Truly “Weird” and Wonderful

Back on September 24, 2016 I had the pleasure of attending my first “Weird” Al Yankovic concert at the end of his Mandatory Fun Tour at Radio City Music Hall. “Mandatory” or not, it was in fact an incredibly fun time full of splendor and spectacle with intricate and outrageous sets, videos, costume changes, etc. It was a celebration of his hits and a “mainstream” delight in the best possible sense of the word. As such, it was admittedly mostly focused on his more famous work and recreating the songs as you’d hear them off the albums.

 

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Last night I was excited to go back to see him at the Apollo Theater. I don’t tend to research concert tours outside of performing act and date so didn’t know that his “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour” was going to be a very different kind of show. No elaborate production, costume changes, etc, just Al and his band sitting on stools rocking out and riffing on more obscure older songs of theirs for a glorious two hours. He mentioned it was loose, flexible kind of tour and they purposely played an almost entirely different setlist than the night before at the same venue and I wished I had caught both shows.

 

 

They worked in some of their ridiculously long songs like Albuquerque and Jackson Heights Express, the latter of which he said was from Mandatory Fun but was left off that tour since they didn’t think the larger, more mainstream audience would want to “sit through a nine minute song about a delusional man on a bus… but you might.” They pushed boundaries and played around with genres, including a (pre-encore) finale that was an incredible medley of variations of some of their songs done in different styles. In the same vein the show opened with bluesy version of Dare to Be Stupid that I can’t possibly stress enough how much I adored.

 

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Despite sometimes perhaps looked a little down upon for the parody/comedy nature of his creations, Al is one of the most versatile performers in music and his concerts are always an absolute joy. Catch this if at all possible.

 

Sendai Girls 1/6/18 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

The timing of my previous trips along with scheduling issues meant that while I’ve seen several of their stars elsewhere and am a huge fan of Meiko Satomura and Dash Chisako in particular, I had never gotten a chance to see a Sendai Girls show live. I was extremely pleased to finally change that.

 

 

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The show opened with a short match that saw Ami Sato defeat Manami. There was some awkwardness, but overall it was a decent showing for the two rookies (both debuted in the previous summer). Manami impressed me slightly more personally, but the rest of my group thought Sato looked a bit better. Both have a lot of potential and I hope to see more of them.

 

 

In my first look at the rather curious Eiger, she had a curious contest with Sakura Hirota. Of course with Hirota this was comedy based and was decent, with enough framework to follow even if I didn’t catch all the nuances. Eiger ran off with an amusingly content daughter of Hirota after winning.

 

 

There was an incredible amount of star power in the 6-woman tag featuring Sendai’s Champion Chihiro Hashimoto teaming with Hiroyo Matsumoto & Hikaru Shida against Aja Kong, Cassandra Miyagi & Heidi Katrina. I’m more and more impressed ever time I see Chihiro, and I’ll NEVER get tired of seeing Kong and Hiroyo across the ring from each other. The enigmatic Cassandra also had a strong showing here, until accidentally eating a trash can shot from her own partner leading to Chihiro’s team emerging victorious. Fun stuff.

 

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In a tag match that seemed to be featuring intertwining feuds Strong Style Rush (Alex Lee & Mika Shirahime) faced Hana Kimura & DASH Chisako. Was great to see Hana here as I unfortunately did not make any Stardom shows this time and she looked really good in almost a babyface role against apparent rival Alex Lee.

 

 

Dash has a “controlled” charisma that is so unique and fits in with her incredible ring work perfectly to make her one of the most compelling wrestlers in the world, and she was once again spot on in this match. Also her music kicking in while she brawled outside was new to me and completely awesome.

After she and Hana put down Strong Style Rush in a great tag match Dash pointedly taunted Mika before leaving.

 

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The main event featured my most anticipated match of the trip as two legends did battle one on one with Ayako Hamada facing Meiko Satomura.

The preview of this in a tag match at Thanksgiving Wave was a perfect way to amp up anticipation, which was already through the roof considering who was involved. With the #1 contendership on the line there was even more urgency. Hamada seemed to be building up to a title shot, and indeed she eventually prevailed over Meiko after an absolutely brutal match. Totally the expected phenomenal showing from two masters, and it was a privilege to be there for it.

 

 

Two shorter opening contests that served their purpose followed by three well paced, increasingly excellent 15 minute plus matches in the second half made this an absolute breeze (and a joy) to watch. One of the best shows of my trip against a strong field, and what an incredible way to finally be properly introduced to Sendai Girls.

 

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Indexing Review

“Fairy tales want to have happy endings, and that’s fine – for fairy tales – but they do a lot of damage to the people around them in the process, the ones whose only crime was standing in the path of an onrushing story.”

