Madeline’s batons for both aid in applying simultaneous camel clutches and a bit of showboating.

Rina pinned Banny after turning what looked like an attempted armbar taken down into a rollup. Banny hit hard, and I’m glad she was up and seemed to be moving ok afterwards. Fun match.

4) Nao Ishikawa vs HIRO’e

Nao debuted during the no audience period at Ice Ribbon 1039 on May 2 in the main event teaming with Suzu against reigning International Ribbon Tag Title holders the Dropkickers (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Tsukushi), and has looked really sharp. She’s been in several main events of both Ice Ribbon dojo shows and P’s Party events in her short two month career so far, and gets a big spotlight here in a singles match in the main event as one of HIRO’e’s final opponents.

Nice, energetic match. Nao’s really good at using the basics to build her end of the match and push her skills and repertoire a bit more each time out. Cool to get a few more opportunities to see HIRO’e before she the end of her career too.

Nao puts up a good fight, but HIRO’e eventually wins with a backdrop suplex.

This was a straightforward, enjoyable show with something different in each match and a bunch of interesting pairings. Nothing earth-shattering, but that’s not the point of P’s Party in the first place. Definitely recommend checking out this and the P’s Party back catalogue in general.

ChocoPro 29: Riho’s Homecoming Live Stream Thoughts

July 5, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

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

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.

Without an audience and thus not having anyone trying to watching outside, the two large sliding windows on the “back” wall are left in but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

Just days over a year ago Gatoh Move’s ace left to go freelance. Already a 13 year veteran at just 22 years old at the time, Riho became an even bigger star on the bigger stages she moved on to. Among other things she would become the first AEW Women’s Champion, and successfully defended that title against AEW Superstar Emi Sakura, her former trainer and mentor.

Since her departure Gatoh Move has doubled its roster with an influx of rookies, Riho’s compatriots have grown and honed their skills, and ChocoPro has started. This is not the same place it is when she left, however as of yet no one has managed to claim the mantle of successor and stand out as the sole ace of the promotion the way she did.

And so, in what might or might not be a one-time appearance, Riho returns to Ichigaya Chocolate Square…

ChocoPro 29

As usual Akki is helping with translation, and camera and referee duties are rotated between the participating wrestlers.

1) Tokiko Kirihara & Mitsuru Konno vs Emi Sakura & Lulu Pencil

Sakura’s back is in particularly bad shape as a result of her last woman standing match with Yuna Mizumori at ChocoPro 28, and in the live stream before this show she said she planned on being more of a mascot or manager for Lulu here than a participant. After her battle with Mitsuru at ChocoPro 27 we’ll see how long that particular strategy lasts.

This was ALL Mitsuru & Tokiko dominating as Lulu tried to hold on while Sakura occasionally hobbled in to help break up holds throughout most of the match.

I understand why Sakura didn’t want to miss this show, and the Emi Pencil character and playing to her back issues allowed her to tell different type of story here from her recent intense battles with Mitsuru and Yuna. Her (and Lulu’s) weak, often ineffective strikes coming up just short or being largely ignored by an irritated Mitsuru was fantastic.

Lulu continued her slow progression by holding on just a little longer each time out and getting just a little more offense here and there with things like opportune use of her new pencil tip strikes.

Exactly the match that should have happened here, with a strong showing from Mitsuru & Tokiko against a weakened Sakura & always struggling Lulu, who none-the-less gave them an impressive fight. Tokiko finished Lulu with her sweet judo toss for her first win in ChocoPro.

2) Riho & Yuna Mizumori vs Best Bros (Baliyan Akki & Mei Suruga)

Even in defeat in her last woman standing match, Yuna proved herself and was acknowledged by Sakura as an appropriate partner for Riho in her return.

A determined Mei insists on starting, and is quite fiery against Yuna. The later rises to her intensity level though and fights back to a standstill after pinfall exchanges.

Yuna tags, but Mei won’t leave because she wants to face Riho and waves off the tag to Akki. Riho’s a bit dismissive, and bangs Mei’s head against the full panel window a bit to make her point.

