Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

A Bit of Happiness in a Crazy Decade: 10 Years of Gatoh Move

Emi Sakura is one of the most incredibly multifaceted people in professional wrestling. The 27 year veteran can wrestle nearly any style, has trained a ridiculous number of other excellent wrestlers, and founded two different still running joshi promotions on the common idea that wrestling should be fun for both fans and wrestlers.

Gatoh Move, the promotion Sakura currently runs, is an absolute joy. In anticipation of their big 10th anniversary show this week (entitled Phoenix Rises) I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about one of my absolute favorite wrestling promotions.

Of course 10 years is a lot to cover and this won’t be complete nor an attempt at a proper history of the promotion for various reasons (starting with the fact that I was introduced to it a few years in). Rather I hope to provide a personal look back at some of what’s made Gatoh Move so special to me while also highlighting a few key moments and points of interest in depth.

At the end of 2015 I was lucky enough to make my first trip to Japan. I was already a big fan of women’s wrestling in general and was familiar with several joshi via their appearances in Shimmer (including several who had been trained by Emi Sakura, although I had no idea of that at the time). I was extremely excited to see as much wrestling as I could, and my schedule was packed with shows by a variety of promotions.

Due to strong recommendation of a good friend who was already a big Emi Sakura fan at the time, on the third day of my trip my fourth overall show introduced me to Gatoh Move. The four shows at four different venues from four different promotions were all wonderfully unique, interesting, and fun. Gatoh Move however was perhaps the most different from any show I’d seen before, and this was one of their ring shows in Itabashi Green Hall.

From the opening song and dance numbers, to the intergender tag match, to marveling at the skill of the younger wrestlers (although I’d later discover one of them already had nearly a decade of experience and was the company’s ace apparent), and so on it was a unique and enthralling experience.

And course the wrestling itself was extremely good. I only knew three of the wrestlers going in (Hiroyo Matsumoto, Hikaru Shida, and Makoto) but nearly all the rest would become familiar faces as time went on both in and out of Gatoh Move. Looking back at the main event in particular of Emi Sakura & Nanae Takahashi vs SAKI & Mizuki is kind of mind blowing.

I had a lot of fun, and was eager to see more of the promotion. As the saying goes, I hadn’t seen anything yet. The following week I went to my first (and second) show at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

The venue has no ring and just barely holds a mat to wrestle on and a packed in audience (at the time) of about 70 people maximum including some watching through two large windows while standing in a side alley. The crowd is effectively the out of bounds marker and the wrestlers will often use the windowsill to jump off of. It’s a unique format and a great atmosphere.

The quality of matches they’re able to perform in such an environment speaks volumes of the talent of all involved, and I was instantly hooked. The wrestling Gatoh Move presents is unlike anything I’ve seen before or since, and the live experience is something special. I attended at least one Ichigaya show, as well Gatoh ring shows when they happened to coincide with my trip dates, every time I went back.

Gatoh Move was about three years old at the time, and it already had a sense of identity and a lot of the same elements that persist to this day. Which is incredibly interesting since one of the promotions’ greatest strengths is Sakura’s willingness to innovate and try new things.

But the central concept and feel of a small core roster of joshi wrestlers supplemented by both men and women guests from other promotions putting on fun shows has remained throughout the years I’ve watched, and among the many things that gives Gatoh Move it’s appeal.

I’ve (rightfully) mentioned Emi Sakura often as the shaping force of Gatoh Move, but part of that is also her wonderful ability as a trainer to identify and accentuate her trainee’s personal charisma and skill strengths.

The resulting vast differences in personalities and styles of the roster determine what Gatoh looked and felt like in any given time period. Sakura’s genuine appreciation of fan support also carries through and everyone in Gatoh has always been an absolute pleasure to meet.

When I started watching Sakura, Riho, Sayaka Obihiro, and Kotori were Gatoh Move. A year later the addition of Mitsuru Konno and Aasa Maika and regular appearances of freelancer (and former Sakura trainee) Aoi Kizuki brought a different dynamic.

And so on through the debuts of Yuna Mizumori and Mei Suruga, the eventual retirements of Kotori, Aasa, Aoi, and Mitsuru, and Riho’s departure  and the resulting debut of Gatoh Move Generation 4 (Chie Koishikawa, Sayuri, Sayaka, Tokiko Kirihara, Lulu Pencil, and Rin Rin (now Yukari Hosokawa of GLEAT)).

Each person/roster had a distinct effect on the promotion and matches and stories emerged from each group that both felt unique to them and at the same time like it fit perfectly into what Gatoh Move was.

A (very) short highlight list of some of my favorite matches and moments include:
Riho vs Masahiro Takanashi (4/27/19 ),
– Sakura, Mei, and Aoi all having singles matches against each other during the week before before Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show,
– the annual Gatoh roster 6-woman tag (like Sakura, Obi, & Riho vs Mitsuru, Mei, & Yuna from  12/31/18),
– Mei vs Mitsuru (12/26/19),
Yuna and Sakura’s feud, and
Lulu’s quest to regain her hat.

The ability to change and innovate drastically while still maintaining a core identity is a recurring theme over the years I’ve watched Gatoh Move. A couple years ago it became more important than ever.

To me Gatoh Move’s intergender matches were always intergender done right. From the very first match I ever saw of theirs to the wonderfully fun annual  Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup annual intergender tag team tournament to the previously mentioned Riho vs Masa and so much more Gatoh has always known how to capture the proper feel of everyone in the match just being wrestlers competing.

This ended up playing a big part in one of most daring innovations Sakura had ever tried.

When Covid changed the world in 2020 Sakura’s small promotion with a home base unable to properly handle distancing requirements for an attending crowd was faced with a real question of how to survive.

Sakura embraced a rather crazy direction that could only have worked with her particular sense of innovation and risk taking, as well as an adaptable roster that was more than game for the challenges that would arise. Thus Gatoh Move’s twin promotion ChocoPro was born.

Not convinced that just doing Gatoh Move with no audience would be the right approach, Sakura envisioned a new presentation directly designed for streaming to bring live wrestling to fans all over the world in a way specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

While some might consider this philosophical premise a bit thin to differentiate a brand on, ChocoPro shows have developed their own feel and characteristics that make them distinct from Gatoh Move despite sharing a roster, creative forces, etc. One difference is that ChocoPro is a fully intergender brand, while Gatoh Move is technically a joshi company that has men wrestlers as guests (again a subtle but noticeable distinction).

But perhaps the biggest change to come from the creation of ChocoPro was the No Pay Wall philosophy. Every type of viewable content ChocoPro creates is put up on their YouTube channel for free, supported by optional sponsorship purchases, YouTube and Patreon memberships, etc as people choose and are able to contribute.

The commitment to make it work from everyone involved was incredible, and ChocoPro is as much a creation of Akki and Mei joining with or in place of Sakura on the live streams they started doing as added content to Gen 4 who all had to adapt to an extremely challenging situation in their rookie year to regular participants Masa, Choun Shiryu, Antonio Honda, Chris Brookes, and many more as it was Sakura’s. Seeing it succeed was both amazing and wonderful, as it really doesn’t seem like something anyone else could have pulled off.

Yet here we are two and a half years later with ChocoPro firmly established as a beloved sub brand of Gatoh Move to the point where it has and will continue even once Gatoh Move shows were able to start up again. Here’s hoping it will continue to prosper for a long time to come.

One last thing I’d like to talk about that I think perfectly underscores what Gatoh Move brings to the wrestling world is their casual trading program, Darejyo.

Darejyo is short for “Daredemo Joshi Puroresu” or Anyone’s Women’s Professional Wrestling. Started by Sakura and currently run by Mei (herself a former participant), the idea is to offer a suitable environment for any woman, regardless of age, experience, etc, to learn the basics of pro wrestling in a casual manner within a professional, safe environment. There are limits on the types of things they learn and try (avoiding more difficult and potentially dangerous aspects like certain types of strikes, etc) while still giving a strong introduction and base to build off of.

Darejyo’s had participants ranging from under 10 years old to women in their forties, and several participants have gone on to train and debut as full wrestlers including Mei herself and Gen 4 in Gatoh Move and even some in other promotions such as Diana’s Haruka Umesaki and Madeline.

There’s a ton more details that could be shared and praises to be sung about Gatoh Move, but I hope what’s here has been interesting and enjoyable. Here are the details on the 10th anniversary show, and it’s an extremely exciting and suitable card for such an event.

Phoenix Rises:
(7pm JST on 9/15/22, to be aired on YouTube at a later date)

  1. Toru Owashi & Sayuri vs Tokio Kirihara & Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro & Sawasdee Kamen
  2. Emi Sakura vs Miya Yotsuba (pro-wrestling debut)
  3. Riho, SAKI, & Baliyan Akki vs Minoru Fujita, Kid Lykos, & Kaori Yoneyama
  4. Orange Panna Cotta (Sayaka & Chie Koishikawa) vs Daisy Monkey (TJPW’s Suzume & Arisa Endo)
  5. Asia Dream Tag Title match: CDK (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) (c) vs Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto
  6. Yuna Mizumori vs Mei Suruga

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of their content. As previously mentioned everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, visit their store and/or donate directly via their PayPal.

