Wave 8/30/11 Live Thoughts

August 30, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

The final show of my week long trip I caught was “Weekday Wave” at Shinjuku Face.

 

 

The opener was a bit of a pleasant surprise for me. I was glad to see a favorite of mine, Aoi Kizuki, added to this show a few days before as I wouldn’t have seen her otherwise. I was even more excited to see her put in the ring opposite my favorite tag team (whose matches with Best Friends were the reason I made this trip) as So on Flower (Aoi & Moeka Haruhi) faced Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami).

 

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This was a short but great opener with strong structure and story. Moeka and Aoi jumped their decorated and certainly favored opponents during their entrance pose and never let up, going full throttle trying to prove themselves in Avid Rival’s league. Misaki and Ryo fought back of course but couldn’t ever quite get full control of their opponents nor stop the underdogs’ onslaught. Aoi and Moeka essentially overwhelmed AR and Moeka eventually pinned Mizunami for the upset. This was action packed and really well worked to the point it was satisfying despite (and felt longer than) the literal few minutes it actually ran.

 

 

 

Kaori Yoneyama & Cherry were the obvious heels in mannerisms and anctics in their match with Yuki Miyazaki & Nagisa Nozaki, but were too amusing for crowd to boo. This wasn’t bad per se, but there was nothing to it really. As opposed to the opener this felt every bit it’s short length (under three minutes).

 

 

 

The next match was another surprise for me, and another extremely pleasant one. I knew Yumi Ohka would be on the show (and was happy I’d get to see her), but didn’t have any idea Mio Momono would be. What a great pairing. Mio’s the hottest rookie there is right now (as I’ve mentioned many times), and Yumi’s a consummate veteran and the perfect opponent for her.

 

 

I’m noticing Mio working in nice touches of humor into her matches lately too. For example she has one “playing mind games” spot where she goes outside and under the ring, then appears on the opposite side to mock her opponent (who of course was looking for her on the original side). The key is she does it a second time, and “smartly” Yumi decides to ambush the youngster on the far side instead of following. So Mio goes out the side instead and again gets into the ring and mercilessly mocks the vet.

 

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It’s silly but amusing and adds a nice bit of cleverness and attitude to Mio’s act. I’ve seen her do it in two matches so far and it will get old eventually, but I trust she’ll find a way to mix things up and keep it entertaining. Best of all, Mio does this to annoy her opponent into leaving an opening for Mio to attack, making a logical part of the match that enhances rather than derails the action.

 

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They got a decent bit of time here (a little under ten minutes I think) to tell the story of upstart Mio giving Yumi all she could handle until the more experienced wrestler could only just keep leveling Mio with kicks until she stayed down. This was exactly what I hoped for from them and tied with the opener for my favorite of the show. The tension and hostility between the two continued after the match.

 

 

 

Sometimes comedy in wrestling can be overdone, and honestly that’s how I generally feel about both Fairy Nipponbashi’s and her partner Sakura Hirota’s ring styles. Their match here, with Fairy’s magic malfunctioning due to not having her regular wand and Hirota’s usual offense based around striking at her opponents’ backsides, did little to change my mind (though admittedly the rest of the audience seemed entertained).

 

 

What was amusing however was Hirota’s impersonation of her opponent Saki’s usual partner Mizuki, which led to great impatience from Saki’s partner here Rin Kadokura at Saki’s hesitance to attack “Mizuki.” Both Saki and Rin are quite good in the ring, so this did have periods of solid action when they went on offense and things got more serious.

 

 

Afterwards the announcer had a rather lengthy statement to deliver to Fairy and then someone came out afterwards who had Fairy’s wand and tossed her around with her own magic before making his escape. Sure whatever.

 

 

 

This probably goes without saying in a Wave review, but this semi main event features Wave’s Asuka, not the former Kana who’s using the name “Asuka” in WWE. Here she faced Hikaru Shida in a decent contest that served as good way to build up Asuka as a threat. She’ really hitting her stride and kept up with the more experience and polished Shida nicely, and they wrestled to a draw that made both look good.

 

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The main event was and interesting tag title match featuring champions Kaho Kobayashi & Hiroe Nagahama defending against Wave’s singles champion Rina Yamishita and her partner Natsu SumireKaho is another extremely good wrestler that just keeps improving, and it’s wonderful to see her in the spotlight and a champion in several companies. I’m also a big fan of Rina and it’s a joy to see her come out with the Regina di Wave belt. 

