Black Panther Review

“You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.”

 

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Since the fantastic first look at Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa in Civil War, I’d been eagerly anticipating this solo film and a full look at his world. It certainly didn’t disappoint, going beyond my already high expectations in a wonderfully realized film with both captivating moments of superhero action and deep, resonant themes that provide a lot to think about. This is a film that shows deep respect for culture and tradition while carefully considering the forces and necessity of change, largely through Michael B. Jordan’s fantastic showing as a villain who has validity in his point of view but flaws in his chosen course of action. Eric Killmonger’s rhetoric isn’t easily dismissed, and the moral questions he inspires in T’Challa both anchor and plague our hero’s story.

Mention should also be made of Black Panther’s excellent portrayal of women as an important part of their society in a seamless way that speaks to true respect. The new king is surrounded by several confident, powerful women who are rightfully treated as the experts they are, have significant roles in the narrative, and are amazingly brought to life by pitch perfect performances by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letita Wright, and Angela Bassett (among others).

I’m not going to attempt a full laundry list of all the other ways in which Black Panther excels, but it’s simply excellent and continues the evolution of Marvel Cinematic Universe in important ways. It reminded me a bit of the also incredible Thor: Ragnarok, in elements like the way secondary characters are getting deeper and more nuanced development as well as (further) refining the impeccable balance of drama and humor the MCU’s known for. This is one of the very best movie’s I’ve seen in recent memory, and it’s wonderful to see a film strive for such depth and meaning while entertaining and succeed so thoroughly.

Wave Young OH! OH! 1/8/18 Live Thoughts

January 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My last show of this year’s holiday trip was my second Wave Young OH! OH! show, two years after I saw my first.

 

 

I imagine the opening match was more about Mika Iida’s upcoming retirement than her role working with upcoming talent, as Kaho Kobayashi doesn’t exactly fit my idea of a rookie anymore at four and a half years (and a full two after I saw her appropriately featured at my first Young OH! OH! show). That said, any extra chance to see Iida before she’s done is a treat, and Kaho is quickly working towards her full potential and is a joy to watch as she continually improves and refines her craft. This was a lot of fun. When it was announced I suspected it could be the main event, so it made for a somewhat surprising opener (which I liked as it allowed more of the spotlight to fall on newer faces later on).

 

 

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The wonderfully tense feud between Kyuuri and Tae Honma I’ve gushed about in my reviews of Ribbonmania and Ice Ribbon’s 1/6 show continued here in a 3-Way match. Their obsession with each other consumed their focus enough for Asuka to take the victory (standard disclaimer that this is of course Wave’s Asuka and not the former Kana).  This was the shortest match of the show, but they made the most of their six and a half minutes, provided good action, and hit all the story points they needed to.

After show I met Tae for the first time and mentioned I also saw her wrestle at Ice Ribbon. She reacted with understanding, then looked over to the Ice Ribbon table and said “Kyuuri” while frowning and shaking her head and looked back for me to commiserate with her difficulties. Fantastic little touch to sell the ongoing angle at all times.

 

 

Fairy Nipponbashi is admittedly not a wrestler I personally enjoy all that much, as I find her comedy largely unfunny and the fact that her somewhat heelish antics are delivered and received as if she’s a virtuous hero annoying. So I also have to admit that I took great delight in seeing Actwres Girlz’ Nao Kakuta eventually lose patience (after suffering at the hands of Fairy’s wand, then stealing it, but of course finding Fairy immune to her own magic for whatever reason) and just whack the HELL out of the Fairy with the wand and roll her up for the win.

Nao played a perfect heel all match to counter Fairy’s nonsense, including a great application of the old trick of breaking a choke at the count of 4 just to reapply it with the other hand, which honestly made her the face to me and that lack of preference for her opponent combined with an objectively strong performance by Nao in her role for a strong first impression. Hope to see more of her in the future. Action was solid and this was probably my favorite Fairy match ever, albeit likely not for the reasons intended.

 

 

I got a second look at Ami Sato (after seeing her in her home company of Sendai Girls a couple of days earlier) against one of Wave’s resident up and comers Hiroe Nagahama.  A little long for what it was but a decent showing for both overall.

 

 

The main event of Rina Yamashita & Maruko Nagasaki against Miyuki Takase & Totoro Satsuki was EXACTLY the type of stuff I want from shows like these. It had a nice mix of experience levels still incorporating mostly newer talent, ranging from former Regina di Wave champion Rina at just over 4 years (who like Kaho was on my first Young OH! OH! show, appearing  in both the announced and surprise main events of that show) to Miyuki and Totoro at around a year. It was cross promotional, gave a nice main event spotlight to some wrestlers who are usually in the undercard, the structure let them all shine, etc. Excellent way to cap off my trip.

Totoro continues to look like a wrecking ball in the ring in the best possible way, and I get more and more excited about her future every time I see her. This was also my first proper look at Miyuki, as she was kind of background in Thanksgiving Wave‘s opening 8-woman tag (the only other match I’ve seen her in so far). She looked good and I hope she continues to get more opportunities like this to develop.

 

 

I really enjoy these type of shows as both a glimpse of Joshi wrestling’s future and enjoyable shows in their own right. I’m extremely excited that it seems like there will be more in this vein coming, including Ice Ribbon’s intriguing variation on the concept called “P’s Party” starting soon.

Ice Ribbon 1/6/18 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

A week after Ribbonmania Ice Ribbon had show at Yokohama Radiant Hall headlined by the Young Ice tournament winner challenging for the Ice Cross Infinity Title in a refreshing spotlight on new talent in the main event.

 

 

The opening 6-woman tag match saw the recently re-debuted Tsukushi team with Karen DATE & Mio Momono against Giulia and the mother/daughter tandem of Hamuko & Ibuki Hoshi. This was fun with several amusing moments woven into fast paced action. Tsukushi’s rebuilding from the bottom continued as she takes the fall from Hamuko.

As I mention often I adore Mio and both her ring skills and charismatic antics were on full display here. Her continued involvement in Ice Ribbon makes me very happy.

 

 

As completely expected from the wrestlers involved, Miyako Matsumoto vs Marvelous’ Miki Tanaka was all comedy, with dueling posing, dancing, and even singing throughout the course of the match. Both are quite good with the humorous style, so this was an amusing diversion that didn’t overstay its welcome. Miyako’s victory I believe puts the number of times I saw her win this trip higher than all other live shows I’ve seen combined.

 

 

 

After being across the ring at Ribbonmania in a tag match that seemed to did little to ease the issue between them, Kyuuri and Actwres Girlz’ Tae Honma wrestled to a ten-minute draw in an intense, appropriately heated contest that again left things unresolved between the two. This feud is fantastic and the match was great.

 

 

Another fun 6-woman tag for the show saw Satsuki Totoro, Akane Fujita & Maika Ozaki victorious over Tequila Saya, Uno Matsuya & Maruko Nagasaki. I really enjoyed this, with the general story being Saya, Uno, & Maruko gradually being worn down by the relentless power of their opponents. Totoro in particular came out looking like a monster, including picking up the win with the same senton that knocked Saya loopy the last time they faced (poor Saya). Everyone looked good, and in particular I adore Maika’s awesome double torture rack.

 

Afterwards the issues between Maika’s former Actwres Grilz compatriots and her & Kyuuri continue as she challenges Saori Anou for a future match. Kyuuri appears to try to make it another tag or otherwise work her way in somehow, but Maika insists on a singles match (presumably with Saori’s title on the line). Kyuuri acquiesces but also pouts in the corner. Again, every little detail about this feud between the four has been fantastic.

 

 

In one of my most anticipated matches of the trip Hana DATE faced Ice Ribbon’s Ace Tsukasa Fujimoto in singles competition. While it’s obvious they have an even better match in them I’d love to see in the future this was still great and a strong spotlight for Hana. They worked a classic rising star versus veteran structure and, as Ice Ribbon in general and Tsukka in particular excels at, Hana was made to look quite strong even in defeat.

 

 

Riffing off of a dojo show where Mika Iida was a last minute replacement for a sick Maya Yukihi and took her place (ring gear and all) as part of Azure Revolution for a day, here similarly she took over for Risa Sera instead and teamed with Maya against said regular partner Risa & Mochi Miyagi. I enjoy Iida’s wrestling a lot and all the extra appearances she made for various companies this trip was a real treat for me as her retirement looms. Her happenstance third member status in Azure Revolution has been fun. Solid little tag match, if perhaps just a touch too long for what it was. I imagine this might be an odd/unpopular opinion to have of the reigning tag champs, but while they’re an ok team Risa and Maya continue to make much better opponents than partners.

