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Ice Ribbon Vol. 701 & 703 DVD Review

The New Year’s show at the Ice Ribbon Dojo was the last IR show I saw during my trip. My live thoughts can be read here. This dvd also contains a second show that took place a couple weeks after I left.

Vol 701: January 3, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

Everyone comes out in turn for a few words to open the show (while IR’s standard music plays), ending with new Ice Cross Infinity Champion Hamuko Hoshi.

1) 235 vs Kyuri

I’d been previously impressed with Kyuri, but 235 hadn’t really been given much opportunity to shine on the previous shows I’d seen. Nice to see her in a singles match here. Stalemate on a lockup to start, then 235 starts a forearm exchange. Great energy from both to fire up the crowd right away. 235 gets the advantage, snapmares Kyuri over, then grabs a chinlock (almost a seated sleeper). She really cranks at it and adds a bodyscissors to keep it from losing the crowd. Kyuri makes the ropes to applause.

They fight over a scoop slam, which the diminutive Kyuri eventually gets. She hits the ropes a few times, stepping on 235 with each pass, then hits a cartwheel splash for 2. 235 tries to fight back but Kyuri maintains the advantage for a while, targeting 235’s arm with various submission holds. 235 fights off a fisherman buster attempt and hits three of her sequential running crossbodies for 2. Flying crossbody from the top for another 2. A trio of rolling vertical suplexes ends with a bridging pin for 2.

A nice judo throw from Kyuri gives her the advantage back, and another sets up a fisherman’s suplex with bridge for a close 2. 235 gets no breathing room as Kyuri immediately locks in a crossarm stranglehold variation (with her leg adding pressure) for the win. Very good little five minute match. They made the most of the time they were given.

2) Miyako Matsumoto and Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Azure Revolution (Risa Sera and Maya Yukihi)

Miyako immediately grabs a mic and seems to be complaining about her partner. I missed it live, but she points to a camera at ringside (that followed her around during and after the show) and her objection seems to have something to do with that. She then clearly insults a “shocked” Tsukka as the other team cracks up. Miyako then grabs Risa Sera and declares them teammates, leaving Maya to join the abandoned Tsukka. Highly amusing. Miyako’s a force of nature. It’s cool that this was easy to follow even without speaking Japanese / understanding Miyako’s statements. 

So our new match is:

2) Miyako Matsumoto and Risa Sera vs Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yukihi

 The way the other three competitors sell bemusement at living in Miyako’s reality is fantastic, as is Tsukka’s expression when Miyako offers her the prematch handshake. Azure Revolution squares off to start with a test of strength, which is even until Risa breaks it to crank the arm and send Maya off the ropes. Shoulderblock collision and nobody budges. Second and the same. They both hit the ropes for the third, and Risa sends Maya down, but Maya back up quickly for another stalemate then Maya returns the favor and finally levels Risa. Crowd’s appreciative and they both tag out.

Tsukka looks ready to kill Miyako and the latter doesn’t help matters by repeatedly shoving Tsukka. They lock up and proceed to trade hammerlocks, taunting and jawing at each other the entire time. Tsukka ends that with a side headlock takeover, Miyako headscissor counter, Tsukka kips up out of that and they square off to applause. Miyako poses and nods, while Tsukka shoots her opponent a disbelieving look as if Miyako is trying the very limits of her patience and good nature. Indeed Tsukka foregoes the lockup to just kick Miyako in the midsection and whips her into the corner. Running forearm from Maya, then Tsukka directs her to cut off Risa and nails a running dropkick on Miyako in the corner.

The bell rings and the match’s stipulation takes effect, as a letter is announced and pinfalls can only be attempted after a move starting with that letter. Tsukka freezes as she pauses to think and Miyako runs out of the corner with a double chop for 2. Tsukka snapmares Miayko and hits a hard kick to her back, then locks in a camel clutch, aims Miyako at her cameraman on the outside, and pulls back Miyako’s nose to mock her. Miyako objects loudly. Tsukka just beats on Miyako for a bit, including choking her against the ropes. But it’s Miyako, and Miyako continues to whine as Tsukka does it, so the crowd cheers.

Miyako down in the corner and Tsukka sets up for a running move, but the bell sounds again and the momentary pause by Tsukka gives Miyako an opening to hit another running double chop for 2. Great spot as Miyako called out a different name for the exact same move used earlier to get it to count for the stipulation. Tsukka was in a similar match on the Risa Sera Produce show and showed the same trouble there for this type of improvising. It’s a nice character trait / minor weakness for the veteran and well established ring technician to have. 

Tag to Risa and Tsukka gets the better of a forearm exchange, then ties Risa up in the ropes for the pig face humiliation. She hits the far ropes and nails the still tied up Risa with a dropkick, but her cover doesn’t count. Tsukka calls for the next letter, and again thinks too long giving Risa a chance to get up and slam her. Risa hits her repeated running double knee drops to Tsukka’s back, but the ref doesn’t accept “Sera Risa” before the move name as qualifying for the letter and won’t count the pin. Risa calls for a side suplex, which Tsukka fights off and tries to steal as a valid move, but Risa counters in the air and falls on Tsukka for… a pin that doesn’t count. They continue in that vein a bit through another letter change until Tsukka gets a hurricanrana rollup for a valid 2, then tags out to Maya.