 

 

Sumire’s still a bit awkward at times (including not completely tucking her head when taking a Northern Lights suplex and coming within inch of being spiked in a scary moment), but she has has improved and played a fine role in what ended up being a solid match. This was rightfully the longest match of the show and suitable both as a main event and a title contest.

 

 

To close the show there was announcement of the Dual Shock Wave tag team tournament with various teams from the show excitedly volunteering for spots. The tag champions were involved too and the titles were announced as on the line. In addition to established teams, Yumi Ohka wanted to be involved and begged her earlier opponent Mio Momono to team with her.

 

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Mio was initially have none of it, and as far as I could tell she essentially called Yumi washed up and old enough to be her mother (to the howling amusement of everyone else in the ring as Yumi crumpled to the mat in shock at the scathing words). She eventually agreed, but only if she was the “the boss.” Yumi’s exaggerated delight and trying to placate Mio with nods and flattery was amusing. The gist of it all was pretty easy to follow even without understanding Japanese, which is a testament to the wrestlers’ delivery and reactions.

 

 

There was also a promo clearly setting up Asuka as Rina’s next challenger, building off the spotlight match she had with Shida earlier in the night.

 

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Fun show overall, although it did feel like they tried to cram a little too much in. Shorter promo segments and slightly longer undercard matches would have been nice. But they used the format they chose well, with generally engaging angles integrated with the matches. Even the super short early tag matches ended up having important significance in setting the stage for Dual Shock Wave. Add in good effort and a pair of matches I adored and this was a nice way to wrap up my trip.

 

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Photo with Msiaki Ohata while wearing her awesome new Sky Blue Suplex t-shirt.

Ice Ribbon 8/27/17 Live Thoughts

August 27, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Seeing Ice Ribbon at Korakuen Hall is always a treat, and one match in particular had me even more excited that usual for this event.

 

The International Tag Ribbon championships were in limbo at this point due to co-holder Tsukushi’s hiatus (legal trouble related, exact details withheld since she was a minor in Japan at the time). She’s since returned in a limited, non-wrestling role with a public apology and the titles have been vacated. Her partner Kurumi was scheduled to team with Manami Toyota on this show to face #1 contenders The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) in a match that was speculated to have title implications, but Kurumi was injured shortly before resulting in shuffling around of the card. Kurumi was at the event working the merchandise tables and in good spirits, and I hope she recovers/returns soon.

 

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Hamuko Hoshi’s new match ended up being against her recently debuted daughter Ibushi Hoshi, and they opened the show.  This was one of many matches on the show that were more about a less experienced competitor putting up a good fight in defeat than having a believable chance of winning. As such I was hoping that Ibushi would be allowed to show a little more against mom, but it was a fine opener all the same. I’d actually really like to see a longer, more competitive rematch in the future. 

 

 

A second match with the same dynamic followed as another new roster member Asahi debuted, playing the role of totally overmatched but determined underdog well against legend Manami Toyota. I thought this worked a little better, with the confident, somewhat dismissive Toyota acting more and more surprised at Asahi’s resiliency and the length she had to go to in order to beat the upstart. Tsukka and others cheering on Asahi excitedly each time she got a little edge on the veteran or survived a pin attempt added a lot to the atmosphere.

 

 

Miyako & Jun Kasai were involved in a triple threat tag, which of course meant plenty of shenanigans. Their opponents were regular team Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki and makeshift team of  Mochi Miyagi and the visiting Yoshiko from SEAdLINNNG. I could do without Yoshiko ever being in Ice Ribbon but, as I discussed a little in my review of SEAdLINNG’s show from a few days before this, I’ve hesitantly decided not to avoid shows she’s on or her matches. Her presence can provide an additional barrier for me to really get involved in a match though. I found it in mild effect here. She does play her role well and the story of her adopting Miyako’s antics to antagonize the latter gave the Dancing Queen plenty to play off of.

 

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The match was amusing, never talking itself too seriously but still providing a good deal of action in between things like water gun and aerosol can fights. One of my favorite things here was Kyuuri slinking off during said silliness and quietly taking a seat in the bleachers among the crowd (right behind me) and contently watching her opponents battle with a self satisfied expression on her face. Of course since this was a tag match she was kind of abandoning her partner, but sacrifices must be made in water gun wars I suppose. 😉

 

 

Eventually Miyako was Miyako and got annoyed with Kasai, unwisely provoking her partner physically and getting leveled by him. This left her easy pickings for Yoshiko and Mochi to finish off for the win. During this Kyuuri and Maika got on the apron and were casually knocked back down to take them out of the equation. I personally really like their team and wish they weren’t treated like cannon fodder for the other teams here (and in general). Regardless of that and my least favorite team of the three winning, this was again decent and fun overall.

