Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Knocking Out the Champs? : ChocoPro 130 OOAK Tag League Preview

June 29, 2021

ChocoPro/Gatoh Move’s One-of-a-Kind (OOAK) Tag League is half over and things are quite interesting heading into ChocoPro 130.

The matches have been fantastic and I highly recommend checking out the first half of the tourney:

ChocoPro 127
Block A: Best Bros vs TropiKawild
Block B: Melt Brain Dancing vs Egg Tart

ChocoPro 128
Block A: Best Bros vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Egg Tart vs White Comaneci

ChocoPro 129
Block A: TropiKawaild vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Mi*Sayaka vs White Comaneci

(note: from here on I will be discussing the current standings heading into ChocoPro 130, which will necessarily include spoilers for the above shows)

ChocoPro 130 (June 30 9pm EDT)
Block A: Best Bros vs Wasshoi Aniki
Block B: Melt Brain Dancing vs White Comaneci

There’s a lot of significance to this lineup, with two teams having their final matches of the tournament and another having their first.

Block A:
Best Bros (Mei & Akki) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
TropiKawild (Yuna & Saki) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
Wasshoi Aniki (Ayumi & Mizunami) – 0 pts (0-0-0)
Dragon Ninja (Choun & Sayuri) – 0 pt (0-2-0)

The schedule has shaken out in a curious way for Block A. Wasshoi Aniki has not had any matches yet (and have never teamed before). It not only leaves them an unknown quantity going into the second half of the tourney, but also means every Block A match in the second half has them in it. However this match could end their hopes as soon as they begin.

Reigning Asia Dream Tag Champions Best Bros have 3 points. If they beat WA they will end with an incredibly impressive 5 out of 6 possible pts, and the one loss will automatically put WA out of the running (their max score by winning their remaining matches would be 4 pts). Only TropiKawild could catch BB in this scenario, by also beating WA and forcing a tiebreaker match with the champs.

But WA isn’t the only team in danger. As I explained in my analysis going into ChocoPro 129, Dragon Ninja’s loss against TW eliminated them from contention. An interesting side note is that also renders the possibility of a block-wide tie at the end nil, meaning 3 points is not enough to stay in contention.

A WA win would mean BB finish their run in the tournament with 3 pts. It’d be quite an upset for a team to beat the champions in their first ever outing, but it certainly isn’t impossible with this superteam of ChocoPro fan favorites. So the flip side of WA possibly being eliminated in their first match is they could instead eliminate the champs.

This places ALL the intrigue of ChocoPro 130 in Block A’s match, because it’s surprisingly become a loser-is-out situation. The only way both teams will both still have a chance to win the block after this match is if they wrestle to a draw.

Block B:
Melt Brain Dancing (Psycho & Chango) – 2 pts (1-0-0)
White Comaneci (Honda & Otoki) – 0 pts (0-2-0)
Egg Tart (Chie & Hagane) – 2 pts (1-1-0)
Mi*Sayaka (Fujita & Sayaka) – 2 pt (1-0-0)

Speaking of new teams with successful first outings, Mi*Sayaka scored a huge and somewhat surprising victory against White Comaneci on ChocoPro 129 to eliminate the latter from contention in Block B.

This means WC’s match against Melt Brain Dancing is purely a matter of pride, but trying to avoid ending the tournament completely defeated might be the motivation they need. Since it’s only MBD’s second tournament match (and they won their first) the result can’t put them out either way, but their stranglehold on Block B as the dominant favorites would clearly be much better served with a win.

(If MDB do win the pressure is really on Egg Tart, who would then need to beat MS but also have MDB lose to that same team to force a three-way tiebreaker match.)

Summary

DN and WC have been eliminated from contention in their respective blocks.

BB, WA: Eliminated from winning their block with a loss.

Good luck to all. This’ll be a wild one.

——-

As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping!

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Underdogs Assemble! : ChocoPro 129 OOAK Tag League Preview

June 27, 2021

It’s pretty crazy that Emi Sakura’s ongoing effort from to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world in a format that takes full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery is over a year old and 128 episodes in. But ChocoPro is still going strong and continues to push boundaries in every way they can. Which has once again lead to something special, as ChocoPro/Gatoh Move’s first ever tag league has begun.

Called the One-of-a-Kind (OOAK) Tag League, it’s certainly set yup to live up to its name. Not only is it taking place in Ichigaya Chocolate Square’s unique ringless environment, but it goes even beyond Gatoh’s formerly annual Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup inter gender tag team tournament in being a fully integrated tourney where men’s, women’s, and integer gender teams would all compete.

The lineup adds to the specialness, as the eight participating teams include the reigning tag champions (all league matches are non-title), former champions, previous top contenders, and a couple of brand new teams to boot.

Each of the six shows featuring the block matches has one match from each of the two four team blocks. I highly recommend watching the two shows that have happened so far. They were excellent as expected and I highly recommend checking them out:

ChocoPro 127
Block A: Best Bros vs TropiKawild
Block B: Melt Brain Dancing vs Egg Tart

ChocoPro 128
Block A: Best Bros vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Egg Tart vs White Comaneci

(note: later in this piece I will be discussing the current standings heading into ChocoPro 129, which will necessarily include spoilers for the above shows)

Halfway There

With two blocks of four teams each team will face all opponents in their block after just three matches. In addition to making every match vital, it means that after today’s show the tourney will be halfway over. Both matches will have a big impact on the shape of things going forward. The lineup is:

ChocoPro 129 (tonight 9pm EDT)
Block A: TropiKawild vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Mi*Sayaka vs White Comaneci

The matches will be extremely good and interesting in their own right, but of course the current state of their blocks adds further dimensions to these battles.

Block A:
Best Bros (Mei & Akki) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
TropiKawild (Yuna & Saki) – 1 pts (0-0-1)
Wasshoi Aniki (Ayumi & Mizunami) – 0 pts (0-0-0)
Dragon Ninja (Choun & Sayuri) – 0 pt (0-1-0)

All the matches in Block A feature totally new matchups, giving a real challenge for all involved.The clash between the two block favorites to open the tourney was inconclusive, leaving both teams in decent but tentative positions. While unable to vanquish the former champions, reigning champs Best Bros didn’t lose to them either and subsequently solidified their position with a victory over Dragon Ninja.

TropiKawild will be looking to duplicate that achievement to stay neck and neck with Best Bros so that they are on equal footing when both teams go into their matches against the wildcard team of crowd favorites Ryo Mizunami & Ayumi Hayashi. Washhoi Aniki will have all three of their matches in the second half of the tourney and have never teamed before, so are still a real unknown quantity.

A defeat here means the only way TW can win the block would be beating WA and hoping for an unlikely 4-way tie in the block. So the two-time former tag team champions will be going full throttle for sure.

Which puts Dragon Ninja in even more of an extremely tough spot. One of the teams that looked like a potential breakout before the tourney was fully formed, a challenging block placement instead positioned them as the ultimate underdogs. They gave the champs a hell of a fight on ChocoPro 128, but regardless that defeat makes today a must win. A loss eliminates them from contention, and a tie means their only chance is a 4-way block tie. Dire circumstances but perhaps the ninja will find a way.

Block B:
Melt Brain Dancing (Psycho & Chango) – 2 pts (1-0-0)
White Comaneci (Honda & Otoki) – 0 pts (0-1-0)
Egg Tart (Chie & Hagane) – 2 pts (1-1-0)
Mi*Sayaka (Fujita & Sayaka) – 0 pt (0-0-0)

ChocoPro 128 saw the return of Antonio Honda & Tokyo Kirihara as a team, but purportedly as the angelic, reformed “White Comaneci” (they were previously known as “Black Comaneci”). Their match with Egg Tart indicated their old tricks have not been forgotten. Egg Tart foiled them however, and the loss puts them in the exact same must win situation as Dragon Ninja. However while White Comaneci is a tournament underdog at the moment, Black Comaneci was a dastardly force that has previously worked their way into title contention. If they can focus properly it’s not impossible for them to turn things around, particularly against the team thought to be the block’s overall underdog.

Minoru Fujita’s choice of Sayaka as his tag league partner over either of his Pencil Army brethren leaves a lot of questions open. Today will be their first match as a team, and with Met Brain Dancing’s emphatic win over a strongly established team like Egg Tart making the block look like theirs for the taking Mi*Sayaka should be looking to start strong if they intend to go far in this tournament.

Summary

No one has been eliminated from contention yet.

DN, WC: Eliminated from winning their block with a loss. Put into dire straights with a tie.

TW: Put into dire straights with a loss.

(“dire straights” in the above instances means the ONLY way to make the finals is needing the entire block to tie at the end, then winning the tiebreaker match)

I really enjoy league tournaments when done well, and OOAK certainly fits the bill. The lineup is stacked, the matches have been excellent, and there’s a lot more great stuff to go. Hope everyone enjoys.

——-

As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping!

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

A Bit of Happiness in a Crazy Year: ChocoPro 100 Preview

One year ago, amid a rapidly changing global situation and the restrictions it brought, Emi Sakura decided to go all in on a chance to do things in a drastically different way in hopes of keeping her wrestling promotion afloat.

