Gatoh Move 12/29/17 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

My second Gatoh Move at Ichigaya Chocolate Square of my most recent trip was a particular blast for a multitude of reasons.

 

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. I’ve greatly enjoyed the previous events I’ve seen seen there.

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).

 

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by the core roster, in this case Emi, Riho, Mitsuru, and Obi. Aasa was sick and missed all of the GM shows I saw this time. Hope she feels better soon.

For this show I was right outside the window the wrestlers usually use for “high risk maneuvers” and sometimes fight right out of, leading to a need to be ready to scramble out of the way at a moment’s notice. Of note for this show, there a was a couple with a baby seated right next to me. This will become highly relevant. 😉 During the opening dance and introduction the wrestlers were all (rightfully) infatuated with the baby and waving to her.

 

 

 

Mitsuru Konno is my favorite Gatoh Move wrestler (among an incredibly talented roster in the first place) so I was extremely excited to see her get a singles opportunity against Gatoh Move’s Ace, the reigning Super Asia champion Riho. Riho is a 12 year veteran at age 20, and her smoothness in everything she does and general instincts properly reflect her experience and skills. This was fantastic, with both making full use of the environment and telling a strong story of Mitsuru getting aggressive in trying to prove herself but coming up a bit short against GM’s superstar. A lot of this happened near (or through) my window, which was a particularly fun bonus for me. Mitsuru’s spot where she spills out of the window then later propels herself back in to attack her opponent using an audience stool to launch from appears to be a regular part of her matches now, and is always awesome.

 

 

 

A flashback to last year for me saw Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro vs Jaki Numazawa in a comedy skit match. Whenever someone got a 2 count they were allowed to take a prop from a provided basket and make a joke. The referee would then decide if a point was scored (based on whether it was funny, usually indicated by audience laughter). Most points at the end of the time limit wins. The previously mentioned baby’s presence had a big impact here, as Honda stopped a couple of times to reassure her when they were fighting, and during the comedy portions her booming, delighted laughter was absolutely contagious.

Overall this was probably my favorite comedy match ever in Gatoh Move so far, as the gist was usually easy to pick up despite not understanding the spoken portions of the jokes, as were other themes like Obi’s attempts generally not going over well (to the point where she stopped mid-joke once frustratingly declaring “it’s not funny!” and just went back on the attack). Fun stuff.

 

 

The main event was another great tag match from the Asia Dream Tag Team Champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi, with opponents Kazuhiro Tamura & Baliyan Akki who were totally up for the challenge. My first look at Akki was a really good one here, as he fit in well with his much more experienced compatriots and is adapting nicely to GM’s home venue’s unique environment and its constraints and strengths. Overall this was simply a well worked, highly enjoyable main event. Of special note was Emi amusingly reaching out to try to tag the baby when in a submission hold, as well as directly leading me in (successfully) trying to start a “Sa-ku-ra” chant at one point.

 

One of the best Ichigaya events I’ve seen here, with just enough that felt different from GM’s (admittedly awesome) usual formula, in addition to my personal experience being elevated by my lucky seat position and the antics around me.

Merry Joshi Christmas! Part 3: Gatoh Move 12/24/17 Live Thoughts

December 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

For my third of four Christmas themed shows this year (and my second of the day on Christmas Eve) I saw Gatoh Move at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

 

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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. I’ve greatly enjoyed the previous events I’ve seen there.

 

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by the core roster, in this case Emi, Riho, Mitsuru, and Obi. This was the first show after the retirement of Kotori, who’s final show I unfortunately missed due to coming to Japan a day late to attend.

 

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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Aasa wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t compete, so Sayaka Obihiro took her place and the show opened with her against Antonio Honda in a comedy match, something I’m very familiar with from previous trips. In this case it was a Christmas Deathmatch with weapons available to be taken out of a stocking such as a Santa hat, Rudolph nose and ears for a finger puppet rendition, and a croissant. There was also a coffee break scheduled five minutes in. This was ridiculous but on purpose, and while not quite all of the humor was to my tastes it was amusing enough overall. The highlight was Honda using the croissant as a mustache for an energetic, over the top Hogan impression, then opening it and splitting it in half for him and Obi to share during the calm, low key coffee break.

