Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 2

In Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art I talked about the the wrestling centric work of Rob Schamberger. Here, in addition to featuring more from Rob, I’d also like to spotlight another artist who specializes in wrestling related creations as well as an artist readers of this blog will be well familiar with who has entered the realm of drawing professional wrestlers as the result of commission requests from me. 😉

 

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A mix of originals and prints of Rob Schamberger’s striking work.

 

WWE’s Asuka (formerly Kana) is a longtime favorite of mine, and was the subject of first wrestling related commission request I ever made (top left above). She has remained central to collection (and will come up again later), particularly in terms of Rob’s wonderful mixed media creations which generally start with a framework from a photo of the subject and grow from there via Rob’s creativity, expert techniques, and incredible use of color. I’ve also added an original painting (as well as signed print) of current NXT Women’s Champion and Stardom alumni Kairi Sane (formerly Kairi Hojo) that nicely capture the unique presence and charisma of the Pirate Princess.

 

More information about Rob’s art can be found on his website.

 

 

 

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams and Beautiful Dreams 2, I’ve been a fan of Juri H Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work.

One of the more unique requests I made among a plethora of video game and anime characters was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. I thought Juri’s style would be perfect for this and it came out far beyond my high expectations. I specified only the subject here, and I adore the incredible way Juri captured and combined Mitsuru’s strength, determination, grace, and beauty in her remarkable hand drawn rendition. From there I got even more excited about having her draw more wrestlers. Asuka of course was on the list, and Juri wonderfully depicted her striking presence and style.

Aoi Kizuki is a personal favorite of mine who recently retired, so Juri’s fantastic rendition of her will be a treasured momento of a wrestler who will be greatly missed. The little details, like the patterns and textures on both Aoi’s and Asuka’s outfits and the highlighting use of metallics really make these incredible works come to life.

 

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Dash Chisako PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

 

Sendai Girl’s Dash Chisako is my favorite high flyer in all of wrestling, and I’m amazed and ecstatic with how perfectly Juri captured Dash mid flight performing her trademark frog splash. Having Dash performing one of her flying moves is the most specific I got with any of my wrestler requests for Juri, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. The likeness, colors, sense of motion, etc are all pitch perfect.

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page.

 

 

 

Shining Wizard Designs is another artist who specializes in depictions of wrestlers, in this case wonderfully stark, hyper realistic black and white ink drawings he regularly shares on social media. I adore the striking assortment of pieces of his I’ve gotten, and have been lucky enough to get a few of them signed by the wrestlers. In addition to excellent versions of the previously mentioned Asuka and Dash, SWD drew the reigning Wave Pro Tag Team Champions Bossy to Mammy (Marvelous’ rising star Mio Momono and Wave veteran Yumi Ohka) as well as Ice Ribbon’s MMA trained rookies Team DATE (Hana, Nao, Nori, and Karen) for me.

Aoi isn’t the only wrestler I follow retiring this year, so in tribute I commissioned a combination piece featuring Aoi, Wave’s Mika Iida, and Tokyo Joshi Pro’s Maho Kurone, as well as a stand alone piece of Wave’s Misaki Ohata (who will retire in December) doing one of her gorgeous flying cross bodies. Of course later even more retirements were announced, which gives subjects for the future I suppose. 😉 I will miss all of these wrestlers greatly but wish them the best.

 

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Gatoh Move (Mitsuru Konno, Sayaka Obihiro, Emi Sakura, and Riho) by Shining Wizard Designs.

 

Finally, I had a piece done featuring some of the core members of Gatoh Move, a small, wonderful company run by the incredible Emi Sakura. In addition to Emi and Mitsuru (from Juri’s work above), Gatoh’s ace Riho and lynchpin Sayaka Obihiro are also pictured. I’m extremely happy with SWD’s work and greatly appreciate the opportunity to get these done.

 

More information about Shining Wizard Designs art can be found on Twitter.

 

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Thanks again to all three of these artists for their impressive creations.

Studio Ghibli Papercraft: Porco Rosso

I recently put together my first “papercraft” model: an excellent depiction of an iconic image from my favorite Studio Ghibli movie. There are various types of papercraft, with some looking like “traditional” plastic or wooden models as 3D representations of their subjects. This type is instead a series of flat, different colored sections with designs cut out that create a layered image when placed one behind the other with small spacing between the layers.