Gatoh Move is a small wrestling company whose home base is Ichigaya Chocolate Square, a venue that just barely holds a mat to wrestle on and a packed in audience of about 70 people maximum (including spectators watching through two large windows while standing in a side alley). Not only would they be unable to run shows during lockdowns, but the logistics of the space make it impossible to host socially distanced crowds even as restrictions slowly started to lift.

Years earlier, long before internet streamed events were common and while she was with a previous company she founded, Sakura experimented with an online only wrestling show. This time she took things even further, with daily streams supplementing the wrestling shows and EVERYTHING being put up for free on YouTube.

And so ChocoPro was born. The new name was honestly confusing at first. Was this not just Gatoh Move without a crowd? But making ChocoPro its own “promotion” signified Sakura’s approach: this would be a completely new effort to bring live wrestling to fans all over the world in a way specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square. ChocoPro is DESIGNED to be an online experience, where Gatoh Move (like most wrestling shows) feeds off having a live audience in attendance.

It’s been an amazing ride. Featuring a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances, ChocoPro has powered through 99 episodes. From an incredible start featuring Minoru Suzuki in their first main event, to long running stories like Yuna and Sakura’s feud and Lulu’s quest to regain her hat, to momentous single match shows and handful of special events at Shinkiba 1st Ring, it’s amazing how much significance and surprise has been packed into the promotion’s short history. Riho’s return happened in ChocoPro. Emi Sakura’s 25th Anniversary show happened in ChocoPro. Mitsuru’s retirement happened in ChocoPro.

This weekend, in a special two day event that includes the actual one year anniversary of ChocoPro 1, ChocoPro will mark 100 episodes with a huge lineup that celebrates everything the promotion has become.

ChocoPro Day 1

(9pm 3/26 EDT / 10am 3/27 JST – watch here!)

1) Asia Deam Championship: Best Bros (Baliyan Akki & Mei Suruga) (c) vs Emi Sakura & Minoru Fujita

Taking a cue from western wrestling shows, Sakura decided to open and close Day 1 with main event worthy title matches. Best Bros have become a dominant force in ChocoPro and taking Gatoh Move’s tag titles from Reset (Sakura & Kaori Yoneyama) made a strong statement. However they hit a giant roadblock on ChocoPro 99 when Sakura & Fujita, in their strongest forms with no trace of Emi or Mino Pencil to be found, defeated the champions in non-title competition. Mei & Akki are desperate to hold onto their titles (Mei in particular has a near unhealthy obsession with her physical belt), but will need to beat the team they couldn’t less than a week ago.

Also, this match will have extremely intriguing implications leading into Day 2…

2) Sayaka Obihiro & Sayaka vs Dragon Ninjas (Choun Shiryu & Sayuri)

Sayaka has been on a break from wrestling and last wrestled on ChocoPro 1. Her returning one year later on ChocoPro 100 is wonderfully fitting. With her return (and another key appearance on Day 2) the entire current Gatoh Move roster will be appearing during ChocoPro 100.

Her teaming with Gatoh’s other Sayaka here is interesting, as she and Obi will be on opposite sides on Day 2. Dragon Ninjas are a recently formed, impressive team with extremely complimentary styles. They got their first victory (over Chie & Sakura) on ChocoPro 97 and will no doubt be looking to spoil Sayaka’s return and keep their own momentum going.

3) Egg Tart (Hagane Shinno & Chie Koishikawa) vs Psycho & Chango

Originally scheduled to face Reset here, Chie is coming into this match annoyed about the change and with a big chip on her shoulder as she gets more and more desperate to prove herself. She and her sometimes reluctant, sometimes supportive partner Hagane have just as big a challenge ahead of them in their replacement opponents, who have been teaming for the better part of a decade. Psycho & Chango are the first of some big returns, and were last seen in Gatoh Move over three years ago.

4) Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Chris Brookes) vs Black Comaneci (Antonio Honda & Tokiko Kirihara)

There’s something special about Lulu Pencil that draws people to her side. Even after a bitter betrayal and long feud with Chris Brookes, Lulu recently reached out to him and gave him back the hat she had fought so hard to reclaim in a gesture to invite him into the Pencil Army. Chris accepted and here the only iteration of Pencil Army tag teams ever to be successful is reunited. They’re facing another reuniting tag team, as the outrageous Black Comaneci duo hasn’t teamed since ChocoPro 72, nearly four months ago. This one will be extremely weird in all sorts of wonderful ways.

5) Pure-J Open Class Championship: Kaori Yoneyama (c) vs Yuna Mizumori

Kaori Yoneyama winning Pure-J’s title and declaring all of her singles matches would be title matches threw a wrench in the original plans for this show in a way that was none-the-less appreciated by pretty much everyone (except Chie). Always one to seize an opportunity, Sakura called off the planned Egg Tart vs Reset match and set up a title defense for Yone in the main event. Based on a number of strong performances Yuna was given the opportunity, and what an opportunity it is. Win or lose a tough fight by Yuna could increase her spotlight significantly, and of course in the unlikely case of an upset she’d immediately be the one to beat in a promotion she’s never even set foot in. Wild, awesome way to wrap up Day 1.

Day 2

(9pm 3/27 EDT / 10am 3/28 JST – watch here!)

1) Sayaka Obihiro & Yuna Mizumori vs Sayaka & Rin Rin

Rin Rin has only been appearing during school breaks, and it’s great that she’s able to return for this. The gen 4* team will have their hands full with the powerhouse (and possible new Pure-J champ) Yuna and the second most experienced wrestler on the Gatoh roster Obi. Emi Sakura certainly isn’t taking it easy on the returning duo, but Sayak & Rin Rin are certainly up to the challenge.

* The six wrestlers who debuted on August 28, 2019 (Lulu, Chie, Tokiko, Sayaka, Sayuri, and Rin Rin) are being referred to as the fourth generation of Gatoh Move. Making up over half of the roster and the unusual circumstances of 2020 have challenged them harder and faster than normal. Even though they all still have under two years of experience, in recognition of their progress they are no longer being referred to as rookies by their seniors.

2) Egg Tart (Hagane Shinno & Chie Koishikawa) vs Dragon Ninjas (Choun Shiryu & Sayuri)

The complexion of this match will certainly be influenced by the success, or lack there of, of the two participating teams on Day 1. With the men on each team having over fifteen years experience and their partners less than two, this will be an interesting encounter that will likely come down to how well each team works together. One of my most anticipated matches of the weekend.

3) Pencil Army (Emi Sakura & Lulu Pencil) vs Gabai Ji-chan & Kuishinbo Kamen

Possibly a day removed from regaining the tag team championship, Emi Sakura will be back into Emi Pencil mode as the original Pencil Army duo faces an old man with a cane and a candy obsessed clown (and will still be the underdogs). This will be as ridiculous as I make it sound, and in all the right ways.

4) Mizuki vs Mei Suruga

Mizuki is a top star in Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, and regular partner of Yuka Sakazaki (who Mei faced in the ). Mizuki last wrestled in Gatoh Move in April 2019 against Yuna (available to watch here). Her last match before that was at the end of 2018… against Mei (available here). Both competitors have continued to improve and evolve their craft, and it will be great to see how this time is different. This is a huge challenge for Mei, although Mizuki could have her hands full facing an extremely surly and angry Apple Girl if the Best Bros are unsuccessful in their title defense on Day 1.

5) Super Asia Championship (currently vacant): Minoru Fujita vs Baliyan Akki

When Gatoh Move’s ace Riho left to go freelance in early July 2019, she vacated the Super Asia Championship (a title she won in the original crowning tournament and never lost). Emi Sakura shocked EVERYONE when she pulled the belt out on ChocoPro 99 and announced that this match would determine a new champion. This match highlights one of the other key differences between ChocoPro and Gatoh Move. Gatoh features frequent male guests and a lot of intergender wrestling, but it is still a joshi company. The main events always featured at least one woman wrestler and the singles titles were women’s championships. From the very start when Akki vs Minoru Suzuki main evented the first show ChocoPro has been a fully intergender promotion, or more precisely there is no distinction made in ChocoPro. Anyone can wrestle anyone else in any circumstances (resident boss and oni Emi Sakura permitting). Reintroducing Gatoh’s top title in this way really makes it a ChocoPro title now, which is an incredibly cool and exciting thing to do.

With both competitors being involved in Day 1’s Asia Dream Tag Title match, someone will be coming into this match with the opportunity to leave it as a double champion. This is a going to be an intense battle, and whoever wins will be a fitting successor to Riho’s run.

As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated, and I’m extremely happy to see them still going strong after a year and 99 shows. ChocoPro 100 looks to be an excellent representation of what they’ve done so far as well as a lead in to the future, and I hope everyone enjoys the shows.


Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. As previously mentioned everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal.

Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping for most physical goods as well as a variety of e-merch available, including sponsorship packages for ChocoPro 100 including special digital photos. Finally a ChocoPro 100 t-shirt, along with numerous other awesome designs (including Mitsuru Konno’s retirement shirts), is available on their PWTees store

Categories
Wrestling

AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Round 1 Live Thoughts

AEW’s sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship is underway. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner. That winner will face Shida at AEW’s Revolution PPV on March 7, 2021.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. See my preview of the first round for more information on the wrestlers as well as some thoughts on all four of these first time ever singles matches.

Now it’s time to see how they all turn out.

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga

All four of these matches are one fall with a twenty minute time limit.

The matches are taking place in Ice Ribbon’s home base, a venue I’m very familiar with (Ice Ribbon rents their dojo out for other events, and are not involved in this tournament).

This was one of the dream matches of the tournament and it’s great to see it happen. We’ve got two extremely quick and deceptively powerful wrestlers here. Yuka is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, and the former TJPW Princess of Princess champion has four and a half years experience over Gatoh Move’s prodigy.

Though Mei had been wrestling for TJPW the last few months, this is the first time she and Yuka are crossing paths in the ring at all. *

This was honestly not the match I expected them to have as a first time encounter to be seen by a lot of first time viewers. It was wrestled at a very fast pace and featured a ton of counters and dodges. It’s the type of match viewers like me who are familiar with the maneuvers of both competitors and can fully process every feint and counter-move love, and I adored it. But I wonder if fans unfamiliar with their moves got the same depth from it, especially when even commentary missed big things like Mei attempting but not completing her finishing submission Lucifer.

Both also have very unique and creative movesets, which led to a couple small moments of awkwardness as they got used to each other. It was noticeable enough to mention, particularly when Mei kind of fell off Yuka’s shoulders going for her trademark rollup out of victory roll position when Yuka turned the opposite way Mei expected, but the recoveries were spot on and overall they were just small blips.

Yuka took control late and broke out the jaw-dropping Magical Girl Chicken Dude (450 from the middle of the top rope) to put Mei away. The match was extremely good and served as a nice introduction for Mei before she was overwhelmed and defeated by who I believe is the Japan side favorite. As mentioned above, for me this hit all the right notes. Would love to see a rematch sometime.

* Japan has a strong, strange kind of quasi-kayfabe/willing suspension of disbelief that makes it a little difficult to discuss certain things sometimes. Wrestlers occasionally play different characters/personas in different companies, without masks and with no attempt to hide their identity, that they and fans will ham-fistedly pretend are unrelated. So when “Mei Saint-Michel,” the lost child found in a forest in France taken in by Saki-sama who’s clearly Mei in a maid outfit, appears in TJPW and Mei Suruga posts on Twitter wondering why people are tagging her in posts about “someone who isn’t me,” that’s what’s going on. Regardless, “neither” Mei has previous wrestled Yuka.

Emi Sakura vs Veny

Of note is that while she still came to the ring with cape, crown, and microphone, the Queen obsessed Emi Sakura wished to show more of the base of who she is and for the first time in AEW was not wearing her Freddie Mercury inspired gear. Big opportunity for Veny** to make a big impression on the international stage against the twenty-five year veteran, so both are coming in with something to prove.

This was the consensus best match of the first round, and opinion I’m in complete agreement with. Sakura lost a bit of weight in preparation for this match and showed off the resulting increase in speed and agility throughout. This had a bit of everything, with both wrestlers showing proficiency in strikes, submission holds, and anything else they could throw at each other. Short of full play-by-play I’m at a loss to convey the scope of this, so my best advice is simple to go watch.

After a lot of back and forth and fighting off each other’s signatures, Sakura was able to wear Veny down with a vicious looking under the arm dragon sleeper, then is finally able to nail the Tiger Driver to advance.

I expected (and wanted) Sakura to win, but a Veny upset was likely enough that this was particularly gripping down the stretch. Great showing by both, and it’s particularly nice to see AEW get a glimpse of what Sakura is truly capable of.

**Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh

The battle between two of the most charismatic wrestlers anywhere in the world was lighter fare than the rest of the opening round, but still featured two determined competitors due all they could to advance. Highlights included Itoh suckering Ryo in with fake crying to get an advantage only to blow it by charging the unmovable object and wiping herself herself out when Ryo didn’t budge, and Mizunami learning first hand that it’s unwise to underestimate how hard Itoh’s head is.

They wrestled a smart match and their styles worked well together. Ryo really can adjust to just about anything and is extremely underrated. Despite Itoh giving it her all, the veteran stayed one step ahead and after Itoh barely kicked out after a brutal spear Ryo used the momentum of Itoh’s kickout to apply an anaconda vice for the tapout victory.

While many newer fans expected Itoh’s immediate appeal with the unfamiliar fanbase to lead to a win here, this was the only way this was ever going to end. Even ignoring that the matches were likely taped before Itoh’s cheerful, curse filled introductory tweet went viral, her entire identity is the crass, defiant underdog continuing to be herself despite setbacks. Her immediately beating a stronger wrestler with 10+ more years experience is not the right story to tell with her. It’s the fight and doing things her way that matter with Itoh, and her battle here with the powerhouse was as good as a first impression as she could make.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura

“This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.”

That quote from my preview pretty much sums it all up. Kong dominated the youngster, but Rin took everything and kept fighting, earning her the immediate respect of everyone watching. At one point Kong spiked her with a particularly vicious piledriver, and Rin’s kickout had the chat going wild. Hanging in with Kong as long as she did made Rin look super tough, and she even got the monster down with a flurry of offense long enough to attempt the Ultra Rin (twisting senton).

Kong moved however, and absolutely planted Rin with a backdrop driver … for 2.999. I expected that to end it, and Rin looks super human for surviving it. Rin fights off the brain buster but gets leveled with a clothesline after a vicious right for another close 2, and the legend has had enough and finishes the upstart off with a monstrous top rope elbow drop. Exactly what this should have been.

——-

Expected strong showing all around from these intriguing, well chosen matchups showcasing several different styles. While I’d like to see a touch more research done, and things like getting the referee’s gender wrong are rather embarrassing mistakes, overall Excalibur did a decent job on commentary and sounded reasonably knowledgeable about and (most importantly) interested in the matches taking place.

No surprises in the results but that’s perfectly fine, especially with the awesome matchups that will result in the next round. Really good stuff, and a nice introduction to the new wrestlers regardless of their losses, who will all hopefully be brought back in the future. These matches are still available on their YouTube channel.

For more information on how to officially watch the home promotions of these wrestlers and a number of other Joshi companies see this thread.

The next round of the Japan bracket will air with two first round matches from the US side:

Emi Sakura vs Yuka Sakazaki
Ryo Mizunami vs Aja Kong
Nyla Rose vs Tay Conti
Britt Baker vs Madi Wrenkowski (subbing for the injured Anna Jay)

Check it out on AEW’s YouTube channel tonight at 7pm EST.

Categories
Wrestling

AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Preview

AEW has begun a sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. Four of the eight (Emi Sakura, Yuka Sakazaki, Ryo Mizunami, and Aja Kong) have competed in AEW in the past. The other four (Mei Suruga, Veny, Maki Itoh, and Rin Kadokura) are making their AEW debuts.

The champion herself has gone to Japan to oversee the matches, and the first round is absolutely stacked with four really interesting matchups. Furthermore, all four are first time ever singles encounters.

(Shida appeared as a special referee ChocoPro 89 which featured matches involving half of the Japan bracket participants, and also had a sit down talk with Emi Sakura after the show.)

Here is some more information on all eight participants, and a quick look at the first round contests:

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga




Nickname
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves






Twitter

Yuka Sakazaki
(坂崎ユカ)

Magical Girl
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 1, 2013
5’2″
24
Magical Girl Splash (middle of the top rope splash)
Magical Magical Girl Splash (MGS with horizontal rotation)
Magical Girl Chicken Dude (middle of the top rope 450)

YukaSakazaki

Mei Suruga
(駿河メ)

Apple Girl
Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
May 27, 2018
4’10”
21
Propeller Clutch
Lucifer (chicken wing Cattle Mutilation)




Mei_gtmv

Yuka Sakazaki is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, but also deceptively strong and more than capable of going strike for strike or hold for hold as well. The seven year pro has been Princess of Princess Champion twice (TJPW’s top singles title) and held their tag team titles with two different partners.

But for those unfamiliar with Mei Suruga: the term wrestling prodigy has perhaps never been more apt. She debuted in just twenty-one days of full training and wrestles with confidence and skill far beyond her two and a half years of experience. Mei’s had major upsets already in her short career, including singles victories over both Emi Sakura and Hikaru Shida. She recently won her first championship, Gatoh Move’s Asia Dream Tag Titles (with partner Baliyan Akki) and will no doubt be looking to ride that wave of momentum to victory here.

While I personally expect Yuka to win not only this match but perhaps the entire bracket, Mei’s the dark horse of the tournament and her adding Yuka’s name to her increasing list of upsets is not impossible. Either way this is a match between two extremely quick, skilled, and exciting competitors and is the first round match I’m most excited for.

