B. Ichi Volume 1 Review

“Justice Blade!”

Dokeshi are a group of people with superpowers using techniques of magic, but they are then required to satisfy a certain condition or risk losing “something precious inside of them.” Shotaro is one such Dokeshi, with the unusual condition of having to do a good deed a day, and an even more unusual power…

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Wow this was odd. The central concept is fantastic, and they use and twist the internal rules in clever ways, but the overall implementation and powers are downright weird. Our main character gains the characteristics of any type animal whose bone he chews on. Even in this first volume it’s used in several unique ways, but I’m not sure how long it can hold my interest as a story hook. The villains were just as strange, and the action didn’t do much for me.

In contrast the uniqueness of everything is directly undercut by Shotaro’s defining characteristic being the cliched hero worship of a tv superhero. Also the pacing suffers from too much rambling explanation that comes across as an info dump.

On the other hand there is a layer of whimsy and fun to things and the other central character, Mana, is more intriguing. This isn’t quite engaging enough for me to continue with everything else there is to read, but there’s enough here for me to recommend checking it out yourself if it sounds interesting.

 

The Flash Episodes 1 & 2 Review

“My name is Barry Allen, and I’m the fastest man alive.”

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Finally got a chance to try DC’s critically acclaimed Flash series, and it’s off to an amazing start. Barry’s origin is told in a way that not only establishes numerous important supporting characters, but firmly illustrates who Barry was BEFORE he became the Flash, so the viewers have a point of reference and can fully relate to what he’s going through. It’s vital to getting people emotionally invested, and done to perfection.

In addition to sharing his origin and setting up the series, the pilot has a jaw dropping epilogue which adds a ton of layers to the show and sets up ominous overtones that continue into episode 2 and look to be the central background arc holding the season together. The episodes stand alone nicely otherwise while still developing plot and characters organically out of the events and conflicts Barry must deal with. Episode 2 provides a lot of background on Barry’s childhood and how it shaped him and those around him. There’s also a lot of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) foreshadowing in both episodes that serve as a treat for fans familiar with the comic mythos.

What I’m most impressed with though is the atmosphere. There’s a sense of wonder at the center of everything that gives the show great heart and makes it a joy to watch. Barry’s extremely likable, which makes him engaging, easy to cheer for, and just plain fun to tag along with.

 

Ice Ribbon Vol. 699 DVD Review

December 26, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

This is Neko Nitta’s Produced show,  and her last dojo show before her retirement. I had the opportunity to see this live during my trip to Japan, and my initial impressions of the show can be read here.

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We start with an introduction consisting of Akane reading from prewritten notes and Neko emphasizing as needed with her standard “nyahs.” After introducing the card and other things I didn’t understand, the members of the first two matches are called out for some brief comments. The atmosphere here is light and fun, which makes it more intense when Pantera Rosa interrupts and starts waving her whip around.

She grabs Maya by the hair and uses her as a translator to cut a promo. Her first comments upset everyone, but she pushes away through their approach to a different corner and continues for a sentence or two, likely about the main event, then whips Neko a couple times and leaves when the other get in between them.

In the tense aftermath of Rosa’s appearance Neko shocks everyone by dropping the nyahs and responding directly to Pantera’s threats, to supportive applause from the fans. She leaves with Akane and Risa tentatively offers a “Nyah!” to break the tension and then finishes the pre-show announcements.   

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1) Risa Sera vs Maya Yukihi vs Yuuka ***1/2

Interesting dynamic to this triple threat, as Risa and Maya team regularly as Azure Revolution. Sure enough the bell hits and they both rush Yuuka, whipping her to the far corner and hitting their running double elbow. They try to continue in the same vein but Yuuka uses nice speed and evasions to get them criss-crossing in parallel directions then hits each with a biel. She gets a little carried away though and biels the ref as well, then leads the other three in some sort of cheer. I was lost but it was amusing regardless.

Yuuka continues to play to the crowd and Risa simply kicks her in the midsection to reestablish control. Short lived however, as Yuka reverses a double whip into a shotgun dropkick that catches both members of AR. Risa and Maya up against the ropes on opposite side and Yuuka runs back and forth between them delivering forearms to their chests, then nails a double crossbody as they stumble back to the center of the ring.

Yuuka fires the crowd up for a suplex attempt on both opponents, but it unsurprisingly doesn’t work, so she goes back to the forearms. After nailing Maya however, Risa puts up her arms to stop Yuuka, and cuts a mini-promo that has the crowd laughing and results in Yuuka hiding behind Maya for a second, then Maya and Yuuka deciding to attack Risa together. That must have been some insult and/or bragging by Risa.

Double whip attempt, but Risa counters and sends her opponents to opposite corners, then hit Maya with the running elbow. She catches Yuuka coming, and ties her up in the tree of woe in the same corner  Maya’s now sitting in. Running double knees to the upside down Yuuka, absorbed as well by Maya sitting behind her.

Yuuka gets to her feet and lays in the forearms to Risa, ending with one that knocks her back into Maya, who’s still trying to recover in the corner. Risa returns the favor exactly, including knocking Yuuka into Maya. Yuuka’s turn again, and poor Maya is just a crash pad at this point. They start a one for one forearm exchange, but Maya’s recovered enough to take exception. Kick to Yuuka, forearm for Risa, then she grabs the both by the hair and drags them to the corner for a double blockbuster. Leg lariat/legdrop on both simultaneously for 2. Maya calls for a double chokeslam, but she can’t lift them. She pairs off with Yuuka, but when Yuuka’s whipped into the corner she runs up the turnbuckles and springs off into a beautiful crossbody on Risa for 2. Maya just sort of watches the cover (seemingly not being able to decide if she should walk around the ref), which is odd since it’s first fall wins.

Yuuka with some energetic forearms on Maya and then levels her with a running version for 2. Up top for a crossbody, but Maya ducks and Yuuka crashes. Maya up for a swanton, but Yuuka moves and now she crashes. In the adjacent corner to all this Risa quietly climbs herself and goes for diving double knees, but Maya rolls away to complete the circle of crashes. Risa rolls around trying to recover while staying off her hurt knees/shins to laughter. Everyone up to their knees and it’s a triangle of forearms for a minute, then AR reforms for a double chokeslam attempt on Yuuka. She escapes however and hits a crazy double version of her float over bridging backslide for 2. Yuuka continues with a double rollup attempt, but Risa gets free and as Yuuka floats over into the cover on Yuuka Risa hits her with double knees from the middle rope. Great spot.

Maya tries to take advantage with a cover but Risa isn’t having it, and picks her partner up for a DVD onto Yuuka. Yuuka moves, but Risa realizes that doesn’t matter much and covers Maya for 2. Rollup on Risa by Yuuka which Maya breaks with a kick right to Yuuka’s mouth. Yuuka rolls out of the ring and Maya tries an octopus hold, but Risa counters into a nice stretch muffler variation for the win as Maya screams in pain. Risa looks both happy and a touch remorseful as she celebrates her victory. Live they played this up even more, as both Yuuka and Maya walked out looking annoyed while Risa looked concerned.

I think this played a little better on dvd than live for some reason, as it’s even better than I recalled. A lot of clever uses of the format and impressive multi-person spots. Yuuka in particular has great energy in the ring and is phenomenal for her experience level.

2) 235 vs Kyuri vs Akane Fujita **1/2

More tentative start to this one, as the competitors circle one another. 235 proposed a triple test of strength, then breaks the connection with Akane once it’s locked in and they double team Kyuuri. Double clothesline is followed by a whip to the corner and a running forearm by 235. But when she whips Kyuuri out the latter ducks past Akane, then shoves Akane into a shoulder block on 235. Ever agreeable, Akane now follows Kyuuri’s instructions to team up on 235. 235 tries to counter a double whip with a crossbody, but akane catches her, slams her, then catches Kyuuri and slams her onto 235.

Akane follows with an Earthquake splash sort of on top of them both (Kyuuri is half off 235 so her shoulders will be down and Akane lands on her knees) and stays there for a cover for 2.  Kyuuri out and Akane with a slam and elbow drop for 2. Odd spot as Akane hits a shoulder block which 235 sells by dropping to her knees. Wonder if she was trying to hold her ground and legitimately got caught wrong and stunned for a second. She reverses a whip and locks in a sleeper on Akane, but Kyuuri sneaks in and breaks it with a kick to 235’s back, then applies an armbar as Akane rolls out of the ring.

235 reaches the ropes to break, then reverses a suplex attempt and goes into to her multiple running crossbody sequence. She hits three and covers for 2. Kyuuri reverses a whip into the corner, calls Akane back in, then whips her at 235, but 235 has jumped up onto the turnbuckles and catches Akane with a double boot followed by a tornado DDT. Kyuuri tries a top rope crossbody, but eats canvas as 235 ducks. 235 goes up herself and hits a crossbody on both of her opponents for 2.

Kyuuri now rolls out and 235 attempts a suplex, but Akane’s too big/strong. However Akane’s reversal into her own suplex is reversed again into a small package by 235 for 2. 235 hits the ropes and runs at Akane but is leveled by a shoulder block. Sitout slam and a cover but Kyuuri saves 235 and crucifixes Akane for 2. Fujiwara attempt but Akane’s too close to the ropes.

Akane tries a tilt-a-whirl as Kyuuri runs at her but loses her balance and tumbles over still holding Kyuuri. She gets back up and hits a scoop slam, but as she goes for the cover Kyuuri cradles her for an odd 2, where it didn’t look like Akane actually got her shoulder up. Another inside cradle and again the ref stops counting 2 without Akane escaping or raising a shoulder. A second after that she makes Kyuuri break the cradle and I have no Earthly idea what is going on. Fisherman’s Suplex by Kyuuri (during which Akane’s shoulder visibly DOES come off the canvas) for 3. The ref can be seen checking in on Akane for a moment before the fade out.

Well, something clearly went wrong at the end and things fell apart a bit, but otherwise this is better than it came across live. No idea if it was edited and I seem to remember more issues with the match outside of the finish, but what’s presented here isn’t bad overall. These three do have better chemistry as a team than as opponent though. Kyuuri seems to be the most polished of the three.

 

3) Cats vs Dogs Captain’s Fall Elimination Match: Akane Fujita, Leon, Maruko Nagasaki and Neko vs HAYATE, Rabbit Miyu, Mochi Miyagi and Miyako Matsumoto ***

As far as I could tell it was elimination style, except that the match would end immediately if a captain was eliminated. Eliminations could be by pinfall/submission or over the top to the floor. Captains were chosen by rock, paper, scissors. The Dogs are dismayed and the Cats ecstatic as Miyako becomes the Dogs’ Captain. Miyako herself of course is thrilled. The Cats’ Captain turns out to be their smallest and least experience member, Maruko, leading to reversed reactions. Neko encourages Maruko however while the Dogs (and the crowd) mock/taunt Miyako.

Ever the sportswoman, Miyako kicks Neko’s hand as everyone else shakes so the Cats attack her as a group while her own team retreats to the apron. Miyako miraculously forearms them all away from her, but misses her swing at Neko and is rolled up for what’s nearly the end of the match as her team frantically storms in to break the count. They quickly drag her over to their corner and throw her out of the ring.

HAYATE comes in for the Dogs and Neko with a huge show of confidence as she tags in the Cats’ Captain Maruko. HAYATE mostly in control during a sequence of leg sweeps, etc but Maruko keeps him on guard with quick recoveries and a couple of arm drags mixed in. He ties her up with a leg applied hammerlock and grabs her other arm and legs, then turns her over for 2 as the rest of his team holds of the Cats.

Back to center, HAYATE locks up Maruko’s arm, but she slips a leg over his head and backflips to counter and goes right into an armdrag. Running dropkick by Maruko and she tags Neko. Big cheers for that sequence from Maruko. Back of forth into the ropes, then Neko lands a springboard armdrag and follows with another out of a double knuckle lock. HAYATE to the outside and Mochi comes in with a double axhandle from behind and hits her triple Earthquake splash for 2. Face rake by Neko but Mochi catches her off the ropes with a double clap and rolls Neko up for a close 2.

Neko goes to her corner and stuffs something into her tights. The next time Mochi runs at her she reveals it to be a bag of treats. Mochi excitedly begs for one like a dog, then “sits” and “shakes” at Neko’s command. Neko gives her the bag and Mochi digs in, only to be hit with a lungblower by Neko and pinned.

Neko’s music mistakenly starts, but it was an elimination, not the end of the match. Rabbit missile dropkicks Neko and Leon comes running in to counter her rival. Waistlock by Rabbit, which Leon tries to counter with elbows but Rabbit ducks them all. Rabbit gets the better of Leon for a while, including a nice stunner after another waistlock/ducking Leon’s counter elbows sequence. Leon finally catches her coming off the ropes and despoits her in the corner, where Neko launches off Leon’s back into a dropkick on Rabbit.

Neko picks up Rabbit as Leon goes up, but Rabbit fights off Neko and knocks Leon to the apron from the turnbuckles. Rabbit rushes and Leon pulls down the ropes, resulting in them facing off on the apron near the Dog corner. Rabbit gets a waistlock and Miyako tries to forearm Leon, but Leon ducks and Miyako knocks Rabbit off the apron and eliminates her. Cats with a 4 on 2 advantage.

Miyako in and Akane hits her with a double chop for 2, then picks her up for a slam. Miyako wriggles free though and pins Akane with a modified victory roll. Miyako is very proud of herself and celebrates excessively, so Neko comes in and starts whipping Miyako with her tail. Springboard back elbow gets 2, with HAYATE breaking up the pin with an elbow drop. Leon and Neko try to double team HAYATE, but he ducks a double clothesline and pushes Leon into Neko. Leon recovers quick however and catches HAYATE off the ropes with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. Lungblower from Neko, then Leon alley-oops her into a splash. Miyako saves and whips Neko around the ring in a circle by her tail, knocking Neko into Leon, HAYATE, and the ref along the way.

Eventually Miyako seems to pull the tail right off, but it was in fact only a cover and Neko reveals a new tail that is actually a cat o’ nine tails. Cute. Neko whips eveything that moves, including Miyako, HAYATE, the ref, and her own partners. She celebrates on the turnbuckles and HAYATE nearly knocks her out from behind, but she lands on the apron and Leon attacks HAYATE. He reverses a corner whip and charges, only to be backdropped to the apron, where he and Neko (who both went over the top to get there) trade blows.

Miyako comes in and hits the far ropes intending to knock Neko of the apron for the elimination, but Neko ducks and Miyako eliminates another of her owns teammates by knocking HAYATE to the floor. Unfortunately for Maruko and Leon, Neko is a little too excited and nails the eliminated HAYATE with an Asai Moonsault to the floor without going back in the ring first, eliminating herself. Neko’s dramatic reaction upon realizing what she’s done is a nice touch.

Down to Maruko and Leon vs Miyako.  Miyako take a running dropkick by Maruko and a running spear by Leon in the corner, but reverses a whip into a crossbody on both of them for 2. Shining Wizard on Maruko nearly ends it, but Leon saves. Miyako dropkicks Leon’s knee then ties her up in a pinning predicament, but Maruko saves. No one’s leaving the ring so Miyako’s truly going two on one here. Maruko holds her for Leon, but Miyako moves, Maruko eats the spear, and Miyako rolls up Leon for a nearfall everyone bought as an elimination. Big ovation for Leon’s escape there.

Miyako and Leon trade rollups fighting for an advantage and Leon eventually gets Miyako down with a deep hook of the leg and gets the win. Nice little touch from Maruko, who was down with her back turned, where when she heard the count start she spun around and crawled toward the pin in case it was her partner in trouble. Miyako pouts in disappointment afterwards as Neko’s team celebrates. Unsurprisingly on Neko’s show, Cats beat Dogs. 😉

Fun for what it was. No real flow to the match, but the comedic overtones worked and there was decent wrestling mixed in. Miyako causing half her team’s eliminations was a great payoff to their horror at learning she was the captain.

4) Aoi Kizuki and Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Tsukushi and Hamuko Hoshi ****

ICE Cross Infinity Champion Aoi Kizuki is once again across the ring from her number one contender, Hamuko Hoshi. What’s interesting is Aoi’s partner on Vol. 698 is now Hoshi’s partner here. Tsukka and Aoi are two of my personal favorites, so it was awesome to see them team up.

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The participants in Ribbonmania’s impending title match start us off, and aggressively fight over a collar and elbow tie-up until Hoshi powers into a side headlock. Aoi pushes her into the ropes and then shoot her off to break, but holds onto Hoshi and applies a side headlock of her own. Hoshi tries the same escape but Aoi holds on to the headlock and drives Hoshi down to the mat. Back to standing and Aoi cranks the hold repeatedly.