 

 

I was beyond pleasantly surprised when Nao DATE upset Maruko Nagasaki in what previously seemed like a forgone conclusion final to win the Young Ice tournament at Ribbonmania. As a result she received this shot at new champion Kurumi Hiiragi’s Ice Cross Infinity Title.  They put on a great match featuring a establishing win for Kurumi and a nice spotlight on new face in the main event scene. Nao’s absolutely excellent for her experience, and I hope she remains a focal point in the promotion.

 

 

To close out there was a presentation for 2017 awards. On the heels of her first main event Nao was proclaimed Rookie of the Year. Risa took two with MVP and Best Tag Team (with Maya). Ribbonmania as Best Show, Karen DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki as Best Bout, and a for Best “Enemy” (outsider) between Maika and Manami Toyota rounded out the awards. Cute bit afterwards saw Hana continue to playfully try to claim her sisters’ glory (like when she posed with Nao’s trophy at Ribbonmania), briefly trying to grab Nao and Karen’s awards/envelopes.

 

 

Another enjoyable offering from top to bottom from Ice Ribbon and a cool way for me to wrap up their shows for this trip.

Truly “Weird” and Wonderful

Back on September 24, 2016 I had the pleasure of attending my first “Weird” Al Yankovic concert at the end of his Mandatory Fun Tour at Radio City Music Hall. “Mandatory” or not, it was in fact an incredibly fun time full of splendor and spectacle with intricate and outrageous sets, videos, costume changes, etc. It was a celebration of his hits and a “mainstream” delight in the best possible sense of the word. As such, it was admittedly mostly focused on his more famous work and recreating the songs as you’d hear them off the albums.

 

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Last night I was excited to go back to see him at the Apollo Theater. I don’t tend to research concert tours outside of performing act and date so didn’t know that his “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour” was going to be a very different kind of show. No elaborate production, costume changes, etc, just Al and his band sitting on stools rocking out and riffing on more obscure older songs of theirs for a glorious two hours. He mentioned it was loose, flexible kind of tour and they purposely played an almost entirely different setlist than the night before at the same venue and I wished I had caught both shows.

 

 

They worked in some of their ridiculously long songs like Albuquerque and Jackson Heights Express, the latter of which he said was from Mandatory Fun but was left off that tour since they didn’t think the larger, more mainstream audience would want to “sit through a nine minute song about a delusional man on a bus… but you might.” They pushed boundaries and played around with genres, including a (pre-encore) finale that was an incredible medley of variations of some of their songs done in different styles. In the same vein the show opened with bluesy version of Dare to Be Stupid that I can’t possibly stress enough how much I adored.

 

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Despite sometimes perhaps looked a little down upon for the parody/comedy nature of his creations, Al is one of the most versatile performers in music and his concerts are always an absolute joy. Catch this if at all possible.

 

Sendai Girls 1/6/18 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

The timing of my previous trips along with scheduling issues meant that while I’ve seen several of their stars elsewhere and am a huge fan of Meiko Satomura and Dash Chisako in particular, I had never gotten a chance to see a Sendai Girls show live. I was extremely pleased to finally change that.

 

 

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The show opened with a short match that saw Ami Sato defeat Manami. There was some awkwardness, but overall it was a decent showing for the two rookies (both debuted in the previous summer). Manami impressed me slightly more personally, but the rest of my group thought Sato looked a bit better. Both have a lot of potential and I hope to see more of them.

 

 

In my first look at the rather curious Eiger, she had a curious contest with Sakura Hirota. Of course with Hirota this was comedy based and was decent, with enough framework to follow even if I didn’t catch all the nuances. Eiger ran off with an amusingly content daughter of Hirota after winning.

 

 

There was an incredible amount of star power in the 6-woman tag featuring Sendai’s Champion Chihiro Hashimoto teaming with Hiroyo Matsumoto & Hikaru Shida against Aja Kong, Cassandra Miyagi & Heidi Katrina. I’m more and more impressed ever time I see Chihiro, and I’ll NEVER get tired of seeing Kong and Hiroyo across the ring from each other. The enigmatic Cassandra also had a strong showing here, until accidentally eating a trash can shot from her own partner leading to Chihiro’s team emerging victorious. Fun stuff.

 

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In a tag match that seemed to be featuring intertwining feuds Strong Style Rush (Alex Lee & Mika Shirahime) faced Hana Kimura & DASH Chisako. Was great to see Hana here as I unfortunately did not make any Stardom shows this time and she looked really good in almost a babyface role against apparent rival Alex Lee.

 

 

Dash has a “controlled” charisma that is so unique and fits in with her incredible ring work perfectly to make her one of the most compelling wrestlers in the world, and she was once again spot on in this match. Also her music kicking in while she brawled outside was new to me and completely awesome.

After she and Hana put down Strong Style Rush in a great tag match Dash pointedly taunted Mika before leaving.

 

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The main event featured my most anticipated match of the trip as two legends did battle one on one with Ayako Hamada facing Meiko Satomura.

The preview of this in a tag match at Thanksgiving Wave was a perfect way to amp up anticipation, which was already through the roof considering who was involved. With the #1 contendership on the line there was even more urgency. Hamada seemed to be building up to a title shot, and indeed she eventually prevailed over Meiko after an absolutely brutal match. Totally the expected phenomenal showing from two masters, and it was a privilege to be there for it.

 

 

Two shorter opening contests that served their purpose followed by three well paced, increasingly excellent 15 minute plus matches in the second half made this an absolute breeze (and a joy) to watch. One of the best shows of my trip against a strong field, and what an incredible way to finally be properly introduced to Sendai Girls.

 

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Indexing Review

“Fairy tales want to have happy endings, and that’s fine – for fairy tales – but they do a lot of damage to the people around them in the process, the ones whose only crime was standing in the path of an onrushing story.”

 

 

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Indexing is a police procedural in a world where all the fairy tales ever told can happen again at any time with disastrous effects. Originally released as a serialized novel, I found it walks the line well between the individual “episodes” feeling like regular chapters of a novel (which wouldn’t be necessarily be the best approach for that distribution) and individual short stories (which would lose some of the overarching development and tension). The deft touch in execution makes this read equally well as a complete novel (as I am) as I imagine it did in serialized format.

 

“There are a couple of things you’ll need to know about fairy tales before we can get properly started. Call it agent orientation or information overload, whatever makes you feel more like you’ll be able to sleep tonight.”

 

I call it info dumping of the highest order, even though McGuire tries to be stylish and clever about it. The odd premise I’ve described above is extremely interesting but requires a HUGE amount of information and context to be immediately unloaded on the reader in the first section. As a result it takes some time to get acclimated, but things are quite intriguing once you do and much better paced after the initial part.

 

“My day began with half a dozen bluebirds beating themselves to death against my window, leaving little bloody commas on the glass to mark their passing.”

 

In addition to being curious about the concept, Indexing caught my eye because it’s written by the author of the October Daye series, which I adore. McGuire’s exquisite gift for dialogue and descriptions is on display here as well and along with strong characters and an engaging underlying plot makes this a thoroughly captivating read once it builds momentum. My favorite character here reminds me a little of an equally amusing one from October Daye, but the wonderful thing is the cast are all unique with both strengths and flaws directly tied to the narrative. Watching everything unfold among a tense and mysterious atmosphere was a treat.

Overall this is a read that requires some patience, but really rewards the effort.

 

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My experience with Tokyo Joshi Pro has been an interesting journey. I had major criticisms of the first show of theirs I attended but felt that with some tweaks they could present a vastly more enjoyable product without losing any appeal to their core demographic. Subsequent shows pleasantly proved it, and now I eagerly await more opportunities to enjoy their offerings.

This card was a particularly exciting one for me, with one of my favorites defending TJP’s top title against their first champion, and Gatoh Move’s Riho participating in the tag team title match.

 

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After a fun opening bit of singing by Maki Itoh & Mizuki the show started up with a quadruple debut of members of the idol group Up Up Girls Hinano & Miu defeated Raku & Hikari in a fine outing that kept things appropriately basic but still allowed the participants to look good (despite a bit of awkwardness here and there).

 

 

 

After a pretty standard filler 6-woman tag between Yuu, Nodoka One-san, & Marika Kobashi vs Rika Tatsumi, Hyper Misao, & Yuki Kamifuku, the visiting Veda Scott came out to face TJP’s resident zombie Maho Kurone. This was a touch short and I wish Veda had needed to do more to defeat Maho, but there were some great comedic elements that felt natural to the characters and didn’t detract from the competitiveness of the match. The highlight of which was Veda offering veggies to Maho as gift (in place of her brains), and Maho having none of it, knocking them away, and chasing Veda around the arena.

 

 

 

 

Maki Itoh impresses me more and more every time I see her. Her ability to naturally switch between humor and intensity is particularly great, and I still smile thinking about her chasing idol lumberjacks around the ring with gleeful menace during her match at the show I saw last August.

 

 

 

So she was really in her element against Danshoku Dino, going straight at him with ferocity while also matching his antics head on. There was a tangible sense of both dismissiveness and attitude from BOTH wrestlers towards their opponent, which is what made this work so well. Dino’s creepy approach was mitigated by the fact that Itoh fired right back in kind, and it made the match immeasurably more enjoyable. Dino’s style isn’t one I generally enjoy (although this was my first time seeing him personally), but this was extremely well done all around. Great match and my adoration of Itoh continues to grow.

 

Next up was a performance from opening match teams representing Up Up Girls. Tokyo Joshi Pro has gotten extremely good at mixing this aspect of their shows in with the wrestling at opportune times.

 

 

 

Since last I saw Azusa Takigawa she seems to have been reborn as Azusa Christie and is now the devoted follower of Saki-sama (Saki Akai). Here they teamed against Azusa’s ex-partner Nonoko & Yuna Manase (with Haruka Nishimoto). Nonoko kept trying to talk sense to her former friend, but it fell on deaf ears as Azusa nailed Nonoko with the book she carries to the ring and eventually emerged victorious alongside her new master. Match was ok. The story was more the focus anyway.

 

 

 

The Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match was a particular treat as two of TJP’s best workers, Yuka Sakazaki & Shoko Nakajima, defended their championships against MIZUKI & Riho. The visiting Riho is a 12 year veteran at age 20 and received a well deserved superstar welcome from the crowd. Mizuki fit in very well herself and the result was an absolutely phenomenal back and forth match with a variety of brutal strikes, gorgeous double teams, and jaw dropping athleticism.

After a hard fought struggle to retain their titles Yuka and Shoko were confronted by Saki and Azusa, who issued a challenge for those selfsame belts.

 

 

 

In August I was lucky enough to see both Reika Saiki claim the Tokyo Princess of Princess Championship (in a fantastic contest against then champion Yuka Sakazaki) and Miyu Yamashita in a breakout performance against Meiko Satomura. The prospect of seeing the two face of here for the title was an extremely exciting one, further enhanced by the underlying story of TJP’s first champion Miyu trying to become their first 2-time champion as well at the Muscle Idol’s expense.

 

 

 

This was exactly the hard hitting, excellent battle I wanted from the two of them. They just laid into each other with strikes and tossed each other around until one couldn’t get up. Reika’s developed a perfect style to highlight her incredible power and just keeps getting better and better, while Miyu is really hitting her stride and learning to make the most of her wonderfully aggressive style. Great match that’s neck and neck with the tag title contest for best of the night. I was slightly disappointed to see Reika lose the belt, but Miyu’s certainly deserving and there are several interesting directions to go with her second reign.

All the matches at the top of the card got proper time to build and breath, and the wrestlers certainly took advantage of those opportunities to show what they could do.

 

 

 

After Reika leaves a celebrating Miyu is issued a challenge by… Veda Scott?! Well, while that’s not the direction I in any way expected now we know why Veda survived the zombie apocalypse earlier in show. O_o

This was a really awkward promo, with Veda buttering Miyu up while the latter couldn’t understand her but switching to insults once she got a translator.  They should have just pretended Miyu could understand her, as Veda’s capable of much better on the mic than this. Still, at least Miyu’s first sacrificial lamb was set up for slaughter.

 

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Tokyo Joshi Pro continues to really excel at emphasizing its strengths and developing a roster that’s fully committed to improving every time they go out, with great results.