Emi Sakura vs Veny




Nickname/Tagline
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Emi Sakura
(さくらえみ)

“She will chop you.”
AEW, Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
August 17, 1995
5’1″
44
La Magistral
Nyan Nyan Press (450 Splash)
Tiger Driver
and many, many more

sakuraemi

Veny
(朱崇花, Asuka)*

The Genderless Pro Wrestler
Freelance
August 9, 2015
5’9″
22
Moonsault
Shooting Star Press
Sitout Chokeslam


asuka10272140

The Queen obsessed eccentric wrestler who AEW audiences are most familiar with is only one facet of the incredible twenty-five year veteran Emi Sakura. Capable of matching nearly any style and adapting to any challenge, the sole AEW contracted wrestler on this side of the bracket is one of the clear favorites. Beyond her significant wrestling prowess, Sakura is also a well renowned and highly respected trainer, having trained an incredibly long list of wrestlers including not only possible tournament opponents Mei Suruga and Riho, but the reigning AEW Women’s Champion Hikaru Shida as well.

However among the favorites Sakura has perhaps the toughest draw of the round. It’s easy to forget how young Veny is, as at 22 and with just five years in she fits right in going toe-to-toe with the veterans and has already held the top singles title in two different promotions. With Veny’s strength and fiery offense a victory is not impossible, and if she does shock Sakura in round one she could become a good bet to continue on quite far.

*Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Ryo Mizunami
(水波綾)

Aniki

Freelance
November 3, 2004
5’4″
32
Hot Limit (fireman’s carry into kneeling tombstone piledriver)
Running Lariat
Diving Guillotine Leg Drop

mizunami0324

Maki Itoh
(伊藤麻希)

The Cutest in the World,
The Fired Idol
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 11, 2016
5’3″
25
Falling Headbutt
Itoh Special (Texas Cloverleaf)



maki_itoh

TJPW’s lovable misfit immediately captured the imagination of a whole slew of new fans when she happily cursed out a welcome message when retweeting AEW’s announcement of her participation in the tournament. Itoh doesn’t do much the way one is “supposed” to and everyone adores her for it. She is who she is unapologetically and is always ready to take on the world, which she often has to. Itoh’s a straight ahead brawler who uses her hard head for a good portion of her offense, and while she has more in her arsenal then some give her credit for she is generally overmatched in technique against wrestlers with similar or greater levels of experience. But she’s defiant to the last and will fight tooth and nail trying to defeat her opponents through shear strength of will.

Which she’ll need to do to have any chance against the sixteen year veteran Mizunami. This will be Mizunami’s first appearance for AEW since their first pay-per-view, where she teamed with Riho & Shida to defeat Aja Kong, Emi Sakura, & Yuka Sakazaki. The powerhouse is capable of, and perhaps used to, running right over her opponents and will be a real test of Itoh’s fortitude. Mizunami is also the only one in the tournament who even comes close to matching Itoh in terms of raw charisma, so this match should be a really fun spectacle.

Itoh winning is not inconceivable, but make no mistake it would be a BIG upset. She has wrestled Aja Kong before though, and the possibility of a rematch in the second round here is intriguing.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves


Twitter

Aja Kong
(アジャコング)

N/A – the name “Aja Kong” speaks volumes all on it’s own
Oz Academy
1986
5’5″
50
Uraken (spinning back fist)
Brainbuster

ajakonguraken

Rin Kodakura
(門倉凛)

Cool Needlefish

Marvelous
May 3, 2016
5’1″
27
Ultra Rin (twisting senton)


Kazu_Marvelous

Aja Kong is a legendary thirty-four year veteran who is still going strong and still impressive and intimidating in the ring. Taking her out is going to be a tall task for anyone, and perhaps a near impossible one for Rin. Although I fully expect the talented, defiant spitfire from Marvelous to make the legend work for it, and Kong may find herself risking a disqualification if tempted to tee off on Rin with her ever present metal mini garbage can. This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.

——-

That wraps it up for now. AEW is premiering these first round matches on their YouTube channel Monday February 15 at 7pm EST.

For the first time ever I actually find myself rooting for all the favorites, as second round matches of Sakazaki vs Sakura and Mizunami vs Kong would be incredible and are legit dream matches. However as mentioned above nothing’s 100% here, and absolutely all of the possible second round matches look great. Really excited to see how this all plays out.

Categories
Art Comics Japan Manga Video Games Wrestling

Beautiful Dreams 4: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

It’s been almost two years (wow 2020 threw off my sense of time) since my last spotlight on the work of my favorite artist, and I’d like to share and talk about more of her incredible work and some of the inspirations behind the pieces. See Beautiful DreamsBeautiful Dreams 2, and Beautiful Dream 3 for more about Juri H. Chinchilla’s art, including past pieces I’ll be mentioning in this write up.

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements. One of the more unique requests I’ve made was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and I adored it so much that I’ve followed up with several more since. Juri’s done an AMAZING job depicting these previously unfamiliar to her subjects and these are in many ways the pride of my entire art collection. See Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 3 for more about the above works featuring Jenny Rose & Sareee and retired Ice Ribbon wrestler Tequila Saya.

Gatoh Move is one of my favorite wrestling companies, and it’s so wonderful to see the roster represented in absolutely stunning form on the above six card PSC puzzle by Juri. The top row of cards feature Sayaka Obihiro & Mitsuru Konno, Emi Sakura & Riho, and Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara. The bottom row has Yuna Mizumori & Mei Suruga, Sayuri & Sayaka, and Lulu Pencil & Rin Rin.

The timing on these cards ended up being suitable in many ways. They were completed shortly after Sakura’s 25th Anniversary in wrestling and shortly before a personal favorite of mine, and the wrestler I’ve requested Juri draw the most, Mitsuru Konno retired.

Riho is Gatoh Move’s former ace, and shortly after she left to go freelance the company the core roster doubled in size with the debut of six rookies (Chie, Tokiko, Sayuri, Sayaka, Lulu, & Rin Rin). I love the encapsulation of the company’s past, present, and future around that time on this batch of cards and Juri knocked this out of the park. As usual I only specified the subjects and an occasional small detail like particular gear. The layout, poses, and incredible way these all fit together into a larger scene is all Juri and I couldn’t possibly be happier with how it all came together.  

One of the first PSCs I got from Juri was an incredible depiction of the Darkstalkers “sisters” Morrigan and Lilith, two of my favorite fighting game characters to play. In the last Beautiful Dreams feature I showed a larger, equally amazingly done drawing of the former. Later on Juri revisited and completed a wonderful Lilith companion piece I am very happy to add to my collection.

Juri’s range in styles and subjects is highlighted in striking renditions of video game, comic, and movie characters such as Nakoruru from Samurai Showdown, X-men’s Psylocke & Emma Frost, and DC’s Enchantress.

I discovered Perna Studios‘ high quality card sets through Juri’s art, and her work for them continues to be incredibly perfect for the subject matter. Her hauntingly beautiful black and white ghost from the Hallow-Ink set and fantastically playful Alice in Wonderland Artist Proof (AP) from Classic Fairy Tales 2.

Iconic Creations (which I hope to write about in more detail soon) has been releasing incredible card sets based around literature and legends. Juri’s sketch cards for the sets have been wonderfully evocative of the subject matter, particularly the stunning Snow Queen and swordswoman APs I got from the Christmas Literature and Way of the Sword sets.

Iconic’s sets feature a variety of way to showcase the stunning art they include, including special cards like wood sketch cards and other inventive variants. The prize centerpieces of their sets are the oversized wooden “box toppers.” I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to get Juri’s box topper AP from the Christmas set, and pull her box topper sketch card from Treasure Hunters. Both my requested Ghosts of Christmas AP and Juri’s mermaid are absolutely breathtaking.

I mentioned another favorite company of mine, Ice Ribbon, above in relation to Tequila Saya. Their ace is featured on one of the newest PSCs I’ve gotten from Juri. It’s part of a duo of cards I’ve had planned for a while. During my first trip to Japan I saw a match between two phenomenal teams that remains one of my favorites of all time, and Juri’s renditions of the two pairs are simply incredible.

SEAdLINNNG’s Arisa Nakajima & Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto, known as Best Friends, are two top tier singles competitors who are even more fearsome as a team. I adore Juri’s illustration of the pair with Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championship Belt.

The Jumonji Sisters, consisting of the since retired Sendai Sachiko & her sister Dash Chisako, were the epitome of poetry in motion. It was a privilege to get to see them in action live a couple of times before Sachiko retired, and the casual confidence and closeness Juri captured in their card is absolutely perfect.

Dash still wrestles for Sendai Girls and is simply incredible. She was previously featured in a solo PSC by Juri mid flight of her jaw dropping Hormone Splash (top rope frog splash).

Tokyo Joshi Pro is an incredibly fun promotion filled with a wide variety of characters and styles. I’m a huge fan of Hikari Noa, and Juri captured both her idol and wrestler aspects showing off the wonderfully cute side of the deathmatch loving Up Up Girl.

Yuka Sakazaki is arguably the best high flyer in all of wrestling, and always a joy to watch. I love the sense of motion Juri achieved in her beautifully detailed depiction of TJPW’s Magical Girl.

The last card I’ll talk about here card is special, as well as sad. Hana Kimura was an incredible young wrestler who tragically passed away last year due to suicide amid a myriad of online harassment and other factors. Hana was one of my favorite performers in her home promotion and had striking charisma. She was always fun to watch in the ring and always seemed to go out of her way to be friendly to fans and make sure everyone was having a good time

Juri wonderfully captured Hana in a gorgeous card that is a great remembrance to someone dearly missed.

Rest in Peace Hana.

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

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

ChocoPro 85: Mitsuru’s Graduation Live Stream Thoughts

January 29, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan

Important night for a variety of reasons, with a loaded card to boot.

ChocoPro is a unique effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world and take full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery.

This is one of their rare ring shows at Shinkiba 1st Ring. Masahiro Takanashi has been out with injury for nine months. His originally scheduled self-produced return show had to be cancelled due to renewed Covid restrictions in Tokyo. He gave the reserved venue spot to ChocoPro for this special show, and while he won’t be doing a full comeback match he will make his return in a five minute exhibition.

Emotional show for me as one of my favorite wrestlers is officially retiring (which in Japan is often referred to as “graduating” from the company or field). Check out my farewell piece for more thoughts and a personal look back on Mitsuru’s career.

ChocoPro 85

In a great touch, Mitsuru is out with Akki to open and handles announcing duties all show.

1) Tokiko Kirihara, Lulu Pencil, & Chie Koishikawa vs Antonio Honda, Hagane Shinnou, & Ryuichi Sekine

As the veteran trio comes out Sekine is playing saxophone, Hagane guitar, and Honda is singing. They are apparently a regular band, and this was a cool way to have a little music in the show (entrance themes are generally not played for ChocoPro shows as any type of recorded music tends to flag YouTube’s overeager copyright algorithms).

This is a huge match for the gen 4 trio*, and the first time they’re teaming in six-person competition.

I love the way this progressed. The men’s team was joyfully heelish, while their opponents persevered and slowly built up momentum. Eventually after their powerhouse Tokiko ran wild they had established and maintained a small but definite advantage.

At which point Honda called the band in for a Mitsuru tribute to deflect from the trouble he was in. He suckered his opponents into dancing, then eye poked them all and finished Lulu with a fist drop from the second rope (while Hagane and Sekine were still playing their instruments).

Absurd in a pretty great way, this match combined comedy and action well and in a way that let the overmatched trio really shine even in defeat.

* The six wrestlers who debuted on August 28, 2019 (Lulu, Chie, Tokiko, Sayaka, Sayuri, and Rin Rin) are being referred to as the fourth generation of Gatoh Move. Making up over half of the roster and the unusual circumstances of 2020 have challenged them harder and faster than normal. Even though they all still have under two years of experience, in recognition of their progress they are no longer being referred to as rookies by their seniors.

2) Emi Sakura & Sayaka Obihiro vs Sayuri & Sawasdee Kamen

Sayuri’s back! And with awesome new gear! Sawasdee was a regular partner of Mitsuru, so it’s really nice to see him on this show. They’ll make a good team against Gatoh Move’s most senior roster members.

Sayuri looked really good here. She always seems to somehow sharpen her skills and come back even stronger and smoother whenever she’s out for a bit. The match was largely about her tenacity, hanging in against Obi & Emi’s assault to set things up for her more experienced partner.

Late in the match Obi & Emi seemed not to be on same page, but it lead to suckering the other team in when they exaggerated their displeasure with each other. Little touches like this that build a bit throughout the match provide a lot of additional depth that’s often felt even more than it’s noticed, and Emi’s a master at it.

Emi pulled out the freaking 450 for the win (into a double knee drop on Sawasdee’s stomach/chest… ouch). My jaw always drops when I see her do it. I believe the last time we were treated to that amazing spectacle was at the retirement show of Aoi Kizuki, another of Emi’s trainees.

An emotional Emi speaks briefly to Mitsuru after the match, and Sawasdee hands Mitsuru her hero mask on his way out.

Exhibition: Masahiro Takanashi vs Choun Shiryu

Exactly the technical masterclass to be expected from these two. Fantastic to see Masa back from injury and looking to be in great shape/spirits/form. He was favoring the leg a bit by the end, but seemed ok overall. Masa set up his finish just as the five minute time limit ran out making this exhibition a draw.

UMA and Haru Miyako came out afterwards to present a congratulatory bottle to Masa. Masa shook hands with UMA but fell as UMA’s arm stretched out a couple feet.

3) Asia Deam Tag Team Championship: Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) (c) vs TropiCalamari (Yuna Mizumori & Chris Brookes)

The main event planned for ChocoPro’s first ring show was Chris & Mitsuru vs Best Bros. However Mitsuru was injured during practice leading up to the show, and would not end up returning to the ring. This variation on that planned match is an incredibly suitable match to head up Mitsuru’s official retirement show.

This was an incredibly strong main event with a classic feeling tag formula at times. The tension was palpable between the Bros and Chris and the overall atmosphere electric.

They honestly never really got me to buy into the possibility of Best Bros losing the championship in their first defense, but there were some amazing close falls none-the-less and the match was excellent regardless. In the end Akki countered a lariat by Yuna into a tight rollup to escape with the titles. The Bros give their rapidly becoming usual equal mix smug and heartfelt post match thoughts.

Mitsuru Konno Retirement Ceremony

This was done really well as an abbreviated form of the traditional Japanese retirement ceremony. The usual departing gifts were represented by just Yuna and Chris, with the latter acknowledging that he was traditionally supposed to give flowers but felt alcohol was a more fitting gesture for Mitsuru (who certainly approved). Mitsuru gave a speech followed by the 10 bell salute and everyone came in for a joyful cheer to wish Mitsuru well to wrap things up. Mitsuru will be missed, but it’s awesome to see her leave largely on her own terms and with a smile.

Great show all around, and a wonderful way to wish Mitsuru well and welcome Masa back.

——-

As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content, including the replay of this show. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their brand new merchandise store with international shipping for most physical goods as well as a variety of e-merch available!

——-

Best wishes to Mitsuru with all that lies ahead. Beer Buddies forever.

Categories
Japan Wrestling

“I really think… wrestling was fun” : Farewell to Mitsuru Konno

“Gatoh Move is a company I enjoyed a lot and immediately became a big fan of during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. When I returned a year later the first show I saw of theirs had an interesting interpromotional 6-woman tag team match featuring respective veterans of REINA and Gatoh Move Makoto and Emi Sakura teaming with rookies from their promotions.

Emi’s partners were both new to me, and made an immediate positive impression. One was Mitsuru Konno, just a couple of months from her debut, who was eliminated first yet had a striking aura about her and has since become an absolute favorite of mine.”

I wrote the above words two years ago to open my look back on the career of Aasa Maika in the wake of her retirement, and they are perhaps even more fitting to preface this piece written in light of Mitsuru’s own retirement announcement.

I mentioned shortly after that trip that Mitsuru already projected a distinct no-nonsense aura in the way she carried herself in the ring that nicely complimented her intense strikes and smooth holds. She made an immediate impression through the few matches I saw of hers with under six months experience and became an instant favorite of mine, which she remained.

It was a treat to see her skills further develop and the following year I was lucky to see Mitsuru in longer and more challenging contests against veterans including excellent showings against Gatoh’s ace Riho, the incredible Masahiro Takanashi and Gatoh’s founder / Mitsuru’s trainer herself Emi Sakura. Mitsuru’s determination and fire in the face of stronger opponents was always apparent and made her matches truly engaging.

I was back in Japan during Spring of 2018 for the wedding of some dear friends of mine. During that trip I was able to see Gatoh Move’s annual mixed tag team Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup tournament for the first time. The show was a delight, with a field of excellent matches of different styles, great booking, and incredible action. The tone was set right away with the first match of the tournament seeing Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru & Sawasdee Kamen in a fantastic display of everything intergender wrestling can be. I adored the match and Mitsuru was continually pushing herself and wrested like someone with much more experience than she had.

For that first match teaming with Sawasdee as the Heroes, Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit and came to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif.

A few days before the 5/4/18 show Mitsuru had announced on Twitter that replica’s of her mask, made by the original mask maker (the incredible Demonio Blanco / Bacchanales Tokyo), were available for special order. I put in an order but expected to have to pick it up during my next trip (whenever that ended up being). In a wonderful, greatly appreciated gesture a point was made of finishing it so it could be delivered before I returned home and Mitsuru surprised me with it after the show. It’s a wonderful keepsake of amazing quality and a centerpiece addition to my collection, and will be a treasured memento.

As a final fantastic bit of amusement, Mitsuru had her own mask with her and had us both wear them when I got a pic with her later on, then signed with “we are heroes!” It was fun to a be a sidekick for a moment.

Mitsuru’s matches continued to be a highlight of the shows I saw, and constantly became more varied in both style and concept. I saw her in things such as Akki’s first intergender singles match (1/2/19), a delightful tag match that saw Riho & Hagane Shinnou play the villains to her Heroes team (1/13/19), a shot at TropikaWild’s Asia Dream Tag Team Championship, and so on. The intensity she brought to everything she did was amazing, and her holds kept looking more and more vicious and her strikes more and more brutal every time out.

