Japan Reviews Wrestling

Gatoh Move 8/26/17 Live Thoughts

August 26, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Gatoh Move’s Ichigaya shows are always unique and interesting given the venue (with small space and lack of ring) and how the performers use and adapt to it. For more detail see my previous reviews. Being summertime the building was a hotbox, but a slight cross breeze from the open window frames and cold packs handed out as the show began helped a lot (Gatoh Move is incredibly considerate and thoughtful of its fans in things like that).

As usual for Gatoh Move the show opened and closed with a song/dance, but Emi sat out this time. The opening was a solo by Aasa and the closing performed by her, Riho and Kotori. The card looked interesting, with a big tournament main event, a men’s match to open, and several “outside” guests (perhaps in place of Obi, who’s out injured, and Mitsuru, who couldn’t make this event – hope to see both back soon).

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows.




First was Masahiro Takanashi  against Yamada Taro. This was a great example of the different styles that can work in Ichigaya Chocolate Square’s unique environment. It was near entirely grapple based, with the combatants trying to out power each other on the mat. Solid, interesting opener.

Up next was a tag match of Kaori Yoneyama & Emi Sakura vs Riho & Saki. Little touches like Emi’s glare as Riho was introduced as Gatoh Move’s Ace and somewhat of a heel edge shown by Kaori & Emi gave this additional depth. This was a hard hitting, back and forth encounter with some ref involvement in the finish as he was out of place and used to trip Saki into a pin by the crafty veterans, giving an out to Riho & Saki and seeming to set up additional angles during the roundtable.




The main event was the second semi-final of Gatoh Move’s title tournament to determine who would face Riho in the finals at their September Greenhall show.  Kotori vs Aasa was appropriately treated like a big deal and felt important. The outcome was never really in doubt with Kotori on a march to face her tag partner in the finals, but they did an excellent job building drama for near falls regardless and put on a main event that is a testament to their skill even at relatively short times in wrestling.

They went right for each other from the first second in another match that made good use of the environment yet felt different from the other two on the show. I continue to love Aasa’s gimmick, and her energetic onslaught trying to overwhelm the more experienced Kotori was a perfect story for the match as the latter was forced to get creative in countering Aasa’s exuberance. One particularly great spot involved them fighting out the window then running around the building back through the door. Kotori entered first and tried to ambush Aasa, but the latter just BARRELED through Kotori with one of her Vader splashes instead. As expected Kotori eventually prevailed, and she beamed pride throughout the roundtable and even during the meet and greet afterward while Aasa did likewise with little spots of disappointment and despondence. Great touches from both. Koroti vs Riho to crown a champion should be great.




I enjoyed this from top to bottom as it had three diverse, very good matches. Fun time.



Books Reviews

Ghost Detective Review

“Everybody dies. Nobody leaves.”

Private detective of sorts Myron Vale has good reason to be reclusive. Ghosts remain on Earth after someone dies. ALL of them. Myron is twice cursed by a lingering injury, as not only can he see and interact with the multitude of ghosts everyone else is unaware of, he can’t tell them from the living…




Ghost Detective surrounds a strong hard boiled detective core with a fascinating supernatural concept. The blending of the two genres really works and the premise is well used. Little details, like Myron being a recluse, arise naturally and make things feel authentic within the extraordinary setup.

The story is a little heavy on plot convenient coincidence and a few things fit too neatly, but it’s still compelling overall, with logical progression and reasonably interesting characters and developments. This is a good opening book, and Myron’s adventures have the potential to be even better going forward.

Comics Reviews

Usagi Yojimbo Vol 31 Review

The Hell Screen is volume 31 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. It’s another volume that benefits from having read Usagi’s previous adventures but also stands reasonably well on its own.




For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”


The titular story is three parts long and features the return of one of Usagi’s most trusted companions in a murder mystery amid the backdrop of temple marked for possible redevelopment. It features a disturbing screen depicting Hell at it’s center, and various suspicious individuals with their own agendas and paranoias. The mystery honestly isn’t as compelling as usual this time, but the story was more about the themes of conflict and selfishness anyway and appropriately well told.


