New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Castle Attack – Night 3
February 16, 2021
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World (JPN)

Hey everybody, it’s a Castle Attack! Doesn’t that sound like fun? Look at the graphics! Imagery of Osaka under all sorts of cool filters! Sengoku-era imagery of a stoic, courageous Samurai in defiant stance amidst a burning fortress. Fuck yeah, it’s time to fight!

Except that I have a degree in this sort of stuff, and let me tell you what happens in a castle attack. Within a few days, you find yourself stuck in one specific location, engulfed in a torrent of monotony with really a singular end-goal, hopefully, a successful date within a month, being the only incentive to preclude full-on desertion.

That’s right, folks. Get your engineers working on the undermining blueprints, get the grunts to cover the breaching tower with chalked animal skins, and start stirring up the Greek Fire… we got ourselves a god damned Castle Siege!

The numbers dropped from 692 to 331 from Night 1 to Night 2. Like all good campaigning forces, New Japan realized that a lot of the battle in a siege is in the presentation. In this case, New Japan very quickly amended their usual set-up. Across from the camera, they usually have a three part configuration with a set of bleachers flanked by staged seating and a video screen high in the middle. Today, they curtained off the flanking sections with video screen on each side, and have two huge Lion Mark banners in the center, covering all but the first few rows of the center bleachers.

The result was 343. They have had two Tuesday shows since the State of Emergency. The first drew 470 on 1/19, and 582 on 2/2.

Very little distinguishes this show from the prior two. Two matches are the exact same, and the other three merely swap out one member for another. That said, unlike the languid disconnect on yesterday’s show, there was a bit more energy to this one, and a few more concrete hints at what is to come at the end of the month.

The United Empire (Jeff Cobb, Great-O-Khan & Will Ospreay) def. Yota Tsuji, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroshi Tanahashi

Very few matches on this tour have started with a straight lock-up, but this one found an interesting way to the typical shambolic beginning. Tanahashi feigned overcaution as he went to ascend the ropes for his introductory pose, shooting several threatening glares towards The United Empire before scaling the buckles. Then he cross-body blocked O-Khan out of nowhere. That underhanded fucking pheasant-man. Awesome!

Tanahashi and O-Khan started this one and they have been cleverly subtle in their interactions thus far on the CASTLE ATTACK. The exchanges have been very well worked, without much revealed. Now some foreshadowing might be taking shape, as O-Khan has been heavily targeting Tanahashi’s leg. O-Khan’s submission stuff is really interesting, alluding to his legitimate background. These are not flamboyantly ambitious holds; O-Khan’s submissions are basic. A head-and-arm choke, a straight knee-bar. For some this might work better on paper than in practice, but some also might be mind-bogglingly refractory at this point. O-Khan carries himself with such noble supremacy that if you showed this to someone unfamiliar, they would have to think he was the unit leader.

Another aspect of the Empire to which I am grateful: they don’t do their signature stuff every night. Cobb manhandling his opponent, bringing them to the brink of a tag, or O-Khan’s thing where he sits in your neck in the corner… both absent from yesterday and in glorious exhibition here.

This is hilarious considering that Aerial Assassin Will Ospreay literally did every single one of his signature moves, to the point where you could overlap the video of two matches and watch them match up, like in baseball when they overlay a pitcher’s delivery for multiple pitches to show how much his stuff breaks from the same arm angle and delivery point, or whatever. The Clayton Kershaw.

It was fun having Tenzan in yesterday to be mercilessly mocked by the Empire liberally using the Mongolian Chop against him, but without question, the matches are better with Kojima in there, and we have to start assessing Satoshi Kojima’s 2021 more seriously. Not on an award level, but as a consistently magnificent run by a 50+ year old man. The KENTA match at WK, transitioned seamlessly into the Tencozy-Empire feud that carried the last tour. Kojima’s incandescent screaming throughout the match actually increased the level of engagement. He is just so completely gotten to over Ospreay’s antics, which is funny because while Will’s underlings are mostly composed, Ospreay is equally gotten to in response, mainly because he is offended that someone is gotten to because of him.

Ospreay is mainly in the back seat to Tanahashi-Khan in this one, so you knew he’s have to find other ways to get noticed. In this case, he did a preposterously outrageous flailing routine under Kojima’s machine gun chops, like a silent film actor miming being electrocuted. Will also took an absurd back-body drop from Tsuji. That was stunningly gorgeous. ***1/4

El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori & Yujiro Takahashi def. BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi & SANADA

Hiromu, worried that someone might be the more annoying one in a program, pulled out quite a few tricks here. First, he came to the ring with a cardboard version of his Junior Heavyweight Championship and presented it to El Phantasmo. That was funny. Then he did a ludicrously embellished version of ELP’s pose, just a maelstrom of spasmodic flesh floundering on the mat. He also did this in his backstage comment the night before. The VOW flagship last week proffered the searing position that Hiromu is overrated as a worker. I’d like to offer a counter-point: he is overrated as a character. The in-ring is fine. His mannerisms sometimes delve into things I sometimes hear in Japanese voice acting where one has to consider how it would be received if it was in English. To be fair, that’s not fair. The entire anime dub industry still fights against unfair stereotypes and knee-jerk criticism, in part because of voice actors trying to replicate the Japanese techniques of the original and sounding ridiculous. Regardless, Hiromu can slip into being a Japanese ELP sometimes when he goes really overboard, without the meta-ness.

