Tiger Mask W

Title:Tiger Mask W
Keywords: , , , , ,
Notables: Animation - Toei
UMEHARA Yuichiro
Takuma Fujii's father, a professional wrestler, was mercilessly beaten and gravely injured in a match with an opponent known as 'Yellow Devil'. He and his friend, Naoto Azuma, vow that they too will become wrestlers and will find and punish Yellow Devil, whatever the cost may be.

37 episodes
OverallArtAnimationCharacter Design MusicSeries StoryEpisode StoryReviewer
Rent Stretch [series:3281#628]
(All episodes watched):

I almost didn't watch this show at all, once I found it to be about professional wrestling. But on a whim I did, and was surprised at what a fun time I had. This show is totally over-the-top; things like near-naked but highly muscular men being expected to climb a near-vertical mountain with their bare hands while a snowstorm rages. A totally ridiculous yet highly engaging tale of corruption within the wrestling industry and the struggle of a handful of honest athletes to overturn it emerges. I had a grin on my face the whole time, even though this isn't really a comedy. I wasn't laughing at it, because it was very fun. The plot (and animation) is simple but effective. I guess it just does everything that a good story needs to do, without messing around. It pushes all the right buttons. It looks like this is a sequel to number of anime that have already been released, and I don't know if I want to get entangled with those, but Tiger Mask W is a remarkably enjoyable show, even for adults. The effect it has is hard to put into words; it just makes producing a good anime seem easy.

Episode three clarifies a number of things (which I appreciate), like why Takuma and Naoto are taking different routes to find Yellow Devil and gain their revenge. Takuma ('Tiger the Dark') embraces the sleazy monopoly that produced Yellow Devil, and seeks to rise through its ranks in order to get a match with him, while Naoto ('Tiger Mask') will have nothing to do with it and attempts a more difficult but respectable route. Perhaps Takuma's hatred has gotten the better of him. Again, a simple yet effective plot. This show knows how to play our emotions; various evil opponents come along, and employ dirty tricks and are needlessly cruel, which makes us hate their guts. Then, when Tiger Mask gives them what they deserve, we are thrilled and a wave of catharsis flows over us. One slight problem is that it's hard to believe that, even in professional wrestling, referees would ignore their blatant cheating--like where one of them viciously attacks Tiger Mask by surprise before the bell that signals the beginning of the match has even been rung. I worried that it might become so outlandish that we wouldn't be able to suspend disbelief anymore and everything would fall apart, but fortunately that didn't happen.

The matches get a little repetitive as the story moves forward, and the animation isn't really sophisticated enough to capture exactly how two wrestlers grab each other and one gains an advantage over the other. Sometimes one would just 'warp' to a different position than he had held before, without an explanation. I hoped this would only be a one-season show because I wasn't sure if it had enough originality to remain interesting for two. But as the 12 or 13 episode mark approached, I wondered if a single match with Yellow Devil could solve the problem, even if Tiger Mask won. Surely Tiger the Dark would fight him at least once, wouldn't he? The standard plotline would be that they somehow discover that they are in fact old friends with the same ultimate goal, and cooperate to defeat Yellow Devil. How will that happen if one of them has lost a match and is out of the running? Maybe the climactic fight wouldn't take place in a wrestling ring. It wasn't really feeling like a climax was approaching, and time was running out.

Still, I had assumed that Tiger Mask W was a one-season show, since a climax seemed to be rapidly approaching. Naoto/Tiger Mask had won the right to take on Yellow Devil in a high prestige match before thousands of spectators, and a furious battle began between them. Then, in what must be acknowledged as a thrilling and clever turnaround, the carpet is yanked out from underneath us and we realize that the saga is in fact far from complete. The episode title, 'False Victory', might have given a hint that something like this was coming (so would the fact that Takuma played a relatively small part). That was neat--the rearrangement of everything was simple but effective. I was taken completely by surprise, but it was perfectly plausible--that's probably why it impressed me so much. One thing I still don't get: if the goal of beating Yellow Devil is to avenge the injury that Takuma's father suffered, would just defeating him in a formal match, played by the rules, really do that? Would him coming in second rather than first, and losing the $100K prize, be anywhere near injurious enough to count as revenge? Anyway, I remain curious about how this will end, and will keep watching. This is a show which is simple but not simplistic; it does just enough to tell an interesting story, and that's good enough.