 

 

The envelope for this comes with directions and several mini sheets of sturdy paper with designs cut into them. Some models are marked with “English instructions included,” but this one only had Japanese instructions. But the pictures show all the pieces needed at each step and the pieces are labeled on their punchcards with the “layer” they belong on so there’s sufficient guidance provided to complete the model even with the language barrier.

 

 

I did look up English directions for a similar papercraft and the only thing that would have been overlooked otherwise is a wise suggestion to apply glue the “non-visible” side of whatever is being glues together (so to the base layer if attaching a piece to the back of the layer, and to the back of the piece if it’s being glued to the front of a layer), and the suggested tool list which I’ll discuss below.

 

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To achieve minor visual details that really bring the image to life some of the pieces are TINY and admittedly quite difficult to cut out, keep intact, and paste together. So while for the first few pieces it seemed I’d be ok just using my hands and the hobby glue bottle directly, the additional recommended tools of an exacto knife (for removing the small pieces from the punchcards), tweezers (to hold and position pieces), and toothpick and/or small glue brush (for applying glue) are essential. One or two pieces were so small and delicate I almost destroyed them, but it all worked out in the end and wasn’t difficult to put together overall with some patience and care. It took me about an hour and the result looks fantastic.

 

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While the model is nice and stable once together and doesn’t require a case, they are available and I’m happy with having a bit of protection against both damage and dust as well as how it looks. I got a light up version for this one and the soft, alternating color lights poking through the tiny exposed areas in the completed piece looks amazing.  Really pleased with this and will likely try more in the future.

Japan Trip Spring 2018: Top 10 Matches (Live)

I ended up managing to write up thoughts on all the shows from Spring trip just before going back to Japan, but there is one last entry I’d like to share highlighting my favorite matches from those Spring shows before moving on to Fall.

During this trip I saw 14 shows from 8 promotions (considering P’s Party part of Ice Ribbon) with 68 matches featuring 118 different wrestlers, and as usual the vast majority of what I saw was great. So even featuring my top ten matches plus honorable mentions then there are still a LOT of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

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

 

Here’s a breakdown of matches I saw by company: Gatoh Move: 14 matches, Ice Ribbon (including P’s Party): 19 matches, Kani King Produce: 4 matches, Marvelous: 6 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 6 matches, Pure-J:  4 matches, Seadlinnng: 9 matches, and Sendai Girls: 6 matches.

 

Honorable mentions:

I saw a ton of excellent tag team wrestling (including an entire tournament) this trip and it was difficult to narrow down. In the end little things and the involvement of personal favorites determined what made the list, but the entire Go Go Green Curry Cup, New Tra vs Tsukka & Ibuki Hoshi, Best Friends vs Command Bolshoi & Yoshiko, Team DATE vs Tsukka, Miyako Matsumoto, & Hamuko Hoshi, etc were all great examples of well worked, engaging tag team wrestling.

 

 Iida’s retirement – Wave 5/4/18

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Mika Iida wrapped up her career in a pair of fun matches and a goodbye ceremony that all were infused with her enthusiasm, self aware personality, and a real sense of joyousness despite the emotional nature of the show. It was a privilege to be able to attend.

 

Honda brings the comedy – Gatoh Move 4/28/18 and 4/29/18

Antonio Honda’s brand of humor can be hit or miss with me, but at his best wrestling and comedy combine seamlessly in wonderfully entertaining spectacles. This time there were two wonderful examples, each also involving a personal favorite of mine in recently retired Aoi Kizuki and Gatoh Move rookie Mitsuru Konno respectively.

 

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Honda & Aoi teamed in Gatoh Move’s mixed tag tournament, a pairing that seemed pitch perfect after seeing them face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show. They faced reigning tag champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takahashi, who displayed their versatility and showed they’re just as good at being silly as they are at precision wrestling, and these four were clearly having as much fun as the audience.

