Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/17 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Last year’s Tokyo Joshi Pro show I attended was admittedly my least favorite of the trip, with mediocre wrestling, poor pacing, and the general feeling that I was not their target audience. There were bright points and most of the crowd adored it, but I felt with some tweaks the show could have been significantly better without losing any of the appeal to their dedicated fanbase.

So my expectations weren’t high for this, but I was interested to see if there had been any growth in the promotion / performers.

 

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The undercard featured a nice assortment of match styles, including Nodoka Oneesan (who debuted in last year’s opener) opening against her trainer Cherry, a 3-way between Rika Tatsumi, Hyper Misao, and Maho Kurone, and Ai Shimizu & Laura James vs Azusa Takigawa & Nonoko with special guest referee Joey Ryan.

The opener was decent and while still developing Nodoka was clearly more comfortable in the ring than last year. The three way had a overriding story of super-creepy Maho Kurone going after TJP’s resident ring announcer Minami Momochi (who was seconding Misao) and Misao or Rika running interference. Maho’s vampire/zombie character, complete with a severed limb she wears around her neck to the ring and gnaws on,  is a great addition to the idol heavy promotion to provide a different feel. All story over action here, but fine for what it was.

 

 

The tag match was all comedy, but it was good comedy. They found a story that fit Joey Ryan’s ridiculously over-the-top style, and having him as highly biased ref in favor of his wife’s team ended up quite amusing. The pairing of Azusa and Nonoko benefits both as they have good comedic chemistry. They played off each other well, with Azusa getting angry with Joey’s blatant favoritism while Nonoko instead chose to try to sway the King of Sleeze their way using flaunting her body.

The contrast of Joey and Laura’s overtly sexual interactions and the more reserved and demure relationship of Ai and her fiance was also fun. Everything was absurd but entertaining. This match was also the best Ai looked in the ring of the three times I saw her this trip.

 

 

A couple of matches in things paused for idol performances, with two different groups performing a couple of songs apiece. I actually liked isolating them instead of having the singing as part of certain wrestlers’ entrances like last year. It also allowed them to set up speakers/proper equipment in the ring for them (which is impractical when doing one song at a time throughout the show). I understand criticisms of this breaking the flow of the show, but I thought it was fine and fit well with TJP’s general theme/appeal.

 

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It also tied directly into a later match between two members of the respective groups as Reika Saiki faced Maki Itoh. I was familiar with Reika via social media but never saw her wrestle before. She’s got an incredible physique and uses the power to great effect in the ring, looking quite impressive in her victory over Itoh. It was kept pretty basic (understandable given both wrestlers debuted in 2016), but they put on quite a clean, solid match considering their experience level.

In a rematch of sorts of one of last year’s highlights, Candice LeRae faced Yuka Sakazaki’s “masked twin sister” Mil Clown. I absolutely LOVE the crazy clown gimmick. The mannerisms, moves, etc. were all pitch perfect. Another strong showing between the two, and a touch better than last year’s I think.  Mil gets a victory to avenge “her sister’s” loss last year.

 

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Saki Akai is clearly TJP’s star, and received the biggest reactions of the night by far. She was in full dominant heel mode, but still heartily cheered regardless as she faced Miyu Yamashita in the semi-main. Saki’s personal maid / manager / henchman played to the crowd a little too much when interfering, but Miyu did a decent job of trying to rally the fans behind her despite it being an uphill battle.

 

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I still kind of feel like Miyu’s capable of a bit more than I’ve seen from her, but she was good here regardless. Akai played the arrogant heel to the end, including mockingly offering a handshake after defeating Miyu only to pull it back and continue the abuse. I like the total commitment to the character she showed and that she didn’t let the cheers tempt her to play hero to the audience.

 

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The main event was quite an interesting matchup. Reigning and defending Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion Yu made her wrestling debut in the opener of last year’s show. In contrast, her opponent Shoko Nakajima wrestled in last year’s main event in the finals of the tournament to crown the first champion, coming up short against Miyu Yamashita.

 

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This started slow, but once they built momentum it turned into a nice example of a grapple heavy and judo influenced style I unfortunately didn’t really see otherwise this trip.

Shoko’s parallel challenge to last year added a bit of depth, and Yu looked natural as champion despite her short amount of experience. It ran a bit long and Shoko was clearly carrying things at times, but overall this had a strong story and good action and was a fitting main event.

 

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After Yu’s successful defense, Reika comes up to apparently stake her claim as the next challenger. Good choice I think. It’ll be interesting to see if the two relative rookies can elevate each others’ performances in a main event slot.

 

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I was pleasantly surprised to discover most of the issues I had last year had been addressed. While a lot of the action was still basic, significantly higher average in ring performances in terms of execution and a better array of stories and characters made this a vastly better show while keeping all of the elements that appeal to their core fanbase. The effort was strong up and down the card, paired competitors extremely well, and perhaps most importantly the pacing was much improved, with nothing really overstaying its welcome.

This is a very different product than the other promotions I watch, but it’s growing into its niche and I found this show quite enjoyable. Looking forward to seeing if they’ll continue in this vein going forward.

Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/16 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

The last show I saw before returning to the US was by Tokyo Joshi Pro. It wasn’t exactly my ideal way to end the trip.

I will start by admitting I am definitely not their target audience. The show was generally more about extra curricular activities and angles than the wrestling, and a good chunk of the action was extremely basic. The rest of the crowd was quite into the show, but even judging it on what it’s meant to be I personally felt they could have done better in a lot of respects. That said, there were also highlights and sparks of potential.

After a lengthy period of announcements, introductions, and angle advancement, the show started with Yu vs Nodoka Onesan. Well, after singing and dancing ring entrances that is. The match itself was kept very short, which probably wasn’t a bad idea for a double debut. They did ok, but did obviously miss a couple of spots.

I’m going to be brutally honest here – the second match felt like the longest 10 minutes of my life. The 3-Way Match between Nonoko, Hyper Misao, and MIZUHO went 9:45 minutes in match time, but the first third of it consisted of Misao on the mic seeming to stress heroic virtues while her opponents flaunted their respective chosen best features (Nonoko’s breasts and MIZUHO’s rear) behind her back. It just went on and on and on.

When she noticed and got angry the “wrestling” started, which consisted of offense exclusively based around ramming people’s heads into the aforementioned body parts. I don’t mind fanservice or sexual overtones when used well and sparingly, but by the third or forth variation each with little else it lost any humor and/or effect it had. Misao swinging Nonoko headfirst into MIZUHO from behind with MIZUHO on all fours and making aroused faces upon impact also goes a bit too far for me. Their audience enjoyed it, but I feel they could have chopped this whole thing in half without disappointing the fans who liked it and spared fans like me some eye rolling repetitiveness.

Rika Tatsumi and Marika Kobashi vs Erin and Azusa Takigawa was up next, and featured an array of easily identifiable stereotypical characters. We break again in the middle of the match for Azusa Takigawa to get a mic and decide to do running commentary from the apron. At least it fit her reporter character and seemed somewhat amusing. Action was good, if generally basic, but again as I was getting into things a spot would be noticeably blown taking me right back out. Rest of the crowd didn’t mind though. They reacted to a sequence of weak machine gun chops in the corner like they were watching Kobashi.

NOTE: at this point we were closing in on an hour and a half into the show with less than 25 minutes of match time (and keep in mind “match time” included lengthy impromptu promos and posing). Felt like I was suffering through a RAW taping.

Candice LeRae and Yuka Sakazaki took things up a bit during their match. There was still some goofiness, and a somewhat clever spot on the stage involving a string of balloons took them WAY too long to set up, but this was decent. Candice is solid and it was nice to see her in Japan, and Yuka did well and showed potential.

KANNA looked good in a short match against Ai Shimizu. It was my first time seeing either and I’d like to see what they could do with more time.

The semi-main was Saki Akai vs Poison Akane Miura, and it was easily the match of the night. This was a perfect example of how to do unrealistic elements and goofiness right, while still having great action. Muira’s manager, Poison Julie, has incredible presence and charisma and makes the absurdity of him using MAGICAL POWERS to distract / hinder Muira’s opponent enjoyable. Intense battle and good work from all parties, and a glimpse of what the whole show could have conceivably been with tightening and tweaking. Akai in particular was excellent, and I’d love to see more of her work.

In the main event Miyu Yamashita faced Shoko Nakajima to determine TJP’s first Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion. The video package shown hyping the match seemed to decently build up both contenders, but it was longer than any match outside of the one it was promoting. Simply ridiculous. Also, given the idol presentation and nature of the promotion, I thought only having one of the two participants sing and dance during her entrance pretty blatantly gave away the winner.

I’m glad they gave proper time to the main event, but I found the early part boring. They were trying hard but the sense of competition was missing and it felt like a sequence of moves rather than a match. It picked up significantly about halfway through though and ended up a suitable way to crown their inaugural champion.

 

This is a hard show to review. Their audience LOVED it. They were hot throughout, throwing steamers for nearly everyone, and excited. However I think that all could have been preserved while improving the show dramatically by addressing pacing issues. And some of the wrestlers just need more polish, which they’ll get with time.

Tokyo Joshi Pro knows it niche and plays to them extremely well, but there’s a lot of untapped potential they could also capitalize on if they wanted. I would certainly enjoy their shows more as a whole if they did.