Gatoh Move 10/4 & 10/5/18 Live Thoughts

October 4 & 5, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Gatoh Move’s October 4th show was supposed to be Aoi Kizuki’s last appearance for them and thus the fourth and final in my quasi-tour of her final shows with various companies before her self produced retirement show.

 

However a typhoon intervened (which was quite the experience O_o ) and the big Gatoh Move show at Itabashi Greenhall on 9/30 that was supposed to run after the Pure-J show I saw at the same venue in the early afternoon was cancelled. Aoi’s planned match that night was a special one for her, and with her retiring just a week later there wasn’t much time available to reschedule it.

 

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But she and Emi Sakura managed to do it anyway. An entirely new Ichigaya show was added on 10/5 (in addition to the already full schedule for both Aoi approaching her 10/7 retirement show and Gatoh Move already having shows set for 10/4, 10/6, and 10/7), and Aoi wasn’t the only wrestler Gatoh would say goodbye to that night…

 

 

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).

 

 

10/4/18:

 

 

 

Things started off with my first look at Darcy Stone against one half of Gatoh Move’s tag team champions in Yuna Mizumori. Darcy’s good and a fun addition to Gatoh’s lineup of visiting wrestlers. She seemed to have a rivalry building with Yuna, and got in some good offense before Yuna eventually went into full wrecking ball mode and picked up the win. As with all of Emi’s trainees on the core Gatoh Move roster Yuna is insanely good for her level of experience.

 

 

 

I’ve mentioned before how impressive and fun it is when Gatoh Move regulars are involved in a 6-person tag match in Ichigaya’s enclosed space, and Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Balliyan Akki vs Mei Sagura, Saki, & Masahiro Takanashi certainly continued this trend. Everyone involved is a part of the core roster or regular visitor, and as such they all know how to use the Ichigaya environment wonderfully and tell a story within its confines.  It was particularly great for me to see Mitsuru get a rare pinfall victory on her two year anniversary in wrestling. 🙂

 

 

 

In what was originally supposed to be Aoi Kizuki’s last Gatoh Move match, she faced her trainer and mentor Emi Sakura in the main event. This was another great match in Aoi’s goodbye tour, and at the time I would have been hard pressed to imagine a more appropriate way for Gatoh Move to say goodbye to her. Aoi defeated her mentor after thirteen minutes of back and forth, emotional, captivating wrestling with the Happy Clutch.

 

 

 

Emi had prepared a special song for Aoi (with audience participation) that was sung for Aoi during the post-show festivities. The show was super sold out, which was great to see. Fantastic night all around.

 

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10/5/18:

It’s wonderful that this show was put together and added in so Aoi Kizuki’s scheduled match from the cancelled show could still take place before she retired. I’ll talk about that more when we get to the main event, but in the meantime she came out and issued a special challenge… to her former tag team champion partner Sayaka Obihiro!!!  This was a big deal as Obi was out with a knee injury. It was an extremely short match (under 2 minutes) since Obi was obviously still not fully ready to return, but was a wonderful way to say goodbye to her friend and former partner and was really special to be at.

 

 

 

Makoto vs Darcy Stone was the first scheduled match, and like the main event to come was rescheduled from the cancelled Greenhall show. Fine “opener” that gave Darcy a chance to wrestle a much more experienced opponent.

 

 

 

An-cham, Balliyan Akki & Riho vs Emi Sakura, Yuna Mizumori, & Cherry  was another really fun 6-person tag anchored by Gatoh regulars. An-cham looked decent in my first time seeing her, before eventually being defeated by the force of nature that is Mizumori. Emi and Cherry were clearly having a blast with their quasi-heel antics (and celebrating their victory).