SANADA, who allegedly participated in yesterday’s match, certainly made his presence felt here, and I’d be willing to bet many Western viewers wished he hadn’t. He ensnared all three members of the opposition in the Paradise Lock, to which all three was broken by simultaneous dropkicks from LIJ. It took a hefty amount of effort on SANADA’s part to coax the crowd to respond. The triple Paradise Lock break might not be established as a signature unit multi-man action, but I am considering it so, because I am not going to rank the Unit Multi-Man Dopey Group Exercise Spots:

10. BULLET CLUB: The demonstratively elaborate back-raking routine

9. Hontai: When everyone does the Kokeshi

8. CHAOS: The back drumming thing (sans Okada)

7. LIJ: The triple kicks

6. CHAOS: The back-drumming thing (w/ Okada literally air drumming at the end)

5. Hontai: Everyone air guitaring with Tanahashi

4. LIJ: stomping on the opponent like that scene in Kids

3. United Empire: When O-Khan crushes the person’s throat on the turnbuckle and everyone helps

2. CHAOS: The Sushi Zanmai pose (defunct)

1. Suzuki-Gun: Beating the ever-living fuck out of everyone

There was a lifelessness to this. Even the back-raking was jejune and unmotivated. They made up for it with more gimmickry, like SANADA putting on ELP’s new shirt to counter the back-rake. Funny, SANADA ended up putting on and taking off two shirts in this match and yet BUSHI never took off his one. We ended up with the nightmarish scenario of BUSHI and Yujiro squaring off.

They really are doing excellent work with this boot gimmick. For the last few weeks, ELP has been sparingly using it, often times not even drawing attention to it until his adversaries mention it first. Usually trying to rip it off his leg, foot and all. This paid off here; after rarely using it, he used it profusely at the end here, kicking everyone’s abdomen to set up Yujiro’s pinfall. It’s not that we didn’t know it was going to be the primary focus of this program, it’s just that up until this point the boot was mainly psychological. Ishimori and ELP would taunt LIJ for being so preoccupied with it. I’m not sure Night 3 of CASTLE ATTACK was the place to advance this story, but it is indeed a well-conceived story. **1/2

CHAOS (SHO, Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii) def. BULLET CLUB (Gedo, Chase Owens & Jay White)

The crowd was more observant in this one than participatory, and for good reason. Much of this one was perfunctory. An odd amount of the match was spent working over Yano, and not just working him over but working over his leg. This isn’t going to pay off anywhere, so it felt like wasted time. When does Yano truly get the heat like that? It was strange.

As with all of these matches thus far, Ishii and White were the focal point and orders of magnitude more interesting and better worked than the drivel surrounding them. There seems to be an intriguing undercurrent to their interactions, exemplified by the Reversal porn their sequences end up presenting. The story appears to be that these two, despite being consumed with hostility towards each other, know each other so well that it’s strenuously difficult for either to get the upper hand. At one point, they went back and forth trying to fake the other out by entering and departing the ring, until Ishii successfully feinted. It’s that sort of stuff. They might go 15 straight minutes of counters on February 28.

Hey, you know what rules? Ishii’s selling, that’s what. For all the bluster about his overuse of the no-sell, here’s a prime example of how great he is at the real deal, and how the no-sells make his actual, spectacular selling even more special. He ate a German from Jay and sold the fucking thing like he literally folded over his ribcage, as seen below. Later, as seen in the video above, Ishii took a tumble into the exposed buckle. He no-sold it, stormed out of the corner, but then started to sell the back as he obliterated everyone. One obliteration, then the back gives out, some more obliteration, more back selling. It ruled and he should be enshrined in a special vote tomorrow.

They managed to do a bit more creative enterprise than other shows, and it works even without the shabby comparisons. Yano tied the strap, already secured to Owens’ wrist, to the barricade, then goaded Owens to chase him into the ring. Yano ended up just outside of the strap’s reach, to Owen’s furious consternation. Yes, this is impossibly stupid, but it’s fun and desperately needed on cards of rote interactions and fuck finishes. On Road To shows. Fuck finishes on mid-tour Road Tos. I’ll gladly imbibe Yano’s dumb farce.

The gauntlet sequence with everyone running in and hitting stuff on each other, was well placed, probably the best one of the night (and there were several). Ishii planted Gedo for the win, then we returned to the puzzling choking motif of this angle, to White’s shrill dismay. Hey, don’t lose your head. **3/4

Los Ingobernables De Japon (Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi) def. Yuji Nagata & Kota Ibushi

An odd pattern in some of the New Beginning match-ups were pairing that performed better outside of the main event than in it. Unfortunately, this distinction places the participants in this match with Master Wato and BUSHI, but that is the authentic truth: this match, the exact same match, was significantly better today than yesterday.

Some things were the same, such as a lengthy grappling portion between Ibushi and Naito to start things, but today the juxtaposition of the serene matwork of the main eventers and the hard-boiled intensity of the undercarders was vivid. Even compared to yesterday the dichotomy was more pronounced, to the point where it was almost jarring when Nagata first entered the match.

This one was worked much more like a main event than when they were the main event. The action was faster, and the tornado breakdown sections were more pronounced and impactful. German suplexes were in abundance, replete with sensational no-selling between Nagata/Shingo and Naito taking a German from Ibushi with a wholly unnecessary (if predictable) head drop. To his credit, Ibushi took Naito’s kick-off swinging DDT right on the goddamn crown of his head.

Another narrative emerged in this one, hinted at and confirmed by the work of both Naito and Shingo: Ibushi’s knee is going to be focal point in the weeks ahead. Naito and Shingo both took turns steadily tormenting Ibushi’s knee. Funny enough, after two main events in Hiroshi for the New Beginning shows that had zero limbwork, CASTLE ATTACK appear to be heading towards a being a very limbwork-lavish event.

In case all that intemperate kneework was too subtle, Naito injected his particular brand of delicately elusive storytelling by personally icing Ibushi’s knee after the match, attacking Ibushi’s knee after such altruistic preventive maintenance, and then submitting an ELP-esque performance mimicking Ibushi’s knee selling and limping, saturdated with Naito’s irreverent impiousness.

The kids must have been rolling with laughter, but it does highlight a key facet of Naito’s character that separates him from the reflexiveness of Okada/EVIL and Bullet Club: it’s his actions that are exasperating, not just his performance. With EVIL and ELP, the issue is about the armature of their actions. What they are doing is offensive because it violates the fundamental notions of current New Japan. Okada literally cuts promos telling EVIL to stop pissing off the Western fans, for fuck’s sake. Naito is just simply a dickhead heel, enjoying himself whether there is an observer or not (at these Korakuen’s, the latter). ***1/2

BULLET CLUB (Tanga Loa, Tama Tonga & Jado) def. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto)

The main events rotate on this tour. Every odd show on this tour centers on the February 27 EVIL/Okada main event, and the even ones the February 28 Ibushi/Naito main event, just in case you wanted to know which days to skip out early. After somehow botching the near-impregnable New Japan style elimination match on February 14, this group returned with a successful trios match here.

The reason this one was worked was that there were few dead spots. The action moved along at a brisk pace and the languid, aimless lack of momentum exhibited by G.O.D. in previous affairs was absent. Every pairing worked hard and particular note should be given to Goto and Tama Tonga, who once again showed how potent they are in sprints. Because god damn, did they sprint. It probably won’t carry over to a full match, but it was a highlight here.

It’s a compliment to Okada that he took so much of this match when he really did not have to. Formulaic as it is, common sense would dictate that King of Korakuen YOSHI-HASHI absorb the majority of this contest. But there was Okada, mixing it up to substantive amounts with not only EVIL but G.O.D. as well.

I know this is a percolating sentiment, but Tanga Loa is really fucking good right now and I think a singles match with Okada on a random undercard would work. There’s a presence, a self-assured comportment that Tanga has carried since his return that has imbued G.O.D. stuff with more life than they have previous, in spite of the debilitating booking. Tanga is captivating in the sinews of a match; the tautness of the connective tissue in these multi-mans is often Tanga’s assertive rodomontade, his braggadocio.

Thankfully, this one had a sensible finish. Jado tried to assert his officious presence into the match, but he underestimated how much of a Beowulf-esque monarch YOSHI-HASHI is when he is in his domain. YOSHI took out everyone in succession, but Tanga caught him in the end for the pin. It was an exciting, animating finish for two programs that very much need something traditional of that sort. ***1/4


Despite the repetitive booking, this show succeeded by escalating the action and solidifying several key narrative elements to the upcoming Castle Attack shows. A big part of it is centered on limbs, absent from the New Beginning events. Tanahashi’s leg is vulnerable, Ibushi’s knee is vulnerable, and El Phantasmo’s foot is invincible. This fulfilled its function, a substantive step towards ending this bloody siege and taking that bloody castle.