Japan Wrestling

The NXT Step for a Pirate

The signing of Stardom’s Kairi Hojo in early 2017 by the WWE created immediate buzz and excitement. It was wonderful to see that feeling build in anticipation as the Mae Young Classic and her debut as Kairi Sane approached.


Kairi is a masterful ring technician, measuring everything she does carefully and exerting expert body control for maximum visual impact. Her trademark diving elbow from the tope rope looks as beautiful as it does devastating. Her excellent selling draws the audience in and invests them emotionally in her matches, yet she always believably feels like a threat to her opponent no matter how much punishment she’s taken or how much bigger her opponent is. She brings something special and unique to WWE, and the hype surrounding her debut as it approached showed they realized it.




My own perspective on Kairi’s pre-WWE career was bit different from when I wrote about Kana (NXT Step for a Legend) and Johnny Gargano (NXT Step for an Icon) heading to NXT, as I’d only seen her live on two occasions (though she essentially wrestled twice on each show). Even from that small sample it was easy to see the command she has of her craft.


My first time seeing Kairi live was under unique circumstances, as she was involved in Act Yasukawa’s retirement match at Climax 2015.




Act’s retirement match and ceremony had an incredible atmosphere around it, and the entire spectacle was awesome to be at live. Kairi teamed with Act & Haruka Kato vs. Holidead, Kris Wolf & Kyoko Kimura in a match that went on for about 10 minutes, with back and forth action that saw Act and her teammates, particularly Kairi, more and more at odds. Both Act and Kairi did a phenomenal job at portraying two people who thought they had reconciled but were just never meant to get along. Things eventually exploded and the two fought into the crowd with everyone else along for the ride, resulting in a double countout.




Then the “real” match began, as Act rejoined her former Oedo Tai stablemates leading to Act Yasukawa & Kyoko Kimura vs Haruka Kato & Kairi Hojo. This was a fitting send off, with Act and her teammates clearly enjoying themselves against long time rivals. Kairi was clearly genuinely emotional as she helped bid farewell to her fellow wrestler’s career.




The following year I was back for Climax 2016 and saw Kairi in a pair of equally impressive matches at opposite ends of the spectrum. In a special contest model Nana Suzuki made her debut in a singles match against Hojo, one of Stardom’s aces. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog well and the match was quite good, due in no small part to Kairi playing her own role of dominant veteran absolutely perfectly. She knew exactly how to rightly control most of the offense and avoid reducing her own standing yet still make her rookie opponent look strong. That takes an incredible amount of skill and a deft touch, and the two told a great story here.



Later that night Kairi told a completely different story as she and partner Yoko Bito looked to regain their Goddesses of Stardom Titles from Oedo Tai (Kyoko Kimura & Kagetsu). This time Kairi was in some sense the underdog, as there was a lot of interference from the Oedo Tai entourage outside the ring. The stacked odds and again excellent awareness of the story being told combined to generate quite the conquering hero reception for Hojo & Bito when they finally overcame it all and took their belts back. It was a treat not only seeing Kairi perform twice, but in such different (but complimentary and consistent) circumstances.




Fast forward back to a few months ago and Kairi entered a WWE ring for the first time as part of the Mae Young Classic. It was certainly no surprise when she provided several of the best matches of the whole thing, including a show-stealing first round encounter with Tessa Blanchard, great bouts with Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, and Toni Storm, and a fitting finale to the whole thing against Shayna Baszler. Seeing her joy at becoming the well deserved first ever MYC winner was wonderful. Since then she has become an integral part of NXT’s women’s division, and is likely to feud with Shayna Baszler and eventually progress to a one on one challenge to champion Ember Moon.


Incredible art print depicting (and signed by) Kairi by Rob Schamberger.


Kairi Sane is the epitome of the cliche “a joy to watch,” and I wish her all the best as this exciting new phase of her career continues.

Board Games Reviews

Shadows in Kyoto Review (First Impressions)

I adore Hanamikoji, and its designers have released another excellent 2 player game with a tied in theme / aesthetic.





Like HanamikojiShadows in Kyoto has a classic Japanese theme to it, but this time players take on opposite sides of the Meiji Government and Oniwaban in a battle to uncover the other side’s spies and capture key intelligence without being misled.


Each player controls six pieces with values ranging from 0 to 3. There are Stratego-like elements of piece values being hidden from the opposing player and the “weakest” piece being able to capture the opponent’s best when attacking. From there on though Shadows in Kyoto is entirely its own game.




The core of the game revolves around the concept of “key intelligence.” Two of each players’ pieces are marked as carrying their key intelligence. Thematically this means they have “real” information the enemy wants and the rest of the pieces are carrying “fake” information to confuse them.

A player wins if either of their two agents carrying real intelligence reach the opponent’s back row, or if they capture both their opponent’s such agents. However if a player captures too many (three) of their opponent’s agents with fake intelligence they LOSE.


There are also clever card based mechanics related to moving player pieces.  Basic colored cards relate to spaces on the board and can move any friendly piece forward (straight or diagonally) into a space of that color. Limited tactics cards add options like moving/attacking sideways or backwards, swapping pieces, or forcing an opposing piece back.  The two types of cards are drawn from separate decks giving players interesting hand management options.