Show of strength as Hoshi lifts Aoi into the air, but Aoi gets back down to her feet and was supposed to armdrag Hoshi, but the latter didn’t roll with Aoi and Aoi had to pull her into a roll to complete the move after Aoi had already hit the mat. Aoi takes control with boots and double axhandles to Hoshi’s back, then hits a running forearm. Hoshi stands her ground and responds with a forearm of her own, then side headlocks Aoi over. Aoi counters out of it and both roll away from the other, and I guess it’s time for Hoshi’s seductive posing routine. Aoi awesomely responds to the come hither finger with a huge kick to the head of the kneeling Hoshi, then hair-mares her around the ring. Stomps to the head in the corner and Aoi is just mauling her future challenger at the moment. Back to her corner and we get the first tag of the match to bring in Tsukka.

Tsukka with a big slam to Hoshi, then she catches Tsukushi coming in and slams her on Hoshi. This is what Aoi usually does with her opponents to set up her signature pose where she places a foot on the pile  of opponents and joins her hands over her head. As Aoi came in the audience no doubt expected them to pose together, until Tsukka just kept going and slammed AOI on top of the pile. Tsukka then made a gesture as if to say “exactly what I wanted” and goes to complete Aoi’s usual routine, but Aoi trips her when she places her foot on Aoi, then Aoi slams Tsukka on top and shows her how it’s done while Tsukka freaks out “trying” to get up. Highly amusing. Aoi and Tsukka good-naturedly shove at each other a little more then Aoi exits, leaving Tsukka with Hoshi.

Tsukka with a hard forearm to back Hoshi up and a hard double slap to follow. Some more of each after a comment from Hoshi and Tsukka whips Hoshi to the far rope only to be leveled by shoulder block when Hoshi comes back off. Hoshi belly strikes her into the corner and climbs to the second for her signature “bend over corner opponent and rub belly into face” spot. Tsukka comes out of it retching, which the takes the spot even further out of my personally appreciation zone. Tsukushi comes in and takes Hoshi’s  place over Tsukka to copy the move herself as Hoshi holds off Aoi. Funny moment when Tsukushi hesitates for a second in fear when she sees the expression on Tsukka’s face, but then does it anyway. As Tsukushi really has no belly, it’s not very effective and Tsukka no sells the move when Tsukushi gets down and smacks her stomach.

Hoshi grabs Tsukka and sends her headfirst into Hoshi’s corner and a tag brings Tsukushi in legally for the first time. Tsukushi ties Tsukka up in the ropes and pulls back on her nose for embarrassment (posing her smiling face next to Tsukka for contrast), then bounces of the far rope for a running dropkick to Tsukka’s back. Tsukka bridges out of a cover and nails a dropkick, then ties Tsukushi up in the ropes for a taste of her own medicine, which the crowd actually boos. I guess picking on Tsukushi is off limits.

Tsukka finishes the spot with the running dropkick to Tsukushi’s back and tags in Aoi. Scoop slam by Aoi and a pair of running sentons followed by a running twist splash gets two. Tsukushi into the corner for an extended sequence of machine gun chops, but after she’s done Tsukushi reverses position for her own version (using both hands). Aoi no sells them and pushes out a bit while doing a double bicep pose to show strength then lands a few more strikes before tagging Tsukka.

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Tsukushi gets the better of Tsukka with her rollup into a double stomp then tags Hoshi. Hoshi runs over for a shot at Aoi on the apron as Aoi is taking a drink of water, so Aoi squirts at her with the bottle. Scoop slam to Tsukka and Hoshi calls Tsukushi in for her running on an opponent’s back spot, and joins Tsukushi much to Tsukka’s pain and dismay. Cover when they’re done gets 2.

Tsukka reverses a whip into the corner and signals for Hoshi’s own buttblocks. She hits them but Hoshi’s unfazed and nails a dropkick to Tsukka’s back. She traps Tsukka in the opposite corner and kind of does knees to Tsukka’s head, then an ace crusher out of the corner for 2. Hoshi with her Boston Crab variation into a half crab. Tsukka makes the ropes to break, then fights off Hoshi’s shoulders, hits the ropes and lands her rollup into a hard kick to the chest sequence. Tsukka hits the ropes but Hoshi counters with her belly to put Tsukka on her knees and in position for Hoshi to hit her normal belly to the face strike.

Tag to Tsukushi and she also signals for the belly to the face, but Tsukka stops her with a dropkick. Now it’s Tsukka’s turn to try to steal the move but Tsukushi instead steals Tsukka counter and hits her with a dropkick. Crowd very into that whole sequence.

Tsukka up and firearms Tsukushi in annoyance. Tsukushi lands one of her own, which doesn’t impress Tsukka, so Tsukka hits another and Tsukushi crumples to the mat and sells it like death for a few seconds. She slaps the mat to fire herself up and hits another on Tsukka, who takes a step back this time but immediately responds and sends Tsukushi back into the ropes. Tsukushi with a flurry that puts Tsukka to a knee, and when Tsukka tries to respond Tsukushi ducks this time and hits another forearm herself. Tsukka showing effects so she puts an end to the exchange with a spinning kick to Tsukushi’s chest.

Tsukka pics up Tsukushi and says “I am Ayako Hamada” (that much Japanese I understand 😉 ) and goes for a powerbomb, but Tsukushi fights out of it and hits a TORNADO KILLSWITCH (!!!) and follows with her vicious dropkick with Tsukka laying against the bottom rope. She goes up top but Tsukka swats away her missile dropkick and sends her into the opposite corner. Aoi comes in and hits her crossbody on a standing Tsukushi in the corner, then Tsukka hits a dropkick. Tsukushi seated now and Tsukka with a hard running dropkick.

Back the the middle of the ring and Tsukushi reverses a scoop slam into one of her own then hits a shotgun dropkick to the seated Tsukka’s head. Tsukka rolls right back up and sends Tsukushi staggering back into her own corner with a dropkick. Hoshi tags herself in and clotheslines Tsukka back into her corner, where Aoi tags HERSELF in. I’m digging both the move swipe spots and all the parallel moments in this.

Hoshi and Aoi lay into each other with forearms until Aoi ducks one and spins Hoshi around into a stunner. She whips Hoshi into a corner and charges but Hoshi bounces right back out and floors her with a shoulder block. Aoi fights her off, hits the ropes, then lands a rolling grapevine takeover and transitions Hoshi into position for the STF. Hoshi crawls to rope to break and Aoi goes up the turnbuckles, but Tsukushi stops her with a handful of hair and Hoshi recovers to land a forearm and take over. She slams Aoi off the turnbuckles and goes up herself for a shotgun dropkick off the middle. Folding press gets 2 and now she puts Aoi into an STF.

Tsukka gets by Tsukushi and kicks Hoshi to break the hold. Tsukka’s sent out of the ring and a Samoan drop by Hoshi on Aoi is followed by a top rope  double stomp by Tsukushi. Tsukushi picks Aoi up to slam her in better position, then Hoshi hits a big splash from the top rope. Tsukka saves. Aoi struggles to her feat, then ducks a charging Hoshi which allows Tsukka to hit a step up enzugiri. Aoi off the ropes with a spinning forearm, then a Northern Lights Suplex for 2. Tsukka pulls Hoshi into position for Aoi’s Snow Blow. Pinfall interrupted by Tsukushi.

Straightjacket suplex attempt by Aoi countered into a nice rollup by Hoshi for 2. Hoshi hits the ropes but is followed by Aoi and small packaged the second she bounces off for 2. Aoi tries a rollup but Hoshi twists around and drops down for her own cover, and Aoi kicks out at 2 just as the bell ring signifying time has expired. The finish makes sense just a week away from Aoi’s defense against Hoshi.

I’m still not enamored with Hoshi’s gimmick and the awkward armdrag annoyed me from someone with her experience, but she has her strengths and this match was excellent overall once it got going. The constant reversals, one-upmanship displays and move stealing spots were all highly entertaining and there was some great wrestling at its center. Oh, and that’s the first time I’ve seen a tornado killswitch, and it’s insane.

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5) Neko Nitta vs Pantera Rosa ****

Neko slowly walks across the ring with a determined look on her face once the bell rings as Pantera lounges dismissively in the corner. Neko slaps her twice while Rosa continues to shrug and look unconcerned. On the third attempt however Rosa blocks, hits a slap of her own, then gets her whip and whips the hell out of Neko as the latter tries to roll/crawl/scamper out of range. It goes on for a while, then Rosa escalates it even further by grabs Neko by the hair and just wearing out the whip across Neko’s back.

