Fuerza Bruta WA! Ice Ribbon Edition

April 26, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Fuerza Bruta shows are a unique experience that combines music, dance, and acrobatics and takes place around, above, and through a standing crowd. I saw their WAYRA show in New York a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. In addition to being excited to see their performance again in general and being curious about what would be different for their Tokyo offering Fuerza Bruta WA!, being able to attend one of the two nights that Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yukihi from one of my favorite wrestling promotions (Ice Ribbon) would be appearing was a fantastic additional treat.

 

 

The show itself was of course a tremendous amount of fun. It featured the same basic ideas and setups as the NY show, but with distinct Japanese themes and enough differences to make it its own experience. It’s an energetic, contagious spectacle from start to finish, easily captivating the crowd and keeping them full of anticipation to see what’s next.

 

 

On top of that since I went through Ice Ribbon as a special thing a small group of us were brought over to watch the show with Tsukka and Maya (when they weren’t participating) by a attendant from Fuerza Bruta for the group who always made sure we knew where to go, etc. Afterwards we each also got to get a picture with Tsukka and Maya, a really nice momento of the evening. Their participation in the show was great too. Both were wearing harnesses when we first met up, and a bit into the show they were raised into the ceiling with some of the regular performers. Later they danced through the crowd to a stage that then itself moved through the crowd to the center of the space. Really fun stuff.

 

 

Another cool aspect of the shows is the use of water, with performers running against sprays, mist being used while acrobats are swinging over the audience, and an incredible sequence where a a large, clear pool is lowered from the ceiling to just above the crowd’s head as people splash/swim/dance around in it. At one particularly enjoyable point for me they essentially had a water curtain running through the center splashing on the audience, and Tsukka stated splashing it towards me (which I of course responded in kind to ūüėČ ), resulting in me having a short water war with her and Maya. So amusing/awesome.

 

 

Standing out a bit in a Japanese crowd I also found myself the center of the performers’ attention a couple of times. I was near the center of the room when the crowd was split to form a corridor for someone to repel from the ceiling into and march towards the stage. He keyed in on me and stalked right up to me staring until we went forehead to forehead (which I clearly and gladly played along with) and he pushed me back a bit. Later while I was taking video of Tsukka and Maya dancing on the center stage the wandering drummer took notice of my Ice Ribbon t-shirt and gently poked at all the faces on it with his drumstick. This was all of course fantastic, but even without these personal experiences I was lucky enough to have the general atmosphere of the show with the show taking place IN the audience at several times and the general high level of interaction is incredible.

 

 

Last night was Tsukka and Maya’s final appearance so that part is no longer an option, but as I’ve been gushing about the show is a wonderful time in its own right and if anyone happens to be in Tokyo from now until May 6th I highly recommend catching it as it finishes its run.

 

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Shimmer Weekend November 2017 Live Thoughts

November 11-12, 2017 in Berwyn, IL

I’d like to share some (long overdue) thoughts on Shimmer’s fall 2017 taping weekend as we head into the first one of 2018. I’m going to change the format a bit compared to my previous write ups and approach this by topic and highlights rather than trying to go match by match.

 

Return of the Joshi

These tapings saw Joshi talent return to Shimmer for the first time in three taping weekends (about a year and a half). The Japanese talent bring a particular energy and various styles that are missed when absent, so it was great to see them back. Beyond that the lineup itself was a treat with three big returns and a debut.

 

 

 

Starting with the debut, Aoi Kizuki made her first US appearances as part of these shows. I’m familiar with Aoi from the tail end of her 10-year career in Ice Ribbon as well as her freelance work for companies like Wave and Gatoh Move the last couple of years. She’d talked about wanting to come overseas to wrestle and I was very excited to see her get the opportunity.

 

 

 

She had a strong debut in a really good match against the newly proclaimed “Joshi Gatekeeper” Mia Yim despite coming up short (keeping Mia strong for an important match announced for later in the day), showed off her unique offense and enthusiasm in a pair of establishing wins over Veda Scott and Chelsea Green in decent affairs, and teamed with a returning Joshi (and Shimmer mainstay) Hiroyo Matsumoto against Chelsea and her tag partner Britt Baker (known as Fire & Nice) to finish the weekend. I wasn’t surprised to see Aoi work with Veda given both card placement and their familiarity with each other from Veda’s time in Japan. The tag match was largely comedy, allowing the four to play around a bit with a lot of antics centered around Hiroyo’s Godzilla mask. The established duo of Fire & Nice pulled this one out with a pin on Aoi to have her go 50-50 over her debut weekend.

 

 

It’s always great to see Hiroyo back in Shimmer and her other matches saw her facing off with (comparatively) newer Shimmer talent in Hudson Envy and Kellyanne. Both matches were excellent with great work from all involved, and Kellyanne’s upset victory over Hiroyo likely signals a strong push for one of Shimmer’s brightest up and comers. Hiroyo also appeared on Rise 5: Rising Sun¬†the previous Friday night in a fun 6-woman tag teaming with¬†Dynamite DiDi & Rachael Ellering¬†against¬†The Blue Nation (Charli Evans & Jessica Troy) &¬†Aja Kong.

 

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Hikaru Shida made a lasting impression and was strongly pushed when she appeared in Shimmer in 2013-2014, so her return has been long anticipated. She had a large role in stories over the the course of these volumes which I’ll talk about a little later, then finished the weekend with a big victory over two-time Shimmer Champion Cheerleader Melissa.

 

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The biggest news as far as returns was of course the legendary Aja Kong, who had only appeared in Shimmer in a one match prior as part of Tomoka Nakagawa’s retirement weekend in an 8-woman tag, coming back to Shimmer. Seeing her in a singles match live was a treat, and having it be the previously mentioned match for “Joshi Gatekeeper” Mia Yim was even better. The two put on a PHENOMENAL back and forth, “David vs Goliath” style contest that claims match of the weekend honors against a tough field. Can’t say how lucky I feel to have seen this live and had the opportunity to meet Kong and get a picture the following day.

Also, like Shida, Kong had a large role in stories over the the course of these volumes which I’ll talk about… right now:

 

 

Num-ber One!

Early on in Volume 96 Mercedes Martinez & Nicole Savoy came to the ring to discuss Shayna Baszler has gone on to greener pastures (she had signed with WWE in between tapings), but that Trifecta was recruiting a new member……Aja Kong! This was a quite a surprise and a perfect use of the legend for the weekend. Subtle dissension starts as Mercedes declares Kong the new #2 in Trifecta, which Savoy shows some resentment towards.

 

 

Later on the same volume Savoy would face Shida in what seemed likely to set up a challenge to Shimmer Championship. Indeed, after prevailing in an excellent match Shida would go on to face Mercedes for the title on Volume 97. Post match Savoy showed respect to Shida and offered a handshake, drawing the ire of her new teammate Kong who came out and dragged Savoy to the back.

On Volume 97 Savoy got a huge victory of her own over former champion Saraya Knight¬†(in what was a bit of a dream match for me and was every bit as great as I hoped). The main event was interesting, with the structure being more about Mercedes dominating by attacking Shida’s bad knee and wanting a reluctant Savoy to cheat and help her cripple her opponent. It was very well done and a great story, but I was honestly surprised Shida never felt like a threat and this wasn’t the match I was expecting between the two. But again, that’s not a bad thing.

 

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After Mercedes successfully fended off Shida’s bid she decided she wasn’t done trying to cripple the Joshi and she and Kong held Shida down while demanding Savoy attack with a chair. In a nice bit of story telling Savoy was even more reluctant because they were targeting Shida’s knee, and Savoy herself had gone through a knee injury and had no desire to inflict it on someone else. To a thunderous audience reaction she attacked Trifecta instead (including an amusingly soft chair shot on Kong you could almost tell Savoy didn’t want to be giving). In a show of how well everything was set up, the crowd jumped right on the (admittedly obvious) cues and would continually taunt Mercedes and Kong by chanting “NUM-BER ONE!” for Savoy for the remainder of the weekend. Veteran Kong had to be thrilled with how much nuclear heat she was able to generate just by responding “THREE!” repeatedly.

 

 

The next day it all exploded with a tag match pitting Mercedes & Kong against Savoy & Shida on Volume 98. They hit all the right story notes and had the expected excellent encounter that ended with Kong WAYLAYING Savoy behind the refs back with a thunderous shot from Kong’s trademark mini garbage can leading to the win. Lexi Fyfe comes out (amid fantastic “what did I do wrong?” shrugs and facial expressions from Kong), declares the ref incompetent, and gives Savoy a shot at revenge, and her former mentor’s title, at Shimmer 99.

 

 

That resulting match was the perfect culmination of the story and Savoy’s well deserved ascent up Shimmer’s card as she overcame Mercedes’ relentless assault (and Kong’s interference) to become Shimmer Champion. The whole thing was another example of the incredible weekend long stories Shimmer does so well, and might have been the best they’ve ever done.

 

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Tremendous Tag Teams, and a Long Awaited Implosion

Shimmer’s tag team scene grew wonderfully during this weekend, featuring duos like Hottest Free Agents (Ashley Lane & Deonna Purrazzo), LuFisto & Hudson Envy, Sinister Sweethearts (Brittany Blake & Samantha Heights), Paradise Lost (Courtney Rush and Dust), the previously mentioned¬†Blue Nation¬†(Charli Evans & Jessica Troy) and Fire & Nice (Britt Baker & Chelsea Green), etc (including more on the preshow I hope get a main show look in the future). They all looked good, with Blue Nation impressing me the most of the new to me teams/ wrestlers and the new pairing of LuFisto & Hudson being particularly fantastic.

But the biggest impact of a new team was¬†Totally Tubular Tag Team (Delilah Doom & Leva Bates)¬†taking the Shimmer Tag Team Titles off of¬†Mt. Tessa (Tessa Blanchard & Vanessa Kraven)¬†on Volume 97. To be perfectly honest I’m not a huge fan of the new champs, as I don’t find their wrestling or act holds my personal interest, but their win was well received and I’m happy for them.

 

 

The cracks started to show in earnest for Mt. Tessa during the match, teasing a payoff to the long simmering underlying friction between the two. Afterwards things FINALLY exploded with the crowd rabid for Kraven to get her hands on Tessa. The two would face on Volume 98 in a match Tessa would bail on, giving Kraven an unsatisfying countout victory, then Vanessa would fully vanquish her former partner in a Lumberjack match on Volume 99. Another well told, satisfying overarching story built on top of strong ringwork. This felt like a goodbye for Tessa, but she’s back for this Spring’s Shimmer weekend.

 

 

Everything Else and Then Some

 

 

I’ll touch on a few other things that stand out before wrapping this up. Seeing Shotzi Blackheart back was great. As I alluded to earlier Kellyanne had a big weekend, winning a 6-way on Volume 96 then defeating two big names in Hiroyo and Jessicka Havok even after coming up just short in a Heart of Shimmer title shot against Shazza McKenzie on Volume 97. She’s got a ton of potential and I hope her rise continues. Havok looked great this weekend too, including in a title match against Mercedes on Volume 96. Shazza continues to drive me crazy with her frequent lack of selling, but otherwise had decent title defenses.

One was unfortunately cut short by an injury to¬†Allysin Kay on Volume 98 in which Kay was severely busted open. She got patched up, and came back out to open Volume 99 trying to get a rematch, then was out meeting fans after the show. The AK-47’s as tough as nails. Pinkies up! ¬†Fallen Flower¬†Kikyo, who’s fast becoming a personal favorite, also suffered an injury during the weekend but has thankfully been back in action.

 

 

Several new to me and/or debuting talents had impressive showings, including but not limited to Zoe Lucas, Indi Hartwell, Rachel Ellering, Charli Evans, and Miranda Salinas. I hope they all become regular parts of Shimmer’s roster.

Finally it’s always a pleasure to see Saraya destroy people, and I took particular delight in her victory over a specific opponent.

 

I’m going to finish there, but of course there was of course a lot more going on over the course of the weekend. My apologies for the things I didn’t touch on. Overall as always Shimmer was an incredible time, and while I unfortunately can’t attend this spring I hope everyone has a blast.

 

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The NXT Step for a Legend III: No One Was Ready

In Summer 2015 I wrote about my favorite wrestler’s Shimmer career and impending signing with WWE in NXT Step for a Legend. A year and a half¬†later I looked at her¬†impressive initial period during that new phase of her career in¬†NXT Step for a Legend II. Here I’d like to share one last NXT Step piece featuring Asuka looking at the end of her time in NXT, being called up to the main roster, and the start of her main roster run culminating in her first Wrestlemania last night.

 

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The first half of 2017 saw Asuka continue her domination of the NXT women’s division. In May Asuka passed Goldberg’s legendary (recognized) 173-0 win record to obtain the longest such undefeated streak in wrestling history. Goldberg himself acknowledged the accomplishment on Twitter and commented that “‘the streak’ is in good hands.” WWE themselves seemed a little tentative to promote it at first though, possibly due to the possibility of wanting to end it before she was called up to the main roster. More on that later.

 

Even in light of the dominance described above, Asuka still consistently elevated her opponents in defeat through both the skills they further developed by being in the ring with the veteran and strong showings against her. One particularly strong example of such was an incredible Last Woman Standing match she had with Nikki Cross in July 2017, which was perhaps the best match of either’s NXT tenure. That match was a additional treat for me in being a rematch from one of the first few live matches I saw of either from back in Spring 2014 at¬†Shimmer, and it was interesting to see the two face off again at very different points in their careers.

 

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Ember Moon was also a persistent rival for Asuka in NXT, and often it seemed the champion had to resort to shortcuts to fend off her challenges and keep the title. As¬†NXT Takeover Brooklyn III¬†approached it seemed conceivable that Ember would finally hand Asuka her first loss and take the NXT Women’s title, sending Asuka on to the main roster. Instead the champion prevailed once again in an excellent match I was extremely lucky to have seen live and that, unbeknownst to those watching at the time, would be Asuka’s farewell to NXT anyway. It was reported shortly after that she suffered a collarbone injury during the match, would be vacating the NXT Women’s championship, and when she returned to action it would be as a member of the RAW roster. She hold the longest title reign of any kind in NXT history, recognized as 523 days (through to the date when the segment with her vacating the title aired on TV). She was far from finished collecting records and accolades.

 

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Fantastic depiction of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

Asuka made her main roster debut at TLC 2017 in a match against one of her early NXT opponents in Emma. From there she carved out a path of success just as she had in NXT, continuing to build her undefeated streak (now fully emphasized by WWE at all opportunities) against top names like Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, and the woman Asuka had taken the NXT title from in the first place, Bayley. She also was the sole survivor in her Survivor Series debut, and won the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble in January 2018, giving her the choice of champions to challenge at Wrestlemania. She was one of the obvious, and fitting choices for that honor, although the underlying disconnect that someone holding the longest undefeated streak in history and had pinned Raw’s champion in non-title competition needed to win the Rumble to earn a title shot was starting to convey the booking difficulties surrounding the streak. The Rumble match was excellent, and seeing Asuka victorious in a “PPV” main event (something curiously absent from her NXT run) was glorious.¬†

 

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Asuka would decide to challenge Charlotte for the Smackdown Women’s title in what looked on paper to be a setup for an excellent encounter giving Asuka her first main roster title. Instead at Wrestlemania last night “The Empress of Tomorrow” shockingly tapped to “The Queen’s” Figure Eight ending the streak at 914 days and making her record 267-1. Given the rumors swirling that WWE had Ronda Rousey penciled in to eventually end the streak down the road this was even more of a surprise. I have reservations about having the first ever Women’s Rumble winner fail in her title bid as well as having Asuka’s streak end as a challenger rather than have someone get the boost from taking a title off her to end it, but Charlotte was a fine choice (certainly preferable to the rumored plan) and the match was the expected fantastic contest that ends the streak on a high note. After the match Asuka embraced Charlotte in respect and admitted “Charlotte was ready for Asuka” in a show of humility playing off her “no one is ready for Asuka” catchphrase she used for the duration of the streak.¬†

 

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Another incredible rendition of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

What’s most amazing about all of the above though is that all of it has been accomplished with Asuka still just six months into her main roster career at WWE, with a great deal ahead of her. She’s one of the most charismatic and technically proficient wrestlers in all the world, and I of course look forward to seeing what her future holds.

 

One Salt Sea (October Daye Book 5) Review

“When were you going to mention this to me?”

“Oh, half an hour after never.”

 

After the harrowing events of¬†Late Eclipses, things are finally looking up, or at least comfortably stable, for Faerie’s resident changeling knight with a seeming habit of getting into trouble. So of course fate steps in and October finds herself in the middle of a kidnapping plot that might send the kingdoms of the land and sea to war.

 

This is the fifth book in the October Daye series, and it addresses previously raised issues and builds off of long running plot lines. Best to start with Rosemary and Rue (book 1).

 

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“You’re a lot of things, but ‘just a changeling’ isn’t one of them.”

 

One Salt Sea¬†continues the momentum from the previous two excellent books, and pulls back a bit into a larger view of Faerie as Toby tries to prevent an impending war. I love the way McGuire keeps slowly¬†filling in more and more of the world’s mythology and building series long story lines while keeping each book a satisfying, complete adventure on its own. Consequences and a constantly changing status quo are hallmarks of McGuire’s sprawling narrative, and wartime is certainly no exception.

 

“I can’t be dreaming you. My dreams make more sense than this.”

 

To be honest my least favorite character takes center stage a bit in this one, but so does one of my favorites, as well as several strong new additions to the cast. There’s a significant amount of intrigue underneath the events of this book, and the fallout will be significant for October, and her allies and enemies alike. I did find this just a touch below the level of the other books, but it was still quite good and overall this is another solid, enjoyable installment that further expands October’s unique and engrossing world nicely.

 

 

After Hours Volume 1 Review

 

Twenty-four year old Emi Ashiana is rather miserable after being dragged out to a dance club, which is not at all her normal scene, by a friend who then disappeared on her to pick up men. ¬†But then she meets one of the DJs, a self assured woman named Kei, and the night, as well as Emi’s life, might be turning around.

 

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The¬†unfolding relationship between the socially uncomfortable Emi and the more confident and in control Kei is paced in a way that feels natural in real terms yet perhaps a bit unusual and uneven for a fictional story. As the point of view character Emi is the lens through which the reader views Kei and the story’s events, but Emi’s own thoughts and situation aren’t broadcast through monologues or internal narration. So in a sense the readers are meeting BOTH Emi and Kei gradually and seeing bits and pieces of the issues that surround them in a way that is building nicely and slowly foreshadowing future developments but perhaps requires more patience than normal for a story of this type. There’s an uncomfortableness to uncertainty, and the way the narrative is structured conveys a touch of that feeling to the reader at the same time it’s being experienced by the characters. Emi’s thrown into a series of unexpected situations, reacting instinctively, and often dealing with the emotional weight over everything after the fact. This makes for a fascinating, engaging story, but necessarily means a little of the chaos of real life must be captured intruding over the normal “neatness” of constructed stories.

That touch of the unexpected is underscored by the¬†extremely interesting way¬†After Hours both utilizes and upends tropes and stereotypes of typical romance stories. The cliched elements and themes that appear, as well as the more unique ones, are incorporated in a natural way that feel like legitimate extensions of the characters’ emotions and it all blends together in a complimentary mix that elevates the complex undertones I touched on above.

One last thing I’d like to mention is the somewhat unusual, and excellent, choice of going with¬†adult protagonists. It adds a significant amount of depth and nuance to the story to be starting with emotionally mature characters with adult responsibilities and complications and exploring things from there. It also facilitates the deft touch with which Nisho handles the subtext and themes of Emi’s simultaneous hesitance and excitement and she unexpectedly begins to fall for another woman.

I didn’t know much about this going in, but the first volume of¬†After Hours proved to be a wonderful start to a romantic story that felt incredibly fresh and genuine.