Ice Ribbon 12/28/15 Live Thoughts

December 28, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

This was Risa Sera Produce 2 and felt quite different than the other Ice Ribbon shows I’ve been to. All the matches had heavy comedic overtones, but it was done very well and surrounded by excellent action. The main event also got more and more serious and dramatic in tone the longer it went.

Maruko Nagasaki, Tsukasa Fujimoto and Tsukushi vs Akane Fujita, Maya Yukihi and Mochi Miyagi  started the show. The announcers (including retired wrestler Mio Shirai) did live commentary through most of the show, which worked well given the lighter tone. I was a bit lost here, as they was some stipulation affecting when pinfalls could be counted I didn’t follow since I can’t speak Japanese. But it was easy to catch the gist thanks to facial expressions and body language of the wrestlers (particularly Fujimoto). Good action too, making this a strong opener.

Next up was a Cell Phone Destruction Tag Match with Miyako Matsumoto and Neko Nitta vs Hamuko Hoshi and Yuka. Yep, a match where the loser of the fall has their cell phone destroyed. See what I mean about comedic overtones. A second stipulation was added shortly before the show that if the match went to any kind of no contest, it was Risa Sera’s phone that would be destroyed. I had been questioning why the four involved wouldn’t just agree to a double countout or to run out the clock to save their own phones at Risa’s expense, and to my delight the always entertaining Miyako Matsumoto seemed to propose just that to start the match. All four began posing and stretching for a couple of minutes, until Risa came out to plead her case. Again I didn’t catch what was said, but the general effect was turning everyone on Miyako and the match began in earnest.

This was a highly entertaining back and forth match, with a nice underlying story of Miyako increasingly getting on her partner’s nerves and causing Neko grief until the latter breaks up Miyako’s apparent pin victory and feeds her to their opponents.

Injured wrestler Kurumi was brought out with hammers for the destruction ceremony, complete with ten bell salute for Miyako’s phone. Miyako suitably freaked out as her beloved phone was destroyed, including her opponents getting a couple of hammer shots in when Kurumi was finished. Although I generally prefer straight up wrestling, the humorous stuff can be fantastic when done right. It was done perfectly here. Miyako in particular is a master of it.

The main event was a 60-minute Four Seasons Ironman Match featuring Risa Sera. Her opponent changed after each decision, and they all brought some sort of season related weapon with them. This match had everything, including numerous intense brawls through the crowd (and outside the building a couple times).

Risa’s opponents were Tsukushi, Isami Kodaka (twice), Hamuko Hoshi, Yuko Miyamoto (twice), Neko Nitta, Akane Fujita, Tsukasa Fujimoto, and Mochi Miyagi. Weapons ranged from pollen filled balloons to buckets of snow to a barbed wire baseball bat. One of the more amusing sequences was Akane Fujita dumping igakuri all over the ring as her “weapon,” then Tsukasa Fujimoto coming in next with a broom and calmly using it to sweep all the igakuri away before attacking Risa.

The first half or so of the match was heavy comedy, but still emphasized Risa’s resiliency and had good wrestling related spots worked in. As the match went on the live commentary dropped away and things got a lot more serious, leading  to a great finishing sequence with Risa fighting off Isami Kodaka as time wound down.

It’s been an adjustment to me to have some match types where the results aren’t meant to matter, and this was ridiculously lopsided. But it wasn’t meant to be serious until the end, when it became a testament to Risa’s toughness anyway. As a friend told me, “It’s not about the winning and losing, it’s about the journey.” This was a hell of a journey for Risa, and she had numerous bumps and bruises (including a nasty one on the left side of her face) illustrating it.

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Overall this was another fantastic show from Ice Ribbon, and Risa really outdid herself. That the roster can put on numerous shows with such different feeling and atmosphere speaks volumes about the level of talent involved.

 

 

Gatoh Move 12/30/15 and 1/1/16 Live Thoughts

December 30, 2015 and January 1, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

Gatoh Move’s Ichigaya shows are unlike anything I’ve seen before, and a lot of fun. I highly recommend taking advantage of any chance you get to attend one.

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The Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The crowd is effectively the out of bounds marker and the wrestlers will often use the windowsill to jump off of. It’s a unique format and a great atmosphere. The quality of matches they are able to perform in this environment speaks volumes on the talent of all involved.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken during the roundtable discussion afterward (during which they hand out tea for everyone).

I was outside the venue looking in through one of the large windows for both shows I attended here, but it was still a good view and a lot of fun.