Thanks to everyone in Gatoh Move for a wonderful 10 years and I wish them all the best for many more.

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Joshi Odds and Ends: Exhibition Matches, Ichigaya Chocolate Square

Been a while. I hope to have the blog off its long hiatus and back to regular updates sometime in September. In the meantime there are a couple of things I though it would be useful to have reference for and decided to do a quick write up.

Exhibition Matches

Exhibition matches are matches that generally have short time limits and are happening for some sort of special reason or circumstances, including special events, return matches, or occasionally for retirements (such as with Reika Saiki’s retirement earlier this year).

Here I want to specifically talk about pre-debut exhibition matches, like the ones new Gatoh Move trainee Miya is currently having (and that I’ve seen wrestlers in other companies go through as well).

These exhibitions are “unofficial” semi-practice matches for a trainee to face an established wrestler (usually a roster member of the company they are training to join). In the past these often happened as a pre-show of sorts only for the live audience, but more of them are being broadcast the last few years (still generally before the show officially starts though).

There are a few special things about these matches to take note of. Both the trainee and her opponent wear training clothes/sweats as opposed to full wrestling gear, underscoring the nature of the match.

The matches are short, generally with a three to five minute time limit with unlimited falls (although occasionally exhibition matches can end with a single decision).

Finally, again these matches do not count towards the career of the trainee in that the trainee is not considered to have debuted as a wrestler by having exhibitions. They are exactly as described: a chance to get a look at someone preparing to be a wrestler and an opportunity for them to challenge themselves a bit in an actual match environment before they debut. There is no set number of exhibition matches or timing for them before a debut. It can vary greatly from trainee to trainee.

It’s really cool to be able to see these, and Miya’s been impressive in the ones she’s had thus far. I’m extremely excited for her official debut at Gatoh Move’s 10th Anniversary show on September 15 and happy for her. Good luck Miya!

Ichigaya Chocolate Square

Gatoh Move and its alter ego of sorts ChocoPro (which was specifically designed with the strengths and limitations of a streaming based wrestling show in mind and often runs shows without a live audience present) have a unique home base in Ichigaya Chocolate Square. It’s a venue that just barely holds a rectangular mat to wrestle on, and when an audience is present its maximum is about 50 people nowadays (including spectators watching through two large windows while standing in a side alley).

Chocolate Square’s peculiarities as a space to train and wrestle in not only lead to a great deal of innovation and adaptability among the participating wrestlers, but also give rise to some unusual rules and conventions.

Here’s a brief overview:

  • The edge of the mat and the wall it’s pushed up against act as a “rope break” for submission holds only (when there is a crowd the crowd is essentially the rope break marker).
  • For pinfalls, as long as the shoulders of the person being pinned are on the mat the pin counts. There is no “rope break” for pinfalls in Chocolate Square.
  • There are no countouts: action can (and typically does during ChocoPro shows) spill outside the windows.
  • The referees in Gatoh Move/ChocoPro (perhaps even more than elsewhere in puro) are very lenient about DQ’s. There have been maybe five total DQs or no contests in all 250 ChocoPro shows, and they were only when things got particularly blatant and/or out of hand.
  • Double teams and double pins are allowed in tag team matches. As long as the legal person is being pinned and the legal member of the other team is involved the pin counts.

There is a lot more to the special environment and atmosphere in Ichigaya Chocolate Square to discover by watching, but I just wanted to give a little bit of context and reference here for newer viewers.

—-

That’s it for now. Hope this can be helpful.

Categories
Japan Wrestling

Farewell to the Muscle Idol: Reika Saiki’s Retirement

May 3, 2022

Eight matches.

I had a different opening planned for this, talking in detail about Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW) becoming one of my favorite promotions starting during my second trip to Japan with a show featuring numerous new-to-me wrestlers including a pair of idol rookies who impressed me in a singles match.

But as I refreshed my memory and prepared what I wanted to highlight in this retrospective, something jumped out at me that demanded a bit of attention.

Reika Saiki, known as the Muscle Idol, became one of my favorite wrestlers of all time. It feels like she was a centerpiece of my schedule planning during my trips to Japan alongside Tsukasa Fujimoto, Emi Sakura, Sareee, etc. I have strikingly vivid memories of some of her matches, and went to certain shows specifically because she was on them. It feels like she was one of the wrestlers I saw wrestle live constantly.

In actuality I never managed to see her wrestle more than twice a trip at most, and attended a grand total of eight of her matches. And while I would have loved to have been at more, clearly those eight alone were more than enough to leave a lasting impression.

Reika broke a fair number of stereotypes by defying the traditional mold for idols with her powerful physique. She was already becoming known as an idol, cosplayer, and for her Muscle by the time she decided to train as a pro wrestler.

(Note: In the US we’d colloquially say Reika was a bodybuilder, but in Japan they apparently use the term strictly for people who participate in competitions. Reika did not, so her muscle and fitness related activities and work are referred to as her “Muscle.”)

Part of the lasting impression Reika made in the wrestling ring was related to the same uniqueness that aided her success in her other endeavors: an infectious charisma powered by a cheerful and bubbly personality wrapped up in a seemingly paradoxical package of a short, beautiful young woman with arms that looked like she could bench press a house.

But in a lot of ways it was also all ancillary. Reika fully committed to being a wrestler as much as she did everything else and got crazy good crazy fast. She was already extremely solid when I first saw her a mere nine months into her career against Maki Itoh, another idol who would go on to big things in TJPW. At the end of the show she came out to challenge then reigning Princess of Princess champion Yuu, signaling major plans ahead for the Muscle Idol.

Reika would prove unsuccessful in that challenge, but would earn another shot at the title eight months later as a result of not only winning TJPW’s yearly tournament, but pinning the reigning champion in the finals to win it.

I was lucky enough to attend TJPW’s 8/26/17 show featuring Reika’s title shot in the main event against my other favorite in the promotion, defending champion Yuka Sakazaki. To say I was excited for the encounter would be a huge understatement, and the match easily lived up to expectations. Reika had built on the strong foundation of the first match of hers I saw, kept pace with Yuka the whole way, and was more than deserving of her victory and ensuing title reign as top champion of the promotion a mere year and a half into her career.

I think that’s a major part of the disconnect when I look back and feel like Reika was around much more and much longer than she was: she already didn’t wrestle like a rookie and her milestones felt as natural as they were quick to come. It’s insane that her whole career was effectively just three and a half years long.

Reika’s ring style combined appropriate power moves with strong fundamentals and bursts of speed in a way that made her a joy to watch. She was as comfortable leaving her feet for a dropkick or Shining Wizard or grappling on the mat as she was throwing people around in displays of her strength. She meshed with opponents in way that again was reminiscent of someone with much more experience. As a referred to in the beginning her matches were always thoroughly enjoyable and memorable.

Although for me there’s admittedly another likely factor to why the matches I saw of Reika’s stand out. I was incredibly lucky in many of the particular shows I got to attend. On TJPW’s 1/4/18 show Reika defended the title I saw her win against TJPW’s ace Miyu Yamashita in a wonderfully hard hitting match highlighting all the best things about each wrestler’s style.

Exactly one year later I got to see a dream match of mine as Reika battled the legendary Meiko Satomura. Once again it was exactly what I expected and hope for. Reika looked great against joshi wrestling’s Final Boss.

In addition to her singles title reign Reika had tag team success in TJPW alongside Muscle JK Strikers partner Marika Kobashi. In Spring of 2019 I got to see the team in action for the first and only time in one of Reika’s last matches for TJPW as she was leaving to concentrate on things in her home promotion of Wrestle-1 and freelance opportunities. In W-1 she was having a series of matches against veterans, and I had seen a fun encounter pitting her against Takako Inoue a couple weeks earlier.

The Muscle JK Strikers match was further special for me as another of my dream opponents for Reika, Gatoh Move’s (now AEW’s) Riho was opposite teaming with Raku. It was a lot of fun and always nice to see Reika victorious, particularly since in retrospect this would be the last time I’d see her wrestle live.

In mid-August 2019 Reika would again beomce a singles champion, dethroning Saori Anou to win the Actwres girl’Z title. Unfortunately Reika had to give up the title just a month later without ever having a chance to defend it, as she was diagnosed with a broken jaw and had to take an extended hiatus from wrestling for surgery and recovery. After the title victory she had a few more matches in W-1 and one tag match in AWG during the remainder of August before her injury.

During my winter 2019 trip I did get to see her at a Wrestle-1 show where she did a non wrestling appearance to greet fans. It was great to see her in good spirits, and at the time while it seemed like she would need an extended period to deal with everything a return was definitely something she was working towards.