As expected, the action got frantic QUICK. There was a little bit of needed adjustment from Riho who has never wrestled in Ichigaya without a crowd before and was having just her second match back after not wrestling for three months, but of course it didn’t throw her off much and this was every bit the awesome spectacle expected. Hard hitting too, and in one fantastic moment Yuna lariated Akki so hard she knocked his hair tie off.

Late in the match Akki and Yuna tumbled outside and neutralized each other as Mei and Riho battled inside. Mei fought her heart out and even countered Riho’s first attempt at the double knee strike for a close 2s a couple of times, but the returning superstar responded with a successful pair of them to put Mei away.

Incredibly fast paced and fun match highlighted by displays of intensity and power from Yuna, awesome double teams from Best Bros, and of course seeing Riho back in one of wrestling’s most unique environments.

Riho objects to the AEW logo on ChocoPro’s sign and says she’s taking it if she wins the tourney. She then proceeds to storm her way through Lulu and Tokiko to amazingly face Mei (who beat Yuna and Sakura) again in the finals… and wins AGAIN to claim the chocolate and remain undefeated in every aspect of ChocoPro. Sakura begs her to leave the AEW sign and Riho thankfully agrees.

Extremely good show overall and a solid return/ChocoPro debut for Gatoh’s former ace.

——-

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

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

ChocoPro 28 Live Stream Thoughts

June 30, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

ChocoPro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world. 

This is the match we’ve all been waiting for. A special show, even among ChocoPro’s usual unique atmosphere with no ring and no crowd in the small confines of Ichigaya Chocolate square. There will be only one match, no referee, and no rules. The only way to win is to have your opponent fail to get up by a count of 10.

Yuna Mizumori and Emi Sakura have been on a collision course for over 15 shows over the course of two months, and now the pineapple girl FINALLY gets her shot at ChocoPro’s oni.

Background:
 The story thus far (pre-ChocoPro 27)
ChocoPro 27: Sakura vs Mitsuru

And here we go…

LAST WOMAN STANDING MATCH: Yuna Mizumori vs Emi Sakura

Baliyan Akki gives us an opening introduction and will be acting as cameraman and providing commentary as well as doing the 10 counts (although as there were Dark Choco matches taped prior to the event other wrestlers are present besides just the participants and cameraman unlike with Yuna vs Fujita).

“I mean business.” – Yuna Mizumori

“Are you ready? I’m ready.” – Emi Sakura

Hot start as they just run at each other with shoulder tackles. Yuna has the slight edge, so Sakura goes for a kick but Yuna quickly establishes an advantage, then uses a giant swing to set up a crab. Nice establishment of the stipulations as Sakura goes for a break at the edge of the mat and Akki reminds her there’s no escape. She turns and chops Yuna, who releases more out of annoyance than pain.

Yuna just BEATS the wholly HELL out of Sakura all over the venue as we get glimpses of Lulu Pencil, Tokiko Kirihara, Mitsuru Konno, and Mei Suruga watching from the sidelines. She puts Emi between the side tables against the wall and does considerable damage, but when she dropkicks them (with Emi still between) the table falls on her.

A little later Emi goes for a pin and has to be reminded no fall. I LOVE this detail. Emi has the vast experience advantage, but Yuna’s been in a Last Man Standing before so has a slight edge in that respect and isn’t making those mistakes.

Sakura gets a surfboard and mocks Yuna by singing Yuna’s song throughout the application of the hold.

Sakura tries to turn the mat on Yuna, but she blocks, pulls the mat up, and backdrops Sakura on the floor. Then she put the mat on Sakura, and gets a 6 count before she looses patience and just attacks her immobile opponent some more. After going crazy for a bit she puts the heavy punching bag over Sakura for 9.

Reverse crab to further punish the back and the mid portion is ALL Yuna.

The other wrestlers are torn and are chanting for whoever is in trouble at the time.

When Sakura retakes control she mocks Yuna further by taking down the Tropical Planet sponsor sign and using it to cover Yuna’s face during a hold. Yuna would later repay that indignity.

Later on she turns her La Magistral into a Rings of Saturn. No submissions here but she’s wearing Yuna down, and it was a great variation on a move that usual leads to a pinball attempt (which is also not in play).

