Naoto Azuma’s life as a professional wrestler did not start off great. He and his best friend Takuma Fujii were beaten and could only watch helplessly as their trainer, head of Zipangu Pro-Wrestling, and Takuma’s father Daisuke Fujii was thoroughly defeated and broken by Global Wrestling Monopoly’s Yellow Devil. Zipangu was disbanded, and the two green-horns went their separate ways. Takuma was recruited by the group secretly behind GWM, Tiger’s Den–an evil organization that was defeated over 40 years ago by the legendary wrestler Tiger Mask. Naoto was approached by Kentarou Takaoka–the original Yellow Devil and an ally of Tiger Mask’s–with an offer to train him. Both young men jump at the opportunities in hopes of someday getting revenge on GWM and Yellow Devil. In order to do so, though, they must both become tigers!
But, not actual tigers. Like, metaphorical tigers. Ah, you know! So yeah, obviously, this is another of those I started in a previous season, but it only finished this season. Thus, I’m adding it to the Summer of Anime! And I’ve been wanting to talk about Tiger Mask W for a hot minute. It’s not just the fact that it’s a professional wrestling anime that drew me to it. That was a big influence, but this series is also part of a fascinating legacy.
The original Tiger Mask manga ran from 1968 to 1971, and its anime adaptation ran from 1969 to 1971. That followed the original Tiger Mask, Naoto Date, as a defector from Tiger’s Den since he couldn’t stand the thought of the children emulating his heel tactics. The anime was actually followed by another in the ’80s called Tiger Mask II, but Tiger Mask W ignores that one and acts only as a sequel to the original. This in itself is more than enough to get me interested since I love works of fiction with lengthy histories, continuities, legacies, etc., but real life imitating art was another big catch. In New Japan Pro Wrestling, five men have taken up the mantle of Tiger Mask and brought the character to real world wrestling. A manga that ended in the early ’70s inspired a wrestling company to adapt its titular protagonist into an actual wrestler in the ’80s, and that character is still going to this day. That’s…brilliant. Hell, you can even see Tiger Mask W wrestling alongside Tiger Mask V (the fifth) in New Japan today! I love this stuff.
Enough about that interesting history I’ve been dying to talk about. How’s the anime Tiger Mask W? Objectively speaking, it’s probably not that good. It’s obviously cheap, the plot can be formulaic as heck, and fill-in characters can feel a bit bland. But, we ain’t here to talk about objectively. I. Love. This. Show. Even just removing professional wrestling for a bit, the story is about a man taking up the mantle of a hero to combat a returned evil that was thought long dead. Tiger Mask is a superhero! You’ve got company, All-Might and One Punch Man! Okay, maybe he’s not that super, but it’s there.
Oh man, where to even begin? The fact that despite the cheap animation the big matches feel like they always deliver? Yeah, let’s start there. The opponents that line up for Tiger Mask comprise one heck of a murderers’ row. Black Python, Red Death Mask (“The Mask of Red Death”), Bigfoot, the Saboten, Mister Question, the Miracles, etc. I love those guys. Sure, not all of them are GWM wrestlers, but I loved their matches against Tiger Mask with special mention to Miracle IV’s aerial battle. And y’all, that ain’t even mentioning the insane stuff with the other Tigers.
By the end of the series, we get seven Tigers: Tiger Mask, Tiger the Dark (Takuma), Spring Tiger (Naoto’s love interest and Takaoka’s niece Haruna), King Tiger (a martial artist), Black Tiger (think Mark Henry in a mask), Big Tiger II (a man of average height whom you’d best not call short), and Tiger the Great the Third (the big bad of the series). The latter four comprise Tiger’s Den’s Four Heavenly Kings, and I love that trope of the four strongest opponents (ex. Monster Rancher, Pokemon, Digimon, G Gundam). As for their matches…well, they’re the best in the series. Tiger Mask versus Tiger the Dark in the Masked Tournament for the opportunity to fight Yellow Devil (or is it?), the two facing off again in the absolute wonderful batsh*t match that is War Games, and they cross paths again in a fashion I don’t want to spoil. That’s just the matches involving the main protagonists. Takuma’s trials in Hell in the Hole, his match against The Third, Tiger Mask’s fight against King Tiger, Big Tiger II and Black Tiger wrecking everyone…. So good! And then there’s Spring Tiger.
Probably the best subplot throughout Tiger Mask W‘s 38-episode run is Haruna’s desire to become a professional wrestler. Her family is steadfastly against it, but in managing Tiger Mask’s career and aiding in his training, the ring calls to her. The moment she throws together her Spring Tiger costume to help out her friends Mint and Milk (Candy Pair) is kinda a mark out moment. I genuinely wish they’d revisited Spring Tiger more often. In fact, the final episode is all about Spring Tiger. See, the main plot of W wraps up in the penultimate episode. The final episode is all about Haruna being scouted as the ace for a new all-women’s wrestling organization and her big match against one of the greatest Japanese female wrestlers of all-time, Mother Devil. This is legitimately one of the best episodes of the series. I can’t even begin tell you how big the smile on my face was throughout the run-time. I’m so hoping this was a set-up for a spin-off show following Spring Tiger. I will pray to all the gods for that to happen.
And there’s just so much other great stuff I didn’t get into. The bumbling Fukuwara Mask’s true identity and desire to revitalize his dying town; Odin’s drive to become the good guy his hometown thinks he is; Kenny Omega and the Bullet Club buying up sweets just to piss off Togi Makabe; Kevin’s secret love for Takuma; Miss X doing her damnedest to move up in a male-dominated profession; the insanity that is Blackout; Miracle I being legitimately hurt when Tiger Mask didn’t want to be evil with him and the rest of the Miracles; GWM basically as a stand-in for WWE. I think back to this stuff, and it makes me want to watch the series again. This show could’ve phoned it in, and to be fair, it does a lot. But I see a great deal of heart in this show, and it delivers with big characters and bigger matches. Tiger Mask W gets a 9 out of 10!
Now, go forth, everyone, and become a tiger!