Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes Review

“Mary had a Hippogriff …”

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This is a cute little book that re-imagines popular nursery rhymes with mythological monsters as the subjects. The rhymes are reasonably clever adaptations, although a few fell flat for me. It would have been nice to have a few more if possible (there are 14 in the book). The illustrations are wonderfully matched to the poems and are the true highlight of this collection.

Despite the format I wouldn’t really call it a children’s book, as it gets extremely dark at points (even by fairy tale standards). The appendix / bestiary is a fantastic touch, providing information on all the featured monsters to give context to the book and add a touch of educational / reference value.

I enjoyed Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, even though the execution is a little hot or miss and I’m sure it’s quite right for its target demographic. Definitely worth a look for fairy tale / mythology buffs though.

Samurai Board Game First Impressions

Reiner Knizia has designed a number of award winning games, including a personal favorite of mine: Lost Cities. Last year Fantasy Flight Games published a new edition of a 1998 tile laying game of his called Samurai. It looked fantastic, from concept to theme to production value. Having gotten a chance to try it out I’m happy to say it impressed in all regards.

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Gameplay

The goal Samurai is to gain control of the most of the three castes represented on the board by plastic tokens. Castles for military, Buddas for religion, and rice for commerce. Players place tiles each turn from a hand of five.

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Whenever certain spaces are surrounded by land tiles the piece(s) are claimed by whichever player has the highest influence for that caste in the surrounding tiles. Samurai act as wild cards and count for any of the three castes. If there is a tie for highest relevant influence, the piece is claimed by no one and is placed to the side of the board.

The game ends when either four pieces have been set to the side of the board as a result of tied influence or when the last piece of any one caste is claimed / removed from the board. Each of the three caste tokens is given to the player with the most of that caste’s pieces (and remains unclaimed in the case of a tie). The person with the most claimed castes wins. In case of a tie, the tied player with the most pieces in castes other than the one they claimed wins.

 

General Thoughts

While a little difficult to easily explain in words, the gameplay is extremely intuitive and quick to grasp. Yet there is a ton of potential depth, particularly with players getting to choose their own starting hands and take part in setting up the board (we took the instruction’s suggestion to do both randomly for our first game). Little touches like having some “quick” pieces that are exceptions to playing only a single tile per turn really open up possible strategies.

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If there’s one major potential flaw with Samurai it’s the possibility of major analysis paralysis. Every player has the exact same distribution of tiles they will play throughout the game. The player screens even have them all pictured to help you remember what you have left. This is great for the strategic depth of the game, but considering all played tiles can be seen and influence totals are usual extremely close, a player could not only get bogged down with trying to determine their best choice from what they have, but also with counting opponents visible tiles to determine what each other player has left and incorporate that into their strategy. We kept things going at a decent pace, but the potential for LONG turns is huge.

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The component quality is fantastic. Good thickness to the cardboard tiles, great looking plastic caste pieces, and beautiful graphic design fitting the chosen theme. Also, the modular board scales nicely for each different number of players.

Overall

 

Samurai is an accessible and fun tile laying game that is also surprisingly deep and beautiful to boot. With the one reservation that games will drag with AP prone players, I highly recommend this as a great addition to nearly anyone’s gaming closet.

Fairy Quest Vol. 1 Review

“No story must be allowed to deviate, for deviancy brings chaos, and chaos brings anarchy.”

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All the stories we know live in perpetuity in an enchanted forest called Fableworld. But what happens when a handful of its denizens want more from life than slavishly living the same events over and over?

Fairy Quest combines an imaginative take on the existence of fairy tales and fables and combines it with heavy, almost dystopian themes of societal control and rebellion. It’s a wonderful blend with a lot of potential, although this volume does feel largely like setup and that it’s only barely scratching the surface of what this comic could be.

While it’s still quite good and I’ve enjoyed seeing various re-imaginings of familiar stories, I do hope we get deeper into themes and story threads soon. Regardless, Red and Woof are great leads who are easy to cheer for, and Grimm is an instantly imposing and unlikable antagonist.

