“This is not me.”
ChocoPro began at the end of March amid Covid restrictions as a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world, specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square.
In the relatively short seven months since its start, ChocoPro has already run 65 shows and counting, with each “season” being 18 episodes/shows. It features a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances. Recently, one of the most compelling stories in all of wrestling has perhaps incredulously revolved around a particular pink cap…
The Wrestler Who’s Too Weak to be a Wrestler
Lulu Pencil, along with five other rookies (Sayuri, Rin Rin, Chie Koishikawa, Tokiko Kirihara, and Sayaka), debuted on Gatoh Move’s 8/28/19 show and so has only a little over a year of experience in wrestling. Lulu’s also a freelance writer, and fully embraces her identity with her Pencil surname and signature attire of overalls and cap.
She’s quite unique in the world of wrestling… in that she’s really not that good at it. As a character, not a performer. That’s an incredibly hard line to walk and to describe. Everything Lulu does in the ring is a little off. Early in her career she grabbed the wrong hand when going for lockups, got herself hung up on the windowsill for seemingly no reason, etc. Her stances, way of attacking, and general body language are all a bit bizarre. Her build is slight and she’s always at the most extreme strength disadvantage no matter her opponent, leading to common situations such as hurting her own arm when forearming her opponents instead of hurting them. She’s lost a number of matches due to APPLYING a hold or pinning combination but getting stuck midway and having to tap out.
And it all came together instantly along with her never-ending determination to be a professional wrestler to make her one of the most beloved underdogs anywhere in wrestling. Her fans dubbed themselves the Pencil Army and Lulu’s support exploded.
The key to Lulu’s story is how she continually grows in subtle but measurable and logical ways while still remaining herself. Every match is a progression as she tries new things and becomes a little more effective while still approaching everything from a fundamentally different and weird perspective. She gets tougher each time out, and is absolutely impossible not to root for.
The Team No One Expected
At the end of 2019 Lulu had an opportunity to team with her trainer in an interesting matchup against one of Sakura’s regular partners Masahiro Takanashi & Masa’s CDK partner Chris Brookes. Lulu was thrilled to be teaming with her teacher and had herself introduced as “Emi Sakura’s student” and vice versa to Emi’s barely maintained patience. But as the match progressed Emi encouraged the struggling Lulu, and whenever she was tagged in herself she was in full bore no-nonsense mode.
In the end Chris attempted to apply an arm bar when poor Lulu, already immobilized by Chris’ legs and unable to withstand it, tapped out to give CDK the win. A confused (or perhaps just sadistic) Chris continued to pull the arm a bit as Takanashi tried to explain they’d already won and to please let Lulu go. The match was a joy, but at the time was a one off pairing of the odd couple teacher and student duo of Sakura & Lulu.
Looking ahead to the start of ChocoPro, Lulu appeared on ChocoPro 1 and 3 but was then was out for a couple of months and returned for episode 22 to much fanfare. She had a number of high profile matches against Kaori Yoneyama, Mitsuru Konno, and Baliyan Akki where she showed great fire and heart despite coming out on the losing end of all of them.
Then on ChocoPro 29 she once again teamed with her mentor… but this time “Emi Pencil” came out in place of “Emi Sakura” (in blue attire to match Lulu’s pink cap and overalls) and the Pencil Army tag team was born.
Similarly to Lulu’s start the Pencil Army of “Lulu Pencil, Emi Pencil, and YOU!” instantly became a much beloved team, but not a particularly successful one.
After struggling through their first few matches, in their fourth match as a team… they still lost. But a fired up Mitsuru (who was on fire at the time due to a multitude of channeled anger) pinned Emi Pencil for the win, and afterwards Lulu remarked that the fact that she wasn’t the one who lost this time meant she was getting stronger.
In her next match she took Akki nearly to the limit in a tough singles encounter where Akki won with a mere 15 seconds left. Sakura said Lulu almost pushed Akki to a time limit draw, and she thinks Lulu could win a rematch. To ensure it, Emi made it a handicap match featuring both members of Pencil Army vs Akki at ChocoPro 34.
The loss in that handicap match and a growing clash in philosophies led to a clash of the Pencil Army against each other in a singles match in the finale of season 2, ChocoPro 36. In a nod to how Emi had been messing with her partner (correcting Lulu when she answered “2” when Emi asked “what’s 1+1?” saying that the real answer was “infinity” because of the strength of the two of them together then the next show hitting Lulu upside the head with her cap when Lulu answered “infinity” to the same question saying “What?! 1+1 is 2!”), the match was subtitled the Pencil Infinity War.