For a majority of Gatoh Move’s existence, their clear ace and star was Riho. In Spring of 2019 it was announced that she would be leaving to go freelance in early July. The landscape of Gatoh changed dramatically after her departure and the subsequent debut of six rookies from Sakura’s casual training program DareJyo.

Mei Suruga and Yuna Mizumori, both with under a year and a half of experience, suddenly became senior to half the roster. In the same instant at around three years of experience Mitsuru immediately went from being fourth senior out of six on the roster to third out of eleven, and often effectively second after Gatoh’s founder and near twenty-five year veteran Emi Sakura (as Sayaka Obihiro was sporadically out with injury).

Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

In addition to being great to see all the new rookies in action, it was interesting to see the effects of the new dynamics when I went back to Japan in December 2019. Gatoh Move had not only survived but thrived in new ways, and the importance of Mitsuru, Mei, and Yuna as pillars of the company were apparent. Mitsuru and Mei main evented Gatoh’s year end show at Shinkiba 1st Ring in a battle of wrestlers trying to prove their place as the new ace. This had been built to wonderfully, with Mei consistently having a bit of an edge on Mitsuru despite having less experience. A few days prior the two battled to a draw in an intense tag match (Mitsuru & Rin Rin vs Mei & Actwres Girlz’ Saki). 

The big match featured excellent work all around from both, and the underlying story of Mei trying to outlast and outmaneuver an angry, driven Mitsuru was pitch perfect. They took advantage of the spotlight and this was seen as a strong indication of a bright future ahead of Gatoh Move. I was thrilled (as well as a bit surprised) to see Mitsuru finally get a big win, and it felt every bit deserved.

Four days after her victory Mitsuru faced another big challenge in the form of a singles match against Chris Brookes. It was all about Mitsuru’s fire and defiance as a counter to Chris’ size advantage, including her unloading at various points with heavy, vicious strikes. I adored the inventive submissions and counters from both that anchored the match throughout, and Mitsuru got a chance to really shine against a stronger opponent and looked fantastic even in defeat.

Both Mitsuru vs Mei and her battle with Chris were among my favorite matches of the year and are well worth seeking out.

That trip got both derailed and extended a bit due to me coming down with the flu around New Year’s. I was lucky enough that after I recovered (and after Mitsuru herself returned from some time out sick) I was able to catch one last live Gatoh Move show with her on it right before I left. It was a tag match that saw Mitsuru team with rookie Tokiko Kirihara to face the dominant Hyakuen Thunders (Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi). Mitsuru & Tokiko were a good team featuring complimentary styles, and it was great seeing them get to mix it up with the veteran team. I of course didn’t know it at the time, but that match would turn out to be the last time I got to see Mitsuru wrestle live. 

Mitsuru was always incredibly friendly and happy to meet with fans. She introduced new things like her “cheers chekis” as an add on for Gatoh Move’s usually available mini-polaroids with wrestlers where fans would receive a beer and all drink a toast together with Mitsuru (which could also be filmed, another cool unusual detail). While undoubtedly primarily driven by her love of beer, this was also another cool little way to connect and celebrate with fans.

Mitsuru also works at Swandive, one of the bars run by the wrestling promotion DDT (that Gatoh Move regulars Takanashi and Antonio Honda work for), and will continue to do so after her retirement from competition. Swandive is an awesome little bar and I had a great time there the couple of visits I was able to make.

In most cases, this would be around where I’d be wrapping up my personal look back with a quick look at the subject’s last match. But 2020 has been an unusual year, and while last January was the last time I saw Mitsuru wrestle live there’s still a bit to talk about along the way.

Covid restrictions obviously had an extreme effect on wrestling, as with the rest of the world. Faced with a home venue far too small to have a crowd under such conditions, Emi Sakura started ChocoPro at the end of March as a new effort to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world, specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience. It also varies from Gatoh Move in that it’s more a complete intergender promotion (as opposed to Gatoh being a Joshi promotion with frequent male wrestler guests).

In the relatively short seven months since its start, ChocoPro has already run 72 shows and counting, with each “season” being 18 episodes/shows. It features a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances. The shows are well designed to draw the viewer in, in a lot of ways feel like being there, and are all presented for free on YouTube (with various support options available if fans are inclined).

Mitsuru missed a majority of the first season with dental problems, then returned with a vengeance in season 2. She struggled at the start, winning against the rookies but having less success in big matches like her return against Antonio Honda and another great match against Chris Brookes. It led to a lot of anger to deal with at points and an intensity that couldn’t be matched. Her frustration and determination bubbled over in a crazy match teaming with Yuna Mizumori against Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Emi Pencil (Sakura) ) where she ended up pinning Sakura. She then had a string of impressive, intense singles matches against Mei, Yuna, and Akki that are all must watch. Her fire and ever increasing mastery of her skills was noticed and appreciated, and she was the fan-voted MVP of the season.

Mitsuru continued to impress during the early part of season 3 in a mix of different match styles. She had a strong showing in a tag match teaming with Makoto against Ryo Mizunami & Hanako Nakamori on Emi Sakura’s 25th Anniversary show amid wrestlers with much more experience.

ChocoPro 44 was a milestone event: ChocoPro’s first ring event. Held at Shinkiba 1st Ring instead of Ichigaya Chocolate Square but still with all the ChocoPro hallmarks (no audience, camera work and other production aspects tailored to streaming, etc), this momentous show would be headlined by a long awaited tag team clash of Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) vs Mitsuru & Chris Brookes. Unfortunately Mitsuru injured her ankle while training for this match and has been out since, and recently announced that she will be retiring.

On ChocoPro 43 Mitsuru teamed with Yuna Mizumori against Emi Sakura & Mei Suruga. It was, as to be expected from four wrestlers who have so much chemistry and shared training, another fantastic encounter. And as in now clear, it was the final match of her career. Short of an actual, planned last match one with this particular group of wrestlers was perhaps the most appropriate sendoff she could have had.

Gatoh Move 6 card PSC “puzzle” by Juri H. Chinchilla.

While she will be unable to wrestle a farewell match, Mitsuru will have online stream sessions and other things planned to say goodbye during her official retirement date in January. During the announcement video she also said that she still plans to be connected to Gatoh Move, but she has decided to try something new from here on out and will not be returning to in ring competition.

Mitsuru has repeatedly said in the past that she’s never enjoyed wrestling itself, but was determined to stick with it and improve until she understood what everyone else said and finally found it fun. During the post announcement questions Minoru Fujita kind of surprised everyone by asking Mitsuru if she had any fun memories from pro wrestling (not knowing about Mitsuru’s previous statements). With some thought Mitsuru said that looking back, “I really think… wrestling was fun. 4, 5 years of it the whole way. Every moment of it was fun.” It’s wonderful to hear her say that, and Emi Sakura can be seen trying not to tear up with emotion next to Mitsuru.

I’ll really miss Mitsuru, and quite honestly Gatoh Move won’t be the same without her. But I’m happy she’s doing what’s right for her and wish her a speedy recovery and all the best in the future. Cheers.

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Lulu’s Hat: The Tale of a Pencil’s Pride

“This is not me.”

ChocoPro began at the end of March amid Covid restrictions as a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world, specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

In the relatively short seven months since its start, ChocoPro has already run 65 shows and counting, with each “season” being 18 episodes/shows. It features a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances. Recently, one of the most compelling stories in all of wrestling has perhaps incredulously revolved around a particular pink cap…

The Wrestler Who’s Too Weak to be a Wrestler

Lulu Pencil, along with five other rookies (Sayuri, Rin Rin, Chie Koishikawa, Tokiko Kirihara, and Sayaka), debuted on Gatoh Move’s 8/28/19 show and so has only a little over a year of experience in wrestling. Lulu’s also a freelance writer, and fully embraces her identity with her Pencil surname and signature attire of overalls and cap.

She’s quite unique in the world of wrestling… in that she’s really not that good at it. As a character, not a performer. That’s an incredibly hard line to walk and to describe. Everything Lulu does in the ring is a little off. Early in her career she grabbed the wrong hand when going for lockups, got herself hung up on the windowsill for seemingly no reason, etc. Her stances, way of attacking, and general body language are all a bit bizarre. Her build is slight and she’s always at the most extreme strength disadvantage no matter her opponent, leading to common situations such as hurting her own arm when forearming her opponents instead of hurting them. She’s lost a number of matches due to APPLYING a hold or pinning combination but getting stuck midway and having to tap out.

And it all came together instantly along with her never-ending determination to be a professional wrestler to make her one of the most beloved underdogs anywhere in wrestling. Her fans dubbed themselves the Pencil Army and Lulu’s support exploded.

The key to Lulu’s story is how she continually grows in subtle but measurable and logical ways while still remaining herself. Every match is a progression as she tries new things and becomes a little more effective while still approaching everything from a fundamentally different and weird perspective. She gets tougher each time out, and is absolutely impossible not to root for.

The Team No One Expected

At the end of 2019 Lulu had an opportunity to team with her trainer in an interesting matchup against one of Sakura’s regular partners Masahiro Takanashi & Masa’s CDK partner Chris Brookes. Lulu was thrilled to be teaming with her teacher and had herself introduced as “Emi Sakura’s student” and vice versa to Emi’s barely maintained patience. But as the match progressed Emi encouraged the struggling Lulu, and whenever she was tagged in herself she was in full bore no-nonsense mode.

In the end Chris attempted to apply an arm bar when poor Lulu, already immobilized by Chris’ legs and unable to withstand it, tapped out to give CDK the win. A confused (or perhaps just sadistic) Chris continued to pull the arm a bit as Takanashi tried to explain they’d already won and to please let Lulu go. The match was a joy, but at the time was a one off pairing of the odd couple teacher and student duo of Sakura & Lulu.

Looking ahead to the start of ChocoPro, Lulu appeared on ChocoPro 1 and 3 but was then was out for a couple of months and returned for episode 22 to much fanfare. She had a number of high profile matches against Kaori Yoneyama, Mitsuru Konno, and Baliyan Akki where she showed great fire and heart despite coming out on the losing end of all of them.

Then on ChocoPro 29 she once again teamed with her mentor… but this time “Emi Pencil” came out in place of “Emi Sakura” (in blue attire to match Lulu’s pink cap and overalls) and the Pencil Army tag team was born.

Similarly to Lulu’s start the Pencil Army of “Lulu Pencil, Emi Pencil, and YOU!” instantly became a much beloved team, but not a particularly successful one.

After struggling through their first few matches, in their fourth match as a team… they still lost. But a fired up Mitsuru (who was on fire at the time due to a multitude of channeled anger) pinned Emi Pencil for the win, and afterwards Lulu remarked that the fact that she wasn’t the one who lost this time meant she was getting stronger.

In her next match she took Akki nearly to the limit in a tough singles encounter where Akki won with a mere 15 seconds left. Sakura said Lulu almost pushed Akki to a time limit draw, and she thinks Lulu could win a rematch. To ensure it, Emi made it a handicap match featuring both members of Pencil Army vs Akki at ChocoPro 34.

The loss in that handicap match and a growing clash in philosophies led to a clash of the Pencil Army against each other in a singles match in the finale of season 2, ChocoPro 36. In a nod to how Emi had been messing with her partner (correcting Lulu when she answered “2” when Emi asked “what’s 1+1?” saying that the real answer was “infinity” because of the strength of the two of them together then the next show hitting Lulu upside the head with her cap when Lulu answered “infinity” to the same question saying “What?! 1+1 is 2!”), the match was subtitled the Pencil Infinity War.

The match appeared to be a milestone in the two working out their differences and Emi’s victory an indication that she still had reserves of strength for Lulu to learn from. But after they teamed together again on the season 3 opener only to lose a handicap match to Tokiko, Lulu decided maybe Emi Pencil was holding her back after all and refocused on singles competition for a time (while Sakura temporarily put the Emi Pencil character on hold). 

Lulu had a number of strong showings against high level opponents, but still searched in vain for her first singles victory. Then, in a match that wasn’t originally supposed to happen, everything changed.

A Simple Twist of Fate with Major Consequences

ChocoPro 44 was a milestone event: ChocoPro’s first ring event. Held at Shinkiba 1st Ring instead of Ichigaya Chocolate Square but still with all the ChocoPro hallmarks (no audience, camera work and other production aspects tailored to streaming, etc), this momentous show would be headlined by a long awaited tag team clash of Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) vs Mitsuru Konno & Chris Brookes.

However shortly before the show Mitsuru injured her leg and unfortunately has not been able to return as of yet. With her out, the card was reshuffled and Lulu received a huge chance to prove herself in the form of a singles match against Chris.

At the time Chris was the reigning DDT Universal Champion, and as such came out during the pre-show discussion and demanded to be in the main event. Sakura seemed inclined to agree… if the title was on the line. Chris laughed the idea off (“It’s Lulu! No, the title’s not on the line.”) but still insisted that as a reigning champion he should be in the main event. Lulu, characteristically unafraid of a challenge no matter her track record, said that if the match needed stakes to be a main event she would put her precious cap, the very symbol of her and the Pencil Army, on the line.

Lulu put up an incredible fight in an excellent match, but in the end Chris made her submit and left with her precious cap atop his head.

“This is Not Me.”

At first Lulu seemed determined to stay positive in the wake of her defeat, vowing to become stronger despite her disappointment and beat Chris one day to take her hat back. But the absence of her hat, and perhaps the contrast of getting some tag team victories alongside Tokiko including one against Sakura & Chie, seemed to be slowly undermining her satisfaction with the Pencil Army team.

Emi Sakura for her part seemed to start trying in her own way to be a surprisingly considerate partner. After their loss to Cherry & Chie on ChocoPro 52 Emi pointed out that they both have jobs, homes, etc and concluded that they had everything except victory, which they would achieve in time. When Lulu crossed paths with Chris again for the first time since losing her hat in a Pencil Army vs Chris and Tokiko match on ChocoPro 55 Emi had a blue hat for Lulu that matched Emi’s to try to cheer her up.

But Chris, reveling in being able to taunt his opponents with his trophy by chanting “Pencil. Army. Chris Brookes, pink hat, and none of you,” was having none of it. He knew Lulu wanted the hat he won from her and not the replacement Sakura provided, and tormented her throughout the match. After a bitter battle between the two teams Chris defeated Lulu again, this time by deadlifting her by her overalls and spinning her around until she gave up. In the aftermath Lulu concluded that she can learn to be stronger alongside Chris. An amused Chris agreed and they left together, with a shell shocked Emi Pencil in their wake.

Emi however refused the idea of Lulu teaming with Chris, and continued to book Pencil Army matches. She made repeated attempts to smooth things over and raise Lulu’s spirits, including trying out matching blue outfits and caps in place of Lulu’s usual pink one time and bows in the place of caps another. And Lulu tried each time, but each time Pencil Army continued to come up short and the issue between them grew. “I’m not ok. This is not me. I can become stronger than now.”

Emi even went so far as to order a new pink hat with “Pencil Army” written on it for Lulu in place of the one she lost. All of this was incredible in terms Emi’s arc over the course of the seasons. The temperamental oni who often messes with everyone else on the roster actually wanted to be supportive for once and tried her best, but kept missing the point by not listening to what Lulu actually wanted.

Upset but realizing they were at an impasse, after yet another Pencil Army loss on ChocoPro 61 (to An-chamu and Mei) Emi finally agreed to let Lulu team with Chris. However Lulu would have to prove her strength to Emi, as it would be against Emi Pencil and a partner of her choosing.

Pencil War

As the huge showdown loomed Chris said he sees untapped potential in Lulu and that Emi Pencil was holding her back. He pledged that they would achieve victory. However Emi chose Hagane Shinnou as her partner, making the task before Lulu a tall one indeed.

Throughout the match Chris pushed Lulu to attack and surpass her former partner, and they actually made a pretty solid team. The dream team of Emi and Hagane also gelled pretty well of course, but eventually Chris trapped Emi in a modified Rings of Saturn that put a lot of pressure on her back to force a submission for the win.

After their victory Chris says Lulu has become stronger, and he thinks she’s earned something… then he puts her hat back on his own head and says he was just joking and that she hasn’t earned anything. He further calls her weak and impressionable and mocks how he was able to get her to turn on her mentor. “Lulu, you are NEVER getting back this hat. You stupid little girl.” Lulu snapped and attacked Chris. He turned the tables quickly… but Lulu was not alone. Emi Pencil drug herself up, took her place by Lulu’s side, and started the Pencil Army chant.

The two present a united front as the Pencil Army and block Chris from leaving. “Lulu believed in you. You hurt us!” With Emi finally realizing that type of support Lulu truly needs from her and Lulu trusting in herself and her mentor to get stronger together, they press Chris until he accepts their challenge to a match for the hat. But he says that it’s only fair for it to be 2-on-2, and names Yuna as his partner. Needless to say with the history between Yuna and Sakura, the pineapple girl didn’t have any objections.

I Quit Match

So in a one match show for ChocoPro 63, Chris Brookes & Yuna Mizumori faced the Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Emi Pencil) in a desperate battle for the fate of Lulu’s pink hat. One final twist would be added: Emi admitted that Chris might be stronger than them but she knew Lulu would never give up, so she made the match an “I Quit Match.” Anything goes. No pinfalls, no tapouts, no DQs, etc. The match would continue until one of the four said “I quit.”

The Pencil Army gave it their absolute all in a crazy effort to finally achieve their first victory in a match that couldn’t possibly be more important to them. Yuna channeled all of her aggression into helping Chris torture the underdogs, and Chris taunted Lulu throughout. The Pencil Army is largely a comedy tag team yet the amount of raw emotion and depth to many of their matches, and this one in particular, is unrivaled. It’s must watch.

Chris pushed Lulu to her limits and late in the match screamed at her in frustration at her refusing to quit. He grabbed her hat, shoved it in her face, and told if that’s what she wanted to just take it and go. A defiant Lulu SLAPPED IT AWAY and refused to end things like that. She fought with every once of her being.

After a desperate flurry by Lulu Chris leveled her and tied her up in a seated octopus hold. Emi Pencil tried to save but was neutralized in the corner by Yuna. With one leg around Lulu’s head and his other holding her leg, Chris grabbed her arm and pulled. Lulu tapped out of instinct from the pain, but when reminded there were no tapouts and she needed to verbally quit she refused. So Chris modified the hold with his leg fully around her shoulder and head. Still Lulu would not give up. Finally Chris grabbed her other leg and pulled back in yet another vicious modification of the hold… and Lulu still wouldn’t quit. But a tormented Emi Pencil, in no danger herself but unable to away from Yuna, can’t take watching her partner suffer anymore and is the one to quit. An incredibly powerful moment. They still haven’t won a match, but the Pencil Army are as real a team as it gets.

Chris, in a sign of respect for the person who refused quit to the end, puts Lulu’s hat back in her hand (while she’s still pretty much out cold on the mat) on his way out.

Emi helps her partner up, and the Pencil Army is finally whole.

In an incredibly appropriate epilogue, during the watch party for the show Lulu revealed one of the reasons the hat means so much to her is that it was a gift from Sakura from one of her trips to wrestle in Europe, and Sakura completely forgot that fact. So perfect.

A compelling, engrossing story told over several months supported by high level in ring action featuring a number of levels of character development for numerous people is a huge accomplishment in the first place. To achieve that when the entire thing centers on a ball cap is incredible. It’s been a treat to follow along for the ride.


Required viewing:
Lulu’s debut (my thoughts on the show)
Lulu Pencil & Emi Sakura vs CDK (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 29: Pencil Army debut vs Mitsuru & Tokiko (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 32: Pencil Army vs Mitsuru & Yuna (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 36: Pencil Infinity War
ChocoPro 44: Pink Hat Match – Lulu vs Chris
ChocoPro 51: Lulu & Tokiko vs Emi Sakura & Chie
ChocoPro 55: Pencil Army vs Chris & Tokiko
ChocoPro 61: Pencil Army vs Mei & An-chamu
ChocoPro 62: The Pencil War – Lulu & Chris vs Emi Pencil & Hagane Shinnou
ChocoPro 63 – I Quit Match: Pencil Army vs Chris & Yuna

Supplemental viewing:
ChocoPro 33: Lulu vs Akki (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 34: Pencil Army vs Akki (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 37: Pencil Army vs Otoki
ChocoPro 46: Pencil Army vs Yuna
ChocoPro 52: Pencil Army vs Cherry & Chie
ChocoPro 56: Pencil Army vs Obi & Mei
ChocoPro 57: Pencil Army vs Warm Caterpillars


Everything they are doing goes up for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store!

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

ChocoPro 59 Live Stream Thoughts

October 28, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

ChocoPro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world and take full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery.

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.

Without an audience and thus not having anyone trying to watching outside, the two large sliding windows on the “back” wall are left in but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

ChocoPro 59

Nothing outside of the main event had been previously announced. During the opening talk it was revealed there would be a singles match to start (participants still a mystery), followed by a Halloween Battle Royale.

Yuya Okada from Basara is on referee duties, presumably so no Halloween costumes are spoiled, etc by having participating wrestlers ref as usual.

1) Baliyan Akki vs Balliyan Akki

Out first is Akki, curiously dressed in a pre-ChocoPro style of his. His opponent is also announced as Baliyan Akki… and is Emi Sakura herself in Akki’s current gear. The way she mimicked his mannerisms throughout the match was incredible (and largely infuriating to Akki the original). Mei on camera and commentary debating which one was her true best bro only added to his ire.

A particular highlight was Emi failing spectacularly when trying to do the spider after being whipped to the wall, then again when she tried to slowly climb into it from one of the windowsills. So Akki forced her into position and held her stuck there for a bit before bringing her down into a backbreaker. Emi’s ridiculous attempts at the Namaste Press were likewise highly amusing.

Eventually Akki the original gets both Akki part 2 AND the referee in a triangle and gets the win off a double tap. I think fake Akki should have won by DQ for Akki’s transgressions against the official, but I suppose since Emi was forcing the referee to carry her into a splash attempt when Akki countered into the choke there’s a certain amount of karmic justice at work.

Extremely good match, which is no surprise with the participants involved.

2) Halloween Battle Royal

This match introduces a highly requested stipulation: in addition to pinfalls eliminations can also happen by being thrown out the window.

Red Riding Hood (Sayuri) and Snow White (Mei Suruga) start. The fairy tale heroines seem to be more interested in posing and cheerfulness than fighting, and Red Riding Hood seemed to be heading out on a journey before the referee and commentator Honda talked them into getting “out of fantastic world and into pro-wrestling” to start the match properly.

Once things got contentious they fought hard for long enough that people in the chat wondered if the match was gauntlet style, but they eventually notice (and the camera reveals to viewers) that a new contestant has secretly appeared. There was an unusually large piece of shrimp sushi huddled on the mat. Careful inspection eventually revealed it was Chie Koishikawa, somehow making shrimp sushi seem like the perfect costume for herself with her exuberant unveiling and masterful use of huddling up into sushi form during the match.

New entrants came fast after that, featuring Harley Quinn (Yuna Mizumori), a samurai (Akki), and a Zaku series Mobile Suit Gundam (Lulu Pencil).

There were a lot of fun interactions between the various characters and too many creative ways of working it all into top notch action to cover. Definitely check this one out.

The first elimination happened when everyone, including his partner Mei who had been working together with him moments before, piled on Akki for a pin after a series of strikes including the most effective lariat Lulu ever threw that knocked Akki over shrimp sushi Chie into schoolboy pin position.

Later Sayuri had an advantage on Yuna with a sleeper applied, but she climbed into the window and dropped back to slam Yuna’s back against the sill… eliminating herself. After ninja disappearing below the window she was shortly in the chat amusingly commenting “the windowsill was useless.”

Mei tried to attack people with her apple throughout the match, with everyone dodging safely until Yuna ducked while Lulu was holding her and Lulu was forced to bite Snow White’s apple. Lulu immediately fell to the mat asleep, and was declared eliminated.

Chie continued to play the perfect shrimp sushi, hiding at opportune moments and letting Harley and Snow do battle. She got involved late and after some intense back and forth seemed to seesaw Yuna back in the window after Mei nearly dropkicked her out, but it was just to set up the fencing chop to knock Yuna completely out (head over heels to boot) and eliminate her.

So it came down to Snow White vs shrimp sushi, and while Chie put up a valiant effort including her huddled sushi pose being a great initial counter to the propeller clutch, she of the evil apple eventually prevailed by taking a bite of the shrimp to break Chie’s defense and securing the propeller clutch after all for the win.

This was everything I want out of a Halloween match, with great costumes, a nice mix of comedy and action, and most of all a ton of fun. One of the most enjoyable matches I’ve seen all year.

3) Sayaka Obihiro vs Antonio Honda vs Jaki Numazawa

This comedy prop “deathmatch” involving these three is an annual tradition for Gatoh Move around New Year’s. However this year it’s also being done as a special main event for this ChocoPro Halloween show.

Every time someone gets a 2-count, they get to perform a comedy skit with their choice of props from a provided basket. If the referee finds it funny, they receive a point. Most points at the end of the fifteen minute time limit wins.

This was exactly what was expected, including running themes that have persisted throughout the various versions of this match I’ve seen (such as Obi being kind of intentionally bad at the comedy). Between the language barrier and the nature of the match itself, I find these hit or miss. One year’s version was one of my all time favorite Gatoh Move comedy matches, while some other years’ just didn’t connect with me. But it generally has it’s charm and given how much fun they all were having with it this one was enjoyable.

It also fit the tone of the rest of the show well and I’m glad they got to do it for a wider audience than would normally see it in person at Ichigaya. The comedy was fairly accessible and I thought it a good introduction to the tradition for new viewers. Though everyone’s milage will vary greatly with these matches depending on how much they happen to enjoy the particular slate of jokes and the style in any given one.

Perhaps wanting to add stakes and suspense to the match given the streaming format, Sakura changed the point value during the last minute to 10 points for a successful skit. As time expired with no one having taken advantage of that bonus and Honda having earned on last skit chance yet being considerably up in the scoring 4-2-1, she further up the stakes saying he’d lose all his points if he didn’t score. Honda failed to amuse the referee for the first time all match, going down to zero and making Jaki the winner with 2 points to Obi’s 1 and Honda’s 0. Jaki didn’t seemed thrilled with the rule roulette and was waving off his victory. I didn’t mind Sakura screwing with the rules for drama here as it’s not a match to take too seriously anyway.

As always post-show had a janken tournament, which came down to the starting entrants in the battle royal against each other again. Sayuri had a good chance at winning her first Dark Choco Tournament after powering through a tough field, but it was truly the poison apple’s day all around as Mei proved victorious and gleefully ate her prize chocolate throughout the photo op and closing song.

This show was a blast overall. Highly recommended.

——-

As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content, including the replay of this show. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping!