Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling runs its third Korakuen Hall show of 2018 this Saturday 25 August, entitled “Brand New Wrestling 2 ~ Now It’s Time to Attack ~”. The event will be streaming live on DDT Universe starting at 10am UK time. For anybody out there that isn’t already firmly on board the TJP bandwagon, this is a primer of sorts.
Miu & Hinano v Hikari & Raku
Together, these four are known as Up Up Girls (Pro Wrestling), an offshoot of the idol group Up Up Girls. While each member of the unit is relatively new to wrestling, having debuted at the beginning of this year, there isn’t one among them that has proven incapable of at least being carried to a good match at some point over the past eight months. Hinano will probably pretend to cry, Raku will do a move called “The Good Night Express”, and Miu and Hikari will carry the more serious sections of the match. They will also provide at least one musical interlude.
Hyper Misao v Priscilla Kelly
Misao, a delusional wannabe superhero who claims to be on the side of the righteous but is actually one of the biggest villains in the company, stole the show at May’s Korakuen Hall event with her absolutely batshit deathmatch against Jun Kasai. That match married bananas spots with a surprisingly acute emotional depth and is likely to crop up on a fair few end of year lists; this bout with Mae Young Classic competitor and all-round Goth Priscilla Kelly may not make quite the same splash but it will probably at least be very silly.
Shoko Nakajima v Riho
Nakajima is probably the most unsung star in the history of TJP. She has the honour of having main evented their first two Korakuen Hall shows, without the honour of ever actually having won the company’s top prize, the TOKYO Princess of Princess Championship. Her gimmick is that she is a 147cm tall Big Kaiju. Here she takes on Riho, the the 21 year-old 12 year veteran and Ace of Gatoh Move. These two squared off in a tag team championship match at January’s Korakuen show and have great chemistry; this is likely to be a showcase of inventive reversals and big high-flying spots.
Nodoka Tenma & Yuki Aino v Yuna Manase & Yuki Kamifuku
This match is really all about one woman. In the last TJP show on the road to Korakuen, Nodoka Oneesan said farewell to her much-loved gimmick, which was based on Japanese Morning Kids TV presenters, and which came with its own addictive song-and-dance routine, set to “Pin Pon Pan Taisou“. Feeling that this family-friendly gimmick was only achieving limited success in attracting actual children to TJP shows, and concerned at the idea of only being able to generate cheap heat, Nodoka decided to change things up and on Saturday is set to introduce the world to Nodoka Tenma, who appears to be some sort of cyberpunk. You can read more about Nodoka’s decision in this excellent blogpost which twitter user @JohnnyLandmine helpfully translated.
Saki Akai v Azusa Takigawa
So this one is a bit of a mindfuck.
DDT mainstay Saki Akai hasn’t wrestled for TJP since January last year. On the same show, former idol Azusa Takigawa wrestled alongside now-retired Nonoko as part of the tag team Konsho-gun, whose gimmick was that they were both obsessed with getting married.
Some subsequent events:
- A French aristocrat by the name of Sakisama debuts for TJP later that month, wrestling alongside a shy but surprisingly beefy “eight year-old maid girl” called Martha, and later introducing us to a mysterious doctor by the name of Yukio Saint Laurent.
- After a defeat at the hands of Sakisama and Martha in October, Azusa and Nonoko decide to go their separate ways for the sake of rebooting their careers. A month later, after losing to Sakisama in singles competition, Azusa is drugged and kidnapped by the dastardly Saint Laurent. Sakisama promises ‘that Takigawa will become a fine lady under her supervision’. Their new creation is Azusa Christe, a pious nun who wears a wimple and carries round a large book of “sayings about Sakisama”.
- Together under the NEO Biishiki-gun mantle, Christie and Sakisama go on to dominate TJP’s tag team division for a decent part of the first half of 2018, including a run with the TOKYO Princess Tag Team Championships.
- Brainwashed seemingly too effectively, Christie’s intense desire to be Sakisama’s favourite sews seeds of discord in NEO Biishiki-gun, igniting a rivalry between herself and Martha. After weeks of squabbling, Sakisama eventually takes Martha’s side, leading to heartbreak for Christie. She is however backed up by Saint Laurent. A tag match between the two factions is arranged for TJP’s show at DDT Beer Garden week in August.
- In the match, Christie loses the fall to Sakisama and is cut from NEO Biishiki-gun for good. Despite Sakisama telling Christie that she is ‘no longer weak’, and that ‘it is time for her to fly away’, Christie starts to cry, convinced she is worthless on her own. Salvation comes in the form of Christie’s former tag partner, Nonoko, who rushes the ring and reminds Christie of her former life as an idol and wedding fanatic. In the melee, Christie drops a hefty wedding catalogue on her head and loses all memory of the previous eight months.
- Restored to her former self, but experiencing dizzy spells, Azusa Takigawa announces her intention to retire in October, a long-term plan which had been derailed by this whole brainwashing scandal. As a parting gesture, Takigawa names her opponent for her final Korakuen Hall show. It is none other than Saki Akai, the model-turned-wrestler that inspired Takigawa to enter the business in the first place.
Outside of kayfabe, Saki Akai and Sakisama are same person.
Inside of kayfabe, with Takigawa still experiencing some of the aftereffects of the mind-altering substances given to her by Sakisama and Saint Laurent, and with Akai bearing a startlingly uncanny resemblance to her former Mistress,who’s to say how the final chapter of this strange, beautiful story will play out?
For the vacant TOKYO Princess Tag Team Championship:
Mizuki & Yuka Sakazaki v Reika Saiki & Maki Itoh
Maki Itoh is, and is increasingly recognised as, one of the best characters in wrestling today. Manic Depressive fired idols who admit in interviews that their air of overconfidence is a coping mechanism for deep-seated insecurity and anxiety about anything and everything are few and far between in pro wrestling. But in spite of Itoh’s sheer force of personality, her run in TJP to date wouldn’t have been as compelling without Mizuki. Their standing on opposite sides of the ring from one another in a high-stakes match is a situation 15 months in the making.
Mizuki debuted against Itoh in April 2017, winning in a little over six minutes. Itoh’s response to the defeat was classic Itoh: she enlisted the considerably more experienced Mizuki as her sidekick, inducting her as member #001 in a stable called Itoh Respect Army. Mizuki, who is essentially a kind, happy-go-lucky person with a level head and an impressive amount of tolerance for the personality quirks that define the people around her, agreed. The two started a tag team run that included the odd shock victory, a closely-run title shot and the song “Setsunairo”, which for a few months they performed at the beginning of every show. Where possible, Mizuki held Itoh back from her more self-destructive impulses, gladly acted as her cheerleader, supported her growth as a wrestler and helped to keep her focused on the task at hand.
Korakuen Hall in May was where the Itoh Respect Army storyline reached its fullest bloom. Itoh was booked to face Riho, Mizuki’s real-life best friend, in a singles match. I can’t not quote Itoh’s pre-match comments at length:
“She might have 12 times the knowledge and experience of wrestling that I do, but this kid’s probably never dropped out of high school & made her parents cry, probably never had to quit being an idol thanks to depression, probably never failed the job interview for an escort club. I’ve got my own 12 years of knowledge and experience. I’m gonna prove you don’t need a big career to win.”
Or her comments to Mizuki after the match, in which she inevitably had her ass handed to her:
“How many losses is that for me? Like three digits? But so long as I don’t give up, today’s loss is only a milestone. Your friend just kicked the shit out of me. Do you really respect me? Half-assed kindness/pity doesn’t do any good for either of us. If that’s the case, we should disband.”
Or Mizuki’s response:
“It’s not half-assed kindness. I WANT to be with you.”
