Beautiful Dreams 3: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

It’s been a year and change since my last spotlight on the work of my favorite artist, and I’d like to share and talk about more of her incredible work and some of the inspirations behind the pieces. See Beautiful Dreams and Beautiful Dreams 2 for more about Juri H. Chinchilla’s art, including past pieces I’ll be mentioning in this write up.

 

 

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements. One of the more unique requests I’ve made was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and I adored it so much that I’ve followed up with several more since. Juri’s done an AMAZING job depicting these previously unfamiliar to her subjects and these are in many ways the pride of my entire art collection. See Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 2 for more about the above works featuring WWE’s reigning Smackdown Women’s Champion Asuka, Sendai Girls’ phenomenal high flyer Dash Chisako, and the recently retired Happy Maker Aoi Kizuki.

 

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Misaki Ohata PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

 

Another favorite of mine also retired in 2018, and Juri’s strikingly posed Misaki Ohata with a wonderful background of venue lights is a great keepsake.

 

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Reika Saiki PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro’s Reika Saiki is known as the “Muscle Idol,” and all aspects of her strength and charisma as a wrestler, idol, and body builder are gloriously highlighted in Juri’s drawing.

 

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Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

The last wrestler in this batch was also the first of all. Juri’s first rendition of Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move for me featured a great action pose capturing and combining Mitsuru’s strength, determination, grace, and beauty in a remarkable rendition. Equally wonderful is Juri’s quite different recent depiction, featuring Mitsuru in her newer wrestling outfit with a palpable sense of celebration and excitement captured.

With the exception of Dash doing her trademark frog splash, I didn’t specify poses and the layouts, details, and way Juri captured each subject are just wonderful. I couldn’t be happier with how these all turned out.

 

 

Juri’s work have are as diverse in creation method as they can be in subject matter. I’ve added a pair of wonderful paintings of hers to my collection, including a striking abstract and an atmospheric, haunting image of night in Rainy Gotham.

Another unique piece is Aquatica, which shows off Juri’s wonderful use of color in a gorgeous image of an original character.

 

 

As always Juri’s work for Perna Studios‘ high quality card sets is pitch perfect for the subject matter. I was lucky enough to get some Artist Proofs (APs)  from her for their most recent sets. For Witchcraft, I requested a female grim reaper from several artists, and I adore the delicate yet powerful feel Juri brought to her version. In the past I got a witch from Juri with some amazing ravens, so loved the idea of getting Celtic goddess Morrigan for her Classic Mythology III metal AP. Rounding out this group is a graceful moonlight scene featuring my favorite Greek goddess, Artemis, with just a touch of lurking menace as she hunts.

 

A very different Morrigan was part of one of the Personal Sketch Cards I got previously from Juri, an incredible depiction of the Darkstalkers character with her “sister” Lilith. Morrigan’s an old favorite and one of my most played fighting game characters ever, so I was thrilled to add this larger, equally amazingly done drawing of her to my collection.

 

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Continuing the video game theme are three new PSCs from some of my favorite game series. Makoto from Persona 5 joins my previous PSC of Elizabeth from the third game in that series, with a bold red background complimenting the deep blues of the other card. The wonderful balance of a sense of motion while still posing is a wonderful touch not only in the two Persona cards, but also accentuates Juri’s drawings of Fire Emblem’s Tharja, and Valkyria Chronicles 4’s Riley, as well as the Bombshells version of DC’s Raven and Clare from the manga/anime Claymore. Finally for this time around is a beautiful depiction of two of Juri’s original characters. The cards are all excellent and unique works showcasing Juri’s attention to detail and mastery of color in their own different ways

 

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her wonderous creations for a long time to come. 🙂

 

 

 

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince Review

Just your everyday fairy tale about a singing wolf monster who makes a deal with a witch to transform into a princess in order to help try to get a caring prince she accidentally blinded his sight back.

 

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The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince has a whimsical story with just the right amount of emotional beats at its center. The wolf’s anxiety of being discovered while trying to do the right thing despite the lies she thinks she needs to maintain is a compelling framework for the puzzle platforming core. There were admittedly a couple of spots where imprecise mechanics were frustrating, but generally the gameplay is solid and engaging as the player switches between the wolf’s forms to guide and protect the prince as they venture through a dangerous forest. A well done storybook aesthetic completes the package nicely, and overall I found this game extremely engrossing.

 

Ice Ribbon 12/31/18 (RibbonMania) Live Thoughts

December 31, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

As always for my holiday wrestling trips one of my most anticipated events was Ice Ribbon’s biggest of the year, and there were a lot of interesting things happening on this card.

