Yesterday was my second Wrestle Kingdom show since moving to Japan. The show far exceeded my expectations and was the probably the most enjoyable I’ve been to.
Before the show
Unlike last year, I was able to arrive at Suidobashi station long before the show: just after 11 am. I typically get to Korakuen Hall shows about 15 minutes before the opening bell, so I was in for a long day. Wrestle Kingdom week is an exhausting experience. Throughout the year, I usually attend about one show per week. This, however, was my 4th show in 4 days. To be honest, I was actually burnt out on wrestling going into it, thanks to a disappointing DDT show on Tuesday night.
From 11:30 to 1:00 I went to a meet-up lunch organized by Chris Charlton. I enjoyed the company of visiting and local fans, but, unfortunately, I cannot recommend LaQua’s City Buffet. Thanks to everyone who attended and to Chris for putting it together.
For the next two and a half hours or so I walked around Tokyo Dome City. Lines for goods (merch) were already going strong at one o’ clock. Most people were clustered around the Los Ingobernables booth. The LaQua mall on the north side of the Tokyo Dome was bustling with fans; there were multiple attractions for kids, and shops were full of fans sporting their favorite NJPW stars’ t-shirts.
The highlight of LaQua was definitely a kiosk selling baseball-style scorecards for fans to keep track of the shows they attend. The cards had fields to log match times, finishes, and take notes about the shows. The book also included a place to fill in details about the roster and a glossary of moves and other terminology.
For food, I recommend grabbing a bunch of snacks at LaQua’s Seijo Ishii grocery store to bring into the show. We killed some time at the Starbucks on the south side of the Dome, but I would recommend the one in LaQua because it is smoke-free inside and out. Around 3:00 I got in line to wait for the doors to open. I was amused by the megaphone announcement “if you are wearing a mask, please take if off to show your face.” Only at a wrestling show in Japan.
Waiting for gate 22 to open pic.twitter.com/fGRq1vbvyD
— JoJo (@jojo_runs) January 4, 2017
The presentation of Wrestle Kingdom 11 was a big step forward for New Japan. This year’s show didn’t have as many elaborate entrance props as prior years, but everything seemed more polished. They also did an excellent job of making each entrance feel unique. I particularly enjoyed the Glastonbury-esque atmosphere for Hiromu Takahashi and Kenny Omega’s Terminator riff. The stage was thoughtfully designed to highlight the eye during Naito’s entrance.
— JoJo (@jojo_runs) January 4, 2017
In general, I think NJPW has struggled with the presentation and branding of CHAOS; especially since the departure of Shinsuke Nakamura. Yesterday’s show was a major change in approach as each member had the unit’s logo prominently featured during their entrance. On a related, yet somewhat contradictory note, I have been clamoring for years that as NJPW’s current generation ace, Kazuchika Okada should be associated with the lion mark. Glad they finally did this as well.
The crowd seemed more engaged than last year. Each of the top-of-the-card acts had audible fan support which added tremendously to the atmosphere. NJPW is embracing a move away from wrestling’s traditional good/evil delineation. It’s clearly working at the merch table and also in the crowd.
This format isn’t really conducive to getting across how much I enjoyed the show between the bells. I will say that I attended basically every major NJPW in Tokyo in 2016 and I enjoyed this show more. I walked out of the building around 10PM, energized and excited to return to Suidobashi in less than 24 hours for NEW YEAR DASH.