Gatoh Move 4/28/18 Live Thoughts

April 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

This promised to be an extremely interesting show for me as it held Gatoh Move’s 6th Annual Go Go Green Curry Cup from here abbreviated as GGGCC), a single day mixed tag team tournament, along with a handful of non-tourney matches. The tournament included several unique combinations, as well as the reigning tag team champions.

 

1) Yuna Mizumori vs Hanako Nakamori

 

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The show opened with the Pure-J champion against a Gatoh Move rookie with about two months experience. This was my first glimpse of Hanako’s newer look, and it helps her stand out as befitting Pure-J’s ace and champion.  Yuna had an extremely good showing her against the more experienced competitor, and she’s a great addition to the Gatoh roster. Well structured match that let the rookie shine a bit before the visiting champion put her down.

 

 

 

2)  GGGCC Round 1: Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Kamen (Sawasdee Mask) 

 

 

Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit, coming to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif (more on the mask in my upcoming write up of Gatoh Move 5/4). They had a tall order in front of them in the form of a team of title holders: GM’s Super Asia Champion Riho and their Thailand branch’s One and Only Champion Golem Thai.

As much as I adore Riho and was incredibly impressed with my first look at Golem, I find myself a bit biased towards Mitsuru and was really hoping for a stunning upset. It wouldn’t happen here however, and after an incredibly competitive, intense match the powerhouse team would prevail and move on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho and Golem would move on to face one of the two teams who randomly drew a first round bye.

This was a great way to open the tournament and in some ways a “proof of concept.” Gatoh Move excels at intergender wrestling, and everything here was logical and believable, with the smaller athletes using speed and fire to counter the strength advantage and Golem periodically responding by bulldozing people. As expected with the close knit roster and unique environment they train and often perform in, Riho and Mitsuru have particularly great chemistry and it’s always a treat to see them face off.

 

 

3) GGGCC Round 1: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Saki & Ryuichi Sekine

 

 

In another case of one of the apparent tourney favorites drawing a first round match, Gatoh’s reigning tag champs were up next. Emi and Takanashi are absolute maestros in the ring and had an energetic back and forth match here in which Saki and Ryuichi got to take the champs to the limit and force a time limit draw. The tie breaker was amusingly a game of rock, paper, scissors, and Saki and Ryuichi’s corner woman Obi came in to do the honors for them. It didn’t work out so well, and Emi & Masahiro moved on.

 

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4) Minoru Fujita vs Sakura Emi W

 

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Minoru had no idea what to make of Emi Sakura’s doppelganger, and this was half action and half (intentionally) awkward comedy. The humor wasn’t really to my tastes, but this was fine light filler to break up the rounds of the tournament.

 

 

5) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Kaori Yoneyama & Baliyan Akki vs Riho & Golem Thai

 

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I’m running out of various ways to say “great, back and forth encounter,” so I’ll simply say this was another one. I will add however that while that general statement might make it sound like the tourney matches were similar, they were in fact all quite unique and tailored to the skills of the participants. Akki & Yone were another excellent, complementary team, and this built to a huge crescendo with Akki getting the upset pin on the One and Only champion to send his team on as well as putting himself in line for a future singles shot at Golem’s title.

 

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6) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Aoi Kizuki & Antonio Honda

 

 

I’m always thrilled with opportunities to see Aoi wrestle (particularly in light of her imminent retirement), and after seeing her and Honda face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show their pairing here seemed pitch perfect.

As expected, this was the comedy match of the tourney, with the exciting action and double teams all four are certainly capable of interspersed with over the top hilarity of the best kind. The tag champs displayed their versatility, proving they’re just as good at being silly as they are at precision wrestling, and these four were clearly having as much fun as the audience. Perfect point in the show for this style of match, and it was a blast. The champs persevered as things got serious near the end and advanced to face Akki & Yone in the finals.

 

 

7) Hikaru Sato vs Chikara

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The last non-tourney match provided another decent change of pace to separate the semis from the finals. Some hard strike exchanges highlighted this interlude, which Sato eventually won.