 

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The opening contest saw an official debut for Suzu Suzuki against fellow rookie Asahi. Suzu’s debut had been delayed by a bicycle accident injury, and in a display of sheer, glorious chutzpah she rides one out for her entrance.

 

 

Really good showing for both here, with Suzu getting a strong start with a victory in her debut and Asahi getting more desperate in search of a win. They both have good instincts and bright futures ahead of them.

 

 

Teams This is Ice Ribbon (Hiragi Kurumi & Tsukushi), Saori Anou, & Tae Honma and Akane Fujita, Ibuki Hoshi, Satsuki Totoro, & Himeka Arita made the most of what could have been a throwaway 8 woman tag match for an exciting encounter. It had lots of cool little multi-person spots, and while the occasional one went a little off, most of this was clever, energetic, and flat out fun. Saori in particular looked like she was having a blast here.

 

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The Tequila Saya and Giulia feud I’d seen glimpses of two days prior at the 12/29 dojo show came to a head as they faced in mixed tag action with partners Hideki Suzuki and Shinya Aoki respectively.

 

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A year ago I was amused at the beginning of Hideki’s involvement in Ice Ribbon, but unfortunately it was all downhill from there, with constantly changing and forgotten stipulations and lackluster matches. But the building resentment of the Ice roster to him has been a lone bright spot, and the parts of this where everyone (often including his own partner Saya) swarmed him for revenge in and out of the ring were a lot of fun.

Also, the parts where Saya and Giulia faced off were nicely heated and really well worked. But honestly there wasn’t much bringing it all together and the match as a whole did feel a bit disjointed to me. Giulia eventually picked up the win on a shocked Saya, then the two reconciled as the men slinked off together.

 

 

Uno Matsuya’s shot at Triangle Ribbon Champion Cho-un Shiryu was derailed from the start when fellow challenger Miyako Matsumoto objected to referee Banny* Oikawa, and brought in a ringer in the form of Frank Atsushi. Everyone, including the President of Ice Ribbon sitting at the time keeper’s table, eventually agrees to Miyako’s ridiculous request and Banny leaves the ring.

 

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This match was all about Miyako, and unfortunately not in a particularly enjoyable way. They spent much too long belaboring the one note biased referee stuff, until Banny eventually gets tired of it and comes back out to neutralize Atsushi. She gets into it with Miyako too and crossbodies her, at which point a dazed Atsushi counts 3.  The decision stands, and Banny is new Triangle Ribbon champion.

It’s actually quite interesting where this ended up, and I’m intrigued at seeing Banny (who played her role here extremely well) eventually transition into wrestling. But the path taken to get there was a chore and poor Uno was a complete afterthought here, which is a shame. She deserves better.

 

 

Ex-Ice Ribbon roster member and now hated outsider Hikaru Shida returned to face her former trainee Risa Sera once more, in Risa’s preferred match type to boot. Given the story I wanted more fire out of this and there was a little too much “spots for spots sake” as opposed to a smooth, logically escalating match, but it still hit the right high notes and was decent overall. I have seen better hardcore matches out of both though. Risa prevailed and the two finally showed each other respect afterwards to presumably end Shida’s story with Ice Ribbon for now.

 

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Past their difficulties as a team Gekoku (Maika Ozaki & Kyuri) was reunited in their pursuit of the International Tag Ribbon Championships held by The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi).

Extremely good match, capped off by a well deserved, long time coming reign for Kyuri & Maika. Beyond excited and happy for the two of them. In a nice touch their former enemies and now semi-regular teammates Saori and Tae celebrated with the new champions ringside post show.

 

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Last August Ice Cross Infinity Champion Tsukasa Fujimoto successfully defended against Maya Yukihi in a heralded match that would eventually win Ice Ribbon’s fan voted match of the year honors for 2018.

 

 

Maya won a tournament for another shot at Tsukka in this main event match, and it was fantastic. Maya has evolved into an extremely well rounded wrestler and has great chemistry with IR’s ace. She’s an excellent choice to dethrone Tsukka and this was the right time. Wonderful way to finish up the show and the year.

 

 

The vast majority of this time’s Ribbonmania was good to great, with strong action, good booking, and fresh faces holding their titles. Excellent and highly recommended show overall.