Akki is so comfortable and adapt within Ichigaya’s unique constraints now and impresses every time out, on top of being an inspiration for the way he’s gone to a foreign country to pursue his dream and is making it all a reality. Riho is Riho, and if more needs be said you haven’t been paying enough attention. 😉

 

 

 

The main event was the reason this show was added, with Aoi Kizuki facing her recent tag partner and protege of sorts in Gaoth Move’s newest rookie Mei Sagura in a match that was supposed to happen the previous Sunday at Gatoh’s cancelled Greenhall show. In a bit of a parallel with Aoi’s mentor Emi putting her over in their final singles match the day prior, Aoi put Mei over here giving the rookie a huge win.

The match itself was excellent, and I certainly understand all the hype arising around Mei. As I mentioned about the very first time I saw her wrestle (at Pure-J days prior to this), she very clearly “gets it” and seems to have natural instincts for wrestling in terms of drawing the audience into her matches and making maximum use of her skills and charisma. This was just as fitting a Gatoh Move goodbye to Aoi as her match with Emi would have been, and was a wonderful “passing the torch” moment.

 

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But the night’s emotional goodbyes weren’t limited to Aoi. A few days before this show Aasa, who had withdrawn from wrestling at the end of December 2017 due to what turned out to be chronic illness, announced she would not be returning and her retirement became official. She appeared at this show to say goodbye and greet the fans one last time, and it was nice to be able to thank her for her time in wrestling and wish her well in whatever lies ahead.

 

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So this was a pair of heavily emotional shows, on top of being some of the best wrestling-wise I’ve ever seen in Ichigaya. A wonderful, special couple of nights.

After Hours Volume 3 Review

“This is a scene that will only ever exist here… and we made it ourselves!”

Past some major concerns and milestones and seemingly comfortable, Emi and Kei’s focus shifts to preparing for their dream event.

 

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This is the final installment of After Hours, and it serves as a fitting endcap to the story of Emi and Kei’s romance all in all. The rave event was extremely well done, with things progressing well and retaining the feel of the previous volumes I adored so much.

However towards the end things felt more constructed, which is understandable but one of the wonders of this tale was how natural and real things felt. A recurring theme in manga I don’t care for is used and it starts to feel like the characters are acting in certain ways to serve the story, instead of the story arising from their personalities and actions. There were a couple of points where I felt the characters had easier outs than what they actually did/said, and the emotions and motivations behind those choices weren’t as well developed or explained as in the previous volumes.

That said, a third of this volume being a slight step down from the lofty heights of the rest of the series still leaves this as a great read overall. In my review of volume 2 I said this short manga was becoming something special, and that opinion stands in retrospect.

Wave 10/1/18 Live Thoughts

October 1, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Third in my quasi-tour of Aoi Kizuki’s final shows with various companies as she approached her retirement was a weekday Wave. Smaller audience than I’m used to for shows I’ve seen from other companies at Shinkiba 1st Ring, but it was still an excited crowd and I also lucked into running into a friend and getting to watch the show together.

 

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First up was Miyuki Takase vs Yuki Miyazaki. Miyuki is a promising wrestler from the Actwres girlZ promotion who’s in her second year, and looked good when on offense here. To be honest, Miyazaki’s style of comedy isn’t really my style so as happens often with her matches this ended up in strictly inoffensive but unremarkable territory for me.

 

 

 

Next was Men’s Wave featuring Keisuke Goto vs Shoki Kitamura. It was a basic match and honestly too long for what it was. They weren’t quite ready to fill time for a time limit draw (so many chinlocks…), and the result was a bit bland. Nothing actively bad though, and instincts for pacing, etc will develop with more experience.

 

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Rina Yamashita & Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave champion Asuka vs Ryo Mizunami & Nagisa Nozaki was a nice tag match wrestled at a good clip (as always this is a Wave review and as such I’m talking about their Asuka and not the former Kana). All four have high impact strike variations, so this was hard hitting and exciting.

 

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Aoi Kizuki‘s final Wave match was a singles contest against Hiroe Nagahama in the semi-main. In a bit of a parallel I also saw Hiroe wrestle Mika Iida on the latter’s retirement show  retirement show back in May. This was a really good match, and I was thrilled to see Aoi get a singles spotlight like this on her way out.