 

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It’s great to see Akane Fujita back in full force from injury, and she seems to be carving out a nice niche in hardcore matches. Against the veteran KAROU from Marvelous in one here I expected this to be another “valiant effort in defeat” story, and while in some sense that’s exactly what we got Akane looked Karou’s equal and had the crowd primed for an upset at several moments.

 

 

The ending was a bit weird. Karou misted Akane in the eyes while they were fighting on a ladder then floated around to hit a powerbomb for the win, but Akane sold the mist by acting stunned instead of reacting much (which initially made it hard to tell what had happened). She then rolled right to her knees after being pinning instead of selling the effects of the powerbomb, making the whole sequence feel odd. Otherwise this was a very good hardcore match with strong work from both, including a gorgeous moonsault by Karou from the very top of the ladder and them brawling right through my seat on the outside.

 

 

During my first trip to Japan in 2015 I was lucky enough to see some of my favorite wrestlers battle for Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania in a match that immediately became a favorite of mine and I consider the teams involved two of the very best in the world. Seeing some of the best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) between Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) and Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) was the impetus for this trip.

 

 

This was the last of the series, with Avid Rival up 1-0 (after winning at Wave on August 12 and wrestling to a time limit draw at SEAdLINNG on August 24) and the teams even overall counting the 2015 match.

This match being just prior to intermission and a little early in the card for its magnitude is likely due to Avid Rival needing to make it out to Osaka for a Wave show that evening. Both were out the door and on their way as soon as intermission started.

 

 

The time limit draw at SEAdLINNNG was great, if just a touch below the original match that inspired this series. This one is neck and neck with the original, and a fantastic way to close things out for now. I was actually partially anticipating the “upset” victory and Avid Rival sweeping the series given the way difficulties between Best Friends were being stressed, leading to somewhat of a feud between Tsukka and Arisa. But them coming together on the same page as a team to dig down and prove they could still win was an equally satisfying story.

 

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One great thing I’ve noticed in Avid Rival’s development over time is the way they add and modify actual double team moves in their arsenal (in addition to having awesome versions of the also great rapid fire alternating offense a lot of Joshi teams rely on). It makes them feel more like a cohesive unit and gives a sense of evolution.

 

 

Much like the first time Best Friends beat Avid Rival, they exchanged fantastic hard hitting offense with a lot of close calls until Tsukka and Arisa were finally able to just keep wearing someone down with a succession of their multitude of individual finishers. This time it was Mizunami that finally fell to Tsukka, and Misaki consoled her partner after the loss.

 

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In a nice touch for the way the feud had been built (with the opposing team members all being quite tense and in each others faces about who was better) there were no handshakes afterwards, just smug looks from Best Friends and grudging acceptance from Avid Rival from a distance. Can’t recommend this match (and the whole series) enough. Hope to see the one I haven’t (and the only one Avid Rival won) from Wave soon.

 

 

I was a little late coming back from intermission and unfortunately missed the begining of the big blow off elimination match featuring Team DATE (Nao, Nori, Hanna, & Karen) vs Maruko Nagasaki, Tequila Saya, Uno Matsuya, & Satsuki Totoro. As such Hanna was already eliminated and on the outside (and seemed to be nursing a knee injury of some sort) and I came in just as Uno also left the match. Uno’s actually my favorite on that team and I wish she was featured a bit more in general.

 

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Even coming in partway, what I saw was excellent and this was my second favorite match of the night. Everyone was constantly fighting as appropriate for the intense rivalry that has been the cornerstone of the feud. This was my first look at any of the DATES as well as Totoro and even though the nature of the match meant not everyone got a lot of chance to shine they all looked good and payed their roles well. Nao and Satsuki went next (and in rapid succession), leaving Saya and Maruko against Karen and Nori. Nori and Saya had been mostly paired off throughout the match, and they had some really good exchanges in this section until Karen and Nori were able to isolate and eliminate Saya, leaving Maruko in a 2 on 1.

 

 

The most experienced of Ice Ribbon’s rookie team persevered to eliminate Karen to even things up and eventually get the better of Nori (in a really good final section) to win for her team. This was 100% the right outcome, as the building story had been the DATES’ dominance and this last battle was Maruko and company’s final chance to prove their equals and gain some respect. Great story, great match. Nori impressed me the most here, and I hope to see a lot more of everyone involved going forward.