 

 

 

* I don’t generally (ever, really) footnote things in this blog, but wanted to talk for a minute about language and didn’t want to bring the discussion of the show itself to a screeching halt above. Banny’s name is based on the English word “bunny” and is supposed to have that connection. But when foreign words are brought into Japanese they are spelled with a particular phonetic alphabet. The adapted words are then sometimes reconverted into English letters (at least partially) based on romanization rules / how Japanese speakers would pronounce the sounds, as in this case. Regardless of the origin of the name and as much as I’d prefer to avoid the confusion, she spells her name as “Banny” when using English letters so that is the spelling I’ll be using.

 

Top Ten “New to Me” Games early-2019

As in the past, I’d again like to look at some of the best games that I’ve tried for the first time (relatively) recently.

 

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time since my late-2017 list.
  • It’s been over a year since my last list, so I’m doing a top 10 this time instead of 5, and there are STILL great games that didn’t make the cut. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Argoat, Dark Moon, and Herbalism.

 

Special mention: Trickerion has been featured here before, but I played it for the first time with more than 2 players recently and really loved it in that manner as well, so wanted to give it another shout out.

 

 

10. Sentient

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Sentient perhaps looks a little more complicated than it is at first glance (and sadly any use of mathematical symbols immediately scares away some players). The mechanics are actually really straightforward and clever, with chosen cards changing the dice values on a player’s mat when played and the final values of the dice determining points scored based on the formulas on the cards. The balancing act gives rise to interesting choices in this unique, great little game.

Further thoughts here.

 

 

9. Gloomhaven

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Gloomhaven has massive setup and a million bits and pieces, but it all allows for a level of flexibility and depth that make it an extremely compelling dungeon crawler. It’s a bit cumbersome, but really well done and engrossing overall.

 

 

8. Unicornus Knights

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Unicornus Knights is a cooperative game with a wonderfully ridiculous premise. A “throw-caution-to-the-wind” princess wants to reclaim her lost kingdom, and the players are the various knights and retainers trying to keep her alive as she marches straight towards her goal. It’s hampered a bit by a rather poor rulebook and some odd graphic design choices made when bringing the game to the US, but once everything is sorted and settled this is a unique, highly engaging group game.

 

 

7. Spirit Island

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Spirit Island is a challenging co-op with a real sense of entropy and things getting out of hand as players take the role of spirits trying to protect/reclaim their island from colonists building towns and cities. The mechanics that govern the progression of what players are fighting against are ingenious, including an interesting, natural mechanic where the victory condition gets less stringent as the game goes on. This is something that really feels different among all the games I play, to great effect.

 

 

6. Raiders of the North Sea

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Raiders of the North Sea is a highly thematic game that captures a nice rhythm of building up in preparation for a specific action (in this case making raids of the surrounding area), executing, then doing it again, all without things ever feeling stagnant. I’ve only played with two players so far and there are aspects I think might be better with more players, but overall I really enjoyed this.

Further thoughts here.

 

 

5. Minerva

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I didn’t know anything about this before my friend brought it to the table, and it ended up being a wonderful surprise. It’s the first tile laying game in ages I’ve gotten excited about, with an interesting and unique activation mechanic that leads to meaningful choices with an eye towards balancing needing straight lines for optimal use of tile abilities with “blocks” for maximum scoring. This is a great game that made an excellent first impression and is something I anticipate adding to my collection in the future.

 

 

4. Shadows in Kyoto

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Shadows in Kyoto is a two player game of hidden information and strategic movement. The imaginative new take it brings to classic gameplay elements seen in games like Stratego and the depth arising from the hand management and asymmetric power aspects combine to something really fun and engaging. I loved this accessible, intriguing game immediately.

Full review.

 

 

3. Exit: Sinister Mansion, Dead Man on the Orient Express

 

It’s hard to know how to treat the Exit series in lists like this, as the new installments aren’t expansions or remakes but are generally similar enough to be treated as such. But I felt these two pushed new boundaries with the format and puzzle types and they are perhaps my two favorite of the entire series. So I’m featuring/recommending them both in this single entry.

More thoughts on the series.

 

 

2. Watson & Holmes

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Watson & Holmes is kind of a competitive, tighter version of things like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. The structure and gameplay elements are incredibly well integrated with the mystery solving aspect as players visit different location cards and take notes on the information they find trying to answer three key questions asked at the start of each case. The overall balance and way all the various elements come together is fantastic, and I loved the two games of this I’ve played thus far.

(Review to follow.)

