It’s clear that the connection between wrestling fans and anime fans is alive and well, in many different ways. If it’s not a strong crossover between fandoms, it’s through the main shows: case in point, this coming January 4, at Wrestle Kingdom 11 – New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year – there’s going to be a match pitting Tiger Mask W against… you guessed it, Tiger the Dark. Get hyped. But before we get to that match, let’s see what’s been brewing in the fight for wrestling supremacy between New Japan and GWM. All action, no filler, let’s get to it!
By that, I mean, we’re going to just talk wrestling, since I want to keep this whole thing really efficient.
Episode 7 – “Naoto and Naoto”
Still in Okinawa, since I guess New Japan is running a stretch of shows here, the marquee main event for this episode features Tiger Mask and “Bookerman” Yuji Nagata in a tag team bout against YOSHI-HASHI and Okada, in the seldom-seen babyface vs. babyface house show tag match. Meanwhile, with GWM, they’re putting on a show at a dome in Texas (yes, that Texas), where Tiger the Dark is fighting for the United States title against Bosman. It’s a hard bout that ends with Dark countering a cross-body with knees to the gut, landing the Darkness Driver, and getting the 3, and the US title belt. And already, he’s a better US Champion than Roman Reigns. (Darkness Driver > Superman Punch. Fight me.) He’s met backstage by the boys, who are congratulating him on his victory, while Miss X finds Bosman and hands him an edict to “strengthen the local markets.” One such wrestler exclaims, in his own words, “Oh s**t!” A big man like Bosman going into local indie feds? That’s gonna be a disaster waiting to happen.
Back in Japan, it’s gearing up for showtime, and an old food stand owner just so happened to see an ad for the New Japan show, and take extra notice at one Tiger Mask. Who is this old geezer, anyway? He’s either a really old mark or something bigger, but it’s time for the show, and it kicks off with resident jobber Wakamatsu defeating… well, a fellow resident jobber. Fast forward to the main event, and it’s babyface tag team versus babyface tag team, but this old man isn’t getting into this new Tiger Mask quite yet. Nagata and Hashi lock up and give each other SLAPS, and stiff ones at that. Both men tag out, and both Tiger and Okada step in. Both men are evenly matched, countering each move and forming a standoff; the old mark is pretty impressed. Next sequence, Okada hits Nagata with a flapjack (a front-facing suplex throw), and Nagata rolls to the outside, only for Hashi to meet him with a… cane? Quite heel-like, right there. Tiger comes in for the save, and Hashi runs off, before they lock up in the ring, with Tiger being given a chin crusher for his trouble, but is able to escape out of an inverted DDT attempt. Tiger hits a swinging DDT, then lands a perfect Tiger Suplex for the win. And in the crowd, the old Tiger Mask mark is somewhat impressed. And his granddaughter was pretty into the show, too, with this being her first wrestling event. I still remember my first wrestling show pretty fondly, a SmackDown house show in December 2009. Fun show, overall. Pretty solid episode, on to the next one.
Episode 8 – “Tiger’s Den Bares Fangs”
Flashback time again, as we take a look at Naoto’s beginnings as a professional wrestler in the former Zipangu (or Jipang, what’s the official translation for this?) Pro-Wrestling; it all started when Naoto went to a show, and was so moved that he pleaded with two of the top stars, backstage, to join their federation. He’s told to go home, but he doesn’t have a home, because of the… earth… quake… ooooooooooh, that’s a little too soon, show. People died, you know. Anyway, Naoto pleads and pleads, and so their champion, Daisuke Fujii (the man who Yellow Devil attacked in the first episode), gives a nod and takes him in. But back to the present, Naoto and Haruna are at a pretty special gym for the next New Japan show, the very same gym where Naoto decided to become a wrestler, all those years ago. For this show, Tiger Mask is teaming up with—AHH YEAH, the ACE of New Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi! Nice. They’re teaming up for their bout against—(BULLET CLUB. FO-FO-FO-FO-FOR LIFE.) AWWWWWW YEAH, BULLET CLUB UP IN HERE! Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga of the baddest stable in all of wrestling, Bullet Club… yeah, I’m a Bullet Club mark. No apologies, they’re awesome. Unfortunately, the writing staff of this show has no idea how Gedo books them, so Tiger and Tanahashi beat them in pretty swift fashion. I was not impressed. God help us if the Young Bucks or Kenny Omega get treated like this. Anyway, “TO THE BACK!” – Yuji Nagata, impressed by their performance in the ring, decides the time is right for Tiger Mask and Tanahashi to go after the IWGP heavyweight tag belts. Quite the program to be in, not too shabby.
From there, we go to current-day Takuma, “working” with a Tiger’s Den recruit, and by working with, I mean he and some of his fellow wrestlers are beating the crap out of some poor dude. Miss X comes in and says they’re all going to be a part of a tournament in Japan, along with some hand-picked opponents, a fellow GWM wrestler, and Yellow Devil himself, their Intercontinental Champion. In news headlines, GWM has built themselves a dome stadium for their own in the country, the “Max Dome.” Makes NXT’s home at Full Sail Live look downright puny. This new dome will be the location of, what they’re calling, the “Wrestle Max Masked World Tournament” (geez, say that 3 times fast), with a top prize of $100,000… American… interesting little detail, I guess. And upon seeing Yellow Devil show up on the screen, Naoto decides that he has to be a part of this. And in an even more interesting development, the first match of this tourney is taking place at the same time New Japan is having their tag team title match. Quite the conundrum for Naoto, but he decides that the chance to fight Yellow Devil for vengeance is worth far more than a tag title match with Tanahashi. Bookerman Nagata has other plans, saying they won’t send any of their guys to this tournament (sorry, Captain New Japan), but Tiger Mask walks in and says that he’s going in, much to the begrudging acceptance of Tanahashi.
Before continuing, can I just say how weird it is that the same network in Japan that airs this show and outright OWNS New Japan Pro Wrestling is also airing, arguably, the hottest anime of the season, Yuri!!! on ICE? Though, to be fair, wrestling can be a bit homoerotic at times. So it’s an even trade.
Episode 9 – “The Stormy Opening Match”
The Max Dome, the new landmark of GWM… which also looks like something that Freeza would travel across the galaxy in… is kicking off their grand tournament promotion by touting their competitors, one of which is, of course, Tiger Mask. There’s one other masked wrestler that has me curious, this “It’s-the-Ace” fellow. Just who is that? Hmmm… No time for dilly-dallying, though, as Naoto is busy training and pushing himself to the limit – insert the song from Scarface here – while GWM is welcoming their ringer, Yellow Devil, who Takuma unsuccessfully provokes him for a fight. There was no fight to be found. You know, Miss X may be a vindictive you-know-what, but she’s a dang good wrestling promoter. Maybe TNA should scope her out and finally ditch Dixie Cater for, you know, a GOOD promoter. How do I know she’s a good promoter? She booked one 8-man tournament for their new stadium, and got a packed house out of it. And most importantly… ohhhh my God, we’re doing Lethal Lottery rules, aren’t we? Okay, for those who don’t know, the Lethal Lottery was a terrible gimmick created by WCW in the early 1990s, where all the matches – which are normally planned out ahead of time – are decided completely at random, at that very moment. It’s no wonder they’re out of business. Anyway, Tiger Mask’s opponent was chosen to be the “Euro Champion,” the man named Wagner, of whom this show completely destroys kayfabe toward and revealed, earlier on, that “Wagner” is just a gimmick. It’s Takuma’s “buddy” Kevin under the mask. Before the matches begin, though, both Tigers get into a shoot fight before getting broken up and pulled away from each other.
Now, I’m assuming the Max Dome – which, interesting enough, is modeled after an early design for the new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo for the 2020 events – has the same kind of capacity as the Tokyo Dome, so that means they packed no less than 40,000 people inside this building, with hundreds, if not thousands, more outside watching it all on the big screens. As a reminder, this was built around a Lethal Lottery-style tournament; once again, Miss X is a great promoter. And speaking of, let’s get to the first match: Tiger the Dark vs. Fukuwara Mask. Once again, this comedic jobber SUCKS. I’ll spare you the trouble and just say how it ends: Darkness Driver, 3 count, Tiger the Dark wins. Next up, Tiger Mask vs. “Wagner,” and for this occasion, Tiger comes out with a dapper new cape, since… well, his regular one ripped. Thanks, Fukuwara. But wait! Someone draped in white is standing on the turnbuckle – a new challenger has arrived, in the form of… Mister Question. Now, this name may be unfamiliar, but it’s the name of the first opponent the original Tiger Mask ever faced, way back when. Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. But Wagner has none of this and goes on a shoot offensive against the intruder. Mr ? no-sells it and K’s Wagner TFO. As a result of this, we still have to have a match, so it’s going to be Tiger Mask vs. Mr ?, as a replacement match. This old foe wants to see if this new Tiger Mask really is just as good as the original, and we close out the episode with a small tease for what’s to come.
Insert dramatic “to be continued” stinger here. Catch you all next time.
Tiger Mask W is available on Crunchyroll as a weekly simulcast, every Saturday at 3:45pm EDT.