Before resuming my usual duties for this show, there has to be some housecleaning to kick things off: much like with Nanbaka, Tiger Mask W was a show I thought was going to be a single-cour deal, as there was no episode count officially announced when the series premiered. A few weeks later, it was announced that Tiger Mask W would be 39 episodes, which is way too much for me to dedicate weekly play-by-play for. So, like with Nanbaka, I’m capping TMW off with the end of its first cour, but out of loyalty and a need to complete my duty, I’ll cover the second and third cours of TMW at a later date, and I’ll make sure they’re short, sweet, and to the point.
But before talking about the last two episodes of the “season,” I need to talk about the real-life wrestling match that took place at Wrestle Kingdom 11, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year, between Tiger Mask W and Tiger the Dark. It’s just a promotional match meant to advertise the anime, and for what it’s worth, it was an alright match – live-action adaptations rarely ever go perfectly, you know? Playing the roles, respectively, were wrestlers Kota Ibushi and ACH (from Ring of Honor), and Ibushi/Mask won with a Tiger Bomb in an alright 6:34 match. Interestingly enough, the seiyuu of Haruna, Suzuko Mimori, actually walked down the ramp with Ibushi/Mask, in character, and joined in the Japanese commentary; as for the English commentary team of Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino, there was a small mention of Miss X made, given her… you know, size. A solid opener to a pretty great show, all things considered, but nothing was going to top the 6-star instant classic between Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega.
Episode 12: “Tiger vs. Tiger”
At the New Japan dojo, Mask is still looking to find and perfect that one move that will become his signature, but time is not on his side, as the day of his big match with Tiger the Dark has arrived. Over at GWM, however, Miss X has brought her talent to a meeting, running down the format for tonight’s show, making special mention of the Tiger v. Tiger match. On the marquee are the semi-final tournament matches, but to warm up the crowd, we gotta bring out some developmental gaijins no one’s ever heard of; this is why we have dark matches, GWM, BEFORE the show starts. And in another prelim match, we have tag team dissension – the Jay Hunter special, how fun! But now it’s time for Yellow Devil vs. Its-The… yeah, you all know it’s Hiroshi Tanahashi, why do I even bother. It’s a fairly back and forth match at the start, but Tanahashi hits a Sling Blade and climbs the rope, but Wakamatsu waves him off, because, you know, signature moves are instant identity revealers. So instead, he goes for a flying cross chop, but it seems to have hurt Tanahashi more than Devil, on his left shoulder. Fun fact, this is great continuity, as Tanahashi has had past shoulder injuries, most recently this past summer, dropping out of a New Japan event due to injury on his shoulder. Seeing the injury, Devil capitalizes on it with a flurry of offense, leading into a backbreaker hold, and as it gets worse and worse, Wakamatsu steps in and, quite literally, throws in the towel for Tanahashi, a la No Mercy 2003. The record books list it as a TKO, and Yellow Devil is moving on to the final.
Now it’s time for Tiger vs. Tiger, and boy oh boy, Miss X just sounds SO enthusiastic, introducing Tiger Mask in the ring; must’ve taken notes from Debra, circa 1999 WWF. It’s a hard, stiff, dare I say strong-style match between the two, from the getgo, but things seem to pick up for Tiger as he lands his somersault kick… to no avail. Immediately after, Dark latches Tiger in a grapevine arm hold, the Darkness Hold, and Tiger tries and tries and tries to force a rope break, but gets so close to that rope, he can’t force it. BUT WAIT! Out at ringside, it’s Daisuke (Takuma’s father), wheelchair-bound but still able to make it to the show, telling Tiger Mask that he can’t let Monopoly win, and that gives him the extra energy and motivation to reach the rope and break the hold. As it turns out, Haruna was able to snag four tickets to the show, and those extra two went to Daisuke and his nurse, giving them some prime seats for the action at hand.
Both men slowly get back up to their feet, and Dark quickly locks Tiger in a hold for his Darkness Driver, but Tiger is able to counter out of it and land a Tombstone Piledriver of his own. Tiger then throws Dark into the corner and goes for his somersault kick–oh, maybe not, as he hits the somersault and lands with a knee right to the face! Big pop for that. The knee strike was enough to draw blood, and now Dark is MAD. But he can barely see through the blood pouring down his forehead, in his mask, and the momentary hesitation gives Tiger enough to land a leaping Tiger Bomb and get the 3… I’m sorry, a knock-out by way of referee stoppage, but either way, Tiger gets the win and is moving on. Hot DAMN, what a match – 4 stars, easy. And now, we have our final, Yellow Devil vs. Tiger Mask.
Now, before continuing, I have to ask something: does this show tend to miss deadlines, every now and then? The latest episode was the second one to come after a week where no new episode aired, or is it some kind of scheduling conflict with TV Asahi? Someone let me know, I’d really like to look deeper into this.
Episode 13: “A False Victory”
Before we get to the main event, we’re due for a cool-down match, so that the crowd can catch their breath. And tonight, we have a women’s match between…… Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair??? Okay, I was just kidding with the whole GWM=WWE analogy, but I think I’m a little too on the money with this. Their match also got cut down to a 10-minute time limit, such is the case of reality, unfortunately. For what it’s worth, it was a pretty great match, too, despite its cut time; again, more of that strong-style wrestling on display, which I love to see, and it ended with “Queen Elizabeth” landing a fisherman suplex on “Payne Fox” for the 3 and the win. WOOOOOOOO, indeed, awesome bout that only suffered from its cut for time; but did this really have to be called a “diva’s match?” If there’s anything I’ve learned from the past 3 years of NXT, it’s that “divas” don’t put asses in the seats – wrestlers do.
Now, remember that “killer move” Tiger Mask landed on Tiger the Dark? Yeah, apparently, the knee to the face was a botch, as his signature move isn’t completed yet. Keep that in mind as we go to the main event. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the offense in the match, early on, comes from Devil. He’s just too big a guy for Tiger to do anything to. But after taking a moment outside the ring to catch his breath, Tiger comes back in, takes a moment to pace, and lands a spinning jump kick on Devil; in return, Devil whips Tiger to the rope and hits a LARIATO, but Tiger is able to catch Devil in a flying armbar submission. All for nothing, though, as a rope break ruins the hold. After another series, Devil has Tiger locked in his backbreaker submission, but is able to counter out of it with a kick, leading into a flying forearm that looks quite, *ahem,* “phenomenal.”
I really hope my wrestling references haven’t been lost on all of you. Anyway, Tiger starts to get in a hard offense in on Devil, but Devil is able to get to his feet and lunge at Tiger with a real fierce headbutt, right to the gut, and a double-hand choke, followed by a vicious headbutt right to Tiger’s skull. And once again, we have blood at play. Devil is completely choking the life out of Tiger, and as he goes for another lethal headbutt, Tiger kicks out of the grasp, remembering what he has to do to avenge Daisuke for what happened, many years ago, thanks to Yellow Devil. It’s all about revenge, screw the championship and the money. Tiger, fueled by adrenaline, goes for a finishing sequence after kicking Devil into the corner post, and words alone can’t do it justice, just watch for yourself:
Insane. Frigging insane, and five stars. The match ends via ref stoppage, and Tiger Mask is declared the winner, having achieved vengeance and victory against Yellow Devil. Wanting more, though, Tiger picks up Devil and unmasks him, revealing Devil to be… Billy (the) Kidman? Whaaaaa? Something is amiss here, something’s not right. This isn’t the real Yellow Devil, and Tiger Mask knows it. But I’ll be damned if that isn’t a fine twist and hook for viewers. Upset at this reveal, Tiger simply destroys the championship plaque awarded to him, not satisfied over what has unfolded.
So, where do we go from here? Like I said, the episode count wasn’t officially revealed until only a few weeks into the show’s run, and knowing now that this show is going to be 39 episodes, that’s going to be a pain to keep up with on a (usually) weekly basis. So, I’m capping off Tiger Mask W here, but I’ll still pop in with some additional writeups on the show, as it progresses, at the end of its second and third cours. If only out of obligation to you, the readers, who follow along with this. For now, the anime and wrestling connection is going on the shelf, but we’ll see you again very soon, Tiger Mask.
Tiger Mask W is available on Crunchyroll as a weekly simulcast, every Saturday at 3:45pm EST.