Big Japan 5/11, HEAT UP 5/19, & Wrestle-1 6/2/19 Quick Thoughts

May 11 & 19 and June 2, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Interestingly, in following certain joshi promotions and athletes I ended up going to three different men’s promotions for the first time this past spring.

In each case it was a last second decision and I was unfamiliar with most of the company’s roster, so it was interesting to see how things would go as a fan of wrestling yet with no specific frame of reference for the companies and wrestlers.

As such (and to try out a new format) I’m not going to try to do full match by match for these shows. I’ll talk in some depth about the joshi match that lead me to the show, and give general impressions and highlights for the rest.

On to the wrestling:

Big Japan Pro-Wrestling (BJW) 5/11/19

1- Ryuichi Kawakami vs Yuichi Taniguchi
2- Desukamo & Edogawa Rizin vs Kazuki Hashimoto & Yuki Ishikawa
3- Akira Hyodo & Takuho Kato vs Kazumi Kikuta & Kosuke Sato
4- Riho & Mitsuru Konno vs Emi Sakura & Mei Suruga
5- Barbed Wire Board Death Six Man Tag: Drew Parker, Josh Crane & Ryuji Ito vs Masaya Takahashi, Takayuki Ueki & Toshiyuki Sakuda
6- Yasufumi Nakanoue, Yuko Miyamoto & Yuya Aoki vs Abdullah Kobayashi, Kankuro Hoshino & Yoshihisa Uto
7- Daisuke Sekimoto, Takuya Nomura & Yuji Okabayashi vs Daichi Kakimoto, Hideyoshi Kamitani & Ryota Hama

In addition to the Gatoh Move tag team match on this show I’ll discuss momentarily, I was draw to this event by the related pre-show  DareJyo showcase, which was really unique and a treat to attend.

Gatoh Move and DareJyo’s founder/head Emi Sakura teamed with Mei Suruga to take on Riho and Mitsuru Konno in a fantastic tag team encounter. This was all kinds of fun, with a great pace. excellent build, and awesome double teams. They really made the most of the appearance, and the show’s already 100% worth coming to the show for this alone.

Otherwise the only wrestler I was previously familiar with was Hama, from his appearances in Ice Ribbon.

To be honest BJW had a high hurdle to clear as their style isn’t really my thing (although I can and do appreciate a well done deathmatch), and I can’t say they were entirely successful in that regard. The deathmatch, a 6 man tag in the middle of the show, didn’t have much structure and a pure spotfest wasn’t going to draw me in much as an introduction to new wrestlers. Even in the context of “being good for what it was” I found the pacing and execution off.

On the plus side, the effort was there throughout the night and nothing was actively bad. The highlight for me was the main event, where Daisuke Sekimoto specifically stood out in a great showing.

So outside of the joshi stuff this was fine but largely unmemorable. Fans of the style and promotion will have gotten much more out of it than I did, and I certainly don’t regret checking them out. But there’s a ton of great wrestling vying for my attention when I’m in Japan, and overall this didn’t strike me as a promotion I’d choose to attend over other options.

HEAT UP 5/19/19

1- Hiroshi Watanabe & KAMIKAZE vs Mega Star Man & Prince Kawasaki
2- Emi Sakura & Mei Suruga vs Mitsuru Konno & Yuna Mizumori
3- Akira Jo & Kenichiro Arai vs Baliyan Akki & Tetsuhiro Kuroda
4- Hiroshi Yamato, Mineo Fujita & Yusaku Ito vs Keizo Matsuda, Yu Iizuka & Yuji Kito
5- Fuminori Abe vs Hiroshi Watanabe
6- HEAT UP Universal Tag Team Championship: TAMURA & Tatsumi Fujinami (c) vs Daisuke Kanehira & Joji Otani

A week later Gatoh Move once again brought me to a new men’s company, with Emi Sakura again teaming with Mei Suruga to face Mitsuru & a partner, this time Yuna Mizumori. I love how different this felt from the previous while still retaining the core spirit of what Gatoh’s all about. Emi & Mei once again proved victorious in another energetic tag match.

