February 3, 2021

Watch: NJPW World (JPN) / Watch: NJPW World (ENG)

It’s a long-dead debate, but New Criticism can get fucked. It doesn’t apply completely to reviewing professional wrestling, but everything is a text and by extending that notion you could, following a strict New Criticism philosophy, review Road To shows completely devoid of context.

For a Road to Review, the question is this: to which audience should one write? Should the analysis be framed for the reader with sagacious viewing habits, treating each particular show in a vacuum? Or should it be framed for the completist, treating each particular show as one in a continuum? Either is valid.

The question is amplified if, like the complete dolt writing this review, one chooses to write multiple Road To reviews. The question is amplified exponentially if that fucking idiot chooses to write multiple reviews in a row. The writer’s perspective is shaped by these things, and the writing is vulnerable to be shaped by it in consequence.

For that completist audience, the writing would reflect a cumulative knowledge: acknowledging and contextualizing the previous encounters, and evaluating the success of the progression. On paper, this seems inherently superior, but to the reader that has not invested into the totality of the tour, aspects of this information can be irrelevant, abstruse, obstructive, and flat-out fucking boring. Specifically, they have no frame of reference for the antipathy or ennui that might collect throughout a tour. Accrued excitement is different; that could be infectious. Amassed tedium might not be.

All of this academic jargon is subterfuge to apologize for one very real reaction to this show, influenced by the reviewer following the entire tour thus far: god DAMN was this show a chore. The impulse to watch it took days and the motivation to write this review took even longer. And so, the critical meta-journalistic crisis: whether to be authentically honest or to be professionally impartial, assessing the show for the people that, very correctly, do not give one scintilla of a fuck about how exhausted I am after three weeks of uniformity.

In this case, we continue to strive for every self-satisfied writer’s objective: to have our cake and eat it too. We strive to examine each match on its merits, with broad, wide-ranging analysis of the fundamental facets of the wrestlers and rivalries, as well as track the fluidity of the tour: differentials in crowd reaction, match structures, move sequences, all of that bunkum.

But sometimes we just can’t handle it anymore.  This is the penultimate Road-To show of the tour; by design nothing truly interesting was meant to happen. It also had an unfortunate scheduling detriment: the previous two shows had the always-fun elimination tag matches to anchor them, but this one reverts to a regular tag team main event, and it definitely feels like a regression. We touched upon the odd scheduling of this tour in support of its main events in our review of the 2/2 show, and we’ll return to this idea for the 2/8 show.

Like my review of the December 22 Korakuen Road to Tokyo Dome Show, I found myself bereft of opinions on the match-ups and more distracted by the dreadful commercials on my television. Once again, it was the Olympic Channel, the network watched only by my wife and I. And we only watch it because of the prospect that they might air some fencing (they never do). These thoughts infiltrated the review.

Gabriel Kidd & Ryusuke Taguchi def. Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura

Not much was added to this one with the inclusion of Taguchi and Uemura. It’s very strange how Uemura looks his worst against the other Young Lions, but awesome against everyone else. He gets very little to work with, as Kidd and Tsuji take most of the offense against him, and then he has an absolute banger of a sequence with Taguchi.

Kidd’s stuff looked crisp and strong. Kidd’s face was imbued with intensity, especially when he was pressed against Tsuji. Tsuji, in response, looked more interested in getting to the back as soon as possible to check his notifications. As of this writing, he is approaching 25,000 likes on his Naito challenge, a solid 45.5% of the way towards his intended goal of 55,000. That stated goal, as noted in the 2/2 review, would be a 50-50 result so he’d still fucking lose. You want 55,001, Yota.

It was during this match that I, unfortunately, looked up to see a commercial for these Goli apple cider gummies. These sour morsels apparently operate under the conceit that people are so fucking intent on engorging themselves into obesity, so reprehensibly incapable of restraint, that the only way to prevent them from stuffing their fucking faces is to make them choke down appetite suppressing gummies.

Goli touts that with these gummies, “you can enjoy all the benefits of apple cider, without drinking it.” The bottle suggests taking 2-3 gummies per day, the equivalent of “1 shot of apple cider vinegar.” Shots, huh? Surely state college psychopaths across the fruited plain will dump their grain alcohol in the sink and get into fistfights over which brand of vinegar to refill the bottle with in response. Goli further claims that the gummies help with digestion and will lead to clearer skin, supporting this nonsense with complete language drivel like “detox” and “immunity.”

The commercial focuses on the appetite suppressant aspect, based on the idea that apple cider vinegar induces a full feeling in the consumer. I don’t even care about whether that is accurate or not, or why that is the focus on the advertisement. What I care about is this one intolerable fuckface in the commercial. Not all the people in the commercial, just this one guy. The rest are fine-looking actors, pretending to be duped by this fad-science bollocks in their kitchen, or on the scale in their bathroom, on a treadmill at the gym.

We begin our scene as this swivel-headed jerk is walking through an office building. The swivel-headedness… you know what it looks like. It’s the thing Conan O’Brien always does, just idiotically bounding your head from side to side. This cretin is doing it as he struts around the office. And by the way, he’s that guy that dressed in blazer and jeans. But not blazer, t-shirt, and jeans. No… blazer, dress shirt, and jeans. There is no tie to cinch things together, and the dress shirt is tucked into the jeans, and probably into his fucking underpants, too. I despise everything here.

So as this middle-management wank-maggot comes around a corner, his skull pirouetting on his spinal cord, and walks by some co-workers. They are having pleasant palaver and enjoying cake for someone’s birthday, which makes this asshole’s response even more dreadful. They offer him some cake, and he replies with an astoundingly smug “No, thank you,” replete with an aggressive finger point with the imperious head slant that, if the birthday boy’s wish came true, would end with some sort of knighted cavalry infiltrating the office and beheading this prick with a blunt sabre. The ginger doofus then walks a few paces, stops, claps his hands together like Okada does when he does literally any of his moves, does a zealous head swivel seeped in self-congratulatory smugness, and then shuffles along, shrugging is shoulders up and down as his elemental dance motion on his way back to his office to sign into his Rumble account.

You can see in the background that the people that offered him cake immediately return to their conversation and mingling. They give less than a fuck about this imbecile. They clearly tolerate him around the hallways and cubicles and pray they don’t see him before 11 AM because he is very much that guy with that morning-guy personality you just want to strangle. And it has to be strangulation. You could defenestrate the jerk but you’d much rather feel the sense of accomplishment as you absorb his rancid spirit energy through your thumbs.

This very possibly is the worst person that has ever existed. And while they are not a real person, the actor plays him so well that I can only assume that this is what the actor is genuinely like.

The two Young Lions had some nice teamwork, but Taguchi was too much for them. At one point, both were caught on opposite sides of the ropes, so Taguchi did the thing where he runs the ropes over and over, assaulting them with his coccyx every time. I’m not sure what to make of Taguchi right now. He had a good run with Kanemaru in December, but he looks disinterested, or purposefully understated. His backstage promos are devoid of the stone-faced absurdity they usually have. Instead, they have been… almost somber. ***

Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada def. Yuya Uemura and Yujiro Takahashi, Jay White & EVIL

New Japan does indeed seem to have found a groove right now presenting incensed babyfaces that are infatuated with assailing their rivals. After Jay White’s surprising mid-tour return on 2/1, Ishii has taken every angular opportunity to attack White, often spontaneously. It provides an exciting element of unpredictability to a match.

White, for his part, has developed a sort of hybrid character. He’s not the cowardly heel that pecks and pokes and hides behind some structural obstacle when the face explodes, nor is he the infuriated type of reckless, borderline possessed heels we saw the United Empire embody a few weeks ago. White floats in-between these roles. Yes, it is heavily weighted towards the cowardly side. Jay is the manifestation of a local newspaper’s public op-ed page; he yearns for opportunities to complain, with a rock-solid, impregnable internal logical. It’s great because while logical, most of his points are inapplicable to anyone but him. It’s a totally insular exercise.

We’ve seen variations on this grouping every show this tour. In line with the introduction, if this is your first show of the tour this is a perfectly acceptable multi-man tag. And if you have seen any incarnation of this match over the last three weeks, Jay’s injection to the proceedings adds very little for you in-ring, especially if you watched the elimination tag from the night before.

The funniest part of this one was in the post-match scrum. The camera caught all of Jay White’s merciless battering of the Young Lions, just a total obliteration of Kidd and Tsuji. In multiple stages, no less. The funny part: in the background, on the adjacent part of ringside, you could see EVIL and Okada fighting over a tombstone piledriver. Their swaying and rocking back and forth in the tombstone position was hilarious enough, being totally in the background and unnoticed. But even better, consider what they are fighting over: the privilege to paralyze the other one irrevocably on the concrete floor. They are quarreling over the opportunity to inflict a modern wrestling tragedy in front of a crowd of hundreds. And it’s just in the background.

Why do I write 3000-word meta-heavy reviews for Road To shows? For stuff like that! ***1/4

DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado, Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi def. Jado, El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga

First things first, they came out to Taichi’s theme, so they did not highlight Desperado’s merch. And yet: there is always a Despy bear. Thankfully, a lady with a high taste level on the face entrance side (Despy and Ibushi fan, seemingly), had a Despy bear. You see it, our first and only Despy bear, at 39:27.

This one is literally the same match as 2/1, except without the elimination tag stipulation, and thus levels of magnitude less interesting and dynamic. If you are parachuting into this tour, just go watch that match.

Taichi is sort of like Ishii in a way, abruptly going after Tama Tonga without a plan nor backup, but Suzuki-gun are quicker on the take so unlike Ishii, Taichi usually avoids a beatdown in these situations. Tama, in response, has adopted an eccentric imbecile persona, talking to the Iron Fingers in Japanese and delivering a hefty dose of full-on piercing evil villain laughter.

Of course, this is subtle in comparison to literally everything ELP does; at one point, Kanemaru did the typical New Japan tag thing where someone sprints across the ring to knock their opponent, who watches them the entire way, off the apron. ELP was standing on the bottom rope; when Kanemaru hit him, ELP jumped straight up, did a face bump onto the apron, and launched himself into the ceiling off that bump. Again, it’s all or nothing with your tolerance for El Phantasmo.

God bless Gedo and his team for their old territory revivalism. In this match, we see two stalwarts: programs based around a loaded something and a stolen something. El Phantasmo’s loaded boot will be the driving force of the Junior division in 2021, it seems, though I have to wonder: how do people catch it? In every match so far, a member of Suzuki-gun has caught the loaded boot superkick… but if it’s loaded, wouldn’t catching it hurt as well? Whatever object is providing the illegal force in this manipulated boot should cause extra damage on contact, no matter what the contact. They aren’t rolling with the momentum, or catching the parry. It’s implied that just standing on someone’s hand or leg with the boot causing added harm.

It doesn’t matter, anyway; Phantasmo has instantly grasped the proper amount of boot usage in a match. It’s a very well worked prop.

ELP wore his shirt for the entire match, then took it off for his R.I.P. pin. Again, it’s all or nothing with your tolerance for El Phantasmo. ***

SHO & Tomoaki Honma def. Hiromu Takahashi & Tetsuya Naito

Honma,  in response to Naito’s immortal grumble manifesto, declared that no one would ever confuse Naito for him. Well, at one point in this match Naito took Honma down and put him in that cravat neck crank thing. During its application, I legitimately could not tell if the scratchy anguish I heard was Honma earnestly selling or Naito mocking Honma. So yes, it is very easy to confuse the two.

The crowd was into this one, but it certainly feels like being locked in stasis. This same match-up also occurred on the 1/24 show. I believe the 1/24 contest was the better match, but definitely not worth going back to watch if you haven’t seen it.

Unfortunately, I had seen both matches, and it was during this match that my wife and I started breaking down an effusively heartwarming advertisement that completely falls apart the second you try to delineate even a fiber of sense from it. It is for a language learning system called Babbel. Unlike Goli, which is just based on nonsense diet fad doublespeak, Babbel is an admirable product. Language learning is great. Even better: unlike the Goli commercial, no one in the Babbel ad is an irredeemable fuckface that I’d like to see shaved in an acid bath. The intentions of this ad are pure and good.

But it doesn’t make any sense. So we start this woman wandering freely around a busy, vaguely Latin American neighborhood and dressed exactly like you’d expect. Live Laugh Love is a bit too obvious. It’s your typical peripatetic white woman blouse-and-jeans combo, some kind of cross between what’d you’d see in the Strangler’s “Golden Brown” video and whatever Simon Le Bon was going for in Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and I swear I am not in my 50’s. I watched a lot of Pop-Up Video when I was really young, ok? Top off this ensemble with a hat that looks like it’s out of YOH’s closet.

So she walks into this restaurant. I guess we’re supposed to believe we are deep in whatever city this is, in places that tourists rarely delve into. When she starts to speak Spanish to the owner, people at a nearby table scowl at her. Hard. Like, the disdain is so immense that I wondered if this poor traveler has wandered into a Lottery situation. One woman was so nauseated by this lady’s presence I imagined that the locals in this universe just sit in this café and wait for advertising firms seeking exotic locales and awkward post-colonial exchanges to burst in and and start shooting. In this scenario, the repulsion is not at the lady having the audacity to respectfully attempt to speak the regional language, but that her advertisement is for a lowly app or start-up. This woman has no time for small fry losers; unless you’re on the Dow, hit the bricks.

Thanks to Babbel, YOH Hat Lady manages to declare that she has arrived to order food.  Later, she is waiting at her table, which looks much less like a citadel of Latin American authenticity. It most definitely is not this obscure hole-in-the-wall only true adventurers would find; I’m pretty sure you could find the same décor at a Tex-Mex joint in rural West Virginia.

As she settles in, an adorable young girl approaches. We had seen the girl before, anxiously watching from a window as YOH hate lady dramatically found the resolve to ask for a menu. They proceed to have a conversation in perfect English, arbitrarily peppered with random Spanish words. If you watch this ad on television, the idea that this random girl from a remote town, the kind of place only true knights errant detect, speaking English comes totally out of nowhere. How is this even happening? You can’t even justify it as a Spanish conversation we are hearing in English; they use Spanish words throughout.

The explanation comes in the longer version of the ad that I, pathetically, researched for this piece: the girl learned English, vocabulary and syntax and all, from her teacher, Senorita Flores. The girl has to be, at best maybe 7 or 8? Senorita Flores has apparently cracked some kind of pedagogical code that master teachers and linguistic scholars have been unable to solve for decades. Senorita Flores should probably be published immediately and assigned to some kind of board of educational social justice. That, or this girl is a legitimate linguistic prodigy and possibly the reincarnation of Jaun Elia.

The conversation shifts into a very natural explanation of how Babbel is a magical app that is very helpful in language learning, especially for adults, who are completely useless. The girl imagines it to be Senorita Flores inside a phone. The nice lady offers one of her many warm, compassionate looks. She is such a nice lady in a land she will always remember from the one and only time she came through. When she journals this, the word lush will appear no less than 35-45 times. It ends with both the YOH hat lady and the girl, who definitely did not order a goddamn thing, being served. A cute ad, all things considered, as long as you accept the well-meaning sincerity of the YOH hat lady.

This one ended with what might be the first-ever double-running Destino. As Naito lipped around Honma, Honma lost his footing and had to run forward to complete the move. Very gracious. After the match, SHO was literally shaking with intensity and Hiromu held the belt up for him yet again.

By the way, if you’re looking to solve the mystery of the broken BOSJ trophy, at about 1:22:30 SHO whips Hiromu in the guardrail, about 10 feet to the left of announcer Abe’s table. The trophy falls off, and then Abe, without as much panic as you’d expect, hurriedly hands the trophy off to a tracksuited trainee. So, unbelievably, this one was somehow not Naito’s fault. ***1/4

SANADA & BUSHI def. Master Wato & Kota Ibushi

BUSHI was wearing three layers of mask. The first mask would get you to the next episode of Face Off, but you’d definitely hear plenty from the judges about how they want to see more from you if you want to stay out of the bottom next time. The second is that Venom mask he has, which is cool but also looks like a normie Still Life with Apricots and Pears. Eventually, he reveals the final layer, which is the blue mask he has been wearing, presumably to mock the former azure, now cobalt Master Wato.

Wato took a lot of heat. So much that I went back and timed it. He was worked on for over five full minutes, and with SANADA and BUSHI’s listless control you felt every second. The payoff was a bit uncontrollable, unfortunately. Wato went for his tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, which, like everything else he does, looks awesome when he hits it flush. What we have learned on this tour is that Wato struggles with the bigger guys. The size difference between Wato and SANADA, in this case, is noticeable. As a result, the tilt-a-whirl backbreaker ended up being a tilt-a-whirl… slam, kinda thing? That Wato even did the tilt-a-whirl part so well on a guy like SANADA is admirable.

What didn’t work? Why, the Paradise Lock! SANADA caught Wato in the beloved hold, and Wato… just remained motionless. And when I mean motionless, I mean that literally. SANADA crossed him up, rolled him over, and Wato stayed static, stuck in some kind of perverted tableau.

At one point, Ibushi stole SANADA’s big trademark sequence, scoring with a dropkick (from the top rope, taking it to another level, I guess), followed by a delayed, floating plancha. SANADA must not have been pleased by this. You could not tell from his expression, of course, but by his actions. Actions are important, as Burgess Owens sagaciously noted before being buried deep into the Earth’s mantle. SANADA responded to Ibushi’s thievery by performing what might be his most exaggerated plancha yet, like some Winter X-Games plancha.

I was into this, so I can’t really say much about Ben and Jesse. Ben and Jesse run Hubble, an online contacts distributor. Ben and Jesse are part of the ubiquitous trend of having these start-up founders introduce their own products, usually in the white void from which John Oliver tapes Last Week Tonight. The Bombas guys introduce their socks from there, or the Roman kid introduces his no-shame dick pills app, or some German guy introduces his car insurance app. It’s all the same: “Hi, I’m ______. And one day, I realized _______.”

Ben and Jesse figured out the contacts game. Just a couple of regular looking guys that had a great idea to benefit other regular people. Anyone could do it, just like these normal folk humbly describing their service and/or product to you.

By the way, Jesse is a Phi Betta Kappa graduate from Columbia. No big deal. Just like everyone else that graduated Phi Betta Kappa from Columbia, Jesse had a groundbreaking idea and the grit to succeed. Ben, I should point out, did not graduate Phi Betta Kappa from Columbia, so don’t think this bit of classism on my part is anything but a bit of light jocularity. Only one of these average Joe entrepreneur altruists graduated Phi Betta Kappa from Columbia.

Ben, to be fair, graduated Phi betta Kappa from Princeton.

SANADA and Ibushi had their same dumb conversation as BUSHI was pummeling Wato in the post-match. Ibushi laid out the belts, and SANADA counted them. SANADA had no backstage comment. We’re approaching absolute zero for this program. ***1/4


Without an interesting hook, and without any interesting developments, this is the one show on this leg of the New Beginning tour you can safely skip entirely. The exciting stuff happened in the previous two shows, and this one is a return to orthodoxy. Much of it comes across perfunctory, but if you’ve skipped the tour to this point, it might be worth a quick run-through. You’re better off watching the elimination tags from 2/1 and 2/2 and waiting to see the 2/8 show, though.