Finally, the base game can be modified by the addition of included asymmetric character and equipment cards with special abilities that increase variability and strategic choices.





General Thoughts

First off, there’s nothing tying Shadows in Kyoto to Hanamikoji beyond the art style and setting. But  that’s fine, as both games shine as their own unique creations and the common aesthetic is a nice enough touch.

I’ve always enjoyed the hidden information aspect of Stratego, and this pulls the best elements of it and improves them several fold with the concept of real and fake information and multiple victory conditions. The added dimension of often needing to attack yet having to be careful about capturing too many of the “wrong” pieces gives a fantastic extra layer of strategy and a strong “cat and mouse” feel to the game.




The asymmetric elements seem well varied and balanced, and again add an intriguing extra layer to the solid basic gameplay that extends replayability. There are some nice thematic ties running through the powers available to each side as well, particularly given the Oniwaban player always goes first.



The imaginative new take Shadows in Kyoto brings to classic gameplay elements and the depth arising from the hand management and asymmetric power aspects combine to something really fun and engaging. I loved this accessible, intriguing game immediately.






Books Reviews

An Artificial Night (October Daye Book 3) Review

“Heroes, Toby, heroes. You’re all idiots…”


Children, both human and fae, are disappearing, and October Daye is about to find out not all boogeymen are myths.


This is the third book in the October Daye series. There is probably enough context to follow without having read the previous books, but significant depth and nuance would be lost. Best to start with Rosemary and Rue (book 1).





An Artifical Night is fantastic. It revs up quick and hardly ever slows, keeping a constant sense of dread forefront. The skill with which the theme of children’s tales and the nebulous rules of farie are interwoven is masterful. McGuire drops new concepts on reader’s head constantly and abruptly, but she keeps it manageable somehow and does such wonderful things with them all is forgiven. Toby continues to be an excellent protagonist, being smart and largely self aware yet still susceptible to emotional responses and bad decisions.

In addition to compelling characters, interesting world, and strong plot, it’s the writing that shines and draws the reader in. The style is excellent, particularly in distinct, natural sounded dialogue and speech patterns rising from characters’ personalities and individual situations. I enjoyed the continued focus on a couple of my favorite supporting cast members, plus a PHENOMENAL new addition, and how they all interact with Toby.

The last third of the story loses just a touch of what made the first two-thirds so compelling somewhere, but it’s a minor criticism. There are getting to be a few too many building questions and ongoing story threads though, and while they’re all interesting at least a couple need to start being addressed next book.

Easily my favorite book in the series thus far. Highly recommended.

Board Games Reviews

Triplock Board Game Review (First Impressions)

Triplock is a memory based game where four stacks of chips represent the cylinders of a lock to be solved. On a player’s turn die rolls will determine the actions available as they try to manipulate the stacks to match various diagram cards in front of them.




This has a unique feel to it as it combines memory and positioning aspects. There are lots of little nuances that provide good depth, from choosing which of the four options on a diagram card to pursue to being able to discard both die options to pick any action to manipulating the options available to your opponent. There are also several characters to play with different player powers for added variability.


The production values Triplock this are excellent. The stacks of chips that are central to gameplay are of nice weight and design. The plastic coated cards have good thickness and play well, and the oversized character cards provide additional story and more of the game’s wonderful art. The flexible gamemat lays flat when needed for play and rolls up nicely to conserve space for storage. Really impressed overall with the quality of the components here.




I was interested in the look of the solo game for this, but while it’s fine the two player game is better. The solo mode is a series of challenges based on a “room” (scenario) being played. Only one’s included, with others planned as expansions. The story elements are clearly meant to be ongoing, as they were really just a prologue here. I wonder if there’s a set number of expansions planned that will complete this story, or if it’s going to be an indeterminate number of subsequent cliffhangers. Without knowing that I’m unlikely to keep spending additional money on an open ended narrative framework, but the “rooms” will be available in a print and play format that I will likely keep an eye on.




Triplock is an extremely well put together package featuring a fun an different type of game with a fair amount of replay value. Definitely one of the better memory based games I’ve come across.

Books Reviews

Grave Witch (Alex Craft Book 1) Review

Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say.




The most interesting thing about Grave Witch is its underlying world, with an imaginative system of magic giving rise to interesting powers. Equally important (and perhaps more intriguing) are the limitations on those powers, and it’s Alex’s struggle balancing her strengths and weaknesses that provide the book’s highlights.

The plot is solid, with enough mystery, intrigue, and action to keep things moving at a nice clip and engage the reader.  Some developments did feel a little forced, while others grew naturally out of the narrative. This seemed a touch more “paranormal romance” than “urban fantasy” to me, and honestly the romance elements were the weakest parts of the book. Although a particular love interest of Alex’s was far and away the novel’s most compelling character.

Overall this was a fine introduction to the adventures of Alex Craft. Nothing particularly spectacular but nothing bad either, and there’s potential. I’m in no rush to continue but not opposed to it if/when the opportunity arises.