The art is stylish and vivid, given proper due by the oversized printing format. Not all of the character designs work for me, but they are all unique and striking, making it easy to follow the plot and remember who’s who. The coloring in particular is fantastic, and creates the perfect atmosphere for this fairy tale world.

Good start for a fun comic that could turn into something truly great later on.

 

Prophecy Vol. 1 Review

“Here’s my warning for tomorrow.”

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An unidentified person wearing a newspaper mask is releasing videos announcing his future crimes. His targets receive punishments well disproportionate from the “sins” he repays. A new police division focused on internet related crime struggles to track down the maniac who is fast becoming a hero of sorts to those safely behind their screens who dream of their “enemies” receiving the type of retribution he delivers.

Dark, intense stuff here. It really pushes the limits of creepiness, and its realism makes it all the more disturbing. It does feel a little rushed, as some major reveals have already been blown through. To be expected since the entire manga is only three volumes I guess, but part of the mystery feels like it should have been revealed more gradually.

Volume 1 is a powerful start for Prophecy, and there are numerous directions the other two volumes could go. It gets tough to read given the subject matter, but I’m definitely intrigued enough to continue.

 

Marvelous USA 2/13/16 Live Thoughts

February 13, 2015 in Queens, NY

Marvelous Puroresu USA had a thoroughly enjoyable first event at the Queensboro Elk’s Lodge last August and followed up with an equally good second show (despite the lack of core roster members). The third show lineup looked great, with the return of Takumi Iroha, debut of Mio Momono, East Coast debut of Kyoko Kimura, and dream match of Rocky Romero vs Amazing Red.

The show opened with a “ceremony” featuring Chigusa Nagayo addressing the crowd (via translator). She apologized for not being able to wrestle due to her recent surgery, and promised to be back in action next time.

As with both previous shows before the proper card started there was a short MMA demonstration. I still question the inclusion of light sparring on a pro-wrestling show, but they were good and kept the phantom punches to a minimum this time, focusing more on grappling.

The fist match featured the returning Lio Rush against Will Ferrara in his Marvelous USA debut. Great choice for an opener. Rush is a high energy wrestler and between this and his previous semi-main against Amazing Red is fast becoming an integral part of the roster. Ferrara also was quite impressive and I hope to see him return.

Marvelous USA did something interesting this time out that paid great dividends. The day before this show they had a tryout/seminar and reserved several spots throughout the card for wrestlers who participated. Some obviously need more experience and polish, but it will come with time. Overall this was a solid success.

Anthony Gangone was the first of them to appear as he faced Sonny Kiss. While he’ll need to fine tune the act a bit, Gangone was fully committed to playing the heel and provided a good foil for Kiss’s flamboyant and flashy character. Good action here too.

Nyla Rose and Jessika Black vs. Ashley Vox and Sonya Strong was next, and all included wrestlers were from the tryout. Good match with great effort from all four. Rose in particular is already showing fantastic heel instincts and mannerisms.

Flawless And Lawless, Willow Nightingale, and Rad Brad Benson vs. The Hounds Of Hatred (Stockade, Boo And Bam Sullivan, and Mouse) w/ The Devil Doll was a hard hitting war with a lot of intensity and some insane highspots (including a superplex to the outside!). Willow Nightingale was fearless against her dismissive opponents in sequences that highlighted what good intergender wrestling looks like. I’ve enjoyed Lawless on the previous shows and it was great to see him back with his partner.

 

Mio Momono made her wrestling debut teaming with Rene Michelle against Davienne and Kyoko Kimura. The crowd was crazy behind  the 17 year old Mio and super hot for the whole match. I’m assuming Kyoko wrestled in the spots on the card Chigusa would have if she were healthy, as the veteran was opposite Marvelous’ young Japanese stars in both her matches. Here she was also working with two of the foreign wrestlers who have been to Japan to train with Chigusa. Great approach, as her experience can only help the younger talents.