The trade is filled out with four shorter stories that similarly feature a mix of themes relating to desperation, consequences, and looking beyond the surface. The inevitability of fate is also looked at, from a couple different points of view. There’s a story of a town victimized during their struggle to survive a rainstorm and flood and a thoughtful follow up about the fate of one of the citizens at the hands of a monster, a contrast of debt and duty, and a tale of responsibility and sacrifice that sees Usagi escort a man and his elderly mother to see his father in the mountains.

The messages (both positive and negative) are a little heavy handed this time but fit with the ongoing narrative and Usagi’s character. The story with the greatest potential ended too quickly and in a predictable, unsatisfying manner, but there are a couple of gems here as well.

Overall this is another good installment in Sakai’s epic, if not quite reaching its usual standards in my eyes.

Reviews Wrestling

Evolve 91 and Progress NYC Live Review

August 12, 2017 in Queens, NY

Evolve returned Queens yesterday, but in a new venue at Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities Center, presumably to better handle the large crowd expected for Progress wrestling’s NY debut in the second half of the double header.


I want to spend the majority of this talking about the wrestling, so let me address this upfront: the venue turned out to be a horrible choice for the Progress event. During the Evolve event it was largely fine (although the floor seats and ring being down a giant set of bleachers was not at all disability friendly). But there were plenty of seats open for that event and no standing room fans. For Progress every seat was taken, both reserved and GA bleachers, and there were tons of standing room tickets sold. The arena became a suana, with no air flow at all and an unbearable level of heat. Cramming 1,500+ people into that space was irresponsible and dangerous. Two fans needed help from fainting.

Most disappointing has been the reactions I’ve seen, both from fans not at the venue and people involved with WWNLive. There’re undercurrents that it’s somehow wrong to “complain” about this situation because it could damage the company/business and that this type of things should be expected and just has to be accepted when attending indie events. Both are utter nonsense. People should not have to fear heat exhaustion nor fainting when going to an event they paid money for, nor should everyone have to rush to concessions to literally buy bottles of water in handfuls (which was only available on and off) to try and prevent such things. The venue was improperly ventilated and cooled, and way oversold. As fans we have to stop accepting this as normal, and call out those who dismiss valid concerns as “moaning and complaining.”

I would like to note that Progress has not yet made a statement about this (due to being busy with something else I’ll discuss later), and was extremely apologetic about the heat during the show. Also, the wrestlers (who were clearly suffering from the sweltering conditions themselves) ran to get water for a fainting fan in the front row and stood in front of him fanning him. It seemed they were doing everything they could to deal with the unfortunate circumstances. If they arranged the venue (which is unlikely considering it was a double header with an established company in this country), I hope they accept responsibility and do better in the future. If WWNLive did (which is probable), I hope Progress holds them accountable and takes steps to ensure a safer environment for their fans next time.


Alright, on to the shows themselves.


Evolve 91

The “Troll Boys” of Ethan Page and ACH came out together for the opening contest against each other, which was meant as punishment for not taking their last match seriously and goofing around. So they didn’t take this one seriously and goofed around, putting on a parody match poking fun at a lot of the current conventions in well regarded matches. Page is better at the comedy stuff than ACH, so this was uneven. The angle also appears to be backfiring a bit, as most of the crowd is highly amused by the petulant, selfish antics of these two and thus they’re getting over as FACES by being assholes. That’s not really good for any of the stories Evolve’s trying to tell. Hard to rate this. I didn’t like it and again if they’re supposed to be heels it was a failure, but in straight up terms of getting a crowd reaction it definitely succeeded.




As expected, Darby Allin defeated Timothy Thatcher in their rematch by surprising the veteran with some nice grapple based wrestling to further Darby’s quest to be seen as more than a stuntman. Him pulling out the coffin drop to the floor again undercuts that sentiment, but overall the story was solid and Darby is improving in the ring (although I personally don’t care for his style). Thatcher of course played his part to perfection in putting the rookie over on what seemed like his way out of Evolve for a while. Shame, as he’s one of my favorite parts of the promotion.