I had more familiarity with the wrestlers this time, knowing Akki & Tamura from Gatoh Move, Arai from Wave, etc. This was a good show that I got into, with some big highlights. Seeing Tatsumi Fujinami live was incredible, and that main event was certainly a hard hitting affair.

The personalities involved in the 6-man were striking, and the match excellent. Of the new-to-me wrestlers I left with the strongest impression of them, particularly the trio of Yamato, Fujita & Ito, and wanting to see them all again.

Wrestle-1 6/2/19

1- Ryuji Hijikata & Shota Nakagawa vs Ganseki Tanaka & Ryuki Honda
2- El Hijo del Pantera & MAZADA vs Kenichiro Arai & Yusuke Kodama
3- Reika Saiki vs Takako Inoue
4- WRESTLE-1 Grand Prix 2019 First Round: Kuma Arashi vs Pegaso Iluminar
5- WRESTLE-1 Grand Prix 2019 First Round: Daiki Inaba vs Masayuki Kono
6- Ten Man Tag: Alejandro, Andy Wu, Jun Tonsho, Kaz Hayashi & Shuji Kondo vs Strong Hearts (CIMA, El Lindaman, Seiki Yoshioka & T-Hawk) & Issei Onizuka
7- WRESTLE-1 Grand Prix 2019 First Round: Shotaro Ashino vs Seigo Tachibana
8- WRESTLE-1 Grand Prix 2019 First Round: Koji Doi vs Manabu Soya

W-1’s Reika Saiki (who is sadly out with a broken jaw for the time being) is a favorite of mine. During this trip she announced she’d be leaving Tokyo Joshi Pro, presumably to concentrate on her home promotion. W-1 brought in a series of legends for Reika to face, and I came to this show to see her wrestle Takako Inoue (in a rare, great opportunity to see her as well).

Solid match that went as expected, with some hard hitting back and forth and Reika taking it to Takako before coming up a bit short.

I was familiar with Cima and some of his Strong Hearts compatriots from DG-USA, and that was really it. It was cool to see Cima again, particularly doing such a different character, and their match was frantic and chaotic in a thoroughly enjoyable way.

The Wrestle-1 Grand Prix opening round matches had the advantage of having something specific on the line (which really does make a difference), but even beyond that I was surprised at how easy it was to get caught up in them without knowing the participants. That the matches throughout the show featured a nice variety of styles, pacing, etc also helped.

The semi-main was particularly incredible. I went from having no knowledge or investment in either man to DESPERATELY wanting Tachibana to win by the end. Just top notch work from both wrestlers to tell a compelling story in the ring with excellent action and psychology that transcended language and familiarity. One of the best matches I saw this trip, and a standout on a strong show.

For me this was the best of the men’s shows, and I definitely left it actively wanting to go back to W-1 in the future.

The Promised Neverland Volume 4 Review

“I’ll destroy… the plan mom has in mind.”

The Promised Neverland features an overarching story with a terrible, previously revealed underlying secret. Best to start reading with volume 1.

Mom’s not playing around anymore, and the big cliffhanger from last volume has major consequences as the core group of children are faced with decisions and threats they don’t agree on how to deal with.

There’s a lot in this volume that’s been built to since the beginning, with the start of payoffs to long running threads and a number of big twists. Incredible use of flashbacks gives new meaning to old scenes, and the all out battle of wits between the children and mom has real consequences. This volume is simply fantastic, and ends with another intriguing cliffhanger as the first major arc of the manga seems to be reaching its climax.

Farewell to a Gran Maestro: Tequila Saya’s Retirement

During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 I became an immediate and big fan of Ice Ribbon. A few months later, on March 12, 2016, a wrestler called Tequila Saya made her debut for the company.

I saw Saya wrestle for first time when I returned to Japan the following December. She made strong positive first impression in a tag match teaming with Kyuri against Uno Matsuya & Maika Ozaki on 12/24/16 and a great 7-way at Ribbonmania a week later, with both matches involving several other rookie talents.

The immediately striking thing about watching Saya is her infectious charisma. She always seems to be having fun and excited about whatever she’s doing and there’s an engaging quality to her performances. Her expressions and body language are great in helping to tell the story of her matches, and a distinct style and personality make her a compelling performer.

One of my favorite examples of the fantastic little details she adds to her matches is from Survival Ribbon during that same trip. Saya was drawn first for her random match and entered the ring visibly confident and psyched up. She then absolutely crumpled in the corner in resignation seconds later when it was announced her opponent was Ice Ribbon’s resident powerhouse Kurumi Hiiragi. In mere seconds with no words she emphatically and completely put over the notion that Kurumi’s a monster and the enormity of the task in front of her.

Saya continued to impress in all the subsequent times I’ve been lucky enough to see her wrestle, including some particularly fun matches this past January.

In Spring of 2018 Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party) initially focusing on talent with less than three years experience (although as time passes some of their core roster are obviously passing that particular hallmark), with some vets mixed in for them to work with. The concept is fantastic and I always enjoyed the shows of theirs I saw.

This Spring P’s Party had their first larger, non-dojo show as part of the Yokohama Wrestling Festival during Golden Week. Yokohama Party was a really enjoyable event, and it was great to see them get an opportunity in front of a larger audience. Saya wrestled in the main event alongside Burning Raw tag team partner Giulia again Rina Yamashita & the debuting Yappy.

Around the same time as starting up P’s Party, Saya also opened a bar close to the Ice Ribbon dojo. Continuing the theme it’s called After Party, and is a cool little place with a nice atmosphere. It reminded me a bit of bars back home, and Saya’s a great bartender in general in addition to it being awesome to have the opportunity to hang out with other fans and chat with them and Saya a bit. There were frequent guest events and other wrestlers helping out, and I always had a lot of fun when I went.

Both P’s Party and After Party have dates set for October post Saya’s final match, but it’s unclear how long either will continue (particularly the bar, which has already scaled back its open dates to solely post Ice Ribbon/P’s Party dojo shows).

I didn’t know it at the time, but the Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) vs Burning Raw on 5/28/19 would be the final time I’d see Saya wrestle live. It was a great little opener and a fine note to go out on. I adore Burning Raw as a team (despite the nonsensical name lol) and this was really the start of their push to the International Ribbon Tag Team Titles, which they would win from Azure Revolution (Risa Sera & Maya Yukihi) in July and lose back to them a couple weeks ago. After the match Saya announced her impending retirement.

Saya’s final match will be this coming weekend, in which Burning Raw will face Uno Matsuya & Satsuki Totoro. Saya’s indicated that she planned to wrestle for three years from the start, and while I’ll miss her I’m glad she was able to realize her goal. Wishing the Gran Maestro de Tequila all the best in whatever’s next, though I do selfishly hope she’ll remain involved in Ice Ribbon in some capacity post her in-ring career.

The Promised Neverland Volume 3 Review

“Do you think what they told us is the truth?”

The Promised Neverland features an overarching story with a terrible, previously revealed underlying secret. Best to start reading with volume 1.

Emma and her compatriots continue slowly building their escape plan, hampered at every turn by their “mother” and Sister Krone, who each have their own goals and agendas. There’s a real sense of moving forward while maximizing the slowly escalating tension. There’s significant time spent with “secondary” characters, and Krone’s maneuvering in particular becomes a main focus. As I’ve mentioned previously I’m extremely impressed with the way the characters are all extremely intelligent without being infallible, and the constant efforts of them all to outthink each other is one of the manga’s best points.

It all adds even more layers to everything that’s happening and begins to show real consequences for the choices being made, including various levels of palpable threat. The gradual world building and major gambits and moves in this volume heighten the impact of the unfolding mysteries and lead to a huge cliffhanger. Strong third volume with a ton of important developments and even more intriguing plot lines set up for the future.

Gatoh Move 4/27/19 Live Thoughts/DVD Review

April 27, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Due to a tight train schedule and being out in Sendai for Sendai’s Girls’ show earlier in the day I missed half of this show live. What I did see was incredible, and I’m looking forward to catching up on what I missed (and revisiting the matches I saw) with this DVD.

1- Leon vs Mei Suruga

Side note: It always brings a smile to my face to see Mei joyfully coming out wearing Aoi Kizuki’s wings.

Nice opportunity for Gatoh’s rising star against a visiting veteran. Even better, this felt more like an encounter of equals than a typical “rookie vs vet” match, which is another indication of great things ahead for Mei. Her energy and creativity in the ring always adds a little extra spark to her matches.

This featured nice back and forth chain wrestling interspersed with high octane offense that made for a good, face paced opener that really picked up towards the end. Leon defeated Mei with the frog splash.

2- Baliyan Akki vs Asuka

This is of course the formerly of WAVE Asuka (and not the former Kana who now wrestles for WWE). Big matchup for Akki.

Highlights included a great sequence of back and forth dodges going outside the ring and back early on and a section where they forearmed and elbowed the HELL out of each other. In general this excelled during rapid back and forth, with the rhythm feeling a bit off during the sections where Asuka was on extended offense. Solid and well paced overall though, and it didn’t feel like they were going for the time limit draw until it happened.

The first glimpse of a strong night of intergender wrestling from Gatoh Move.

3- Mitsuru vs Sawasdee Kamen

The superhero team had issues of late going into this and the former partners squared off to settle their issues here. The setup also furthered the ongoing undercurrents of Mitsuru’s frustration and desire to prove herself.

They went right at each other, with Sawasdee actually being the initial aggressor during his introduction. This featured some really nice counters speaking to their familiarity as teammates.

It was also the shortest match of the show at about five and a half minutes, and I wish they had gotten a little more time. They made good use of what they had and this was decent, but it did kind of feel like a longer, better match on fast forward.

Mitsuru got a decent amount of offense, and looked like her partner’s equal even in defeat. Second match of the night to end with a frog splash of only two matches so far with finishes, which was a little odd.

Sawasdee helped Mitsuru up after the match, and they fully reconciled at the end of the show.

4- Emi Sakura & Kaori Yoneyama vs Cho-un Shiryu & TAMURA

I love Yone coming out in a matching Sakura outfit when they team. The crowd was behind the men to start, feeding off of Sakura and Yone’s somewhat natural heel tendencies. This set up a really interesting match long story as things unfolded.

Things built to a long section in the middle of Cho-un and Tamura targeting Sakura’s bad back and repeatedly knocking her off the apron with cheap shots. It both switched the crowd’s allegiance and made two 20+ year veterans seem like major underdogs without feeling cheap or sexist. I can’t stress enough how exceptional Gatoh Move is at intergender wrestling, and that skill and deft touch was on full display here.

This match is where I came in live, and the crowd was electric for the ending stretch, leading up to Sakura and Yone hitting consecutive moonsaults from the same turnbuckle for a big win. Great stuff.

5- Yuna Mizumori vs Mizuki

The semi-main event featured one half of Gatoh’s reigning tag champions against one half of Tokyo Joshi Pro’s reigning tag champs in singles competition. Really awesome to see Yuna getting some big singles match spotlights, and she had another vs Hiroyo Matsumoto days later.

Yuna decides early to poke fun at Mizuki’s “Mizupyon” nickname and declares herself “Mizumoripyon,” complete with bunny poses and other taunts to Mizuki’s rapidly increasing annoyance. It provided a nice start to the match and a backbone story to center the match on.

Yuna’s been adding really cool, off the wall stuff to her arsenal and combined with Mizuki’s natural athletic ability and attention to little touches that enhance her matches this was great fun.

There was a tangible sense of desperation and escalation at the end, leading to Mizuki hitting a GORGEOUS Cutie Special variation on her larger opponent for the win.

6- Riho vs Masahiro Takanashi

While I love Gatoh Move in general and was excited about the entire show, this match in particular is primarily why I came rushing back from Sendai.

Riho was a couple months out from leaving Gatoh Move to go freelance  and this was one last big singles match against their most frequent male visitor.

Takanashi is an absolute master at working with smaller opponents in a believable way, and Riho of course is a expert in her own right (and usually faces larger opponents). The combined experience in this match was close to 29 years, and did it ever show.

The match built from careful counter-grappling to high impact offense naturally, telling an incredible story along the way. During the opening sequence of hold-for-hold struggles there was a particularly excellent exchange of stranglehold reversals.

Throughout the match there was realistic use of Takanashi’s size advantage (in certain counters, the way moves were applied/executed, etc), which is one of my favorite little touches. It adds so much to the match and forced Riho to get clever and make good use of her speed, etc to nullify that edge.

They made each other fight for EVERYTHING, which is so important to immersion and feeling like they’re both doing everything they can to win. The constant counters and back and forth in this are amazing, and it was all so smooth. Takanashi eventually had one counter too many in his bag of tricks and small packaged Riho out of a suplex attempt for the win. This was a wonderful way to end the show, and my match of the night against some stiff competition.

When the biggest criticism I have of a show is that one of the matches deserved more time, it’s a sign things went quite well. Simply fantastic from top to bottom with a variety of great matchups, styles, and of course talent. One of my favorite shows of this trip.

The Promised Neverland Volume 2 Review

“And Emma… your weakness is being naive.”

The Promised Neverland features an overarching story with a terrible, previously revealed underlying secret. Best to start reading with volume 1.

This volume builds off the revelations of the first as the children start to formulate plans and decide how best to proceed. Themes of appearances vs reality and the ongoing impacts of choices each character needs to make are escalating and nicely interwoven. Krone provides a good third “side” and adds interesting new context and complications to everyone’s maneuvering. To complicate things further, Emma and her compatriots must deal with the possibility of a traitor in their midst in the wake of bringing others into the fold.

One of the things I like most about this manga is how smart everyone is without being infallible. And on the flip side, how they can be wrong or make small missteps without acting foolish. It’s a hard aspect to balance properly, and so far author Shirai is doing an excellent job of it.

Good followup volume overall continues to build a complex web of characters and agendas while keep a real sense of dread and tension pervasive.

The Promised Neverland Volume 1 Review

“The true colors of reality…”

Eleven year old Emma lives a happy and idyllic life as one of the oldest orphans at Grace Field House under the supervision of a loving caretaker… paying no mind to the rigorous daily tests, identification numbers on everyone’s necks, or surrounding wall with a locked entrance gate they are forbidden to venture beyond.

I only had the barest inkling of what to expect from this going in, and certainly wasn’t quite prepared for what awaited me. The first chapter sets the stage in excellent fashion, both feeling like it spends enough time introducing the status quo and getting into the gruesome details of what the story is really about fast.

I won’t get into specific spoilers, but fair warning: this is a dark, tense read. Grace Field House becomes the scene of a cat and mouse game, wonderfully engaged in by smart, differing agents acting with a variety of goals and agendas. It already stands out among its genre (something awful lurking underneath a seemingly perfect life), as the layers and levels at play even throughout just this first volume are impressive and intriguing.

The art is intentionally exaggerated often, which works sometimes to increase the impact and eeriness of certain situations but feels extremely odd and jarring at others. Hopefully it’ll even out a bit in future volumes.

There are moments of info dumping, but given the nature of the story it’s somewhat unavoidable and done well enough. Several characters are trying to plan several steps ahead and outthink each other covertly, and the author does a great job of balancing this and the ways in which they interact with / run afoul of each other.

Strong start overall for this creepy, layered manga.