SEAdLINNNG 4/28/19: The Last Arisa Nakajima Produce Of The Heisei Era Live Thoughts

April 28, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Last year’s Arisa Nakajima produce show was awesome, and with her wrestling in three of the five scheduled matches this one looked to be great as well.

It’s going to be impossible to talk about this show without addressing the atmosphere, so let’s start there. There was a trio of loud, obnoxious foreign fans being rather disruptive throughout. Among other things, they were CONSTANTLY trying to start American style chants, which really aren’t done in Japan. I understand wanting to have fun and be a fan in your own way, but there is a level of respect that needs to be given to the fact that we are visitors in another culture with different norms and expectations. The problem was how incessantly they were doing it and the complete lack of awareness (or caring) that they were disturbing other fans (not to mention the wrestlers). After the first few times of literally no one in the arena joining in one would think they would have stopped, but instead they got increasingly louder.

Summarizing the whole fiasco was their insistence afterwards (when people tried to point out how poorly received their behavior was) that “the wrestlers loved us” and “what we were doing wasn’t illegal.” Yeah, they literally argued if they couldn’t get arrested then their actions must be ok. They actually were annoying enough to make a Japanese veteran wrestler pause in her post show comments to tell them to shut up, which is kind of insane given the culture over there.

I hate having to bring all this up at all, but it did impact the show so is unfortunately highly relevant.

1- Beyond the Sea Tag Title: Arisa Nakajima & Sae (c) vs Miyuki Takase & Himeka Arita

Ok, on to the wrestling. This was a fine opener, shining whenever Arisa was in. To be honest Sae just isn’t at the level of the others (including Himeka, who similarly has only been wrestling about a year and a half) and it did show at times. It was also tough to get into things here with the aforementioned disruptive fans at their worst, literally unsuccessfully trying to start “Let’s Go Arisa” chants TWENTY TIMES IN A TEN MINUTE MATCH. The wrestlers did their best to overcome it though and this ended up a nicely energetic opener, featuring what felt like a big title change. Takase has gotten incredibly good really quickly.

2- High Speed Match: Mei Hoshizuki vs Amazon vs Tsukushi

Ice Ribbon’s super-brat was in her element here, creating chaos and eventually settling on a shared victory with Mei as they double pinned their larger opponent (which liberal involvement from referee Natsuki). Perfectly acceptable in a high speed match, and a good way to keep Amazon looking like a threat even in defeat. These high speed triple threats tend to be quite enjoyable in general, and this one was no exception.

Mei had some of the coolest moments in the match, and how impressive she and her compatriot Marvelous rookies always are is definitely going to be a recurring theme in my reviews.

Amazon was decent here and utilized her size and power advantages well. She was a little off at times but actually noticeably evolved and improved over the course of the different shows I saw her at in the short time I was there, which was actually really cool to see. She’s got a lot of potential.

3- Best Friends (Arisa & Tsukasa Fujimoto) & Takumi Iroha vs Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) & Yoshiko

Just a ton of fun all around with this one. Yoshiko did the full dancing Butchers entrance with her teammates, and after teasing reluctance Iroha sang along with Best Friends during theirs.

It’s always a treat to see Best Friends together, and everyone was on point in a high octane, exciting contest. Neck and neck with the main for best of the night, with Arisa and team proving victorious to make her 1-1 for the night going into the main event.

4- Tequila Saya & Mima Shimoda vs  Maria & Tomoko Watanabe

I’m a big fan of both Saya and Maria and their sections against each other were a treat. Would love a singles match down the line. Fine but somewhat unmemorable match otherwise, with Shimoda & Saya picking up the win at the rookie’s expense.

Main Event- Nanae Takahashi vs Arisa Nakajima

SEAdLINNNG owner Nanae was their top singles champion at the time, but this was non-title. I have mixed feelings on her in general (both in and out of the ring), but she’s certainly capable of great matches and this was an excellent, hard hitting war.

My instinct is that she honestly didn’t need to go over Arisa here, and a time limit draw would have served better in a variety of ways, but it was Arisa’s third match of the night and again Nanae was the reigning champ so I do understand the decision. Great match to end the show with.

Outside factors aside this was a really good show overall, and kudos to the wrestlers for performing at a high level regardless and constantly reengaging the crowd.

The Farewell Review

“Based on an actual lie.”

Billi’s family moved to New York when she was young, but she remains close and in touch with her grandmother. When her grandmother is diagnosed with cancer and given just a few weeks to live, Billi makes a difficult trip back to China under the pretense of a family wedding to see a loved one who hasn’t been told she’s dying.

 

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Let’s just state things up front: The Farewell is FANTASTIC. It’s an emotional, genuine feeling depiction of a family making, arguing about, and going through with a tough decision as they seek to bear their matriarch’s potential emotional burden in her stead.

Director/writer Lulu Wang built off of personal experience and presents a deeply resonant story that transcends the specifics of the involved cultures while lovingly embracing them and making the pressures and beliefs that motivate the characters understandable to all viewers. There’s an incredibly authentic feeling of family permeating the film that’s completely relatable at the same time it presents weighty glimpses into a culture that isn’t my own. Flashes of humor, awkwardness, conflict, love driven actions both admirable and misguided, etc make Billi’s family feel real in way seldom so perfectly captured in any form of media.

But even beyond the deft presentation of the subject material and masterful acting (particularly by lead Awkwafina, who spends the film completely torn and wrecked over figuring out what the right thing to do is) that captivated me as I watched, the film shines even further through brilliant cinematography. I don’t often get into camera treatment, etc because it should be largely invisible when done right. And it is both here, but the stunning way everything’s done to heighten emotion and drawn the viewer in deserves special mention.

The way scenes are framed, the general use of when longer range shots that let emotion sit for a moment when it needs to and magnifies the impact of the film’s few close ups when they happen, etc all combine to create a very real feeling of being present and included in the events. I didn’t feel like I was watching Billi’s story, I felt like a was there. I can’t overstate what a difficult and impressive achievement that is.

A day later and I still feel the full impact of the thoughts and emotions swirling about in the wake of seeing The Farewell. Excellent in pretty much every possible aspect of it’s creation, appropriately tough to watch in parts, bittersweet, and genuine, I can’t recommend this engaging, thought provoking, emotional gut punch of a film enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Knight (Sibyl’s War Book 2) Review

Knight is the second installment in the Sibyl’s War series, and this review will contain some spoilers for the first book, Pawn. The story is a direct continuation of events in Pawn, and I highly recommend reading that first.

 

As one of the special humans who can communicate with the starship Fyrantha, Nicole found herself of even more mysteries and trouble than the others kidnapped to work as the ship’s repair crew. Now parts of the ship itself have chosen Nicole as its new Protector, a role that will be particularly difficult since she needs to keep the competing factions from realizing the true potential of her fellow humans if she wishes to save her planet.

 

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Pawn was a good start to Sibyl’s War that presented an extremely interesting world with decent characters whose actions and characterizations felt occasionally unnatural due to the necessities of the plot. Overall though I enjoyed it and was curious about where things would go from there. I wasn’t able to confirm this 100%, but I think this is a trilogy which would make Knight the middle portion of the ongoing story.

Knight has a slower, more deliberate pace than Pawn, with a LOT of establishing geography, etc. Zahn manages not to turn these sections into info dumps, but there’s still a lot of detail in constant streams woven throughout. I could see and certainly understand some pushback over this style and the resultant pacing, but I actually found it appropriate and enjoyed this book a touch more than the first.

I found characters’ actions more reasonable and internally consistent which allowed me to get even more caught up in the intrigue and Nicole’s efforts to outplay the various competing influences and figure out what was truly happening on the Fyrantha. The build for the next installment felt natural and the revelations in Knight set things up for another direct sequel while feeling like this story still had a suitable end point. I like the way things are building and will be impatiently waiting for the next book since I’m now caught up with what’s been published thus far.

Usagi Yojimbo Vol 32 Review

Mysteries is volume 32 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. It’s another volume that benefits from having read Usagi’s previous adventures but also stands reasonably well on its own and would not be a bad point to jump in.

 

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For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”

 

Detective Ishida is as much a main character as Usagi now, and I continue to enjoy the time the series is spending focusing on the two of them together solving mysteries. Things have a little bit of a different feel now that Usagi has been in one place for a while, but it still stays true to the heart of the series.

This volume starts with two single chapter stories, followed by two and three part stories respectively, then finishes with a couple short “Chibi Usagi” installments.

There are elements in the main stories that connect a bit, giving a nice sense of progression throughout the volume. The stories are interesting and the mystery elements well done as usual.

The inclusion of recurring characters Kitsune and Nezumi (in separate stories) is starting to present a characterization problem with Usagi. The lengths to which he trusts the thief who routinely takes advantage of him and distrusts the other (who has helped investigations and acts in a Robin Hood mold) are becoming exaggerated and risk making Usagi seem oblivious and borderline unsympathetic at times.

Outside of that though, this is another strong volume of intrigue and action. The Chibi Usagi shorts are light and amusingly silly.