 

 

After the match Maruko’s team seemed to head to the back without any consideration for their finally defeated rivals, but they came back with Ice Ribbon jackets for Team DATE instead, finally fully accepting them into the roster and leaving things peaceful and in a state of mutual respect between all eight wrestlers after the feud’s end. Again, really well done.

 

 

The main event saw Azure Revolution do battle as Risa Sera (c) defended her ICE Cross Infinity Championship against her partner Maya Yukihi. I’ve commented before that I think these two have better chemistry as opponents than as a team, and it continued here as they had a very good match overall.

 

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But Risa’s defenses always seem oddly paced to me, as if she just doesn’t quite know how to smoothly build matches once they get past a certain length (with the same opponent that is, her multi-opponent ironwoman matches are great). Also, with the story of Maya trying to prove herself by defeating her more decorated, respected partner this needed more urgency. Given the story (not to mention Maya’s new gear) I was surprised at the result, but I also think Maya’s not quite ready for a title run and she’ll certainly have future opportunities so Risa overcoming this challenge and continuing on as champ works just fine.

 

 

A lot of this show was a bit “by the numbers” booking-wise, but there were a couple of surprises and predictable is perfectly fine if done well, which pretty much everything was. Having an underdog (ideally Akane) win one of the “proving ground” story matches would have been so nice since there were several, but that’s a mild criticism. Overall this was excellent, and in addition to the tag match I will continue to gush about forever the whole show is well worth checking out.

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17 Live Thoughts

August 26, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

The difference between 2016’s 1/4 Tokyo Joshi Pro show I attended and this year’s was night and day, and I went into this third show of theirs for me pretty excited. I knew little of the card though outside of the fact that two of my favorites from the promotion, Reika Sakai and Yuka Sakazaki, would be fighting over the Princess of Princess title. I was in for at least one fantastic surprise… more on that later.

 

Before the first match the Tokyo Princess of Princess Tag Championship belts were unveiled, and there’s an upcoming tournament to crown the first champions.

 

 

The opener of MIZUKI & Nonoko vs Yuna Manase & Yuki Kamifuku was ok for what it was I suppose, but went too long and was my least favorite match. Nonoko’s heavily featured breast based offense just doesn’t amuse me, and the debuting Yuki Kamifuku was pretty awkward in the ring. Nice seeing Mizuki in TJP though, and Manase looked decent.

 

 

The Idol Lumberjack Death Match between Azusa Takigawa and Maki Ito was wonderful in its absurdity and an example of how the ridiculous stuff can really work. Each idol group serving as lumberjacks got an entrance number (with special referee Sanshiro Takagi coming out with the last) and were armed with plastic toy squeaky hammers.

 

 

Azusa sung her way to the ring, then when Maki’s music hit she cut it off and sang the same one as Azusa without music instead, with the latter getting more and more visibly furious until she attacked the still singing Itoh to jumpstart the match. This was over the top in the best way possible, didn’t overstay welcome, and played to the strengths and personas of the participants. At one point Itoh went up to the top seemingly to jump to the outside onto Azusa, but she got scared, gingerly climbed down to the apron, and attacked from there. It totally fit and even the apron dive was enough to get the crowd exited.

 

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My favorite moment was when the wrestlers got tired of being attack by the lumberjacks, pulled a couple hammers away from them and chased them around the ring. Maki got a HUGE ovation for her eventual victory. This was not great technical wrestling, but it was great amusement. In general I’m seeing continual improvement in the performances of both these wrestlers, which is wonderful.

 

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Even though things are always unpredictable when DDT’s Ironman Heavymetalweight Title is involved, Yu’s 3-way title defense against Marika Kobashi and Nodoka One-san still seemed like a foregone conclusion. Decent match regardless, with the challengers looking solid but Yu eventually dominating her way to the expected victory. The traditional match format / defense for this belt feel really odd, particularly considering shortly after the match was over the challengers resumed going for pinfalls under the title’s 24/7 rule. Yu kicked out, ran, and escaped with the championship intact.

 

 

The “International Match” (must every match have a subtitle?) saw a debuting Solo Darling get a pretty good showing against one of TJP’s most consistent performers in Shoko Nakajima. For a match likely booked based on them both wearing tails, they had good chemistry and Solo fits well with TJP’s style. Shoko’s a much bigger star though, and got the expected (and proper) victory with a nice Northern Lights suplex.