Reika PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

But shortly after that the entire world dramatically changed, with big effects of course on the wrestling landscape. While a return for Reika still seemed eventually possible it was also more and more uncertain as time went by.

On March 26, 2022 Reika announced she was retiring both from wrestling and Muscle, having decided that what she wanted had changed and wishing to pursue acting and other things. Her retirement ceremony would take place at TJPW’s big 5/3/2022 show (available to view with subscription to Wrestle Universe).

While she wasn’t wrestling for TJPW when she got injured the majority of her career was there and they were extremely supportive of her while she was injured. Her going back there for her farewell was incredibly appropriate and great to see.

With two and a half years passed since her last match her retirement wasn’t a huge surprise, nor was the initial plan for her appearance to be purely ceremonial. However there would be one final surprise and treat for the fans.

During Reika’s absence another member of the Cheer-1 idol group she had come from debuted as a TJPW wrestler. Reika decided to get into the ring one final time in a special 3-minute exhibition match against that rookie, Arisu Endo.

It was truly wonderful to see one of TJPW’s rising stars get the opportunity to wrestle Reika in a situation that clearly meant so much to them both. And while it was technically an exhibition, they went full bore for the time they had and put on a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging display that ended all too soon.

An abbreviated version of the traditional retirement ceremony followed where Miyu and Yuka presented flowers and messages from the roster. Reika talked about that being the fastest three minutes of her life, thinking for just a moment about changing her mind about retiring, ultimately being happy with the decision she’s made, and how grateful she is to TJPW. The ten count gong and reading of her accomplishments officially ended her career, then everyone came in to bid her farewell. It was wonderfully done and great to see Reika get a proper send off.

The incredible impression Reika made in such a short career of course makes me wish it could have been longer, but I greatly appreciate all the time and toll spent entertaining us and wish the former Muscle Idol all the best in whatever lies ahead.

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

No Way To Go But Forward: The Tale of a Pencil’s Strength

“I don’t think I’m wrong. But just because I’m not wrong doesn’t mean that Chris is wrong.”

Lulu Pencil’s tale in ChocoPro took an unexpected and difficult turn when she ran headlong into Chris Brookes and put her beloved pink cap on the line. She fought tooth and nail through the resulting bitter feud and journey of self identity until she finally reclaimed her cap not by beating Chris, but by earning just enough of his respect for him to choose to give it back.

In their big I Quit tag match at ChocoPro 63, Lulu refused to give up as Chris tortured her and only lost because Emi Pencil (Emi Sakura’s Lulu-like “persona” she adopts when teaming with Lulu) finally became a truly selfless partner and quit herself to prevent more pain for Lulu. The fact that Lulu never gave up was enough for Chris, who shoved her hat under her hand as she lay exhausted after the match.

(See Lulu’s Hat: A Tale of a Pencil’s Pride for a larger, in depth examination of the above events.)

Lulu was whole, and her long war with Chris apparently over. But of course her larger story would continue…

Expanded Pencil Army

Chris wasn’t the only person whose respect Lulu would earn. Minoru Fujita, a deathmatch legend, has become a mainstay in ChocoPro and is currently the reigning Super Asia champion. But even before he won that particular title, he made a completely unexpected choice.

On ChocoPro 72 then reigning BJW Deathmatch Champion Fujita faced Lulu in a singles match. In a stark contrast to the match with Chris that started everything back on ChocoPro 44, Fujita insisted on putting his title on the line (unofficially at least). So Lulu faced Fujita on his terms: deathmatch style with all manner of weapons involved.

She put her heart into the match and as always fought in her own unusual style, using all manner of items she could get her hands on in wonderfully weird ways that forced Fujita to adjust and up the intensity. He prevailed of course, and Lulu being Lulu he did so by causing her to trip on a bunch of marbles he threw under her feet, but the quirky writer turned wrestler had left her mark. On ChocoPro 77 Fujita surprised everyone by coming out for his match teaming with Lulu against Best Bros in overalls. Mino Pencil was born and the Pencil Army had grown stronger.

It became official after his match with Emi Sakura on ChocoPro 78 where the two of them battled each other to exhaustion and an inconclusive double pin, then bonded over their shared … well, leader.

On ChocoPro 82 the full Pencil Army (Lulu, Emi, & Mino) united as a trio for the first time facing Best Bros & Yuna. The match was an excellent, intense affair. And Mino Pencil brought a chaotic energy to the group that elevated them beyond what they previously were.

But of course, they weren’t any more successful a team as a whole or in these other iterations than the original Pencil Army. But veterans like Fujita and Sakura believing in Lulu was clearly helping her progress, ever so slowly, towards unlocking more of her potential match by match.

The Unthinkable

At ChocoPro 95, four months and 32 episodes after Lulu was given her hat back after the tag team I Quit match, Chris and Lulu crossed paths once more. Chris teamed with Chie Koishikawa to face the new version of the Pencil Army, Lulu & Mino.

Chris & Chie prevailed in a great match, but that wasn’t the story. After the match things took an unbelievable turn when Lulu reached up from the mat and put her formerly reclaimed hat back in Chris’ hand.

“Do you understand why I gave you my hat back? Do you know what my hat means?”

“I do understand. What do you want from me? You said before you wanted me to make you stronger, and I did that. I did it by lying to you, admittedly. And I betrayed you. And I made you angry. And I took your hat. And because of that, you got strong. What more do you want from me eh? I did everything I could for you why are you giving me your hat? Leave me alone.”

“Yeah. You made me strong. It means you are Pencil Army.”

It took a lot of convincing to the person who says there’s nowhere he belongs in ChocoPro. But Lulu talked about how she knows why Chris came to Japan, how Pencil Army loves wrestling, and how they share the same passion. Her words reached him, and Chris reluctantly put on the cap. Chris Brookes joined the Pencil Army and the whole world was upside down.

Little Brother

Chris Pencil would have his first match as part of the Pencil Army on Day 1 of the big ChocoPro 100 festivities, teaming with Lulu against Black Comaneci (Antonio Honda & Tokiko Kirihara). He showed up as committed as he could be, wearing matching pink overalls with Lulu and the vaunted cap that they had once fought over.

Chris countered Black Comaneci’s dastardly antics with some of his own, with Lulu firmly along for the ride. They acted like real partners, but the more frequent team was a little too much for them and Honda eventually pinned an isolated Lulu with a small package. “Almost Lulu, almost. Next time.”

Despite the loss Lulu tried to do her best to be a proper leader for who she called the “Little Brother” of Pencil Army, including mending his overalls herself in between matches.

The duo gave it another go at ChocoPro 106, against even tougher, more experienced, more brutal competition in the form of Melt Brain Dancing (Psycho & Chango). After another hard fought loss, with Chango making Lulu submit to a vicious torture rack, Chris was not as understanding as he was the first time.

“I never lose in Ichigaya. I win. (…) Next time you call me to be in Pencil Amy, be ready to win.”

The next time would be the biggest challenge yet: the full Pencil Army in an 8 person tag against Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) & Egg Tart (Hagane Shinno & Chie Koishikawa) at ChocoPro 110. But at full strength, and with Chris’ stern words as motivation, Lulu was determined to lead the four to their first victory.

And they fought for everything they were worth. But in the end, Chie caught Lulu in the stretch muffler as her partners held the rest of the Pencil Army back.

Lulu tapped, and it all went to hell.

Sakura tried to console the group afterwards and told Chris they were just starting. “Baby steps.” Chris was having none of it.

“You lost. You lost, again. And you didn’t just lose Lulu. After everything we went through together (…) where you didn’t give up. (…) I stupidly thought that there was something in you. I thought there was something more to you than a stupid joke. After all that, today not only did we lose, we lose because you quit. Do you have any idea how insulted I feel right now?”

That was the last straw for Chris, and it was always intended to be. After further verbally laying into Lulu and saying he had enough, he revealed he had brought scissors concealed in his overalls. He cut half the brim off of the prized pink hat he and Lulu had fought over and stormed out, leaving a devastated Pencil Army in his wake.

Renewed Hostilities

To Chris, Lulu was living in a dreamworld. To Sakura and Fujita, what he did to Lulu was unforgivable. A conflicted Lulu felt a measure of brutal truth in Chris’ words about her weaknesses, but believed deep down that she had merit as a wrestler as she was.

She persevered, taping the destroyed hat back together and continuing on in her own way.

Chris was invited to gather two partners of his choice and face the remaining Pencil Army in a 6-person tag.

As with the tag team I Quit match, Chris had no trouble recruiting Yuna Mizumori to his side. Their partner was to be Chris’ close friend Drew Parker, making his “in-ring” ChocoPro debut.

However Drew was injured shortly before the match and it was postponed. In its place ChocoPro 115 ended up being headlined by Chris vs Emi Sakura in a singles contest. Or rather Chris vs Emi PENCIL.