The less experienced duo obviously wasn’t perfect. There were several times when Rene had to effectively ignore an in peril Mio who was close enough to tag, and when Mio was ready to make the hot tag Rene didn’t reach out, leading to a very anticlimactic exchange. But these are small miscues overall in otherwise strong performances for their experience level. Mio made a big impression in her debut and the crowd loved her.

Ace Austin v Ken Broadway vs. Missile Assault Man was the second contest to exclusively feature wrestlers from the tryout. This honestly didn’t fair as well as the other one. No one was outright bad, but it was a bit sloppy and didn’t click the way they wanted. Missile Assault Man came across the best wrestling-wise and was amusing, but his gimmick is a one note joke that I can see getting stale quickly. Ace has a good gimmick and will get better with experience.

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Broadway carries himself like a star and has the entourage to match, but his gimmick turned my stomach. To me turning your back, getting down on your knees and putting your hands behind your head when the ref comes over to check you and then calling the ref racist when he reluctantly checks your boots crosses the line from heel heat and “I want to see someone defeat you” to “I just don’t want to see you on shows.”

Takumi Iroha and Cheeseburger vs. Kyoko Kimura and Brian Fury started with a lot of amusement. First Kyoko grabbed a fan’s phone as he tried to take her picture and took some of her partner instead. Then once in the ring for introductions she tried to convince Cheeseburger to give her his hat. He wisely decided to decline and put it on his partner’s head instead.

This match was another great example of intergender wrestling done right. I was thrilled to see Iroha back and she got a chance to shine here and show her strength against her larger opponents. A nice, subtle related moment happened when she was trying to push past the ref to help Cheeseburger and after a few back and forth attempts to get her back to her corner the out of breath ref remarked “you’re… deceptively… strong.”

Fury was fantastic and I hope to see him back. Cheeseburger isn’t a personal favorite of mine, but he’s good in his role and was perfect here as Kimura’s punching bag. Great work from all four.

Smiley certainly made the most of his opportunity via the tryout, looking impressive as he and Donovan Dijak had a great back and forth match. Smiley’s gimmick is highly amusing and he’s pitch perfect as the underdog. Dijak was allowed to stretch here and looked much better than anytime I’ve seen him in ROH. He matched Smiley’s high flying, which was awesome to see from the big man.

The co-main event of Amazing Red vs. Rocky Romero was heavily hyped before the show, and rightfully so. Romero has come so far since I first saw him years ago, and has true star presence. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he and Red tore the house down. Fun post match exchange too that sowed the seeds of an eventual rematch.

The main event saw Takumi Iroha’s second appearance of the show teaming with Kimber Lee to take on Sumie Sakai and Heidi Lovelace. Once again a nice opportunity for her to both shine and learn being in the ring with excellent and experienced opponents (and partner).

Nice to see Heidi in Marvelous and she was a great partner for Sumie, showing heel mannerisms I hadn’t seen from her before. During intros Heidi “kindly” pointed out that I was saying her name wrong when I chanted “Takumi.” 😉

Takumi and Kimber made a great team and sent the fans home happy with a big victory in a phenomenal main event. Perfect way to end the show.

 

 

 

Marvelous Puroresu USA is on quite a roll. The tryout paid immediate dividends, and the undercard was again nicely varied with a high level of effort. Mio’s debut was done perfectly and well received by an enthusiastic audience. Using Kyoko and Takumi in two matches apiece emphasizes the Japanese talent that is a big draw here and a unique aspect of Marvelous. Another pair of great co-main events topped off an incredibly fun event.

Can’t wait for the next one. 🙂

Black Detective Vol. 1 Review

“There are two types of people in the world…”

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Pushover Arata Toiro suddenly finds himself playing reluctant assistant to Yoh Kuroba, a young detective with a mean streak, as he investigates a series of mysteries and mishaps.

This first volume of Black Detective is a real mixed bag. The premise and mysteries are mildly interesting, and there’s some indication of an intriguing larger main plot at the end. But the banter and background situations is excruciating. Neither main character is even remotely likable at present, with Yoh simply an ass and Arata doing everything he says so easily he’s impossible to feel sorry for. When a STALKER is the most SYMPATHETIC character there are major problems with the cast.