She pauses in apparent amusement for a second when Neko tries fighting back with a couple shots to the midsection, then kicks Neko back down and stands on her back while holding the ropes. THIS gets the ref to put a 5-count on Rosa to make her get Neko out of the ropes. Is the whip legal or something? Rosa rolls Neko out to the apron, then wraps the whip around her neck from inside the ring. She breaks before 5.

Mocking kick to Neko’s back pushes her off the apron, and Rosa goes out too for another ten or so whip shots to Neko’s back. Slap to Neko’s face and Rosa slams her face first into vacated audience seats. Rosa sends Neko farther down the aisle and more whipping occurs right in the middle of the crowd. Rosa claims someone’s chair and slams Neko’s head into in several times in rapid succession. And more whipping. I had forgotten that this was ALL Rosa for so long. She mocking rubs/rams the whip handle in to Neko’s forehead for a bit.

Whip by Rosa reversed as Neko tries to fight back, but Rosa reverses again immediately and Neko is rammed into the metal framing around the entrance. Rosa puts her whip over her shoulder and shrugs as Neko’s laid out, and turns her back to go back to the ring. Neko crawls back out from under the curtain, and is bleeding from the forehead. She crawls all the way back to the ring, refusing to give up, as Rosa arrogantly lounges across the ropes in a corner.

Neko with a hard forearm to Rosa, but all it earns her is another round of the whip handle being rammed into her head repeatedly. Neko curled up in a ball on the mat, and Rosa begins the whipping again. After a few shots she throws it away and starts clubbing on Neko, and the latter’s face shows a glimmer of hope at a possible opening. Rosa sends her into the ropes and Neko bounces off the second for a back elbow, but Rosa simply steps out of the way and Neko’s down again. Half of Neko’s face is covered in blood at this point.

Rosa continues to toy with her with soft, mocking kicks to Neko’s head, just pushing her around the ring. Neko can’t get up so Rosa covers for 2. Whip to the ropes and Neko ducks a clothesline and hits the springboard back elbow for her first successful offensive move of the match. She’s getting her second wind now and is pissed off, hammering Rosa widown with double axhandles and then grabbling Rosa’s chain and punching her repeatedly with it. Unfortunately for Neko it doesn’t last, as Rosa turns them over, grabs the chain from Neko and unloads with chain shots of her own for a bit. But the Neko reverses gets some more chain assisted punches in.

Neko then ditches the chain and throws Rosa into a corner, but drops to a knee in exhaustion for a second before following up. Whip into the far corner and then a running forearm onto Rosa and Neko is firing up. She sends Rosa back to the other corner and hits another running forearm, but Rosa kicks out at 1. Neko grabs the whip to finally pay Rosa back a bit. Once she gets a few solid shots in she goes up top and hits a shotgun missile dropkick. She then gets the chain again and puts it in the center of the ring, positioning Rosa bent over above it, and goes up top. Another shotgun missile dropkick causes Rosa to land on the chain, and she comes up selling extreme pain in the back. So Neko does it again from another corner. Cover for 2. Both struggling to get up, as Neko’s selling exhaustion and Rosa’s selling her back being screwed.

Neko rolls under a right hand but is slow to get up, and Rosa takes the opportunity to get the whip again. Another ten plus hard shots to Neko’s back. Rosa picks her up for something but Neko starts a forearm exchange. Neko’s have nothing on them and Rosa starts preening again. After a couple of back and forth shots Rosa decides to rake the eyes instead. More whipping, but Neko counters by throwing powder in Rosa’s face (kind of – Rosa had turned away to run towards the ropes) and rocks her with some palm strikes. Rosa grabs the chain, but Neko keeps her at bay with more palm strikes, and gets 2.

She pulls Rosa into position and can barely stand up, but signals she’s going to the top rope. Slow climb and Rosa gets up and just throws the chain at her. She then positions the chain on the mat and dramatically signs that she’s going to drive Neko into it. Rosa climbs and hits a barrage of forearms to the side of Neko’s head, but Neko fights back and side slams Rosa of the middle turnbuckle onto the chain. It only gets 2, so Neko goes up again and nails the moonsault. Again only 2,shocking the crowd. Neko puts the chain on Rosa’s stomach and goes up for a final moonsault, but Rosa gets the knees up and cradles Neko for a very close 2. She doesn’t let up though, grabbing Neko’s arms then hooking Neko’s legs with her own and bridging herself up to keep Neko down for 3 this time.

Rosa walks towards Neko with the whip on her shoulder, and a kneeling Neko reaches out for Rosa’s arm. Rosa slaps her, then makes “what the hell” gestures as Neko grasps her hand and shakes it, but eventually returns the show of respect and then gets down on her knees as well to hug Neko.

This was a war. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen in Ice Ribbon, and the atmosphere they kept up was amazing. It felt quite different live, as it was easier to get swept up in the mayhem and I didn’t realize that Neko went most of the match without ANY offense. It worked both live and on dvd though and got even more intense at the end. Wish I knew why weapons were legal but being in the ropes wasn’t and on disc the early whipping portions seem long, but those are small points. Great main event.

Neko and Rosa going to the back together isn’t shown, but we do get the entire post-show interview before the roundtable, with Mochi playing the role of interviewer and Neko (face still covered in dried blood from her match) coming back with Rosa’s mask and seems to explain that Rosa is gone. Neko then brings out 235, Akane, and Kyuuri and reads something she brought out with her to them (with everyone visibly touched and fighting tears) and announces her retirement match for RibbonMania involving the three of them.

The rest of the show’s roster joins them in the ring and Neko speaks to the audience a bit. Tsukka interrupts her for a second to present some gifts from the roster (she gets very excited about the cake), then Neko finishes by thanking the crowd and having everyone else in the ring join her is a cry of “Happy Ice Ribbon Nyah!” The dvd then fades to a photo of them all (taken just a little later) for several seconds as Neko’s music plays.

Fun show and a great way for Neko to say goodbye to the IR Dojo.

Pandora Hearts Volume 1 Review

“Your sin… is… your very being.”

Fifteen-year-old Oz Vessalius is more excited about exploring the special family residence he gets to visit for his coming-of-age ceremony than the ceremony itself. But what he finds there is just the start of his decent into prophecy, danger, and the Abyss, a mythic prison from which there is supposedly no return.

 

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Pandora Hearts starts slow and couple for a few chapters, then rapidly throws intrigue and conflict at the reader in breakneck fashion. It works for me because the world and its mysteries are engaging, but there are far more questions than answers in this set up volume. Oz really knows nothing about the chaos he’s thrown into, so neither do the readers. Yet the little clues and foreshadowing provided, as well as the glimpses of the various forces at play and dire pronouncements delivered, are quite engaging and pique curiosity nicely.

I enjoy the twisted layer of Alice in Wonderland that permeates everything, and am curious to see if there is eventually an in-world explanation or if it’s entirely thematic. Either way it works to add a little something extra to the manga. Its Alice serving numerous roles as enigmatic partner, powerful creature with her own agenda, and representation of “Wonderland” (rather than being the point of view outsider), gives the potential for significant depth as things proceed. I hope it’s capitalized on.

From the protagonist who doesn’t know his hidden powers to the female co-lead with nebulous background and motivation to the mysterious organization investigating the world no one thought was real, Pandora Hearts has numerous cliched elements of Shounen manga at its core. But I like the way they’re presented and blended here, and am definitely going to read at least a bit more.

 

Ice Ribbon Vol. 698 DVD Review

December 19, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

This was the first show I saw live during my Japan trip, and my first exposure to Ice Ribbon. My initial impression of the show can be read here. Will be interesting to revisit.

The dvd opens with a rundown of the entire card with a couple of highlights running in the background. Nice touch. Entrances are generally not shown for the participants before each match, but there’s a “title card” type listing that serves the purpose of breaking up things for pacing so it doesn’t feel too awkward not having them.

1) The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi and Mochi Miyagi) and Pantera Rosa vs. Akane Fujita, 235 and Kyuuri ***

I remember this being fun live. I was previously unfamiliar with all six wrestlers. Pantera Rosa clearly has some history with her opponents, as they jump her team in lieu of handshakes, knock the Butchers out of the ring, then take turns attacking Rosa. She plays them against each other with some quick dodges though and takes over in short order. Ice Ribbon doesn’t really have what I’d think of as traditional full blown heels in general (outside of Miyako, who plays it for comedy), so Pantera’s act stands out. The Butchers are kind of in between here, still playing to the crowd at points but utilizing heel tactics in conjunction with their partner. It’s odd but suits the match I guess. I’m personally not a big fan of the Butchers’ belly based offense or random “come hither” poses either.

