Be Happy: The History of Ice Ribbon Girls Pro-Wrestling Review

Disclosure: The author of this book is a friend of mine and introduced me to Ice Ribbon years ago. This has had no influence on the opinions in this review, although obviously my status as a fan of the promotion does affect my appreciation of the subject matter.

 

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Ice Ribbon is a women’s professional wrestling company based in Tokyo, Japan, infused with the philosophy of founder Emi Sakura that professional wrestling should be fun, both for the audience and performers.

In May of 2016 the company celebrated their ten year anniversary. The majority of Be Happy is an amazingly detailed, meticulously researched compilation of shows and matches with attendance figures, participants, match time, and results for the ENTIRE period from the company’s beginning through said 10th anniversary. And not only Ice Ribbon’s shows (which are of course covered in full), but also every match any Ice Ribbon talent at any given time participated in including for other companies. As someone familiar with data collection and maintenance, I know the effort, careful bookkeeping, and time required to compile data of such volume and accuracy. Amassing the detail contained here is enormous undertaking and impressive accomplishment.

Of course as a book presentation and accessibility is just as vital as the quality of the underlying information. It can be easy to overlook the importance of headers, proper bolding, etc, but it’s absolutely imperative in a project like this to make the enormous amount of information accessible. Short clearly kept this in mind, and the format of Be Happy is excellent and makes his chronicle accessible and enjoyable.

A short introduction provides historical perspective and a strong framework, as well as a list of all official members of Ice Ribbon and years they worked for company for easier perusing for fans of particular wrestlers.

The results are organized by year with a descriptive title for each and an easy to digest and browse format containing shaded headers for dates, boxed show names, then normal text results. Perhaps most importantly, there interesting tidbits (context about the wrestlers and what was going on in the promotion), supporting information (match stipulations, debuts, injuries, etc), and pictures in each part included that keep it from becoming a dry recitation and make Be Happy a throughly engaging tome to get absorbed in.

The pictures are wonderful, including things like ticket stubs and event posters in addition to the numerous wonderful pictures of the wrestlers themselves. Following the chronicle that makes up the majority of the book, there are dedicated sections of pictures featuring a sample of the incredible costumes and gear made by BACCHANALES TOKYO and the impressive fan-made banners that are hung in the venues during events as a sign of support and respect for the wrestlers. While Short himself apologizes in the book that the black and white pictures don’t do proper justice to the creations, all included pictures are still fantastic and a real treat to have included. The other post chronicle sections contain complete title histories (including all defenses) for the time period covered and top event attendance figures respectively.

In the introduction Short self-describes his book as a love letter to the company, and it couldn’t be more of a fitting description. This is a dense, laser focused examination of a fairly niche product, which is of course a treasure trove to huge fans of Ice Ribbon such as myself, but also made wonderfully accessible to those with any level of interest by way of the dedication, careful presentation choices, and above all else the love the author has for the subject matter.

Be Happy is an absolute gem, and I’m beyond thrilled to see my friend’s vision for this book come together in such spectacular fashion.

Ice Ribbon 1/19/19 Live Thoughts

January 19, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

This show was a “January Birthdays Produce,” with Tequila Saya, Maya Yukihi, and Uno Matsuya in charge of the festivities and another special Shutter Ribbon event allowing pictures during the show..

 

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We started right in with a theme match, as “Saya” (Hamuko Hoshi) faced “Maya” (Uno Matsuya) to open. This wasn’t like most other costume matches I’ve seen in Ice Ribbon, as there was no requirement to to try wrestle like person you’re dressed as. Still highly amusing, and well worked with a couple of believable near falls for Uno before Hammy put her away.

 

 

Maya Yukihi vs Miyako Matsumoto was perhaps even more ridiculous to be expected from these two, as poor referee and reigning Triangle Ribbon Champion Banny Oikawa was frequently draw into the action (as was happening in many matches around this time). More story than matches, although Maya did provide some good action to anchor things and this was fine for what it was.

 

 

Giulia & Suzu Suzuki vs Asahi & Tsukasa Fujimoto was one of IR’s weird and wonderful stipulation matches. Each team was assigned 3 moves from the repertoire of Saya or Uno respectively, who amusingly demonstrated their moves on each other before the match. In addition to the normal ways to win a match, victory could be achieved by successfully executing all 3 moves on your opponents.

Giulia & Suzu had the “Tokuho” (Saya’s corner splash), “Submarine” (her reverse pedigree), and “Grand Maestro de Tequila” (her sideways rollup). Asahi & Tsukka needed to complete Uno’s schoolboy rollup, “Saber Chop,” and “Katsudon” (over the shoulder into a faceplant).