 

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At Ichigaya Honda and Mitsuru had what can only be properly described as a pictionary match. Whenever one of them achieved a count on the other, the referee gave them a person to draw and if they could get judge Obi to correctly guess who it was they’d get a point. After the 10 minute time limit elapsed the person with the most points would win the match. Totally ridiculous, and yet a lot of fun.

Both were pretty good with the sketches (Mitsuru used to routinely draw pictures on autograph boards that audience members could get the right to purchase via audience wide rock, paper, scissors games), and the subjects were a mix of famous people and wrestlers, which made this engaging even with me being unable to read the clues. And it’s great to see a rare Mitsuru victory no matter the format. 😉 She’d also later use the sketchpad from the match to reveal a pre-drawn announcement of her starting a Twitter account.

 

 

Catch the Wave Finals: Rina Yamishta vs Ayako Hamada

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When the Violence Block came down to a three way playoff match I had expected Arisa to take it and continue her feud with Misaki. Once Hamada took it instead I fully expected her to win here. In retrospect Wave was quite lucky they made the other choice.

The match was a fantastic twenty minute battle, and since it seems to have been Hamada’s last it was a high note to finish on. I hope things improve for her and she’s able to put her demons behind her. The victory meant Rina won her second Catch the Wave in a row looked like an absolute world beater putting down the legend.

 

 

Top 10:

10.  Mio & Kyuuri vs Maki & Yamagata Marvelous 5/5/18

 

In the main event of Marvelous’ show on 5/5/18, Kyuuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL 5 (Maki Natsumi & Yuu Yamagata). Like with Saori Anou and Tae Honma last December I thought this was my first look at Maki when watching live, but I had actually seen all three of them in a random tag match at Reina early in their careers.

I remarked that the match was nothing spectacular but featured decent work from those involved. And I honestly promptly forgot about them among the incredible number of new wrestlers I was introduced to that trip (as they didn’t appear in other promotions I was watching at the time) and didn’t connect that match to the names when I later started hearing about rising stars in the ActWres promotion.

 

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The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I was beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move (which didn’t end up happening as planned due to a typhoon O_o). Great stuff, and the countout victory makes sense to put Mio & Kyuuri over without being definitive. However I share Maki’s expressed confusion (pictured above) over losing by countout when people were rolling in and out of the ring during the count. As much as I adore Mio & Kyuuri, Maki & Yuu were robbed here. Minor complaint though, and the match was excellent overall.

 

 

9.  Mio Momono, Kyuuri, & Tsukushi vs Saori Anou, Tae Honma, & Maika Ozaki- Ice Ribbon 5/5/18

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With Maruko out with injury the planned ActWres vs Outsiders semi-final of Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament was scrapped and ActWres received a bye to the final. However the match itself essentially still happened with Tsukushi swapped in for Maruko. So she teamed with Kyuuri & Mio Momono vs Maika Ozaki, Saori Anou, & Tae Honma, and with ActWres proving victorious I don’t understand why this couldn’t have simply been the tourney match as planned.

That aside, this match was great fun and perhaps my favorite of the show. The bratty Tsukushi didn’t seem to appreciate being an Outsider for a night which made for an interesting dynamic, particularly when combined with all the issues surrounding Kyuuri’s feud with Tae and Saori with Maika being caught in the middle.

 

 

8. Asahi vs Misaki Ohata – P’s Party 4/25/18

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This was almost a “Asahi vs veterans” entry under Honorable Mentions like with Mitsuru in my last list, but while they were all quite good with the booking context around the Miyako match and Yoshiko being Yoshiko I actually did like this match just a bit better than the others.

Asahi is one of Ice Ribbon’s youngest and newest rookies. She debuted last August against Manami Toyota and immediately made a big impression on me. She plays a phenomenal underdog and makes the absolute most of her limited moveset, drawing the audience in and getting them behind her to the point where a simple dropkick garners a strong reaction. I’ve really enjoyed every opportunity I’ve had to see her and think she has huge potential as she continues to learn and refine her craft in the years to come.

It would seem that Ice Ribbon management hold similar opinions, as including her previously mentioned debut against a legend she’s been fairly regularly put in singles matches with decorated veterans (including the previously referred to Miyako and Yoshiko matches). Here she faced Misaki Ohata, a twelve year vet and a personal favorite of mine who was Pro Wrestling Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave Champion at the time.

 

 

7.  Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Mask — Gatoh Move 4/28/18

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Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit, coming to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif (more on the mask in my write up of Gatoh Move 5/4). They had a tall order in front of them in the form of a team of title holders: Gatoh Move’s Super Asia Champion Riho and their Thailand branch’s One and Only Champion Golem Thai.

As much as I adore Riho and was incredibly impressed with my first look at Golem, I find myself a bit biased towards Mitsuru and was really hoping for a stunning upset. It wouldn’t happen here however, and after an incredibly competitive, intense match the powerhouse team prevailed and moved on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho & Golem would move on to face one of the two teams who randomly drew a first round bye.

This was a great way to open the tournament and in some ways a “proof of concept.” Gatoh Move excels at intergender wrestling, and everything here was logical and believable, with the smaller athletes using speed and fire to counter the strength advantage and Golem periodically responding by bulldozing people. As expected with the close knit roster and unique environment they train and often perform in, Riho and Mitsuru have particularly great chemistry and it’s always a treat to see them face off.

 

6. Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami – Seadlinnng 5/5/18

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This was one person removed from Best Friends vs Avid Rival, my favorite tag rivalry of all time. And while Akane isn’t Misaki Ohata she’s an strong, underrated talent who fit right in with her more experienced compatriots. As expected with the four involved and a nice amount of time to perform in a main event role this was excellent.

They wrestled to a 15 minute time limit draw, and in Seadlinnng tournaments that meant they then continued under 2-count rules. I love that approach. It allows a lot of booking leeway, and the atmosphere and sense of desperation in the overtime is always palpable. Best Friends prevailed after another five minutes of intense action.

 

 

5. Misaki Ohata, Aoi Kizuki, & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Makoto, Nagisa Nozaki, & Ryo Mizunami  – SEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

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So every 3 minutes the rules of this 6-woman tag switched from a regular match to high speed rules, where pinfalls could only be attempted after hitting the ropes or specific kinds of quick rollups and high speed referee Natsuki counted such pin attempts super-fast. It initially sounded overly complicated, but they went long enough for several switches to really get across the format and take full advantage of it leading to a wonderfully enjoyable contest that was absurd in all the best possible ways. The level of talent involved was key in making everything click together smoothly. Avid Rival is perhaps the greatest pair in all of wrestling right now, either as partners or opponents, and Misaki’s trio here was somewhat of a dream team of favorites of mine. To be honest Nagisa and Makoto were slightly overshadowed by the others, but still fit in reasonably well and contributed to some highlights such as Nagisa regularly trying to kick peoples’ heads off.

Natuski’s tradition of getting involved in the matches she refs continued, with Hiroyo her frequent victim this time. The Lady Destroyer did a great job with selling resentment and annoyance at Natsuki’s antics, right up through the post match celebration with her partners accepting Natsuki raising their arms and Hiroyo eyeing her with distrust instead and threatening to strike her. Following through with little details like that is so important for achieving maximum potential and impact.

The action was excellent, including a particularly fantastic spot where 3 rollups were happening simultaneously and constantly being reversed during a high speed section with Natsuki counting everything, leading to all 6 wrestlers plus her eventually being wiped out on the mat with exhaustion.

 

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After the show I spoke briefly with four of the six wrestlers in this match. Amusingly all commented about being especially tired and a couple expressed a desire to never do high speed rules again. I made sure to thank them for their effort and express my sympathy for their sacrifice and appreciation for the match. 🙂 Loved this all around.

 

4. Hamuko Hoshi & Kyuuri vs. Maika Ozaki & Miyako Matsumoto – Ice Ribbon 4/28/18

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This interesting mix-and-match tag featured regular partners Kyuuri and Maika on opposites sides teaming with Hammy and Miyako respectively, who were trios partners at the time while Hammy was also gunning for Miyako’s Ice Cross Infinity title. This was my favorite match of a strong show. It had a wonderful feeling of escalation throughout and a real, palpable sense of desperation as time ran down and everyone became frantic to win. This was as fine a worked time limit draw as I’ve ever seen.

 

3. Catch the WAVE Tournament Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Mio MomonoSEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

 

I was beyond thrilled when I found out this matchup from Wave’s annual Catch the Wave tournament was rescheduled to this show, and that I would make it to Tokyo just in time to see it. Mio’s incredible for her experience and, in my opinion, the brightest star among any rookies in the business (in an extremely strong field to boot). Arisa is simply one of the best wrestlers in the world. 

With Arisa also scheduled for the main event I suspected this might be kept on the shorter side, resulting in a good back and forth match under 10 minutes. Instead these two waged war for just under 15. This had overtones of the dismissive veteran dealing with a cocky upstart who was perhaps more of a fight than expected. Both played their roles perfectly, and the action itself was the excellent affair expected from these two. The first match I saw this trip, and it was immediately recognizable that it’d be one of the best.

 

 

2. Io Shirai vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 on of the best matches I saw was the main event of Stardom’s Climax 2015. It featured what were then and are still two of the best wrestlers in the world wrestling for Stardom’s top prize as company ace Io Shirai challenged reigning outsider champion Meiko Satomura. I was beyond psyched when a rematch was announced for this show in Meiko’s home promotion. Seeing how it would be different over two years from their previous encounter I was lucky enough to witness live was intriguing, as is looking back on both matches now as the (slight) possibility of the two facing off in a WWE ring during the Mae Young Classic looms.

As should come as no surprise, this was excellent. I’m not sure Meiko can have a bad match (note to wrestlers: that’s not a challenge), and Io’s likewise a top tier talent constantly firing on all cylinders. The fact that their first match I saw was building to a big moment while this one was fairly obviously going to a time limit draw affected the structure and I think puts the prior just a touch above this one, but it was still an excellent encounter between two masters which will no doubt make my list of top matches for this trip. Meiko brings out the very best in everyone she faces, and in the case of someone who’s already performing at as high a level as Io does the results are always something special.

 

 

1.  Sendai Girls Championship: Chihiro Hashimoto (c) vs Ayako Hamada – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

Speaking of Meiko bringing out the best in her opponents, her #1 contenders match in the main event of the 1/6 show against fellow legend Ayako Hamada was an incredible contest that was my top match of the entire trip. In a stroke of pure luck, my return to Tokyo four months later coincided with the result of that match: Hamada getting her title shot at Chihiro Hashimoto.

 

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This was a hard hitting, all out war that saw Chihiro throw everything she had at the veteran but eventually prove unable to withstand Hamada’s assault resulting in the Wave Pro outsider claiming Sendai Girls’ top belt. At the risk of blasphemy, I actually liked this just a touch more than the semi-main. What an incredible one-two punch to end that show. This is bittersweet to look back on given Hamada’s troubles and exit from wrestling, but this was my #1 match of that trip and deserves to be acknowledged as such.

 

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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.

 

Final Happy: Farewell to Aoi Kizuki

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 I had great interest in Joshi pro-wrestling but only a little familiarity.  Ice Ribbon is a favorite promotion of the friends I was traveling with (and would become one of mine as well), and as such we were scheduled to see several of their shows. I was already a big fan of Tsukasa Fujimoto via her appearance in Shimmer, but was unfamiliar with the rest of the roster. The very first show I saw in Japan was an Ice Ribbon dojo show on 12/19/15, and among a really fun night and a talented crew all around, reigning champion Aoi Kizuki made a particularly strong impression.

 

 

Her natural charisma and unique moveset, including her impressive top rope moves where she spins on a vertical axis rather than a horizontal one, gave her an immediately engaging presence. She was naturally friendly when I got to talk to her post show too with an enthusiasm that’s infectious, and overall was one of the big parts of that first trip getting off to a great start for me.

I saw her wrestle five times during trip (including an appearance at Wave), with her biggest and best match being in the main event of Ribbonmania 2015 where she lost the Ice Cross Infinity title to Hamuko Hoshi. I was a bit disappointed at the switch, but clearly understood in retrospect a few days later at the 1/3/16 dojo show when Aoi announced her “graduation” from Ice Ribbon to go freelance after 10 years. The timing was pretty wild, as I just barely got introduced to her at Ice Ribbon before she left.

