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.

Wave 1/3/16 Live Thoughts

January 3, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

My sole show at Shinjuku Face was also the only main roster Wave show I managed to see: Happy New Year Wave 2016. It felt somewhere in between REINA and JWP in tone and approach. Like the Wave Young Oh! show, the lighter antics were confined to the undercard and the main event remained an intense, competitive match.

The opener, ASUKA vs Hiroe Nagahama, was mostly fine on a technical level but seemed to be lacking something. Could just be a matter of experience.  ASUKA does stand out a bit against the rest of the roster, despite efforts to blend in.

Aoi Kizuki made her first Wave appearance teaming with Moeka Haruhi against Akane Fujita and Natsu Sumire in what could have been a hint to her announcement later the same day of going freelance. She had a good showing in a decent tag match, although is capable of more than she was able to show. There was a promo after the match that may have laid ground work for her future appearances.

Sumire’s gimmick is fine for her, but I’m not digging the pairing of her and Fujita. Akane was much more impressing in wrecking ball mode in the first match I saw her in than as Sumire’s twin.

Ryo Mizunami and Sawako Shimono vs Kaho Kobayashi and Rina Yamashita was a nice showcase for the younger team, who got a decisive and surprising upset victory. Both Rina and Kaho have been extremely impressive in every match I’ve seen them in. It was also interesting to see Mizunami in a tag match without her Avid Rival partner. The dynamic was quite different, which made sense and is a nice touch.

Given what an incredible technical wrestler Tsukasa Fujimoto is, it was different to see her in what was essentially a comedy / angle match against Yuki Miyazaki. She proved as adaptable as expected and as adept at this as everything else.

I couldn’t understand the mid-match promos, but the gist of what embarrassment Tsukka was trying to avoid was conveyed, and the match ended in a double countout when her “fears” were realized. Fine for what it was.

Fairy Nipponbashi, Hikaru Shida and Mika Iida vs Ayako Hamada, Yumi Oka and Yuu Yamagata was a well booked 6 woman tag, with the younger team dominated and overmatched but making the most of their openings and opportunities. Hamada seemed limited (possibly her shoulder injury lingering) and the heel edge didn’t really suit Yamagata’s style, but it was a good semi-main none-the-less.

The main event saw one of my personal favorites, Misaki Ohata, go one on one with the legendary Nanae Takahashi, who left Stardom, went freelance, and started her own promotion (Seadlinnng) summer 2015.

This was an excellent, hard hitting main event. Avid Rival’s tag title shot at Ribbon Mania was perhaps my favorite match of my trip, but it was also great to see Misaki in a high profile singles match. She went toe-to-toe with Nanae for an action packed 15 minutes.

After the match Ryo Mizunami came out, presumably to challenge the opponent her partner couldn’t defeat. Misaki had some things to say about that and there appeared to be Avid Rival’s usual banter going on. The show ended with a birthday celebration for Misaki, Akane, and Gami, including the traditional cake to their faces.

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A fun show featuring several wrestlers I didn’t get to see elsewhere with spotlights on several great performers. Didn’t quite achieve its full potential, but that’s mild criticism at best.