The 12/30 show opened with Daichi Kazato vs Paksa. It was a solid contest that served as a good example of how the matches were worked with no ring. Hard strikes and careful counter-grappling were the focus.

Next up was a 3-way match featuring “Kokutenshi” Jaki Numazawa vs Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro. This was a comedy match with specific rule and theme, which was explained ahead of time and helpful translated for us by Honda. There was a box of props off to the side. After every 2-count the winner got to make a joke using the props. Those that the audience applauded received a point. Most points after 15 minutes won. This was extremely absurd and silly, but done well and still entertaining.

The main event was Emi Sakura and Masa Takanashi vs. Kotori and Riho. Great match. They made excellent use of the venue, with whips into the wall between the windows, splashes from the windowsill, etc.

 

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They had some fun recognizing foreigners in the crowd and had Kotori practiced her English with a speech to us at the end of the roundtable portion.

To both open and close the show there’s a song (with dancing) performed by Emi, Riho, Kotori, and Obi. It’s a nice touch that adds to the fun feel of Gatoh Move.

 

SAKI vs Kotori opened the 1/1 show. This is pretty much as good a 7 minute match as you’ll ever see. I was unfamiliar with both wrestlers before my trip but thankfully saw each several times during and they’re both fantastic. They did an amazing job within the constraints of time and venue.

The second match was again comedy based and again involved Antonio Honda and Sayaka Obihiro. This time after a 2-count the winner would essentially play charades to try to get guest judge SAKI to guess a phrase/person/etc from a pre-written batch of them. Honda was once again incredibly kind and helpful to us foreign fans by quickly writing an English translation for us before each attempt. I liked this a little more than the other one. Amusing stuff. This isn’t the type of match I want to see all over cards, but used sparingly and done well (like it was here) comedy matches can be a lot of fun and provide a nice change of pace.

Paksa and Riho vs Emi Sakura and Masa Takanashi was another great main event. I’ll say again how impressed I am with what can be accomplished wrestling-wise in such a small space with no ring. This held its own with some of the best matches I saw my entire trip.

After both shows was an opportunity to buy merchandise and polaroids with the core roster. There was also a special surprise mini-celebration for Antonio Honda’s birthday after the 1/1 show.

To cap things off, for New Year’s there was a signboard passed around during the roundtable that the whole roster signed, then it was given away to the winner of an audience-wide game of rock, paper, scissors. I was lucky enough to win this awesome souvenir (which Emi Sakura added my name to afterwards). 🙂

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I can’t say enough about how unique and fun Gatoh Move’s shows at this venue were. Definitely a highlight of my time in Japan.

Arcade Block December 2015 Review

December 2015’s Arcade Block is here, as always in its awesome retro NES style box.

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The product of the month is a Titans figure set from The Last of Us. I haven’t played it so this does nothing for me, but they look good and will make a nice gift. The Pirate Cats in Space mini-notebook is an amusing novelty.

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Now we get into the stuff that wowed me personally. I’m a huge retro fan and the Space Invaders Tin Bank in the shape of an old style arcade cabinet is exactly the type of thing I love to see in these boxes. The Street Fighter V patch is another nice inclusion.

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The real centerpiece this month though is Classic Console Casino Cards. This is a great deck with the Mario themed Arcade Block logo on the backs, four classic properties chosen for the suits with great art on the ace and face cards, and a fifth classic favorite used for the jokers.

The T-Shirt this month is a nice design for Just Cause 3.

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Conclusion

Arcade Block continues to knock it out of the park month after month both in terms of quality and variety. This easily remains my favorite mystery box.

JWP 12/27/15 Live Thoughts

December 27, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

My second (and final) JWP show of the trip was their annual year end show Climax. It was at Korakuen Hall (still surreal to me to actually be there) and seemed to draw a crowd similar in size to the Stardom event. The big lures of the card were Kayoko Haruyama’s retirement and a huge tag title match between the Jumonji Sisters (c) and Best Friends.

 

Ray came out at the beginning to announce she would not be competing on the show due to injury. Shame. She’s a great wrestler, and I hope she recovers soon. The show opened with a pair of decent matches in KAZUKI, Leon and Megumi Yabushita vs Rabbit Miyu, Raideen Hagane and Yako Fujigasaki and Hanako Nakamori vs Kyoko Kimura.

The matches relating to Kayoko Haruyama‘s retirement began as she and Tsubasa Kuragaki faced Command Bolshoi and Kaori Yoneyama. This was an intense, competitive tag match and a suitable penultimate appearance for Haruyama. I was extremely lucky to catch the last four matches of her career during my trip.

