Tiger Mask W (2016)
When a wrestler named Daisuke Fujii is viciously attacked during a match by a masked wrestler called Yellow Devil- an attack that leaves Daisuke disabled- two young men resolve to avenge him. One, Daisuke's son Takuma, infiltrates Tiger's Den, Yellow Devil's organization, to attack from the inside; the other, a protégé of Daisuke named Naoto Azuma, dons a mask himself to become Tiger Mask, with the intention of eventually meeting Yellow Devil in the ring.
My dad had a ritual of watching pro wrestling on Saturday nights when I was a kid. He knew full well that pro wrestling was, to some degree at least, staged; it was widely recognized, years before it was finally officially admitted by the industry, that pro wrestling (unlike college or Olympic wrestling) was rehearsed. I believe the industry finally used the excuse that this was just for the safety of the "performers" (Note: NOT "athletes"), but everyone knew it went far beyond that- for example, there were the "heel wrestlers", bad guys who broke the rules, but who always seemed to get defeated after a certain number of bouts, usually by some particularly popular wrestler. (This sort of pretense has never really gone away- it thrives in modern "reality TV". As a small example, I've seen pictures of those Duck Dynasty guys where they look VERY different from the "mountain man" appearance they have in (really, FOR) the show.)
Tiger Mask W is what you get when you take pro wrestling's conventions and clichés, portray it all as utterly real- in fact, exaggerate it into the surreal- AND throw in some masked wrestling to boot. (I don't know if Mexico actually INVENTED masked wrestling, but it certainly made a cult of it. Tiger Mask W pays homage to the Mexico connection at one point, by the way.)
Here's just a small example of this show's exaggeration: anyone who's watched pro wrestling has seen someone climb up on the ropes a bit to do a body drop on an opponent. In Tiger Mask W, these guys somehow manage to actually get airborne (and remember, we're talking wrestlers weighing 100 kilos and up), coming down in what look like Olympic dives (complete with midair somersaults!) before crashing down on opponents. Not since Kaleido Star have I seen such violations of the laws of LITERAL falling bodies. Here masked wrestlers mix it up with wrestlers without masks, and ABOUT those masks, it seems to me that ones like the Tigers wear (there are several of these; more about this later) would just about destroy the wrestler's peripheral vision, which is something useful to have in close-quarters combat. You have to throw away any allegiance to reality to really enjoy this show, but if you enjoy "real" pro wrestling maybe you've already got the suspension-of-disbelief skill, and with only slightly more effort you can enjoy this show all the way to the end- as I did.
Anyway: in our story, the Tiger's Den wrestlers are once more returning to the ring, under the aegis of an organization whose name is its own aspiration: Global Wrestling Monopoly (GWM). Since Tiger's Den only seems to produce "heel wrestlers", I suppose GWM would have to invent Tiger Mask if he didn't already exist, because who wants to watch only heels? Well, to be honest, there ARE some other "good guy" wrestlers, homeboys in fact, members of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Tiger Mask's relationship with NJPW varies quite a bit over the course of the show.
The whole Tiger's Den backstory has the cheesy feel of a cheap 1970's action picture. Tiger's Den itself seems to be located in a remote wasteland, and is only accessible from land by climbing a sheer cliff- which is actually the "entrance exam" for prospective members. Tiger's Den wrestlers who lose their fights in the "outer world" are returned here, to participate in more brutal matches arranged for the private viewing of decadent rich spectators. The place is managed by one "Mister X", who has a monocle and, inexplicably, a blue complexion- I wondered if he might be a distant relative of Admiral Thrawn in the Star Wars Extended Universe, but even MORE inexplicably, he has a niece with a normal complexion (I won't spoil the surprise by saying who she is.) Tiger's Den is most visibly represented in the Outside World (or at least Japan) by "Miss X", a buxom blonde who sometimes wears halter tops (for obvious reasons), but most often wears an outfit that looks like a cross between that of a stewardess, and a Nazi SS uniform. (She has a whip, too, to complete the ensemble. Like I said, you have to be of a certain frame of mind to enjoy this show.) Still, she isn't COMPLETELY evil, and she'll be humanized quite a bit by the end of the show. There's also a redhaired woman, only known as Lady, whose job seems to be to keep track of their market share. (Even evil, it seems, is constrained by audience ratings.)
Let's turn to the more important and/or interesting cast members. Naoto is our typical action picture hero: handsome, good-natured, but not overly clever. (He tries to take one shortcut to his goal, which doesn't go well.) He's now training under the supervision of a man named Takaoka, who was the original Yellow Devil (NOT the one Daisuke faced; remember, this is a sequel series, and someone in a mask can actually be almost ANYBODY, which becomes an important plot point in the show.) Takaoka must have made a killing on the wrestling circuit too, because, while he just runs a small motorcycle repair shop, he has a high-tech practice gym- complete with robot opponents- that looks like only Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark could have bankrolled it, and where Naoto currently trains. Takaoka's niece is named Haruna, and she basically appoints herself Naoto's manager (and of course is secretly in love with him.) Haruna has that kind of kid sister/girl-next-door appearance (to contrast her with Miss X's sexpot vibe I suppose), but I never really warmed to Haruna. I'm not sure why. She has ambition, but she didn't strike me as all that clever- in fact she seems pretty naïve, which is NOT what you want in a manager. Nor did I believe her turn as a wrestler. (Yes, there's women's wrestling in the show too.) We do see her working the weights, which is fine, but since she has to do this on the sly- her uncle would object- who would she practice the holds with???
My favorite character in the show is one that Haruna nearly constantly feuds with. He's called Fukuwara Mask, wears a mask and costume that look like a collaboration between Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and is a "clown wrestler"- he acts like a clown in the ring, but can also wrestle seriously after his antics have thrown an opponent off-balance. I think that maybe Haruna dislikes him because, while they're both "entrepreneurs", he's a bit better at it. There's a delicious moment in the show where she's on the phone with him and suddenly realizes that she's just told him something that he can use to blackmail her. There's also this absolutely perfect moment when Fukuwara Mask walks up to the commentator's table, dons a headset, and starts commenting on the match too. This is JUST the sort of random weirdness that you find in real pro wrestling, and I'm absolutely sure that this HAS happened in real life.
Takuma, Daisuke's son, of course joins Tiger's Den, and becomes Tiger the Dark, with a mask that's the same as Tiger Mask's but red instead of yellow. (Tiger's Den has several others in similar masks. "I'm getting confused with all the tigers!", Haruna says, the only time I think I agreed with her.) Eventually Takuma (as Tiger the Dark) will cross paths with his old friend Naoto (as Tiger Mask), neither of them at first knowing the true identity of the other.
The New Japan Pro Wrestling group includes its manager Yuji Nagata (who is also a wrestler himself), and several others; the one who caught my attention for his utter haplessness is named Ryu, who never seems to get anywhere either in the ring or with Haruna (who he has an absolutely hopeless crush on.)
Personally, of the handful of women in the show, my favorite is Ruriko, a nurse who was assisting Daisuke; she works for GWM for a time as well. She's sweeter, more mature, AND more attractive than Haruna- and, as it turns out, also wealthy- and I personally would have preferred that Naoto end up with her, but more I can't say.
I won't say the show is full of surprises, but it can pull them off from time to time- the fate of one of the "heel wrestlers", a guy called Odin (who kind of looks like Gene Simmons did in the KISS days, without the makeup), was certainly surprising, simply because it's satisfying and yet completely different from what the audience might have been wishing for this guy.
The animation- hell, the whole show- is very Old School, in Toei's best manner, complete with a catchy opening theme. (I figured the joke would probably flat if I called it a catchy "fight song", so I won't.) The final battle that you've been waiting for DOES occur in Episode 37, and it's just as ferocious as it should be. In the last episode, GWM changes management and with that adopts an entirely new direction, and while some might wonder how the mighty have fallen, I thought it was a change for the more fun.
This show is utterly goofy, has a very simplistic heroes-and-villains scenario, and is mildly addictive- in short, it has ALL the essential components of the "sport" it portrays, just exaggerated. It's like watching a more surreal version of what I used to watch with Dad. I'm good with that. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Nagata has an experience that's more lewd than erotic, otherwise nothing sexual (except for Miss X, who's one of those Walking Fanservice characters.) You occasionally see blood, and I guess bones are broken, though the show's coy about SAYING so; some of the wrestlers are beaten into unconsciousness. Older teens OK.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (38/38)
Tiger Mask W (2016) © 2016 Toei Animation
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