Kyuuri shows a lot of resiliency and fire fighting back against her larger opponents in the early going. Mochi seems quick for her size and I like her rapid repeated Earthquake splashes. After numerous attempts and reversals of offensive advantage Kyuuri hits Mochi with a Fisherman’s Suplex, which looks crazy given Kyuuri’s diminutive size. She’s a great underdog.

235 gets the tag and comes in angry, showing her strength by slamming Mochi then demanding Rosa comes in. Continuing the grating, dismissive attitude towards her opponents Rosa simply turns her back and drops from the apron. Mochi up and she fires back a bit, but 235 gets the better of a strike exchange and unloads with forearms until hitting a (slightly sloppy) step up legdrop to the back of Mochi’s head. TEN running crossbodies follow (with Mochi trying to stand between each and both showing building exertion as they go) to the crowd’s delight. 235 back to the corner and with a battle cry to psych herself up again, but her eleventh crossbody attempt is caught and Mochi spins her into a sideslam.

Pantera comes in to take advantage of the downed 235 and wastes no time mocking kicking her in the head then knocking her partners off the apron. She grabs her chain from her corner, wraps it around 235’s neck, then drags her around the ring with it while the ref argues with Akane and Kyuuri. 235 thrown over the ropes and is now being hung by the chain. Ref turns around and catches Rosa, but simply applies a 5-count. From what I’ve been told automatic DQ’s are practically non-existent in Japan. Took some getting used to. 235 on the floor, still wrapped in the chain, as Rosa nonchalantly waits in the ring. 235 with a burst of adrenaline when she rolls in though and catches Rosa napping, charging in and laying into her with about twenty forearms. Akane comes in for a double suplex, then drags the spent 235 to the corner and tags herself in. I love that spot, as it shows the intelligence to help your partner out of trouble, rather than just attacking your opponent.

Akane takes her frustration out on Rosa with power moves until Rosa sneaks behind and shoves her into the ref. She grabs handcuffs this time, and uses them like brass knuckles to repeatedly punch Akane down. Ref revived by the seconds on the outside so she drops the cuffs and tries a hold, but when Kyuuri and 235 come in to help Rosa just grabs the cuffs again and knocks them both out of the ring with them. Arm bar on Akane, but they’ve all finally had enough of Rosa and 235 grabs her own chain and nails her in the back. Arm drag by Kyuuri, whip into a double boot in the corner by 235 that becomes a tornado DDT, then a power back body drop by Akane. Nice bit of revenge on Rosa.

Akane goes for the mask, but the Butcher come in to save. Rosa takes advantage of the confusion with a crucifix style rollup for a close 2, then tags out. Hammy in and Akane looks like a beast trading shoulder tackles and forearms with her. Butchers with a double splash then Hammy picks up Mochi and dumps her on Akane for 2. Hammy up top, but Kyuuri saves. Akane throws Hammy down, 235 with a crossbody from the opposite turnbuckle, Kyuuri with one of her own, then Akane powers Hammy up for a powerslam for 2. Great sequence. Mochi saves her partner from a single arm stranglehold, and Akane and Hammy trade strikes again. Akane with the advantage, but Rosa with a chain shot to the back from outside and the Butchers hit their running belly strikes to Akane’s face (as ridiculous as it sounds).

Everyone’s in and Rosa knocks 235 and Kyuuri back out. X-Factor from Mochi sets up a top rope splash by Hammy for the win. This played just as well taped as live. Nice exchanges, a strong heel, some high points for the faces before they lost, and good effort all around. Akane was in a few different roles in here various matches I saw, and I liked her here best as a wrecking ball. I hope she keeps to this power wrestling in the future because it suits her well.

2) Miyako Matsumoto and Maruko Nagasaki vs Azure Revolution (Risa Sera and Maya Yukihi) ***1/2

This was also my first time seeing any of these wrestlers, although I had heard a lot about Risa ahead of time. She was as good as advertised, but Miyako stole my attention here. I adore her act. To me she’s the epitome of “comedy wrestling can be great when done well.” The humor is based in the wrestling and the match, as well as her wonderfully shameless heel character. More on that as we go through the match.

Maruko and Maya start, trading headlocks and until they back into the corner and Risa comes in to knock Miyako off the apron and help Maya with Maruko. In the US that would be an extremely heelish move, but seems to be played off as a normal part of the match, as Risa’s definitely a face here. Double running elbow in the corner to Maruko, THEN a tag to bring Risa in legally (why not reverse those?). Risa locks in a high angle Boston Crab and Maruko crawls all the way across the ring to reach the ropes, delighting the crowd with her fortitude. Miyako (who IS a heel and totally acts it) was awesomely using all her weight to push the rope inward for her partner to grab. An annoyed Risa chases her off the apron again.

Tag and Maya comes in. Couple of hard snapmares, some kicks and a cover for 2 then tag back out to Risa. Odd that AR has only double teamed illegally so far, and not after any of their actual tags. Boston Crab setup again, but this time Risa grabs the arms, lifts Maruko, and does her awesome hanging/shaking version. Dismissive/mocking “kicks” to the head of the beaten down Maruko and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve missed a storyline reason for AR acting quasi-heelish here. Risa hits the ropes and Miyako cheap shots her with a kick to the back to cheers. Screw it, I’m accepting this as a Bizzaro World match and moving on.

Miyako in to help and her and Maruko whip Risa into the ropes only to eat a double shoulder block by Risa. Miyako rolls out, tag to Maya, and Maruko’s still in major trouble. She loses a forearm exchange, but then hits a running dropkick to a pop to turn the tide. After a second one she tags out and Miyako’s in legally for the first time. She fires her self up excessively and hits a running double chop, but Risa in to attack from behind. AR whips Miyako into the ropes, which she tries to counter with a cross body, but they catch her and the fun truly begins as Miyako decides this would be a good time to pose dramatically likes she’s winning (while still being held midair by her opponents). AR with a disbelieving look and they just unceremoniously drop her mid-pose. They hit the ropes but Miyako rolls towards them to trip them and hits a double faceplant.

Risa out and Miyako fires up the crowd and gets them clapping, then ties Maya up in the ropes for some forearms. When she hits the far rope however Maya frees herself and levels Miyako with a shoulder block. Miyako’s got a natural charisma to everything she does, no matter how ridiculous, that’s highly amusing and engages the crowd. Tag to Risa and she hits her running knees to Miyako’s back numerous times for 2. In the corner and Miyako makes some sort of whining comment that makes people laugh. Whip to the opposite corner and Risa follows with an elbow, then Miyako drops down, and Risa runs back to the far corner then back again with more double knees. Risa got impressive speed on both running moves and they looked great.

Risa attempts what looks like a belly-to-back suplex, but Miyako blocks midair for more posing, then swings around Risa to go into a crucifix-type rollup for 2. Capitalizing on the moment, she kicks Risa, knocks Maya off the apron and calls Maruko into the ring. They attempt a double whip on Risa again, with Miyako seeming like she has a plan. Risa comes off with the shoulder block again, but Miyako pushes Maruko in the way (to boos) and her expression indicates it worked perfectly because she wasn’t hit. She forces Risa to do Miyako’s trademark pose, then dumps her into a splash onto Maruko (which is supposed to hurt Risa too somehow?), and rolls Risa over for a cover while kicking her partner out of the way. I adore her shameless, self-serving antics.

She hits another running double chop then sells exhaustion and fatigue and crawls to her corner to tag Maruko (who is still selling from the damage Miyako caused her). But Maruko good naturedly takes the tag and comes in for the benefit of her team. The “face teaming with selfish heel” dynamic here reminds me of El Generico and Steen. Maruko and Risa trade some dropkicks then go into a forearm exchange, with Risa essentially laughing off Maruko’s attempts and showing her what real forearms are. Her confidence backfires though when Maruko reverses a whip into the corner and hits another running dropkick.

Miyako in and cuts off Maya, then excitedly gets Maruko to do the full Mama Mia pose procession. Risa is on the mat calmly (and obviously) watching them the whole time, and when they finally go for the double splash she raises her feet to kick both with a big smile on her face. Nice touch.