The Haruyama Battle Royal was a perfect balance of tribute, competetion, and comedy. All the competitors were dressed as Haruyama, and she’s had enough different looks over time that there was a lot of variety in the costumes. My favorite was worn by someone who is also one of my favorite wrestlers, Aoi Kizuki.

Everyone was clearly having a lot of fun and there were numerous clever spots that took advantage of both the format and the wrestler they were paying tribute to. Several dogpile pins and Misaki Ohata taking out a towel to make a soft landing for her attempt at Haruyama’s trademark legdrop were among the highlights. Rabbit Miu won with a fantastic counter or an attempted slingshot into the ring from the apron by Leon where Rabbit simply shoved Leon mid-move to send her flying to the floor. This was tremendously fun.

The most anticipated match of  my trip was next, and the tag title match between the Jumonji Sisters (DASH Chisako and Sendai Sachiko) (c) and Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima and Tsukasa Fujimoto) did not disappoint.

I’d only seen the Jumonjis and Arisa once before, but that was enough to know how good they are and what they’re capable of. As I’ve mentioned several times in recent blogs, Tsukasa Fujimoto is one of the most consistently incredible wrestlers on the planet. Put the four of them together and you get magic.

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They threw everything they could at each other for fifteen action packed minutes, including a variety of innovative and impressive double teams. This was exactly the fantastically worked, logical, and wowing spectacle I wanted, ending in a huge title change to boot. Easily one of the top five matches I saw, if not the best.

Earlier partners faced off in the main event of Kayoko Haruyama vs Tsubasa Kuragaki. Hard hitting contest that was a suitable send off for Haruyama and a great way to end the show.

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JWP Climax 2015 was one of the best shows of my trip, with a great undercard that made made good use of the Haruyama tribute matches and a pair of fantastic matches on top.

 

Reina 12/26/15 Live Thoughts

December 26, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

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After an exhibition dark match and some singing and dancing, the first official match was Rina Yamashita vs Aria Sapphire. Rina continues to shine in the outings I’ve seen her in, and looked good in a relatively straight-forward opener.

Hamuko Hoshi and Masa-ko Takanashi vs Haruka Kato and Koharu Hinata, and Saori Anou and Yuna Manasa vs Maki Natsumi and Tae Honma were a pair of fine tag matches, although the comedy spots in the former weren’t my cup of tea. Nothing spectacular, but decent work from all eight wrestlers.

I’d seen Hanako Nakamori and Makoto team at a JWP event, and have to admit they looked much better there than here vs Gabai-jichan and Yako Fujigasaki. This is where the presentation of REINA detracts from the matches, as Gabai-jichan’s general gimmick, him constantly trying to look up Makoto’s skirt, the costumes, the teddy bear attacks, etc all added up to too much nonsense and impaired the potential of the talents involved. I found some of it amusing, but as a whole this was disappointing.

Aja Kong vs Konami was a largely one-sided ten-minute affair. Konami got to show resilience and fire, but the outcome was never in any doubt and I’d like to see what she can do in a more even contest. Good for what it was.

I believe the REINA World Women’s Title Match between Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) and Maki Narumiya was originally advertised as the main event, and honestly should have been. Even the ring announcer seemed to be going off old notes, as it was announced as the main instead of the semi-final. Tsukasa Fujimoto is incredible, and easily one of my favorite wrestlers in the world. She can do comedy, but is at her best when going all out in no-nonsense competitive wrestling. Thankfully that’s what we got here, as she and Maki went to war for this title (after some early mind game attempts by the challenger). This was my first (and so far only) time seeing Narumiya, who definitely impressed. She kept up with Fujimoto and I’m psyched to see more of her work, particularly a rematch of this encounter. One of the best matches of my entire trip.

The main event featured a mixed tag of Hikaru Shida, Jun Kasai and Toru Owashi vs Syuri, Buffalo, and Mineo Fujita. Another decent battle held back by REINA’s dancing, mid-match posing, etc. The animosity was palpable but its impact repeated lessened by sideshow stuff. All six wrestlers looked perfectly good (and I’ve previously seen what Shida and Syuri can do), but this needed to be tightened up a bit and kept in the semi-main spot. Good match that could have been great.

Overall this was an ok show with  one phenomenal match, a couple of good ones, and a whole lot of REINA getting in its own way. If the approach and presentation is working for the core fan base more power to them, but I personally think some tweaks are needed. There are a ton of great wrestlers on the roster, and I’d like to see them get a better platform to show as much in the future.