Sakura’s devotion to Lulu and representation of the Emi Pencil persona just enraged Chris even more, and after a brutal twenty minutes of battle he lost all patience and wiped out referee Mei Suruga when she tried to pull him off Sakura. He then pulled off his belt and starting whipping Emi with it, leveling Lulu when she tried to intervene. Yuna stepped in to help Chris when Fujita subsequently attacked, but he ended up laying even her to waste when she tried to prevent him from choking Fujita with the belt. When all was said and done Chris walked out of the chaos with bodies strewn all about the mat behind him, and Mei pulled herself up just long enough to declare the match ChocoPro’s first no contest.

With all the tension overflowing and Drew’s recovery time uncertain, the trios tag was rescheduled for ChocoPro 120 with Chris bringing in Asuka (Veny) in Drew’s place.

The six of them waged war in 40 minutes of pure chaos, but eventually Chris isolated Lulu on what was left of the mat and applied a continually evolving and more vicious version of the very hold Lulu refused to give up in during the I Quit match. She held out as long as she could, with Akki on commentary screaming to her that it was alright and she needed to quit and save herself all the while, but eventually had no choice but to tap and give Chris, Asuka, & Yuna the win.

Chris forced Mei to raise his hand and Akki to announce him as the winner multiple times. ” Everything is as it should be again. The universe is healing. This isn’t a fairy tale. This isn’t a dream. This is real life, and in real life when reality comes to play Chris Brookes wins and Lulu Pencil loses.” He berated Sakura and Fujita about hanging out with Lulu to make themselves feel better.

“Don’t take this as motivation Lulu (…) Take this as a lesson, ok. You don’t belong here. You’re not a professional wrestler. You are a writer. And that’s all you’re ever going to be.”

Emi and Mino stood firm in their support and told Lulu they believe in her. But Lulu was at an impasse. She believed neither her nor Chris were wrong…

Everyone but Emi left without having the traditional post show janken tournament, and Emi said she will keep that chocolate until the day Lulu puts Chris down for a 3 count. The show ended without ChocoPro’s usual smiles as a somber Akki said he finally believes in Lulu Pencil and that someday she’ll give everyone the happy ending they deserved that day.

True Strength

“They’re not supporting you, they’re mocking you.”

One of Chris’ main points of contention about his time in the Pencil Army was the feeling that Sakura and Fujita were not giving Lulu their best.

On the very same night Chris teamed with Lulu as an official Pencil Army member for the first time their stablemates were challenging for the tag tam titles. Fujita & Sakura had defeated Best Bros in non-title competition on ChocoPro 99, SPECIFICALLY wrestling as Emi Sakura & Minoru Fujita and not Emi & Mino Pencil so that Best Bros would be facing their “strongest versions.”

They came up short in the title challenge but once again forwent their alternative Pencil personas in a hellaciously hard hitting affair. The Emi and Mino that show up for Pencil Army matches are completely different in approach and applied abilities than when they compete under other circumstances.

“You’ve got two of the best wrestlers to ever come out of this country in dungarees, dicking around with you pretending you’ve got a chance when all you do every time is screw up and lose.” To Chris, Lulu’s partners weren’t giving her their best efforts.

In Sakura and Fujita’s eyes their Pencil personas aren’t weaker versions per se, it’s that they concentrate on trying to slowly lift Lulu up and not leave her behind. Fujita commented after the six man war that they were fighting as a team. “What if I beat him? It’s nothing. YOU will beat him. And I believe that you will.”

She’ll Just Keep Coming

Things were quiet for a few weeks after the big trios showdown, then it was announced that a singles match between Lulu and Chris was forthcoming at Lulu’s request.

Chris, wanting to be done with it all, said he knew Lulu wouldn’t stop no matter how many times he beat her or tried to talk sense to her. So he wanted to get the next “ten to fifteen gos” out of the way at once. He demanded it be a 30 minute ironman match.

“I promise you, after the ironman match she won’t want to come at me again.”

Lulu’s path went through Chris’ CDK partner, a returning Masahiro Takanashi, on ChocoPro 135. The veteran went quite hard on Lulu, and while she put up a good fight in true Lulu fashion she lost by being unable to release a hold she herself applied and was disqualified on a 5 count after Masa reached the edge of the mat. It was a worrying sign that Lulu had yet to overcome her own failings going into the big showdown with Chris.

Chris had different kind of trial to overcome with one of Lulu’s partners, as he sat down for a ChocoTalk with Emi Sakura the day before the match.

They needled each other a little, but they largely remained civil overall in what was a fascinating, must watch interview about Chris’ side of the journey.

His previously mentioned frustration with the very concept of Emi and Mino Pencil bubbled to the front when discussing the very beginning of things and how Emi had proposed the tag team I Quit match be a handicap match.

“What? Why is two vs one not ok? (Because) You’re supposed to be Emi Sakura. Emi Sakura needs handicap matches?”

“Pencil Army. Emi Pencil.”

“But why are you Emi Pencil?”

“Emi Pencil is very important friend.”

“Emi Pencil is very easy for you.”

Chris also walked through what motivated past choices and actions, but was clear that it was all different now. He felt Lulu’s very continued existence in ChocoPro was a sign that mediocrity was ok.

“She can’t climb any wall. She can’t beat anyone. (…) Everyone’s telling her that she’s doing her best and she’s clearly not.”

“Today, the dream dies.”

Chris put up no pretenses. He came into this match to make sure Lulu never bothered him again. He dominated early on, antagonizing and belittling Lulu at every turn. At one point he used his height and strength to press her against the ceiling and tried to demand the referee count her shoulders pinned there. Later he mocked the fan support messages on the wall while holding Lulu in a headlock and ripped some down to stuff into her mouth. He gained a fall on her at one point by wrapping her up in the ChocoPro banner and slamming everyone in arms reach on her.

Even in the face of overwhelming odd against a much bigger and stronger opponent Lulu was determined to do all she could, and fought with an edge she’d never shown before. Some of it admittedly backfired, as when she got a table involved and it led to Chris suplexing her onto it to get the first fall.

But other things like using her full body weight to reverse Chris’ whip outside to send him instead into the metal shutters, then dropping them on his arm (!!), did major damage and worked more in her favor.

Chris had taunted Lulu in the past by taking pencils from her trademark pencil-shaped case and snapping them in half. The first time he tried it here Lulu looked right at him and said “you can’t break me!” while picking up one of the pencils and snapping it in half herself, then stabbing Chris in the knee with the pieces.

Later when she grabbed the other case Chris took it from her, only to find out Lulu had planned far ahead and that one was full of powder. Lulu hit it into Chris’ face, nearly gaining a fall with the subsequent submission she was able to lock in.

Lulu got on Chris’ nerves so much Masa had to intervene at one point to pull Chris off of her as Chris rained forearms down on Lulu as she was flat on the mat.

With time running down Chris lifted Lulu with a double underhook but couldn’t complete the move due to the damage Lulu had done to his arm. She transitioned into an octopus stretch and seemed to finally have Chris in trouble. He powered out however, and in standing position with Lulu across his back he swung her around presumably going for some sort of slam to put her down for good. Lulu continued swinging all the way back around behind Chris into a beautiful 120% schoolboy rollup… FOR 3! With 8 SECONDS left in the match, Lulu Pencil handed Chris Brookes his first lost pinfall in ChocoPro, ever.

And remembering everything they went through she had refused to give up, not even once, throughout the full 30 minutes.

A stunned Chris confirmed that he didn’t kick out in time with Masa as Emi Pencil and referee Mei Suruga tended to Lulu (who had taken a hard bump on the back of her head off a shotgun dropkick right before the end when her head cleared the mat and hit the wood floor). Chris won the match 3 falls to 1, but the one was really all it took. Lulu beat Chris, in the only way that truly mattered.

An exhausted, emotionally spent Lulu crawled over to Chris, who gently cradled his adversary and held the ice to her head. She had finally proven him wrong. She belonged. As much as anyone else. She always had, but now Chris knew it too.

“I’m a prowrestler.”

“Yes you are Lulu. Yes you are.”


Required viewing:
ChocoPro 82: Pencil Army (Lulu, Emi, & Mino) vs Best Bros & Yuna
ChocoPro 95: Chris & Chie vs Lulu & Fujita
ChocoPro 100 Day 1: Pencil Army (Chris & Lulu) debut, Sakura & Fujita Tag Title Match
ChocoPro 106: Pencil Army (Chris & Lulu) vs Melt Brain Dancing
ChocoPro 110: Full Pencil Army vs Best Bros & Egg Tart
ChocoPro 115: Emi Pencil vs Chris Brookes
ChocoPro 120: Pencil Army vs Chris, Yuna, & Asuka
ChocoTalk with Chris Brookes
ChocoPro 137: 30 Minute Ironman – Lulu Pencil vs Chris Brookes

Supplemental viewing:
ChocoPro 72: Minoru Fujita vs Lulu Pencil
ChocoPro 77: Lulu & Fujita vs Best Bros
ChocoPro 78: Emi Sakura vs Minoru Fujita
ChocoPro 99: Fujita & Sakura vs Best Bros
ChocoPro 135: Lulu vs Masa

While Lulu’s been on the winning side of a few tag matches with her partner securing the fall, neither Pencil Army nor Lulu herself have ever won a match. But Lulu’s done so much more than that.