Miyako rolls out and Risa seems lost for a second, then fights over slam attempts with Maruko until Risa reverses one into a swinging side slam. Miyako saves and again pays the price of Risa beating her back out of the ring. Tag to Maya and she wears Maruko down with strikes and holds until Miyako saves again, and again Risa chases her away.

Maruko reverses a whip into a running dropkick and Miyako comes in to press the gained advantage. Double whip, and since it’s on Maya this time they successfully hit a running double chop/elbow combination. Miyako celebrates by kicking her partner to double her over then essentially hitting Angel’s Wings on Maruko onto Maya as an offensive move. She pulls the near dead Maruko onto Maya for 2. Maruko pulls herself together for an uranage that only gets 2 when Risa gets by Miyako and saves. Miyako chases her out and Maya fights off another uranage, only to suffer a close 2 when Maruko ducks a clothesline and applies a backslide.

Maruko with another duck into a close rollup, but then Maya kind of hits a leg lariat for 2 of her own. Risa in and a double whip on Maruko into the corner. Maya with a running elbow, then drops down so Risa can launch off her into a flying double knee. Chokeslam by Maya but Miyako saves. Superkick for a very close 2 and the crowd applauds Maruko’s tenacity. Maya signals for the end, and hits her Snow Tone Bomb (sitout slam) for 3 while Risa holds off Miyako. Unfortunately the post-match where Miyako attacks Maruko for having the nerve to lose is cut from the dvd. Likely just some added amusement/character antics for the live crowd.

This played a little better live, where I didn’t have time to notice things like double teaming never taking place off of actual tags or slight heel mannerisms from AR, but those are likely just differences between Joshi wrestling norms and those in the US that I need to get used to and this was still a ton of fun taped once it got going. Maruko is another great babyface underdog and her pairing with the selfish Miyako was fantastic. The latter became an instant favorite of mine here. She’s not a technical wizard in the ring, but she’s solid and her act is pitch perfect. Her antics flow from the wrestling and her character and thus add humor to the match without detracting from it.

3) Aoi Kizuki and Tsukushi vs Yuuka and Hamuko Hoshi ***1/2

This is Hoshi’s second match of the night, this time opposite her opponent for her upcoming title match against champion Aoi Kazuki. Tsukushi and Yuuka start.  Interesting match up: while the wrestlers are around the same age (18 and 17, respectively), Tsukushi has three times the amount of experience of her slightly larger opponent (6 yrs vs 2 yrs). A little bit of nice chain wrestling and counters to start leads to a stalemate, and fairly quick tags to bring in the champ and her impending challenger, who waste no time rushing at each other with some shoulder blocks. Neither goes down, which spotlights Aoi since Hoshi has a lot of size on her. Aoi with a flurry of double windmill chops then hits another running shoulder block, but Hoshi bounces off the ropes with one of her own and finally takes Aoi down. Aoi rolls outside and Hoshi’s left in the ring to do her ridiculous poses.

She ambushes Aoi on the way back in and it’s belly based offense time. I really hate this gimmick. Yuuka in but Aoi cartwheels through a double clothesline attempt and hits a double crossbody. She slams Yuuka onto Hoshi and calls Tsukushi in for Aoi’s trademark pose while standing on their opponents. Hoshi rolls out and leaves Aoi with Yuuka. No actual tag there, which Aoi confirms with the ref. Hoshi now on the apron and Aoi goes for her. Yuuka tries a surprise rollup, but Aoi holds her ground, stays standing, and goes back to a forearm exchange with Hoshi as the ref explains to Yuuka that she’s not legal.

Yuuka clues in, gives up the rollup attempt and goes outside, indicating to Hoshi that she needs to either get in the ring or tag. Awkward sequence, particularly from Hoshi who took far too long to figure out what was going on, but nice focus from Aoi and the ref to fix it. Tsukushi had a completely deadpan expression on for the whole thing in the opposite corner.

Aoi with some machine gun chops on Hoshi in the corner to get us back on track, then Hoshi responds with a slam and splash for 1. NOW we get a tag to Yuuka. She comes in pumped up, but Aoi easliy blocks her suplex attempt with clubbing blows to the back then single-legs Yuuka into a toehold. Yuuka escapes and tries to block a Boston Crab attempt, but Aoi calmly points out that her shoulders are down, then finishes the Boston Crab when Yuuka’s forced to kick out of the refs count. Yuuka’s screaming and really selling well as Tsukushi comes out of the corner slightly to watch for a possible Hoshi save. Aoi transitions into a facelock combination, then rolls out and hits double knees to Yuuka’s back followed by a pair of running sentons then a twist splash for 2.

Tag to Tsukushi, who knocks Hoshi off the apron and then Aoi and Tsukushi take turns doing Tsukushi’s “run on opponent’s back repeatedly” spot until Tsukushi tires of Aoi’s contribution and pushes her away to finish Yuuka’s abuse herself. She directs the champ out of the ring, to which Aoi complies smiling. Tsukushi fires up the crowd and fights for a surfboard, finally applying it by rolling FORWARD in a cool variation. She releases it after a few seconds and ties Yuuka up in the ropes and pulls back on her nose for some mocking.

Tsukushi then signals for a running strike, but behind her Yuuka is nearly free and has an awesome “I’m one step ahead” expression on as she follows Tsukushi in and nails her with a forearm as soon as Tsukushi bounces off the far rope. Nice running forearm, but as she goes for another Tsukushi stays down and kicks up at Yuuka with both feet (looked a little awkward since Yuuka couldn’t possibly have hit anything herself from her position once Tsukushi didn’t get up). Yuuka seated in the corner and Tsukushi hits a beautiful crossbody in the corner a la Misaki Ohata.

Yuuka showing fire and comes out for a forearm exchange, which looks great as both are laying it in. Tsukushi gets the advantage but Yuuka counters a whip into the corner with a great step up crossbody. Tag to Hoshi, who tries to ambush Aoi but the champ avoids the charge by moving behind the ringpost. Shows of intelligence make me happy. Running splash on Tsukushi, butt blocks (imagine a kind of shoulder block done turned around with one’s posterior), and a bulldog for 2. Boston Crab by Hoshi and she turns so she can taunt Aoi while applying the hold. Aoi yelling in her face as Tsukushi struggles, then comes in and slaps at Hoshi until she releases. Hoshi knocks her out of the ring with a forearm and turns to Tsukushi.

After a little back and forth Tsukushi hits her forward rollup into a double stomp, knocks Yuuka down, and WAYLAYS a seated Hoshi with a dropkick against the ropes. Up top for a missile dropkick for 2. Tag and Aoi with a crossbody from the top, followed by one to Hoshi’s midsection with Hoshi standing in the corner. Fires up the crowd, trips Hoshi, then goes up, but Hoshi stops Aoi and gets her on Hoshi’s shoulders. Aoi escapes and they go into another intense forearm exchange. Aoi tries to end it with an STO, but Hoshi’s too strong, reverses the position and pushes Aoi down across her knee for a brief submission hold. Running belly to the face for 2.

Aoi reverses a whip into a German suplex (!!!), but sends Hoshi right into her corner for a tag. Yuuka comes in hot and hits a running dropkick in the corner and a tornado DDT for 2. They jockey for control and Aoi applies a STF. Can’t help but think about how awful Cena’s looks every time I see anyone else do one. Aoi taunting Yuuka to give up while the latter screams and struggles until Hoshi gets by Tsukushi and breaks the hold. Northern Lights suplex by Aoi countered into a backslide attempt which is countered into a whip and a flying clothesline.

Single leg by Aoi sets up a top rope double stomp by Tsukushi followed by Aoi’s Snow Blow (horizontal half turn in the air into a spalsh) for 2 after a Hoshi save. Hoshi nails both her opponents with clotheslines, then brawls with Aoi allowing Yuuka to sneak in with her bridging backslide. It’s like I’ve seen Amber O’Neal do, but Yuuka releases her opponents arms as she bridges, and as a result gets a better bridge and actually has her opponent’s shoulders on the mat. Aoi escapes at 2 but Yuuka pushes her into a missle dropkick from Hoshi. Crosslegged cradle suplex for 2 on the champ.

Aoi reverses a whip into a stunner and Northen Lights suplex for 2. They kind of whiff a crucifix bomb as Yuuka doesn’t go backward enough and comes down on Aoi. Aoi holds on and pulls her over into a cover. Save by Hoshi. Tsukushi takes Hoshi out with a dropkick and Aoi plants Yuuka with a slam. She then goes up and hits her awesome spinning splash (Happiness Splash)  for the win.

