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!

Seasonal Sawce: Fall Back Into Anime 2016, Part 1

I’m back!

Yeah, no real reason why it’s been so long since I’ve written something for this blog.  Just…laziness.  And that laziness is what’s led me to return by falling into a familiar post–Seasonal Sawce!

I do intend to branch out more (still working on that reading list, gotten some comics I’d like to write about, watched some neato shows, etc.), but we’re sticking with anime this time.  As with previous Seasonal Sawces, I will talk about the various anime I’m watching that started this season now that they’re all at least six episodes in (so still no Diamond is Unbreakable or Days) in order of the ones I’m the least hype for every week to the ones I’m most hype for every week.

This is a bit of an odd duck season since I think I love almost everything I’m watching.  That’s a bit of a rarity for me.  Well, let’s get on with it!

10) Izetta: The Last Witch

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That is her broom stick!… I’ve made this joke before, haven’t I?

In a world not quite like ours, not quite Germany is running rampant in not quite World War 2.  The powerful Germania has so far left wee little neighboring principality Eylstadt alone, but the people and its rulers are all too aware of how vulnerable they are.  Thus, the tomboy Princess Ortfine has gone to seek help from the remaining European countries that still oppose Germania.  The not Nazis are aware of her plans, though, and wind up capturing her.  In a desperate attempt to escape, Fine accidentally frees a red-haired girl the Germanians were transporting to their homeland.  Luckily for the princess, this redhead is Izetta–Fine’s childhood friend and possibly the last witch alive.  Riding an anti-tank rifle in place of a broom, Izetta flies to Eylstadt’s aid in hope of turning the tide of the war and saving the world…or at least Europe.

Even though this is in the tenth spot, don’t be fooled.  Izetta: The Last Witch is a pretty fun watch.  Izetta herself is the highlight of the show.  Growing up being forced to hide her powers has allowed her to become a humble and fairly crafty individual.  See, she can only use her magic in certain places, so in the instances when she’s running low she has to improvise.  Also, her powers look really damn good in this show.  Like, there’s one scene where she’s flying through a battlefield with three tanks hovering around her.  Aside from Izetta, though, there’s not much great here.  I like Fine, and who doesn’t love the teasing between the two female leads?  (One of two such shows I’m watching this season…not for that reason, though.)  The downtime moments are fine, but the fighting is where this anime shines for me.

9) Flip Flappers

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No, I don’t know why it has that name.

Cocona is in her second year of middle school, and her quiet life with her grandmother suits her just fine.  Then Papika shows up, and Cocona’s quiet life gets quite loud.  Somehow, when the two are together they can open a door to “Pure Illusion”–a different dimension or world that seems to have different realms with different rules.  Papika is able to convince Cocona to stick with her and find the magical “Shard of Mimi” that can allegedly grant any wish.  Cocona eventually agrees since it is just a little fun, but there’s an opposing faction also searching for the Shard, which means Pure Illusion might be a little more dangerous than the girls thought.

I’mma be real here–I’m not entirely sure what’s supposed to be happening in this show.  Like, the organization Papika works for is called FlipFlap, and the employees don’t really seem to know what they’re doing, but they also seem to know a lot more than they’re letting on.  Oh, I think “FlipFlap” is also the word Cocona and Papika use to transform into magical girls in Pure Illusion to collect the shards of the Shard…or maybe they’re all Shards of Mimi.  And Cocona has this weird pet rabbit-thing that’s shaped like a sack and named Uexkull.  She also has this weird recurring dream about being in a boat with what might be a faceless girl.  I just…I don’t know what’s going on most of the time in this show.  Why do I like it more than Izetta?  Probably because it is so weird.  There is something about Flip Flappers, but I can’t put my finger on it.  Maybe it’s all the bright colors and art style.  Maybe it’s the random weirdness found in different areas of Pure Illusion.  I don’t know, but I am really enjoying it.

8) Occultic;Nine

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The semi-colon means it’s good!