Besides, “Lulu Pencil, Emi Pencil, Mino Pencil, Chris Pencil … and YOU” all know it’s only a matter of time. Time, pride, strength, and heart. And the freelance writer turned pro-wrestler has them all in spades.

The nature of Lulu’s journey will undoubtably drastically change again as she’s following Emi Sakura to the US. But as always her Pencil Army will support her every step of the way.


Everything ChocoPro is doing goes up for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their international merchandise store!

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Inspiration #2 Live Stream Thoughts

July 1, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro has been experimenting with several interesting new initiatives to expand the type of content they offer. Recently That’s JPW, their semiweekly one match all English shows, wrapped up after 24 episodes over the course of three months. It was a well done, worthwhile endeavor and I hope it returns someday.

Inspiration’s another unique new offering with a ton of potential. They’re shorter than usual shows (three matches, around an hour) that include things outside of TJPW’s normal purview.  Inspiration #1 was a great start, with all three Up Up Girls getting spotlight singles opportunities against major opponents and the deathmatch loving Hikari having her (and TJPW’s) first ever hardcore match in the main event.

Inspiration’s second show continues the format of an unusual stipulation match in the main event, and features four rookies getting spotlight opportunities as two of them face TJPW’s aces in singles matches while the other two face each other.

1) Arisu Endo vs Moka Miyamoto

Special match here for both, as it’ll be a first singles victory no matter who wins. Only Arisu and Yuki Arai have debuted more recently than Moka, so this is her first singles match against a less experienced opponent. Both have looked very impressive in their short careers so far, so I’m excited for this encounter.

One great thing about TJPW is that most of their rookies debut with a fair amount of their character/style in place. Moka’s traditional Japanese influence on her gear is unusual and makes her standout as much as Arisu’s unique, more flamboyant gear does for her.

Moka incorporates her karate background into her strikes, and Arisu centers her offense around knee drops to the back of the head. These core approaches give them something to build around as they gain more experience.

This became a really good example of how well properly executed fundamentals can anchor a match. They went hold for hold trading waist locks, side headlocks, reverse chin locks, hammerlocks, arm ringers, and so on as each gradually tried to build an advantage.

They were both always working holds and fighting for escapes. Moka concentrated on Arisu’s leg as the match went on while Arisu doggedly kept going for her kneedrop to the back of the head variations which connected more and more often.

Moka started to take control late, but her karate strikes setting up a submission hold were a tad too slow and just as she got it locked in time expired.

Rather surprised at this going to time limit. Wrestling a compelling draw is tough at their experience, and this was very solid and never felt like they were wrestling for a draw. In some ways the way they kept it engaging throughout is more impressive than a victory would have been for either. Good stuff.

2) Yuka Sakazaki vs Suzume

Huge opportunity for Suzume against one of TJPW’s top stars right before Yuka travels to the US for a month to wrestle for AEW.

TJPW’s magical girl is rightfully well known for her incredible high flying, but is also deceptively strong and a great technical wrestler. It’s the latter two traits she used to keep control of Suzume early while Suzume used her speed to try to counter.

Yuka’s tenacity against Suzume’s resilience became the story here. In one particularly great exchange Yuka stopped Suzume’s efforts to get out of a side headlock by reaching the rope with a leg by using her own leg to wrap up Suzume’s without releasing the hold, making Suzume roll them both completely over to get the ropes and the break.

Suzume fought back against everything Yuka tried, and managed to put together a solid string of offense late match. Yuka just kept laying on the power to wear Suzume down though. She eventually hit her awesome Magical Merry Go Round (over the shoulder hammerlock airplane spin into a sitout facebuster) to put Suzume away.

Yuka can do it all and I adore when she goes into aggressive mode. Suzume looked great here against her and it all came together into a really enjoyable match.

3) UWF Rules Match: Miyu Yamashita vs Mirai Maiumi

Miyu is the reigning Princess of Princess champion, but this is non-title. No pinfalls in this. Winner is determined by knockout, tapout, or TKO. Knockout is determined by failure to get up for a 10-count.

Each wrestler starts with 5 points, and a TKO happens if they are reduced to zero. A point can be lost by being knocked down (with a knockout count starting, simply taking your opponent off their feet briefly in some manner is insufficient), using a rope break, or breaking the rules (certain strikes such as punches and elbows are prohibited). If the time limit is reached, most points left wins.

UWF rules is a popular style in Japan that is considered to be the foundation of MMA, based in kicks/submissions. The match between the striker Yamashita and the grappler Mirai should be interesting. This will be my first UWF rules match. Given the unique nature of it I’m going full play-by-play here.

Tentative start with an exchange of delivering and checking each other’s low kicks. Mirai catches one and twists Miyu to the mat but the latter escapes and gets back to her feet before Mirai can apply any holds.

Miyu largely keeps her opponent at bay but when Mirai does dash in to grab a leg Miyu gets a front face lock on the ground instead. Mirai gets free and gets on top of Miyu’s back. Miyu keeps covered tight for a while preventing Mirai from getting an advantage, but Mirai eventually pulls Miyu over with a waist lock and rolls into a seated body scissors from behind. Miyu fights off Mirai’s attempts to take her head and spins around until she’s on top of Mirai on the Matt trying to get control of Mirai’s head and arms.

Mirai manages to flip it around so she’s on top and presumably in control, but the champ grabs her head in a front face lock from below. Mirai gets out and laces Miyu’s legs, then they largely stalemate each other for a bit until Mirai gets Miyu flipped face down and grabs her legs.

Mirai ties up Miyu’s right leg with her own legs, all the while have to fend off Miyu trying to twist out or use her arms to dislodge Mirai. She finally gets it settled and grabs Miyu’s other leg in a half crab. Miyu flips out but it was a trap and Mirai grabs the foot on Miyu’s still tied up right leg and pulls down, completing a beautiful triangle leg lace. Miyu’s in trouble and has to go to the ropes with her other foot to break, costing her a point and bringing her down to 4.

Mirai breaks and they’re separated to neutral corners. Being vertical again Miyu starts being more aggressive with her kicks to keep the grappler away and Mirai has to move back several times to avoid them. Mirai eventually shoots in regardless and takes Miyu down with a wasitlock, but Miyu’s able to push Mirai away then use her legs from a seated position to keep the standing Mirai back.

Mirai tentatively gets ahold of a leg, but it’s Miyu’s turn to spring a trap as she uses that legs to pull Mirai in and spins around in a GORGEOUS transition until Miyu’s in back mount position with a chin lock and bodyscissors on Mirai on the mat.

Mirai flips over with Miyu still on her back and creates a little separation, so Miyu converts to a cross armbreaker attempt. Mirai’s got her hands solidly locked to it takes all Miyu’s strength to break her grip and get the arm extended, but once she does Mirai has to quickly get to the ropes to break. One point down for Mirai and they’re both at 4.

Back to vertical again and Miyu alternates between hitting low kicks, just pushing Mirai away with boots to the chest, and the occasional swing at her head to make sure Mirai’s paying attention. She is and so far has avoid all Miyu’s “test” big strikes.

Miyu lays in a string of low and middle kicks that rock Mirai a bit, but it becomes clear the latter was absorbing them on purpose when she responds by LEVELING Miyu with her signature left lariat. Knockdown on Miyu costs a point putting her at 3. Miyu back up at 7 and they square up again.

Miyu charges but Mirai rolls her right into a key lock. She gets the body scissors too and it’s in DEEP. Miyu’s only chance of escape is backing up to the ropes and there’s another point spent. Miyu’s at 2.

Back to neutral corners and Miyu’s right arm is limp at her side. She begs off a bit but then NAILS a kick to the temple out of nowhere to lay Mirai out. Mirai’s back up at 9 but shaky. Knockdown costs her a point and she’s at 3.

Miyu presses the advantage and runs in with a knee strike and a flurry of kicks and palm strikes. She just barely misses another head kick. Mirai grabs the next mid kick and takes Miyu down, but Miyu hits a kick to Mirai’s head from the mat to break.

Back up and Miyu cuffs Mirai’s head a few times, then lands the Skull Kick and Mirai’s done. 10 count is academic. Miyu gets the victory. Mirai looked like she could hang with the champ though, and there are definitely big things ahead of her in the years to come.

A couple of presentation enhancements to make the rules clearer / provide reminders would be a good idea (I looked up the rules online before the show, or likely would’ve missed a lot of the context). That said, the match ended by knockout so not catching all of the nuance of the point system shouldn’t have hampered viewers too much in this case.