This was great when it was in gear, with numerous saves and nearfalls emphasizing the will of both teams to win. A few miscues here and there hurt a little, but everyone was good about keeping it all together and minimizing the effects.

Yuuka’s excellent for her experience level, and Tsukushi was smooth in everything and makes herself a believable threat despite her small size. I adore Aoi. She does little things that enhance her matches a lot and I find her offense (particularly the top rope stuff) unique and exciting. Hoshi isn’t bad, but she was a bit outshone by the others and made some mistakes I wouldn’t expect from someone of her experience (beyond “everyone has off moments” stuff). I also personally don’t enjoy her gimmick or trademark moves. On the other hand the most important thing is that her effort (as well as everyone else’s) was good, and she did make her opponent’s offense look impressive.

 

4) Triangle Ribbon Title Match:  Neko Nitta (c) vs Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Kyuuri ****

This was shortly before Neko’s retirement, and it was a privilege to get to see her last matches live. This was stated as the final time she would defend her Triangle Championship, so it seemed likely that it could change hands. Tsukka is the ace of the company and could conceivably add it to her list of accolades, and Kyuuri is the plucky up and comer, seemingly groomed for this belt. Fantastic choice of challengers. I’d seen Tsukka wrestle before in Shimmer and am convinced she’s one of the best there is.

Kyuuri will have the uphill battle here, being not only the least experienced of the three but also the only one to have wrestled earlier on the card. Show of respect all around, although the handshake was tentative between Neko and Tsukka. All guarded as they do a three-way lockup, then Tsukka immediately steps over to break her connection with Neko and puts an arm wringer on Kyuuri. Neko let’s go of Kyuuri and goes over to grab Tsukka’s arm, which frees Kyuuri to put a headlock on Neko. Tsukka rolls out of Neko’s grip and applies her own headlock on Kyuuri (who’s still holding Neko). They take a couple turns escaping the end of the chain and applying new headlocks to the beginning, then Tsukka and Kyuuri transition into simultaneous arm wringers on Neko. Long sequence of simple moves done in ways unique to the three person format to get things going nicely.

Neko rolls out, tossing both her opponents forward, but then runs into a double dropkick as they recover. They team on the champ a bit, including alternating kicks to her back and a simultaneous figure four by Kyuuri and double chicken wing by Tsukka, followed by tying her up in the ropes and taking turns raking her back and dropkicking her. From what I understand Neko’s been a strong champ in this format so this strategy makes sense.

Boston Crab by Tsukka is transitioned into a half crab while Kyuuri applies a Camel Clutch and they’ve been in complete control of the champ for quite a while. Neko turns the tide by reversing a whip and sends both into a corner, but Tsukka slides outside when she cahrges, so only Kyuuri is hit by Neko’s running forearm. Tsukka takes advantage with a crossbody off the top, then trips Neko while she’s trying to whip Kyuuri to essentially force Neko to armdrag Kyuuri. She then capitalizes with a flash rollup for a close two on the champ. Great showcase of Tsukka’s speed, ring awareness, and veteran instincts.

Dropkick to Neko in the corner seems to set up a running version, but Kyuuri intercepts and knocks Tsukka down. She then slams Neko in the center and hits a cartwheel splash for 2, wonderfully holding on to Neko’s arm for a Fujiwara attempt as Neko kicks out. Neko rolls out but Kyuuri holds on again for a cross armbreaker. Tsukka tries to kick Kyuuri in the head to break, but Kyuuri ducks without losing the hold, grabs Tsukka, and puts them BOTH in the cross armbreaker simultaneously. Wonderful sequence. Neko and Tsukka sell like their arms are being ripped out once it’s fully locked and quickly get their feet on the bottom rope to break.

Neko regains the advantage with a side slam on Kyuuri, then when Tsukka swipes at her she ducks and hits a lungblower on Tsukka so that she lands on Kyuuri. Middle rope shotgun dropkick to Tsukka, followed by a missile variation for 2. Up for a moonsault in the opposite corner, but Kyuuri grabs her leg. Tsukka gets up, knocks Kyuuri off the apron, and sets up the Ocean Cyclone Suplex, but Kyuuri small packages them both from that position for 2. The constant interceptions/reversals and unique uses of having three competitors in the match are great.

Tsukka has clearly had enough, as she snapmares both her opponents into seated positions and just brutalizes their backs with kicks for a while. Slam to Kyuuri and she goes up top, hitting a missile dropkick on Neko while splashing Kyuuri. I love that type of spot. Kyuuri kicks out at 2 and Tsukka turns to a seated Neko with a running dropkick in the corner, followed by a hard slam for 2 then a Japanese stranglehold. Kyuuri comes back in for some revenge with a vicious kick of her own to Tsukka’s exposed back, then hooks everyone’s arms with her feet and flips them both over for another double 2 count.

Kyuuri ties them both up in suplex position (under the same arm), looking for a double Fisherman’s suplex. She gets them off the ground to the crowd’s awe, but can’t convert. However after she releases them they rush her in sequence and each get a snap version for their trouble. She holds on to Neko after hitting it for 2. Whip to the rope and Neko jumps up to hit a springboard elblow, catching both opponents then rolling them up in a double crucifix for a double 2 count.

Flurry of strikes by Tsukka on Neko, countered with a palm strike, but Kyuuri then catches Neko with a small package for 2. Spinning tail shot to Kyuuri’s face only seems to anger her, as she responds with a big right hand and the Fisherman’s suplex again. Neko kicks out at 1 however, and hits an Asai moonsault. She pulls Kyuuri in position for the top rope moonsault, but Tsukka attacks. Neko knocks her down with a headbutt, then catches a recovered and charging Kyuuri and side slams her off the middle rope. Pinfall is interrupted when Tsukka hits a dropkick right to Neko’s face. Ouch.

Another Ocean Cyclone Suplex attempt on Neko is countered into a rollup for a very close 2, then Tsukka gets one of her own off a hurricarana. The crowd is electric for these nearfalls. Neko ducks a kick to the head and catches Tsukka’s foot, then grabs Tsukka’s arms as well for a modified backslide (pumping her legs for all she was worth for leverage)… for the win! Great, unexpected finish, with Neko retiring the championship she’s known for and pinning the more experienced (and thus seemingly less like to take the fall) opponent. Kyuuri put up a good fight and is set up to be a part of reintroducing the belt after Neko leaves.

 

The “roundtable” interviews where the roster comes out to the ring after the show and take turns speaking about the show and what comes next are included. Not speaking Japanese I obviously didn’t get much out of this, but it is a nice way for them to emphasize the stories and set up future events, and it feels appropriate for the promotion and its overall presentation. Neko writing down her comments and gesturing and having Mochi read/relate them (since Neko only speaks in “Nyahs”) was amusing.

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While some things play better live and I heartily recommend seeing IR in person if at all possible, even on dvd this was a fun show with lots of fantastic wrestling. The dojo shows like this one run an hour (not counting the roundtable), which may seem short compared to US shows. But these are the small, shorter shows for the company, and as my ridiculously long recap (don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up play-by-play for these) illustrates, that hour is all ring time and completely action packed. These shows are also often two to a dvd. I’m guessing Neko’s last title defense might be the reason for this getting its own release. No complaints here as long as the quality of the show is high, which it is. I loved this show live as my introduction to Ice Ribbon and it was awesome to rewatch. Great stuff.

Monstress #1 Review

Maika Halfwolf has entered the lair of the enemy, choosing to venture inside the wall that keeps two formerly warring cultures separate and brave a city where her people are used as slaves and for experimentation. Is what she’s after worth the risk?

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This triple sized first issue is a strong introduction to Maika and her world. The comic doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable topics or depictions, and is blunt in its approach to horrific actions and attitudes from the very start.  The nonchalant way certain things are discussed immediately establishes the uncomfortable status quo and the moral depravity of the Cumaea, a ruling coven of sorts experimenting on Maika’s race, the Arcanic. Their obviously just scratching the surface here, but there’s already nice themes of class warfare, racial tensions, and the prices of power building.

The art is excellent and highly detailed, nicely bringing Liu’s vision to life. The comic has a steampunk aesthetic but the world is just as infused with magical and spiritual elements as technological ones. It’s a fascinating mix so far.

Monstress is off to a powerful start with a gritty presentation, an intriguing background world, and a compelling main character. Will be interesting to see how the story grows from here.