The match appeared to be a milestone in the two working out their differences and Emi’s victory an indication that she still had reserves of strength for Lulu to learn from. But after they teamed together again on the season 3 opener only to lose a handicap match to Tokiko, Lulu decided maybe Emi Pencil was holding her back after all and refocused on singles competition for a time (while Sakura temporarily put the Emi Pencil character on hold).
Lulu had a number of strong showings against high level opponents, but still searched in vain for her first singles victory. Then, in a match that wasn’t originally supposed to happen, everything changed.
A Simple Twist of Fate with Major Consequences
ChocoPro 44 was a milestone event: ChocoPro’s first ring event. Held at Shinkiba 1st Ring instead of Ichigaya Chocolate Square but still with all the ChocoPro hallmarks (no audience, camera work and other production aspects tailored to streaming, etc), this momentous show would be headlined by a long awaited tag team clash of Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) vs Mitsuru Konno & Chris Brookes.
However shortly before the show Mitsuru injured her leg and unfortunately has not been able to return as of yet. With her out, the card was reshuffled and Lulu received a huge chance to prove herself in the form of a singles match against Chris.
At the time Chris was the reigning DDT Universal Champion, and as such came out during the pre-show discussion and demanded to be in the main event. Sakura seemed inclined to agree… if the title was on the line. Chris laughed the idea off (“It’s Lulu! No, the title’s not on the line.”) but still insisted that as a reigning champion he should be in the main event. Lulu, characteristically unafraid of a challenge no matter her track record, said that if the match needed stakes to be a main event she would put her precious cap, the very symbol of her and the Pencil Army, on the line.
Lulu put up an incredible fight in an excellent match, but in the end Chris made her submit and left with her precious cap atop his head.
“This is Not Me.”
At first Lulu seemed determined to stay positive in the wake of her defeat, vowing to become stronger despite her disappointment and beat Chris one day to take her hat back. But the absence of her hat, and perhaps the contrast of getting some tag team victories alongside Tokiko including one against Sakura & Chie, seemed to be slowly undermining her satisfaction with the Pencil Army team.
Emi Sakura for her part seemed to start trying in her own way to be a surprisingly considerate partner. After their loss to Cherry & Chie on ChocoPro 52 Emi pointed out that they both have jobs, homes, etc and concluded that they had everything except victory, which they would achieve in time. When Lulu crossed paths with Chris again for the first time since losing her hat in a Pencil Army vs Chris and Tokiko match on ChocoPro 55 Emi had a blue hat for Lulu that matched Emi’s to try to cheer her up.
But Chris, reveling in being able to taunt his opponents with his trophy by chanting “Pencil. Army. Chris Brookes, pink hat, and none of you,” was having none of it. He knew Lulu wanted the hat he won from her and not the replacement Sakura provided, and tormented her throughout the match. After a bitter battle between the two teams Chris defeated Lulu again, this time by deadlifting her by her overalls and spinning her around until she gave up. In the aftermath Lulu concluded that she can learn to be stronger alongside Chris. An amused Chris agreed and they left together, with a shell shocked Emi Pencil in their wake.
Emi however refused the idea of Lulu teaming with Chris, and continued to book Pencil Army matches. She made repeated attempts to smooth things over and raise Lulu’s spirits, including trying out matching blue outfits and caps in place of Lulu’s usual pink one time and bows in the place of caps another. And Lulu tried each time, but each time Pencil Army continued to come up short and the issue between them grew. “I’m not ok. This is not me. I can become stronger than now.”
Emi even went so far as to order a new pink hat with “Pencil Army” written on it for Lulu in place of the one she lost. All of this was incredible in terms Emi’s arc over the course of the seasons. The temperamental oni who often messes with everyone else on the roster actually wanted to be supportive for once and tried her best, but kept missing the point by not listening to what Lulu actually wanted.
Upset but realizing they were at an impasse, after yet another Pencil Army loss on ChocoPro 61 (to An-chamu and Mei) Emi finally agreed to let Lulu team with Chris. However Lulu would have to prove her strength to Emi, as it would be against Emi Pencil and a partner of her choosing.
As the huge showdown loomed Chris said he sees untapped potential in Lulu and that Emi Pencil was holding her back. He pledged that they would achieve victory. However Emi chose Hagane Shinnou as her partner, making the task before Lulu a tall one indeed.
Throughout the match Chris pushed Lulu to attack and surpass her former partner, and they actually made a pretty solid team. The dream team of Emi and Hagane also gelled pretty well of course, but eventually Chris trapped Emi in a modified Rings of Saturn that put a lot of pressure on her back to force a submission for the win.