This is all about Yuna’s wild with energy and desperation against a methodical Emi carefully controlling her periods of advantage. At one point the oni stands on Yuna’s hand and just stomps on the arm with her other foot.

Later Emi breaks out of waistlock and taunts again with Yuna’s “Yahho!” cry so Yuna simply lariats her in the back of the head, then goes into an awesome series of short arm lariats.

Yuna takes out the right side windows, then hits the Coconut Crush flying knee strike at the 20 minute mark.

Yuna ducks a flying body press and SAKURA FLIES RIGHT OUT THE WINDOW!!! Count but she’s up at 8. Yuna goes outside and backdrops Sakura back in for 7. Yuna’s already perched in the window and dropkicks Sakura’s back the second she’s up.

Mushagaishi (Yuna’s wall jump splash) hits Sakura’s knees and Sakura (who’s been practicing the move over the last few weeks) hits it on Yuna instead for 8.

Sakura counters a spin kick by Yuna into Fujita’s Sayonara piledriver and Yuna’s own Mushagaishi, followed by her own variation with a twist in it for 9. Whew. Totally bought that as a possible finish.

Yuna backdrops Emi into the wall at a brutal angle at the 30 min mark.

Shortly thereafter Yuna gets up to stop a double count to go for Mushagaishi but hits Sakura’s knees again. Sakura hits the Ice Driver and sadly that’s it.

Poor Yunamon is bawling on the mat.

I covered a lot of the action and highlights but there was too much going on for full play by play, so there’s even more to enjoy in this intense, captivating struggle then what I’ve conveyed above.

Sakura stands over Yuna. “If you don’t want it to end today get up.”

Paraphrasing/summary of Akki’s translation of Sakura’s comments:

“I want Yuna to hear my dream. Will you listen to it? Right now there’s a lot happening in the whole wrestling world. Not just Japan. Everyone’s in some trouble. Gatoh Move can’t do matches. We’ve done ChocoPro for 3 months. I want ChocoPro to go on. Yuna might not be able to understand me. I don’t explain myself. I forget what I say. I say things then goes back on them. But, she wants to make ChocoPro big. Wrestling is fun. Has everyone been enjoying? 470 people watched today. But she is the AEW superstar. Every week, more than 100,000 people watch AEW. I want to use AEW as much as possible. I’m going to send today’s match to AEW. No idea if they will see it. It might be bad image wise for us, but I’ll send it.

Yuna, if you don’t get strong you’ll be in trouble. There’s Mitsuru, Mei, all the wrestlers not here, Lulu, Kirihara, and Akki’s here too. The whole roster needs to get strong and ChocoPro will get big. We’re doing something new. Of course we don’t know what’s good. I don’t know either. If I’m on the wrong path I’m sorry, but it’s no problem. I’ll just do it one more time. And one more time. From now on I want to fight Yunamon. Stand up. It’s not just frustrating that I used your moves. I might have made it my own. Musaigashi 2. You can use my move if you want to. Use my Mushagaishi to make yourself stronger.”

“Sakura, thank you. When I fight you I think the right thing is not the right thing sometimes. Thank you for making my move stronger. But if you go on the wrong path I will bring you back. I will make Musagaishi 3.”

“You hate me? It’s ok.”

Yuna gets up and it’s time for a single bracket AEW Dark Choco Tourney. Yuna puts on her 50:50 t-shirt!

After six intense ties with everyone around cheering for Yuna … YUNA WINS! You can see the relief as she tearfully talks about the victory and finally being able to savor the chocolate after winning the tournament (Sakura stole it from her the only other time she’s won).

Going into today I thought Yuna had to win the LWS match, but it all led to a great ending even if… SAKURA ATTACKS AND STEALS THE CHOCOLATE AGAIN! O_o Ok, well this isn’t over by a long shot. Poor Yuna looks so dejected. Once again the oni hits her new catchphrase: “You hate me? It’s ok.”

