Japan Reviews Wrestling

Wave 12/29/16 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

My only Wave show this trip was thankfully their big one: Thanksgiving Wave 2016. It felt a little more serious overall than the Wave show I saw last year, although there were still comedic antics in the undercard.




Note: My camera broke the night before and I hadn’t replaced it yet, so I unfortunately don’t have any action photos for this show.


1) Moeka Haruhi & Hiroe Nagahama vs Yako Fujigasaki & Yuki Miyazaki

I honestly don’t have much to say about this one. Solid but unspectacular, with nothing that particularly jumps out in my memory either in negative terms (botches, etc) or in exceptional ones (a standout performance or compelling hook). Serviceable opener.

2) Ai Shimizu vs Fairy Nipponbashi

Things opened with an amusing idol worship angle, as Fairy was starstruck with Ai and once she had greeted the voice actress she left the ring satisfied and headed towards the back. Ai, wanting her match, talked to the ref and whatever was then conveyed to Fairy (and the crowd) convinced Fairy to come back and start the contest.

I wasn’t familiar with Ai, who won Ice Ribbon’s Triangle Championship since my last trip and would be defending it at Ribbonmania a couple days after this show, so was very curious for my initial look at her. To be honest as far as first impressions go this wasn’t the best. Most of her offense revolved around her strikes, which looked extremely weak and unconvincing.  Her offense looked a lot better in the subsequent matches I saw featuring her on other shows though. She also does a fantastic rope walk spot (in the style of the Undertaker) halfway around the ring that’s a striking signature.

Fairy’s end of the match was all comedy, from “magic” hip tosses to use of a lightsaber. Nothing offensive, nothing I personally found that entertaining. Meh match for me overall, but was kept mercifully short.




3) Elimination Match: Yumi Ohka, Mika Iida, & Hikaru Shida vs Kaho Kobayashi, Rina Yamashita, & Natsu Sumire vs ASUKA, Kaori Yoneyama, & Sawako Shimono

All three trios were nice, complimentary combinations. I was especially glad to have an opportunity to see more of Iida, and she was impressive here. She was also paired with two wrestlers I’m quite familiar with and like a great deal, so I was behind her trio despite them being the defacto heels here. I was surprised then they were the first eliminated, although it made sense given where the match was going.

I saw Kaho & Rina tag last year, so this was nice extension of that. They work well as a unit. Great back and forth interaction between teams both in the first segment and after Ohka, Iida & Shida were eliminated.




After getting the  team’s victory Rina appeared to move on to other issues and challenged her teammate, effective immediately.


4) Kaho Kobayashi vs Rina Yamashita  

This was as good as it could be for being so quick (literally a couple of minutes). Kaho fought valiantly but Rina put her away in pretty short order. These two could tear the house down in a “real” match.

Kaho’s other teammate wasn’t to be left out, and challenged the exhausted youngster to yet other match.


5) Kaho Kobayashi vs Natsu Sumire

A touch longer than the last, and Kaho pulled out the victory here to the crowd’s delight.

There was a longish segment afterwards with Gami coming in and presenting something to Kaho, which I later got clarification was due to Kaho going on a tour wrestling in Mexico. Should be a great experience for her.


6) Ayako Hamada & Gran Hamada vs Kyoko Kimura & Hana Kimura

The generational angle here was of course immediately obvious despite not being privy to the buildup. Beyond the parent / child teams facing off, the dynamic of one “child” member (Ayako) being of similar age to the opposite “parent” (Kyoko) and the resulting age range of participant going from 19 to 66 and experience range from 9 months to just under 45 years made this a unique spectacle.

Everything was all about the intrigue and the people involved much more than the actual action. A suitable and notable occurrence that was a privilege to be at no doubt and I certainly understand the limitations on Gran Hamada at 66 and appreciate him still performing for us, but I found they didn’t quite create the drama needed to overcome the slow pace of the match, possibly due to going a bit too long.


7) Misaki Ohata 10th Anniversary Match: Misaki Ohata & Mayumi Ozaki  vs Hiroyo Matsumoto & DASH Chisako

As no Sendai Girls shows fit my trip, it was a real treat to see Dash chosen to be a part of this match (which I was already excited for as Misaki’s a favorite of mine) and thus give me one opportunity to see her wrestle. This was a fitting and fun “tribute” match.  All four wrestlers were clearly enjoying themselves, particularly Misaki having an absolute blast playing heel alongside Ozaki.


Main Event) Regina Di Wave Title Match: Yuu Yamagata (c) vs Ryo Mizunami 

I’ve seen Mizunami a fair bit both as part of Avid Rival (her team with Misaki Ohata that held both the Wave and Ice Ribbon tag team championships at the time of this show) and her trips to the Shimmer promotion in the US. She’s a powerhouse with great charisma in the way she performs and carries herself in general. They built to the right outcome here, with Mizunami toppling Yamagata to claim Wave’s top prize.

The match itself was decent and allowed Mizunami to properly shine at points, but I find Yamagata’s ring style slow and not compelling when she’s on offense. So her playing dominant champion in contrast to Mizunami’s perseverance wasn’t a story that played to her strengths and I felt it could have been better given the talent levels involved.


To close the show Ohata was announced as the winner of Wave’s annual “Zan-1” tournament / belt and became the #1 contender to her own tag title partner’s just won Regina Di Wave singles championship.


Fun photo op with me wearing a Misaki t-shirt and Misaki wearing her newly won Zan-1 title belt.


