# Thoughts on Wrestle Princess I was at Wrestle Princess yesterday, and it felt like enough of an occasion that I wanted to record my thoughts. I'm not a serious critic and I don't have a whole lot of technical knowledge of wrestling, so this is purely a personal account. The arena and the video packages made this feel like a real occasion, and several wrestlers took the opportunity to debut refreshed versions of their ring gear. ## Opening match (Special rookie tag match) This was great. I actually enjoyed this more than a lot of the matches higher up the card, though it probably helped that a) I had no real expectations going into it b) I'm a huge Suzume fan. Seriously, though, she was glorious here; she's shaping up to be a great wrestler, and her new ring gear looks absolutely brilliant, with little bee wings on the skirt and embroidered details on the stockings. Shiori Sena is shaping up fast as well, and Miyamoto Moka thankfully laid off on the closed-fist punches that annoyed me in soom of her earlier matches. I don't want to go on about "exposing the business", but for me it really undermines the great forearm strikes that some of the top people do (particularly Sakazaki Yuka) if you've got someone on the roster just straight-up punching people. It sounds like faint praise, but this match really just nailed the basics of tag team storytelling: the ebb and flow, the hot tags, all the cliches of wrestling that make for a classic match. Suzume, gradually worn down by more powerful opponents, desparately going to the top rope, betting it all, was pretty much a perfect finish; she got the win, but it felt like it could very easily have gone the other way. This was a real gem of a match. ## Tag team match Ugh. The less said about this the better really. Kiryu Mahiro was the first TJPW match I ever saw, and I've hated her ever since - it doesn't help that her gimmick invites a comparison to Sakazaki Yuka that she can never live up to. There are blander gimmicks, worse technical wrestlers, poorer good sellers, but I don't think anyone else on the roster manages the same complete package of blandness that she does. And if anyone comes close it's Neko Haruna, who was also in this match. I can't point to any specifically bad moments, but there was just nothing interesting here. Pom normally manages to elevate matches she's involved in, but she didn't do her "flying" move and her usually good selling wasn't in evidence. I remember that Mahiro won, but I honestly can't remember the finish or, really, anything about this match. Meh. ## International Princess championship semi-final round This was outstanding, although it was the narrative rather than the wrestling that made it shine. I couldn't tell you a whole lot about what moves were used when or where, but Hikari Noa felt like a credible badass right from her entrance with that assassin-style perch on the corner. Maiumi Mirai has always been someone who I respect but don't really enjoy, but she was on fine form yesterday: she has power and grit in spades, but it wasn't enough. After the finish she was crying and pounding the ring and it felt earned; she gave it her all, to the point that she couldn't even walk backstage. It was the kind of match that elevates both competitors, and they got the right result. Good job! ## International Princess championship semi-final round I was happy with this semi-final too, although I think it mostly served to dig TJPW out of a hole they'd booked themselves into. Nakajima Shoko was, frankly, far too good for this tournament, but Kamifuku Yuki has the sheer size advantage that let her credibly win without damaging Shoko too much. And while I'm usually pretty hard on Yuki, she raised her game here: in place of her usual eyepokes she managed a suplex and a... reverse DDT? I think? As you can tell, I don't know a lot of wrestling moves, but she was clearly doing wrestling moves and this felt like a proper wrestling match, in a way that I honestly haven't seen from her before. When she got the win there was an audible gasp from the crowd, but it didn't feel like Shoko was robbed; it felt like Yuki had earned this one. ## Special singles match I'd genuinely forgotten this one until I looked up the card, and I'm actually a fan of both wrestlers involved. I'm glad to see Manase Yuna coming back, but there just wasn't enough build to make me care about this for story reasons, and the wrestling action was nothing special either. Raku's problem is that she doesn't have the tools to credibly threaten someone bigger and stronger. I love the "sneaky" direction she's taken (genuinely), but running in for a surprise rollup isn't enough to win big matches (and nor should it be). She doesn't have any real power moves (her chop is sometimes treated that way, but not consistently) and she's not a high-flier, so it's really hard to see her ever beating someone like Yuna. Coming hot on the heels of a Nakajima Shoko match made this painfully apparent; Shoko is a model for what Raku could become, but she's only credible against bigger opponents