So the style and pace of this is much slower than a regular wrestling match, but intentionally so and not to its detriment. It won’t grab everyone but makes a good special stipulation for the right competitors and Miyu and Mirai were definitely perfect for this.

I really adored it, so for me this was another great main event to another great show making Inspiration two for two. Really looking forward to the next one.

Inspiration and TJPW’s other shows can be viewed with a Wrestle Universe subscription (which includes other promotions as well and is a great value at 900 yen a month).

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Knocking Out the Champs? : ChocoPro 130 OOAK Tag League Preview

June 29, 2021

ChocoPro/Gatoh Move’s One-of-a-Kind (OOAK) Tag League is half over and things are quite interesting heading into ChocoPro 130.

The matches have been fantastic and I highly recommend checking out the first half of the tourney:

ChocoPro 127
Block A: Best Bros vs TropiKawild
Block B: Melt Brain Dancing vs Egg Tart

ChocoPro 128
Block A: Best Bros vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Egg Tart vs White Comaneci

ChocoPro 129
Block A: TropiKawaild vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Mi*Sayaka vs White Comaneci

(note: from here on I will be discussing the current standings heading into ChocoPro 130, which will necessarily include spoilers for the above shows)

ChocoPro 130 (June 30 9pm EDT)
Block A: Best Bros vs Wasshoi Aniki
Block B: Melt Brain Dancing vs White Comaneci

There’s a lot of significance to this lineup, with two teams having their final matches of the tournament and another having their first.

Block A:
Best Bros (Mei & Akki) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
TropiKawild (Yuna & Saki) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
Wasshoi Aniki (Ayumi & Mizunami) – 0 pts (0-0-0)
Dragon Ninja (Choun & Sayuri) – 0 pt (0-2-0)

The schedule has shaken out in a curious way for Block A. Wasshoi Aniki has not had any matches yet (and have never teamed before). It not only leaves them an unknown quantity going into the second half of the tourney, but also means every Block A match in the second half has them in it. However this match could end their hopes as soon as they begin.

Reigning Asia Dream Tag Champions Best Bros have 3 points. If they beat WA they will end with an incredibly impressive 5 out of 6 possible pts, and the one loss will automatically put WA out of the running (their max score by winning their remaining matches would be 4 pts). Only TropiKawild could catch BB in this scenario, by also beating WA and forcing a tiebreaker match with the champs.

But WA isn’t the only team in danger. As I explained in my analysis going into ChocoPro 129, Dragon Ninja’s loss against TW eliminated them from contention. An interesting side note is that also renders the possibility of a block-wide tie at the end nil, meaning 3 points is not enough to stay in contention.

A WA win would mean BB finish their run in the tournament with 3 pts. It’d be quite an upset for a team to beat the champions in their first ever outing, but it certainly isn’t impossible with this superteam of ChocoPro fan favorites. So the flip side of WA possibly being eliminated in their first match is they could instead eliminate the champs.

This places ALL the intrigue of ChocoPro 130 in Block A’s match, because it’s surprisingly become a loser-is-out situation. The only way both teams will both still have a chance to win the block after this match is if they wrestle to a draw.

Block B:
Melt Brain Dancing (Psycho & Chango) – 2 pts (1-0-0)
White Comaneci (Honda & Otoki) – 0 pts (0-2-0)
Egg Tart (Chie & Hagane) – 2 pts (1-1-0)
Mi*Sayaka (Fujita & Sayaka) – 2 pt (1-0-0)

Speaking of new teams with successful first outings, Mi*Sayaka scored a huge and somewhat surprising victory against White Comaneci on ChocoPro 129 to eliminate the latter from contention in Block B.

This means WC’s match against Melt Brain Dancing is purely a matter of pride, but trying to avoid ending the tournament completely defeated might be the motivation they need. Since it’s only MBD’s second tournament match (and they won their first) the result can’t put them out either way, but their stranglehold on Block B as the dominant favorites would clearly be much better served with a win.

(If MDB do win the pressure is really on Egg Tart, who would then need to beat MS but also have MDB lose to that same team to force a three-way tiebreaker match.)

Summary

DN and WC have been eliminated from contention in their respective blocks.

BB, WA: Eliminated from winning their block with a loss.

Good luck to all. This’ll be a wild one.

——-

As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping!

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Underdogs Assemble! : ChocoPro 129 OOAK Tag League Preview

June 27, 2021

It’s pretty crazy that Emi Sakura’s ongoing effort from to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world in a format that takes full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery is over a year old and 128 episodes in. But ChocoPro is still going strong and continues to push boundaries in every way they can. Which has once again lead to something special, as ChocoPro/Gatoh Move’s first ever tag league has begun.

Called the One-of-a-Kind (OOAK) Tag League, it’s certainly set yup to live up to its name. Not only is it taking place in Ichigaya Chocolate Square’s unique ringless environment, but it goes even beyond Gatoh’s formerly annual Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup inter gender tag team tournament in being a fully integrated tourney where men’s, women’s, and integer gender teams would all compete.

The lineup adds to the specialness, as the eight participating teams include the reigning tag champions (all league matches are non-title), former champions, previous top contenders, and a couple of brand new teams to boot.

Each of the six shows featuring the block matches has one match from each of the two four team blocks. I highly recommend watching the two shows that have happened so far. They were excellent as expected and I highly recommend checking them out:

ChocoPro 127
Block A: Best Bros vs TropiKawild
Block B: Melt Brain Dancing vs Egg Tart

ChocoPro 128
Block A: Best Bros vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Egg Tart vs White Comaneci

(note: later in this piece I will be discussing the current standings heading into ChocoPro 129, which will necessarily include spoilers for the above shows)

Halfway There

With two blocks of four teams each team will face all opponents in their block after just three matches. In addition to making every match vital, it means that after today’s show the tourney will be halfway over. Both matches will have a big impact on the shape of things going forward. The lineup is:

ChocoPro 129 (tonight 9pm EDT)
Block A: TropiKawild vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Mi*Sayaka vs White Comaneci

The matches will be extremely good and interesting in their own right, but of course the current state of their blocks adds further dimensions to these battles.

Block A:
Best Bros (Mei & Akki) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
TropiKawild (Yuna & Saki) – 1 pts (0-0-1)
Wasshoi Aniki (Ayumi & Mizunami) – 0 pts (0-0-0)
Dragon Ninja (Choun & Sayuri) – 0 pt (0-1-0)

All the matches in Block A feature totally new matchups, giving a real challenge for all involved.The clash between the two block favorites to open the tourney was inconclusive, leaving both teams in decent but tentative positions. While unable to vanquish the former champions, reigning champs Best Bros didn’t lose to them either and subsequently solidified their position with a victory over Dragon Ninja.

TropiKawild will be looking to duplicate that achievement to stay neck and neck with Best Bros so that they are on equal footing when both teams go into their matches against the wildcard team of crowd favorites Ryo Mizunami & Ayumi Hayashi. Washhoi Aniki will have all three of their matches in the second half of the tourney and have never teamed before, so are still a real unknown quantity.

A defeat here means the only way TW can win the block would be beating WA and hoping for an unlikely 4-way tie in the block. So the two-time former tag team champions will be going full throttle for sure.

Which puts Dragon Ninja in even more of an extremely tough spot. One of the teams that looked like a potential breakout before the tourney was fully formed, a challenging block placement instead positioned them as the ultimate underdogs. They gave the champs a hell of a fight on ChocoPro 128, but regardless that defeat makes today a must win. A loss eliminates them from contention, and a tie means their only chance is a 4-way block tie. Dire circumstances but perhaps the ninja will find a way.

Block B:
Melt Brain Dancing (Psycho & Chango) – 2 pts (1-0-0)
White Comaneci (Honda & Otoki) – 0 pts (0-1-0)
Egg Tart (Chie & Hagane) – 2 pts (1-1-0)
Mi*Sayaka (Fujita & Sayaka) – 0 pt (0-0-0)

ChocoPro 128 saw the return of Antonio Honda & Tokyo Kirihara as a team, but purportedly as the angelic, reformed “White Comaneci” (they were previously known as “Black Comaneci”). Their match with Egg Tart indicated their old tricks have not been forgotten. Egg Tart foiled them however, and the loss puts them in the exact same must win situation as Dragon Ninja. However while White Comaneci is a tournament underdog at the moment, Black Comaneci was a dastardly force that has previously worked their way into title contention. If they can focus properly it’s not impossible for them to turn things around, particularly against the team thought to be the block’s overall underdog.

Minoru Fujita’s choice of Sayaka as his tag league partner over either of his Pencil Army brethren leaves a lot of questions open. Today will be their first match as a team, and with Met Brain Dancing’s emphatic win over a strongly established team like Egg Tart making the block look like theirs for the taking Mi*Sayaka should be looking to start strong if they intend to go far in this tournament.

Summary

No one has been eliminated from contention yet.

DN, WC: Eliminated from winning their block with a loss. Put into dire straights with a tie.

TW: Put into dire straights with a loss.

(“dire straights” in the above instances means the ONLY way to make the finals is needing the entire block to tie at the end, then winning the tiebreaker match)

I really enjoy league tournaments when done well, and OOAK certainly fits the bill. The lineup is stacked, the matches have been excellent, and there’s a lot more great stuff to go. Hope everyone enjoys.

——-

As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping!

Categories
Japan Wrestling

Yoshiko

This is something I honestly never expected to write about. But for a variety of reasons a look back is in order.

Regardless of what anyone already knows or feels, I’d ask those who’ve stumbled upon this to please read to the end.

Yoshiko is a professional wrestler currently with a company called SEAdLINNNG. Last year she went viral and became know among non-wrestling fans due to her cooking videos on Tik Tok. The juxtaposition of this tough wrestler with rough language and mannerisms excitedly making cute, delicate sweets made her a sensation.

But for people even passingly familiar with joshi pro-wrestling, Yoshiko is primarily known as the culprit in a match turned real at the expense of a fellow competitor.

On February 22, 2015 Yoshiko was set to defend the top title of World Wonder Ring Stardom against Act Yasukawa. Instead of the professional wrestling match everyone expected, things immediately devolved into chaos as Yoshiko decimated Act with very real punches leaving her face bruised and bloody in a matter of seconds (pictured above on the cover of ShuPro coverage of the incident).

The competitors were separated to their respective corners so Act could be checked on, then the match went on in start and stop fashion for almost eight minutes. All of it was a continuation of Yoshiko brutalizing Act, until Kyoko Kimura had enough and took it upon herself to throw in a towel in from Act’s corner while restraining Act from getting back into the ring yet again.

I was not yet actively watching joshi promotions then, but was familiar with some joshi wrestlers via a US company called Shimmer. I only knew of Stardom by name and didn’t know of the two wrestlers involved so had no preconceived notions or attachments, but everyone watching any kind of women’s wrestling at the time heard about this. I subsequently watched it, which was viscerally difficult and disturbing. In Japan it’s become referred to as “The Ghastly Match” and its infamy endures with mentions and discussions repeatedly reemerging to this day.

Stardom management’s stubborn inaction when the match clearly should have been stopped immediately after the first separation is now often glossed over in retellings. But whether motivated by kayfabe, business interests, or something else entirely, they completely failed in their duties to protect their wrestlers by letting things go on so long when it was apparent the real fight was continuing. This is not to take any responsibility off of Yoshiko for what happened, but I feel it worth mentioning that the scope of it could have and should have been mitigated. They did try to address things after the fact, taking temporary pay cuts and instituting some new rules in the wake of it all.

The match was retroactively declared a no contest, and Yoshiko was stripped of her title and suspended indefinitely from Stardom. Act suffered multiple fractures and would require surgery, leading her to vacate her own title she already held going into the match.

Nanae Takahashi, one of Stardom’s founders, left the company to go “freelance” a few months after the incident amid rumors that she disagreed with Yoshiko being punished. She announced the creation of her own company just a month after that, and SEAdLINNNG would have its first show in August of 2015.

Defenders of Yoshiko were quick to point out that Act threw the first punch as an indication that it was an agreed upon shoot / not instigated by Yoshiko. However they were having a wrestling match and Act’s punch could very well have been a working punch. Also given the extent to which Yoshiko’s beating of Act continued, the “who swung first” idea is largely irrelevant. There were of course also many rumors about the general situation between the two wrestlers beforehand and speculation about what led to the incident.

I by no means claim to know every detail, or even most. It is not my purpose here to speculate on what’s unknowable or investigate rumors but rather to consider how what is apparent should be approached, particularly now.

Act returned to Stardom at the end of September, but a combination of the injuries sustained and her having Graves’ disease led to complications that prompted her to retire in December at Stardom Climax 2015 (which happened to be one of the first shows I saw during my first ever trip to Japan). It was sad to see her retire but the match(es) was an appropriate way to bid her well and I was glad she got to come back for a little while and leave somewhat on her own terms.

Whatever led to the altercation, what was clear about the situation was that one wrestler brutally assaulted another, repeatedly after separations presumably meant to try to get them back on track to the title match they were supposed to have, leading to the end of her career. I was certainly among those that didn’t think Yoshiko had a place in wrestling, no matter the surrounding circumstances.

And even if she did, it felt like her second chance came too soon.

Around the time of her retirement, Act stated that she forgave Yoshiko and hoped she would return to the ring. For a number of people that was the end of it. Act forgave her, fans would never know the behind the scenes details, and that was that. Others, including myself, didn’t share that opinion.

Act’s forgiveness was of course extremely important to consider, an a wonderful sign that she was able to move on, but in isolation I didn’t see it as sufficient with respect to Yoshiko returning. Yoshiko had still assaulted someone and come away with what felt like no real repercussions. The nature of kayfabe and the wrestling business in general meant no charges were filed. Just a couple weeks after Act’s retirement Yoshiko was back in an appearance for SEAdLINNNG, officially joining the company a month later and returning to the ring a month after that. She was out of wrestling for only a year, and returned not to the company that had suspended her while trying to address the incident but instead to one that felt like it had been specifically formed so she’d have someplace to return to. What happened was public (and horrific), and there wasn’t any public indication of Yoshiko having to earn her way back.

So given my personal views on the whole thing it wasn’t until a full year and a half after Yoshiko returned that I saw my first SEAdLINNNNG show in August of 2017. I was in Tokyo for a week primarily to see the rematch series of one of my favorite matches of all time. While I still had no interest in seeing Yoshiko I grudgingly decided I was not going to allow her presence on the card prevent me from attending to see two of my favorite teams in the world wrestle and support them. Besides, she was starting to show up in so many joshi promotions she’d be unavoidable anyway unless I just stopped attending shows in general.

Yoshiko happened to be facing my favorite rookie at the time, Mio Momono. Again I had never seen Yoshiko wrestle before. The match was great. So much so that it was actually my second favorite of the trip despite myself. And I’m specifically mentioning this to point out that it didn’t matter AT ALL to the subject at hand.

Too often athletes, entertainers, etc get passes on things because of their talent. It can easily cloud fans’ judgement. So I want to be clear that the fact that I discovered that night that Yoshiko was an extremely good wrestler did nothing to change my opinion on her actions or her place in wrestling. But there was something about that match and ones that would follow that DID matter in that respect, although I didn’t consciously realize it at the time.

That conscious realization solidified the following spring when I saw her wrestle Asahi from Ice Ribbon in another great encounter of the larger, brutish Yoshiko taking a fiery, determined rookie. Though the number of companies willing to work with her was significant, even more significant was the fact that they weren’t just working with her. Like Marvelous with Mio Ice Ribbon, a company I particularly personally trust to take care of their wrestlers from things I’ve observed over time, trusted her to work safely with their rookies. It really underscored that no one was afraid of anything like what happened with Act ever happening again. More and more companies that had no obligation to use Yoshiko or let their wrestlers face her had absolutely no issue doing so on any level.

Moving forward to present day, the last six months or so have seen a couple of surprisingly relevant, positive events related to the now six year old incident. In late 2020 Act returned to a wrestling ring as a participant in ACTRING, a show that combines theatrical performance and wrestling elements produced by Actwres Girl’z. In March this year both Yoshiko and Nanae returned to Stardom in special appearances for their big 10th anniversary show. Yoshiko, while reigning as SEAdLINNNG’s singles champion, was defeated by Stardom’s ace Mayu Iwatani (in a non-title match).

It is of course fantastic to see Act able to come back in some capacity, and somewhat fitting that shortly thereafter Yoshiko returned to the promotion where it all took place and in some sense faced her comeuppance.

What happened in Act and Yoshiko’s match will be remembered and revisited forever, and rightfully so. It was a horrible occurrence that shouldn’t be forgotten. But the issue with newer fans finding out about what happened primarily via things like What Culture’s article on brutal women’s matches, etc is that context about what’s happened since is usually lost. Again it’s totally appropriate to mention it in those discussions, but it’s a six year old event that doesn’t exist in isolation.

I can understand the perspective of those who think she shouldn’t have been forgiven, and again I was among them, but at this point she has been by all the people involved, by her industry, and of course by Act. I said earlier that I felt Act’s forgiveness was important but insufficient on its own. It’s not on its own anymore. The primary arguments that Yoshiko shouldn’t have been able to return to wrestling were the incident showing she was unsafe and that she didn’t face proper repercussions. There’s now five years of experience contrary to the former, and with every conceivable benchmark that one could have wanted before she returned now reached the timing of her return and other aspects of the latter becomes moot. Act’s back in wrestling. Yoshiko returned to the company who suspended her. Yoshiko’s trusted to work safely with companies’ most vulnerable employees. I don’t know what else could possibly be asked for at this point.

