Weakness isn’t something you often find in professional wrestling. When you think of its icons, American superstars like Stone Cold or Japanese aces like Mitsuharu Misawa, everything about them screams strength. In a world defined by macho posturing, to be weak, and even worse to show that weakness, is not only not done, but actively discouraged. You need only go onto certain Twitter accounts to see what old-school wrestling types think of anything that might make a performer not look like a hard bastard.
The Pencil Army are weak, though. Lulu Pencil’s wrestling persona is built around the idea of everything being hard while Emi Pencil was born out of Emi Sakura’s bad back, her need to take it a bit easy forcing her to don a pair of dungarees and become obsessed with stationery. The biggest jobber tag teams of all time are presented as being more dangerous than The Pencil Army because not one of those pairings would ever dare to step away from strength the way Emi and Lulu have.
In contrast, Chris Brookes and Yunamon are strong. In fact, it was a match with Yunamon that left Emi Sakura’s back in the condition that forced her to team with Lulu for the first time. Meanwhile, Brookes swaggers into ChocoPro as the epitome of strength, towering over everyone around him and mocking those he beats. It was that power which led to him taking Lulu Pencil’s hat, sending her spiralling into a crisis of identity as she tried to figure out how to be like him and learning the hard way that it’s not that easy (more on that here).
But it’s the Pencil Army’s weakness that makes this I Quit match brilliant. Brookes and Yunamon dominate them, essentially torturing Lulu as they shine light in her eyes and snap family members in front of her. The only time Lulu and Emi manage to get an opening is when they work together, or when Emi snaps and that little bit of Sakura rises to the surface. Ultimately, though, they’re fighting a losing battle, two tiny pups throwing themselves at a couple of bears.
And yet, that weakness doesn’t turn you away, but in fact, does the exact opposite. You live and die on everything The Pencil Army does, screaming them on as they attempt to kindle the hope that they can do it. When Lulu slaps away her hat, rising to her feet to throw elbows at Chris Brookes while Akki yells at her to keep fighting you know it’s not going to be enough, but you want to believe it can be. You need it to be possible that on this day she can win.
It’s what makes the finish perfect because while Lulu doesn’t win, she doesn’t lose either. In the final seconds, as Brookes ties her up in knots, she refuses to say I quit, even as her body taps out. She’s screaming in agony, clearly unable to withstand it, but also unable to say the words because she’s so desperate to be strong. Instead, it’s left to Emi Pencil to make the call, quitting for the two of them and saving Lulu by accepting they can’t do it.
So yea, The Pencil Army aren’t powerful in the way that wrestling generally measures it. They’re not going to win many matches or gather up a bunch of titles, but they’ve taken their weakness and turned that into a different kind of strength. The kind of strength that inspires someone like me a million times more than an oiled up behemoth flexing their muscles ever will. The strength of two people standing beside each other and giving everything they can, even when they know it’s not enough.
In the aftermath, Lulu got her hat back, Brookes returning it without a word. That moment meant more than a million big victories and a thousand title wins. In defeat, Lulu Pencil proved that weakness is its own power and that there is no reason it can’t have a place in wrestling. It makes this not just my match of the year, but one of my favourite matches of all time.
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