because she also does high-flying stuff when she needs to. Yuna won, and under other circumstances I'd say that's not what TJPW should be doing with guests from other promotions, but the real problem is not this match, it's that Raku doesn't really have a path forward. I'd hoped teaming with Itoh Maki would give her a chance to learn and improve, but apparently not. So it was hard to get invested in this match, simply because the outcome was never really in doubt. ## Special rule swapping singles match So I'd been skeptical about this match from the point where DDT asked for rule suggestions from the fans - while it's good to get the fans involved, it also seems like not having enough ideas of their own. The way I'd assumed this was going to work was that the stipulations would somehow be in Hyper Misao's favour, helping her overcome Saki Akai's natural advantages and leading to a more balanced match. That... didn't happen. What we got was half comedy match and half beatdown; while there were a couple of good punchlines (both agreeing to move on from the dizzy rules; Akai watching and waiting for Misao to finish eating before just pushing the button), there was, again, never really any point where it looked like things might go differently. The "last man standing" section was particularly bad; Akai would knock Misao down, and then we'd wait to see if she eventually got up, and eventually she did it enough times that Misao stayed down for the count. The partners section also seemed particularly wasteful; I'd have loved to see a full intergender tag match, but going to the trouble of bringing in two (presumably high-ranking?) guys from DDT so that you can have them fight for a couple of minutes before you push a button and move on felt more sad than anything else. I'm a *lot* more hyped for the return of Saki-sama next week; that at least has the potential to mean something. This wasn't interesting in storyline and it wasn't interesting as a match. ## Special tag team match And completing the trifecta of matches where the outcome was never in doubt, we have this. From the moment this was first announced I couldn't understand the team setup: Itoh Maki has not been (at least until now) a credible threat to Yamashita Miyu, and it's hard to imagine Sareee giving Aja Kong any real trouble. Flip the teams and you've got something a lot more interesting on the face of it. Still, I trusted TJPW to come up with a way to even the odds. And... nope. Nothing. Maki went toe-to-toe with Miyu for a while, something she's not been presented as capable of before, and so that did feel kind of elevating. But when Aja was in the ring, neither Saree nor Maki could really get anywhere - which is absolutely how Aja has to be booked, but is pretty limiting when you put her alongside TJPW's ace. The one moment where this match rose to the level it should have been was Itoh smashing her head with Aja's bin - letting her finally take down the monster - but this sadly led nowhere. There was an effort at interesting team dynamics, with Itoh calling out to Sareee to take care of Aja - but instead of telling a story of the effectiveness of teamwork, this just lead to the match breaking down into two single contests, which has the fundamental problem of my first paragraph: neither outcome is in doubt, and since the same team is winning both matchups, there's no reason for Aja and Miyu to do anything except sit back and collect the win. Unlike the last two this was actually a pretty fun match, perhaps because of the larger-than-life characters involved, perhaps because there were moments where it genuinely felt like Itoh might manage an upset victory over Miyu. So if the aim was to elevate Itoh towards becoming a true main-eventer then this wasn't a total waste. But it was an incredibly frustrating match to watch, because it felt like it would have been so easy to have done something more interesting. ## International princess championship tournament final round At this point I was guessing that they wanted to put the belt on Yuki (partly for the out-of-ring reason of her English skills). Hikari's semi-final had been a drawn-out slog against the powerful Mirai, which seemed like a perfect way to overcome the biggest problem with having Yuki win here: looking at their semi-final matches Hikari was clearly the better athlete and the better wrestler. So I was expecting to see an exhausted Hikari drawing on every last ounce of her reserves, but ultimately failing against the bigger, fresher woman. That... didn't really happen. Hikari came out looking every bit the badass she'd been in her first match, any aftereffects forgotten. Yuki managed a few moves and one genuinely impressive dropkick, but was very much not on her level. And then she got the win. In this situation I'd actually have preferred an eyepoke, or some other dastardly heel tactic; of course upsets happen in sports, but one of the advantages of being scripted is that in wrestling narratives most things happen for a reason. Finish aside this was actually a pretty good match, but it's hard to escape things feeling a bit forced. ## Princess tag championship match This match became a lot more fun once I accepted Watanabe Miu as a power wrestler. It doesn't make any sense - she's about half the size of either of the Bakuretsu Sisters - but it seems to be an established part of TJPW physics (Miyamoto Moka may be subject to the same effect), so you just have to roll with it. In my head, Tatsumi Rika is head and shoulders above the other three people in this ring, but the way this match played out was more or less the opposite: Miu could *just about* go toe to toe with either of the Sisters, while Rika was constantly in serious trouble. I was expecting her high-flying moves to run rings around both sisters, but she rarely got that far; particularly in the second half she was largely getting overpowered and looking to Miu to bail her out. Eventually Miu put everything into one last effort and was able to pin Aino Yuki, but Rika wasn't able to keep Tenma Nodoka away for the 3-count, and then a few minutes later Yuki made the pin for the win. I'm pretty negative on the Bakuretsu Sisters - I just don't find their wrestling style interesting to watch - so it's hard not to feel disappointed in the result here. But as a match, it was pretty effective: everyone got their chance to shine (even Rika, for the first half at least), and ultimately the Sisters had better teamwork and were able to capitalize. If there's a positive spin I can put on this, it's that I'm excited to see what Rika and even Miu can do as singles wrestlers. While I'd love to see them continue as a tag team, I'm not sure where they'd go from here - at least, I don't think it can be the prime focus of their stories any more. ## Princess of Princess Championship match This is it. The big one. Friend against friend, partner against partner, the match we'd been building to for months. So I'm sure I'll be torn apart when I say... the first half kind of dragged. This was a very long show by TJPW standards (and with an even more awkward start time than usual), and I was starting to run out of energy, particularly as Mizuki's win seemed like a foregone conclusion. Sakazaki Yuka worked her legs, but otherwise seemed content to sit back and let Mizuki control the match - a big change from her creativity when winning the title in January. Mizuki kept going for jumps off the ropes even as they seemed to be hurting her just as much as Yuka, which made for a lot of scenes of both of them collapsed on the floor, and even Kiso Daisuke was off his game - he kept telling the competitors off for climbing the ropes, which really just killed his own credibility since he never succeeded in stopping anything. I get that they were going for an epic feel, but I really think this stage of the match could have stood to be a bit shorter. There was one standout moment where Yuka's attempted magical girl splash was countered midair by Mizuki's dropkick (or was it the other way around?) and they both fell to the mat, and eventually things picked up. When we finally got to Mizuki's Whirling Candy there was an audible gasp from the crowd - it really is a stunning move to be faced with (I feel bad for anyone who was sitting on the other side of the ring), absolutely worthy of being the super-protected finisher that Mizuki pulls out when nothing else will get the job done... which made it more than a little disappointing when she followed it up with a top-rope stomp (admittedly favouring one foot) and cover, only for Yuka to kick out at two. From there it felt like there was nowhere for either of them to go. When Yuka extended a hand to Mizuki lying on the floor, I was genuinely wondering if she was offering some kind of honourable draw, or even to concede. Instead they slogged each other, desperately, hopelessly - which felt like a minature recapitulation of the whole match. And shortly after came Yuka's own spinning move - a Magical Girl Chicken Bastard, if I'm reading the Japanese correctly? - which got her the win. On a technical level this was a real treat - spinning to make your moves more powerful is a piece of wrestling physics I'm happy to buy into, and Yuka did a spinning splash off the top rope not from the corner, but right in the slackest part in the middle, which is nothing short of astonishing. But as part of the match narrative it was a disappointment, not (just) because I wanted Mizuki to win but because it came almost out of nowhere, in a match where Mizuki had been on top for most of the time and Yuka hadn't been done many high moves. It wasn't quite a roll-up, but it didn't feel like a feud-ending finish. This was definitely a feud-ending match though, and on an emotional level it worked; the whole Magical Sugar Rabbits storyline has been great, and I'm sure there wasn't a dry eye in the house after the post-match speeches (certainly not mine). I have my doubts about where either of them goes from here - especially Mizuki - but at least it's clear that they'll do it together. 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