Maya comes in strong, but pauses on another letter change and gives Risa enough time to move out the way of a charging elbow. Hilarious bit follows as Risa again tries to convince the ref on something absurd, this time that messing Maya’s hair counts as a submission attempt. A pair of side kicks from Maya gets 2. She tries to lock something on Risa, and Tsukka cuts off Miyako on the save, but a letter change leads to tandem camel clutches instead. Nice work from the ref, who makes it clear he’s ignoring Tsukka’s hold on Miyako since they’re not legal and only checking Risa for submission. Tsukka eventually lets go, kicks Miyako out, then leaves the ring herself. Maya pauses, at a loss, then hits a few weak forearms as she ponders what to do next. Decided, she hits the far ropes but once again they’ve given Risa time to recover and Maya is nailed with a dropkick.

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Miyako in and I’m dying of laughter as she decides the best qualifying move is to repeatedly kick Maya low. Tsukka comes in to swat at Miyako in protest and the ref refuses to count it anyway. Whip to ropes and Maya comes off with a hard shoulderblock to Miyako. Scoop slam and the letter changes to “ma.” The crowd murmurs in anticipation, and sure enough with Miyako down Tsukka and Maya eventually decide to do Miyako’s own Mama Mia posing routine.  Risa comes in to break up the pin at two after the finishing double splash. Tsukka knocks Risa back out, and the letter is changed to “su.”  No pause at all this time as Maya goes up for “Supa Mama Mia!” An irate Miyako gets up before Maya’s balanced on the top, and stops her to boos. However the crowd forgives her when it’s obvious she’s going to go for her own instead. The way she always makes the ref help her balance for the pose up there is fantastic. Sadly (and expectedly) the splash fails as Maya gets her boots up. Small package by Maya for an extremely close 2.

Miyako actually holds her own in a forearm exchange with Maya for a while, then pushes the ref into a shoulderblock on Maya when the latter hits the ropes (DQs are very rare in Japan, even when refs are assaulted). Letter change to “shi,” and knowing Miyako’s arsenal I can guess the awesomeness that awaiting. Sure enough, double knees in the corner from Risa sets up Maya for the Shining Wizard. Tsukka saves. Slam by Miyako (after another letter change) and Risa hits a brutal flying double knee drop from the top. Miyako up top (with more ref help) and hits “Happy New Year Mama Mia!” doublestomp for the win!

Miyako’s delight as she does victory laps as Dancing Queen plays (and ignoring both the ref and her partner who want to raise her arm) is fantastic, as are Tsukka’s attempts to trip Miyako on every pass. Tsukka eventually trips Miyako and the ref raises just Risa’s hand in victory as Miyako pulls herself off the mat. There was more live, with Miyako posing to celebrate and Tsukka losing her patience and dropkicking Miyako right out of the ring.

Total comedy match, and another example of how good IR in general and Miyako in particular are at it. Again the humor was wrestling based and related to trying to win, which keeps immersion in the show as a whole strong. Some of this played a little better live where the “thinking pauses” didn’t seem quite as long and sometimes awkward, but overall this was great fun.

In particular the individual proficiencies regarding the match style, with Miyako mostly getting it, Risa thinking quickly but often to poor effect, Maya thinking slowly but to good effect, and Tsukka just not being able to deal, were highly amusing.

 

3) Hamuko Hoshi, Yuuka, and Maruko Nagasaki vs. Aoi Kizuki, Akane Fujita, and Mochi Miyagi 

Hoshi is opposite both the former champion Aoi, and Hoshi’s regular partner Mochi (who was Hoshi’s upcoming challenger for the belt). Hoshi and partners ambush their opponents before the bell, and perform stereo buttblocks in three different corners, followed by stereo bulldogs. Apparently Hoshi and Mochi are legal, as that’s the pin the ref counts. Tower pose on top of Mochi, which Aoi breaks up.

Aoi’s team stacks up their opponents on the mat, then Mochi splashes them with Akane on her back, and Aoi finishes with her trademark pose with a foot on the whole pile. Akane trying to do the pose too while being part of the pile is amusing.

Everyone extra exits and we’re left with Mochi and Maruko in the ring. Mochi locks in a body scissors then repeated rolls back to bring Maruko off the mat and slams her back down. Roll to the side gets 2. Tag to Aoi for some hairmares, then an exchange of Maruko forearms vs Aoi’s windmill double chops.  Maruko eventually backs Aoi up with a flurry, but Aoi power poses while walking forward and absorbing more forearms to push Maruko back across the ring. More forearms, countered with a clothesline, but Maruko moves out of the way of Aoi’s senton. Maruko wins a fight over a scoop slam for 2. Whip by Maruko into the corner reversed, but Aoi’s charge misses. Dropkick for 2.

Yuuka in with repeated running dropkicks for 2. She forearms Aoi’s partners off the apron and calls her teammates in. Maruko with a running forearm to Aoi but stays in position, then Yuuka forearms MARUKO with Aoi still behind her. Yuuka then gets into the corner as well and calls for Hoshi to splash all three of them. Aoi is cracking up at the “strategy,” safely cushioned by her two opponents.

Hoshi ties up Aoi in the ropes and Yuuka lays in some forearms, but Aoi shakes them off, reverses position, and lands some of her own. Off the far rope but Yuuka gets free and levels the approaching Aoi with a forearm. Aoi right back up with a power pose, but clothesline ducked by Yuuka, but Aoi cartwheel’s out of being spun around and hits a dropkick. Fun sequence.

Aoi crossbody to Yuuka’s midsection in the corner. Tag to Mochi. Aoi slams Yuuka, then she alternates her running senton with Mochi’s Earthquake splashes in a nice spot. Aoi counts a super fast 3, but the ref only gets to 1. In annoyance the ref counts a super fast 4 on Aoi to get her out of the ring. Splash in the ropes by Mochi followed by a quick leg cradle for 2. Yuuka reverses a whip but misses a dropkick when Mochi holds on to the ropes. Maruko in and knocks Akane off the apron, but Aoi just shrugs off the forearm. Nice double dropkick on Mochi by Maruko and Yuuka. Twisting doubleteam suplex for 2.

Running dropkick in the corner by Yuuka followed by a tornado DDT for 2. Tag to Hoshi. Mochi fights out of a fireman’s carry, and we get a series of running shoulderblock stalemates, then an energetic forearm exchange. Good way to build Mochi a bit as Hoshi’s equal before her title shot. She wins the exchange and hits the ropes, but knocks Hoshi back into a rebounding shoulderblock of her own that wipes out Mochi. Running belly to the face attempt is countered with a shot from Mochi’s whip (in full view of ref, still getting used to that) and a rollup gets 2 on the champ. Slam in the corner and a Vaderbomb get 2 for Mochi.

Tag and Akane comes in for the first time. Running forearm to Hoshi in the corner, but when Akane goes back for speed Hoshi follows and nails Akane with a clothesline in the far corner. Splash from the middle from Hoshi, but Aoi stops her when she goes up top. Slam off the top and a Texas cloverleaf by Akane while Aoi and Mochi cut off Hoshi’s partners. After a rope break, Hoshi gets the better of Akane with a hard clothesline to the back and hits the running stomach to the face for 2. Tag to Maruko, who hits a series of running dropkicks for 2. Akane tries to reverse the smaller wrestler’s scoop slam attempt, but Maruko reverses the reversal into a small package for 2. Yuuka in with a top rope crossbody, Hoshi with a lariat, then Maruko hits an uranage. Aoi and Mochi get by Hoshi and Yuuka to break up the pin at 2.

Maruko calls for another uranage, but Aoi stops it and hits a flying clothesline. Mochi follows with a Vaderbomb that sets up a brainbuster by Akane, but Hoshi and Yuuka save. Deep single arm stranglehold by Akane is broken up by Hoshi. Mochi takes Hoshi out with a Thesz press and everyone spills outside to leave Akane and Maruko alone again. Akane seems to go for a powerslam, but Maruko fights to her back then drops down to roll her up for 2. Small package for another 2, sunset flip reversed by Akane for 2, but then completed by Maruko for 2. Maruko off the ropes but runs into a big shoulderblock. Akane picks her up for the powerslam for 2.999. Sitout version gets 3.

Not everything here was as smooth as they would have liked, but it was a lot of fun, featured several story threads, and had very good action overall.

Roundtable features Aoi’s “graduation” announcement that she will be leaving Ice Ribbon and going freelance after IR’s 1/9 show and a match against Maruko. Maruko is emotional charged up and crying throughout. Aoi slams her (and then Tsukka, who tries to interfere) and does her trademark pose to “cheer up” Maruko.   She then calls everyone else in for the “Happy Ice Ribbon” cheer while still standing on the pile of Tsukka and Maruko (who are cracking up).

Kurumi comes out with a cake for Akane as Happy Birthday plays. Akane says a few words, blows out the candles, blocks Risa from potentially slamming the cake in her face, then leads another “Happy Ice Ribbon” cheer to close the show.

A lot of wrestlers got a chance to shine here, and this show highlighted both the comedic and technical aspects of wrestling that IR is so good at.

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Happy New Year!

 

Vol 703: January 16, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

This show was after my trip, so this is my first time seeing it.

1) Maruko Nagasaki vs Maya Yukihi

Forearm exchange right away. Maya throws them hard and the crowd oohs at Maruko absorbing them. After taking Maya down with a dropkick Maruko’s a little lost for a second as she tries to figure out where Maya’s going to position herself, then goes for another, which Maya kind of absorbs to take over. Maya in control for a while with what in the US I’d call heel tactics (choking Maruko with her foot against the ropes, dismissive kicks to the face, etc) but in IR this seems a common form of taunting from nearly everyone when facing a younger or less experienced competitor.

Maruko reverses a scoop slam at one point but Maya right back on offense with a running knee followed by a shoulderblock. Then she works variations on a Boston crab for a bit. After escaping Maruko takes over with running dropkicks (and does a nice jumping sunset flip out of the corner for 2 in the middle of them). Uranage gets a close 2, but a second is blocked for a chokeslam attempt, but Maruko reverse that into a rollup for 2. Schoolboy gets 2 for Maruko, but Maya kicks right out of that into a Rings of Saturn, which is then turned into a triangle choke for the submission. Short match that was almost all Maya and was very basic. Still fine though and had some nice sequences at the end.

 

2) Miyako Matsumoto vs Yuuka

Chain wrestling to open, which Yuuka continually gets the better of. She’s so smooth in the ring, especially for her experience. Miyako as normal works posing in at every opportunity, and as usual does it once too often and eats a dropkick during the stalemate. A fired up Yuuka tries to slam Miayko, but the latter reverses, forces Yuuka to pose, and gets a schoolboy for 2. Hairmare into the corner and Miyako chokes away at Yuuka while badmouthing her. Scoop slam gets 2.

Miyako goes for an abdominal stretch and Yuuka really tries to spin out of it/turn it around, which Miyako eventually stops with a flurry of back chops and secures the hold. In a great touch she grabs Yuuka’s left arm to further twist and prevent Yuuka from using it to get the ropes. Yuuka gets her foot to the bottom rope for the break, so Miyako rolls back into a cover for 2. Yuuka fights up and hits a couple running dropkicks into the corner for 2. Forearm exchange and I love the consistency with which Miyako’s shots always affect her opponent less than their’s does to her.

Yuuka backs Miyako up to the ropes with more forearms, hits a running one against the ropes, hits another to knock Miyako down in the center, then lands her sweet diving version. I love that sequence. Miyako reverses at 2 and eventually twists Yuuka into a Rings of Saturn. Miyako’s taunting and Yuuka’s screaming in pain really enhance the submission attempts. Yuuka uses her legs to power over towards the ropes, but Miyako again grabs the extended appendage and pulls Yuuka’s right leg back to further tie up the youngster. Yuuka desperately struggles and gets the rope break with her left leg. Another nice touch: Yuuka makes sure to sell pain in her arms after she escapes and as Miyako picks her up for a slam.

Ref assisted Super Mama Mia attempt, but Yuuka’s up and hits the far corner to shake the ropes and knock Miyako off balance. Running dropkick sends Miyako tumbling to the apron then the floor, gibing Yuuka a chance to recover her arms for a second. She pulls Miyako back in and to the center then goes up for a flying crossbody for 2. Slam and she goes up again for the top rope version of her diving forearm, but Miyako gets the boots up. Miayko then unwisely starts another forearm exchange, but catches Yuuka at the end of it off the ropes with the double chop for 2.

Yuuka tries to reverse a whip into her float over backslide, but Miyako rolls with and cradles for 2. Miyako then tries HER trademark rollup, but Yuuka reverses this time for another close 2. As Miyako is trying to get up from that Yuuka immediately rolls her up with the 120% rollup for the win. Miyako’s right shoulder was clearly up and Miyako rightly throws a fit complaining (though also falsely claiming she was in the ropes), but it was out of sight of the ref. Don’t know if that was a slight miscue or an angle, but given what the ref saw it was the right call to count the 3. Really enjoyed this, as both are favorites of mine and they had great chemistry as opponents. The little touches from both to enhance the match were excellent.

 

3) Kyuri and Hamuko Hoshi vs 235 and Mieko Tanaka

Interesting pairings. Opponents from Vol 701’s opener square off to start, with some nice back and forth chain wrestling including exchanging hammerlocks, waistlocks, side headlocks, etc.  Eventual stalemate leads to them both tagging out, and in contrast to their technical display Hamuko and Meiko come in charging each other. Meiko summersaults over the top to reverse a corner whip, shoulderblocks Hoshi to the midsection from the outside, then goes up top. Hamuko rushes in and Meiko leapfrogs from the top into the center of the ring. They duck each other’s clotheslines then Meiko drops down, only to have Hoshi drop down beside her for the “Seductive” posing routine. Meiko’s startled and stumbles back to her corner. She rushes Hoshi and gets tripped, and another pose by Hoshi, which 235 thankfully interrupts with a kick.

Some nice double teaming follows from Meiko and 235 to give them the advantage, but Hoshi takes back over with a bellybutt on Meiko after 235 leaves and traps Meiko in the corner for her rubbing belly on opponent’s face spot. Personally I can’t stand Hoshi’s gimmick and the associated moveset, so I spend these parts of her matches waiting for them to get on with itthe rest of the match Thankfully we get a tag to Kyuri once Meiko’s done being tortured and making retching noises. Wait, I spoke too soon as Meiko’s sent to the corner for doubleteam buttblocks. Bulldog by Hoshi followed by Kyuri’s cartwheel splash gets 2.

Hoshi leaves the ring and Meiko immediately gets the better of Kyuri, escaping a scoop slam attempt, nailing a dropkick in the corner, then getting a slam of her own for 2. Back and forth for a few moves then Meiko tags out after hitting a dropkick, putting us back to 235 vs Kyuri as in the beginning. They trade slams, then hard forearms, and 235 gets the better of it backing Kyuri up to the ropes and unloading with with about 20 in a row. 235 then hits her triple running crossbody sequence for 2.  Suplex attempt countered by Kyuri into an octopus stretch, then she converts into a crucifix for 2, countered by 235 into a cradle for 2, followed by a judo throw from Kyuri for 2. Very nice.

Tag to Hoshi and a big splash on 235 for a close 2. Trademark Boston crab follows as Kyuri keeps Meiko away. 235 makes the ropes. Up again and she ducks Hoshi’s clotheslines, mocking the latter with her own poses after each one. However Hoshi catches 235 on her shoulders after a crossbody attempt, but 235 struggles to Hoshi’s back and applies a sleeper. Hoshi drives 235 into the corner to break, but 235 goes right into a victory roll from that position for 2. Tag to Meiko and she UNLOADS on Hoshi with shoulderblocks in the corner. Kyuri stops her from going up top and Hoshi gets a fireman’s carry, but Meiko fights down to her feet. Hoshi chops prompt a flurry of headbutts from Meiko, which leads to a 235 top rope crossbody followed by a missile dropkick from Meiko for 2.

Meiko can’t get Hoshi up for a fireman’s carry, so resorts to a scoop slam instead and goes back up. Hoshi avoids the senton and almost a slingblade from Kyuri on Meiko sets up the running belly to the face for Hoshi. 235 gets by Kyuri and saves. Lariat ducked but the back one isn’t, but Meiko then counters a Hoshi charge with a spear for 2 (Kyuri saves). Some more back and forth then Hoshi finally lands the Samoan drop she’s been going for for 2.  Splash from the top rope (with Meiko halfway across the ring) gets the win for Hoshi.

Not everything clicked here, but great effort all around regardless and still a decent match with 235 and Meiko getting some nice offense on the champ before Hoshi put them away. Like I’ve said about Yuuka, Kyuri is also amazing for her age and experience.

 

4) Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata and Ryo Mizunami) vs Akane Fujita and Tsukushi

Always nice to see Avid Rival in IR. Good learning opportunity for Akane here, as both her opponents and partner all have much more experience than her. Misaki and Tsukushi start. Quick paced, high intensity counter wrestling for a couple minutes that gets nice applause when they stalemate. Misaki looks a little more wary of Tsukushi then when they started as they both tag out.

Mizunami holds her ground as Akane hits all four sides in succession trying to knock the former down with running shoulderblocks. Then they both hit the ropes and stalemate a couple times, until Ryo knocks down Akane on their third collision. Nice sequences from the power wrestlers. Mizunami keeps control for a bit, then Misaki comes in for a big double slap with Ryo holding Akane in the ropes. Mizunami’s developed incredible charisma to go with her excellent in ring skills and she and Misaki compliment each other so well as a tag team.

Tag to Misaki and the beatdown and mocking of Akane continues. Quick switch back to Mizunami and she grounds Akane with a side headlock, eventually transitioning into a camel clutch and calling Ohata in. After knocking Tsukushi off the apron, Misaki jits the ropes several times for momentum and ends with a dropkick to Akane’s face. Then they switch positions to Akane’s dismay (Misaki applying the camel clutch and Ryo running the ropes) for another dropkick to Akane’s face for 2. Mizunami with her crowd pleasing “firing up” posing into a corner clothesline spot for 2.

Akane fires back with forearms, but a scoop slam attempt is reversed by Mizunami. Akane recovers again though to catch Mizunami off the ropes with a double sledge, then rolls into her corner to tag Tsukushi. Tsukushi dropkicks Mizunami into a corner then recovers from Misaki swatting away a dropkick to headscissor Misaki into the same corner Ryo’s recovering in for a running dropkick. Scoop slam on Misaki, then she drop toeholds Ryo into splashing Misaki and doublestomps Mizunami in that position.

Misaki rolls out and Ryo’s had enough of Tsukushi, lifting the smaller wrestler over her shoulder and ramming her into Avid Rival’s corner. Tag brings Misaki in legally and she splashes Tsukushi then hits her crossbody to seated opponent in the corner after Tsukushi drops down. Misaki up for one of her gorgeous top rope crossbodies but Tsukushi moves and Misaki eats the canvas. Hard dropkick in the corner and now it’s time for Tsukushi’s version of the seated crossbody. Loving the back and forth nature of the match.

In a great bit, they going into what look like it would be a forearm exchange, but Tsukushi’s too quick so everytime Misaki tries to rear back for her shots Tsukushi lands another of her own instead before Misaki can strike. After the flurry Tsukushi hits a JUMPING KILLSWITCH (her variations on that move always drop my jaw, and kudos to Misaki for taking that) followed by a vicious dropkick to the face with Misaki laying against the ropes.

Tiger supex (or perhaps another killswitch) countered into  german attempt, countered into a snapmare to set up a seated dropkick off the ropes, but Misaki rolls back out of the way to try one of her own, but Tsukushi rolls back from THAT, and nails the seated dropkick to Misaki’s face for 2. Tremendous sequence. Tag to Akane and she further wears out Misaki with scoop slams. After Misaki fights one off Akane whips her into a dropkick by Tsukushi. Tsukushi then climbs the ropes to get into position crouching on Akane’s shoulders, then Akane walks her over to Misaki and Tsukushi hits a double stomp from Akane’s shoulders.

Misaki stuggles back up and tries to fight back with a spinning sledge but Akane ducks, and nails a forearm. However when she hits the far side of the ring Mizunami, who had crept into the ring moments earlier, wipes her out against the ropes with a clothesline then Misaki hits a seated Akane with a crossbody. Misaki up top and hits the diving crossbody this time for 2. Tag to Mizunami and the powerhouses trade forearms. Cheapshot kick to the back by Tsukushi when Mizunami hits the ropes followed by a jawbreaker across them turns the tide, and a Tsukushi dropkick followed by a shoulderblock by Akane sets up the powerslam for 2.

Mizunami fights off another slam and weathers some forearms, then catches Akane with a spear as Misaki comes in to simultaneously land a clothesline. Running legdrop gets 2, then Misaki nails the spinning sledge to send Akane into another Mizunami spear. Tsukushi breaks up the pin with a top rope doublestomp to Mizunami’s back (unfortunately not really doing her partner underneath Ryo any favors). Tsukushi tries to fight off both members of Avid Rival with forearms, but runs into a picture perfect 3D.

Misaki kicks Tsukushi out of the ring and Mizunami goes for a dragon suplex, but Akane fights out and hits a back body drop for 2. Scoop slam blocked once again by Mizunami, who then wears out Akane with elbows to the face. She’s caught off the ropes though with a powerslam that gets Akane 2 as Misaki makes the save. Akane calls for the end and hits the ropes, but is leveled with a Mizunami lariat.

Tsukushi saves, but pays the price as Misaki comes up behind her and hits a beautiful deadlift German to send her back outside. As Akane struggles to her feet Mizunami measures her and then hits a huge lariat for the win. Excellent main event. Akane held her own and we got the great tag match to be automatically expected from the other three.

 

As usual I couldn’t follow much of the roundtable, but it was interesting that Misaki and Ryo participated. With Tsukka missing Hoshi led the proceedings. Akane conducted the “Happy Ice Ribbon” cheer to close out.

 

Overall

Two really good shows here make this dvd an easy recommendation. It would actually be a good disc for newcomers to IR, as it showcases the various styles they feature as well as nearly all of their current stars.

 

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Board Games Reviews

T.I.M.E Stories Board Game Review

Given the story and exploration based nature of the game let me state up front that this review will be spoiler free (which in this case also means no during game photos).

Between having some extremely intriguing design elements and a lot of great word of mouth, I’ve been dying to try out T.I.M.E Stories. I’m pleased to report that it’s a fantastic gaming experience.

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Parts of this review will be vague, as it’s extremely difficult to describe T.I.M.E Stories in any detail without spoiling pieces of the first mission. I’ll try to provide useful information about the structure and premise though.

The players work for a time travel agency and are sent back to investigate a potential temporal incident. Each player will be “sent back” into a receptacle (character), Quantum Leap style. From there it’s the team’s job to work together to explore, figure out what’s happening, and complete the mission. That’s the basic background of the game, and everything else is intertwined with the particular mission being played. The base game comes with a deck for the first mission, and further mission decks are available as expansions.

One mission may not sound like much, but there is a lot of depth achieved due to clever mechanics, careful writing with several surprises, and a real sense of exploration and atmosphere. There are a limited amount of “Time Units” to use during a “run” (game), and if you run out or encounter some other game ending condition you have to reset and try the mission again. It’s normal to need more than one run to finish a mission, so even with only one included in the base game there’s a lot to encounter and enjoy here.

The care with which the game was designed to allow numerous missions is obvious. General game tokens, dice, and the board all use various symbols, which are given mission specific meanings by rule cards in the mission deck. So for example a symbol that indicates a character’s agility might mean something completely different in an expansion mission. This is an elegant way to allow the framework to adapt to each mission and keep everything tight and appropriate from a narrative standpoint without overly complicating the common components. Cards from the mission deck will also represent the area to be explored, specific locations within that area, items, etc.

The best part of T.I.M.E Stories is how engaging it is. The sense of foreboding and immersion, as well as the depth of gameplay, achieved with just a deck of various cards is INCREDIBLE. The artwork and graphic design are both exquisite and work in tandem to fulfill both functional and thematic demands perfectly. We were completely invested on surviving the game and completing our mission, and extremely intrigued with the mysterious happenings we were thrown into. It really felt like we were exploring and investigating, which again is amazing given everything is represented by and explained on cards. The puzzles and situations are appropriately challenging without being impossible, and it all further enhances a strong core story that has some great twists.

 

Overall

I can’t say enough about how well everything comes together in this game, and the included mission is excellent. T.I.M.E Stories won’t be for everyone given the storytelling aspects and lack of replayability, but I adored it and can’t wait to play the expansions.

Categories
Manga Reviews

Grim Reaper and Four Girlfriends Volume 3 Review

“Wait… gotta breathe… lemme breathe…!”

This continues directly from volume 2 and is the final volume of a three volume series. Don’t start reading here. Go back to the beginning.

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Wow, there’s a lot happening in this final volume. As I suspected, there was a bit too much left to address in just one more volume, and some aspects felt rushed. Another installment in the series would have been helpful in giving all the characters and plot threads their proper due. That said, this is still a strong finale for the series that packs some major surprises, provides a reasonable amount of closure to the main plot, and remains nicely character focused. Some things were predictable, but that just means they were foreshadowed and built well.

Grim Reaper and 4 Girlfriends retains the same feel right up until the end. While I wish certain aspects had been more developed, this ecchi comedy with an edge was quite good while it lasted.

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Manga Reviews

Grim Reaper and Four Girlfriends Volume 2 Review

“… just be there for me.”

This continues directly from volume 1 and is the middle volume of a three volume series. Best to start reading at the beginning.

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Kaoru is still trying to handle the difficulties of having four girlfriends, including things like convincing them all to keep quiet about the relationship, avoiding having the girls run into each other, and getting to know each girl’s personality and desires. He also still feels extremely guilty about it all and tries his best to make all four happy, which keeps him somewhat likable and sympathetic.

Airi is still causing some trouble as she tries to undermine Kaoru and revert him to a “No-Lifer” so she can reap his soul, though the true center of this manga is the continual reveal of each girlfriend’s personality and Kaoru’s reactions. The girls have somewhat cliched hidden sides, but it’s all well implemented and adds as much dimension to them all as is possible in such a short series. That’s the only drawback: while nothing seems overly rushed so far, the pace is rather brisk and I have a feeling at the end I’m going to wish this ran a couple more volumes.

The humor continues to be largely based on ecchi situations, but it arises more or less directly from the characters and is pretty funny overall. In general the balance of comedy and “drama” is quite good.

Fun second volume for Grim Reaper and 4 Girlfriends. Will be interesting to see how it wraps up considering there seems to be a lot to address with only one more volume.

Categories
Manga Reviews

Grim Reaper and Four Girlfriends Volume 1 Review

“What a marvelously agressive declaration…”

Kaoru Minaguchi is a “no-lifer,” who doesn’t interact with society or other people in any meaningful way. He doesn’t see this as a problem, until he meets a grim reaper appears to cull him for the benefit of society as a whole. If an effort to become a “real-lifer” and stay alive, he claims to be about to confess to a girl he likes and get a girlfriend. But what happens when a frantic Kaoru sends four love letters to increase his odds… and they all say yes?

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Grim Reaper and 4 Girlfriends takes a ridiculous but amusing premise and uses it to put a fun twist on the harem genre. The main character is not oblivious to nor trying to fend off the advances of his suitors. Rather he has to actively court four girls despite  the guilt he feels and believing in “one true love.” His hesitation and regret keep him sympathetic, and the individual personalities of the girls make things interesting.

The comedy is amusing and arises both from Airi (the reaper) trying to sabotage Kaoru indirectly and ecchi situations involving the girlfriends. But while there is some fanservice appropriate to the flirtations, it’s not as blatant nor pervasive as may be expected for this type of series and is blended into the story well. There’s a dark edge to everything that adds a compelling layer to Kaoru’s dilemma.

For what Grim Reaper and 4 Girlfriends is, it’s fantastic. I look forward to seeing how Kaoru continues to try to stay alive while keeping his unfortunate secret, dealing with his girlfriends’ hidden sides, and trying to be a good guy despite having become a four-timer.

Categories
Manga Reviews

Horimiya Volume 1 Review

“Everyone has a side… they don’t show to anyone else.”

The popular Kyouko Hori doesn’t let anyone see her true plain-Jane, homebody nature. But that changes when she meets a striking boy with several tattoos and piercings that turns out to be her gloomy, assumed otaku and shut-in classmate Izumi Miyamura. How will they react to each other’s secret sides?

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Horimiya is a wonderful little romance with a fantastic premise. Two high school students with home lives that are extremely different than the image they project at school stumble upon the sides of each other they never show anyone else. There are understandable, valid reasons why they’re reluctant to be themselves and these and other “real life” concerns and insecurities give them depth and make them extremely easy to relate to and root for. The deft touch with which everything’s kept realistic without getting bogged down or boring is impressive.

Overall the best word to describe Horimiya is sweet, and I look forward to learning more about Kyouko and Izumi and watching their relationship grow.

 

 

 

Categories
Art Japan Reviews

Amazing Ink Creations from Three Countries

Tenri Cultural Institute hosts a variety of wonderful cultural events,  including frequent art shows which often open with live demonstrations. I recently shared my impressions of the June exhibitions, and here I’ll be spotlighting the incredible INK IMAGISTS exhibit that will be showing throughout July.

One of the most interesting things about this exhibition is the scope and cooperation involved. It features ink creations by eight different artists from Taiwan, Japan, and the United States, marking the first collaborative show of this type featuring all three countries. The diversity in techniques and approaches to the same medium are fascinating, and every painting shown had something unique and wonderful to contribute.

During the opening there was a live painting demonstration by Taiwanese artist Huang Chien-Lun done on one of the gallery pillars. It was wonderful to get to watch her creation being made.

Later I had an opportunity to speak briefly with her about her other pieces on display (via a translator). She was extremely friendly and it was great to have her share some insight about her paintings and their inspiration. All the artists were excitedly mingling and talking with the attendees, and the opening was a fun, energetic event.

 

Ink is an incredibly versatile medium, and I was impressed with how strongly that was illustrated here. The variety in style, technique, and composition was fantastic. The collection ranged from beautifully stark black and white creations to striking limited palette works to vibrant full color pieces, and featured subjects ranging from the precise and realistic to the abstract and imaginative and covered several gradations in between.

 

Not only do these works of art need to been seen in person to be properly appreciated, but I’ve given just a small sampling of the amazing pieces on display. Also, the curator mentioned that there is more to this exhibit than can be accommodated at once, and so some paintings will be cycled in later in the exhibition.

I highly encourage anyone who gets the chance to see INK IMAGISTS now through July 30, 2016 at Tenri Cultural Institute in NYC.

 

Categories
Manga Reviews

Furture Diary Volume 1 Review

“I’ve always been a bystander.”

Amano Yukiteru is a 2nd year high school student who’s content to watch the world pass him by and make notes in his cell phone diary. He contents himself with his imaginary friend Deus Ex Machina, Lord of Time & Space. His time as a spectator comes to an end however when the not-so-imaginary after all Deus changes his diary to record future events, and forces him to participate in a game where the survivor will become Deus’s successor.

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Future Dairy is built around an interesting core idea, but is already going off the rails a little. There appear to be some contradictions in the “rules” and I honestly feel things are going way to fast. Still, the variety of diaries and extremely varied personalities and motivations in play here give great potential for growth and depth. A solid, if imperfect, start.

 

Categories
Manga Reviews

Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun Volume 1 Review

“I’ve always been your fan!”

Chiyo Sakura finally asks dreamboat classmate Umetarou Nozaki out only to discover he’s artist of a hugely popular shoujo manga and unexpectedly become his apprentice.

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The more manga I read that use it, the more I personally find the 4-koma format lacking for comedy based manga. Something about the abbreviated pacing throws off the tempo for me, and the jokes usually fall flat. The only 4-koma manga I recall really enjoying is much more drama than comedy.

In this particular case there’s also the issue that despite the fact that I enjoy manga, I find this “peek behind the curtain” to be a bit boring. It’s more about the characters, but said characters are largely one-note and I found myself rolling my eyes at the humor more often than chuckling. So for me it has neither enough interesting things to say about manga making nor a compelling enough cast to properly capitalize on its premise.

I’m in the minority regarding Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun and if quick comedy surrounding high school students who secretly work on popular shoujo manga sounds amusing to you by all means try it for yourself. But personally I had to force myself to finish even this one volume and won’t be continuing. It’s not bad, just too bland.

Categories
Board Games Reviews

My Top Ten Favorite Board Games (June 2016)

Tastes constantly evolve, so as I mentioned in my first version from November 2015, I intend to periodically revise my top ten games to see how things change and share any new games that have impressed me.

Ground rules:

  • This reflects my favorite things to play right now. I love everything on this list. Order is pure personal preference and whole list HIGHLY subject to change and reshuffling, as ten is a small number to cover all the great games I’ve played and something’s bound to be missing.
  • I need to have played something at least twice for it to be eligible. I think something has to hold up to at the very least a second play to be considered a favorite. So Imperial Assault (still), Trickerion, Relic Knights, and Samurai (and several others) all get automatic honorable mentions, but may very well make it into this list in the future.
  • Some games have been replaced here simply because of other games that suit my current tastes (and those of my group) just a little more. Alhambra, Pillars of the Earth, and Anima are all still fantastic games well worth seeking out / trying.
  • Expansions I have are considered with the base game and won’t be listed separately.
  • The write-ups for reappearing games were changed only as needed.

 

10. Blueprints

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Blueprints is a great pick up and play that’s extremely easy to teach and plays quickly, which makes it valuable to have on hand for in between longer  games. However the setup and nuances make it more than just filler and add a reasonable amount of strategy and depth. It’s quirky, well designed, and most importantly fun.

 

 

9. Viticulture

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The debut game from Stonemaier, which instantly made them one of my favorite publishers. Beautifully realized worker placement game that is just completely infused with the unlikely theme of winemaking. The Tuscany expansion adds several great aspects that make it even more amazing, and the game scales incredibly well and feels like the same game no matter the player count. As usual with Stonemaier the production quality is absolutely unreal, with individually shaped building pieces and gorgeous art elevating the immersion.

 

8. The Duke

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This slips a bit due to other great two player games I’ve been able to try recently, limited opportunity to play two player games in general, and tough competition from multi-player games. Still The Duke is an incredible two player game with elements of chess reworked into a much more accessible and variable experience. The vast number of movement patterns allows for deep gameplay, yet the smaller board and limited starting pieces keeps things manageable. The combination of each piece having its movement grid printed on it and the fact that the pattern is different on each side is just fantastic, and makes this both incredibly new player friendly and deep.

 

7. Mysterium

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At this point I’ve played so many games that something that seems to have a truly original approach intrigues me greatly. Mysterium is a wonderful asymmetric cooperative game that has a departed ghost trying to guide psychics to the culprit of its murder through sending “visions” consisting of cards with abstract art. It adds a more structured and “complete” feeling game to the base mechanics of Dixit. The hope is that the cards played by the ghost will indicate specific cards on the game board to the psychics, who are working together and can discuss as needed. It plays best with 4 or more players, but that’s not much of a limitation since it accommodates up to 7. Lots of fun.

 

6. Ghost Stories

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Fantastic co-op game that’s fairly easy to teach but has a lot of variation and depth. Best on its own or with Ghost Moon (Black Secret has fallen flat with my group so far). Notorious for its difficulty, but we’ve found it challenging rather than frustrating. The changing board, player powers and enemy cards make every game significantly different, which greatly aids its longevity. It’s also great to have a go to co-op game on hand, as many of my “non-gamer” friends have really enjoyed trying something that has them working with, rather than against, the rest of the group.

 

5. Euphoria

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Stonemaier Games’ second offering, a fantastic dice-as-workers game with an incredibly unique theme of trying to achieve prestige and status in a dystopian world. Little touches like artifact cards depicting objects from today’s world and trying to keep your workers happy and stupid bring the theme to life and it’s very well intertwined with gameplay. Also, the production quality is absolutely unreal, with realistic resources, wooden commodity pieces, wonderful art, etc all making this as great to look at as it is to play. As time goes on I personally find it just a little more compelling than Viticulture, which is why Euphoria leapfrogged it this time around.

 

4. La Citta

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La Citta is fifteen years old and feels so timeless and classic I’m actually surprised it’s not older. Wonderfully thematic game that combines tile laying and resource management as players try to build the most attractive cities and lure the greatest population (the game’s victory points) to them. Details like needing water sources to grow beyond a certain point, having to produce enough food to feed your population, and a changing priority system signifying what people value most in their cities each round make this a fantastically deep, balanced game.

 

3. Castles of Burgundy 

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Castles of Burgundy is unlike any other game I’ve played, and it shines in the unusual way uses dice to determine both which tiles a player can buy and which purchased tiles can be placed on their personal player boards. There are a lot of “moving parts” and things to keep track of, but it’s all logically laid out and intuitive once you get the hang of it. There’s tons of replayability and different viable strategies, even before considering the numerous different player boards available. I fall more and more in love with this game each time I play.

 

2. Tragedy Looper

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Tragedy Looper is unlike anything else I’ve played and I adore both the atmosphere and the way its core mechanics combine mystery elements with those of a logic puzzle. It’s somewhat of a tough game to get your mind around, given unusual mechanics and a non-trivial learning curve, but once you do it’s a great mystery game (a genre that’s underrepresented and hard to do well).  It’s asymmetric, with players who are time traveling and trying to prevent a tragedy, and a gamemaster that is trying to stop them. There are limitations on possible actions based on the scenario and various stats of the characters being controlled, which is where clues about what has happened and how to prevent it come from. It requires the right group of players, but is highly enjoyable once you’ve found them.

 

1. Princes of Florence

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Despite tough competition, Princes of Florence is still my favorite game of all time. It incorporates what’s usually one of my least favorite mechanics (the auction) in a quick and enjoyable way that enhances the balance of differing strategies greatly. At any point if an opponent’s strategy seems to be working too well, the others players need to be making them pay more for the needed components. The way the different elements that can be purchased and used come together is wonderful and allows deep and varied gameplay. The combination of resource management, strategic choices and maximizing opportunities is just perfect and I could (and probably will) play this a million times.

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And that’s it for this time. Will be interesting to track how this list changes in the future. What are everyone else’s current favorites?