As with last year, a lot of the appeal of this show was seeing numerous wrestlers I didn’t get to see elsewhere. The quality was up and down, but there was a point to everything and the angles were interesting even when not executed perfectly.  I also particularly enjoyed the trios tag and subsequent angle with Kaho, Misaki’s match, and getting to see the well deserving Mizunami crowned champion.

Reviews Wrestling

Evolve 79 Live Review

February 25, 2017 in Queens, NY

Here’s a quick rundown of a phenomenal show from Evolve I had the privilege of enjoying live this past weekend.




1) Jason Kincaid vs ACH 

Jason Kincaid is killing it with his new gimmick, and ACH has been on a tear since leaving ROH and entering Evolve with something to prove. They put on exactly the strong, high energy opener I was hoping for here. The outcome was never in doubt given the story of ACH’s quest for a shot at the Evolve title, but they still managed to keep things exciting. ACH’s bemusement at Kincaid’s unusual offense made a great backbone story for the action.




2) 4-Way Freestyle: Fred Yehi vs Chris Dickinson vs Austin Theory vs Anthony Henry

Yehi was in this as a result of failing to unseat Thatcher the night before. Strong dynamic here with Dickinson and Yehi alternately working together and trying to win on each’s own with the newcomers Theory and Henry taking advantage of every opening  to try to swing things their way. I like both Henry and Theory from what I saw here (and the previous night on ippv), although Henry needs just a touch more polish as his impressive offense lost some impact both nights by not being hit cleanly enough so wasn’t quite getting the reactions it should have. Still a very good debut weekend though.




Great finish with Dickinson, who was exactly the right choice for a strong win here, getting a pin on Theory to kind of steal the victory from Yehi who looked to have Henry finished with the Koji Clutch. More tension between the Catch Point members that look destined to face for the tag titles, but Dickinson offers the CP handshake and things seem fine for now. Nice slow build on that angle.


3) Jeff Cobb vs Jaka

Behind the double main, this was the match I was most looking forward to, and man did it deliver big time. Cobb is just so smooth in application of his phenomenal power, and Jaka’s hard hitting style made him the perfect opponent leading to an excellent match that had the crowd going nuts.




Highlights included a delay vertical superplex that just barely missed the ceiling lights and an absolutely jaw-dropping toss-and-catch German suplex by Cobb. Tour of the Islands finally puts down the tenacious Jaka to reestablish some momentum for Cobb after losing to Galloway the previous night. Jaka and Dickinson are very quickly becoming integral parts of Evolve, and both had breakout performances on this show. As for Cobb, the crowd simply adores him.


4) Tracy Williams vs Keith Lee

While Lee’s new to Evolve, he’s a 10+ year veteran of the sport, and it shows. His mannerisms, body language, and just the general way he carries himself all speak to knowing the nuances of his craft extremely well.  He also moves in ways unexpected for someone his size, and it all comes together in such an impressive way that he was immediately loved by the crowd.




They worked a brilliant match here, with Williams starting hot and doing everything and then some to sell the idea of having a legit chance against the monster. Really this had foregone conclusion written all over it after Lee defeated Sabre at Evolve 78, but he and Williams built things beautifully to a fantastic nearfall after an avalanche angle slam on Lee(?!) that the crowd totally bit on.

Just excellent stuff from both. Lee came off like an absolute star and the crowd’s chomping at the bit to see him against more of Evolve’s top tier talent.


5) Ethan Page vs Darby Allin

First of two big grudge matches for the night. This wasn’t announced or listed as no-DQ, which was an unfortunate oversight given the angle of the match. Page dominated this and eventually handcuffed Allin (with help from the Gatekeepers). Allin gets up and tells the ref he’ll continue, and fights off Page with all his might until the bitter end. Page eventually puts him away though, and he and the Gatekeepers then put Allin in a body bag as Page cuts a scathing, derisive promo saying he’s killed his first career and will now refocus on the Evolve title to nuclear heat. The Gatekeepers then carried the sealed bag with Darby inside right out of the arena.




I ended up torn on this whole thing. I still feel Allin really needs to scale things back before he kills himself, and WHERE THE HELL WAS EVERYONE ELSE DURING THE POSTMATCH?! Sorry, but the company’s top faces really look like assholes staying in the back while Page is literally STUFFING SOMEONE INTO A BODYBAG. Particularly with Yehi getting righteous about something else later and everyone coming to ringside after the main event. You can come out to congratulate the champ but not to save Darby’s life? Seriously?

On the other hand, it’s hard to criticize the angle here despite not liking the logic given the incredible reaction it got. The audience was RABID in support of Allin and hatred of Page, and the two of them played their parts to an absolute T. Incredible stuff, despite my personal reservations.

Given the way it played out I kind of hope it leads to Darby becoming Page’s protege when he returns, taking issue with the exact thing I pointed out above and embracing an “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” philosophy.


6) Matt Riddle vs Drew Galloway

I’m a certifiable member of the Bro bandwagon, so was chomping at the bit to see Riddle and Galloway go to war. And that’s exactly what I got. Between Page and Galloway Evolve has two of the best heels in the sport, and the latter was perfect here trying to put down the upstart who spurned his invitation. As I’ve gone on about extensively, Riddle is insanely impressive for his experience and can work any kind of match deftly.




Both really dug in on the appropriate level of tension and resentment for the story, resulting in a fantastic atmosphere and huge crowd reactions. The beat the hell out of each other to the crowd’s delight.




I was (pleasantly) surprised with result, as I thought Galloway would win to build momentum going into the WWNLive title match and put the babyface behind the 8-ball in the first encounter of the feud. But Riddle pounding Galloway into defeat then being sneak attacked again worked just as well to keep things going.