 

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The surprise I referred to earlier came in the form of the incredible Meiko Satomura appearing at TJP to face former (and first) Princess of Princess Champion Miyu Yamashita. This was fantastic and edges out the main for match of the night. I’ve commented before that I felt Miyu was capable of more than I’d seen her show, and this was totally the breakout performance I’ve been wanting from her.

 

 

She wrestled like someone with something to prove from the very first second and really took it to Meiko, believably smothering the veteran at points with relentless offense, but just couldn’t put the larger, more experienced wrestler. Meiko of course is an artist in the ring and always a joy to watch. Loved this.

 

 

Afterwards Miyu slaps Meiko a couple of times out of frustration (and apparently in a challenge for another match) and Meiko’s so impressed with Miyu’s fire she applauds her for it. Great stuff.

 

 

The semi main 6-person tag pitting Rika Tatsumi, Maho Kurone & Shiro Koshinaka against Akai Saki, Martha & Yukio Saint Laurent wasn’t really to my tastes, but it was fine for what it was and featured some good action in between the silly stuff. It was interesting to see the zombie Maho as a face (which worked surprisingly well), and the rivalry between Rika and Saki came across well. Akai denying the 3-count then fainting when her henchmen reluctantly confirm she lost to Rika was a nice touch. Well received by the crowd overall, so it did its job.

 

 

Reika Saiki stepped up as the next challenger for then Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion Yu at the last show I saw in January, and came up short in that attempt in March. Since then Mil Clown departed TJP and her “twin sister” Yuka Sakazaki returned to take the title from Yu. Reika recently won the 4th Tokyo Princess Cup tournament, beating the reigning champion in the finals to do it. She leveraged that into a title shot and it was the main event of this show.

 

 

As I mentioned Yuka and Reika are two of my favorite wrestlers in the promotion, so I was thrilled to see this. Yuka is perhaps the most fundamentally sound and consistent performers on the roster, and also wows the crowd with her agility and rope walk spots, so was a great choice for champion. Reika seems their biggest rising star so this was exactly the right time for this confrontation. While I do have to admit I prefer and miss the Mil Clown persona, Yuka’s excellent in any incarnation.

 

 

The match was great, going back and forth and building well to a strong finish that saw Reika take advantage of a miss by Yuka with hard strikes and a sweet Shining Wizard, then hit the jackhammer (such a perfect choice of finisher for the Muscle Idol) to become the new Princess of Princess champion. Was awesome to be there for that moment, and Reika definitely deserves a chance to show what she can do as champ.

 

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro has been a breath of fresh air for me (discounting my first experience with them having a rather poor show I saw two years ago). They fill a specific niche and do it well, strong effort and commitment is visible from everyone, and perhaps most importantly the development and improvement of the roster over time is wonderful to watch. While certain things can still use some work, in general TJP gets better every time I see them, improving the wrestling and pacing aspect of their shows while still retaining the idol edge and other aspects that make them unique and appeal to their core target demographic. Thoroughly enjoyed this show.

 

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Pleasure to meet and congratulate the new champion.

 

SEAdLINNNG 8/24/17 Live Thoughts

August 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

 

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During my first trip to Japan in 2015 my favorite match (well tied with one other) featured two incredible tag teams going full throttle competing for Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania. When a best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) was announced I was beyond excited, and ended up lucky enough to be able travel to see two of those three starting with here at my first ever SEAdLINNG show.

Although despite it being my first show under the SEAdLINNNG banner, I had previously seen all but two of the wrestlers live before, and that includes several personal favorites. On the other hand, one of the new to me in ring competitors is someone I have a large issue with watching/supporting and I feel I need to say something here. I had (and still have) mixed feelings about attending shows Yoshiko’s on, and I’m even more conflicted on her return to wrestling after eerily similar recent events with Sexy Star. There are a number of different angles and components that get into this (that I won’t expand upon here because it’d be longer than the review I’m trying to write), but for now I’ve chosen not to skip shows/matches she’s on in favor of supporting the other wrestlers on the shows (and for admittedly selfish reasons of not wanting to miss certain matches).

 

Alright, on to the show:

 

1) High Speed Match: Manami Toyota vs Maruko Nagasaki vs Kaho Kobayashi 

 

 

This was an amusing opener centered around the legend having some difficulty with the match concept (super quick counts and covers only valid after some sort of running move from what I could tell) and getting annoyed with special referee Natsuki Taiyo. She eventually adapted and outlasted the youngsters, picked up the win, then sold being exhausted from so much running. Amusing, particularly in watching Toyota’s protege Tsukka crack up at ringside at the various antics. 

 

2) Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Yoshiko vs Mio Momono 

 

 

I hate to admit it given my previously mentioned personal bias, but Yoshiko was awesome here and this was easily the second best match of the night. She was a perfect monster for Mio attempt to outlast while just refusing to stay down under the larger, more experienced wrestler’s onslaught. The crowd was evenly split between heavy home promotion support for Yoshiko and visiting Marvelous fans (like me) going nuts for Mio. They went to time limit, then overtime where only a two count was needed. The heat for the nearfalls during that final portion was insane.

As I’ve previously gushed about, Mio is just incredible and shines even among the impressive crop of current Joshi rookies across all companies. Her timing, mannerisms, and technique are all well beyond normal for her experience level and she just keeps getting better every time I see her. Sky’s the limit if she keeps on this trajectory.

 

3) Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Takumi Iroha vs Sareee 

 

 

The second semi-final also featured a Marvelous wrestler against a SEAdLINNG talent. Iroha’s incredible power eventually overwhelmed Sareee to send the former to the finals for another interpromotional match. This was quite good, but I do feel like they have a better match in them. I hope this rivalry continues and we get to see many more contests between the two.

 

4) TLC Match: Nanae Takahashi vs The Great Sasuke 

 

 

I found out about this match just a couple of days before the show, and what a treat it was to be there for. It exactly what it should have been: a spotfest featuring two honored veterans. I have to say even with all the crazy stunts and complicated ladder/chair spots, my favorite was a comedy one. Nanae was in the corner under a ladder and Sasuke essentially played whack a mole with a chair trying to hit her head whenever she poked it up between the rungs, only to have her duck back down and Sasuke hurt his own hands as the chair hit the ladder.

 

5) Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) 

 

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So here we are – the reason for this trip. Going into this match Avid Rival was up 1-0 in this series of 3 (having won at Wave on 8/12 in a match I haven’t seen), and things were tied between the teams overall if the first match in 2015 was considered.

 

 

As expected, this was excellent. The lack of finish (time limit draw) and time spent on some comedy put this just a touch below the other match I had seen from them, but that’s mild criticism. Best of the night and exactly what I was hoping for from two of the greatest teams in all of wrestling.

 

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Neither team was happy with the lack of resolution, and there was tension between the specific pairs of Ryo & Tsukka and Misaki & Arisa afterwards building to the final match at Ice Ribbon a few days later.

 

Main event) Ultra U-7 Final: Yoshiko vs Takumi Iroha

 

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It was fitting to have this main, given Best Friends vs Avid Rival didn’t have a finish and how over Yoshiko is in SEAdLINNNG. Her essentially being a heel who plays to the crowd is so uncomfortable. Don’t know if it was because of how engrossing Mio’s matches are or just the general structure, but I found it harder to look past my personal feelings on Yoshiko in this one. They still put on a hell of a match though. Good showing for Iroha in defeat in a back and forth power match. I wish Iroha had won for a multitude of reasons, one of the most relevant of which is a young outsider taking the tournament seems like a better story. Strong finish to the tournament regardless, and a large portion of the crowd was thrilled.

 

 

Great show overall, and an extremely good first impression made for SEAdLINNNG. Of course my favorite parts involved outside talent (and the resulting atmosphere, due to the rabid support of the Marvelous contingent), but the core roster members are also great wrestlers and a solid base to build around. Will be interesting to see more in the future.

 

Gatoh Move 8/26/17 Live Thoughts

August 26, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Gatoh Move’s Ichigaya shows are always unique and interesting given the venue (with small space and lack of ring) and how the performers use and adapt to it. For more detail see my previous reviews. Being summertime the building was a hotbox, but a slight cross breeze from the open window frames and cold packs handed out as the show began helped a lot (Gatoh Move is incredibly considerate and thoughtful of its fans in things like that).

As usual for Gatoh Move the show opened and closed with a song/dance, but Emi sat out this time. The opening was a solo by Aasa and the closing performed by her, Riho and Kotori. The card looked interesting, with a big tournament main event, a men’s match to open, and several “outside” guests (perhaps in place of Obi, who’s out injured, and Mitsuru, who couldn’t make this event – hope to see both back soon).

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows.

 

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First was Masahiro Takanashi  against Yamada Taro. This was a great example of the different styles that can work in Ichigaya Chocolate Square’s unique environment. It was near entirely grapple based, with the combatants trying to out power each other on the mat. Solid, interesting opener.

Up next was a tag match of Kaori Yoneyama & Emi Sakura vs Riho & Saki. Little touches like Emi’s glare as Riho was introduced as Gatoh Move’s Ace and somewhat of a heel edge shown by Kaori & Emi gave this additional depth. This was a hard hitting, back and forth encounter with some ref involvement in the finish as he was out of place and used to trip Saki into a pin by the crafty veterans, giving an out to Riho & Saki and seeming to set up additional angles during the roundtable.

 

 

 

The main event was the second semi-final of Gatoh Move’s title tournament to determine who would face Riho in the finals at their September Greenhall show.  Kotori vs Aasa was appropriately treated like a big deal and felt important. The outcome was never really in doubt with Kotori on a march to face her tag partner in the finals, but they did an excellent job building drama for near falls regardless and put on a main event that is a testament to their skill even at relatively short times in wrestling.

They went right for each other from the first second in another match that made good use of the environment yet felt different from the other two on the show. I continue to love Aasa’s gimmick, and her energetic onslaught trying to overwhelm the more experienced Kotori was a perfect story for the match as the latter was forced to get creative in countering Aasa’s exuberance. One particularly great spot involved them fighting out the window then running around the building back through the door. Kotori entered first and tried to ambush Aasa, but the latter just BARRELED through Kotori with one of her Vader splashes instead. As expected Kotori eventually prevailed, and she beamed pride throughout the roundtable and even during the meet and greet afterward while Aasa did likewise with little spots of disappointment and despondence. Great touches from both. Koroti vs Riho to crown a champion should be great.

 

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I enjoyed this from top to bottom as it had three diverse, very good matches. Fun time.

 

 

Japan Cuts 2017: In This Corner of the World Review

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2017 started on July 13th and ran through July 23rd. My thoughts on 2015’s festival can be read starting here and on last year’s starting here. This year I’ve previously seen and reviewed Mumon, Tokyo Idols, and The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue.

 

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Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is one of my favorite manga of all time. Fumiyo Kōno’s tale of life in the shadow of the nuclear bombs during the following decades is thoughtful, informative, and masterfully told. So I was extremely interested when I found out that her other work about the war was being adapted into an animated movie, and pleased when I found out Japan Cuts would be screening it.

The scope of In This Corner of the World is likewise how the war affected everyday life in Japan, but this time Kōno presents a picture of gradual effects and changes, as well as point of view of average people, leading up to and during the war.

The focal point is a young woman named Suzu who goes through school, gets married, and joins a new family against the backdrop of increasingly dire world events. There’s a wonderful use of time passage to illustrate key aspects of the story. The viewers are given little glimpses of both significant and mundane experiences to establish the status quo of Suzu’s life at different stages. The careful balance of light, amusing moments and interactions of normal life, the adjustments forced by the background war, and the more heartbreaking, “gut punch” events and realities of war combine to form a genuine feeling, important look at a dark time in world history.

The knowledge of what’s going to happen to Suzu’s hometown of Hiroshima tensely looms over the movie and the lives observed. Seeing their everyday concerns and normal worries (including arranged marriage, growing up, self-doubt, etc) intermixed with those of life and death makes the war less abstract in an important way. As such there are certain things that can predicted (yet still have enormous impact when they happen) and others that are still complete shocks and upend the viewers’ expectations. The film is frank in its depictions without anything feeling exaggerated or exploitive. The reality of the war and dropping of the atomic bombs is more than horrific enough. The numerous effects, physical, emotional, societal, etc, all creep into Suzu’s life in harsh ways that are allowed to resonate with the viewer due to the film refusing to shy away from showing the impact they have on the attitudes and outlooks of those affected. The actual violence shown differs in graphicness, often focusing more on the aftermath yet occasionally presenting graphic details for emphasis in certain situations.

The animation is gorgeous and perfectly captures Kōno’s drawing style and adapts it for film and motion. The color palate is beautiful and helps to draw viewers completely into the narrative. Producer Taro Maki mentioned it was well researched to be historically accurate in the representation of scenery.  The contrast of soft visuals depicting often horrific and tense events and situations works quite well to highlight the themes and emotions the film means to convey.

 

Producer Taro Maki was excellent during the post viewing Q&A, responding well to sensitive topics (including the fact that the everyday citizens of Japan would have been informed by propaganda and not aware of larger world events, leading to the presence of points of view in the film some audience members incorrectly took as biased endorsements of Japan’s side) as well as sharing interesting insight into the crowdfunding aspects of the film’s production. His appearance was somewhat of a full circle for me, as I saw a screening of Millennium Actress many years ago that he also attended and held a Q&A at.

 

In This Corner of the World is opening for limited theater release in the US on August 11. It’s both excellent and important. I highly recommend seeing it if you can.

Japan Trip 2016: Top 10 Matches Part 2 (Live)

Like last year, I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2016 / start 2017. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from this year’s trip. See part 1 for some general info and stats about what I saw, honorable mentions for this top 10 list, and matches #6-10.

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

I’m pleasantly surprised at how many rookies made this top 10. I did a spotlight on several of them, all of which have bright futures ahead. Check it out here.

 

5. Mio Momono vs Mika Shirahime – Marvelous 12/25/16

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I mentioned this match when talking about Mio’s performance in the 7-way at Ribbonmania (#7 on this list, featured in part 1). It was a perfect storm of excellent chemistry between opponents and both performing at a level far beyond their experience levels. Incredible instincts and craft were shown by both rookies, who built drama expertly through the 15 minute encounter and had the crowd going crazy at the end. There were a couple awkward spots, such as an instance from each where they essentially forgot to roll up their opponent, forcing the other to kind of roll herself up and wait for the other to get in proper position. But otherwise this was smooth and well executed. And even in the places I mentioned the ability of the other wrestler to adapt and keep things on track was impressive.

I was at Mio Momono’s debut in New York, and it’s wonderful to see how much she’s capitalized on the potential she showed even then. Her progression in 10 months was incredible. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for this extremely talented youngster.

 

4. International Ribbon Tag Championship: Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) (c) vs The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

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Photo by Oliver Saupe.

 

I was a bit trepidatious headed into this match, as I generally don’t care for the Butchers’ gimmick, and signs seemed to be pointing towards them dethroning my current favorite tag team for IR’s tag team titles. Mizunami won Wave’s (her home promotion) singles title the night before, and Misaki was declared her #1 contender. Between the roll the Butchers had been on and the new status quo in Wave, it would have made sense for AR to begin dropping their tag titles here (they held the Wave tag titles too).

But I find Hamuko and Mochi vastly more entertaining when they get serious, which they did here to great benefit. They went toe-to-toe with Misaki and Ryo, leading to an excellent match. A particular highlight was an intense lariat exchange between Hoshi and Mizunami, who both throw them with incredible force.

In a pleasant surprise for me, Avid Rival persevered and retained their International Ribbon titles when Misaki hit her beautiful Sky Blue Suplex (bridging half wrist clutch tiger suplex) on Mochi. Kudos to all four here. Fantastic stuff.

 

3. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kenny Omega – NJPW 1/4/17

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The so called “Six Star Match” was admittedly fantastic, if not quite what the hype suggests. Okada and Omega built to a tremendous crescendo while telling a solid story of the cocky Omega being assured victory if he could hit the One Winged Angel, with the champion avoiding it at every turn until he simply outlasted the challenger and beat down Omega until he just couldn’t continue. They had a good first half of a match that felt largely unconnected to the phenomenal second half once they really kicked into gear.

Again still excellent overall though (which should be an obvious opinion with it here at #3 of 71 matches I saw), it’s just I personally don’t think it was the best match of all time up to that point, considering I didn’t even think it was the best of that show…

 

2. World of Stardom Championship: Io Shirai (c) vs Mayu – Stardom 12/23/16

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In the main event of last year’s Climax Io Shirai claimed the World of Stardom title from  Meiko Satomura in one of my top five matches from that trip. In this year’s main she defended that same title against her former Thunder Rock partner Mayu Iwatani.

This was a great, pedal-to-the-floor main event with tons of jaw dropping exchanges from two pros extremely familiar with one another. Highlights include Mayu hitting dragon suplexes on the apron and floor (ouch!), trying for one from the top rope only to have Io flip out and LAND ON HER FEET, and a trio of rolling Germans from Io that has to be seen to be believed. Strong back and forth contest and an incredible main event.

 

1. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuo Naito (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW 1/4/17

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… so here it is. In what I’m sure will be a largely disputed opinion I enjoyed the semi-main of Wrestle Kingdom 11 a bit better than the main. Naito and Tanahashi built an amazing back and forth struggle from start to finish. The tension gradually ramped to build to a perfect crescendo. Naito is in such command of his character now and the little touches he brings to his performances are a joy to see. Tanahashi is as always wrestling’s rock star. Definitive win for Naito too, which was 100% the right call.

 

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That does it for this trip. Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible.