Thanks to http://www.digits.com for their badass righteous free counters
In film class, my professor talked a LOT about postmodernism as a stage of cinematic growth. He talked about how it was only natural that after the dead-serious movies 70s and 80s, coupled with the bursting of the bubble of the American Dream (things like the stock market crashing in '87, the rise in unemployment, the spiking national debt, national epidemics), that the movie world would start to take on the outlook that nothing necessarily had to make sense, and that there was no one truth, and that the world was absurd anyway, so why not live it up? So we got movies like Pulp Fiction and Boogie Nights, movies that used a lot of pop culture references and were incredibly ambiguous in tone...and the critics ate 'em up.
Flash forward to 1999 in Japan. The time is right for a new shape in professional wrestling, since NJPW and AJPW and AJW and MPro and such had all gotten stale and predictable after having their rosters shredded by money troubles and injuries. Naturally, since all forms of entertainment inevitably mirror each other's progress (movies copied postmodernism from art, which copied them from literature, etc. etc. etc.), the big trend in 1999 was to blur the lines between styles, with federations borrowing liberally from everyone else on the planet. The end result was really cool bizarro-wrestling. Ever wondered what would happen if UWFi had a child by Michinoku Pro? BattlArts. What about if MPro and mid-90s AAA met in the Giant Marital Bed of Wrestling? Toryumon.
But I always thought the most interesting example was GAEA, a joshi federation owned and booked by Chigusa Nagayo. Chigusa, back in the '80s, was part of one of the hottest feuds of the decade with Dump Matsumoto; she was half of one of the most important teams in joshi history (the Crush Girls, tagging with Lioness Asuka); she was one of the best, most intense worker in all of joshi... and when GAEA came around, it became very obvious that that wasn't enough. GAEA became possibly the most postmodern fed in all of Japan, mixing equal parts of the joshi myth (where the ultimate aim of the match is to legitimize both yourself and joshi while protecting your femininity) with booking straight out of WCW from '91-'94.
1999 was where it all came to a head. In early '99, the fed started their biggest angle in their history when they had Asuka turning her back on Chigusa and join up with Aja Kong to form the core of the Super Star Unit (SSU). The rest of the year was dedicated to letting the SSU run wild over GAEA, to the extent that Aja was allowed to beat Meiko Satomura (one of the brightest rising stars in GAEA) and Lioness beat Chigusa to win control of the company on the 9/17/99 "Double Destiny" show. It was a GREAT angle, playing off of the history between not only Lioness and Chigusa, but off the way booking was done in joshi and pretty much in general. It was fresh, it was entertaining, and by the way, it had some GREAT matches.
By 2000, GAEA was the equivalent of the year's popular artist that isn't signed to a major label. Tickets to shows were selling really well, the TV show (GAEA G-Panic - still the greatest name for a TV show going) was starting to build up steam, and the SSU vs. Oz Academy angle (Oz Academy being a bunch of people - most notably Akira Hokuto - led by Mayumi Ozaki, a former SSU member who got unceremoniously kicked out) was starting to build off the ashes of GAEA vs. SSU. And there were plenty of good matches in 2000 - Aja Kong vs. Meiko Satomura in May, Mayumi Ozaki vs. KAORU, Aja vs. KAORU, etc.
But 2000 would, in a lot of ways, be the year it all came crashing down for GAEA - after May, it inexplicably started to get less focused by the show. The angles started to fall apart, and the fed started to lose direction. Match quality started to suffer. The fed, in other words, stopped being essential. I was inspired by Brendan's relentless quest to tackle all the WWF PPVs of 1996 to track GAEA's make-or-break year in the same way, so this review marks the first installment of a whole bunch of G-Panic revews, all with the same purpose: to find out when exactly GAEA stopped being GAEA.
That, and to avoid the type of boredom that makes you want to slit your wrists just to see the pretty shade of red.
1. Sugar Sato/Chikayo Nagashima vs. Chigusa Nagayo/Sakura Hirota The match is prefaced by a long, long, LONG retrospective of Hirota's - GAEA's stock comedy character - Many Amusing Personas And Gimmicks And Such. I'll take the task of determining how entertaining this TEN MINUTE SEGMENT was by simply reccomending that you fast forward over every second of it (except for the part where she has enormous golden wings, long enough to tap the heads of people eight deep in the audience, and I'm being as literal as I can be). The point of the whole thing was to establish the fact that Sakura Hirota is a Character, not a Wrestler. It's important to realize that, since it makes up the whole of the story for the match - Chigusa - a Wrestler, not a Character - is GROSSLY unenthused that she has to deal with Ol' Puffyhead, and sort of rolls her eyes at all of Hirota's silliness. Hirota, for her part, is PROUD to be tagging with Chigusa, draping her arm over Chigusa's shoulders and mouthing off at Sato and Nagashima. The end result is like that Simpsons where the kids invade Shelbyville and Martin and Nelson have to team up ("TEAM DISCOVERY CHANNEL!" "*disgruntled sigh*"), but it's a lot less compelling. The match itself isn't any great shakes; it's all spots, some of which are cool (like the one where Chigusa has Nagashima by the hand and Sato gives her [Chigusa] a Dragon Screw Leg Whip, sending both Chigusa and Nagashima flying, or the one where Nagashima Iconoclasms Sato onto Chigusa), some of which are...not. And not surprisingly, the "not" ones are usually the end result of Hirota's comedy, which follows in the grand tradition of joshi comedy wrestlers - ass (as in, she uses hers for a lot of attacks), ass (as in, she hits her opponents in it), and ass (as in, she's got a big lumpy one). Weirdly, though, about 3/4 of the way through Hirota starts trying to hit her big move (a half nelson suplex), which after she hits it (and it gets kicked out of), she abandons entirely and goes back to comedy (setting up a clumsy pink foam table). The saving grace in this match was Chikayo Nagashima, who worked fairly crisply when she was in, and Chigusa, who threw a couple of nice strikes. But really, there wasn't anything anyone would cry themselves to sleep over missing - the comedy wasn't very funny, the wrestling wasn't very essential, the match wasn't anything over *. MOVING RIGHT ALONG.
2. Chigusa Nagayo vs. KAORU THIS should be better. KAORU's the joshi equivalent of Ryuji Yamakawa - cool spots, not afraid to die for garbage wrestling, and likes to work stiff. She's also a member of SSU, joining the group after Ozaki and co. were booted. The problem with KAORU is that she has enormously spotty tendencies unless she's in the right match, and this is not the right match, mostly because it's all of four minutes long, bell-to-bell. Actually, that's a cop-out, since it's not even a GOOD four minutes (see Kakihara vs. Tanaka from the 6/6/01 NJPW PPV for the RIGHT way to do a mega-short match); we get the Evil Spotty KAORU tonight, the one who busts out Orihara moonsaults and table-breaking sentons to the floor as the third and fourth moves of the match. And Chigusa, who admirably takes some wicked unprotected shots to the head with a chunk of broken table and works stiffer than a schoolboy, isn't helping much of anything with her Rock-esque selling. And not surprisingly, the ending's out of nowhere: a Black Tiger bomb by Chigusa for the pin. 1/2*, and a disappointing one at that.
3. Aja Kong/Lioness Asuka (SSU) vs. Mayumi Ozaki/Akira Hokuto (Oz Academy) Well jiminy, this can't suck. With the exception of Hokuto, who's still good, but not at the level she was at in the mid-'90s, everyone in this match is a top-five joshi worker today. And hell, Aja's arguably the greatest joshi worker of all time: she's very conscious of her role as a monster heel and knows precisely how to play off it to make herself AND her opponents look better, all at the same time. But considering how typically rock-solid the face/heel structure is in GAEA, this match starts out weird with Ozaki and Hokuto chucking Lioness out to the floor and double-teaming Aja, which, considering that that's a heel strategy and the Oz Academy gals are supposed to be the faces, made me scratch my head for a second. But then I remembered that it makes sense when you consider that Ozaki and Hokuto used to be heels themselves, so it makes sense that they'd know how effective the divide-and-conquer strategy is. They double-team Aja for like six or seven minutes solid, powerbombing her off the top, having other Oz Academy peeps run in and get their licks in, and so on. The match only becomes competitive when Lioness (with the help of KAORU, who blows a springboard something ludicrously badly) is able to counteract the faces' double- and triple-teams. But hey, once it gets to there, the rest of the match is cake; Ozaki and Hokuto basically can't match up effectively against the raw power of Aja or the ring experience of Lioness, so they have to switch gears REALLY quick (after taking a pretty big beating) and start working toward a goal: first, they take Lioness out of comission via a few quick reversals (notably the reversal of the irish whip into the corner), then start targeting Aja, simultaneously wearing her down so that any offense they CAN get in will be that much more devastating and doing their best to counteract Aja's uraken finisher (a spinning backfist - stick your fist out in front of your face, then spin in a circle REALLY fast). The cool thing is that they go about it in some really unique ways - Ozaki works the uraken arm by sitting on Aja's shoulder and pulling up on her (Aja's) arm, then works towards her big suplex (a half-nelson chickenwing suplex that looks as brutal as it sounds) by working the back of Aja's head with enzuigiris and such, which makes ROCK SOLID SENSE because that's where the move makes its impact. But in a match like this, where you've got to keep reminding the audience that the SSU Is A Heel Group, it makes sense that heel interference would turn the tide, which it does: Ozaki's going for the aforementioned suplex again, but KAORU nails her with a springboard dropkick, which gives Aja enough room to nail a WILTING uraken for the win. I liked this match a lot more in retrospect; when I was watching it, I thought the face/heel structure and the interference and the relative absence of Lioness and Hokuto took away from the match's structure. Watching it now, and realizing that the face/heel structure was a little askew due to Ozaki's and Hokuto's history, and the fact that KAORU's interference turned the tide, but didn't end the match, and the fact that Aja/Ozaki was the money match that they were building to, I liked it a lot more. I'd call the match **3/4; regardless of its depth, it seemed perfunctory to the point where the match was "almost good" instead of "good". But hey, "almost good" is still worlds better than Tarzan Goto vs. Yoji Anjo.
4. Mayumi Ozaki/Chikayo Nagashima vs. Chigusa Nagayo/Saiki Takeuchi The way to easily tell who the rookies are in joshi is to look at what they're wearing. If it looks like it was ripped off of a five-year-old at the kiddie pool, that's the rookie. In this case, the youth-ripped-swimsuit wearer is Ms. Takeuchi, whose most notable role in the match is to take a hellish beating and work like a rookie wrestler should. The match itself is nothing deep or anything; it's what I like to call a "roleplaying" match: two or so of the participants just play their role, and everyone else reacts accordingly. In this case, Saiki plays the role of the straight-outta-the-dojo rookie role, Chigusa plays the Dangerous Veteran role, only getting in the ring when the rookie's taking too bad of a beating (and make no mistake - Saiki gets her face kicked quite a few times), and Ozaki and Nagashima are pretty much just there. And yes, it's better than, say, Big Bossman/Billy Gunn vs. Buff Bagwell/Mark Jindrak would be, but that doesn't mean it's compelling or anything. Here's a pretty representative description of the match:
"GAAAAAH!" (flails arms)
Yep, that's what it's like. Wash, rinse, repeat. It's also not helped too much by Chigusa's selling - or should I say, lack of selling, since she takes some serious offense but it doesn't seem to affect her for very long.
To be fair, there are some pretty cool moments in the match - Chigusa hits her spinning powerbomb finisher (the move with the greatest name in the universe - the SUPERFREAK!!!!), and Nagashima, who I am starting to want to see more of, sure does hit a HELLISH German suplex on Saiki, but overall this is nothing you'd ever regret fast forwarding over. Call it 3/4* and let's see what else is on the tape.
5. Mayumi Ozaki/Akira Hokuto (Oz Academy) vs. Lioness Asuka/KAORU (SSU) This is joined in progress, about ten minutes in by the looks of the heated, intense, FAST action going on. It's another match that makes use of the Oz Academy reps using double-team moves (with the coolest when Ozaki crushed Lioness' face against Hokuto's feet), but it makes a little more sense here since everyone from both teams - including those not actually in the match - isn't afraid to run in with reckless abandon. Lioness is feeling it here, hitting her moves crisply and taking the bumps and strikes without a care in the world, but the focus of the match seems to be Ozaki vs. KAORU. In one way, this is good, since Ozaki's working even better than Lioness, but in another way, it gives KAORU that many more chances to blow spots and lose her sense of timing. But, y'know, for every time she hesitates a second longer than she should on a springboard dropkick to save her partner or such, she takes a WICKED move like the Kobashi corner powerbomb (!) or a stupidly great Hokuto backdrop suplex that nearly reaches Driveresque proportions, or the double diving koppo kick that she eats. And hey, I'll admit it looks pretty cool when she does the senton on the table to Ozaki, and the table doesn't break (and BOY, must it have sucked to be Ozaki). And it's even cooler when she nails the piledriver a second later and yep, there goes the table. In reality, it's a hard match to judge; I'd guess that there's a good chance that if the match built to the last six or seven minutes shown, which were really heated and had some cool spots which may well have had a context, it could have broken ***. As it was, I didn't see anything that was over ** - entertaining yet sloppy enough to be average.
And yep, that's the end of the show.
Is It Worth It? No, not really. There's some fairly good wrestling on this show, especially the Aja tag, but nothing that should be making you grab your genitals and moan. I will say this, though: even with the Hirota "hilarity" and the pedestrian Chigusa matches, this show wasn't boring. Be it build or good character work or whatever, I wasn't ever disgusted with what I was watching, although I was able to recognize that for the most part, it wasn't great or classic or anything.
Next time: the 2/00 show, which I watched about nine months ago, and all I'll say is that I'll be a whole shitload sunnier for that one.
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