Evolve 57 ippv Review

March 20, 2016 in Brooklyn, NY

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1) “All Ego” Ethan Page vs Fred Yehi **

On the short side, basically establishing Yehi as a threat to the larger opponent for a while then moving into endgame. Page’s moral journey continues as he offers a handshake several times mid-match to cops in response. Another win though for Page with the package piledriver as his quest for redemption starts to get some traction. Respect show after the match but Nese attacks Page (and then gets cheered for his crack about Page’s weight). He does turn up the heel heat after that. Konley out to send Nese home and with Andrea not there Konley will apparently be going alone later tonight in his title match.

 

2) TJ Perkins vs Tomaso Ciampa ***1/2

Tomaso Ciampa is replacing “Speedball” Mike Bailey, who had travel issues that ended up with him barred from the US for 5 years. Nice reception for Ciampa. Perkins is in his normal gear, with nothing tying himself to Catch Point. He gets big cheers and chants to open. Lenny does a good job of trying to smooth it over on commentary, but Perkins (and really all of Catch Point) needs to play the heel better. On the subject, the whole angle / stable would benefit from being more consistent about supporting each other as a ringside entourage. TJP (and later Riddle) being out alone is odd given the gimmick.

Ciampa knows how to work and pop a crowd. His sequence of destroying TJP’s cap was great. Just the right amount of comedy then back then back to action. Good back and forth as the match goes on, and it’s nice to see some extended offense from Ciampa. These two have good chemistry and I enjoyed this much more than other recent TJP matches.  Insane spot from Ciampa where he catches TJP on his back with one arm, climbs the turnbuckles, and hits an Air Raid Crash. Project Ciampa near the end for two, which seemed unnecessary and undercuts his finisher. TJ Clutch for the submission win as TJP’s push continues. He gets a hero’s ovation for the win. Ugh. Good match though.

 

3) Matt Riddle vs Chris Hero ****1/2

Odd this is on so early – could have easily been the semi-main. Crowd’s firmly on Hero’s side. Show of respect to start. Double ugh. Why the hell is the cocky, back-stabbing, detested Riddle shaking hands?

Like the previous night night the crowd is completely obsessed  with Riddle’s lack of footwear. Hero eventually attacks the exposed foot and makes it the focus of his offense to the crowd’s delight. Riddle’s coming along extremely well in a short period of time and does a great job looking like a legitimate threat to the larger man.

That said, as the match goes on Hero puts him in the most trouble he’s seen so far in Evolve. Hero’s strikes are incredible and look absolutely brutal. It makes Riddle get more and more serious as they progress, including pulling out a sweet fisherman buster. Riddle’s lip is bloody from Hero’s elbows. Hero regains control and Riddle looks to be out after a pile driver, but Hero goes for Death by Elbow. Riddle kicks out, shocking the crowd. Gotch Piledriver attempt is beautifully countered into a triangle, then converted into a vicious arm bar for the victory! Riddle still needs to work on late match selling of early legwork, but overall he’s great from his experience level. Excellent match, and a big win for Riddle that’s properly driven home by the commentary.

Galloway’s delayed this time, so the tag title match will be on later. Konley jumps Gargano then demands Thatcher comes out immediately for his championship match. As Thatcher complies, Callihan lays him out from behind. Way too few actual faces in this promotion.

 

4) Evolve Title Match: Timothy Thatcher (c) vs Caleb Konley ***1/4

Konley tries a quick pin to steal the title after Callihan’s attack. Thatcher fights back despite the cheap shot and we go back and forth for a while. Konley tries to go toe to toe with Thatcher in holds, leading to several great, innovative counters from Thatcher. He escapes the O-Face with kicks to the head. “Take it home” chants from a few unappreciative fans. I adore Thatcher style personally, but he is polarizing and has trouble engaging portions of the fanbase.

Late in the match Thatcher’s shoved into the ref after they fight on the top rope. Surprising no one, Andrea is indeed here and runs out to help. She hits a kick and Konley follows with a double jump moonsault, teasing the finish that worked the night before. Thatcher kicks out and is PISSED. Konley distracts the ref and Andrea slaps Thatcher, only to eat a headbutt. Fujiwara armbar, goodnight Konley. Fine match with an awesome show of fortitude from Thatcher, but the shenanigans detracted a bit.

Riddle’s out to challenge Thatcher to a rematch in Dallas. “You’re trash bro, just like the rest of these people.” Thatcher accepts, then after claiming to be upstanding and above cheap shots, nails Thatcher with one in the form of a jumping knee, knocking him out. NOW he’s acting like a heel. Bravo.

 

5) Sami Callihan vs Tracy Williams ***

Aggressive start for Williams, which sets the stage nicely. Callihan tries to slow things down, but Williams gets the better of the grappling. Williams begins to get on a roll so Callihan bailing to stall makes sense, but he does it too much and really disrupts the flow of his matches. Once things settle down Williams gets a long offensive advantage targeting Callihan’s arm. Williams has looked great recently and I enjoy his work.

Nearing the end, and the Cuerno Killer gets one(?!). I understand this makes Williams look like a beast, but I have an issue with using any sort of “spike” tombstone piledriver for a nearfall. It’s a move that should be treated like a career threatening experience. Williams with a nice counter to the stretch muffler for a nearfall, but Callihan hits the Cinder Block for the victory. He needed the win desperately given his building feud with Thatcher, but I was pulling for Williams.

 

6) Best in the World Challenge Series: Zack Sabre Jr. vs Drew Gulak ****

“This is awesome” chant from the crowd in anticipation of the lockup. Evenly matched in the early going, fluidly trading fantastic holds and counters. As I mentioned before, one thing I love about Sabre’s style (and Thatcher’s) is that he’s ALWAYS fighting and gives the impression he’s trying to win every second he’s in there. Gulak matches that feel well here and it’s impressive to watch them go hold for hold throughout the match, peppered with equally impressive strikes and throws.

Sabre’s ankle in trouble later on and Gulak completely picks it apart. One simply but incredibly effective sequence saw Gulak slam Sabre repeatedly making sure his injured ankle hit the ropes each time. Sabre trying to keep Gulak at bay and away from the ankle with palm strikes. They go into a series of rollups and reversals, which ends with Gulak in a seat position with Sabre essentially sitting on his neck facing the opposite direction. Zach gets a wild look, grabs Gulak’s arms and leans back into a crazy submission hold for the win. I find Gulak hit or miss, but he was totally on tonight and had a great contest with Sabre here.

Hero comes out to taunt Sabre. He name drops several people who’ve been called the Best in the World, and says he beat them all. Says he’s beyond that, and is instead the Greatest of All Time. “You haven’t beat me.” “You’re right. But I’ll see you in Dallas.” Gulak gets in Hero’s face after Sabre leaves and tells him he should be more worried about his unfinished business with Catch Point. Face promo from Gulak and the crowd chants for him appropriately. Forgive my harping, but CATCH POINT ARE HEELS. Sigh.

 

7) Evolve Tag Team Title Match: Johnny Gargano and Drew Galloway (c) vs Team Tremendous (Dan Barry and Bill Carr) ***1/4

Heel tendencies showing from Galloway, as he ends a pre-match promo joking about just making it on time and changing in the back of the cab with a cheap shot on Dan Barry to jumpstart the match. Team Tremendous won the Second Chance portion of the tag title tournament, resulting in this opportunity. Odd choice, as they aren’t Evolve regulars, lost their match the previous night, and weren’t scheduled for the subsequent Wrestlemania weekend shows in Dallas. They’re a good team that are well loved by the crowd, and Evolve at least tried to cover by stating they be added to the Dallas shows if they won the titles, but this has a total foregone conclusion feel. Shame Galloway’s delay made it the main event.

That said they put up a nice fight against the super-team of Gargano and Galloway. They have great chemistry as a team and displayed some innovative double teams. Things wrap up when Galloway nails Barry with a kick to interrupt a springboard moonsault in midair then scoops him up for the Futureshock DDT. Decent main event, but Team Tremendous never felt like serious threats to Gargano and Galloway’s reign and it never quite reached the levels it felt like it could have.

 

Overall

I’m growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of good face/heel definition in Evolve, leading to muddled angles and very few people to really get behind to cheer. But the ideas behind the rivalries are good and the action is top-notch as always. This show was great despite its missteps and Hero vs Riddle is easily Riddle’s best match so far and well worth seeking out.