Kirikiri Basara is a blog dedicated to aggregating news of and discussing the occult.  It’s run by 17-year-old NEET Yuuta Gamon who is joined by his absurdly well-endowed friend Ryoka Narusawa.  He hopes to make enough money with clickthroughs on his page so that he can continue his NEET-y ways even though he doesn’t believe in the occult.  Unfortunately, thanks to his website, Yuuta’s life gets entwined with a number of offbeat individuals such as the first-year fortune teller Miyuu Aikawa, possible black magic user Aria Kurenaino, super-realist college student Sarai Hashigami, and future-seeing doujin creator Ririka Nishizono.  A few others wind up getting involved in the strange goings-on of the city as a professor getting murdered could somehow be connected to 256 bodies being found in a lake.  To quote the great Barbossa, “You best start believing in ghost stories…you’re in one!”

I’m drawn to mysteries.  Can’t really help it.  Also, this is from the creator of Steins;Gate, one of my favorite anime, so I had to check it out.  Occultic;Nine is…not easy to follow.  I think there are somewhere around nine or ten characters that are introduced and followed around a bit just in the first episode.  Yuuta and Ryoka also talk entirely too fast when they’re on screen together.  I mean, I’m a fan of the Monogatari franchise, but even I can’t understand what’s being said between those two most of the time.  Also, Ryoka seems to have an actual ray-gun.  Don’t know if that’s relevant or a quirk.  Despite those complaints, I eagerly await every episode (especially after the last episode).  I love the way it looks, it has a great OP, and the mystery of just what the hell is going on has got me in there.  Hopefully the semi-colon won’t lead me astray.

7)  Drifters

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I would’ve called it “Tokyo Drifters,” but that’s just me.

At the Battle of Sekighara, Shimazu Toyohisa died.  Or so we’ve always thought.  In actuality, before he dies, Toyohisa finds himself in a brightly lit corridor full of doors.  In front of him is a bespectacled gentleman by the name of Murasaki sitting at a desk.  Before Toyhisa can find out what’s happening, he’s sucked into one of the doors which deposits him in a world inhabited by elves, dwarves, hobbits, and other such fantasy creatures.  He’s soon cared for by Oda Nobunaga and Nasu no Yoichi–two other displaced figures from Japanese history.  The three don’t know it yet, but they are “Drifters,”  and it is the hope of the Octobrist Organization–a group of native magicians–that the Drifters can defeat the deadly “Ends”–another gathering of historical figures from our world possibly led by Jesus–and their monster army.  The Octobrists didn’t quite count on the fact that the Drifters themselves might be just as hungry for conquest as their nefarious counterparts.

As shameful as it is for me to say, I’ve not yet watched Hellsing, so I didn’t go in with that behind me (same creator and all that).  Pleased to say, though, that I still like Drifters a helluva lot.  Toyohisa is the right mix hotheaded, blood-thirsty, and noble, and the crafty Nobunaga and mischievous Yoichi give the trio a great balance.  I love the idea, too, with historically not too good people as the heroes (the Drifters include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and the villains being generally heroic or sympathetic figures such as Joan of Arc and Anastasia (also, you know…they might be led by Jesus).  There are exceptions to both sides, but it’s still neat to see this take on these people and their lives after their supposed deaths.  The anime is this low on my list because the plot doesn’t capture me as much as I want it to, and the seemingly endless shifts from the serious art-style to the comedic one may induce whiplash in certain viewers.  Don’t know if Hellsing has the latter problem, but I hope it won’t stick around too long here.

6) Girlish Number

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I guess the number is five.

College student Chitose Karasuma is confused as to why she isn’t a big deal yet.  Like, she’s already been in the anime voice-acting world for a whole year.  She should be famous by now.  For some reason, though, she’s still only landing bit-parts.  She blames her older brother Gojo’s managing, but in reality, she should thank him for the minor roles she’s been getting.  See, Chitose isn’t actually talented…at all.  She’s just cute.  And devilishly lucky.  This luck is what winds up allowing her to land the lead in an upcoming anime also starring a couple of her rookie friends and two veteran actresses she’s acquainted with.  The vets realize what’s going on with the shoddy production, but Chitose is finally the star she should have always been, so she’s making the most of it…kind of.

