Last week, we left things off with a build between Tiger Mask and Red Death Mask, but in a case of life imitating art, they had a match at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s King of Pro-Wrestling event, this past Monday (October 10, 2016). Tiger Mask picked up the win, and boy, does he share a striking resemblance to one Kota Ibushi. Hmmm… nah, just a total coincidence, I’m sure. And this week, we’re taking a breather before the big matchup between Red Death Mask and Tiger Mask (in anime form), by shining a light on the past of our dueling Tigers, and how their paths were formed.
Flashing back a bit, we go to Naoto and Takuma training together, doing 1000 squats each, at the former Zipang Pro Wrestling gym. Takuma’s father and head of Zipang, Daisuke, walks in to announce a deal with GWM, and that they’re bringing in Yellow Devil to work a match, along with Odin, Keiji Tanaka, and “Billy the Kidman” for a joint show. And in the opener, Naoto and Takuma will fight each other, doubling as their debut match. In short, Takuma went over by making Naoto submit with a Boston crab. Daddy being the booker has its perks, clearly. In the main card, the invading wrestlers are stomping major mudholes on the Zipang talent, where we come back to the start of the first episode, with Yellow Devil and Odin shooting on Daisuke and his young lions. By the way, Daisuke isn’t dead, he’s just confined to a wheelchair at a hospital, while Takuma is sporting a permanent scar on his face thanks to Yellow Devil. At a nearby “medical facility,” as Michael Cole would put it, Takuma is approached by a man called “Mister X,” who calls what happened to his father an “accident,” but still claims responsibility and will cover the medical costs. Takuma has none of this, but can’t fight it off thanks to Yellow Devil showing up. Instead, Devil offers Takuma a place at the Tiger’s Den, which, as we know by now, he has taken. Elsewhere, Naoto is informed that Zipang will be closed with their top stars now retired or gone from the promotion. In his darkest moment, though, a silver lining shines through, in the form of Kentaro Takaoka, the former Yellow Devil, who decides to take Naoto under his wing in hopes of taking down the Tiger’s Den organization, once and for all. Takaoka brings Naoto to the former training facility of the original Tiger Mask, Naoto Date, and presents him with… well, the Tiger Mask mask. From here on, Naoto will don the title and legacy, with revenge against Yellow Devil serving as his motivation. Back to the current day, to close the episode, Red Death Mask has made his grand entrance and arrival in Japan. There’s a sinister feeling in the air, though, who only knows what could be building…
This ended up being a very backstory-heavy episode, so I can already hear the underwhelming sighs coming from folks, but you have to have a buffer before you get back into the heavy action. Simple logistics, really. The bulk of the episode centers around Naoto’s rigorous training routines, both in flashback and the present day, which serves as a sort-of exaggeration of how intense Japanese puroresu training really is. Sure, it’s tough, but not to the point of mechanical punching bags being flung around in a secluded facility. The folks at the WWE Performance Center could really learn a thing or two from this, though, it’s what all these new NXT recruits need – hard discipline and callously stern trainers. The vibe I got from the mysterious Mister X was that he’s this show’s Emperor Palpatine, luring possible apprentices to the Dark Side that is GWM and the Tiger’s Den. And as for the shoot attack on Daisuke being an “accident”? That’s like saying New Jack throwing Vic Grimes off a scaffold in XPW was an “accident.” Seriously, it wasn’t. New Jack is insane. In all, this wasn’t the most exciting episode of Tiger Mask W, but like with any good main event, you need a proper break to cool down the crowd. After all, you don’t want a hyped-up match to be met with silence and apathy.
Tiger Mask W is available on Crunchyroll as a weekly simulcast, every Saturday at 3:45pm EDT.