 

 

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Indexing is a police procedural in a world where all the fairy tales ever told can happen again at any time with disastrous effects. Originally released as a serialized novel, I found it walks the line well between the individual “episodes” feeling like regular chapters of a novel (which wouldn’t be necessarily be the best approach for that distribution) and individual short stories (which would lose some of the overarching development and tension). The deft touch in execution makes this read equally well as a complete novel (as I am) as I imagine it did in serialized format.

 

“There are a couple of things you’ll need to know about fairy tales before we can get properly started. Call it agent orientation or information overload, whatever makes you feel more like you’ll be able to sleep tonight.”

 

I call it info dumping of the highest order, even though McGuire tries to be stylish and clever about it. The odd premise I’ve described above is extremely interesting but requires a HUGE amount of information and context to be immediately unloaded on the reader in the first section. As a result it takes some time to get acclimated, but things are quite intriguing once you do and much better paced after the initial part.

 

“My day began with half a dozen bluebirds beating themselves to death against my window, leaving little bloody commas on the glass to mark their passing.”

 

In addition to being curious about the concept, Indexing caught my eye because it’s written by the author of the October Daye series, which I adore. McGuire’s exquisite gift for dialogue and descriptions is on display here as well and along with strong characters and an engaging underlying plot makes this a thoroughly captivating read once it builds momentum. My favorite character here reminds me a little of an equally amusing one from October Daye, but the wonderful thing is the cast are all unique with both strengths and flaws directly tied to the narrative. Watching everything unfold among a tense and mysterious atmosphere was a treat.

Overall this is a read that requires some patience, but really rewards the effort.

 

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My experience with Tokyo Joshi Pro has been an interesting journey. I had major criticisms of the first show of theirs I attended but felt that with some tweaks they could present a vastly more enjoyable product without losing any appeal to their core demographic. Subsequent shows pleasantly proved it, and now I eagerly await more opportunities to enjoy their offerings.

This card was a particularly exciting one for me, with one of my favorites defending TJP’s top title against their first champion, and Gatoh Move’s Riho participating in the tag team title match.

 

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After a fun opening bit of singing by Maki Itoh & Mizuki the show started up with a quadruple debut of members of the idol group Up Up Girls Hinano & Miu defeated Raku & Hikari in a fine outing that kept things appropriately basic but still allowed the participants to look good (despite a bit of awkwardness here and there).

 

 

 

After a pretty standard filler 6-woman tag between Yuu, Nodoka One-san, & Marika Kobashi vs Rika Tatsumi, Hyper Misao, & Yuki Kamifuku, the visiting Veda Scott came out to face TJP’s resident zombie Maho Kurone. This was a touch short and I wish Veda had needed to do more to defeat Maho, but there were some great comedic elements that felt natural to the characters and didn’t detract from the competitiveness of the match. The highlight of which was Veda offering veggies to Maho as gift (in place of her brains), and Maho having none of it, knocking them away, and chasing Veda around the arena.

 

 

 

 

Maki Itoh impresses me more and more every time I see her. Her ability to naturally switch between humor and intensity is particularly great, and I still smile thinking about her chasing idol lumberjacks around the ring with gleeful menace during her match at the show I saw last August.

 

 

 

So she was really in her element against Danshoku Dino, going straight at him with ferocity while also matching his antics head on. There was a tangible sense of both dismissiveness and attitude from BOTH wrestlers towards their opponent, which is what made this work so well. Dino’s creepy approach was mitigated by the fact that Itoh fired right back in kind, and it made the match immeasurably more enjoyable. Dino’s style isn’t one I generally enjoy (although this was my first time seeing him personally), but this was extremely well done all around. Great match and my adoration of Itoh continues to grow.

 

Next up was a performance from opening match teams representing Up Up Girls. Tokyo Joshi Pro has gotten extremely good at mixing this aspect of their shows in with the wrestling at opportune times.

 

 

 

Since last I saw Azusa Takigawa she seems to have been reborn as Azusa Christie and is now the devoted follower of Saki-sama (Saki Akai). Here they teamed against Azusa’s ex-partner Nonoko & Yuna Manase (with Haruka Nishimoto). Nonoko kept trying to talk sense to her former friend, but it fell on deaf ears as Azusa nailed Nonoko with the book she carries to the ring and eventually emerged victorious alongside her new master. Match was ok. The story was more the focus anyway.

 

 

 

The Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match was a particular treat as two of TJP’s best workers, Yuka Sakazaki & Shoko Nakajima, defended their championships against MIZUKI & Riho. The visiting Riho is a 12 year veteran at age 20 and received a well deserved superstar welcome from the crowd. Mizuki fit in very well herself and the result was an absolutely phenomenal back and forth match with a variety of brutal strikes, gorgeous double teams, and jaw dropping athleticism.