 

 

8) GGGCC Finals: Baliyan Akki & Kaori Yoneyama vs Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi

 

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So the quasi-heelish tag champs who keep finding ways to pull out the win faced the conquering heroes who overcame the tourney’s superteam in a fitting final in the main event of the show. Excellent way to cap off the day seeing the two teams engaged in spirited battle for a full 15 minutes (about double what most of the other matches ran). Paced and structured perfectly, this was a wonderful contest that saw Akki and Yone come just short of another spectacular upset as the champions took the tourney and basked in the feeling of being alone at the top (for now).

 

 

This show was a delight from top to bottom. Emi & Takanashi winning was actually a bit of a surprise for me, since I expected someone to upset them at some point to earn a future title shot. But it was a surprise that put the masters in a match in every round, and the champs reigning supreme leaves things open for a new team to emerge determined to knock them down.

I can’t stress how well booked and executed the whole tournament was. The teams were all fun and interesting, one team battled through three rounds to the finals while one of the bye teams capitalized on it, different styles were spotlit at different times, etc. The variety of course means not everything will appeal to everyone and of course not every match is meant to steal the show, but for me this was a fantastic show all around with tremendous effort from everyone and I adored it.

 

 

Remembering the Past to Avoid Repeating It

“Let us learn from the destructive past, and walk together towards a peaceful future.”

 

Tenri Cultural Institute, in addition to its language school, concerts, and various other cultural events, hosts an art gallery that is home to a variety of excellent exhibitions ranging from demonstrations of traditional Japanese techniques to innovative displays of multinational modern art. I’ve written about several past showings, and two of my absolute favorites where the textile based Chika MacDonald’s “Mugen” and Nobuko Tsuruta’s “12 Years.”

Here I’d like to spotlight an important and thought provoking exhibit, the annual and currently showing “Atomic Bomb Panel & Peace Art Exhibition.”

 

 

 

 

The Peace Exhibit is a wonderful combination of works, across numerous mediums, aimed at education and reflection. It includes posters created by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, calligraphy pieces, sculptures, origami, and more (please see the full list of works and artists). The message of examining past events, including horrific ones, to reach for understanding of how best to proceed in the future is a great one, and there is great significance and meaning to the various pieces and the insights, emotions, and messages of hope they contain.

 

 

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The opening reception was held on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and was a lively evening in celebration of peace, a meaningful reminder of the weight of the past, and perhaps most importantly a glimpse at how that weight can be turned into hope for a better future.

 

 

The reception added further depth to the already impressive exhibit, with a striking and captivating calligraphy and dance performance, prayers of remembrance given across several faiths, and a heartfelt musical performance to close the evening.

 

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“Atomic Bomb Panel & Peace Art Exhibition 2018” is running until August 14, 2018, and I highly recommend going to take in this collection and the meaning and messages behind it in person.

 

Incredibles 2 Review

“How do you balance the superhero stuff with the life stuff?”

 

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It’s been a long time coming, but Incredibles 2 was worth the wait. I found this to be an excellent sequel that captures spirit of the first film while progressing the story and characters’ personalities and situations nicely. It’s exceedingly precise in mostly the right ways, being carefully measured down to minutia in a way that only occasionally calls attention to itself. Admittedly there aren’t a lot of new ideas here with one main underlying plot thread being a light spin on the first film, and there are some issues with falling back on outdated stereotypes. But it’s what’s done with the various elements that matter most in the end, and everything is executed well. The stereotypes are played with and moved beyond, the plot structure is there to support the themes and emotions the movie’s truly about, etc. I found the key points being made and the conflicts and issues the family was working through relatable and genuine despite the fantastical setting, which is a wonderful accomplishment.

 

 

Progress NYC 8/7/18 Live Review

August 12, 2017 in Queens, NY

Progress’ NYC debut last year was a great show somewhat marred by a horrible venue. I was extremely pleased to hear they’d be running La Boom this time around, which one of my favorite places to watch wrestling.

Jim Smallman came out to open to thank NYC for a Tuesday night sellout, reminisce about how special it was to get a “please come back” chant for the promotion the previous year BEFORE THE SHOW STARTED, and generally soak in the excitement of the crowd. He comes across as genuinely appreciative and set the stage for a great night.

