NJPW Fantastica Mania (16/1/18) Review

Credit: Volador seems to be turning into Brian Cage.

Fantastica Mania has been slowly making its way around Japan delivering its unique blend of lucha and puroresu. As usual, most people are ignoring this weirdly wonderful NJPW/CMLL tour, but not I! I’m the weirdo using my time to review it. Come with me and embrace the fun.

The Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori and Gedo) and Forestero defeated KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi and Titan

We’ve got to appreciate matches like this more than we used to. It’s not going to be long until KUSHIDA is in WWE having commentators point out how small he is in comparison to his opponents.

This was a heat gaining mission for the Bullet Club. Ishimori and Gedo were not so much bending the rules, as snapping them before hiding them in their little brother’s room, so he’d get the blame. It was a tactic Forestero was happy to join in on.

The only other thing to note was the continued build towards Taguchi vs Ishimori. In among his bouts of Tutankhamen silliness, Taguchi got serious with Ishimori, even managing to get the Ankle Lock on a couple of times.

Eventually, things broke down leaving the luchadores in the ring. After a quick sequence, Forestero would lock on an Armbar and, for the second taped show in a row, get the submission victory over Titan.

After the bell, Gedo and Ishimori continued to attack KUSHIDA and Taguchi before celebrating in the ring. This was a decent opener without anything of note happening. At least we’re building to serious Taguchi facing off with Ishimori.

Verdict: Two And A Half Stars

Raijin and Fujin defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi and BUSHI)

This was a non-title match-up, although you’ve got to assume that the victory for Raijin and Fujin has earned the luchadores an invite back to Japan for a shot at the belts.

After an early face-off between Shingo and Raijin, LIJ built their attack around isolating Fujin. The two luchadores have a bit of a SHO and YOH dynamic, with Raijin as the powerhouse while Fujin is more of a high flyer. That’s where the similarities end, though… Kayfabe, brother.

Anyway, the highlights were all generated by that battle between Raijin and Shingo. Those two have all the chemistry and watching them lay into each other is shitloads of fun. If they were both six foot something, New Japan would already have them main eventing shows together.

In the end, Fujin and BUSHI were left to go at it, with Fujin coming out on top with La Casita. No-one was busting a gut, but with a bit more time and a bigger stage, these two teams could do something great.

Verdict: Three Stars

Angel de Oro, Soberano Jr and Audaz defeated Namajague, Barbaro Cavernario and OKUMURA

I’ve made this point at previous Fantastica Manias, but the music New Japan uses to dub the luchadores’ themes is awful. Makes the crap wXw use sound good.

It’s always fun when the unmasked CMLL stars come down with their masks on before removing them a bit into the action. We need to build towards seeing Angel de Oro’s face. To be fair, he is quite handsome.

With six of the practitioners of the art in the ring, this was a lucha heavy contest. That meant we got some lovely flips from the tecnicos and a lot of bastardry from the rudos. To the extent that they couldn’t get along with each other, as OKUMURA fell out with the other two over who was in charge. They seemed to make up quickly, though.

When the tide turned, we got all sorts of fun. Soberano has looked better on these two Fantastica Mania shows than he did throughout the entirety of the Junior Tag League as he suddenly appears comfortable in a New Japan ring. His interactions with Cavernario were particularly impressive. Angel de Oro and Audaz weren’t far behind him either, as their high-flying got the fans on side.

The finish saw Cavernario respond to a kick by doing the worm because why not. Soberano would then drape OKUMURA across the second rope before hitting a Moonsault for the three. Lovely stuff.

Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito and El Terrible) defeated Satoshi Kojima and Toa Henare

I’d forgotten that it was during his match with Rush last year that Kojima was injured. That’s why he’s been slotted into a program with Terrible, as he looks to take gain his revenge against a fellow Ingobernable.

He wasn’t the only one with a bee in his bonnet. Toa Henare wanted a piece of Naito, as he seemed determined to throw himself at the Intercontinental champion. It worked for a while, but in the long-run, it might have been proven a mistake. Poor Henare got tossed into the fourth row. Not that it stopped him, he’s a determined chap.

Koji and Terrible, meanwhile, were beating the snot out of each other. I think it’s fair to describe their interactions as physical, and I am very intrigued to see what a match between the two looks like. There’s a decent chance it descends into ten minutes of them punching each other in the face.

And you all know how it ended. Toa Henare did what Toa Henare always does and took the fall. I imagine his goal in 2019 is to get to the point where you don’t instantly know he’s losing in 95% of his matches. Still, the journey was a fun one as Henare went down fighting, giving LIJ everything he had in the process. He can be proud of that at least.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask and Caristico defeated Ultimo Guerrero, Gran Guerrero and Templarino

This started slow. No-one seemed in a hurry to get going as the legends were having fun playing to the crowd. It was only when Caristico stole Ultimo’s mask a few minutes in that things picked up.

What followed was a lot of fun with Team Guerrero pulling out some intriguing three-way moves. At one point the Guerreros were holding Liger up while Templarino posed on his back.

It’s also worth pointing out how good Ultimo Guerrero still is. His work with Caristico was particularly impressive as he knows exactly where to be and when. He might not get around the ring like the younger wrestlers, but he’s still got it.

In the end, Caristico caught Templarino in La Mistica for the submission victory. While the ending was a bit sudden, the match was still enjoyable.

Verdict: Three Stars

Sanson and Cuatrero defeated Atlantis and Atlantis Jr in the first round of the Family Tag Tournament 2019

Cuatrero and Sanson have very similar gear, so I’m going to get them muddled up. Please forgive me.

The Family Tag Tournament was established at last year’s Fantastica Mania and returns in 2019. It seems to have been introduced to make up for the fact that a lot of NJPW’s big names no longer work the tour, so it gives the luchadores something to do that’s a bit different to what they’d be doing in Mexico.

This was a very basic match that felt like it was built around chances for young Atlantis Jr to show off what he can do. He hit a couple of dives and looked solid between the ropes, if not particularly exciting. He’s early in his career, so that’s okay, the kid certainly looks like he has potential.

Not that it stopped him taking the fall. He made the mistake of following Sanson to the top rope and ended up coming down in the worst possible way. A Sanson Special was enough to see of the rookie and send Sanson and Cuatrero to the next round.

Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars

Mistico and Dragon Lee defeated Volador Jr and Flyer in the first round of the Family Tag Tournament 2019

This might be the first match of the tour that I got excited for. In my head, these four just needed to go out and fly around the ring for ten minutes and it would get the thumbs up from me.

Which, to a certain extent, they did. Except, it turned out I might have needed a bit more than that. There was some wonderfully smooth wrestling going on during this match, with men floating around, transitioning from incredible move to incredible move. Yet, for large portions of it, it didn’t feel like there was anything more than that. There was an intensity missing from proceedings, which made it hard for me to buy into what was happening.

Dragon Lee and Volador did eventually find it, and it was, ironically, when they moved away from flying and started hitting each other. That seemed to spur the other two into life as well. Suddenly, bodies were flying everywhere as we hit a chaotic final act (so chaotic that Flyer lost his way a bit). When the dust settled, Dragon Lee was victorious. A Desnucadora to Flyer proving enough to get the three.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this, I just didn’t love it like I hoped I would. The first half of the match failed to capture my imagination, and while they went some way towards making up for that in the second, the damage was already done. It was good, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it could have been better.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Overall Show

Another solid show that is missable for NJPW fans. The only part that played into the future of New Japan was Ishimori and Taguchi’s interactions which were minimal at best. If you’re looking for some light, fluffy wrestling to watch, it will fill that hole.

Watch Fantastica Mania: https://njpwworld.com/

If you enjoyed this review, please consider contributing to my Ko-fi, even the smallest amount is appreciated.


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