 

 

Salvation of a Saint (Detective Galileo) Review

“Twist reality to fit your guesswork too much and you’ll break something, Detective.”

 

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This is apparently the fifth Detective Galileo book, although it’s labeled as the second in the US as only two of the first five have been translated. Since the other released book over here was the third and the stories are supposedly stand alone I started here due to this coming up for a book group read.

From a mystery point of view can be this can indeed be read without previous knowledge. Nothing in the mystery depends on nor spoils anything in previous books, so this stands alone from a plot point of view.

However it felt some recurring characters in the series weren’t properly introduced for new readers. For nearly half the book the titular character was nowhere to be seen, and the brief scene that finally brought him in gave little introduction (seemingly either expecting the readers to be familiar with him from prior books or not feeling any was necessary).

The detective that got the most “screentime,” and thus the defacto point if view character, acted a bit like an idiot as the book goes on. This made it hard to get into the dueling agendas and theories between him and his new junior detective, and for a majority of the book I was as annoyed as I was intrigued. I also felt certain things were foreshadowed too much and others not explained enough, although that’s admittedly an extremely difficult line to walk.

On the other hand, the mystery itself was interesting, when the characters got out of their own ways things progressed well, and there was clearly a lot of thought and creativity underlying the story. Also, part of my frustration was due to wanting to know more about the characters and for them to be presented better, indicating they are a reasonably interesting and potentially engaging bunch.

So I have major mixed feelings about this book, but despite some flaws and missed potential this is a solid “howdunnit” at its core, and just engrossing enough for me to give it a cautious recommendation. I would be open to giving the series another try.

Gatoh Move 4/28/19 Live Thoughts

April 28, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

This show was in an interesting spot being the day after one Itabashi Greenhall show for Gatoh Move and three days before another (thoughts on both to come).

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As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

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 (as well as of some souvenirs).

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1) Mitsuru Konno vs Saki 

This contest provided a fun contrast, as Mitsuru was developing a more serious attitude while Saki was having a bit of fun at her expense, turning every move into a Namashite in honor of her partner in the impending Go Go Green Curry Cup Akki. They had great chemistry, and fought all around building maintaining a high intensity level. It was also a very different match from the one they would have a month later going into Mitsuru & Sawasdee Kamen challenging for Saki & Yuna’s tag titles. Strong opener, with Saki picking up the expected win. It’s a slow build, but Mitsuru’s eventually going start racking up unexpected victories and it’ll be glorious.

2) Baliyan Akki vs Yuna Mizumori 

Speaking of Saki’s two regular tag partners in Gatoh Move, they faced each other in singles action here. This had some really cool, creative sequences and it’s awesome to see Akki’s progression as he starts having more singles intergender matches. He picked up the win against Gatoh Move’s resident lovable wrecking ball.

3) Emi Sakura,  Masahiro Takanashi & Riho vs Ryuichi Sekine, Antonio Honda, & Mei Suruga

Lots of comedy. Lots of chaos. Lots of fun. 😉 Honda pinned Sakura to give his team the win over Gatoh’s top veterans in yet another great 6-person tag at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

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During the post show roundtable the brackets were determined for Gatoh’s annual Go Go Green Curry Cup mixed tag tournament, which everyone on this show would be involved in.

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Gatoh Move keychains!

Not a lot else to say this time around. A solid, well worked, highly entertaining show from top to bottom.

Pawn (Sibyl’s War Book 1) Review

Nicole does everything and anything she can, in excess, to try to ignore the mumbling voices whispering in the back of her head. When she’s dragged into trouble by a fellow gang member trying to kidnap a doctor to treat his wounds, the three find themselves the subject of an entirely different kind of kidnapping… and Nicole will be tasked with listening to the very voices she’s been trying to deny.  

 

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Pawn leaves its readers in the dark alongside its protagonist as Nicole slowly unravels the shroud of mystery around her new, unexpected life. There’s some really interesting ideas at the heart of this opener to Zahn’s latest trilogy. The world building has some great hooks and a couple of the characters are compelling enough to grab the reader’s attention. The writing style is of course smooth and engaging.

Admittedly though, plot necessities often drive character changes and choices rather than vise-versa. Several consequences of various characters’ actions are the result of their stubborn unwillingness to explain anything to each other, beyond what seems in character and reasonable. Some story elements also seem a little overly complicated and possibly unnecessary, although some of it could be setup for the next two installments. The approach could have been tweaked a bit for a more even, satisfying journey in my opinion.

That said, overall this was still a really enjoyable and intriguing read. I got caught up in Nicole’s situation, and I am quite invested in finding out where it all goes in the end.