EVOLVE Tag Team Champions James Drake & Anthony Henry are making quite a strong impression so far and looked very good against a surprisingly fun makeshift team of Fred Yehi & Jason Kincaid. Kincaid continues to really make the most of his gimmick and the slow burn angle of the zen master having trouble controlling his temper is progressing nicely.




The Progress involvement in the latter half of the show was excellent, with a strong match between Mark Haskins and Austin Theory and a hell of a tag match between Chris Dickinson & Jaka and The South Pacific Power Trip (Travis Banks & TK Cooper). All six men involved in those two matches looked quite good.

The main event fatal four way for the WWN Title was as great as expected. There were nice threads running underneath the hard hitting action, such as bitter rivals Matt Riddle and Tracy Williams breifly working together to try to control their much larger opponents (Keith Lee and WALTER) to retain, Williams acting like a vulture constantly trying to take advantage of everyone else’s work to steal a win, and the two behemoths getting interrupted a few times before finally laying into each other. The strikes Riddle, Lee, and Walter hit each other with were unreal. One incredible spot saw Lee German suplex Walter while Walter was trying to do so to Riddle, sending the champ FLYING across the ring. In a somewhat surprising finish Riddle made Williams tap in the center of the ring with the Bromission, seemingly definitively dealing with his former stablemate without a singles match. Excellent stuff overall. Lee and Riddle have another tentative fist bump after the match, and it’s clear at some point Lee’s going to lose patience with coming up short to his friend and snap in spectacular fashion.

Good show from Evolve with a lot of strong action and a good look at some of the Progress talent which got me even more excited for the second show to come.



This was my first experience with Progress, and it certainly lived up to the hype. The atmosphere was INCREDIBLE, with the crowd going nuts right off the bat and launching into a “please come back” chant as soon as the show started. Jimmy Smallman was overwhelmed and extremely gracious and grateful. He addressed the topic on everybody’s mind right away, bringing out Pete Dunne who was scheduled to defend the WWE European Title against Jack Gallagher but was injured the night before and not cleared to wrestle. Dunne, who the crowd was thrilled to see at all, was masterful in getting them to boo him regardless and eventually stomped off when Jack came out to issue a challenge for a later date. Zack Gibson then came out to run down Jack to boos so loud he could barely cut his promo, and we had our replacement match. It was a treat to see Jack live and they held nothing back, putting on a strong opener with absolutely incredible heat.

The other bonus appearance of WWE contracted talent was next as Dakota Kai (the former Evie) teamed with Dahlia Black (who had seconded the South Pacific Power Trip during the Evolve show) against Jinny & Deonna Purazzo. A little rough in parts and Jinny seemed rather limited in the ring, but this was a very good tag match overall that got the crowd involved after energy dropped a little following Jack’s match. Kai’s past was acknowledged with healthy “Team Kick” chants. Good job and excellent effort from all four. Nice Progress debut’s for Kai and Purazzo.

In a contest featuring two of my personal favorites, Timothy Thatcher defeated Donovan Dijak in a number one contendership match for Progress’ Atlas Championship. Dijak is so smooth and fluid (especially for his size) he’s always a pleasure to watch. Really enjoyed this battle of Dijak’s agility against Thatcher’s ground game.




The next match was said to be ending the first half because “there will probably be a lot of clean up needed” following it, and everyone knew it was tim for Jimmy Havoc’s no-DQ match against the debuting Joey Janela. In a crazy match featuring cinder blocks, tables, and Janela being dropped barefoot first onto thumbtacks, the most impressive spot was amusingly Janela being monkey-flipped out of a chair by Havoc, holding onto it, and landing STILL SEATED in the chair. This was great, and Havoc’s everything I’d heard and more.

After intermission, Smallman pointed out a fan in the front row that had travelled to see the show, and it turned into a marriage proposal to his girlfriend next to him. The crowd got into the happy moment and it was a wonderful thing to share in. 🙂 Really awesome of Progress to make time during their show for a special moment for a fan.

Then Mark Haskins and Mark Andrews came out for their previously advertised three-way with Zack Gibson. Smallman said it was advertised as a multi-man match, so that’s what we were getting, and called out a third man in the form of Austin Theory. Great choice, as not only is Theory an extremely capable rising star with good heat behind his current heel gimmick, he had some built in backstory from losing to Haskins on the Evolve show earlier in the day. But before they can start Smallman says it’s an important night so let’s go big and make it a four-way, and out comes Keith Lee (!!!) to a thunderous reaction. Excellent match, with everyone firing on all cylinders and the monstrous Lee once again demonstrating why he’s both incredible and crazy by throwing people around, attempting moonsaults, and taking Canadian Destroyers and reverse ranas. One jaw dropping spot saw a normal looking tower of doom arrangement turned on its head when Lee walked out of the corner carrying Theory in powerbomb position, who was STILL HOLDING Andrews straight up in superplex position. The strength and balance of all three men there is amazing. By a slim margin this may have been my favorite of the night.




The big Progress’ Tag Title match seeing British Strong Style (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) defend against The South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks) was cut short early when Cooper injured his ankle on a corkscrew dive to the floor. Once the ref threw up the “x” and had people coming out to help Smallman explained that TK was injured and asked everyone to please be patient while they figured out what was going on. While this was happening a fan in the front row opposite had medical issues (apparently due to dehydration) and British Strong Style got him water and fanned him while Tk was being checked across the ring. The fan was helped out and TK eventually carried out by wrestlers. It’s been reported that TK dislocated his ankle, and the Progress crew was in the hospital with him last night after the show before heading to Boston for today’s. Smallman thanked the crowd for their patience and respect afterwards during the unexpected, unfortunate situation.

He then said that Banks was insisting on fighting, and while it’d have to be non-title, if we wanted to see it there could be a handicap match between him and the champs. Banks said now it’s “not about titles anymore, it’s about family.” They did a good job adjusting and putting on a decent little underdog match that saw Banks eventually use the champs’ numbers against them and neutralize the interfering Dunne to isolate one member and get a quick three count for the feel good win.




Last up was Progress’ Atlas Champion WALTER defending the title against the man he won it from, Matt Riddle. After seeing the two of them interact during the WWN four-way title match I was hyped up for this, and it was fantastic. They hit the hell out of each other, Riddle bounced around as Walter showed his strength, and Riddle showed his own astounding strength tossing Walter and hitting THREE Bro-to-Sleeps throughout the match. Eventually The King of Bros locked in the Bromission to win the title back and send the crowd into a frenzy.


From the action to the atmosphere to the way they operated in difficult circumstances Progress’ NYC debut was a huge success. The hellish venue was unfortunate, but the show itself was incredible and a wonderful introduction for me to a promotion I’ve heard a ton about.

Film Japan

Japan Cuts 2017: In This Corner of the World Review

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2017 started on July 13th and ran through July 23rd. My thoughts on 2015’s festival can be read starting here and on last year’s starting here. This year I’ve previously seen and reviewed Mumon, Tokyo Idols, and The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue.




Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is one of my favorite manga of all time. Fumiyo Kōno’s tale of life in the shadow of the nuclear bombs during the following decades is thoughtful, informative, and masterfully told. So I was extremely interested when I found out that her other work about the war was being adapted into an animated movie, and pleased when I found out Japan Cuts would be screening it.

The scope of In This Corner of the World is likewise how the war affected everyday life in Japan, but this time Kōno presents a picture of gradual effects and changes, as well as point of view of average people, leading up to and during the war.

The focal point is a young woman named Suzu who goes through school, gets married, and joins a new family against the backdrop of increasingly dire world events. There’s a wonderful use of time passage to illustrate key aspects of the story. The viewers are given little glimpses of both significant and mundane experiences to establish the status quo of Suzu’s life at different stages. The careful balance of light, amusing moments and interactions of normal life, the adjustments forced by the background war, and the more heartbreaking, “gut punch” events and realities of war combine to form a genuine feeling, important look at a dark time in world history.

The knowledge of what’s going to happen to Suzu’s hometown of Hiroshima tensely looms over the movie and the lives observed. Seeing their everyday concerns and normal worries (including arranged marriage, growing up, self-doubt, etc) intermixed with those of life and death makes the war less abstract in an important way. As such there are certain things that can predicted (yet still have enormous impact when they happen) and others that are still complete shocks and upend the viewers’ expectations. The film is frank in its depictions without anything feeling exaggerated or exploitive. The reality of the war and dropping of the atomic bombs is more than horrific enough. The numerous effects, physical, emotional, societal, etc, all creep into Suzu’s life in harsh ways that are allowed to resonate with the viewer due to the film refusing to shy away from showing the impact they have on the attitudes and outlooks of those affected. The actual violence shown differs in graphicness, often focusing more on the aftermath yet occasionally presenting graphic details for emphasis in certain situations.

The animation is gorgeous and perfectly captures Kōno’s drawing style and adapts it for film and motion. The color palate is beautiful and helps to draw viewers completely into the narrative. Producer Taro Maki mentioned it was well researched to be historically accurate in the representation of scenery.  The contrast of soft visuals depicting often horrific and tense events and situations works quite well to highlight the themes and emotions the film means to convey.


Producer Taro Maki was excellent during the post viewing Q&A, responding well to sensitive topics (including the fact that the everyday citizens of Japan would have been informed by propaganda and not aware of larger world events, leading to the presence of points of view in the film some audience members incorrectly took as biased endorsements of Japan’s side) as well as sharing interesting insight into the crowdfunding aspects of the film’s production. His appearance was somewhat of a full circle for me, as I saw a screening of Millennium Actress many years ago that he also attended and held a Q&A at.


In This Corner of the World is opening for limited theater release in the US on August 11. It’s both excellent and important. I highly recommend seeing it if you can.

Board Games Reviews

The Captain is Dead Board Game Review (First Impressions)

Here’s a “survive dire straits” scenario as the players are crew members on a damaged starship under attack by aliens and the captain has just been killed. Can a random assortment of lower level crew hold off the aliens and stem the damage long enough to repair the jump core and escape to safety?




I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this curiously themed cooperative game, dripping with Star Trek homages and a combination of tongue in cheek humor and impending doom.

If ever there was a game that exceeded my expectations, it’s The Captain is Dead. The odd premise is incredibly fun and engaging from the moment the game begins, as well as being ingeniously integrated into the gameplay and highly engrossing.There’s a real sense of entropy that the players need to get ahead of to succeed.

The mechanics are solid and really conductive to the game’s feel of being able to respond just enough to the ever increasing pressure.  Little touches like random starting damage to the ship and distinct, useful player abilities contribute to the immersion. The implementation of the starships various “systems” is a fantastic hook. In general powered up versions of basic actions are available until/unless that system goes down. It makes it important to repair things and gives the players important decisions while still allowing a minimum level of effectiveness and choice when things are damaged/destroyed.

The group will need to react to the situation as needed, so there is the possibility of some players could have to to run a lot of “damage control” and end up doing the same things over and over. A willingness to adjust play style to what’s needed is key, so this admittedly might not necessarily appeal to players who prefer to be proactive and have total control over their role in the game.

The replayability for this looks to be incredibly high. The random elements in terms of the order of increasingly severe obstacles and a simple but deep card based approach to skills and actions provide great variability from game to game on their own. On top of that though is a variety of player roles with unique powers that have a big effect on gameplay. Changing just one of the four characters we were paying with would have completely changed our strategy and made for a significantly different experience.

With four players (three of us were new to the game) things seemed balanced at like the game would scale well to different player counts. With a bit of luck we survived by the skin of our teeth on “Veteran” difficulty (the exact middle of the seven possible levels), which seemed reasonable with a couple of seasoned gamers at the table. Success felt difficult but possible, which is exactly what a good co-op should strive for.

Great co-op all around. Maybe not something I’d want to play constantly due to its specific nature, but definitely one I want to revisit at some point. Highly recommended for anyone who’s ok with reactive gameplay and the quirky sci-fi setting.


Board Games Reviews

Thunder and Lightning Board Game Review (First Impressions)




Thunder and Lightning is a unique card game that combines hand management and elements from the classic game Stratego in interesting ways. The latter part particularly intrigued me. 