After a hard fought struggle to retain their titles Yuka and Shoko were confronted by Saki and Azusa, who issued a challenge for those selfsame belts.

 

 

 

In August I was lucky enough to see both Reika Saiki claim the Tokyo Princess of Princess Championship (in a fantastic contest against then champion Yuka Sakazaki) and Miyu Yamashita in a breakout performance against Meiko Satomura. The prospect of seeing the two face of here for the title was an extremely exciting one, further enhanced by the underlying story of TJP’s first champion Miyu trying to become their first 2-time champion as well at the Muscle Idol’s expense.

 

 

 

This was exactly the hard hitting, excellent battle I wanted from the two of them. They just laid into each other with strikes and tossed each other around until one couldn’t get up. Reika’s developed a perfect style to highlight her incredible power and just keeps getting better and better, while Miyu is really hitting her stride and learning to make the most of her wonderfully aggressive style. Great match that’s neck and neck with the tag title contest for best of the night. I was slightly disappointed to see Reika lose the belt, but Miyu’s certainly deserving and there are several interesting directions to go with her second reign.

All the matches at the top of the card got proper time to build and breath, and the wrestlers certainly took advantage of those opportunities to show what they could do.

 

 

 

After Reika leaves a celebrating Miyu is issued a challenge by… Veda Scott?! Well, while that’s not the direction I in any way expected now we know why Veda survived the zombie apocalypse earlier in show. O_o

This was a really awkward promo, with Veda buttering Miyu up while the latter couldn’t understand her but switching to insults once she got a translator.  They should have just pretended Miyu could understand her, as Veda’s capable of much better on the mic than this. Still, at least Miyu’s first sacrificial lamb was set up for slaughter.

 

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Tokyo Joshi Pro continues to really excel at emphasizing its strengths and developing a roster that’s fully committed to improving every time they go out, with great results.

The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria vol 1 Light Novel Review

“I look at the platform at the front of the classroom and see a new transfer student named Aya Otonashi whose name I’ve never learned.”

 

Kazuki Hoshino is an ordinary high school student with a seemingly boring existence haunted by a sense of deja vu. However there’s much more to it than that, and at the center of disturbing truths and powers beyond his understanding is a new student who declares she’s here to break him…

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Things get interesting right away with this one, as the short prologue offers just enough to intriguingly set the stage, and the structure of the main part of the book is immediately attention grabbing. From there a lot of interesting little details and mysteries accumulate, and the examination of the non-linear aspects of the story are particularly well done. There are numerous carefully built, excellent twists and a slowly escalating tense atmosphere.

Character development is necessarily a bit different and more subtle than in traditional stories, but is there if the reader pays close attention and I thought quite good. I can see some readers losing patience though. Also, some of the end resolution was a little lacking to me and I’m not entirely convinced about the direction of the series going forward. 

Overall though I found The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria a thoroughly engaging and satisfying read, and highly recommend it for any light novel fans who can handle its mystery/thriller aspects and don’t mind applying some patience and effort to their reading.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

“Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong.”

 

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I observed in my review of Rogue One that the main Star Wars movies are (excellent) high adventure tales of good versus evil, while it showed there was also room for exploration of the shades of gray realities of warfare embedded in the struggle of the Rebellion and the Empire. The Last Jedi ends up somewhere in between in atmosphere, scope, and story, and I adored it. This is a movie featuring nuanced characters (including several excellent new additions) with conflicting and changing agendas, strong reveals, and significant open potential for next movie.

There were no easy answers and the characters, including familiar faces, are all too fallible. This seems to be one of the main reasons behind the mixed reception I’ve noticed, but I felt it added a wonderfully layer of depth. Without faults they have no room for growth, and the conflicts, missteps, and hard choices our heroes faced made this one of the most interesting Star Wars films for me. Without getting into spoilers, I also seem not to have made certain assumptions others did after Force Awakens, and the different expectations (or lack thereof) I had likely explain some of the disconnect between my impression and what appears to be more common consensus of longtime fans.

Of course I’m not claiming the movie was perfect and I did have some minor quibbles, most relating to certain aspects of Finn’s subplot, but nothing that significantly impacted my enjoyment.

One last aspect worth bringing attention to is the incredible visual look of the film. Rian Johnson not only introduced new and interesting locales, but also found new and interesting ways of presenting things we’ve seen before, with little details and creative choices that really aided and enhanced the movie’s impact.

So for what it’s worth, from a lifelong fan of Star Wars, I thought The Last Jedi was incredible overall and am extremely excited to see how everything proceeds from here.

Evolve 100 Live Review

February 17, 2018 in Queens, NY

Big milestone for Evolve as they had their 100th show last month in their recent home base of La Boom. Here’s a rundown of my impressions from seeing it live.