 

 

TK Cooper received a warm welcome for his return to New York from a crowd happy to see him competing again after his unfortunate injury at last year’s NYC show that left him out for 9 months. His opponent Eddie Dennis jumped all over this in some of the best heel promo work I’ve ever seen simply saying the injury is the only reason the crowd cares about Cooper at all and then throwing in that the only reason Cooper was booked is because it was too late for Progress to cancel his plane ticket once his tag team partner was injured. Dennis cut straight to the bone but, perhaps more importantly, expertly delivered everything with the needed pitch perfect tone that ensured the audience would take offense on Cooper’s behalf (instead of perhaps chuckling at the level of burn delivered). The sold out NYC crowd packing La Boom arrived ready to be loud and involved, and the show started right out with a story they could latch onto, fostering and elevating the electric atmosphere.

 

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Furthermore, the match itself was extremely well worked with Cooper trying weather Dennis’ calculated yet driven assault while the latter did everything he could to stay a step ahead. Cooper looked a little hesitant at points, which may have been an intentional attempt to sell trepidation after what happened during his last appearance here. If so I don’t think it came across quite the way it was intended. Otherwise though he looked good and it was great to see him back. Dennis was incredible, with his ringwork the equal of his character work, and made one of the strongest impressions of the night in my first time seeing him. His victory put him at 2 in the 3 and in challenge, meaning he’s one more consecutive victory away from being one of the challengers for the Progress title at their biggest event ever. I’d love to see it. Excellent way to start the show.

 

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Speaking of matches with title implications, Natalia Markova and Ashley Vox faced to earn a spot in an upcoming Progress Women’s Championship match. They each appropriately fought like they desperately needed to win and never let up. Highlights included them dropping everyone’s jaws with high impact dives to the floor (side note: for the love of god Progress PLEASE get real mats on the outside next time). I’d seen Vox once before in a good tag match on a Marvelous USA show a couple of years ago. She’s continue to grow as a performer since then and was fantastic here. After the only women’s match on the card Vox received one of the very few “please come back” chants targeted at an individual of the night. Great effort and performances from both in an excellent match that saw Markova prevail to move on to the tile match.

 

 

Something that’s so important but sometimes overlooked is making sure the live crowd knows what the rules and stakes of matches are. With the last match clarifying it was for a future title shot gave important context, and likewise here Smallman explaining before the match began that it was submissions only but rope breaks were still in force was a much appreciated little touch that allows the audience to understand the parameters from the get go and become immediately engaged in the match.

I’ve heard Flash Morgan Webster’s name often, but this was my first look at him. He has a striking look / gimmick, and had an intense match with Mark Haskins that had a strong, wonderfully told underlying story and made great use of the submission only stipulation.

 

 

Haskins kept at Morgan full bore while the latter took every shortcut he could and targeted a foot Haskins injured when he went for a kick and Morgan blocked it with a chair. Late match Morgan got the advantage using Haskins’ own helmet as a weapon, but when he tried to continue and use it to attack Mark’s wife Vicky things backfired, Vicky beat on Morgan a bit in what felt like retribution without me knowing anything at all about the story building up to this match, and Mark put Morgan away. Afterwards the couple towered over a prone Morgan, and in a wonderful bit of chickenshit heel character work he kept looking back and forth between them as if unsure who he needed to be more afraid of. Also of note: Haskins was giving a MASTERCLASS on selling if one paid attention, grimacing any time he had to put weight on the foot, letting it affect his actions in the ring, and selling it all the way to the back. This was fantastic.

 

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With Kid Lykos unfortunately injured on a previous show, John Gresham subbed in as part of CCK to team with Chris Brookes to defend the Progress Tag Team Titles against LAX ( Santana & Ortiz). Easily the match of the night against a strong field, this was tag team wrestling at its finest. I was unfamiliar with everyone in the match except Gresham, who I’d seen every little of and nothing in years, and all four tore it up. Gresham in particular is an absolute gem, being super smooth and perfectly paced and precise in everything he did. They blew the roof off the place so much other wrestlers were constantly peeking out through the curtain to watch. Smallman came out after to call it one of the best matches in Progress’ history and commend all involved, and it was well deserved. Really hope to see more of these four in the future.