It’s also great in general how different each of Aoi’s final matches with the various companies were while all being highly enjoyable. Nagisa got involved late in the match on Aoi behalf, and Aoi won with her sideways rotating top rope splash (Twisted Bliss).

 

 

 

The main event was focused around another upcoming retiree, in this case one of Wave’s top stars in Misaki Ohata. She’s is engaged to DDT’s Makoto Oishi, and this match was a 6-woman tag that seemed to be a pro-marriage team of Ohata, Sakura Hirota, & KAROU against the anti-marriage team of Cherry, Yumi Ohka, & Kaori Yoneyama.

 

 

 

Now THIS was my type of comedy. Even without understanding the verbal exchanges the intent and attitudes of the participants came through and I was highly amused. There was also great action mixed in (particularly from Yumi & Misaki) to anchor the match and its humor. This was a blast.

 

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After a couple of so-so matches, everything kicked into gear and three very different, yet all extremely good, matches were presented that made this a really fun time live overall. And again, I’m a huge fan of both Aoi and Misaki and feel extremely lucky to be able to see them wrestle so many times as their careers wind down.

 

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Pure-J 9/30/18 Live Thoughts

September 30, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Like during my May trip, this was another case where I went to a to Pure-J primarily to see Aoi Kizuki as her career wound down. This was her final show for Pure-J, exactly one week before her self produced retirement show. It was my second of Aoi’s final company shows, as I saw Aoi Last Ribbon the day before.

 

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Despite Pure-J’s regular roster members being talented, there’s something missing for me when they wrestle one another. So I generally find the visiting wrestlers more interesting and that my enjoyment level of the show usually depends on who’s visiting and how they’re used.

 

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It’s been really cool to see Ice Ribbon’s Giulia develop and get opportunities to wrestle in other promotions, and was even cooler to see her picking up a victory over Mari Manji to open this show. Her character’s coming along, she’s solid in the ring, and she’s definitely someone to keep an eye on as her experience grows. Manji seems decent enough in the couple of short looks I’ve had of her, although this was honestly Giulia’s spotlight.

 

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The next match was my first look at Gatoh Move’s newest rookie Mei Sagura, who I’d heard a LOT about, and it was all immediately validated as Mei clearly “gets it.” She already has uncanny instincts regarding how to incorporate her charisma into her ringwork, which is also ahead of her experience level. She really impressed me, and it was just a glimpse of what was to come. Her victorious opponent Kazuki is fine, but it was Mei’s exuberance and personality that made this fun and compelling.

 

 

Saki & Manami Katsu vs Raideen & Keiko Aono was centered on Aono as she approached her own retirement after a 23 year career (also a week away at the time). This was pretty paint by numbers, but was still fine, a deserved spotlight for Aono, and I always enjoy seeing Saki.

 

 

It was really nice to see Moeka Haruhi get a singles spotlight in the semi-main of her “So On Flower” partner’s Pure-J goodbye show. She looked good against one of Pure-J’s resident veteran’s in Leon before falling in defeat.

 

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In the main event Aoi Kizuki teamed with her regular partner from Pure-J, their reigning champion Hanako Nakamori, against Pure-J’s ultimate veteran and one of their most spotlighted rising stars in Command Bolshoi & Yako Fujigasaki respectively.

 

 

The chemistry between the four was quite good, and strong action was mixed with career tribute spots including the Joshi traditional corner splash sequence (with Giulia and Moeka amusingly giving Aoi hugs instead of strikes) for another cool, well done sendoff for the Happy Maker.

 

 

2 for 2 on fun overall shows capped of with Aoi’s last match with the company in question, with more to come.

 

As a side note, this was meant to be the first of a double header for me with a Gatoh Move show at the same venue later that day, but that’s a story for when I get to Gatoh’s 10/4 show…

Aoi Last Ribbon: Ice Ribbon 9/29/18 Live Thoughts

September 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

This particular trip for me was largely planned around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement, and I was extremely lucky to see her final appearances at several promotions in the week before her self produced retirement show.

Perhaps the most significant would of course be her final show with the company she spent the vast majority of her career with.

Considering I became big fans of both Aoi and Ice Ribbon during my first trip to Japan right before she left the company to go freelance I was thrilled she came back in the last months of her career, and being able to attend this special farewell show for her was a particular treat for me.

Since this was a special event, it was a Shutter Ribbon show and pictures were allowed despite not being the usual designated show for it (at the dojo, pictures are generally only allowed during the first show of the month).

 

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The show opened with a tag match between The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) and Ibuki Hoshi & Tsukushi. Pretty standard Butchers vs “rookies” match. At eleven minutes this was given the most time outside of the main and honestly other contests really could have used it more, but this was fine overall and there’s always extra fun to be had when Ibushi faces her mom. The vets of course won, with Mochi pinning Ibuki after the Metabolic Sand (Styles Clash).

 

 

Miyako Matsumoto vs Giulia was up next. A good portion of the match centered around silliness involving Miyako trying to use referee Bunny as an attack strategy (and it backfiring), and the rest was the two trying to strike and counter-wrestle their way to an advantage.

Speaking of matches that could have used more room to breath, this was decent for what it was and the scant 4 minutes they had to work with but could have been more. Giulia’s progressing nicely and I’d like to see her start winning more matchups like this, but Miyako prevailed with a cool reversal idea into the Miyacoco Clutch that was unfortunately a bit awkward in execution.

 

 

Tsukasa Fujimoto & Karen DATE vs Novel Tornado (Totoro Satsuki & Nao DATE) was a great little tag match involving the reigning champion and three of IR’s impressive rookies. Early on Tsukka & Karen set up for Aoi Kizuki’s trademark pose, but continuing a running gag from Aoi around the time that Tsukka was too old to do the “Youth Pyramid” Aoi ran in, stacked Tsukka on top of the pile and did the pose with Karen herself. Tsukka would work the pose in here and there later on to boos, and even busted it out during photos ops after the show (which earned me a joking reprimand from Aoi from across the building when I did the pose with Tsukka). Amusing undercurrent that was fun without derailing the match too much or taking away from the excellent action.

Small gripe from me that they really didn’t need to use a regular team here if Tsukka was going to win with a random partner, but I loved it otherwise. Soccer kick finished Totoro.

 

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The semi-main was the definition of making the most of things as Kyuuri vs Saya packed a particularly fun, exciting contest into five minutes and change. They both have engaging ring personas and styles that shined here, and Kyuuri picked up solid win.

 

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Aoi Kizuki’s last Ice Ribbon match was a gauntlet style contest they occasionally do for special events. Aoi wrestled everyone previously on the card (twelve opponents) in a series of 1-minute time limit encounters. In order, she faced Tsukushi, Karen DATE, Nao DATE, Tequila Saya, Kyuuri, Giulia, Totoro Satsuki, Miyako Matsumoto, Mochi Miyagi, Hamuko Hoshi, Tsukasa Fujimoto, and Ibuki Hoshi.

 

 

This was a suitable send off and there were plenty of great little touches. Tsukushi came out in Aoi’s old costume, Guilia’s section consisted of a full minute of running dropkicks, Aoi got the best of Miyako at her own game and pinned the Dancing Queen with her own version of the Mama Mia, Aoi and Hammy spent half their time crying goodbye, etc. The end which saw Aoi just barely outlast the current champion’s assault and be laid out as time expired by the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, then nearly picked off by rookie Ibuki in a frantic final period. Aoi survived though and ended with a record of 2-0-10 (she beat Miyako and Kyuuri, and had time limit draws with everyone else). I love this type of special event match, and this was an emotional, engaging one.

 

 

Aoi was presented with a gift from the roster after the show and then everyone sang with her. All in all this was an enjoyable show in itself, in addition to being a wonderful IR goodbye to Aoi.

 

 

Aoi and Ice Ribbon started my Joshi Puroresu adventures in Japan and it was a privilege to attend her farewell to the promotion live.

Tokyo Joshi Pro 9/29/18 Live Thoughts

September 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro has grown into a really entertaining promotion with several excellent performers. This was my first time seeing TJP at a venue other than Korakuen Hall, and I was curious to see what one of their “smaller” shows would be like. Greenhall’s a great venue itself, so this looked to be a fun afternoon.

 

 

 

The Up Up Girls came out to dance to kick things off. I saw them debut against each other in a tag match to open TJP’s 1/4/18 show, so all four are still in their rookie year. Here the show proper once again opened with an inter-group match, in this case Hikari vs Raku in a singles contest.  A fine outing for both, although they’re still a bit tentative and have awkward exchanges at times. Hikari seemed just a touch more polished, and also picked up the victory. Decent for what it was.

 

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The 3 Way match of Yuu vs Yuna Manase vs Yuki Kamifuku was all story, revolving around Yuna and Yuki trying to seduce Yuu into helping them instead of the other. Yuki had the alliance advantage early on after giving Yuu a magazine featuring pictures of Yuki, but miscommunications and Yuna flaunting her body keep things switching around. No, I’m not joking about any of this. Eventually both screwed up often enough that Yuu had enough, so they teamed instead. Yuu of course eventually won, being quite a bit above either on the card. Some amusing bits, but overall the comedy fell a little flat with me and this was just kinda there.

 

 

 

Azusa Takigawa is winding down her career and back in her regular persona after her brainwashed “Azusa Christie” phase. Here she teamed with the Muscle Idol Reika Saiki against Hyper Misao & Shoko Nakajima. The latter team came out with signs apparently protesting Azusa’s retirement, and Reika joined in the protest for a bit. Seeing the tiny kaiju enthusiastically copying Misao was highly amusing. Azusa eventually attacked her opponents and slapped her partner upside the head to get things started.

 

 

 

This was really the best of both worlds of TJP’s match types. Reika and Shoko absolutely tore it down action-wise, then when things slowed down/stopped for the sake of the story it was well done. A lot of that was thanks to attention to detail and the wrestlers themselves being heavily invested, such as when Reika and Shoko got so caught up in Misao’s apparent selfless act in the ring that they stopped fighting on the outside and watched, as captivated as the audience.

Misao offered to take Azusa’s second rope elbow to end the match, giving the latter a win as a retirement gift. Then she kicked out instead. Reika, angered by Misao not following through on her word, got involved but Azusa begged off saying it was reflex and offered to do it again. This time Misao countered the elbow into a backslide for a close 2 to try and steal the match. At that point even Shoko’s pissed, and she joined her opponents in a series of finishers and a three person dogpile to put Misao away.

 

 

 

The way Azusa, Reika, and even the ref went ahead and celebrated with Shoko as if it was a 3 vs 1 all along and Shoko’s excitement at “winning” were fantastic. Everyone makes up afterwards, Misao tearfully congratulates Azusa, and they all leave together. Far and away the most I’ve ever enjoyed Misao’s antics, precisely because there was a strong framework for them and they were supported by an exciting match, with Reika and Shoko being their usual exceptional selves.  I talk a lot about Reika, Maki Itoh, and Yuka Sakazaki in terms of incredible presence and charisma, but Shoko is right up there too and is perhaps TJP’s most underrated performer. Loved this.

 

 

 

Up Up Girls member Hinano was outmatched in non-title action against TJP’s Princess of Princess champion Miyu Yamashita and knew it, resorting to bouts of fake crying, etc to try and throw her opponent off her game. Hinano managed to get a bit of back and forth going out of it, but Miyu dispatched her in short order once the champ got serious. Fine way to get the rookie some experience against TJP’s ace and let her look good while still telling a story that made sense for those involved. 

 

 

 

The main event was a 6-woman tag between Yuka Sakazaki, Mizuki & Maki Itoh and Nodoka Tenma, Yuki Aino & Miu. It’s interesting for me to see Yuka now tag champs w/ Mizuki given last time I saw TJP back in January Yuka defended those same belts (w/ Shoko) against Mizuki (w/ Gatoh Move’s Riho). Yuka’s a personal favorite and always a joy to watch, and Mizuki’s right up with her as one of TJP’s most consistently great workers. Add in the rising superstar with nuclear levels of fan support and charisma Itoh and their trio is a bit of a superteam.

I like Nodoka’s new gimmick (I am perhaps the only TJP fan thrilled to see her put Nodoka-Oneesan behind her) and her team with Yuki is clicking nicely. Miu’s generally considered the current top prospect of the Up Up Girls, and I understand why.

So with all the elements put together this was an engaging, solidly worked match with flashes of brilliance. Nodoka’s trio put up a good fight, but eventually came up short when Miyu fell to a high flying assault from TJP’s tag champs. The way Yuka in particular soars around the ring is amazing, and I honestly think she’s one of the best fliers in wrestling (right up with Dash Chisako at the top of the heap in my mind, and that’s saying a lot).

 

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Afterwards Nodoka & Yuki stake a claim for a shot at the tag titles, which I believe the champs eventually accepted. During the whole exchange a somewhat bored looking Itoh sat on the ropes patiently waiting for her partners’ business to be concluded. Her trying to be supportive while just barely being unable to hide a touch of disinterest was a great character moment.

 

 

 

So the card obviously wasn’t quite as stacked as the Korakuen shows, but was still quite good with enough here to satisfy and some really strong performances from the expected names.

In contrast the merchandise situation was fantastic, far better than the madness at Korakuen.  Post show there was more time and space, which made a ton of difference. Everyone stayed until their personal line was done, with staff announcing as someone was getting ready to leave so fans had one last chance to go over. I finally got to meet several wrestlers I’m a big fan of for the first time, and I appreciate all the effort and enthusiasm both the company and wrestlers put into it all.

Tokyo Joshi Pro continues to excel at emphasizing its strengths and nurturing a roster that’s fully committed to improving every time they go out, to great effect. This was a different type of show than the previous ones I saw of theirs, but just as worthwhile and enjoyable.

Studio Ghibli Papercraft: Porco Rosso

I recently put together my first “papercraft” model: an excellent depiction of an iconic image from my favorite Studio Ghibli movie. There are various types of papercraft, with some looking like “traditional” plastic or wooden models as 3D representations of their subjects. This type is instead a series of flat, different colored sections with designs cut out that create a layered image when placed one behind the other with small spacing between the layers.

 

 

The envelope for this comes with directions and several mini sheets of sturdy paper with designs cut into them. Some models are marked with “English instructions included,” but this one only had Japanese instructions. But the pictures show all the pieces needed at each step and the pieces are labeled on their punchcards with the “layer” they belong on so there’s sufficient guidance provided to complete the model even with the language barrier.

 

 

I did look up English directions for a similar papercraft and the only thing that would have been overlooked otherwise is a wise suggestion to apply glue the “non-visible” side of whatever is being glues together (so to the base layer if attaching a piece to the back of the layer, and to the back of the piece if it’s being glued to the front of a layer), and the suggested tool list which I’ll discuss below.

 

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To achieve minor visual details that really bring the image to life some of the pieces are TINY and admittedly quite difficult to cut out, keep intact, and paste together. So while for the first few pieces it seemed I’d be ok just using my hands and the hobby glue bottle directly, the additional recommended tools of an exacto knife (for removing the small pieces from the punchcards), tweezers (to hold and position pieces), and toothpick and/or small glue brush (for applying glue) are essential. One or two pieces were so small and delicate I almost destroyed them, but it all worked out in the end and wasn’t difficult to put together overall with some patience and care. It took me about an hour and the result looks fantastic.

 

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While the model is nice and stable once together and doesn’t require a case, they are available and I’m happy with having a bit of protection against both damage and dust as well as how it looks. I got a light up version for this one and the soft, alternating color lights poking through the tiny exposed areas in the completed piece looks amazing.  Really pleased with this and will likely try more in the future.