As an additional treat, Maya refereed this.

 

 

This was great, with fighting over the checklist moves providing an additional layer of storytelling and fun to the match. The thread of Asahi being desperate for victory and to prove herself continued, and she executed both the schoolboy and Katsudon to get her team within one move of winning after being behind as her opponents managed the Tokuho and Submarine early.

In a clever sequence once again bringing Asahi oh so close to victory without quite getting there, she hit everyone in the match with the top rope chop except who she needed to (her legal opponent at the time, Giulia, who kept dodging or pulling others in the way).

Really nice touch on the finish in which Maya seemed to wave off the checklist victory for Giulia because she didn’t quite get Saya’s finisher right (the Grand Maestro de Tequila is hard to execute) and counted the pin instead (producing the same outcome in an internally consistent way). This was so much fun.

 

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The main event of  Maika Ozaki & Mochi Miyagi vs Tequila Saya & Tsukushi started off with a three way stare off in beginning, as neither impending challenger for Maika’s tag championship Saya nor one of the wrestlers who would soon be facing Maika in a triple threat #1 contender’s match for Maya’s Ice Cross Infinity title Tsukushi wanted to play nice. Mochi was caught in the middle and just kind of got fed up trying to cheerfully offer an opening handshake and left the three others to their brooding.

Solid match, with a lot of the highlights once again revolving around Maika’s incredible power. Her double torture rack in particular never fails to impress.

Saya pinned Maika with the Grand Maestro, meaning along with the 6-woman tag on 1/5/19 she had pinned both of the reigning tag champions with it going into Burning Raw (her & Giulia)’s tag title shot. Nice booking.

 

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Emotional roundtable, with everyone (well, Saya, Tsukushi, and Giulia…) seeming to lay into Maika about everything from Kyuri being absent from this show to criticizing Maika for trying to be a double champ, etc. Then Asahi was crying in frustration during her turn to speak.

Things lightened a bit to end with birthday cake coming out for the producers of the night.

Also, Tsukka was honored with Tokyo Sports Women’s Wrestler of the Year Award for 2018 and had her well deserved trophy with her after this show.

 

 

This was a great little dojo show to end my Ice Ribbon run for this trip, with nicely building stories and enjoyable matches throughout.

P’s Party 1/16/19 Live Thoughts

January 16, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Last Spring Ice Ribbon’s Tequila Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party… somehow…) initially focusing on talent with less than three years experience (although as time passes some of their core roster re obviously passing that particular hallmark), with some vets mixed in for them to work with. The concept is fantastic and I really enjoyed the show I got to see in Spring as well as Misaki Ohata’s last show with them in December.

 

 

This show started with a really fun tag match of Asahi & Tsukushi vs Tequila Saya & Totoro Satsuki. All four were spot on and a lot of the exchanges were creative and exciting. The way Saya’s been evolving and chaining a lot of her signature moves is really awesome. Although I do kind of wish her devastating looking “Submarine” (reverse-pedigree) was used as a finisher instead of a transition into a submission (no matter how cool that transition / submission move is). Despite being partnered with the rookie-who-isn’t, Asahi can’t quite stand up to her opponents’ assault long term and is eventually pinned to give Saya & Totoro the win.

 

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Ice Ribbon’s newest rookie Suzu Suzuki took on veteran and renown comedy wrestler Sakura Hirota in the P’s Party debuts for both. This was kind of two matches spot wielded together, as Hirota broke out her underrated technical skills in a strong display of match wrestling between the two for the first half of the match then transitioned to her standard comedy structure in the latter half.

Her humor works a lot of the time, and I understand cultural differences in comedy that affect my perception of things and that Hirota’s “finger strike to the butt attack” is a standard part of her matches. But honestly I don’t ever need to see a teenager frightenedly running around the ring covering her backside in a panic again. Saya selflessly coming into the ring to “save” Suzu by offering herself up to take the move instead begs all kind of questions about what the point was and why exactly Hirota couldn’t have just continued to attack Suzu afterwards. Sorry to bring logic to a Hirota match, but the way this was done was both uncomfortable and nonsensical (even within Sakura’s usual framework). First half of the match was great, second was … not. Hirota won with her “fluke collapse on opponent for the pin” spot.

 

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In the main event Maika Ozaki & Matsuya Uno faced Giulia & Rina Shingaki. Interestingly the team of Giulia & Rina were also the “randomly chosen” opponents opening the previous P’s Party event. Enjoyable main event that was largely a spotlight for half of the then reigning International Ribbon Tag Team Champions. Maika’s power was on full display and she picked up a rather emphatic win for her team down the stretch.

 

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I continue to adore what Saya’s been doing with P’s Party overall and I hope this cool little sister/developmental promotion to Ice Ribbon becomes more accessible to a wider audience at some point. Outside of my personal view on part of the middle match this was another strong outing for them.

P’s Party will have their first larger show as part of the Yokohama Wrestling Festival during Golden Week this year on 5/2. Excited to see what Saya and her roster does with the bigger spotlight.

 

Frank Sisters Produce (Ice Ribbon) 1/5/19 Live Thoughts

January 5, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Earlier the same day Ice Ribbon had  strong show at Yokohama Radiant Hall. This was a few hours later, and was not a “normal” Ice Ribbon event. Entitled “I Like Frank More Than Three Bowls of Rice,” this was produced by the “Frank Sisters” of Akane Fujita, Kurumi Hiirgi, & Mochi Miyagi and had a decidedly different feel.

 

 

1) Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Ibuki Hoshi

Ibuki’s a fantastic, natural fiery underdog (and in a different way than say Asahi is) and really shines in matchups like these. She had a nice showing of resilience against the force of nature that is the Lady Destroyer before Hiroyo put her away for good.

 

 

2) Mochi Miyagi & Papillon Akemi vs Makoto & Moeka Haruhi

I’ve only ever seen Akemi before as Emi Sakura W in Gatoh Move, but the gimmick’s very similar here. This was weird, but reasonably fun. Makoto & Moeka might have been the defacto heels, but I found their aggression and games of one-upmanship towards Akemi somewhat amusing and was pleased when they pulled out the win.

 

 

3) Hot Dog Eating Contest Match: Tsukasa Fujimoto & Hamuko Hoshi vs Maya Yukihi & Tae Honma 

Tsukka certainly did not look happy coming out for this. After losing her title and participating in a jump rope match within days prior to this, it was a rough week for her.

Music would randomly be played during this tag match, at which point any wrestler currently in the ring could eat hot dogs (brought in by the respective teams’ seconds). The team that ate the most hot dogs eaten at the end of the match won (winning the fall to trigger the end of the match by pin or submission was worth five “virtual hot dogs” in the final count).

 

 

This was absurd in all the best ways. It was viscerally hard to watch them stuff their faces and then bump on their stomachs seconds later, and as usual with Ice Ribbon everyone was fully invested in making even the most ridiculous of situations wonderfully compelling. This was given proper time to emphasize the gimmick, with the match going almost twenty minutes, and the wrestling in between the eating was top notch.

 

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Tsukka won the fall with the stranglehold while Tae was still chomping on THREE hot dogs at once. However, with a count of 22-18, Tae & Maya still won. Subtracting the 5 virtual hot dogs, Maya & (mostly) Tae outate Tsukka & Hammy by 9 hot dogs. O_o TAE IS A MONSTER. Fantastic in ways I can’t properly describe.

 

 

4) Hardcore Tag: Risa Sera & Yuko Miyamoto vs Akane Fujita & Minoru Fujita 

No surprise seeing Risa and Akane break out the hardcore stipulation for their mixed tag. There was a lot of silliness in this that required a go-with-the-flow kind of attitude when watching, but was highly enjoyable on those terms. They played baseball with rubber duckies, duplexed each other on Legos, and so on.

 

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When things got more “serious” Risa’s tendencies to go a little overboard took me out of the match a bit. There’s a line between compelling violence used to tell a story and unnecessary, cringeworthy spots that look like they hurt the person performing them more than the one receiving it anyway. This was a fun for what it was brawl otherwise though, with Risa & Yuko picking up the win.

 

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Main Event) Kurumi Hiiragi vs Kengo Mashimo

In the past several of the intergender matches I’ve seen from Ice Ribbon have been solely about how much damage the woman can take before losing. This had a more fully realized story/layout with Kurumi actually aggressively fighting back and giving a dismissive Kengo a bit of comeuppance before losing.  Kurumi worked really well against her larger opponent and this was a strong way to end the show. Kengo messed with her more after the match, to LOUD boos.

 

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Talked to Tae after the show, during which she related how full she was and expressed a desire to not eat any more hot dogs for a year.  She also cheerfully displayed her “Best Enemy” award from the earlier show.

 

“I Like Frank More Than Three Bowls of Rice” was something different in wonderful ways, and just a blast overall to be at.

Farewell to an Angel: Yuuka’s Retirement

During my first trip at the end of 2015 to Japan I became a huge fan of Ice Ribbon, and follow them to this day. I had my first exposure to several would-become-favorites during that time, including the then reigning Ice Cross Infinity Champion and recently retired Aoi Kizuki.

