Last week, we took a trip back in time and paid a visit to the early beginnings of Naoto and Takuma’s wrestling careers, and left things off with the arrival of the nefarious Red Death Mask. This week, it’s going to be all-out war between Red Death Mask and Tiger Mask, but things are about to get a little more personal, in the ring.
Ohh, poor Wakamatsu. Being brought in to do a job to Red Death Mask, how demoralizing. Well, I guess all these New Japan young lions have to earn their stripes somehow. Both Death and Wakamatsu are having a match at a New Japan event, and it starts with Death completely no-selling an elbow to the face, over and over, before locking Wakamatsu in the Red Death Claw. A lot of pressure is being put on his face, during the hold, and as Death slams him down to the mat, Wakamatsu begins bleeding from the forehead. Despite the extreme pain being put on him from the hold, Wakamatsu refuses to submit, so Death decides to finish the job; he pulls Wakamatsu up off the mat, applies more pressure to the hold, and Wakamatsu passes out from the pain. And to really dig deep, Death throws Wakamatsu toward the ring post, where he makes head-first contact. Blood is flowing from his head, and he is stretchered out from ringside. A hushed silence befalls the crowd, feeling very concerned over what they just witnessed, but Tiger Mask, having just watched the proceedings unfold, isn’t too concerned about his own chances. GWM cast the first stone in this, so if they want a war, they’re gonna get one. Soon after, it’s the day of the big show, at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan, and one Tiger the Dark isn’t too happy about being a curtain-jerker with Generic Jobber #1, aka one of his GWM colleagues, Kevin Anderson. Generic name is generic. And boy, the crowd for this match is as empty as a TNA house show; this isn’t an opener, this is a DARK MATCH. Yikes. Anyway, Tiger the Dark makes quick work out of Anderson, getting the 3 after a Tombstone Piledriver, with one notable difference to the move: his head wasn’t secured. Not having your head tucked works for the Styles Clash, not so much for a Tombstone – oh, I’m sorry, the Darkness Driver, as the announcer puts it over as. But now it’s time for the marquee main event of Tiger Mask vs. Red Death Mask. I’m sure the actual main event is Okada defending the title against Naito, or something.
Tiger Mask arrives in a triumphant walk down to the ring, while Red Death Mask arrives after the lights go out, showing up out of nowhere, shades of The Undertaker and his MIND GAMES. The lights go on, and Death is pummeling a blinded Tiger Mask, fighting off the referees and even figurehead/commentator Yuji Nagata, throwing him back to the booth with little effort. Wow. Buried. Death locks Tiger in the Cesaro Swing and throws him to the corner, and all of this is before the bell even rings. The match officially begins, and Death is laying Tiger out with a series of kicks and a top-rope knee to the Adam’s apple – JEEZUS. The Red Death Claw is locked in, and Death literally drags Tiger back into the ring by his face, throwing him into the corner post; out comes the blood from the hard impact. The claw is then locked onto Tiger’s stomach and abdomen – okay, ouch – but Tiger is able to counter it into an armbar before being released due to a rope break. Some pressure has been put on Death’s right hand, so Tiger starts targeting it, but it’s all for nothing as Death locks in the claw with his left hand, right on Tiger’s face. The pressure is intense, and Tiger’s mask has now become a crimson mask, and with a vulnerable opponent, Death slams Tiger into the mat with the Red Death Drop. Death goes for the pin, and gets 1… 2… NO! Tiger rolls out just before the 3, only to be met with another claw to the face, when out on the ramp, Haruna calls out to Tiger, and hearing her voice reverberate in his head, Tiger comes to and counters the Red Death Drop by simply throwing Death down to the mat with a toss. Tiger lays into Death with a series of kicks before hitting the X-Pac Special: a spinning heel kick to the gut, and with a modified Tiger Driver, gets the 3 count and the win. Holy crap, worth the build. 4 and 1/2 stars. Spotting Miss X at ringside, Tiger Mask pulls a Goldberg and simply asks, “Who’s next?’
A few extra moments and thoughts from this week’s episode: There was a brief little flashback from three years ago, with Haruna and Naoto’s first meeting; it shared a good little bit of backstory and character development, but overall, it didn’t really add a whole lot to the episode. Good to have, but not overly needed. Tough break for Tiger the Dark, though, putting on a hard showcase with only a handful of people in attendance. Revealed in this episode is Yuji Nagata taking on the role of Eric Bischoff: behind the scenes, a figurehead, but on camera, a simple commentator. Such is the life of a wrestling personality, I suppose. Reportedly, some of the people at Toei Animation in Japan were really hyping up this week’s episode, and after watching, I can see why. Before I continue, though, let’s talk about head injuries in wrestling; generally speaking, in today’s day and age, blows to the head are considered a big no-no in professional wrestling. Chair shots to the head and standard piledrivers are banned in WWE for that very reason, and the unfortunate tragedy regarding Chris Benoit, in 2007, brought about a profession-wide analysis of the side effects of concussion trauma that many professional wrestlers have suffered through. Head injuries are a serious deal, and Wakamatsu being thrown and landing head-first into the ring post is VERY unsettling to watch. The bulk of the match is pretty tough to sit through, but that last shot takes it one step beyond, and coming from the viewpoint of someone who’s been following professional wrestling for a decade and a half, it’s enough to feel uncomfortable watching. With all of that said, this was an all-around excellent episode with the best action sequences of the series, so far. There’s a lot more of this series to come, though, so who knows what else will be in store. The payoff for the match between Red Death Mask and Tiger Mask was well worth the buildup, and the people at Toei certainly delivered on it. Barring the more gruesome and bloody moments, this week’s episode played to the show’s strengths: a vicious heel getting his ass kicked by our triumphant babyface hero. And in the end, that’s all you need, be it for a wrestling match or a show about wrestling matches.
Tiger Mask W is available on Crunchyroll as a weekly simulcast, every Saturday at 3:45pm EDT. Additional screencaps are available here.