 

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Next up was a 3-way match featuring CHANGO, PSYCHO, and Hoshitango Imachi. Solid contest focused around Psycho flying about (often from the windowsill I was seated right outside, smoothly jumping up into it inches from my face) and he and Chango trying to deal with the larger Hoshitango.

 

The main event continued my string of seeing Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi against Riho and a different partner in the main of the first GM Ichigaya show I see each holiday trip. In 2015 it Kotori was her partner, and last year it was Aasa. This time she teamed with Mitsuru I’ve really enjoyed all the variations on this match I’ve seen, and this was no exception. They really used the environment to its fullest, and Emi and Takanashi played subtly heel to put even more sympathy on the relative rookie Mitsuru.

 

 

 

Being at the target window I had Mitsuru dumped across the windowsill right in front of me slingshot suplex style at one point, then late in the match she and Takanashi spilled all the way out of the window and brawled as I scrambled out the way. My favorite spot of the matched followed, as once Mitsuru neutralized Takanashi she pulled one of the audience stools back near the window, then ran towards it and used it as a platform to launch herself back inside through the window at Emi. Was so cool seeing that from a foot away. The tag champs eventually isolated the less experienced member of the opposing team and Emi pinned Mitsuru for the win. This was great.

 

 

 

The post show roundtable had a fun feel, with the core roster in different colored Santa outfits, Honda wearing reindeer antlers, etc. There was also a couple rounds of rock, paper, scissors for the opportunity to purchase special autograph boards, which was a fun touch.

 

As usual Gatoh Move at Ichigaya provided an atmosphere that’s unlike anything else in wrestling. While these shows can feel very similar to one another, they are always enjoyable. I had a lot of fun with this one, particularly the main event.

Beautiful Dreams 2: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams, I’ve been a fan of Juri Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work. Here I’d like to share and talk about more of it (as well as ramble a bit about the stories and inspirations behind certain pieces).

 

 

Juri continues to be heavily featured in Perna Studios excellent card sets. I’ve been lucky enough to get several diverse, beautiful sketch cards of hers from sets like Witchcraft, Elementals, etc, in addition to having the opportunity to commission some incredible Artist Proofs (APs) as well.

Juri’s also done promo and base card art for Perna’s sets, and special cards including metal and spot foil chase cards and variants.

 

 

Some particularly interesting pieces of my collection include unique original works, such as Juri’s original pencils underlying her Mistress of the Night piece (the final version of which I featured in Beautiful Dreams) and colored and original art versions of her page from Sarah “Sakky” Ruth Ford’s Magical Girl Coloring Book.

 

 

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been more fantastic additions to my collection, with the great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements.

As always I adore her use of color, particularly in her hand drawn work, and like with her Perna sketch cards and APs above that aspect also really shines in her PSCs. Seeing her visions of some of my favorite characters come to life has been a real treat. I’m a diehard gamer, with particular preference to RPGs and fighting games over the years. With Juri’s pitch perfect confrontation between Kasumi and Ayane from Dead or Alive and jaw dropping melding of Morrigan and Lilith from Darkstalkers joining the original sketches I got from her featuring Millia Rage, Jam Kuradoberi, and Dizzy from Guilty Gear, I now have incredible renditions of all of my favorite characters to play from each of my favorite fighting game series.

 

 

Valkyrie Profile is my single favorite RPG of all time, and Juri’s intricately detailed, soft yet strong interpretation of Lenneth Valkyire is exquisite. Favorite series honors go to Persona, and I adore Juri’s vibrant, striking depiction of a key supporting character from one of the series’ best entries.

 

One of the more unique requests I’ve made is a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. Mitsuru’s already showing great potential and instincts even with only a little over a year in wrestling, and I adore the incredible way Juri’s captured and combined her strength, determination, grace, and beauty in this remarkable rendition.