 

 

After an intermission to let everyone catch their breath, we had an entry in an ongoing tag team series that saw Sexy Starr (David Starr & Jack Sexsmith) vs Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake).  Gibson didn’t get quite the immediate nuclear heat he had last year, but he was still nearly booed out of the building when he tried to speak. The positive portrayal of and interactions between Starr and Sexsmith are something wrestling needs more of.

I will admit the immersion was broken for me by the presence of one of my personal pets peeves with the referee treating similar actions by the faces and heels completely differently. The ref’s supposed to be impartial, with the heels working around him and cheating behind his back for the advantage. Having a ref manhandle a face back to his corner then lamely shake his finger at a heel while watching him do the exact same thing the face just did really takes me out of matches. Fine match to restart the show with decent action otherwise leading to an eventual feel good win for Sexy Starr.

 

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If this was in fact Matt Riddle’s final La Boom appearance, he went out on an extremely high note against Mark Andrews. The two put on a hard hitting, glorious match in the semi-main spot that went shorter than I expected but made the most of every second in a way made it feel the perfect length. One INSANE spot saw Andrews counter the Bro-to-Sleep into a Canadian Destroyer. Riddle received a huge “thank you Riddle” chant after his victory.

 

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Given Pete Dunne was pulled from last year’s show due to getting busted open the night before and Mustache Mountain’s (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) match was cut short due to Cooper’s injury, it was a particular treat to see the three wrestle live in the main event as British Strong Style took on “The 3 Kings” in the debuting Eddie Kingston & Brody King with Progress star the King of the Goths Jimmy Havoc.

BSS were pretty much conquering heroes here, no matter what they did. And they reveled in it. The six brawled all over, and generally just fought and fought until someone didn’t get up. In this case it was Eddie Kingston falling victim to a Tyler Driver to end it.

 

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Amusing crowd interactions were also plentiful. King tried to throw Dunne’s cloak into the crowd a couple times then got pissed at the fan who just kept handing it back to Dunne. When he went out to stare down the fan, a “kiss!” chant rose, to which Havoc responded by going out and kissing the fan. A “one more time” chant was then met with “if he pays me.” After a series of crazy dives left everyone on the floor, Dunne solicited shoes from the audience to use as weapons, and after the resulting brawl Tyler Bate wrestled the rest of the match with one bare foot.

 

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Trent Seven’s performance particularly stood out to me in numerous little details and mannerisms. After an extended sequence where he played deadweight as various combinations of his partners and opponents tried to get him back to his feet, he fired off rapid strikes on all three of his opponents as Dunne and Bate mocked brawled with each other in the corner. BSS have this incredible ability to seem simultaneously ridiculous and dangerous in the best possible way, and it makes their matches something special. Everyone was spot on here. Just great fun all around.

 

 

Progress knocked it right out of the park with this truly amazing show featuring jaw dropping action, accessible stories even for non-regular viewers, and effort and passion up and down the card. I can’t wait until they come back this way someday.

P’s Party 2 4/25/18 and Kani KING Produce 4/27/18 Live Thoughts

April 25 and 27, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

P’s Party 2

This Spring Ice Ribbon’s Tequila Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party… somehow…) focusing on talent with less than three years experience. I adore the concept (which is similar to what Wave sometimes does with Young OH! OH!) and with all the promising rookies in Ice and other Joshi promotions Saya chose a great time to start it up. Like with Young OH! OH! there are a few veterans sprinkled in but generally every match has at least one competitor that matches the promotion’s brief. This was their second official show (they had one preview show as well) and had a nice looking lineup with one match I was particularly psyched for.

 

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The crowd was about 50 people, feeling about half full for the dojo but still providing a good atmosphere and seemed a decent turnout for what’s in a lot of respects a developmental product that was just starting up.