 

1. Detective

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Simply incredible. Full review on the way once I get to finish up with the final case, but Detective is a wonderfully compelling cooperative campaign game that feels like doing actual detective work in a fun and captivating way. Each session/case does require a bit of time (~3 hrs each), but it doesn’t feel it at all. The way information is gathered is key, and between the decisions on what leads to follow, incorporation of a special website, and historical connotations this really knocks things out of the park in terms of creating an engrossing experience.

 

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That’s it for now. It continues to be a great time for gaming, and everything here is well worth at least giving a try.

What are everyone else’s new favorites?

Yokohama Board Game Review (First Impressions)

Yokohama is a thematic worker placement game in which players are merchants in the Meiji period trying to thrive via fulfilling orders, expanding foreign ties, and building up their company and parts of the community around it.

 

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At first glance Yokohama is a bit overwhelming in terms of the sheer number of components and disparate elements. There are several things to keep track of and different ways to score points, but it all comes together really well and in a logical manner. The key to the accessibility of the game once play starts is that the actions taken each turn are straightforward themselves. The game’s depth comes from the fact that the implications of executing those actions become complex and far reaching.

Each turn a player will generally play workers to the modular board, then move their president to a particular tile and execute the related action. The workers help determine where the president can be moved and the power of the action performed, and the different tiles themselves determine whether the player will be collecting resources, placing workers on special scoring spaces, drawing cards, etc. But the core of a turn (including the way each tile is activated) is almost always mechanically the same. This allows the game to build complexity from those mechanics with varying scarcity of the different resources, various ways to gain points, technology cards that provide bonuses and/or special abilities, etc.

I found the path element, where a player’s president can only move along a series of tiles where that player has a worker, particularly interesting. It creates a nice balancing act of being spread out for mobility and concentrated for more powerful actions, and as such forces both preplanning and adaptability.

Yokohama the type of game that will take a few games to grasp best strategies and learn to properly weigh options, but is immediately engaging regardless.

 

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I first played a friend’s “deluxified” version (shown in the pictures in this review), which was limited to only Kickstarter and commanded high after market prices once the game came out, then purchased my own retail copy. Both have high production quality as far as there respective components went, but the retail version has considerably fewer “bells and whistles” and does pale a bit when compared side by side. Cardboard chits replaced the wooden resources, wooden cubes replaced the meeples, cardboard coins took the place of  metal ones, etc.

I do find TMG’s approach to limited KS versions frustrating in general. They pat themselves on the back for providing the upgrades at cost, but if priced more reasonably they could produce some extra copies and people who can’t commit during a specific one month window (or heaven forbid want a chance to play the game/read reviews before committing to purchase the more expensive version) would have opportunity to get the best version of the game without paying triple in aftermarket. However I will note in this case the deluxe version is being offered again, as part of the currently running Kickstarter for the 2 player only spin off Yokohama Duel (which also has a KS only “deluxified” version).

 

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The benefit of the component overload I talked about is the incredible amount of variation it lends to the game. The board is modular and the positions of the action tiles change from game to game. Beyond that the building spaces and bonuses on those action tiles are determined by cards and chits, which also changes the relative desirability of taking high powered actions on certain tiles. Technologies, orders, bonus goals, etc are also card based and variable. It all reminds me a little of  Ars Alchimia in the way certain aspects are implemented, and it’s really well done in both games.

 

I have now played this a few times with 2 players, and really enjoy it. But since I have yet to play with more players (and I imagine dynamic will change, especially considering the extra tiles involved), I can’t speak to that aspect and so am leaving this review marked “first impressions.” Regardless of that though I find Yokohama a game of meaningful choices and immense replayability, and an pretty easy recommendation for anyone willing to get past the initial bit of information overload.

Wave 12/29/18 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Wave’s big year end show ended up even more significant than usual for the company. Not only was it Misaki Ohata’s retirement show, but also the final “phase 1” show for Wave as they prepared to go on hiatus for four months to then relaunch under new management.

 

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Hiroyo Matsumoto is a force of nature in the ring, and the formula of seeing how much an up and comer can withstand against Lady Godzilla is a good one. Hiroe Nagahama put up a good fight in this opener before Hiroyo’s relentless onslaught gave her the victory.

 

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Next up was a 9-woman battle royal, somewhat surprisingly unthemed since this was a retirement show. Cherry outlasted Fairy Nihonbashi, Hikaru Shida, Himeka Arita, Kaori Yoneyama, Miyuki Takase, Natsumi Maki, Rin Kadokura, and SAKI to win in about ten minutes.

 

 

 

Considering the talent level and interesting names involved, some of the early eliminations and the spotlight coming down to Cherry and Fairy at the end was a bit underwhelming. Still there were a number of amusing spots (including a rather well done slow motion sequence), it didn’t overstay its welcome, and this was reasonably entertaining overall.

 

 

 

In my review of Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary show I remarked how well Wave’s Rina Yamashita and her partner that night Mio Momono executed the resentful tag partners story and won without making their opponents look weak. Men’s Wave featuring Keisuke Goto & Kenichiro Arai vs Koju Takeda & Onryo was pretty much the opposite.

Goto & Arai (opponents in the  previous year’s Men’s Wave tag) were at each others throats all match, leading to occasional advantages for their opponents, but in the end Goto tired of Arai, shoved his partner away, did his own thing, and won the match single handedly. Which earned him Arai’s respect after the match. Basic ringwork and meh story here (and I don’t quite get the point/appeal of Onryo’s gimmick of coming to the ring saturated with powder and essentially being a human dust cloud to the point the ring needed cleaning before the next match).

 

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In what I considered a rather surprising upset, Nagisa Nozaki defeated a former Regina di Wave champion in Marvelous’ Takumi Iroha in singles competition.  This was a well worked, exciting little match and a huge yet believable win for Nagisa.

 

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After a preview seeing them on opposite sides of a tag encounter the night before at SEAdLINNNG, that company’s estranged former tag team champions Rina Yamishita and Yoshiko continued their feud in singles competition. The two waged war and beat the hell out of each other for a full 15 minutes, going to a time limit draw. There was silliness around Rina’s insistence in covering *herself* in a trash can for a couple of (failed) attacks, but in general this heated brawl was intense and relentless. Great match for what it was.

 

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Speaking of SEAdLINNNG, their founder and current champion Nanae Takahashi, defeated ASUKA (a former Regina di Wave champion in her own right) next in a match with a few nice flourishes that was a bit paint-by-numbers otherwise.

 

 

 

So with Mio Momono pulled from every other show leading up to this due to impending knee surgery she rightfully took it easy here and … BWAHAHAHAHA. Yeah, no. While I really hope she didn’t push herself too hard the self proclaimed BOSS as always gave everything she had (including a dive to the floor minutes into the match O_o), with her WAVE Tag Team champion partner Yumi Ohka and opponents Sakura Hirota & Yuki Miyazaki doing a remarkable job of protecting Mio without anyone ever making it look obviously like they were protecting Mio.

Boss to Mammy would eventually drop those titles to the Hirota & Miyazaki after a near twenty minute battle that was much better than I honestly expected with Mio injured and the challengers largely a comedy team. Sakura busted out the working boots in a major way here, reminding everyone how much skill actually goes into her type of comedy by transcending it at points with spot on technical displays. She even hit the dive to the outside (well, after two failed attempts of course 😉 )!!! She’s still Sakura Hirota of course though, and won by collapsing into a pin on Ohka after a collision.

Mio has since had her knee surgery, and I wish her a speedy recovery and return.

 

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In the main event Misaki Ohata challenged her Avid Rival tag team partner Ryo Mizunami for the Regina di Wave Title in Ohata’s final match.

This was a different kind of retirement match than I’ve seen for others. Since it was a championship match they had a straight up contest befitting the prestige of the title and traditional “retirement spots” were completely absent. They clearly still had some fun with things though, such as when they brawled to the time keeper’s table and Misaki rang the bell directly in Ryo’s ear (ouch!).

 

 

 

As to be expected from two wrestlers of this caliber that know each other so well this was an excellent, hard hitting, back and forth encounter. Misaki eventually busted out a rolling variation of her Sky Blue Suplex (!!) and just wore the champion down until a final Sky Blue Suplex with bridge gave her the win and saw Misaki retire as Regina di Wave champion. Fantastic match and a well deserved honor for the twelve year veteran.

 

 

 

Misaki was in good spirits and joking around a bit during her retirement ceremony (even while her poor partner cried goodbye), a nice sign of her being satisfied with her career and ready to proceed to whatever’s next.  I’ll miss her but wish her well.

Likely because of Wave’s hiatus, there was no Zan-1 champion crowned this year. To end the night a video hyping Wave’s return in April was played, hinting at Hirota signing with Wave among other things.

 

 

 

Wave’s year (and “phase 1”) end show was missing some of the elements I’d usually associate with a retirement show, but it still felt a fitting and suitable goodbye for Misaki. The matches were mostly decent with a few exceptional ones, making the show enjoyable even beyond it’s significance and emotional notes.

Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show 10/8/18

I’ve been long familiar with Hikaru Shida from Shimmer, as well as here and there after I started coming to Japan. When I was planning my Fall trip (largely around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show, which featured Shida in the main event), I noticed I could catch this special anniversary show the night before I returned, and decided to check it out. Looked decent on paper, with a variety of match types and surrounding intrigue featuring wrestlers from various promotions, although I honesty wasn’t 100% sure exactly how well it would all come together.

 

 

Things started out interesting right away with a pairing of two incredible wrestlers who clearly weren’t entirely thrilled to be teaming together. Mio Momono & Rina Yamashita walked the fine line of maintaining a certain level of disrespect for each other throughout their match against Kaori Yoneyama & Koharu Hinata while still remaining competitive and properly recognizing their opponents as a threat.

Mio continues to be particularly fantastic, and I hope she recovers quickly and completely from her recent knee surgery and is able to return to wrestling. Great spots like Mio playing jump rope with their opponent during a Rina giant swing and her “helping” Rina during a submission hold by pulling Rina’s hair for “leverage” were made even better by the charisma and ttitude she brings to them. Really well done overall, with Mio & Rina staying serious enough despite their egos and issues that their eventual victory was still believable and didn’t make their opponents look weak.

 

 

So Misaki Ohata, Hiroyo Matsumoto, & Buffalo vs Yako Fujigasaki, Gabai Ji-chan, Toru Owashi was that good balance of ridiculousness and action that I desperately look for in most of my comedy matches. While not all of the humor was to my personal tastes (I tend to find Ji-chan amusing and annoying in equal measure), this turned out quite fun overall.

The foil cone “weapon” being aimed at people’s backsides was a focal point several times, as was Misaki’s engagement. Her partners sacrificed themselves to an attack with it to protect her at one point, and later when Misaki herself stole and wielded the weapon Toru put on a mask of Misaki’s fiance Makoto Oishi to dissuade her from attacking. Toru’s strategy was unsurprisingly unsuccessful.

It was really nice to see 3S together one last time before Misaki retired, and I enjoyed a lot of this. Also, seeing Misaki absolutely SPIKE Ji-chan with her crucifix bomb for the win was really satisfying.

 

 

In what may have been my personal most anticipated match of the night, Ice Ribbon regular Maika Ozaki got a chance to face reigning Sendai Girls’ champion  Chihiro Hashimoto (in non-title competition of course). It’s not a pairing that would normally be likely given the lack of crossover between the two companies at the moment, and one I was extremely excited to see. This was a great showcase for Maika against one of the very best power wrestlers in the world, and she pushed the beast that is Chihiro to the limit before Sendai’s champ finally put down the upstart.

 

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I swear I’ve seen Madoka announced under like five different names in various matches, and a quick search shows he has like ten. Here, as Hagane Shinnou, he teamed with Risa Sera against Aja Kong & TARU. No illusions about what kind of match this would be, as Risa was bloody in under two minutes. They fought all over, inside and outside the ring and right by me a few times, spreading chaos all over the arena.

This was all about Risa & Madoka trying to survive the monsters, and as such it had a fire absent from some of the other hardcore matches I’ve seen recently. Easily the most compelling performance I’ve seen from Risa all year. Risa can be incredible in this kind of match, often in my opinion when she’s more the underdog, and was both here. This was a “the journey is as important as the destination” type of match, and going to a draw with the monsters made Risa & Madoka look like stars.

 

 

In the main event Hikaru Shida seemed to be setting out to exorcise a personal demon against Naromuchi Marufuji. They had faced earlier in the year, with Shida getting knocked out in under two minutes. I could feel the pressure weighing on Shida as she looked to prove herself by at least putting up a better fight here. The right story, well worked, makes all the difference and they built off of that feeling of insecurity to craft an excellent match in both story and action.

 

 

Marufuji looked great, and it was nice to see him wrestle live again many years after seeing him in ROH. While testing Shida he certainly wasn’t holding back, and his onslaught of chops left Shida’s chest a painful to look at vivid red bruise.

This was really well done, and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen from Shida. She gave Marufuji a real challenge in a believable way and battled for eighteen minutes, but eventually came up short and Marufuji emerged victorious.

 

 

I’m honestly kind of surprised how great this was from top to bottom. Everything clicked, being really well booked an executed in terms of stories and action within each individual situation and avoiding potential pitfalls. Generally everyone just made the most of their opportunities, and this was a high note to end this particular trip on.

 

 

 

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Ninja Mio sees you…