Cards are played face down on opposing sides in (up to) 3 by 4 grids. Your first row can challenge your opponents first row Stratego style, with the higher value winning and staying on the board while the lower is discarded. There are a lot of little details that add up to surprising depth, such as the number of actions a player gets depending on how many columns they have in play, specific card actions and abilities, and the ability to decided which cards are kept in hand versus on the table. 

All of it put together means the game has a rather steep learning curve with regards to strategy. The mechanics are easy to grasp, but I fumbled around during first game in terms of trying to win, only starting to get feel for how I should be playing towards the end. As such while I think I really like it, it will take more plays for a final verdict.

It’s nice that there are a few ways to play/win (such one player not being able to use all their actions on a turn), although finding the opposing ring/crown does seem like it’d be the game ender 90% of the time. I think the alternate conditions are there to prevent certain stalemates, which is good foresight.




The art is beautiful, and the components of good quality. The player markers are nice but completely unnecessary, feeling tacked on to justify the asking price. I have mixed feelings on the oversized cards. It makes reading the text easier and emphasizes the aforementioned excellent artwork, but it’s really awkward for the (up to) 8 row setup and the powers are worded such that it’s often necessary to reference the rulebook anyway (which lessens the ease of reading advantage). I kind of wish the cards had been designed/printed horizontally instead of vertically, although that would have admittedly made the hand management aspect more difficult. 

Overall I enjoyed my first play of Thunder and Lightning and am looking forward to the opportunity to try it again and see if I have a better feel for strategy and how everything is supposed to work together.


Board Games Reviews

Quick Thoughts: Century: Spice Road and Einstein

Some quick impressions on my first experiences with a couple of new games.


Century: Spice Road




This is a decent little engine builder where you use various acquired cards to get and swap “spices” (colored cubes) in order to get the proper combinations to trade them for victory point cards.




Not much to say positive or negative about this one. It’s accessible and solid but a little bland for my tastes and nothing about it stands out enough for me to be in a rush to play again. Would likely be a good gateway game though, and what it does it does well so it’ll definitely appeal to a fair number of gamers more than it does to me.

I’ve heard this compared favorably to Splendor, but I personally can’t speak about that as I’ve never played the latter.





Einstein: His Amazing Life and Incomparable Science



That full title is a mouthful. Einstein is a quick, fun game that’s simple to play but has a nice sense of depth. Each player has the same number of four set shapes to play (representing different academic disciplines) but unique “ideas” (compound shapes) on cards in their hands that they are trying to create in the central play area. The catch is any basic shapes of your opponents’ that you use give them bonuses. The shapes fit together well and in interesting ways and a general pool of “major idea” cards that anyone can complete add nice options. Cool little light abstract.



Will be back with more soon. 🙂

Books Reviews

Hellequin: Prison of Hope Review

“You don’t scare me.”

“Then you clearly haven’t been paying attention.”


Prison of Hope is Nathan Garret’s fourth adventure. It’s a complete story on its own and does a good job of explaining the key concepts and characters, but also builds heavily on previously known characters and established backstory. Best to not to start here – go back to Crimes Against Magic (book 1). Also see my reviews for Born of Hatred (book 2) and With Silent Screams (book 3).


Tartarus, like all mythical things, isn’t quite as legends say. But it is the involuntary home of beings too dangerous to stay free. In 1936, the only known breakout occurred when the demon/human hybrid Pandora escaped and was tracked by sorcerer Nathan Garret. Now someone else hopes to become a second “success” story…




Prison of Hope promises to be the most ambitious Hellequin novel right off the bat by opening with a “List of Characters” section, naming key persons in both the flashback and current time periods. It’s a nice touch. Since the list is quite long it of course helps as a reference to keep everyone straight as the reader progresses, but it also raises anticipation for the appearances of some of the familiar mythological beings named that haven’t shown up in the series before. The skill with which McHugh blends numerous mythologies and magic systems into a cohesive world is masterful, as is his ability to then turn things on their head in believable, logical ways. His take on both Pandora and the Greek pantheon is fascinating and adds a lot of intrigue to the plot.