The show opened with Tsukushi & Ibuki Hoshi vs Giulia & Maika Ozaki. Tsukushi re-debuted in a “career reset” at Ribbonmania after a hiatus due to legal issues last summer. Ice Ribbon and Tsukushi herself have been fully behind the idea that she’s starting over, so she’s been routinely involved in things like this that feature rookies despite previously having eight years experience. I applaud all involved with how they are proceeding, and am happy Tsukushi’s both getting a second chance and taking it seriously.  I also personally think having a few veterans in these matches helps the others gain experience, so her not actually being under three years experience isn’t an issue for me.

 

 

The was a really fun tag match with Tsukushi being her usual bratty self (and I say that with respect and appreciation for the character), Maika looking wonderfully comfortable and confident in flashing her impressive strength to great effect, and their respective partners doing their best to counter and derail their opponents’ tactics.  Tsukushi’s partner Ibuki Hoshi, a second generation wrestler whose mother also wrestles for Ice Ribbon, already shows incredible instincts for her age and experience and gets better and better every time I see her. Maika’s partner Julia has a striking charisma and is nicely developing her own style in the ring and getting more and more comfortable as a performer. Strong start to the show.

 

 

Asahi is one of Ice Ribbon’s youngest and newest rookies. She debuted last August against Manami Toyota and immediately made a big impression on me. She plays a phenomenal underdog and makes the absolute most of her limited moveset, drawing the audience in and getting them behind her to the point where a simple dropkick garners a strong reaction. I’ve really enjoyed every opportunity I’ve had to see her and think she has huge potential as she continues to learn and refine her craft in the years to come.

It would seem that Ice Ribbon management hold similar opinions, as including her previously mentioned debut against a legend she’s been fairly regularly put in singles matches with decorated veterans. Here she faced Misaki Ohata, a twelve year vet and a personal favorite of mine who was Pro Wrestling Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave Champion at the time.

 

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I was thrilled to see this match on the card, and it was exactly what I hoped for. Misaki was perfect in largely dominating the rookie while gradually selling getting more of a fight than she expected and showing just the right amount of vulnerability to make Asahi look good while keeping things believable within the story framework. Asahi showed great fire, knowing her role was to go full bore whenever an opportunity presented itself and as such she really succeeded in coming across as someone who knew she was outmatched but was determined to win anyway. Misaki of course eventually prevailed, but she made Asahi look great in the process. At seven minutes the match was just the right length for the story they were telling, and I adored this from start to finish.

 

 

The main event saw P’s Party producer Tequila Saya and her partner Uno Matsuya take on Satsuki Totoro and another visitor from Wave in Hiroe Nagahama. The grouping of Ice Ribbon wrestlers in this match was a treat. Saya and Uno’s alternating rival / partner relationship has been really interesting to follow as time goes on, and watching Totoro play wrecking ball is a joy.

 

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The match was a great proof of concept for P’s Party, with less experienced wrestlers getting a longer match time and more of a spotlight than they normally would on the main shows. It let them experiment with pacing and storytelling, pepper humor and playfulness in with the action, etc. Not everything’s going to work perfectly, but having the freedom to risk that is the entire point and given the talent level of Ice Ribbon’s rookies it will all come together more often than not. And it largely did here, resulting in a solid, enjoyable main event.

 

 

This show was exactly what it should have been, and Saya’s endeavor has a lot of upsides both for the wrestlers involved and Ice Ribbon as a company. I had a ton of fun and hope to see more of these in the future, although since they so far seem to be live only my opportunities to do so will likely be few and far between.

 

 

Kani K☆ING Produce

Two days after P’s Party I went to another somewhat unusual show in Ice Ribbon’s home base. Kani (Crab) King’s show featured a variety of Joshi from numerous promotions, and had an attendance similar to that of P’s Party.

 

 

The show opened with an “offer match” from Ice Ribbon, featuring two wrestlers I discussed at length above. Asahi had another good singles showing against a vastly more experienced competitor as she took on Tsukushi in a really fun match that was brisk and exciting for the full six minutes and change it ran. I’d love to see this matchup revisited periodically as Asahi’s career progresses.