After their victory Chris says Lulu has become stronger, and he thinks she’s earned something… then he puts her hat back on his own head and says he was just joking and that she hasn’t earned anything. He further calls her weak and impressionable and mocks how he was able to get her to turn on her mentor. “Lulu, you are NEVER getting back this hat. You stupid little girl.” Lulu snapped and attacked Chris. He turned the tables quickly… but Lulu was not alone. Emi Pencil drug herself up, took her place by Lulu’s side, and started the Pencil Army chant.
The two present a united front as the Pencil Army and block Chris from leaving. “Lulu believed in you. You hurt us!” With Emi finally realizing that type of support Lulu truly needs from her and Lulu trusting in herself and her mentor to get stronger together, they press Chris until he accepts their challenge to a match for the hat. But he says that it’s only fair for it to be 2-on-2, and names Yuna as his partner. Needless to say with the history between Yuna and Sakura, the pineapple girl didn’t have any objections.
I Quit Match
So in a one match show for ChocoPro 63, Chris Brookes & Yuna Mizumori faced the Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Emi Pencil) in a desperate battle for the fate of Lulu’s pink hat. One final twist would be added: Emi admitted that Chris might be stronger than them but she knew Lulu would never give up, so she made the match an “I Quit Match.” Anything goes. No pinfalls, no tapouts, no DQs, etc. The match would continue until one of the four said “I quit.”
The Pencil Army gave it their absolute all in a crazy effort to finally achieve their first victory in a match that couldn’t possibly be more important to them. Yuna channeled all of her aggression into helping Chris torture the underdogs, and Chris taunted Lulu throughout. The Pencil Army is largely a comedy tag team yet the amount of raw emotion and depth to many of their matches, and this one in particular, is unrivaled. It’s must watch.
Chris pushed Lulu to her limits and late in the match screamed at her in frustration at her refusing to quit. He grabbed her hat, shoved it in her face, and told if that’s what she wanted to just take it and go. A defiant Lulu SLAPPED IT AWAY and refused to end things like that. She fought with every once of her being.
After a desperate flurry by Lulu Chris leveled her and tied her up in a seated octopus hold. Emi Pencil tried to save but was neutralized in the corner by Yuna. With one leg around Lulu’s head and his other holding her leg, Chris grabbed her arm and pulled. Lulu tapped out of instinct from the pain, but when reminded there were no tapouts and she needed to verbally quit she refused. So Chris modified the hold with his leg fully around her shoulder and head. Still Lulu would not give up. Finally Chris grabbed her other leg and pulled back in yet another vicious modification of the hold… and Lulu still wouldn’t quit. But a tormented Emi Pencil, in no danger herself but unable to away from Yuna, can’t take watching her partner suffer anymore and is the one to quit. An incredibly powerful moment. They still haven’t won a match, but the Pencil Army are as real a team as it gets.
Chris, in a sign of respect for the person who refused quit to the end, puts Lulu’s hat back in her hand (while she’s still pretty much out cold on the mat) on his way out.
Emi helps her partner up, and the Pencil Army is finally whole.
In an incredibly appropriate epilogue, during the watch party for the show Lulu revealed one of the reasons the hat means so much to her is that it was a gift from Sakura from one of her trips to wrestle in Europe, and Sakura completely forgot that fact. So perfect.
A compelling, engrossing story told over several months supported by high level in ring action featuring a number of levels of character development for numerous people is a huge accomplishment in the first place. To achieve that when the entire thing centers on a ball cap is incredible. It’s been a treat to follow along for the ride.
Lulu’s debut (my thoughts on the show)
Lulu Pencil & Emi Sakura vs CDK (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 29: Pencil Army debut vs Mitsuru & Tokiko (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 32: Pencil Army vs Mitsuru & Yuna (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 36: Pencil Infinity War
ChocoPro 44: Pink Hat Match – Lulu vs Chris
ChocoPro 51: Lulu & Tokiko vs Emi Sakura & Chie
ChocoPro 55: Pencil Army vs Chris & Tokiko
ChocoPro 61: Pencil Army vs Mei & An-chamu
ChocoPro 62: The Pencil War – Lulu & Chris vs Emi Pencil & Hagane Shinnou
ChocoPro 63 – I Quit Match: Pencil Army vs Chris & Yuna
ChocoPro 33: Lulu vs Akki (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 34: Pencil Army vs Akki (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 37: Pencil Army vs Otoki
ChocoPro 46: Pencil Army vs Yuna
ChocoPro 52: Pencil Army vs Cherry & Chie
ChocoPro 56: Pencil Army vs Obi & Mei
ChocoPro 57: Pencil Army vs Warm Caterpillars
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