The flashback and modern time stories parallel and complement each other beautifully and the pace stays brisk and gripping throughout. McHugh has really found the perfect balance at this point of answering old questions and organically creating new ones in each new book to keep the series from getting stale without losing the suspense and atmosphere at the center of Hellequin’s appeal. Each new clue or detail about Nate’s past is a treat. There’s strong appearances by established supporting cast members as well as several new characters who are all well developed and distinct. And often annoying, but antagonists are supposed to be.

I’m going to wrap up here to avoid spoiling any of the surprises Prison of Hope has in store. One key reveal is actually spoiled in the book description, so if you’ve somehow found my review without reading that try to avoid it.

Prison of Hope is my favorite of the Hellequin series, combining compelling characters and plot in a suspenseful and gripping way.

Japan Reviews Wrestling

Japan Trip 2016: Top 10 Matches Part 2 (Live)

Like last year, I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2016 / start 2017. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from this year’s trip. See part 1 for some general info and stats about what I saw, honorable mentions for this top 10 list, and matches #6-10.

Match reviews copied/modified from my show specific blogs when possible/appropriate.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how many rookies made this top 10. I did a spotlight on several of them, all of which have bright futures ahead. Check it out here.


5. Mio Momono vs Mika Shirahime – Marvelous 12/25/16



I mentioned this match when talking about Mio’s performance in the 7-way at Ribbonmania (#7 on this list, featured in part 1). It was a perfect storm of excellent chemistry between opponents and both performing at a level far beyond their experience levels. Incredible instincts and craft were shown by both rookies, who built drama expertly through the 15 minute encounter and had the crowd going crazy at the end. There were a couple awkward spots, such as an instance from each where they essentially forgot to roll up their opponent, forcing the other to kind of roll herself up and wait for the other to get in proper position. But otherwise this was smooth and well executed. And even in the places I mentioned the ability of the other wrestler to adapt and keep things on track was impressive.

I was at Mio Momono’s debut in New York, and it’s wonderful to see how much she’s capitalized on the potential she showed even then. Her progression in 10 months was incredible. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for this extremely talented youngster.


4. International Ribbon Tag Championship: Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) (c) vs The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

Photo by Oliver Saupe.


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 (they held the Wave tag titles too).

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 clutch tiger suplex) on Mochi. Kudos to all four here. Fantastic stuff.


3. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kenny Omega – NJPW 1/4/17



The so called “Six Star Match” was admittedly fantastic, if not quite what the hype suggests. Okada and Omega built to a tremendous crescendo while telling a solid story of the cocky Omega being assured victory if he could hit the One Winged Angel, with the champion avoiding it at every turn until he simply outlasted the challenger and beat down Omega until he just couldn’t continue. They had a good first half of a match that felt largely unconnected to the phenomenal second half once they really kicked into gear.

Again still excellent overall though (which should be an obvious opinion with it here at #3 of 71 matches I saw), it’s just I personally don’t think it was the best match of all time up to that point, considering I didn’t even think it was the best of that show…


2. World of Stardom Championship: Io Shirai (c) vs Mayu – Stardom 12/23/16



In the main event of last year’s Climax Io Shirai claimed the World of Stardom title from  Meiko Satomura in one of my top five matches from that trip. In this year’s main she defended that same title against her former Thunder Rock partner Mayu Iwatani.

This was a great, pedal-to-the-floor main event with tons of jaw dropping exchanges from two pros extremely familiar with one another. Highlights include Mayu hitting dragon suplexes on the apron and floor (ouch!), trying for one from the top rope only to have Io flip out and LAND ON HER FEET, and a trio of rolling Germans from Io that has to be seen to be believed. Strong back and forth contest and an incredible main event.


1. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuo Naito (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW 1/4/17



… so here it is. In what I’m sure will be a largely disputed opinion I enjoyed the semi-main of Wrestle Kingdom 11 a bit better than the main. Naito and Tanahashi built an amazing back and forth struggle from start to finish. The tension gradually ramped to build to a perfect crescendo. Naito is in such command of his character now and the little touches he brings to his performances are a joy to see. Tanahashi is as always wrestling’s rock star. Definitive win for Naito too, which was 100% the right call.




That does it for this trip. Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible.