I’m a wrestling fan. In the eyes of some, this makes me a supreme weirdo, but such a fandom of mine simply cannot go ignored. I follow the majority of wrestling products out there, from WWE to Ring of Honor to Lucha Underground, and I also tend to follow, from time to time, New Japan Pro Wrestling, where some of the biggest stars in the world make their residence. The connection between NJPW and anime is one that dates back as far as the late ‘60s, with the original Tiger Mask anime and manga, as well as the Jushin Liger anime of 1989 serving as the inspiration for the real-life wrestler of the same name, Jushin Thunder Liger. So fancy my intrigue when, this past spring, NJPW and TV Asahi – their television partner – announced that a new Tiger Mask anime would begin in the fall, entitled Tiger Mask W. And I’m here to recap the series for you all, with the grace and markiness that only a wrestling fan like me can provide.
The series begins with, what else, a wrestling match, between Yellow Devil and Daisuke Fujii, with the former finishing the match with a top-rope Devil’s Crush, a backflip into an unprotected piledriver. His two ring boys, Naoto and Takuma, swear their revenge on the evildoer for what they’ve done to Daisuke. Some time later, we see both Naoto and Takuma undergo their own training, with the former fighting off a bear and the latter climbing a snowy mountainside while wearing nothing but his wrestling tights, along with a dozen or so others. Takuma is the first to arrive at the Tiger’s Den, where he is greeted by his new agent, Miss X, and given his new gimmick – I mean, identity – of Tiger the Dark, where his first match will be for GWM, the Grand Wrestling Monopoly group, at their Wrestle Max show. As for Naoto, driven by vengeance over GWM and their nefarious ways, he looks to take down the company and their Tiger’s Hole group. It’s the night of the big Wrestle Max show, and Tiger the Dark is making his grand debut, winning his match in swift fashion, but now it’s time for the main event, Kaioh Mikasa versus Odin, but who’s that making a run-in? It’s Tiger Mask! As it turns out, Mikasa isn’t “medically cleared,” so the young Mask is serving as a fill-in. Odin takes the heavy offense early and catches Tiger Mask in a sleeper hold, but the young Mask is unphased, no-selling and countering into a chicken wing face lock. “Yellow Devil… Yellow Devil…” Mask repeats, but Odin, he don’t know nothing, man. Honest. And so Mask suplexes Odin into a pin, which dislocates his shoulder. Threatened by Miss X with the “Tiger’s Execution,” Odin launches another attack, but is met with a set of roundhouse kicks. And instead of going for the pin, Mask… leaves the ring… resulting in a countout? Uh… who’s booking this?
As a whole, this was a really good episode. It laid out the groundwork for the whole series, established the main characters and conflict, and even threw a few bones to the fans of the original Tiger Mask anime. The animation is very solid, given that it’s done by Toei Animation, and despite there being some cut corners, the overall presentation is one that’s easy on the eyes. The action sequences deserve special mention, because you can never go wrong with watching two muscular dudes in spandex beating the snot out of each other. As for the whole GWM group, part of me can’t help but wonder if GWM is supposed to be an allegory for WWE, in a way. They’re probably still mad that AJ Styles left Japan. Anyway, I’d bet that we’ll discover more about the past of GWM in the coming episodes. There is one thing I always note with wrestling anime, though, and it’s that they always play everything off as if it’s a shoot, or completely real, when in reality, pro wrestling is a work. It’s just a little thing that’s always bugged me, but it’s not a show-killer. The first episode also featured our first NJPW cameo by the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada, who made his anime debut not too long ago in an episode of Future Card Buddyfight. Sadly, unlike Buddyfight, Okada and the others real-life New Japan wrestlers in this series are not voiced by themselves, they all have fill-in voice actors playing the roles. Again, not a deal-breaker but it would’ve been nice. However, I do have to critique the ending of the match at the end of the episode – Tiger Mask, you’re a fill-in for a shoot wrestling match, and a title belt is on the line. I get that you have morals and a greater plan in store, but if the opportunity presents himself to steal a belt out of a rival federation, you do it! That will leave a bigger message to the powers that be instead of walking out of a title match and getting counted out; it’s not like you’re Rusev fighting Roman Reigns for the United States Championship, Mask. Grievances aside, this was a good start to the show, and I’ll be keeping up with it, week to week, to get my animated puro-resu fix. If you’re a pro wrestling fan, like I am, you’ll get a big kick out of this, but if you’re not, this may be a tougher sell for you. Don’t worry, though, I’ll convince you doubters yet.
Tiger Mask W is available on Crunchyroll as a weekly simulcast, every Saturday at 3:45pm EDT.