But then Sakura says no matter what happened she wanted to make sure today’s show ended on a happy note, so she announces the next ChocoPro and there will be one guest: OMG RIHO IS BACK!!! Sakura worried about Gatoh Move when Riho left, but they’ve made it a year. She wanted to bring Riho back in a big show, maybe at Korakuen Hall, but this is the biggest show they have right now, and pretty much exactly a year after leaving Gatoh’s former ace will return to Ichigaya.

They sing the traditional song (with socially conscious hand washing) to finish up. Sneaky oni was going to dropkick Yuna’s back from the window during the end of it, but the rest of the wrestlers rush her to push her outside instead and Yuna gets a small moment to shine surrounded by supportive roster mates. Outstanding.

This was everything it should have been and more, with a hard to predict result that was none-the-less logical and excellently executed. Yuna never hit the Mushagaishi, leaving the question of whether Sakura could survive it open for whenever the rematch may be. And again, the extended post match happens show this is far from over. Simply amazing all around.

——-

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

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content, including the replay of this show.

Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their brand new merchandise store with international shipping!

ChocoPro 27 Live Stream Thoughts

June 28, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Choco Pro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world. 

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square with no crowd. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.

With no crowd the two large sliding windows on one wall which are left in, but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

Sakura has continued to taunt Yuna Mizumori’s throughout the latter’s forced absence in preparation for their big singles match, which has now been set as a LAST WOMAN STANDING MATCH. Just 14 hours prior to this show Yuna had a ChocoTalk interview with Akki explaining her feeling and perspective.

Sakura refrained from participation, even staying out of the comments, but immediately mocked Yuna after it finished and did her own impromptu interview with Minoru Fujita, who beat Yuna in a Last Man Standing Match when this whole ordeal started. The rivalry isn’t slowing down at all as we barrel towards the 30th and ChocoPro 28 (see my preview and story summary here).

But there’s one more show to go before then, and Sakura’s given herself a surprisingly difficult opponent in the main event…

ChocoPro 27

As usual Akki is helping with translation, and camera and referee duties are rotated between the participating wrestlers.

Mei sings Judas for the squats, this time with the phone to help with the lyrics. She’s SO proud when she gets all the way through. 🙂

1) Mei Suruga vs Tokiko Kirihara

Mei points out that her opponent is the same age as her mother, which kind of starts her off on Toikiko’s bad side as things begin.

Mei would continue in full mischievous mode throughout the match, doing things like applying a fist to Tokiko’s back during a submission hold and mocking Tokiko’s signature twist by doing it on her hair and fingers. Mei also got ample encouragement from the ever-so-slightly biased ref, her Best Bros partner Akki.

Toikiko’s size advantage let her hang in with her younger yet more experienced opponent all the way through. There was a nice extended fight over a slam that Tokiko eventually won with her leverage advantage, and a really nice touch in Tokiko being so much taller that Mei struggled to put the octopus on and had to reset and try again three times before locking it in.

As always I adore Tokiko’s use of judo and the way she builds to hitting the big throw. The transition into an armbar on Mei’s kickout was also great.

This got frantic at the end and for just a split second it seemed Tokiko could win, but the upset was not to be this time and Mei prevailed with the propeller clutch.

2) Baliyan Akki vs Lulu Pencil

Tokiko’s ref here and Mei’s on camera, which would become significant.

First ever singles match I believe, and only the second time they’ve crossed paths at all.

Lulu remarks on the age difference in the opener and that no one knows her age. So the fans in the comments decide she immortal. Akki vows to break the immortal pencil and we’ll never see her again. Kind dark for ChocoPro there buddy.

Lulu’s act gives a lot of leeway for trying new an absurd things, and they had a blast with this one. Lots of creative stuff that still provided an underlying anchor of exciting, solid action.

Akki steals the camera from Mei early on and self commentates as he applies a deathlock and otherwise gives a wrestler’s eye view for everyone to enjoy. Everyone except Mei that is (ok, and probably Lulu), who spends the whole segment in the background begging for the camera back, calling him a dummy, and saying “Hey Bro! It’s my job!” Great stuff.

Akki with Lulu over shoulders and uses her as a Pencil to write his name on mat

Lulu’s new moves based around trying to stab opponent with her hands pointed (as the point on the human pencil) and her super low dropkicks are a lot of fun. She slowly expands her character and style match by match and it’s a joy to watch. Akki took advantage of having a human pencil around by putting her over his shoulder and writing his name in the mat.

Late in the match Akki puts Lulu in an extended airplane spin, and it’s Lulu so she gives up to give Akki the win. Akki looking determined and satisfied with the win then falling over because he was so dizzy was the icing on the cake for this amusing contest.

3) Mitsuru Konno vs Emi Sakura 

“You hate me, it’s ok!” – Emi Sakura

Huge match here, and kind of insane that it’s in some ways a prelude to Sakura’s Last Woman Standing match against Yuna.

Emi jumps Mitsuru to kick things off, but it doesn’t really pay off as it just fires up Mitsuru. In general this was all about Emi trying to assert herself and Mitsuru refusing to back down AT ALL.

Lots of great back and forth, with an interesting substory in the middle of the match: Mitsuru was actually in charge and Emi only took over once she got into mocking Yuna mode and started copying the Pineapple Girl’s moves.

Things built and built until late Sakura made Mitsuru mad again and the latter just LAID INTO THE STRIKES. It’s always amazing when Mitsuru lets lose, and I adore the way they gradually build up to it.

But her anger gets the better of her and she PICKS SAKURA UP DURING A PIN. O_o Never seen that from her, and I can only think of maybe one other time in all of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro.

All in all Mitsuru DOMINATED the entire second half of the match, only to lose to a desperation move from Sakura who finally hit Yuna’s wall splash to both deny Mitsuru and continue her taunting of Yuna. Amazing match. This was a full bore main event the kind they could have had at any of their big shows.

The story was unexpected and really compelling, especially going into the LWS match. Sakura somehow looks both vulnerable and unbeatable, and Mitsuru looked fantastic even in defeat. In fact she’s up right after the surprise 3 count, in shock, and staring a HOLE right through Sakura.

Mei wins the AEW Dark Chocolate janken tournament (against Akki in the finals even) and blissfully enjoys her chocolate. But the real story is Mitsuru’s continued, visible distress throughout the tourney (to the point where Lulu dives under the rotating fan to hide after she beat Mitsuru) and afterwards as she refused to sing and just stood aside with a glare.

Then things got even more crazy, as at the end of the song YUNA BURST THROUGH THE WINDOW and wipes Sakura out in a blinding rage. Show ends with Sakura finishing the song from flat on the mat, then the rookies helping her up as Mitsuru again stands off to the side.

Just about as perfect a lead in show to Yuna vs Emi as you could get. Great action all around, continued development of that feud in particular, and a LOT of new potential story points going forward, most of which are swirling around an intense, angry Mitsuru. Absolutely can’t wait to see where it all goes.

——-

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

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

ChocoPro 28 Preview: The Ballad of Yuna and the Oni

Our story starts once upon a time (or like, last month), in the kingdom of chocolate and bodyslams…

ChocoPro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world, specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

In the short three months since it’s start, ChocoPro is already had 26 shows and counting. “Season 1” ran 18 episodes/shows. It featured a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances.

But an undercurrent of frustration and discontent would build in a particular wrestler, sparked by her own buried doubts and enflamed by a particular agitator.

As ChocoPro was building momentum and establishing its particular style and approach to wrestling, a special event was announced. ChocoPro 11 would be one match show, with Yuna Mizumori against Minoru Fujita in a Last Man Standing match. The only people there would be the competitors and Baliyan Akki, acting as cameraman and making the count. This was a huge opportunity for Yuna, but an equally huge challenge.

The day before the match Sakura pushed Yuna to emotional exhaustion in a lengthy interview during which she really grilled Yuna about her insecurities, both regarding wrestling and her other career as an idol. It was a stark, combative exchange that brought out all of Yuna’s own self-doubts.

Akki summarized the interview and Yuna’s struggles to open ChocoPro 11.

“Somehow she’s winning and still feels like she’s losing.”

I love that Akki made sure to highlight Yuna’s accomplishments and point out that she’s overachieving despite her lack of self confidence. She is the only Gatoh Move roster member with three years experience or less to hold any title (and that covers 80% of the roster), and her TWO tag team title reigns with partner Saki encompass over half of her two year career thus far. It does feel like Yuna’s accomplishments get a little overlooked sometimes compared with her compatriots, and her opening up about her insecurities in such a real way put this match in a new light (and was a bit heartbreaking). 

The match was incredible, but Yuna couldn’t overcome her formidable opponent.

An INTENSE post show talk continued to examine Yuna’s insecurities, with Fujita alternating a bit between antagonizing Yuna and being sympathetic and giving her advice.

After praising Yuna and pondering why they had to be the ones to go through this emotional journey at Sakura’s pushing Fujita challenged Emi Sakura to find a partner to face him and Yunamon as a TEAM.

Everything about that show was a roller coaster for Yuna but she seemed satisfied to have earned Fujita’s respect, even though they came up short in the grudge match against Sakura & Akki and during subsequent teaming. Sakura took further issue with this, saying Yuna shouldn’t be happy since she was still losing, and broke up the team out from under Yuna and started booking Fujita to team with Mei instead.

The criticisms were a constant barrage, as Sakura had a daily platform to evaluate Yuna and remark about her emotions with Akki and Mei (during ChocoPro’s non-show content like watch parties, etc) while Yuna went mad in the comments limited to short bursts of text that might or might not be read as her only retorts. It wasn’t done maliciously, but with a matter-of-factness that was none the less biting and at times uncomfortable.

Things like said matter-of-fact dissection of Yuna’s emotions, Sakura’s occasional mean streak during matches, and her power both as the boss of ChocoPro and a hard-to-beat 25 year veteran led to the “oni” nickname, likening her dominance and approach to mythical, powerful Japanese ogres.

The legitimate, heart wrenching emotion tied up in all of this overflowed as Yuna directed her anger at all three of her perceived agitators. In response she received a singles match… against Akki instead of Sakura.

EVERYTHING that had been building in Yuna came out in an incredible roller coaster ride of a battle with Akki that easily ranks among ChocoPro’s best matches against stiff competition. She had weeks of frustration to let out, he was annoyed at being looked at as a step towards Sakura, and they expressed all of their frustrations and more in a hard hitting, intense affair. It’s impossible to properly describe the raw emotion, intensity, and atmosphere this had.

They fought to a time limit draw, with Akki being run ragged and having to dig deep to survive against someone he had beaten before. Yuna demanded a match with Mei afterwards, intending to continue on her way to Sakura, and even committed the unforgivable sin of stealing Mei’s chocolate after the latter won the post show janken tournament.

However the war with Akki had helped center Yuna a little. Afterwards he expressed that he was glad he could help Yuna as an outlet for it all, even if he had to be the target. By this point Sakura had also toned down the needling of Yuna and even apologized during one of the streams.

So when Yuna & Akki worked things out and ended up tagging on the next show, shades of the old, happier Yuna started reappearing. She still had the edge that had been forming though, and was still desperate to prove herself. They fought to a draw with Antonio Honda & Fujita, and in the main event Mei had an incredibly impressive showing in a draw against Asuka.

The strong performances of both Yuna and Mei led to Sakura granting their desire for a match, and Sakura’s annoyance with the numerous draws made her declare it would be a special match type and there must be a winner.

Thus another one match show was set for ChocoPro 17: Yuna vs Mei in an ironman match. If tied at the end of a half hour, the match would continue under sudden death rules, first fall to a finish. Sakura had ChocoTalk interviews with both before the match, and they were of a more genial nature than the original one with Yuna.

ChocoPro has been a constant repetition of raising the bar and then exceeding it, and these two wrestlers with just barely two years experience each tore the house down in a phenomenal back and forth encounter that would end up winning fan voted best match of the season. Yuna managed to secure the advantage just as time ran out with them tied 3-3 and pinned Mei in the first few seconds of overtime for the win.

“Why do I still feel like I lost?”

It was a huge victory for Yuna, but it wasn’t enough. Something was still gnawing at her, which made Mei (who actually lost) irate and led to tension all around.