This was such a heart-rending moment because it showed that underneath all Mizuki’s patience, kindness, wisdom and acceptance, there was also a genuine affection for Itoh, one which we can imagine had been there since day one. Itoh Respect Army felt like the best kind of odd couple relationship, where two individuals help to sustain each other using precisely those qualities that make them so different.
The bubble had to burst at some point.
The TOKYO Princess Tag Team championship was vacated earlier this month by Reika Saiki and Marika Kobashi, due to injuries sustained by Kobashi. A bit later, TJP held a one-day competition between tag teams drawn at random, which Mizuki and Sakazaki won. This tournament victory earned them the right to challenge for the vacant titles. Despite having been wary about describing herself as Mizuki’s friend through their entire run as a team, Itoh now started claiming that seeing Mizuki and Sakazaki romp to success was like seeing your boyfriend sleeping with another woman. Backing up Saiki’s claim to be a rightful challenger for the vacant titles, Itoh inserted herself into the championship decider.
Sakazaki and Saiki are very good wrestlers and will no doubt impress here, but this match is really all about the break-up of Itoh Respect Army, and whether Itoh can prove to herself and everyone else that the growth she’s experienced over the past year and a half – growth that Mizuki is largely responsible for fostering – will be enough for her to succeed outside of her former partner’s influence. After the two faced off in a recent tag match on the road to Korakuen, Mizuki tweeted that ‘It made me sad, but it’s what I needed to get over the past!!!”. Itoh’s response should go down as a line for the ages: “You’re so late to getting over the past.”
TOKYO Princess of Princess Championship:
Miyu Yamashita © v Yuu
Miyu is the Ace, the face of Tokyo Joshi Pro, its only two-time champion. Her two runs with the TOKYO Princess of Princess (or PuriPuri) Championship have amounted to a total of 490 days. At Korakuen Hall last August, Miyu took on Joshi Megazord Meiko Satomura in a valiant losing effort, and raised the stakes of the entire promotion in the process.
The only other wrestler on the roster that comes close to Miyu’s level of achievement is Yuu. Yuu ended Miyu’s first reign almost two years ago, as part of an unbeaten singles streak that lasted 18 months, going on to defend the belt against Rika Tatsumi, Shoko Nakajima and Reika Saiki – all top stars in the TJP firmament. They have met only once in singles competition since then, with Miyu picking up the win in a number one contendership match for January’s Korakuen Hall show, the show where Miyu regained the belt. Yuu earned this challenge via the 2018 TOKYO Princess Cup, winning four straight matches and overcoming Yuka Sakazaki – the individual that ended her title rein – in the final.
This is the most straightforward wrestling match on the card, but it has real depth. The proven champion against the rightful number one contender. The rubber match in a competition for top spot that began two and a half years ago, when Yuu debuted on the same show Miyu became the inaugural PuriPuri Champion. In addition to being super easy to get on board with, it should also be really, really good. Miyu brings stiff, Karate-influenced strikes to the table, while Yuu’s powerhouse style is driven by her background in Judo, and their previous encounter was easily one of TJP’s in-ring highlights of 2017.
Finally, there’s almost no predicting who’s going to win this. The face-offs leading up to this showdown have protected the match’s mystique really well – Miyu has clearly been rattled by Yuu picking up two straight victories over her in tag team main events, but crucially she was on the receiving end of neither of those falls. While Miyu’s second reign has undoubtedly elevated the PuriPuri title and still has legs if the TJP brass want to stick with her, the company’s booking tends to be dynamic and proactive, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Yuu got this push now to solidify her as one of the elite members of the roster, after some time spent in the mid-card wilderness. Whatever the result, we ought to give thanks and praise to the magicians behind DDT Universe for allowing us to watch this live and unspoiled and (for the UK at least), at a reasonable hour.
Note: A lot of content for this post is cribbed from Twitter users @ddtpro_eng, @DramaticDDT and @ItohRespectArmy. I want to thank them for their efforts in bringing English translations of TJPW promos and other tidbits to the masses, and urge you to give them a follow