 

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Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

The last two pieces I’d like to talk about are anime/manga related. I’m using the word “favorite” a lot, but in explaining the inspirations for choosing these subjects across various mediums it has been appropriate and illustrative in every case. Gorgeous animation, thought provoking stories, and an incredible atmosphere come together to make Kino’s Journey my all time favorite anime. Juri perfectly related Kino’s cool, somewhat detached demeanor resting for a moment atop Hermes against a wonderful background horizon that evokes the show’s sense of traveling through a vast, intriguing world.

 

Rosario Vampire is an amusing, fan-service and action heavy harem style manga based around a high school for monsters where students regularly get into fierce battles with one another. It has solid story progression once it gets going, but is admittedly largely formulaic and trope ridden. However halfway through the second “season” of the manga there’s a side story,  introducing a relatively minor supporting character (who didn’t even make the anime adaptation), which embraces and upends cliches in equal measure to present a nuanced, emotional story that is easily at the top of the (long) list of things I’ve read. San Otonashi is a phenomenal character and (here’s that word again 😉 ) an absolute favorite of mine despite her relative obscurity. Even with being initially unfamiliar with San, Juri was able to create a gorgeous, spot on card of her, conveying both delicacy and strength and again really elevating the final work with her incredible coloring.

 

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her incredible creations for a long time to come. 🙂

 

Japan Trip Summer 2017: Top 5 Matches (Live)

I’ve been lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo over the end of the year holidays for the last two years. This summer the stars aligned for a shorter, somewhat unexpected additional trip with a specific purpose. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from the 29 I saw that trip (across 5 shows from 5 different companies).

 

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

 

Honorable Mentions:

Tokyo Princess of Princess Title: Yuka Sakazaki(c) vs Reika Sakai –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

 

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

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

 

Team DATE (Nao, Hana, Nori, & Karen) vs Maruko Nagasaki, Satsuki Totoro, Uno Matsuya, & Tequilia Saya – Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

 

I was a little late coming back from intermission and unfortunately missed the beginning of this big blow off elimination match. As such Hanna was already eliminated and on the outside (and seemed to be nursing a knee injury of some sort) and I came in just as Uno also left the match. Uno’s actually my favorite on that team and I wish she was featured a bit more in general.

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

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

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

 

5. Gatoh Move Title Tournament Semi-Final: Kotori vs Aasa – Gatoh Move 8/26/17

The main event of Gatoh Move’s 8/26 show was the second semi-final of their title tournament and would determine who would face Riho in the finals at their September Greenhall show.  It was appropriately treated like a big deal and felt important. The outcome was never really in doubt with Kotori on a march to face her tag partner in the finals, but they did an excellent job building drama for near falls regardless and put on a main event that is a testament to their skill even at relatively short times in wrestling.

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

 

4. Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs So On Flower (Aoi Kizuki & Moeka Haruhi) – Wave 8/30/17

 

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

 

3. Meiko Satomura vs Miyu Yamashita –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

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This was fantastic and edged out the main for match of the night. I’ve commented before that I felt Miyu was capable of more than I’d seen her show, and this was totally the breakout performance I’ve been wanting from her.

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

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

 

2. Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Mio Momono vs Yoshiko – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 

 

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

Mio’s the hottest rookie there is right now (as I mention often), and I continue to marvel at how incredible she is this early into her career.

 

1.  Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 and Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

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Ok, so this is a little bit of a cheat as I’m including both matches between these two teams in the #1 spot rather than take up two places and leave less room for other great matches.

During my first trip to Japan in 2015 my favorite match (well tied with one other) featured two incredible tag teams going full throttle competing for Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania. When a best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) was announced I was beyond excited, and ended up lucky enough to be able travel to see two of the three. These two matches were the previously mention purpose for the entire trip, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

 

The time limit draw at SEAdLINNNG was great, if just a touch below the original match that inspired this series (due to the lack of finish and time spent on some comedy). The one at Ice Ribbon was neck and neck with the original, and a fantastic way to close things out for now. I was actually partially anticipating the “upset” victory and Avid Rival sweeping this series given the way difficulties between Best Friends were being stressed, leading to somewhat of a feud between Tsukka and Arisa. But them coming together on the same page as a team to dig down and prove they could still win was an equally satisfying story. Their entire record is now 2-1-1 in Best Friends’ favor (with Avid Rival’s sole victory coming at their home promotion of Wave in the one match between the teams I have yet to see).