But things lightened a bit with the next ChocoPro show, which was a double birthday bash for Akki & Mei. The Best Birthday Bros teamed up in the main event to defeat Yuna & Fujita. Things seemed a bit back to normal as far as Yuna’s emotional state, it was revealed that Fujita was done with ChocoPro (as he had a title match coming up), and Mitsuru Konno made a surprise return after being out for the majority of the season to declare she was healthy and ready to come back.

The season length was not preplanned. However with the above developments all in one show it felt in some ways like the end of a chapter in the story of ChocoPro, and it was decided show 19 would start “season 2.” Yuna’s heart, journey, and of course top-notch wrestling won her fan voted MVP of the season. She never got her match with Sakura, but it still seemed like the story might be wrapped up for the moment none the less.

Except of course it wasn’t, and that couldn’t have been more clear from the start of season 2.

In the very first show Sakura made Yuna team with her to take on Akki & Tokiko Kirihara. After a successful outing, in outcome if not from a reconciliation perspective, Sakura would continue to make a reluctant and grumpy Yuna partner with her. She even twisted the knife by stealing Yuna’s chocolate after her janken tournament win, delighting in her “partner’s” distress.

They defeated Best Bros (Akki & Mei) after a tough fight more due to Sakura blind tagging herself in at an opportune moment to seize the glory for herself than being particularly good partners. For “fun” Sakura made a rematch for the very next show, and the volatile team of her and Yuna finally fell in defeat as Sakura got rolled up onto her partner to cause Yuna’s loss.

By this point Yuna had more than enough of Sakura’s games, and demanded to finally get her one-on-one match with her antagonistic boss. Sakura stalled and taunted Yuna a bit, but then agreed under the condition that Yuna prove her desire by focusing only on that match and thus would not appear on ChocoPro until their match, set for the end of June.

On a ChocoPro stream shortly thereafter Sakura revealed that Yuna was too fired up and might have had an advantage if they fought right away, so she delayed the match to remove that edge. Scheming oni will scheme.

In Yuna’s absense, Sakura has been taunting her at every opportunity. She sings Yuna’s entrance song to start her matches and uses Yuna’s signature moves constantly. All the while the pineapple girl watches from the sidelines, posting angry comments in the chat, doing streams herself about being free during the shows to wrestle if Sakura would let her, and sharing training videos of her preparations to vanquish her tormentor.

At ChocoPro 25 Sakura stated she wanted a winning streak going into her match with Yuna and decided Sayuri was the weakest on the roster so booked herself against the rookie (for the second time in a week). That match is well worth checking out both for an example of how much Sakura has been determined to push Yunamon’s buttons, as well as a great performance by a fiery Sayuri determined to play spoiler.

Speaking of playing spoiler, there is one more show before the fated showdown. Sakura will face Mitsuru Konno in the main event of ChocoPro 27, and there are questions about what it will do to Yuna’s quest for recognition and redemption if another key rising star defeats Sakura first.

Also, Yuna will have another ChocoTalk before the big match, although with Akki handling the interview this time to avoid things getting heated as they would if Sakura did the interview again.

This has been building for over 15 shows and nearly two months of daily content. Will Yuna finally cast this tremendous weight off her shoulders and defeat her trainer/tormentor? Will she be satisfied if she does?

Or will the almighty oni’s experience and bag of tricks prove too much for the emotional upstart? And if so, what depths of desperation will it drive poor Yunamon to?

We’ll find out in just a couple of days, and either way it’ll be a hell of a show.


The Story Thus Far

Required viewing:
Yuna vs Fujita
Yuna vs Akki
Yuna vs Mei
Yuna & Sakura vs Best Bros

Supplemental viewing:
ChocoTalk: Sakura’s interview with Yuna (Japanese language only)
Sakura & Akki vs Yuna & Fujita
Yuna & Sakura vs Akki & Tokiko
Yuna & Sakura vs Best Bros 2
Sakura vs Sayuri 2

Also watch Akki’s interview with Yuna (6/27 7am EDT), ChocoPro 27 (6/27 9pm EDT), and the big showdown on ChocoPro 28 (6/30 7am EDT) on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel.


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