2017 Summer of Anime – Tiger Mask W

18 Tiger Mask W

A tiger, a tiger.  You shall become a tiger!

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.

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Actually, screw that.  He’s a superhero!  Look at that cape!

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 RancherPokemonDigimonG 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.

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QUEEN OF THE WILD, WILD, WILD!

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!

Who Can Best the Beast?

The Unstoppable Force(s)

The Unstoppable Force(s)

The new year is almost here, which means it’s time for all the little boys and girls to wonder just who will win the Royal Rumble and challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.  We already know the Rumble’s main event will see the ultimate underdog John Cena try to rise above “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar again, but will he do it?  I don’t think so.  I wholeheartedly believe–or hope, rather–that Lesnar puts down Cena once and for all.  I don’t want any who read this to think this is coming from a man who hates John Cena–far from it, actually.  I’m a huge fan of Cena’s, but 2015 needs to see some real change go down.  The WWE needs to have a new top guy emerge at Mania, and they need to do so by having him beat Lesnar for the gold.  So, who’s it gonna be?

Smart money says Roman Reigns.  He’s been pushed immensely, and it’s obvious someone high up wants him at the top.  And to be fair, he looks like he belongs there.  The man looks like the ultimate pro wrestler.  Like, you can’t create someone who looks more wrestler-y than he does.  Crowds tend to love him, and he has a pretty fun moveset.  Only problem is he’s not exactly stellar in the ring.  He’s not bad, but he’s not at “the guy” status.  If Lesnar makes it to the Grandest Stage of Them All with the belt around his waist, it is very likely Reigns will be his challenger.  He’s not the only possibility out there, though.

“The Lunatic Fringe” Dean Ambrose (weird nickname, right?) has been doing a damn good job of tearing it up every night he’s in the ring.  The crowd definitely loves him, and he’s that type of crazy who could believably bring down Lesnar by throwing everything at him.  He’s a great brawler, he’s great on the mic, and he’s got that strange charisma about him.  It’s not hard imagining him across the ring from The Beast.  Unfortunately, the higher ups don’t seem like they know what to do with the guy.  He went from being red-hot against Seth Rollins, but now he’s very much cooled down against Bray Wyatt.  Yes, his momentum’s died down a bit, but he’s surely still a contender.

Another heavy possibility is the aforementioned Seth Rollins.  The guy’s fantastic.  Nothing else to it.  He’s amazing in the ring, and he’s a far better promo now than he was last year.  Thing is, though, he’s the top heel with Lesnar and Heyman AFK.  People love to hate him.  That would seem to put him out of the running, but he is the Money in the Bank briefcase holder and he’s shown a willingness to go after Lesnar.  It would be pretty fantastic to have him cash in on Lesnar (or whoever beats him) at Mania and win the gold right there.  I don’t see it happening, but it’d be neat.

I believe in the former Shield a little too strongly.

I believe in the former Shield a little too strongly.

There are others, of course.  Sheamus, Randy Orton, or a miraculously recovered Daniel Bryan could always wind up as the Beastslayer (you know whoever beats Lensar for the belt will be called this forever).  All solid picks, but none are the one I want to see in that ring.  None of these guys are the one I believe should win the Royal Rumble, go to WrestleMania, stare into the abyss, and become the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion.  The one it should be has proved himself time and time again–especially the past few months.  He has one great match after another, he’s become a pretty fiery babyface, and he damn near singlehandedly brought down The Authority.  You know it.  It’s time to show the world.

Time to show the world...again.

Look at that crowd.  LOOK AT IT.

Dolph could and should be the man to best the beast.  The man is constantly busting his ass, and it finally looks like the people are completely behind him.  I already thought they were, but something seems to have clicked with the events of Survivor Series and TLC.  The man is ready–has been ready.  Tell me after watching his run-ins against Luke Harper you don’t think a Ziggler/Lesnar feud would be money.  Hell, now I’m getting goosebumps thinking about him facing off against the Human Cheat Code, winning, getting cashed in on by Rollins, and starting a feud with him.  I got the chills again!

But, like I said back in the Roman Reigns paragraph, this is all looking at if Lesnar wins at the Rumble.  Cena could very well overcome the odds, and that young up-and-comer could become a 16-time World Champion.  If that happens…I’m not sure who’d challenge him at ‘Mania.  Rollins and Wyatt come to mind, but those feuds have been done enough.  No, Cena’s time is up, and Ziggler’s time is now.  Let’s get him in that WrestleMania main event against Lesnar so he can show the world once and for all that he is perfection.  (HA!  I got nods to both of his themes in that sentence!)

Started from the Bottom, Now We’re Here

It was fall of 2010, and I was in my junior year of college.  I’d been a wrestling fan (again) for a few years by that point, but I was only recently dipping my toe into indie wrestling.  My first DVD from Ring of Honor, Unscripted, had somewhat disappointed me.  Instead of heading back to the mainstream of WWE and TNA, though, I decided to give it one more go and purchased the most recent great show in ROH’s library (at that point), Death Before Dishonor VIII.  The title alone was enticing, but I really needed something to capture me.  Thank the wrestling gods something did.

My roommate was out, and I didn’t want to invite my friends for a possibly un-entertaining event, so I popped it into the Xbox 360 hoping to love what I was soon to see.  I was immediately let down when a tag team by the name of Up in Smoke began their entrance.  No disrespect to Cheech and Cloudy, since I do find their matches pretty fun, but at that moment, they were not what I wanted to see.  Mid-groan, though, something unexpected happened.  A red-bearded man in a mask stormed past the tag team and into the ring.  Furiously walking around the ring, he soon snatched the mic out of the announcer’s hand and yelled two words, “STEEN!  NOW!”  The crowd went nuts!  I was so lost, but the commentators informed me that this man was El Generico, and he was calling out his former tag team partner and best friend Kevin Steen.  A man named Steve Corino came out to inform Generico that it wasn’t happening, but Steen came out anyway.  The slobberknocker began, and I became an indie wrestling fan.

This is how I first saw them, and this is how they should be.

This is how I first saw them, and this is how they should be.

I became so invested in this match, that I cursed Steen’s name when he cheated to win.  These two guys whom I knew nothing about had drawn me into their story, and I couldn’t get enough.  I soon hunted down every DVD that had a moment in this feud.  Steen’s turn in 2009, the tag matches involving Corino and Colt Cabana, and the random singles match here and there.  Hell, I even looked into PWG because of these two.  And really, it’s a good thing I did.  If you want to get the whole feel for the Generico/Steen story, both companies are essential.

Steen turned on Generico at Final Battle 2009, leaving him lying in the ring after a vicious chairshot to the head.  These guys were former tag champs!  They’d known each other for years!  Sure, the tag partner heel-turn is an oldie in wrestling, but this was the first time I’d seen it done with such hate.  That chapter of the feud came to an end a year later at Final Battle 2010 when Generico put down Steen with a chairshot to the head and forced Steen to leave ROH (bookends are important, folks).  Steen won his return to ROH at Final Battle 2011 by defeating Steve Corino, and Generico was soon gunning for his old friend.  The two had a last man standing match in the first half of 2012, but it was at Final Battle 2012 the two had their last encounter in ROH in an awesome ladder match for the ROH World Championship.

Believe it or not, though, that wasn’t their only ladder match against each other.  Like I said, both ROH and PWG are essential for the whole story.  After Steen’s exile from ROH, he became PWG World Champion for the second time but eventually lost the belt to El Generico in a ladder match in October 2011.  Even there, the two were former tag champs.  They began to tolerate each other in 2012 in order to deal with the Young Bucks, but they still didn’t like each other.  Actually, the Young Bucks are pretty heavily featured in the story of El Generico and Kevin Steen.  It was a loss to the Young Bucks at Final Battle 2009 that sent Steen over the edge and led to his attack on Generico, the dominance and douchebaggery of the Bucks led to a partial alliance of the two former friends in PWG in 2012, and it was at PWG’s annual Dynamite Duumvirate Tag Team Title Tournament in 2013 that the Bucks once more defeated a finally fully reunited Generico and Steen in Generico’s last indie match before he made his trek to WWE.

I literally cried when I watched this.

I literally cried when I watched this.

And that seemed to be it.  That seemed to be the end of my all-time favorite wrestling feud.  Steen went on to lose the ROH World Championship and became sort of a veteran anti-hero there while he became a wonderful heel in PWG.  Generico arrived in NXT unmasked and soon began putting on the best match of whatever show he wrestled on as Sami Zayn.  I never thought these two would meet again unless WWE foolishly released the newly christened Zayn.  But then the unexpected happen.  See, despite being one of the absolute best on the independents, Steen doesn’t fit the look of what WWE normally goes for…but it happened.

Kevin Steen signed with the WWE this year, and I rejoiced.  Hell, I think any wrestling fan who knew of Steen rejoiced.  I was happy, but I tried to not get hype.  Sure, this meant that Zayn and Steen could someday meet in a WWE ring, but that didn’t mean they would.  After all, WWE signed Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro) and Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno), the Kings of Wrestling (undoubtedly one of the best tag teams in their heyday), but the two tagged maybe once before Hero was let go.  So yeah, didn’t get too hype.  I did get ridiculously happy, though, when it was announced that not only would Zayn be challenging for the NXT Championship once again against old rival Adrian Neville, but that Steen would also be making his debut as Kevin Owens on December 11–my birthday!  And what a birthday present NXT Takeover (R)Evolution was.

Opening match and Owens’s nose gets broken.  Vintage Owens bleeding everywhere.  Yeah, he didn’t bust out the Package Piledriver (his indie finisher), but it was still incredible seeing him in a WWE ring.  WWE even gave the indie fans some fanservice when they played a clip with Owens staring at Zayn while Zayn mentally prepared for his title match.  I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the show, but the main event blew me away.  A fantastic match that saw Zayn finally winning the big one on NXT.  Of course, the locker room emptied out to congratulate him, but Owens ran past everybody to get to the ring first and hug his old friend.  A tear came to my eye–not gonna lie.  The rest of the celebration was fun.  It eventually ended, so Owens came back out to escort Zayn to the back…but it happened.  Owens threw Zayn onto the ramp and powerbombed him onto the ring apron.  With blood streaming out of the cut on his nose, Owens stared at Zayn’s unconscious body.

So, that’s why I’m writing this.  I needed to get all this out.  Like, I don’t even know how to describe this or to what I can compare it.  Hearing that Sting was in TNA made me take another look at wrestling, and Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles kept me in wrestling, but El Generico and Kevin Steen really cemented my love for wrestling.  I love wrestling because of those two.  Not only are they both fantastic performers, but their story has also been phenomenally told.  If WWE plays their cards right, they’ve got the next Flair/Steamboat, Rock/Austin, and Punk/Cena on their hands.  I’ve never been happier to be a fan of anything, and I owe it to them.  Here’s to you, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.  Can’t wait to see you guys main eventing WrestleMania.

"I think you and I are destined to do this forever."

“I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”

Listmas 2013: Top 10 Professional Wrestlers

I want to preface this list by saying I don’t get to watch near as much professional wrestling as I want to, so there aren’t any of the Japanese big-guns on here like Kazuchika Okada, Prince Devitt, Hiroshi Tanashai, etc.  Although I do love what extremely little of Japanese wrestling I’ve seen, I just don’t have the nets to watch much of it.  Also, this list was really hard to make because there aren’t many wrestlers I don’t like, and the amount of talent in the industry today is simply ridiculous.

10) Dolph Ziggler

NEVER FORGET.

NEVER FORGET.

I’m happy to say I’ve been on the Dolph Ziggler bandwagon pretty much since I started watching wrestling again.  He instantly became one of my favorites and has remained so to this day.  I do hate seeing all the random crap he gets put through, but hey, when the Show Off gets in the ring, it’s bound to be a good match.

9) Michael Elgin

The Unbreakable.

The Unbreakable.

This guy cannot possibly be human.  He throws grown-ass men around like they’re action figures.  When I first saw Elgin wrestle, I thought he was going to be some card-filler.  Boy, was I wrong.  I became a believer that night.  Can’t wait to see this man become a World Champion.

8) CM Punk

I miss evil Jesus Punk.

I miss evil Jesus Punk.

Face or heel, I’ve always loved CM Punk.  The man makes everything work.  I know a lot of people got pretty tired of his year-plus reign as WWE Champion, but I was always invested in his storylines and title defenses (except for Ryback).

7) Antonio Cesaro

Very European.

I wonder who he’s about to eff up.

This guy is another one of those wrestlers who can’t possibly be human.  There’s a reason one of his nicknames is “The Swiss Superman.”

6) Austin Aries

He really just might be The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.

He really just might be The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.

With pretty much everyone on this list, I know about when I became a fan of their work.  For A Double, though…I’m not really sure.  I just know that for as long as I’ve known who Austin Aries is, I’ve liked him.

5) Akira Tozawa

This man is pretty much the only reason I want to follow Dragon Gate.

This man is pretty much the only reason I want to follow Dragon Gate.

Like it says in the caption, Akira Tozawa is almost the sole reason I like Dragon Gate.  Don’t get me wrong, I think their roster in both Japan and America is stacked, but this guy singlehandedly made me a fan of DG that WrestleMania weekend in Atlanta.  He’s like a hyper little ball of awesomeness.

4) AJ Styles

I do hope I get to see the Phenomenal World Champion again.

I do hope I get to see the Phenomenal World Champion again.

I got back into wrestling in 2007 because I heard Sting was in TNA, but unfortunately it was during one of his breaks from the company, so I decided to turn the TV off.  Thankfully, I waited a little bit longer.  That night, I was introduced to two wrestlers who were able to keep me glued to the telly, and I have been a fan since then.  AJ Styles is one of those two men.  The man’s name says it all–“Phenomenal.”  I really can’t believe TNA let him go.

3) Daniel Bryan

They can call him Goat Face all they want, but to me, he'll always be the American Dragon.

They can call him Goat Face all they want, but to me, he’ll always be the American Dragon.

I’ll admit, I didn’t believe in Daniel Bryan when I first saw him on NXT.  I bought into the bland loser talk, but after he returned to fight the Nexus…I believed.  If it wasn’t for Bryan, WWE would be so much less enjoyable.

2) El Generico…or Sami Zayn

THE reason I got into independent wrestling.

THE reason I got into independent wrestling.

My first independent wrestling DVD was Ring of Honor’s “Unscripted.”  Although I enjoyed it, it didn’t really wow me like I thought it would.  My second indy wrestling DVD, though, was ROH’s “Death Before Dishonor VIII.”  It starts, and I’m expecting a tag team match.  But this guy comes out instead, and demands a match with his then-enemy Kevin Steen.  That match made me a fan of independent professional wrestling.  The whole event was awesome, but I then looked into the entire Generico/Steen feud, and holy hell…it was epic.  I love Kevin Steen, too, but there’s just something special about Generico.  It’s too bad he retired to go back to Mexico and look after his orphans….

As one of his fans, I guess we're called "Zayniacs."

As one of his fans, I guess we’re called “Zayniacs.”

Thankfully, though, not long after Generico retired, this guy called Sami Zayn showed up on NXT, and their styles are pretty similar.  If Zayn is on an episode of NXT, get prepared for one of the best matches you’ll ever see.

1) Christopher Daniels

No, he's never been TNA World Champion, but dammit, he should be!

No, he’s never been TNA World Champion, but dammit, he should be!

The second of the two wrestlers who made me a fan of wrestling again–Christopher Daniels.  This guy is just too cool.  I really don’t know what else to say to justify he’s my number one.  I just know he is.