During my first Ice Ribbon show, which was also my first ever live show in Japan, there was another wrestler who really impressed me in the same tag match as Aoi. But in contrast to Aoi being a 10-year veteran, this was a relative rookie with just under 2 years in the sport.

 

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Yuuka, nicknamed the “White Angel of Ice Ribbon,” wowed me with her instincts and level of skill for her experience and 17 years of age. She presented herself in a way that made an immediate impact, including a ring style that showcased hard strikes and fierce determination in a thoroughly compelling manner.

Throughout the trip I got to see Yuuka in four other matches. On Neko Nitta’s Produced show she faced normal tag partners Risa Sera and Maya Yukihi in an interesting triple threat, and my final Ice Ribbon show of the trip saw her team with Hamuko Hoshi opposite Aoi again, this time in a 6-woman tag with Maruko Nagaski as their third and Akane Fujita & Mochi Miyagi on Aoi’s side.

 

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In between those shows were two matches I look back on particularly fondly. On Risa Sera’s 2nd Produced show Yuuka was part of a rather hilarious cell phone destruction match, and on Ice Ribbon’s biggest show of the year Yuuka got nice singles spotlight against fellow up and comer Sareee in perhaps my favorite of the live matches I saw with her.

 

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I wouldn’t return to Japan until the following holiday season, so those were my only opportunities to see Yuuka wrestle live. But the first half of 2016 held a number of other interesting things for her. She had a fun rivalry/partnership with another favorite of mine in Wave’s veteran Misaki Ohata (who also recently retired … been a rough year or so), won the Young Oh! Oh! portion of Wave’s annual Catch the Wave Tournament, then was built up to challenge Risa Sera for the Ice Cross Infinity Championship to main event Ice Ribbon’s 10th Anniversary show in what has to be considered her career highlight.

Yuuka had an energy and commitment to whatever story she was telling that was captivating. Little details in her matches, her body language and facial expressions, and the general way she carried herself added tons to her character and made her a joy to watch.

 

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Yuuka’s last match was in mid-July 2016, after which she went on hiatus for undisclosed reasons. But she was still listed as part of the Ice Ribbon roster on their webpage with an implied possibility of return until recently. On March 25, 2019 her retirement was officially announced. She was one of the young wrestlers who left a great impression on me, and I’ve mentioned before she certainly had the potential for a big career ahead of her if she continued.

 

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While it’s a shame that didn’t come to pass and I miss seeing her in the ring, I’m always happy and supportive of seeing people do what’s best for them and I wish Yuuka all the best in whatever’s next.

Ice Ribbon 1/5/19 Live Thoughts

January 5, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

The first of two Ice Ribbon shows at Yokohama Radiant Hall. This was a “regular” Ice Ribbon show while the one later in the day … well, wasn’t. 😉

 

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The opening 6-woman tag of Asahi, Tsukasa Fujimoto, & Makoto vs Totoro Satsuki, Kurumi Hiiragi, & Miyako Matsumoto had a great story of Makoto and Tsukka trying to support a desperate Asahi looking to prove her worth and earn the win anchoring the action. Unfortunately their opponents were just a bit too much for the rookie to overcome and eventually pinned Asahi for the win.

 

 

Marvelous’ rookie Maria Takeda, just a couple of weeks after debuting against then Ice Cross Infinity Champion Tsukka, got to wrestle a former champion here in the form of Risa Sera. The arena, prompted by the cheering of the wrestlers at ringside and the quasi-heel antics of Risa, were firmly behind Maria. Risa isn’t quite as good at the “bell-to-bell turn” as Tsukka (see her title defense against Uno from Vol 741 for an incredible example of this formula), but still played her role well here in a decent match. Maria held up her end and looked really impressive for two weeks experience.

 

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Speaking of Uno Matsuya, she got to shine a bit against a visiting veteran as she and Akane Fujita took on Pure-J’s Command Bolshoi & Mochi Miyagi. This was a pretty straightforward, ok tag match overall.

 

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Another opportunity to see mother vs daughter clash graced the semi main as Hamuko Hoshi faced Ibuki Hoshi. They’re great as opponents and I look forward to these matches. In my opinion Ibuki brings out the best in her mother, and this was a nicely intense battle somewhat reminiscent of the opener with the rookie desperate to prove herself and coming up just a bit short.