 

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The stipulation of the opening 3-way specifying Darby Allin would lose his spot in the next day’s major 4-way if he lost to either Jarek 120 or Jason Kincaid was likely meant to add intrigue, but instead it made it made Allin’s win feel like a forgone conclusion. The whole “prelim” (pre-show) concept with wrestlers who don’t win enough having to earn their way back to the “main card” also isn’t really working because it’s regulars stuck there and with it also being broadcast as part of the ippv it’s actually just the opener. Also, by calling it preliminary a lot of people were still filing in during the match instead of being in their seats paying attention. Action was decent. I really like Kincaid and have been impressed with Jarek the couple times I’ve seen him, and both deserve better opportunities. Allin’s not a favorite of mine, so him being a centerpiece always seems to end up with the match capping out at decent for me. He’s over in general though, so I certainly can’t blame Evolve for pushing him.

 

Fred Yehi reigned in his normal mannerisms and “unusual” offense a bit against Dominic Garrini, which was a big plus for me. But unfortunately I thought these two didn’t mesh well and this was my least favorite match of the night. Making matters worse, Yehi’s after match promo was honestly awful, with him rambling about being better than a second match wrestler (which is a direct rehash of ACH’s angle last year, who did it better) before somehow spinning that into calling himself a “savage-weight.” I have no idea what that was supposed to accomplish, but Yehi apparently leaving Evolve shortly after this due to stalled contract negotiations I suppose I don’t need to.

 

Things picked up with Anthony Henry vs Tracy Williams, who put on a solid match that really played to the strengths of each to good effect. The angle of Williams struggling as Catch Point’s leader continues to build here too with Henry’s upset victory.

 

The End (Odinson & Parrow w/ Drennen) then came out to brawl with Williams’ stablemates Chris Dickinson & Jaka, and the tag title match was on. This went about five minutes before being thrown out and was an absolutely crazy brawl. Live this was totally satisfying, with neither the short length nor inconclusive finish mattering because of the intensity and atmosphere. But I imagine watching through a screen it could have been disappointing for such an anticipated title match. Still, no complaints from me and was one of the highlights of the night.

 

Amazingly though, the match that had to follow all that chaos was actually the best of the show, as Matt Riddle and James Drake beat the HELL out of each other in a star making performance for Drake. His chops drew blood from Riddle’s chest early, and Riddle turned Drake’s bright red in turn, and they just kept upping the ante as things went. Also, most importantly, there was a logical, well executed structure underlying the match and all the impressive violence. Riddle also continued his angle of asking for no rope break matches (which Drake agreed to), and they used it well without belaboring the point. Just fantastic stuff all around.

 

Two huge singles title matches ended the show in a double main event, starting with Keith Lee defending his WWN LIve title against the first Evolve champion AR Fox. The latter had his “crew” with him who ran interference several times to give the larger champion some additional problems to solve and also added a fair amount of energy to things with their vocal support of Fox. Impressive size vs speed battle that escalated nicely and provided opportunities for Lee to show his own agility as well. Although while I understand how impressive it is for someone Lee’s size to take a Canadian Destroyer, really he shouldn’t unless it’s going to be the finish. Or at the very least do the leg on the rope thing to break it instead of a full kickout. That minor gripe aside, this was great.

 

Finally the Evolve title was on the line as Austin Theory challenged Zack Sabre Jr. Theory’s fully embraced heel character, and was a credible threat to Sabre in another great match until the champion just tied him up one time too many and forced him to tap.

The after match stuff got kind of odd. Riddle came out during Sabre’s post show speech to challenge him, and was essentially told “sure if you become the #1 contender.” The lack of logic behind when Sabre just accepts random challenges and when he tells the hottest star of the promotion “not yet” is lazy booking. Riddle’s happy response of “so you’re saying there’s a chance” was awesome though.

After Sabre leaves Theory jumps Riddle (after a distraction from Priscilla Kelly) and leaves him lying. He then calls himself the future of Evolve, and was really left out to dry by the progression because the crowd just drowns him out with a “you just lost” chant. Theory wasn’t able to react well to crowd’s heckling, leaving him in awkward spot as he tried to continue with the script and the crowd was having none of it. Not his fault. They really should have switched him and Fox or something if they needed him to give this kind of promo after jumping Riddle, instead of having him act confident and like a killer and calling himself a legend literal seconds after tapping out in a title match.

As Theory leaves Riddle picks himself up really none the worse for wear and gives the usual thanks for coming speech. I appreciate the thought and adore Riddle but could have done without this if it meant actually selling the effects of Theory’s beating.

 

Although I did have some issues with the logic and booking, overall this was an extremely enjoyable show with strong action and an incredible atmosphere.