ChocoPro might not have been around long, but it can already lay claim to a success story or two. Both Yunamon and Mitsuru have benefited from long arcs that have seen them grapple with who they are as a wrestler (while season three has hinted at a similar role for Mei). Meanwhile, Emi ‘Oni’ Sakura stirs the pot, looking on as the likes of Lulu Pencil grow in confidence, finding themselves in the ring. Nearly everyone involved has had something for fans to grasp hold of, and yet, ChocoPro’s greatest success story is none of that. Instead, it’s been the growth of one Tokiko Kirihara, known to fans as Otoki.
Part of the reason I rank Otoki’s progression that highly is that I knew all the others I mentioned were great before ChocoPro was ever a thing. Otoki, meanwhile, had never really caught my eye. I’ve seen her wrestle in the flesh, and she certainly wasn’t bad, but the thing that stood out was always her story of someone in their mid-forties becoming a wrestler. While that was perhaps a failing on my part (it certainly wouldn’t be the first time), she felt like a cog in the wheel, not someone I ever saw become essential.
Until the last few months, a period in which my opinion has changed drastically. ChocoPro has given Otoki the chance to shine. Facing-off regularly with the likes of Emi and Akki has seen her confidence grow. She’s no-longer a curiosity, but the fucking badass who decided to become a wrestler long after most have accepted that dream is dead. We’ve got to see the fierce and funny sides of her as she’s unveiled the ridiculously cool person who has apparently done it all. Otoki has morphed from two dimensions into three, being embraced by fans in the process.
It’s a transformation that has been mirrored in the ring. The moment it clicked for me was the first in her series of matches with Akki. Suddenly she was out there working a technical, deliberate bout, focused on kicks and submissions. Akki was happy to step into that world with her, and with a background in judo and MMA, Otoki thrived. It lit a fire under her, as from that point forward, it’s felt like every match has had the potential to be her best yet.
Alongside that has come a burst of in-ring personality. Otoki has embraced her role as the elder rookie, incorporating her Showa Twist and Comaneci gesture (one that the rest of the roster takes a lot of joy out of copying). We even saw her anger bubble to the surface, a series of rapid defeats by roll-up unleashing a tendency to throw people out the window and a very aggressive janken style. The wrestler who barely captured my attention had blossomed out into one of the roster’s most entertaining members.
She’s been rewarded for it too. Recent ChocoPro shows have given her a chance to main event with Mei Suruga and face-off with Hagane Shinno, a wrestler Emi clearly has a lot of respect for. On both occasions, Otoki has proven more than worthy of stepping up to the challenge. Her ‘mother and daughter’ battle with Mei (she’s the same age as Mei’s mum) was brilliantly good fun while the match with Shinno saw her once again stray towards something approaching shoot style, the two trading vicious kicks. It wasn’t a case of them dragging her to their level either, Otoki was showing she could hold her own.
Who knows where this ends. Kirihara is forty-five and judging by her past she could be off riding sharks in the Sahara five years from now (she’d find a way). Whatever comes to pass, watching her grow over the last few months has been incredible. She’s gone from someone who settled into the background to a person who commands your attention. ChocoPro’s legacy is already large, but unleashing that on the world will go down as one of its finest achievements.
Thanks to their No Pay Wall initiative, all Gatoh Move and ChocoPro content is available for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2HtPsU4U7TNSv2mSbPkj0w