Thank You, ChocoPro

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the world is a bit of a shit show at the moment. As if the global pandemic isn’t enough, we still find ourselves having to fight battles against racism and sexual abuse. It’s a situation that has taken a chunk out of everyone, with those who have only suffered excessive bleeding feeling like the lucky ones. However your last few months have looked, it’s probably safe to say you’re not going to forget them any time soon.

In among all that, though, there has been some good. You’re seeing people find a way to navigate this shit. Whether that’s quiz nights on Zoom, reading unholy amounts of books or taking up gardening, it feels like we’re finding out safety nets, the things we fall back on as the world burns. For me? That safety net is the same as it’s always been, wrestling. To be more specific, though, it’s become ChocoPro, the wee side-project Emi Sakura has been running out of Ichigaya Chocolate Square while the world collapses.

I’ve never really felt like part of the wrestling community. Yea, I write about it, excessively, but I don’t have any friends that I’ve made through wrestling. That’s not necessarily a complaint, I’ve sat and chatted to people at shows and when I went to Japan I had countless conversations, but nothing has ever stuck. A short period of following ICW aside, I’ve never fallen for British wrestling’s charms and, well, after revent events, I can’t see that changing any time soon. So, in turn, I never slotted in anywhere.

Until ChocoPro, that is. Because what ChocoPro have done over the last few months is create a community. It’s a community based not just around the shows, but around their now daily streams that cover everything from Emi Sakura teaching Mei Suruga to cook curry to Baliyan Akki teaching Mei Suruga how to speak English. Actually, now I think about it, poor Mei is often being taught something.

Jokes aside, these have become appointment viewing for me. I recently told someone who wanted to know if I could tutor at noon that it wasn’t possible because 12 o’clock is ChocoPro time. Every day, no matter my mood or what I have to do, that stream will be on, the chat running away in the corner, bursting at the brim with its various running jokes. It is a safe place, a spot where everyone seems to be looking out for each other and delighting in sharing in this silly, fun world that has been created.

Once you’ve got all of that, the wrestling kind of feels like an added bonus, but it more than lives up to it. Emi Sakura is a genius, that’s never been in doubt, but ChocoPro might be her best work yet. She’s harnessed YouTube in a way that no wrestling promotion before has, booking matches through interactions in the chat and bringing in wrestlers who are comfortable working to a camera rather than a crowd. Every new arrival brings the question of whether they’ll fit and so far, be it Kaori Yoneyama or Yasu Urano, the answer has been a resounding yes.

It also, once again, proves that what Sakura does best is create a world that feels like a family. I’ve screamed from the rooftops many a time that Gatoh Move is the real punk rock wrestling, but ChocoPro might have eclipsed even that. It’s undoubtedly the most DIY option out there, as wrestlers cover every job from camera-person to referee. On ChocoPro 26, the start of the main event was sound-tracked by Lulu Pencil’s heavy breathing as she caught her breath from her match against Mitsuru Konno. Meanwhile, Emi Sakura’s lax approach to refereeing has become almost iconic, as she occasionally wanders off to film some stuff on her phone, her need to plug the show on social media outweighing following the action. It retains that feel of a group of friends scraping something together, and I love that.

I can’t imagine what these last few months would have been like without ChocoPro. Alongside the general world issues, I’ve had some health shit that strapped a rocket to my anxiety (I’m fine), and there have been days where I’ve struggled to get out of bed. The thing that has always worked, though, is ChocoPro. It’s given me something to centre myself around and to fall in love with. Whether it was a day of doctor’s appointments or coping with grief, they were there. Emi, Mei, Akki and the rest, plugging away and making it that little bit easier. It’s something I’ll never forget and for which I will always owe them my thanks.

Thanks to their No Pay Wall initiative, all ChocoPro’s content is available for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube:

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

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