Williams and Yehi came out to save Riddle from being piledriven on his own Progress Atlas title belt, then Larry Dallas (with new bodyguard Earl Cooter) broke the news that all three members of Catch Point were in the WWNLive title match. Ending makes more sense now, as it didn’t occur to me that they’d use Riddle’s Style Battle win to sneak him into that match. Yehi offers the Catch Point handshake, but the group dynamics continue to be an issue as Riddle declares he’ll win and walks off.

Yehi calls him out as not being a team player, but the angle is suffering the same problem as when Gulak did the same a while back: Yehi has a point as Riddle hasn’t been there when his teammates need him but he’s far more loved in the crowd’s eyes so is immune to criticism. For example, Yehi’s accusing “it’s not your show Matt”  was met with a “YES IT IS!” chant from the fans. We’ll see how it all goes.

The title match will be quite interesting.



7) Evolve Championship Match: Timothy Thatcher (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr

The previous title match between these two at La Boom was one of my favorites of 2015, and I was beyond thrilled when this rematch was confirmed. I’m pleased to say this turned out just as good.




The support for Zack and heat for Thatcher was incredible. Thatcher finally seemed comfortable in his heel role, hitting all the right notes to whip the crowd into a frenzy. I’m a huge fan of both, and while a lot of fans have (understandably) cooled on Thatcher’s work during the last year he’s provided a solid core from Evolve to build around during his reign. And when he’s on, he’s one of the absolute best around. Sabre’s one of his greatest opponents, and this was a fitting crescendo for Thatcher’s dominance.




Zack eventually tied Thatcher into knots , and after a few perfect moments of building anticipation Thatcher submitted and the crowd ERUPTED at the crowning of a new champion.

Thatcher teased respecting Zack and handing him the belt, but when All Ego jumped Zack to make a point Thatcher decided to drop the belt and just leave instead. Nice way to keep him a heel. ACH saved Zack and talked Zack up while making it clear he was also coming for Zack’s title, then most of the roster came out to surround the ring in respect to the new champion. Zack gave short, heartfelt comments about inclusiveness in wrestling. Classy move that if possible makes me adore the man even more.



Simply one of the best overall shows I’ve ever attended (despite a few logic issues which may go away as things unfold in the future). Kudos to all involved.

Board Games Reviews

Santorini Review (First Impressions)

Had been really looking forward to getting to try this out, as both the concept and aesthetics looked fantastic.


The basic game of Santorini hits the easy to learn yet hard to master sweet spot all abstracts strive for. Each player has two builder pawns on the board, and a turn consists of picking one to move one space in any direction then building one level (as appropriate) on an adjacent space to the moved builder. When builders move they may change levels (up one or down as many as they like), and a player wins if they get a builder on level three of any building.

Adding strategic choices are two restrictions: a fourth level can be built on buildings, capping them and preventing builders from scaling them, and if any a player can’t legally move one of their builders on a their turn they lose the game.


It’s a wonderfully realized abstract that I immediately enjoyed. There’s a depth to it that will take some time to get a firm grasp on, like any good game of this type. It also supported by beautiful, high quality pieces. The theme doesn’t matter much for the base game, but the aesthetics are great and do add a “centerpiece” feel to the game.

In addition, the theme DOES matter for the included variants. Each player can pick a character to play (based on Greek Gods and Heroes) that grants them a specific powers. The powers make Santorini a COMPLETELY different game, adding asymmetry and numerous new strategic options that must be considered. One power we played with even added an alternate victory condition for one player.

Players HAVE to significantly adjust playing style depending on both their own power and opponent’s, which is great as it takes a phenomenal base game and changes it into something equally compelling. Both versions great and indicate impressive longevity for the game as players experiment with various pairings of powers and likely also switch back and forth with the base game.


Rules are also included for the forthcoming expansion, with explanations of the new powers. There are also pieces and variant rules for playing with three people or even four (with team rules), although it’s mentioned the game is really designed to be one one one.

Put it all together and Santorini is an wonderful game that clearly had a lot of effort put into every aspect to present to really make it something special. Thrilled with how this one turned out.

Japan Wrestling

Farewell Kellie: A fan’s personal look back on a(nother) great career

I’ve been anticipating writing this since the Shimmer 90 tapings last November. After losing the Shimmer title she had just won the previous day back to Mercedes Martinez, Kellie Skater gave a thankful and heartfelt speech that felt very much like “goodbye.” However nothing was announced or concrete until yesterday (2/23/17), when Kellie gave a “thank you / goodbye” speech at a Stardom event at Korkuen Hall confirming that she was retired from professional wrestling.


As an avid fan of the Shimmer promotion throughout its history, I’ve had the privilege of watching Kellie grow and transform during her career. She had been wrestling a little over two years when she made her Shimmer debut on May 2nd 2009 during the Volume 24 tapings, and would wrestle in 66 matches over the course of six and a half years. With her announcement at Stardom, it’s official that her last match was against Mercedes Martinez at Shimmer 90.

Kellie entered Shimmer as a comedic heel whose bark was bigger than her bite. Her charisma really made the gimmick work, and as she cheated and stole her way to victories over light competition fans got majorly invested in see the brash loudmouth get her comeuppance. They went crazy on the occasions more formidable opponents got their hands on Kellie and made her pay for her arrogance. Unsuccessful outings against Cheerleader Melissa (hearing the crowd collectively gasp as Skater dared grab Melissa’s pom-poms and mock her deadly opponent was fantastic) and Amazing Kong spring immediately to mind.