I don’t begrudge anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable watching Yoshiko given the incident happened at all, and the point of this is not to try to dissuade them. I’d just ask them to keep in mind when talking to people who have moved on that there are many valid reasons for having done so.

It’s not 2015 anymore. Talking about this like the incident just happened and Yoshiko is a currently a dangerous, untrustworthy monster is doing both her and the joshi wrestling scene in general a huge disservice.

To me Yoshiko has proven worthy of the second chance given to her, and like Act I wish her well with her continued career in wrestling.

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Japan Reviews Wrestling

That’s J-PW #1 Stream Thoughts

April 12, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling has several interesting, new initiatives starting to expand the type of content they offer. A couple weeks ago they premiered Inspiration, shorter than usual shows (three matches, around an hour) that run every few months and can include things outside of TJPW’s normal purview.

This was the first episode of That’s J-PW, airing single matches specials with English commentary semiweekly.

Show opened with DDT’s Chris Brookes and ChocoPro’s Baliyan Akki, who will be the commentary team, introducing the concept and bringing out the participating teams for comments.

Sena & Hikari were all smiles and managed to introduce themselves then get out a couple of words about their opponents’ power. Neither can speak much English but the effort alone was the point here, and it’s a cute introduction to the duo for those that might not know them.

Miu & Mirai’s were next and also talked about their power, but then said their opponents have speed and are good friends. Mirai did the best of the four with English all around, introducing herself with an excellent summary of her style in catchphrase form:

“Strong style lives with me. No stereotypes. Open up a new world.”

Sayuri Namba on announcing duties as usual for TJPW, but again in English. Like Chris Brookes’ recent produce shows (as well as the AEW Japan bracket), this took place at Warabi Wrestle Arena (the Ice Ribbon dojo).

Miu Watanabe & Mirai Maiumi vs HikaShoi (Hikari Noa & Sena Shiori)

Miu and Hikari were also a part of Inspiration, with Hikari in the main event in TJPW’s first ever hardcore match.

Hikari & Sena are a regular team, but Miu is a former tag team champion and Mirai perhaps TJPW’s top rookie so this looked pretty even going in.

This was a solid tag match wrestled at a good clip built around the foreshadowed conflict of power versus speed. HikaShoi used quick strikes and teamwork to try to sustain an advantage while Miu & Mirai often countered using their strength. Highlights included a beautiful straightjacket pin by Sena, a particularly vicious series of dropkicks by Hikari, and Miu & Mirai throwing their opponents about and grabbing them out of the air into holds.

Akki and Chris made a natural team on commentary, and did a really good job emphasizing the action and adding context and depth to what was going on.

Eventually it came done to Miu against Sena and Miu wiped her out with the Teardop (over-the-shoulder faceplant) for the win.

Shame to see the regular team (and Hikari in particular) lose, but Sena was the most likely of the four to take the pin from the start and they still looked quite good in defeat. The match was fun and a good way to kick off this new program.

Quick post show plug has Kamiyu talking about TJPW’s big 4/17 event (in English as with everything else this show) to close things out.

This was a nice little 15 minute show, and I think these will help do exactly what they’re intended to do: further expand and engage TJPW’s international fanbase in a thoroughly enjoyable way.

That’s J-PW and TJPW’s other shows can be viewed with a Wrestle Universe subscription (which includes other promotions as well and is a great value at 900 yen a month).

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

TJPW Inspiration #1 Live Stream Thoughts

April 1, 2011 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro has several interesting, new initiatives coming to expand the type of content they offer. In a couple weeks they will be starting airing single matches specials with English commentary semiweekly. This is the start of another project: TJPW Inspiration.

Inspiration is an experiment in doing shorter than usual shows (three matches, around an hour) that can include things outside of TJPW’s normal purview. This premiere event looks like a great proof of concept, with all three Up Up Girls getting spotlight singles opportunities against major opponents including the Deathmatch loving Hikari having her (and TJPW’s) first ever hardcore match in the main event.

Namba announced that Inspiration will run every few months, with the next event set for July 1.

1) Miu Watanabe vs Mizuki

Mizuki recently had another unusual appearance wrestling in the unique confines of Ichigaya Chocolate Square  against Mei Suruga for ChocoPro 100.

There was a lot of grappling and matwork early that set the tone for this as a struggle, and it continued all the way through. Whenever they were vertical it became the perhaps expected battle of Miu’s power vs Mizuki’s speed, but even then no one ever had a sustained advantage and it felt like a war of attrition.

It felt different to me than the other matches I’ve seen of Miu’s in a great way. She pushed Mizuki to the limit and the Sugar Rabbit needed to rely on the ropes to break holds and pins at a few points.

Eventually though Mizuki busted out her incredible Whirling Candy (spinning crossbody) to set up the top rope double stomp to win with just a couple minutes left. Great opener.

2) Raku vs Rika Tatsumi

Rika is the reigning Princess of Princess Champion, so this is a huge chance for Raku to make a statement.

Raku disappeared under the ring during Rika’s entrance leaving a confused Rika behind. Rika couldn’t find her and went to the back at which point Raku emerged and quietly followed her around back to the ring. There she ambushed Rika and taped her pillow to Rika’s backside to blunt Rika’s signature attacks. It largely worked as Rina threw a few jumping hip attacks at Raku to little effect, but the pillow fell off pretty quickly.

Once the match proper got underway it was a story of Rika working the leg interspersed with strike exchanges and Raku’s signature offense. Down the stretch Rika hit the top rope hip attack for the expected win.

Pretty standard match from both, which is perfectly fine for the position they were in. Decent but nothing particularly memorable (which to be honest is how I generally find Rika’s matches, so your milage may vary).

3) Hardcore Match: Hikari Noa vs Rina Yamashita

So excited for Hikari to get this opportunity. Rina is an incredible wrestler an opponent for her to face in the first place, on top of being known for the style of wrestling Hikari adores.

The ring was pre-loaded with plunder including chairs, a ladder, and a glow stick adored board. Hikari has special hardcore/deathmatch gear, wisely including long pants. Pinfall, submission, KO, or TKO all in effect with no rope breaks or countouts. Everything is legal unless the referee finds it particularly life threatening (good thing to make clear I suppose).

This was the story of the Deathmatch Fangirl Idol reveling in taking a new step on her journey while simultaneously proving she was tough enough to deserve to be there. The structure and little details were PERFECT, including a brilliant spot where Hikari put the ladder on her hand and shoulder and spun to try to attack but the hardcore match veteran simply backed out of range and then hit the spinning ladder with a chair to make Hikari pay.

Early on Hikari ended a short feeling out period by upending a box of glow sticks and Up Up Girls CDs on herself to start the chaos, and Rina shortly thereafter broke a couple of the CDs with her bare hands.

Hikari’s full welcome to the hardcore style would come as the culmination of a well built sequence. Rina set Hikari on a table outside and went to the apron but Hikari got up and they had a tense extended fight for the advantage. It ended when Rina managed to hoist Hikari up and hit a FIRE THUNDER DRIVER (over the shoulder sitout tombstone piledriver) through the table. Insane.

From there Rina controlled most of the match and Hikari endured a multitude of punishment like being slammed on slam the on ladder and having Rina stack chairs on her then hit them with another chair. Hikari remained resilient and defiant though, and even kicked out at 1 after eating Rina’s lariat in an awesome moment. When she later swung the momentum around in her favor with some vicious use of chairs, the “fan of the style tries things she’s seen done” vibe continued when she got a huge near fall off using Jun Kasai’s Pearl Harbor Splash (complete with goggles).

Eventually the larger, more experienced Rina pulled ahead, but Hikari made her fight for every inch and successively kicked out of two lariats late (albeit barely). She made Rina resort to Splash Mountain (sitout poweromb from Razor’s Edge position) ONTO THE CHAIRS to win.

Phenomenal first hardcore match for Hikari against the Deathmatch Queen, and further validation that Hikari can totally hang in a main event position. True deathmatches are not my style, but I’m thrilled that Hikari (as well as Ice Ribbon’s Suzu Suzuki) is getting the opportunity to proceed towards her dream of participating in the type of match that inspired her personal love for wrestling.

Afterwards Hikari says she hurts but it was fun, and she wants to do it again tomorrow. Rina says she’s booked tomorrow but they’ll do it again someday and she thinks that Hikari will be welcomed into the deathmatch/hardcore world. Hikari ends the show saying hardcore isn’t enough, she wants a deathmatch! This was all done so well.

This show was everything it promised and extremely smartly put together. I adore the chances TJPW is taking and the new things they are trying and this one was definitely a huge success.

Inspiration and TJPW’s other shows can be viewed with a Wrestle Universe subscription (which includes other promotions as well and is a great value at 900 yen a month).