 

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Custom Funko Pop made of/for Aoi.

 

 

When I returned the following year Aoi was primarily wrestling at Oz Academy, who generally doesn’t run during the holidays, so my chances to see her were quite limited. Over that 2016/2017 holiday trip I was supposed to see her wrestle only twice times, and some unfortunate trouble finding the venue for a Diana show brought it down to a single time, at Gatoh Move’s Christmas Eve show at Itabashi Green Hall. The good news was that in that one match she was once again main eventing a show I was at with a title defense, and her & Sayaka Obihiro against Riho & Kotori was a great, quick paced and hard hitting contest. Although I did start joking at the time that I only ever seemed to come to see Aoi lose titles. :p

 

 

While that was the only match of hers I saw, Aoi also had a Christmas event that year I attended. It was a fun evening of singing and photos and me struggling to parse Japanese. ^_^;  One really cool thing was Aoi talking about her goals and expressing a wish to wrestle in the US, a wish that would come true the following November at Shimmer’s Fall weekend taping in Chicago.

 

 

I adore Shimmer and was really happy for Aoi’s debut. She had a strong debut match in a against the newly proclaimed “Joshi Gatekeeper” Mia Yim despite coming up short, showed off her aforementioned unique offense and enthusiasm in a pair of establishing wins over Veda Scott (who Aoi had worked with in Japan) 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. 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. Aoi seemed to be having a blast and was really excited about being there, which was wonderful to see.

 

 

During the 2017/2018 holidays I saw Aoi at Ichigaya for the first time in a amusing comedy match against Antonio Honda in which they were trying to “recreate” a Kagami mochi by getting a hat that looked like mochi onto Obi’s head (Obi was sitting apparently passively in a corner of the mat), then whoever placed an orange on top of the hat to complete it would win. As ridiculous as it sounds. I was then lucky enough to make a trip to back Japan this Spring for the wedding of two dear friends of mine. I’d see Honda and Aoi together again, this time as partners for Gatoh Move’s Go Go Green Curry Cup mixed tag tournament against Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi. These comedy heavy matches were a bit different than the previous matches I’d seen of Aoi’s (as was the unique and fantastic “high speed” 6 woman tag I saw her in at SEAdLINNNG), but were highly enjoyable none-the-less and it was cool seeing her clearly having a blast.

 

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During that Spring trip, and just a few days before fellow Joshi Mika Iida’s retirement show, Aoi announced her own retirement show titled “Final Happy” for October 7th. At the time I had no plans to be back in Japan until the December holidays, so managed to add in a Pure-J show on May 6th, to perhaps see Aoi wrestle one last time. She was involved in a surprisingly fun gauntlet battle royal, but as it turns out it wouldn’t be the last time I saw her after all.

 

 

I am extremely fortunate to have been able to arrange to come back to see Aoi’s final show, and the lead up was equally wonderful. Given how I initially became a fan of hers, it was particularly great to see her return to Ice Ribbon for a series of events this summer, and Ice Ribbon was among the companies that hosted a final appearance for Aoi during the week I was here before her retirement show. Not only was it a joy to see her last shows for Ice Ribbon, Pure-J, Wave, and Gatoh Move, but after some of the sparse appearance trips I’ve had the last couple years just seeing her wrestle so many times in general before she finished up was a special treat. I even missed a couple shows she was on due to other commitments, so Aoi’s schedule was certainly packed.

 

 

Aoi’s self-produced retirement show was on October 7th, 2018 at Shinjuku FACE. In the main event Aoi teamed Riho & Mei Sugura against Emi Sakura, Hikaru Shida, & Makoto. It was a perfect way to finish up and a nice tribute to her trainer (Sakura) and other wrestlers she had a long history with. The sole exception was Mei, a rookie who became Aoi’s tag partner and seemingly something of  protege since her debut this spring. Mei’s already incredible for her experience level and seems to have big things ahead of her. The fact that Aoi ended up having her final singles match against Mei on October 5th (and put the rookie over to boot) and included her in this main event illustrates how close they became. In a particularly sweet gesture, Aoi gave Mei her rainbow “wings” from her entrance gear. Mei’s excitement about it as she wore them not only for this match but at Gatoh Move later in the day was clear and contagious.

 

 

The match was great and an appropriate end cap for Aoi’s career. Emi Sakura, bad back and all, gave 110% to give her former trainee a proper farewell throughout the match and busted out a freakin’ 450 to pin Aoi to end it. All of Aoi’s trademarks were also on display, including one more glimpse of her rare, incredible spinning top rope splash. Fun, emotional stuff from bell to bell.

 

 

The post show retirement ceremony was likewise emotional and a treat to be at. All in all it was a wonderful, bittersweet, and fitting show see Aoi off.

 

 

Although I’m sad to see her go, Aoi had a great 12 year career and I’m really happy I had the opportunity to say goodbye to her in person and wish her well. Whatever the future after wrestling holds for her I hope life is happy for the Happy Maker. 

 

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Farewell to a Pintsized Powerhouse

 

Gatoh Move is a company I enjoyed a lot and immediately became a big fan of during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. When I returned a year later the first show I saw of theirs had an interesting interpromotional 6-woman tag team match featuring respective veterans of REINA and Gatoh Move Makoto and Emi Sakura teaming with rookies from their promotions.

 

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Emi’s partners were both new to me, and made an immediate positive impression. One was Mitsuru Konno, just a couple of months from her debut, who was eliminated first yet had a striking aura about her and has since become an absolute favorite of mine. The other was Aasa Maika, who lasted until the end against opposing team captain Makoto, got a nice chance to shine and show off her wonderful style which I always describe as “pintsized powerhouse.” I’ve said before said before that at 5’2″ she perhaps doesn’t seem suited for such a gimmick, but then she’d start throwing herself at opponents like she was Big Van Vader and it was GLORIOUS. The power style was surprisingly perfect for her, and her overall enthusiasm and devotion to the gimmick gave a thoroughly compelling layer to her performances.

 

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I saw three other matches of the riceball fanatic that trip, all at Ichigaya in Gatoh Move’s unique home environment. She definitely struck me as someone with vast potential who was developing her skills and personal style rapidly.

 

I was fortunate to make a short, unexpected trip back to Tokyo in August 2017, and was treated to seeing the now retired Kotori vs Aasa in the semi-finals of the Super Asia Championship tournament as the main event of the 8/26/17 Ichigaya show. Kotori’s win was a foregone conclusion with her en route to face partner Riho in the finals, but she and Aasa created tension and drama regardless in a fantastic match that felt like the big deal it should be. There was a sequence in the match in which Aasa chased Kotori out the window and around the building back inside the door, at which point Kotori tried to ambush Aasa and the latter just LEVELED Kotori with one of her vertical Vader splashes instead. It was so cool and a spot that has totally and vividly stayed with me among the ridiculous amounts of wrestling I watch.

 

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I didn’t know it at the time, but that match would turn out to be the last time I got to see either of them wrestle live. Aasa was scheduled to compete at the Ichigaya shows I saw when I returned during the holidays, but couldn’t participate because she was sick. I would check back in with the other wrestlers when I could as time passed wishing Aasa well and hoping for her return. Just this week she announced her “graduation” (retirement) due to chronic illness and that she would be returning home to concentrate on her health.

 

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She will be greatly missed, but as someone well familiar with chronic illness myself I am happy that Aasa’s doing what she needs to to take care of herself. She was always friendly and a delight to talk to, as well as a unique, dynamic presence in the ring who made such an impression I feel like I saw far more of her matches live than the five I actually did. I wish her all the best in the future, whatever it holds.

 

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Addendum 10/5/18 11pm:

A few short hours after I posted this, Aasa made an appearance at a Gatoh Move show at Ichigaya to say goodbye. On an already emotional night featuring Aoi Kizuki’s final appearance for Gatoh (or anyone for that matter) before her retirement show in two days, Aasa coming out to talk about what everyone in Gatoh meant to her was both wonderful and heart wrenching. I am truly lucky to have seen her again and gotten a chance to wish her all the best in person, and I hope the warm welcome of the crowd and a chance to wrap things up will help her with whatever is next.

 

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