In addition, the author is still experimenting with approaches to the mysteries. They’re decent, but the first two don’t really develop any of the suspects (which doesn’t allow the reader to really follow along) and the next two only have one suspect in each (which changes the dynamic and has it’s own set of pluses and minuses).

Rough start here. I’m a sucker for mysteries and there’s potential, but these aren’t characters that make me want to accompany them on their adventures.

 

EO IV Archer Model: Great recreation of a beautifully designed character.

I recently put together my first plastic model: an excellent piece depicting an archer from Etrian Odyssey IV. It was an interesting diversion, and with some effort went together fairly quickly and easily.

 

The pictorial instructions were easy to follow and the pieces well identified and labeled. I was never confused as to what went where despite not being able to read the text notes (which are in Japanese).

Some of the components are admittedly TINY and hard to put together, but overall everything fit nicely. Joints are a little loose and come apart when trying to pose, but once in place and balance they hold well.

There a couple of different hairpieces and faces to fine tune the look you want. Although in this case I had a hard time telling the difference between the faces – seems to be very slight eye variations only.

I love the color scheme they chose and it looks just like the character. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with these types of models, but the use of various colored pieces to provide a complete, good looking model without painting is fantastic.

Some painting will be required to get it to look just like the box/picture, but again it looks great as is and there is a painting color guide provided for those who wish to “finish” the model.

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I might paint it eventually but am very happy with how it came out it as is. Highly recommended.

Japan Crate February 2016 Review

February is here and so is another box of snacks and treats from Japan.

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As usual Japan Crate includes a booklet / mini-manga that explains what everything is and has various additional content.  The Premium bonus item this month is Mini Ramen Bowl plastic toys. Detailed and amusing. As a little unlisted bonus, my box contained a few green tea KitKats. I’ve had them before and love them so this was a pleasant surprise inclusion.

Now let’s look at the other edibles.

The Excellent

Gummies and soda flavored candies continue to be my favorites, and I got a couple of each this month. Yaokin Budou Grape Gummies (a Premium exclusive) have a nice texture and the taste of grape juice. Twinbo Drink Gummies have a great sour taste with two of four flavors (cola, ramune, lime and lemon) per piece.

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Coris Grape and Soda Kajirittyo is more of the wonderful taffy candy that has the consistency of gum but dissolves. We need candy like this in the US.  Toppu Trio Gum are individually wrapped soft sticks of gum in cola, cider and grape flavors.

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Petit Pastel Ice Cream Cookies & Chocolate are tiny candy covered wafers with a chocolate shell shaped to look like ice cream cones and dishes. Amusing and delicious.

The Decent

Super Lemon hard candies have three layers of varying intensity of lemon flavor. Yaokin Moguchuu Strawberry are decent taffy-type candy.

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Chip Star Norishio corrects my complaint from last month’s crate, as Seaweed and Salt is definitely not a potato chip flavor common to the US. They were quite good too. 

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This month’s Premium Crate’s drink is Ramune. Being it’s been included before and I’m quite familiar with it in general it would have been nice to get one of the more unusual possible flavors they had, but regardless original is still a pretty tasty drink.

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The DIY Kit was Heart Ltd. Oekaki Choco, which makes a chocolate lollipop with little crunchy candies throughout. I skipped painstakingly arranging the candies into patterns, which had no impact on the taste. 😉

 

The Meh

Nericcho Soft Cider/Strawberry Cones were listed as a “Shipping Bonus” for all crates, but given the Original tier only had 3 items this time it really just brought the count back to expected for anything above mini. The idea here was fine, with a powder mix to make a foam candy to put into mini ice cream cones. Unfortunately the cones were beyond stale, making this worthless.

Conclusion

 

Despite receiving my first stale item in any of my boxes, this month got back on track overall with the kind of unusual, diverse, and tasty snacks I look for from Japan Crate.

Japan Trip 2015: Top 5 Matches (Live)

I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2015 / start 2016, during which I saw 17 shows from 8 promotions with 84 matches featuring 144 wrestlers. The vast majority of it was extremely good, so it was VERY difficult to cull down to 5 or so matches. There are a lot of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here.