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

In my opinion these are the two best tag teams in all of wrestling, and seeing them face off is always a treat.

 

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Hope everyone enjoyed reading about these great matches, all of which are well worth checking out if possible. The five shows I saw this time were all extremely good in general, with numerous other good matches beyond the highlights talked about here.

Gatoh Move 8/26/17 Live Thoughts

August 26, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Photo by Oliver Saupe.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Japan Trip 2016: Top 10 Matches Part 1 (Live)

Like last year, I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2016 / start 2017. During this trip I saw 12 shows from 7 promotions with 71 matches featuring 148 wrestlers.

Slightly less shows and matches than the first trip, but interestingly because of adding in NJPW Wrestle Kingdom (with it’s 11 matches and entirely filled with wrestlers I wouldn’t otherwise see during my Joshi-centric schedule) I actually saw a few more different wrestlers this time.

Here’s a breakdown of matches by company: Gatoh Move: 14 matches, Ice Ribbon: 19 matches, Marvelous: 6 matches, New Japan Pro Wrestling: 11 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 8 matches, Tokyo Joshi Pro: 7 matches, and World Wonder Ring Stardom: 6 matches.

Happily, once again the vast majority of what I saw was extremely good. So it was VERY difficult to choose my favorite matches. In fact, things were so close this year I’m doing a Top 10 instead of 5. Even then there are still a lot of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

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

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

This entry will cover honorable mentions and #6-10.

 

Honorable mentions:

Survival Ribbon – Ice Ribbon 1/3/17 

Ice Ribbon’s entire 1/3/17 event gets a mention here, as everything was connected and the appeal was in the whole concept and execution rather than an individual match. Two teams of six were formed, split based on time in IR, with opposite team members randomly paired off in singles matches with the winners advancing to a tag main event. The atmosphere was incredible, with both teams at ringside cheering their side vocally and some fun pairings. Fantastic themed show.

 

Kairi Hojo vs Nana SuzukiStardom 12/22/16

In her debut match model Nana Suzuki got to get in the ring against one of Stardom’s aces, Kairi Hojo, in a singles contest. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog well and the match was quite good. Kairi rightly dominated most of this, but the story was well told and Nana got the crowd behind her comeback spots. Nana seems like she could make the transition and wrestle regularly if she wants to.

 

Misaki Ohata 10th Anniversary Match: Misaki Ohata & Mayumi Ozaki  vs Hiroyo Matsumoto & DASH Chisako – Wave 1/2/29/16

As no Sendai Girls shows fit my schedule, it was a real treat to see Dash chosen to be a part of this match (which I was already excited for as Misaki’s a favorite of mine) and thus give me one opportunity to see her wrestle. This was a fitting and fun “tribute” match.  All four wrestlers were clearly enjoying themselves, particularly Misaki having an absolute blast playing heel alongside Ozaki.

 

Top 10:

10. Ice Cross Infinity Title Tournament Finals: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Risa Sera – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

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Technically speaking, I thought this was a great match. It would likely be even higher on the list if not for the atmosphere and lack of crowd heat, as I thought it was pretty much the epitome of the “wrong match for the wrong crowd.” More specifically, it was the wrong match for the story they chose to tell.

It was instead exactly the match they should have had under the original trajectory of Tsukka’s title reign. This match would have been PERFECT as the end of Tsukka plowing through everyone else on a quest to best her own defense record just to run into a determined Risa dead set on proving she could reclaim her title from the woman who dethroned her.

However without Tsukka’s streak still in tact to add drama and uncertainty not one person in arena bought a Tsukka win here. The tournament was sold on the possibility of the unexpected, which made a back and forth contest between determined rivals the wrong framework for the finals. Both competitors should have been conveying desperation here (or better yet someone else should have advanced to face Risa, or the whole tourney been skipped). All that said, the wrestling itself again was great. And this will likely play better on disc.

 

9. Gatoh Move Tag Team Championship: Aoi & Obi (c) v Riho & KotoriGatoh Move 12/24/16

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Aoi is a personal favorite of mine, and this was unfortunately the only chance I had to see her wrestle this trip. Thankfully though it was a main event match in with three other excellent wrestlers, and as such was great.

Both teams were sharp and this was exactly the quick paced, hard hitting main event it should have been. Kotori having a bit of a chip on her shoulder and something to prove was a nice undercurrent, and Riho and Aoi had some fantastic exchanges down the stretch.

 

8. Team REINA (Makoto, Mari Sakamoto, & Hirori) vs Team Gatoh Move (Emi Sakura, Aasa Maika, & Mitsuru Konno) – Gatoh Move 12/24/16

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This 6-woman tag was elimination style, with over-the-top rules in addition to pin/submission. Interesting set up here, with Gatoh Move’s founder and two of her trainees against Reina’s reigning Champion (who was also GM’s IWA Triple Crown Championship) and two of hers. I’d of course seen Emi and Makoto last trip, and also saw Mari when she came to New York with Syuuri last year. Hirori, Aasa, and Mitsuru were all new to me.

The story of the match was phenomenal, with both teams showing real desire to prevail in the inter-promotional contest. The seconds on the outside for each team were visibly engaged and cheering their promotion, which really added to the atmosphere and the sense of something important being at stake here, even if it was just bragging rights.

 

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The action was great too, with everyone looking sharp, things going back and forth nicely, building drama around the eliminations, etc. Makoto’s presence and mannerisms as a cocky heel were several levels better than what I saw of her in a babyface role last year. Aasa got a nice spotlight at the end being the last member of her team left trying to topple Makoto before coming up just short, and her ring style as a pint-sized powerhouse suits her extremely well. I’d like to see more of Mitsuru too in the future, as she looked quite good in the little time she had before being the first elimination.

 

7. 7-Way: Hiroe Nagahama vs Kyuuri vs Maika Ozaki vs Mio Momono vs 235 vs Tequila Saya vs Uno Matsuya – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

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This was originally scheduled to be a six-woman tag match, but shortly before the event Mio Momono was added to the match and it became a 7-way contest where eliminations could happen by pin, submission, or being thrown over the top rope to the floor. I’d been at Mio’s pro wrestling debut in NYC as well as seeing her in a fantastic opening contest at Marvelous’ Christmas Eve show (more on that later 😉 ), so was quite excited for her Ice Ribbon debut.

It was an extremely fortuitous change, as they really made the most of the format and this was much more interesting than IR’s traditional random 6-man would have been. EVERYONE got a chance to shine at various points, including Ozaki showing off her strength with a double torture rack, innovative multi-person moves and pin attempts, and an incredible sequence where Uno was thrown to the apron and went crazy trying to stay in the match running halfway around the ring on the apron while everyone inside tried to knock her off. The effort from all seven wrestlers was phenomenal, and they really got the crowd fired up for several sequences.

Excellent match overall, and one of my favorites of my trip. In the end Saya got to look strong somewhat surprisingly hanging in until the final two competitors, but the expected (and rightful) wrestler won when Kyuuri pinned her with the Fisherman suplex. Great showings for all involved. Really hope to see Mio continue to wrestle in IR.

 

6. Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro, & Mitsuru Konno vs Riho, Kotori, & Aasa Maika  – Gatoh Move 12/31/17

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This was my favorite Gatoh Move dojo match of the trip. Obviously they all know each other extremely well and have great chemistry together, which led to an thoroughly exciting contest with innovative multi person spots and use of the venue. Riho’s double knees to an opponent seated against the wall looks so vicious.

Towards the end Emi and Kotori tumbled out of the window into my (hastily vacated) seat. Kotori held Emi outside to prevent her from making a save as Riho pinned Misturu. Little things like that are excellent uses of the uniqueness of the environment.

 

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I  was blessed to have such a great opportunity to visit Japan and see so much phenomenal wrestling. I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at some of the best of the best. Will be back with Part 2 featuring my top 5.