 

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Two wrestlers I was familiar with in Makoto and Pure-J’s Yako Fujigasaki teamed in the next match to take on two I was seeing for the first time in Koharu Hinata & Shiori Akiba.

 

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This was pretty paint-by-numbers and did have a bit of awkwardness here and there, but also had some highlights and spots that really came across well and made an impact. Fine overall. I’d like to see more of Hinata in particular if I get a chance.

 

 

After that was another wrestler I was previously unfamiliar with in Actwres Girlz’ Hikari Shimizu facing another I knew from Pure-J in Raideen Steel (Raideen Hagane). This was fine on a technical level and I’d hope to see Shimizu again in the future. But while Raideen is quite capable of exciting matches against the right person, in cases like this where she’s in a dominating role against an overmatched opponent I find the results … well, a bit boring to be honest.

 

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I adored Nao Kakuta in my only previous time seeing her as both she played a wonderful heel and defeated a character that annoys me in a wonderful application of poetic justice. So it was nice to see her challenge the “Crab World Champion” Yuiga for her title in the main event here.

 

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This was mostly played for comedy, and the action was kept pretty basic. But it was fine for what it was, and the character interactions were the main point. Nao sadly did not become the Crab World Champion.

 

 

Honestly the Ice Ribbon offer match overshadowed everything else a bit from the get go, and overall this wasn’t quite up to the level I’m used to from my Joshi shows. But that’s a relatively high bar and in some ways it wasn’t trying to be.  I got a nice look at some new wrestlers for me, thought the opener was great, and enjoyed just enough of the rest to call it a fun and worthwhile evening all in all.

Kindaichi Case Files Volume 5 Review

Each case in this manga is a stand alone mystery, and we are still fairly early in the series. So while reading in order will be better to understand the recurring characters, it’s not necessary to enjoy the individual stories.

Hajime Kindaichi is tricked into qualifying for a treasure hunt on an isolated island, thinking his family is in financial trouble. The reward soon becomes the furthest thing from his mind when the fortune seekers find themselves trapped on the island with a murderer.

 

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The Kindaichi Case Files manga continues to be somewhat formulaic in that each case is set up in classical mystery style. We get some set up, meet potential victims/suspects, something bad happens and away we go. The fun with this series is the way pieces of the story combine and the fact that Kindaichi’s adventures are always pretty distinct, interesting, and clever. Treasure Isle gives us a particularly weird cast of characters with diverse reactions to what’s happening. This mystery felt different than the others, which is always nice in a genre where things can get repetitive. I really liked the twists in this one and the way it all came together. As always while some plot details will remain obscured until spelled out there are clues throughout and the main mystery is solvable.

One of the best volumes yet. Highly recommended.

Ant Man and the Wasp Review

“I do some dumb things, and the people I love the most – they pay the price.”

 

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I’ve really enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s take on Scott Lang and company, both in the first Ant-Man movie and Civil War. Ant-Man and the Wasp explores the fallout from both those films, and I was extremely excited for it in general as well as to see Hope take a more starring role this time around.

In a way that kind of reminds me of what was done with Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the plot scope is narrower this time around, with a single core, character driven plot driving everything. The approach is a great one for a second movie in any series, as it advances the types of issues the protagonists face and expand the general universe they inhabit while simultaneously allowing more personal, emotional developments to take center stage. Scott’s choices in Civil War have had a huge effect on his life and the people he cares about, and the film faces those consequences and the subsequent difficult choices Scott has to make head on. Also as expected (and hoped for), Hope is Scott’s equal this time around and I really liked the portrayal of both heroes, including their different approaches and complicated relationship.

That strong central plot is anchored and supplemented with great acting and a sense of humor to the film that makes it all resonate and provides several truly hilarious moments (although I’ll admit certain aspects of the comedy are getting to the point where they need to be reigned in a bit and applied with a more of a deft touch).

Ant Man and The Wasp is a movie that makes some really interesting choices, tells a complete story while setting things up for the future, and stays true to the spirit of the first film while advancing its heroes to the next level. Another strong hit for the MCU.