Match reviews copied from my show specific blogs when possible.

Honorable mentions:

Paksa and Riho vs Emi Sakura and Masa Takanashi

This was another great main event in a series of them from Gatoh Move. What helped set this one apart is that it was at their Ichigaya location. I’m incredibly impressed with what they can accomplish 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.

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Miyako Matsumoto and Risa Sera vs Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yuhiki

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This match was scheduled to be Miyako Matsumoto and Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Azure Revolution (Risa Sera and Maya Yukihi). I was looking forward to seeing two of my favorites team against an established duo, but it wasn’t to be (and I have no complaints about how things turned out). As the match started Miyako got the mic and apparently had some complaints about teaming with Tsukka. She grabbed Risa and rebooked the match herself through force of will and it became Miyako Matsumoto and Risa Sera vs Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yukihi. Classic Miyako and it led to a ton of amusing moments. Tsukasa’s face when Miyako offered her the traditional pre-match handshake after ditching her was priceless. Tsukka’s incredible in every aspect of pro-wrestling and it was a treat to see her so many times during my trip.

There was an ongoing stipulation where the ring announcer would state a letter, and pinfalls could only be attempted after a move starting with it. One of the highlights of it was Tsukasa and Maya pulling out Miyako’s own Mama Mia on her, then an irate Miyako retaliating with Super Mama Mia once the letter changed. Miyako was easily one of the most entertaining parts of my trip, as she knows exactly how to work her gimmick for maximum effect and amusement. Her running laps around the ring in excitement as a victory celebration (with Tsukasa trying to trip her on each pass until successful) was magnificent.

 

Top 5:

 

5. Stardom Title: Meiko Satomura (c) vs Io Shirai

This was fantastic, with highlights that included Io performing an INSANE moonsault off of a staircase overhang, and of course the end which saw Stardom’s biggest star capturing their main title from an outsider.

 

4. REINA World Women’s Title Match between Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) and Maki Narumiya

This was originally advertised as the main event of its show, 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.

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Thankfully that’s what we got here, as she and Maki went to war for the REINA title (after some early mind game attempts by the challenger). This was my first (and likely only) time seeing Narumiya, who definitely impressed. She kept up with Fujimoto brilliantly and it’s a shame she’ll be retiring soon.

 

3. Arisa Nakajima vs Kayoko Haruyama

Simply phenomenal. They beat the high holy hell out of each other, with forearm shots that thundered through the crowd. Haruyama’s guillotine leg drop from the top rope with Arisa standing on the second is one of the most brutal looking moves I’ve seen, and I was totally marking out for every German suplex variation they threw at each other. Was extremely lucky to have seen a few of Haruyama’s last matches, and Arisa was everything I’d heard and more.

 

 

1 (tie). JWP Tag Title Match: Jumonji Sisters (c) (Dash Chisako and Sendai Sachiko) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto and Arisa Nakajima)

This was perhaps the most anticipated match of my trip, and it 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 incessantly, 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. Would have easily been alone on top as my favorite match of the trip, if not for Best Friends tearing it up in another title match on a later show.

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1 (tie). Ice Ribbon Tag Title Match: Best Friends (c) (Tsukasa Fujimoto and Arisa Nakajima) vs Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata and Ryo Mizunami)

In addition to my adoration of Best Friends I am likewise a huge fan of Misaki Ohata, so was VERY excited for this tag title match at Ribbonmania.  It was as excellent as expected, and is neck and neck with Best Friends vs Jumonji Sisters as my favorite match of my trip.

 

 

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I  was blessed to have such a great opportunity to visit Japan and see so much phenomenal wrestling. I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at the best of the best.

Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/16 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

The last show I saw before returning to the US was by Tokyo Joshi Pro. It wasn’t exactly my ideal way to end the trip.

I will start by admitting I am definitely not their target audience. The show was generally more about extra curricular activities and angles than the wrestling, and a good chunk of the action was extremely basic. The rest of the crowd was quite into the show, but even judging it on what it’s meant to be I personally felt they could have done better in a lot of respects. That said, there were also highlights and sparks of potential.

After a lengthy period of announcements, introductions, and angle advancement, the show started with Yu vs Nodoka Onesan. Well, after singing and dancing ring entrances that is. The match itself was kept very short, which probably wasn’t a bad idea for a double debut. They did ok, but did obviously miss a couple of spots.

I’m going to be brutally honest here – the second match felt like the longest 10 minutes of my life. The 3-Way Match between Nonoko, Hyper Misao, and MIZUHO went 9:45 minutes in match time, but the first third of it consisted of Misao on the mic seeming to stress heroic virtues while her opponents flaunted their respective chosen best features (Nonoko’s breasts and MIZUHO’s rear) behind her back. It just went on and on and on.

When she noticed and got angry the “wrestling” started, which consisted of offense exclusively based around ramming people’s heads into the aforementioned body parts. I don’t mind fanservice or sexual overtones when used well and sparingly, but by the third or forth variation each with little else it lost any humor and/or effect it had. Misao swinging Nonoko headfirst into MIZUHO from behind with MIZUHO on all fours and making aroused faces upon impact also goes a bit too far for me. Their audience enjoyed it, but I feel they could have chopped this whole thing in half without disappointing the fans who liked it and spared fans like me some eye rolling repetitiveness.

Rika Tatsumi and Marika Kobashi vs Erin and Azusa Takigawa was up next, and featured an array of easily identifiable stereotypical characters. We break again in the middle of the match for Azusa Takigawa to get a mic and decide to do running commentary from the apron. At least it fit her reporter character and seemed somewhat amusing. Action was good, if generally basic, but again as I was getting into things a spot would be noticeably blown taking me right back out. Rest of the crowd didn’t mind though. They reacted to a sequence of weak machine gun chops in the corner like they were watching Kobashi.

NOTE: at this point we were closing in on an hour and a half into the show with less than 25 minutes of match time (and keep in mind “match time” included lengthy impromptu promos and posing). Felt like I was suffering through a RAW taping.

Candice LeRae and Yuka Sakazaki took things up a bit during their match. There was still some goofiness, and a somewhat clever spot on the stage involving a string of balloons took them WAY too long to set up, but this was decent. Candice is solid and it was nice to see her in Japan, and Yuka did well and showed potential.

KANNA looked good in a short match against Ai Shimizu. It was my first time seeing either and I’d like to see what they could do with more time.

The semi-main was Saki Akai vs Poison Akane Miura, and it was easily the match of the night. This was a perfect example of how to do unrealistic elements and goofiness right, while still having great action. Muira’s manager, Poison Julie, has incredible presence and charisma and makes the absurdity of him using MAGICAL POWERS to distract / hinder Muira’s opponent enjoyable. Intense battle and good work from all parties, and a glimpse of what the whole show could have conceivably been with tightening and tweaking. Akai in particular was excellent, and I’d love to see more of her work.

In the main event Miyu Yamashita faced Shoko Nakajima to determine TJP’s first Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion. The video package shown hyping the match seemed to decently build up both contenders, but it was longer than any match outside of the one it was promoting. Simply ridiculous. Also, given the idol presentation and nature of the promotion, I thought only having one of the two participants sing and dance during her entrance pretty blatantly gave away the winner.

I’m glad they gave proper time to the main event, but I found the early part boring. They were trying hard but the sense of competition was missing and it felt like a sequence of moves rather than a match. It picked up significantly about halfway through though and ended up a suitable way to crown their inaugural champion.

 

This is a hard show to review. Their audience LOVED it. They were hot throughout, throwing steamers for nearly everyone, and excited. However I think that all could have been preserved while improving the show dramatically by addressing pacing issues. And some of the wrestlers just need more polish, which they’ll get with time.

Tokyo Joshi Pro knows it niche and plays to them extremely well, but there’s a lot of untapped potential they could also capitalize on if they wanted. I would certainly enjoy their shows more as a whole if they did.