The series goes off on a tangent in the second half with several episodes which have little or nothing to do with Naota and Takuma's quest to defeat Yellow Devil. In one episode the show takes a break from the ongoing plot and goes on a ridiculous romp through a subplot about what might happen if Naota was recruited to perform as a wrestler in Mexico. The episode comes close to giving the impression that the Japanese think of Mexicans as rather dimwitted people. The mix of bad taste and absurdist comedy made me smirk. In another episode a wrestler's craving for sweets is an episode long joke. These are mildly amusing, but not really funny enough to stand on their own legs without the longterm plot. Perhaps some filler was needed because the original story wasn't quite long enough to completely fill two seasons.

Things get back on track after a couple of these largely nonsensical episodes. Takuma risks taking part in the deadly "Hell in the Hole" competition, a sort of secret and illegal gladiator fight, in order to expunge the stain of losing from his career. The fact that many wrestlers wear masks and thus have hidden identities is effectively played for intrigue.

Damn, this is a fun show! There are many series that have already outlived their welcome after twelve episodes of so, but I find myself still eager to watch Tiger Mask W as it begins a third season. The matches are effective in getting us to hate his opponents, then feel a cathartic relief when he manages to turn the tables and defeat them. And he doesn't always win, so there's always some risk involved, which is exciting. Often times relatively simple animation of the sort we get here is a sign of a relatively simple and unexciting story, but not here. I often complain about uninteresting characters, so I wonder why Naoto/Tiger Mask is such an effective protagonist when we have never learned all that much about him. Maybe we come to think of Tiger Mask, not Naoto, is the main character. Maybe this show just tells a simple but effective story without much embellishment.

The goal that Naoto will someday defeat Yellow Devil (though he no longer goes by that name) is a very vague thing at this point. It's just fun to go for this ride through an alternate reality of professional wrestling in Japan, with likeable characters and well staged matches. The jokes are okay, too--like the laughable scam Naoto uncovers at a dojo in episode 31. The referees take a lot of liberty with the rules in matches, if there are any. Wrestlers assault each other even if they aren't supposed to be in the ring at all. It's both exciting and laughable. Naoto does some pretty questionable things in hopes of getting a chance to take on Yellow Devil, even betraying his company.

As I watched the preview of episode 37 at the end of episode 36, something suddenly dawned on me: episode 37 would probably be the climax and final episode of the entire series. I had gotten little sense that things were anywhere near a climax; it seemed like an arc about whether NJPW would be humiliated and driven out of business, not about whether Naoto and Takuma would finally get a chance to defeat Yellow Devil/Tiger the Dark. Perhaps this is because of the basic problem with the logic of the series: how will winning a match against the villain fix the suffering which he inflicted on Takuma's father? Will the heroes hurt him just as much? In a way, we get an answer in episode 36, but it's something which neither Naoto nor Takuma could have possibly expected, and therefore seems sort of unfulfilling--good fortune, but they didn't do anything to earn it. But the climax just seemed to come largely out of nowhere--I had assumed that a fourth season was surely on the way, and was fine with that since this is such a fun show. In a way, the climax coming about seems like bad news, since it doesn't seem to be all taking place in all that skillful a manner and more of the same would have been perfectly OK.

But it works out OK. I got a genuine thrill out of the brutal match between Tiger Mask and Tiger the Dark, which went back and forth between one wrestler seeming to have the match sewn up to the complete opposite numerous times. It didn't make a whole lot of sense in terms of physics--how did they repeatedly break out of seemingly unbreakable holds?--and rules seemed to play as small a part as they had in episode one. But this show knows how to thrill and titillate us. It remained fun for three full seasons and I wish there had been a fourth. I had a grin on my face when it ended.

Last updated Tuesday, July 04 2017. Created Sunday, November 13 2016.

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