I was going to pass on this one, but I found out the creator of this story is none other than Wataru Watari–the man who’s responsible for Oregairu, a series I love to pieces.  And once again, the man’s characters have gotten me.  These girls are not exactly good people (except for best girl Koto Katakura) and neither are the people around them.  From the men in charge who decide to cast good-looking rookies in a bid to bank on the light novel and idol crowds all the way down to the grunts working on it–these people know they’re in an industry they can either manipulate or can’t change and just do whatever they can to thrive within the system.  It’s similar to Hachiman’s approach to high school life in Oregairu, but it seems to be a bit more genuine in Girlish Number.  I dunno.  You can almost feel the real frustration behind every joke of the producer hand-waving whenever a problem arises, and there are always problems.  It’s a funny series with an enjoyable cast of somewhat awful people who have resigned themselves to their fates…except for Koto Katakura.  She’s an angel.

5) Tiger Mask W

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TORA!

Forty years ago the diabolical wrestling organization Tiger’s Den was dismantled by one of their own–the legendary Tiger Mask.  Flash-forward to present day and Tiger’s Den has returned and is secretly in charge of Global Wrestling Monopoly.  The GWM is well-known for taking out other wrestling companies, but their actions will no longer go un-checked!  Unbeknownst to them, the son of one of their victims, Takama Fuji, has infiltrated their ranks and taken over the mantle of Tiger the Dark.  They hope he will be the leader of the next generation of Tiger’s Den wrestlers, but his true aim is to take them down from the inside.  It is his friend Tiger’s Den and GWM must truly fear, though.  For the young Naoto Azuma has also vowed to defeat them and went through hellish training of his own, but he has chosen a different mask to wear in his battles.  Now, almost 40 years later, Tiger Mask has returned to the ring!

Haven’t written about it in a while, but I love wrestling.  Everything about it is just engrossing.  The history, characters, stories, matches, promos…I love it, Maggle!  So, an anime that treats pro wrestling as 100% legit is always something I’ll check out.  I’ll admit, objectively speaking, Tiger Mask W ain’t that good.  At all.  It oozes cheapness, and the plot is often as basic as you could expect.  But, hot damn, I love this anime.  If it didn’t have the legacy character conceit (might be using that term right), then I might not be that interested.  Legacy characters are great, though.  I love them in comics, I love them in wrestling, so, of course, I love them in anime.  Every week I’m so excited to see where the Tigers’ respective paths will take them.  Also, as serious as everything is treated in this world, it is great that Tiger Mask’s agent (and love interest) has a subplot of realizing she needs to make Tiger Mask merch to sell at New Japan shows.  This show just scratches an itch I didn’t know I had.

4) WWW.Wagnaria!!

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Time for a slice of life pie.

First-year high-schooler Daisuke Higashida’s father’s business went bankrupt, so now he’s looking for a part-time job to pay for his personal expenses.  This is what leads him to the local Wagnaria restaurant.  Even though he’d rather not work and focus on his studies instead, Daisuke is hired and enters the world of quirky co-workers and equally as strange customers.  Even when dealing with a girl who can see ghosts but doesn’t believe in them or a woefully in-debt male host, Daisuke thinks he can make it.  It isn’t until the chief waitress Hana Miyakoshi has him try her chocolate, which is so bad it sends him close enough to death to meet Saint Valentine in Heaven, that Daisuke realizes just what he’s gotten himself into.

I love the three seasons of the Wagnaria!! anime.  It might be my favorite slice of life romcom (that’s off the top of my head, so don’t quote me on it).  The cast and the restaurant just felt like home to me, so I was obviously eager to check out this spin-off (I know the manga came first, but hey, it was second getting an anime).  I’m glad to say I haven’t been disappointed.  The characters all feel pretty different from the main cast, and time moves much more swiftly, so the restaurant doesn’t even feel the same.  There aren’t many jokes that make me laugh out loud, but I am often smiling throughout entire episodes.  Would I watch WWW.Wagnaria!! if I wasn’t such a fan of the original?  I’m confident in saying yes.

3) Keijo!!!!!!!!

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Where ya booty game must be strong.

Keijo is a new form of gambling that was created at the dawn of the 21st century.  It is a women-only sport where swimsuit-clad competitors try to knock their opponents off of a floating platform known as a “Land,” but the athletes are only allowed to use their breasts or buttocks to do so.  Nozomi Kaminashi is a gifted gymnast who passes on her dream of competing in the Olympics in order to go pro in Keijo where the money is much better so she can get her family out of poverty.  Joining her at Keijo school is her best friend and judo prodigy Sayaka Miyata as well as their new roommates Kazane Aoba and Non Toyoguchi.  Together, the four aim to move up to the Elite Class and eventually become Prize Queens in the world of professional Keijo.

So…this anime is actually better than it has any right to be.  Did I decide to watch this because I knew the premise would lead to copious amounts of fan-service?  Yes.  Yes, I did.  But, I am so glad there’s more heart to the show than that.  At least, I think there is.  This is very much a sports/fighting anime that just so happens to star hot girls in swimsuits.  It knows what it is and revels in it.  Sure, there are corners cut here and there, and the downtime in between matches can get a bit too…down?  But, the characters, their abilities, and the fights!  Lordamercy, the fights!  They’re so good!  This anime is as ridiculous and over-the-top as some of the finest sports and martial arts series out there, and I am beyond thankful for it.  I mean, I was genuinely invested the matches where the four heroines took on Elite Class students.  I know I didn’t see that coming.  I hear the manga is even better, so I hope that finds its way to American shores, too.  Also, one of the characters uses the move “Shoryucans.”  How can you not love that?

2) Yuri!!! On Ice

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More like “Yaoi!!! On Ice,” am I right?

At 23 years of age, Yuri Katsuki is Japan’s top figure skater.  Or at least he was.  A year ago, Yuri suffered a defeat at his first Grand Prix Final.  His penchant for easily succumbing to pressure leads to this being the first of many such losses as he enters depression and contemplates retiring from figure skating.  Finally returning to his home after five years, Yuri goes to the local ice rink–where he trained nonstop as a child–to visit his childhood friend Yuko.  There, out of competition, Yuri flawlessly performs for her one of his idol Victor Nikiforov’s complex winning routines.  What he didn’t know is that Yuko’s three girls filmed the whole thing and uploaded it to the internet.  This catches the eye of Victor who is also contemplating retirement due to age and losing inspiration since he’s been on top for so long.  Thus, Yuri comes home to his family’s hot spring hotel one day to find Victor buck naked in one of said hot springs where he proudly proclaims he will be Yuri’s coach!

Boy, I never would’ve thought I’d love a figure skating anime this much.  Then again, anime is good about that.  Sports anime just hit that sweet spot with me.  But, Yuri!!! On Ice isn’t your run-of-the-mill sports show.  Yes, it has the great lead characters, great rivals, and great routines, but everything here is done better than most sports anime.  Yuri’s anxiety and Victor’s brush with depression coupled with a burning desire to win once they meet is powerful.  The routines themselves are also beautiful.  My jaw has been open on more than one occasion watching these.  The comedy almost always hits, and the heart in this anime is full-throttle when it needs to be.  I can’t wait to see how this series unfolds.  A well-done sports anime gets you on the edge of your seat for the big matches, and this one is no exception.

Which brings me to….

1) Haikyuu!! Third Season

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I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life…or at least a couple years.

Karasuno vs Shiratorizawa in the finals of the Inter-High.  Tobe!

Is this a cheat because it’s the third season of a series I love?  No!  Because it’s my blog, and I make the rules!  Anyway, yeah, words cannot properly describe my hype every week for this show.  It’s only ten episodes, but it’s the whole match.  The match I thought I’d never look forward to or see when I first started this show.  But, the beginning of the second season set the stage so well for this match.  It’s the finals!  It’s been established over and over that Shiratorizawa’s ace Ushijima is damn near unstoppable, and the OP drives home that fact as the mountain Karasuno faces turns into a giant eagle and then Ushijima.  But, sticking with the OP, at no point is Karasuno discouraged.  Their spirit is indomitable, and together, the crows plan the mob the top school and take the mountaintop for themselves.  And it’s not just the match itself.  There have been so many moments this season already that are among some of my favorite for the whole series.  It’s just…it’s amazing.  The characters, the animation, the hype.  Definitely my favorite of the season.

And there you have it!  Yes, I am most certainly aware my top five is dominated by sports shows, but hey, you love what you love.  There are a few others airing this season I’ll probably check out sometime down the road.  That’s a problem for future Sawcy (boy, that guy must hate me).

Peace out, and stay bizarre.