 

 

In the main event the newly crowned (at Ribbonmania, less than a week prior) Ice Cross Infinity and International Ribbon Tag Team Champions teamed together as Maya Yukihi, Kyuri, & Maika Ozaki took on Tequila Saya, Giulia, & Tsukushi. I was expecting a Tsukushi pin on someone to set her up in her traditional role as sacrificial first defense for the new singles champion, but Saya pinning Kyuri set up several interesting things post match and was a nice, interesting call. I really liked the direction the booking took during this trip overall, shaking things up a little in a believable way. This match was an exciting, face paced contest throughout with excellent work by all six.

 

 

To close out there was a presentation for 2018 awards. The “Rookie” of the Year award had a bit of unfortunate hilarity, as it was announced as a tie between Saya and Uno. As they celebrated Sato quickly jumped in to correct the announcement, as it was actually a tie between Saya and Giulia. Poor Uno. It was pretty much a given that some form of Tsukka vs Maya would win Best Match, it was just a matter of whether the Ribbonmania main would eclipse their encounter in August in the fans eyes. Not quite it seems, as the August match won. Tsukka also won MVP, the Butchers took Best Tag Team, Ribbonmania was Best Event, and the absent Tae Honma won Best “Enemy” (outsider).

 

Another strong show from Ice Ribbon to start the day in Yokohama, and a few hours later I’d be back for something completely different.

Ice Ribbon 1/3/19 Live Thoughts

January 3, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

First show of 2019 for Ice Ribbon, a few days after a Ribbonmania that saw new champions all around.

 

 

After a successful effort in her debut at Ribbonmania Suzu Suzuki faced Mochi Miyagi to open this dojo show. Fine rookie vs established wrestler match, although honestly I would’ve liked something more interesting from the followup to Suzu’s debut win. Suzu actually looked a little more tentative/nervous in this smaller setting than at Ribbonmania. She’s a good addition to the roster and seems to have a lot of potential.

 

 

Three days after Uno Matsuya & Miyako Matsumoto were competing challengers for the Triangle Ribbon Championship (in a match that certainly didn’t go the way either wanted) they had more success as a team Totoro Satsuki & Tsukushi. Fine, run of the mill random tag team contest here with each wrestler playing their usual role.

 

 

In contrast, Tsukasa Fujimoto’s match with Hamuko Hoshi was anything but typical. At “random” intervals Mio Shirai would play music, signaling the wrestlers had to stop what they were doing and jump rope until it stopped. Ridiculously amusing, with the participants eventually getting tired being interrupted at key moments and jumping rope in general. They went after Mio together, but she somehow twisted it into being referee (and reigning Triangle Ribbon Champion) Banny’s fault, and they attacked her instead.

 

 

As a big fan of what Tequila Saya’s being doing with P’s Party, I was thrilled to see “P’s Party vs Ice Ribbon” theme for the main event with Giulia & Asahi joining Saya to face Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera) & Akane Fujita. This was an elimination match with each wrestler being assigned a finisher before the match via ladder game, which was the only way they could score pinfalls. Eliminations could also by going over the top rope to the floor.

They had fun with the assigned finishers, such as Risa repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) trying to rope-walk, the slim Giulia bouncing off of people when she tried to throw her assigned lariats, and a posturing Saya struggling in her attempts to perform a powerbomb. Maya got “diving headbutt” and attempted several Maki Itoh style ones, while Akane and Asahi got luckiest and had the appropriate for them “bodyslam” and “schoolboy rollup” respectively.

 

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This was really well booked and executed, with a surprisingly strong showing for the “rookies” (in Japan that term generally covers any with less than three years experience). Despite everyone’s best efforts with their finishers, all the eliminations ended up being over the top rope. After Risa, Saya, and reigning Ice Cross Infinity Champion Maya were respectively eliminated, it was down to Akane vs Asahi & Giulia.

Eventually Asahi had Akane on the apron and delivered several running dropkicks to try to knock her off and win. As she set up for the (presumably) final one her partner Giulia shoved her out of the way and knocked Akane down herself to claim the victory and the glory. TEAM P’S PARTY WINS!!!

 

 

Asahi stares a HOLE through her so called partner, and then goes CRAZY trying to claw and scrape her way to at at Giulia requiring three others to hold her back and finally Tsukka comes in to calm her down. Fantastic fire from Asahi here, and there was more story and character conveyed in these 30 seconds than I’ve seen in entire shows. The match itself was creative and engaging, and done in such a way that made the rookies look good and competitive without taking anything away from the vets. Great stuff all around.

 

 

A pair of ok matches followed by a pair of unique, engrossing ones with a perfect mix of humor and action made this show a blast overall to be at live. I also really enjoyed the increased emphasis on and spotlight for newer faces on the shows this trip, something I’ve wanted for a while from Ice Ribbon.