Yet the very next show the “Rate Tank” would be back out bragging as usual about being “indestructible.”  It had just the right amount of delusional overconfidence, and made for an entertaining story. Add it her and Shimmer’s announcers playing up her “suspect” protein shake (“ROO ROIDS!”) that she would partake in during matches and ridiculous boasting and Kellie an annoyance that just wouldn’t go away in the very best sense possible.

But beneath it all, Kellie had excellent technical skills anchoring her matches, and that were always improving. On the back of a long string of strong outings, particularly against visiting Joshi talents, Skater was slowly but surely winning the crowd over despite (or perhaps partially because of) her antics. On Shimmer Volume 50 Kellie would gain her first major victory in the promotion by defeating Yumi Ohka, signaling her moving up the card and transitioning into a viable threat. Watching the transformation as Kellie continued to develop and grow as a performer was a treat.

However her singles ascension would be delayed a little as two shows later she would team with Tomoka Nakagawa for the first time, forming arguably the best team in Shimmer history, 3G (the Global Green Gangsters).

3G t-shirt by ShuperCousin Designs singed by Kellie and Tomoka.

The dynamic of reformed heel and crowd darling Skater trying to reign in the underhanded instincts of not-quite-former-yet heel Nakagawa was fantastic, and 3G were instant fan favorites and title contenders.

Their feud with then reigning Shimmer Tag Title Champions Nicole Matthews & Portia Perez (the Canadian Ninjas) spanned several volumes and culminated in a wild no-DQ, no-countout, no-time limit contest in which Skater and Nakagawa finally overcame the nefarious Ninjas to claim their spot atop Shimmer’s tag team division.

They’d keep ahold of that perch for two years making 13 successful title defenses in a reign that spanned 16 volumes. They didn’t relinquish the titles until Tomoka retired in April of 2015, when during her final weekend they lost the championships to the Kimber Bombs (Kimber Lee & Cherry Bomb). Their issues with the Ninjas would continue on and off during that time, including involvement in involvement in a great no-DQ, no-countout war that spilled through the crowd and all over the venue  alongside Madison Eagles & Jessica Havok against the Canadian Ninjas and the Kimber Bombs, as well as Tomoka choosing one last 3G vs Ninjas encounter for her final match.

Skater and Nakagawa had incredible chemistry as a team and produced several of the best tag team matches Shimmer’s ever had. Kellie’s style fit perfectly with that of Shimmer’s visiting Joshi in general, and my favorite matches of hers (which are also two of my favorite Shimmer matches of all time) were multi-woman tags involving numerous Joshi talent.


On Volume 67 3G teamed with Mia Yim to face Tsukasa Fujimoto, Akino, and Kaori Yoneyama in an incredible contest that simply has to be seen. In the main event of  Volume 74, in Tomoka’s penultimate match, Kellie joined her alongside Misaki Ohata & Hiroyo Matsumoto to face legends Aja Kong, Dynamite Kansai, Kyoko Kimura, & Mayumi Ozaki in a dream match beyond anything I ever thought I’d see in Shimmer. I was lucky enough to attend both of these events / matches live and they represent everything I love about pro wrestling. Admitted in both there was a lot more going on than just Kellie’s involvement, but she shone just as bright as anyone else and played a major part in these amazing moments.

With her partner retired, Kellie focused on reestablishing the upward trajectory of her singles career, and got several huge wins over stars such as Sonoko Kato, Courtney Rush, Ryo Mizunami and others leading to a shot at Madison Eagles for the Shimmer title on Volume 84. A countout victory seemed to set up a rematch, but instead Kellie would be attacked before the match and Madison’s resulting open challenge saw Mercedes Martinez making a surprise return to Shimmer to take the title with help of her new proteges Nicole Savoy and Shayna Baszler.


This all set up for what seemed like it could be a long feud between Kellie and the newly dubbed Trifecta. In the main event of the first show of the next set of tapings Kellie pinned Mercedes in a tag match, and was granted a title match on Volume 87. It seemed the epitome of foregone conclusions, with Mercedes getting an establishing win over a top contender to set up a quest for Kellie to finally get the elusive Shimmer championship she seemed destined for. Turns out she was destined sooner than I thought, and she won the title from Mercedes to the crowds shock and delight. As I’ve referred to Kellie’d grown into one of the (in not THE) most beloved wrestlers in Shimmer and the audience roared in support of the new champion.

Kellie would defend the belt in solid matches against Vanessa Kraven and Cat Power, then to end the weekend Mercedes received a rematch. Warning bells about a possible 3S style reign started going off, and sure enough at the end of a hard hitting match where Trifecta put on a master class in heel tactics Mercedes regained the belt to a chorus of boos. Kellie then cut the promo I talked about at the beginning, which gave no details but felt like “goodbye” and left me wondering if her weekend long reign was to make sure she received her well deserved time with the title in case that was her last appearance in Shimmer. And we now know it was.


Like with Tomoka, the vast majority of my experience with Kellie’s work is via Shimmer, but I did see her wrestle on Shine ippv’s and was lucky enough to see her live at Stardom. She was clearly respected wherever she went and always gave 110%.


Thanks to Kellie for a career’s worth of incredible devotion to her craft and everything she put into entertaining us. It’s greatly appreciated and you’ll be dearly missed. Best of luck in whatever the future holds.

Japan Reviews Wrestling

Ice Ribbon 12/31/16 (RibbonMania) Live Thoughts

December 31, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

The buzz for this year’s RibbonMania was firmly centered on the final rounds of the tournament to crown a new Ice Cross Infinity Champion after the title was held up due to a time limit draw during Tsukasa Fujimoto’s defense against Tsukushi in November.

The development was interesting, as Tsukka had successfully defended the championship against a majority of the roster and seemed on pace to be challenging her own previous record for most defenses during a reign right around the time she’d be facing the woman she defeated to win the title. Instead, a few matches short of that the title was held up and a tournament to crown a new champion begun.




There were no surprises in the early rounds, so coming into Ribbonmania the remaining competitors were the vacated champ (Tsukka), the opponent that forced the vacating of the title (Tsukushi), the prior champion Tsukka had won the belt from (Risa Sera), and the wrestler who ended Tsukka’s prior reign (Kurumi).


1) Ice Cross Infinity Championship Tournament Semi-Finals: Risa Sera vs Kurumi Hiiragi 


The vacating of the title instead of continuing on course for Tsukka attempting to break her own record seemed to open significant potential for some sort of shake up. Kurumi in particular looked like a monster in the last dojo show before this event.

Which made it even more surprising that she never felt like threat to Risa here. This was a good match, but didn’t have the urgent edge it needed. Risa felt in control during throughout, when her surviving a dominant Kurumi would have been a much more suitable, better story.

In a nice touch Risa remained at announce table to watch the match unfold and see who her opponent would be in the main event.


2) Ice Cross Infinity Championship Tournament Semi-Finals: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Tsukushi

Coming into Ribbonmania I found the semi-final matches being determined by random draw to be quite telling. I was certain it meant we’d get this match in the semis, and that it’s winner would fail to win the title in the finals. Otherwise the brackets should have been set up for a possible rematch of the bout that vacated the title to happen in the finals.


This was the spirited contest expected from these two, who know each other extremely well and have styles that mesh nicely. Tsukka winning with the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, a move inherited from the mentor of both competing wrestlers, seemed rather definitive. Unfortunate, as Tsukka solidly winning here begs the questions of why Tsukushi was the one to force the vacating of the belt in the first place.

Also, Tsukka’s victory unfortunately killed any remaining drama in the tournament. Risa vs Tsukka is the match that definitely should have headlined had the title never been held up, but as a payoff for a tournament that seemed to promised at least some unpredictability it was by far the least interesting way for things to turn out. The result of the main event instantly became a forgone conclusion, and I could feel a lot the energy go out of the crowd. The post match staredown between Risa and Tsukka got minimal reaction.


3) 7-way: Hiroe Nagahama vs Kyuri vs Maika Ozaki vs Mio Momono vs 235 vs Tequila Saya vs Uno Matsuya  

This was originally scheduled to be a six-woman tag match, but shortly before the event Mio Momono was added to the match and it became a 7-way contest where eliminations could happen by pin, submission, or being thrown over the top rope to the floor. I’d been at Mio’s pro wrestling debut in NYC as well as seeing her in a fantastic opening contest at Marvelous’ Christmas Eve show, so was quite excited for her Ice Ribbon debut.




It was an extremely fortuitous change, as they really made the most of the format and this was much more interesting than IR’s traditional random 6-man would have been. EVERYONE got a chance to shine at various points, including Ozaki showing off her strength with a double torture rack, innovative multi-person moves and pin attempts, and an incredible sequence where Uno was thrown to the apron and went crazy trying to stay in the match running halfway around the ring on the apron while everyone inside tried to knock her off. The effort from all seven wrestlers was phenomenal, and they really got the crowd fired up for several sequences.



Excellent match overall, and one of my favorites of my trip. In the end Saya got to look strong somewhat surprisingly hanging in until the final two competitors, but the expected (and rightful) wrestler won when Kyuri pinned her with the Fisherman suplex. Great showings for all involved. Really hope to see Mio continue to wrestle in IR.


4) Triangle Ribbon Title: Ai Shimizu (c) vs Maruko Nagasaki vs Manami Toyota

This was a straight up slaughter, which made sense but also meant not much interesting was going on, particularly when the champion was one of the people being dominated. Adding to the awkwardness was an uncharacteristically botched move off the ropes from Toyota early on, but she acknowledged it and played it off to keep the match moving as smoothly as she could.




Both defending champion Ai and challenger Maruko were just outmatched by Toyota, who powered through everything either tried on her and simultaneously pinned them both with a moonsault to win the Triangle title. Very short and effective for what it was, but Maruko in particular could have been made a star here by hanging in better against the legend.



It’ll be interesting to see what’s done with Toyota as champion. The very nature of the title means she’ll likely eventually lose the championship without being pinned for it, so the value to the roster of her reign will be in how her challengers in the meantime look in defeat.


5) Miyako & Jun Kasai vs Tank Nagai & Kengo Mashimo (w/ Mio Shirai)

Like last year, Miyako’s Ribbonmania match was a mixed tag affair. The action was quite strong until end, with Miyako being (perhaps unwisely) fearless in the face of her larger, male opponents. They brawled into the crowd early, then returned to the ring to trade some pretty high impact slams and strikes for a bit.



Unfortunately things veered into uncomfortable territory for the finish, with Miyako taking Mio Shirai hostage with a pair of scissors held to Mio’s throat. Ugh ugh ugh. It of course eventually backfired, Mio got free, and Miyako was chokeslammed to give her opponents the victory.

REALLY not a fan of realistic weapons being used (particularly with blurred levels of humor), even with Miyako’s usual ineffectiveness in using them.  Would much prefer Miyako stick to her comical weapons (beachballs, etc) instead of exaggerated ones (knife-like objects, guns, etc). Match was good until then though.


6) Maya Yukihi Trial Series Match 7 of 7: Maya Yukihi vs Nanae Takahashi  

Throughout 2016 Maya underwent a “trial series” of matches against high profile opponents. She’d previously faced Manami Toyota, Mayumi Ozaki, Dynamite Kansai, Kyoko Kimura, Hiroyo Matsumoto, and Risa (her regular tag partner and only victory of the series), leading to this final match against SEAdLINNNG’s Nanae Takahashi.

This was exactly what I expected: an ok match with Nanae dominating. Maya was never portrayed as having any real chance of pulling off the upset.


7) International Ribbon Tag Title Match: Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) (c) vs The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi)

I was a bit trepidatious headed into this match, as I generally don’t care for the Butchers’ gimmick, and signs seemed to be pointing towards them dethroning my current favorite tag team for IR’s tag team titles. Mizunami won Wave’s (her home promotion) singles title the night before, and Misaki was declared her #1 contender. Between the roll the Butchers had been on and the new status quo in Wave, it would have made sense for AR to begin dropping their tag titles here.



But I find Hamuko and Mochi vastly more entertaining when they get serious, which they did here to great benefit. They went toe-to-toe with Misaki and Ryo, leading to an excellent match.

A particular highlight was an intense lariat exchange between Hoshi and Mizunami, who both throw them with incredible force.



In a pleasant surprise for me, Avid Rival persevered and retained their International Ribbon titles when Misaki hit her beautiful Sky Blue Suplex (bridging half wrist clutcth tiger suplex) on Mochi. Kudos to all four here.


Main Event) Ice Cross Infinity Title Tournament Finals: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Risa Sera

So as a result of winning the semi-finals earlier in the evening, Tsukka and Risa faced off here for IR’s top title.



Technically speaking, I thought this was a great match. The atmosphere and lack of crowd heat really hurt it though, as I thought it was pretty much the epitome of the “wrong match for the wrong crowd.” More specifically, it was the wrong match for the story they chose to tell.

It was instead exactly the match they should have had under the original trajectory of Tsukka’s title reign. This match would have been PERFECT as the end of Tsukka plowing through everyone else on a quest to best her own defense record just to run into a determined Risa dead set on proving she could reclaim her title from the woman who dethroned her.




However without Tsukka’s streak still in tact to add drama and uncertainty not one person in arena bought a Tsukka win here. Now predictability can actually be an advantage when done well, as I praised Ice Ribbon for regarding their New Year’s Eve show.

But here the tournament was sold on the possibility of the unexpected, which made a back and forth contest between determined rivals the wrong framework for the finals. Both competitors should have been conveying desperation here (or better yet someone else should have advanced to face Risa, or the whole tourney been skipped).




Risa’s a great champion for Ice Ribbon, and she and Tsukka worked a strong match here. But the ringwork and stories must work together, and the booking let them down resulting in a lukewarm crowd for what should otherwise have been a huge moment.



As usual the Ice Ribbon roster spread among the fans after the show to thank everyone for coming. Always a nice touch.

Overall I enjoyed myself quite a bit, but some of the booking decisions worked against the action and as a result live Ribbonmania came across as a good show that should have been a great one. It’s very likely it will play better on DVD though.

Board Games Reviews

Quick Thoughts: Red Riding Hood, The Pied Piper, & Kabuki Board Games

I recently tried more younger player aimed games with my niece. While they didn’t all have quite the hook for older / more experienced gamers like my previously examined Abraca…What? and Sushi Go!, they still presented fun experiences simple enough for younger players yet with a bit of depth to entertain those playing with them.


Red Riding Hood, The Pied Piper (Tales & Games)

The first two I’ll talk about are from the Tales & Games series, which are games based on stories and fairy tales that come in wonderfully thematic boxes designed like books.

Immediately striking is the quality of components and visual style of these games. The boxes don’t just look like books, the top flips open like a bookcover. Inside said covers are setup diagrams for the included game, which is a great touch. The cardboard chits and tokens are of decent weight, and each game had at least a couple of wooden character pieces.

In deciding to try these my main concern was that they’d be generic games with the theme haphazardly pasted on. Reviews seemed to indicate that wasn’t the case, so I chose two that seemed most interesting and had the most postive buzz. There are six different games in the series so far.

I’m happy to report my concerns were in fact unrealized. Each game is fairly suitable to it’s inspirational story, with goals and mechanics that make sense.

In Red Riding Hood the goal is to get Red to Grandma’s house before the wolf. There are two game modes, one with everyone alternately controlling Red and one with one player as the wolf against everyone else. We only played the co-op version, so I can’t comment on the differences nor the mechanics of playing the wolf.

Gameplay centers around a press your luck element where each drawn card can increase the number of spaces Red might move, but at any point if you draw a card with lower value than those already on the board everything is cleared, Red doesn’t move, and the wolf gets closer.  There are a couple other aspects, like a shorter but risky secret path to take and bonus movement when a card depicting Red is drawn, that add depth without making things too complicated. My niece loved this and the rest of us found it fun enough.

Pied Piper has a little more to the mechanics, with each player trying to keep their house from becoming infested with rats. The infestation level is marked with a tracker that moves up whenever a rat passes their house and down when the Piper does. Movement is determined by player directional arrows on cards that are color coded to correspond to specific rat tokens in between the various houses. We tried this with just two players, which was fine but it really seems the game would be more interesting with more people.

Like Red Riding Hood I think this is great for the target ages, but here the younger players are at a clear disadvantage against older players who can process and plan what the different arrows will do in sequence. Be careful not to be too ruthless when playing this one with young gamers, as I imagine it could frustrate them quickly.

Overall though these are two distinct, well done games that make good use of the recognizable themes. I’m curious to see what the other games in the series are like.





Kabuki really is a brilliant little gem. It’s a “simple” memory game that has an actual game built around it. There are four performer cards, which are the bases for four piles. On each turn a player draws a mask card and places it on one of the piles. That’s it. The key is you’re trying to play it on a performer that isn’t already “wearing” that particular mask. If another player thinks the mask you played is already in the pile, they say “stop” and call for a check of the pile. If they’re right they take one of your victory points. If not they lose one to the bank. That’s it. Most points at the end of the game wins.

It’s a wonderful elegant variation that puts everything in the players’ hands. The chosen theme lends itself wonderfully to the concept, as the mask cards can be stylistic in a way that makes it hard to remember exactly what’s in each pile. Yet when masks are side by side they’re quite distinct and easy to tell apart (which is equally important). Beautiful, vibrant artwork enhances both aspects. Most colors have 2 different mask versions (blue has 3 and green only 1), and each mask version has 5 copies in the deck. So eventually a copy of every single mask will HAVE to be played in a pile that already has a copy.

The straightforward core mechanics make Kabuki extremely easy to teach, yet remembering the contents of the piles as the 60 mask cards are played will tax anyone’s memory. Perhaps best of all the playing field is pretty even, regardless of age and experience of the players. Overall my niece was just a little faster at calling out misplays and a little less likely to be wrong and won most of the games we played (with a variety of opponents all older than her). While she enjoyed all five games mentioned between this column and the one linked to above, I think this was her favorite (with Sushi Go! and Red Riding Hood close behind).



That’s all for now. Hope to be back with more soon. 🙂

Anime Film Reviews

Ocean Waves Review

On the verge of his high school reunion, Taku recalls how all his problems began with a transfer student’s arrival.




The 20+ year old “lost” Studio Ghibli classic featuring high school love and all the awkwardness that goes with it finally sees a US release, and I had the opportunity to catch it during limited screenings in NYC.

For context, I’m a middle of the road Ghibli fan. I appreciate the general quality and have favorites among their films that I consider incredible, but I don’t go crazy for every movie they do and was lukewarm on several I’ve seen (and outright hated one).

So I had no preconceived expectations really, which made it even more interesting when this fell firmly in  the gray area of my personal opinion. Most things have high and low points, but usually there’s a predominant overall impression, be it good, bad, or indifferent.

Recently I played a video game (Zero Time Dilemma) that bucked that trend for me in that I both liked and disliked in pretty much equal measure. That same conflicting batch of feelings perfectly describes my reaction to Ocean Waves.

Given that most of the film is told as a memory, there’s a fog of “unreliable narrator” feeling that envelopes the story. It’s the epitome of a double edged sword here. It makes sense that certain things would be more vivd in his mind than others and that he wouldn’t always notice or know other’s motivations, which helps establish the drama and his personal point of view as main character, but it also presents characterization issues with regards to the rest of the cast. A big part of the problem is that the film conveys early on that most of what we’re seeing is a memory, but then presents that memory in the style of objective reality, which leads to thematic and empathy issues.

Arguably the third most important character in the film felt like nothing more than a story prop to me after a decent introduction. He acted as the plot demanded instead of naturally, and needed to come across as much more likable than he was for the themes to click properly.

The narrator’s narrow field of view also causes a particular moment that should have been meaningful and dramatic to instead end up uncomfortable and cringeworthy. I know the point is supposed to be that he doesn’t understand where the other person is coming from and acts out because of it, but without due exploration of the other person’s side of things the movie appears to be taking sides, to ill effect.  All in all I spent most of the movie wanting to like everyone more than I actually did.

Yet there’s still something incredibly captivating about Ocean Waves, particularly in the latter half. I really wanted to know what happened to Taku, Rikako, and Yutaka almost despite myself. Their reactions felt authentic even when not built up fully and the oddness of everyday life and everyday worries was captured with a deftness I’ve seldom seen. The movie shines in its small moments, when the story gets out of its own way.

I wouldn’t give Ocean Waves a strong recommendation, but again I did like as much about it as I disliked. I think overall what it does right overcomes its flaws enough to be a worthwhile watch despite my highly mixed feelings (and of course others end up loving it if their tastes and tolerances are different from mine).



Reviews Video Games

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Review

This combination of two distinctly different, beloved franchises takes an archeology professor, a lawyer, witches, and shakes liberally until thoroughly mixed.


Wait… witches?! O_o


…ok sure why not. It’s not like a fantasy setting can really make Phoenix Wright’s adventures much stranger. 😉




The prologues set up things well, with related events separately running afoul of Professor Hershel Layton and Phoenix Wright. These segments serve to establish the gist of each character’s gameplay elements as well as the central characters.

In an interesting choice the art style from each separate game is kept for its characters. The mix is a little weird at first, but I got used to it quickly and it was probably a better approach than trying to force one set of iconic characters into the other world’s style. Also, the backgrounds tie it all together pretty well.

Similar to the mixing of art styles is the mix of going back and forth between the disparate gameplay mechanics.  I found it jarring at first and a bit forced as during the first half of the game it was basically switching each chapter. But it ended up melding together much more naturally and seamlessly by the end.

While I’ve played and enjoyed both series, I’m traditionally more of a fan of the Phoenix Wright games. Yet here the Professor Layton elements were perhaps just a touch better, likely due to fitting the story more naturally. The trials were a bit contrived, and some of the constructions and limitations implemented to extend them (and thus the gameplay) were ridiculous.

However they were still enjoyable, and the new mechanics introduced (group testimony and related elements) were fun and well done. Also, the “railroading” feeling and unreasonable burden of proof being foisted on the defense fit the themes and historical events obviously being alluded to.

On the opposite side the puzzle elements were pretty much classic Layton. Sometimes appropriate and interwoven into the narrative well, sometimes shoehorned in, yet nearly all reasonably fun and varied in difficulty.

Once everything starts to come together, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright uses a couple of strong, nuanced characters to anchor the plot amidst a silly supporting cast that keeps the tone from getting too dark. Parts were overly melodramatic, but that’s par for the course with both these series and it never derailed the tension.

Things just kept escalating and provided an excellent story with compelling mysteries, strong foreshadowing that simultaneously avoided spoiling things, and some phenomenally clever twists and red herrings. The story’s climax was fantastic, and overall I left Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright extremely satisfied with the journey I’d been taken on.

Highly recommended to fans of either series, just make sure to stick past the somewhat uneven start.


Board Games Reviews

T.I.M.E Stories: The Marcy Case Board Game Review

I love the general setup of T.I.M.E Stories and really enjoyed the initial adventure (Asylum). I’d heard mixed things about this followup first expansion and was curious to see if the potential of the established mechanics would continue to be capitalized on.



As with my review of the base game / first mission I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible.

The overarching structure and premise of T.I.M.E Stories remains the same: the players work for a time travel agency and go back in time on missions. Each player is sent back into a receptacle (character), Quantum Leap style, and they must work together to figure out what’s happening and complete the mission. This expansion provides a new story deck representing a completely new mission from the one included in the base game.

Here the brilliance of the design choice to use token and symbols that can be reassigned to different meanings from mission to mission really shows. It allows context appropriate and specific characteristics and items that enhance the story and fit within the particular adventure and time period the players find themselves in.

For example where in Asylum characters might have to talk their way out of certain situations using a “glibness” trait, here the ability to “search” affects how the scenario unfolds for the players. There are other traits, items, etc that are defined within the scenario being played yet use the same components and rules established in the base game.

And highlighting the flexibility those design choices allow might very well have been one of the primary design goals of this expansion. A friend of mine summarized it best with the comment that The Marcy Case “demonstrates the versatility of the system.” It does feel and play quite different from Asylum, and I think that was pretty much the whole point.

I understand why people expecting more of what Asylum was would be somewhat disappointed (and I honestly do think Asylum was just a little better), but this was still an excellent entry in the series that captured that same atmosphere of tension and adventure. Perhaps most importantly like Asylum also had a strong theme and story, including meaningful choices to be made and some of the best and well executed red herrings I’ve ever seen (even if they did sometimes make me want to pull my hair out).

Additionally the conveyed detail and nuance of the environments to be explored and general immersion that is achieved with just cards continues to be amazing. I know I’m harping on it a bit but the framework of T.I.M.E Stories and what can be done with it just incredible.



That’s not to say that this was perfect. As I mentioned in passing above I did like Asylum a touch more, and there are a couple of minor things here I would have liked to seen done differently (that I can’t get into due to spoilers). But I thought it was great overall and don’t agree with the idea that it suffers for being different.



The more I play T.I.M.E Stories, the more and more I adore it. Bring on the next expansion. 🙂

Film Reviews

Quick Takes: Magnificent 7, Jason Bourne, Suicide Squad, and X-men: Apocalypse

So if there’s one thing a 14 hour plane ride is good for, it’s catching up on movies I’ve missed. Here are brief thoughts on four films I plowed through on my way to Japan last month.


The Magnificent Seven


Watched this on a whim, mostly due to the impressive cast. Decent Western with good setting, although the story would have been stronger if it was more along the lines of its synopsis. It wasn’t a bunch of guns for hire that grew to care the more they learned about the situation, as their “leader” Washington was never there for the money in the first place. It hampered the themes a bit. Also, some characters (such as Pratt in a remarkable performance) were much more interesting than others and stole the spotlight when the movie focused on them. Still, overall this was pretty compelling.



Jason Bourne


Here we have the first of three movies I had waited on because of less than favorable reviews. As will become a theme for all three, it was better than I expected.

Though their trademark “shaky camera” fight scenes always leave me near nausious, I enjoyed the previous three Jason Bourne movies and was happy with Damon’s return to the role. This was definitely a retread in numerous thematic ways, but I thought the story fit with and expanded upon the previous narratives nicely. Not fantastic, but good enough.



Suicide Squad


Well first off this wasn’t nearly as horrible as I’d heard. It was a mixed bag though, with highlights and weakness throughout the film. My biggest worry from what I’d seen in trailers was Smith as Deadshot, and those worries were both justified and unfounded. Smith actually played a fine character and played it well, but it didn’t feel like Deadshot at all. Writing weakness there. Similarly while this was an ok action film with some interesting plot and character touches, it didn’t feel like Suicide Squad. Glad I checked it out, but nothing I ever need to see again.



X-Men Apocalypse


From word of mouth I expected a trainwreck from the latest X-Men movie, and in contrast I found a solid story that built off of First Class and Days of Future Past well. It’s admittedly not as good as those two films and so big in scope some characters (looking at you Psylocke) got shorted in the script and were underdeveloped. The overall arc was good though, Apocalypse was a worthy foe, and my biggest worry (Magneto as a Horseman) was done logically.



So overall I spent a pretty enjoyable time on my flight with four films that provided both nothing extraordinary and nothing really bad. I don’t regret either skipping them at the theaters nor eventually watching them.