By Stevie Adams / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

Picture the scene:
It’s been a long, arduous road to the end. On the battlefield stands our hero, the once
bright-eyed underdog who started from nothing. Or maybe they’re the anti-hero who discovered
new meaning in their journey. Across from them? The ultimate challenge. Their final
opponent. The personification of hubris and the corrupt status quo. Or maybe they’re
just a warped reflection of our protagonist This is the deciding fight. And during this
intense stare down, we take time to reflect on the adventure we’ve experienced. And
all we can do is just wonder with bated breath: Who will throw the first punch?
This is a scene we’re all familiar with. It’s Naruto vs. Sasuke.
Goku vs. literally anyone and anything. Nothing compares
to anime when everything comes to a head and you know there’s a hell of a battle coming up.
Well… maybe one thing compares to that high. Because this setup is also Bret “The Hitman”
Hart vs “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon,
and Dynamite Kid vs. Tiger Mask There’s a common thought that professional
wrestling is nothing more than an overly dramatic soap opera. And while people are welcome to
have that opinion, we think they’re a little wide of the mark. Because wrestling… is
anime If you’re the kind of person who’s never
experienced professional wrestling, you might be surprised to learn that there’s a surprising
amount of overlap between wrestling fans and anime fans.
But maybe this crossover appeal isn’t as surprising as it seems. To find out, we’ll
have to travel back a few decades Through the late 20th century, anime and pro
wrestling were pretty much always there and developing at their own pace. After World
War II, wrestlers like Rikidozan were entertaining all manners of Japanese crowds while various
other wrestling promotions the world over enjoyed their own brand of entertainment.
Meanwhile, through the 50s and 60s, Toei Animation and Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Production were
well on their way to establishing themselves as pillars of the anime industry
Both mediums slowly gained traction, but it really wasn’t until the 80s that you could
start to see the convergence of wrestling and anime, particularly in America. And it’s
all because of the meteoric rise of a certain anime genre that, like wrestling – usually
involves a bunch of dudes who fight excessively while constantly striving to better themselves.
We speak of course of the Shonen Battle genre In 1980s America, professional wrestling saw
an explosion of popularity, causing a golden age for the medium. In fact midway through
the decade, The World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) would
organize the first ever Wrestlemania, an annual event that still holds immense weight in wrestling
today. It was also perhaps the time that patriotism in wrestling was the most prominent, with
many villains being portrayed as the “invading foreigner”. Most notably people like the
Iron Shiek, Nikolai Volkoff, and even Sgt. Slaughter when he turned heel in the early
90s and became an “Iraqi Sympathizer” during the lead up to the Gulf War. That’s
to say nothing of the talents of the athletes themselves, but this is generally how their
characters were presented But this was also the super patriotic period
that was host to wrestlers that were not only patriotic – but paragons of men – comparable
to superheroes in their own right. People like Macho Man Randy Savage, The Ultimate
Warrior, Hulk Hogan, and Curt Hennig, whose nickname was literally “Mr. Perfect”!
Names aside, you can see how a lot of these wrestling stories might have played out – the
hometown heroes disposing of the “others”. This was always a theme in wrestling up to
this point – even in Rikidozan’s days Many of his stories were framed as the glorious
Japanese wrestler defeating the foreign invaders. And anime of the day was tackling similar
stories, though the “foreign invaders” usually took the form of aliens. The same
children that were heeding Hulk Hogan’s advice to eat their vitamins and say their
prayers were also exposed to a growing number of anime series like Gatchaman, which became
Battle of the Planets in the States, or Space Battleship Yamato, which became Star Blazers
in the west. The latter being a story about defending humanity in a modified World War
II Battleship Yamato. The real Battleship Yamato, itself being a recognized symbol of
Imperial Japanese engineering that would destroy the invading forces. The vehicle to deliver
these themes may have been different between anime and wrestling, but the parallels were
there As for the racial stereotyping that ran rampant
in wrestling – it isn’t as blatant now as it used to be, but these sorts of gimmicks
can still be found in modern wrestling. Though many people would be happy to leave these
characters behind and focus on interpersonal conflicts and athleticism rather than national
identity. And the aforementioned “alien invasion” anime series helped set the stage
for the incoming anime explosion of the 80s and 90s in America. Not to mention they paved
the way for another certain anime making Kamehameha waves in Japan that would soon make its way to
Stateside By the mid to late 90s, the landscape was
similar, but also everything had changed. Dragon Ball had undergone its time skip with
Dragon Ball Z premiering in America in 1996 – appealing to those who had enjoyed the
original series while also putting far more focus on the actual fights, giving the series
a slightly more adult feel, while still maintaining the familiarity of it dbeing Dragon Ball
Meanwhile, by 1997, the top-shelf wrestling promotions, like the World Wrestling Entertainment and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) had also begun to shift away from the more “cartoony” style of wrestling it’s commonly associated
with For anti-heroes like Stone Cold Steve Austin and history’s greatest masochist, Mick Foley.
These performers, while fantastic character workers, also went the extra mile in the ring
to sell the authenticity of their fights, with more cursing, more blood, and more steel
folding chairs than a middle school cafeteria This gave the product a much-needed edge in
a period fans have taken to calling the “Attitude Era” Somehow – seemingly by happenstance, there were now two juggernauts of television that
appealed strongly to children, regardless of whether or not the appeal was intentional.
And they were both highly character driven works that used fighting not just as a resolution
to conflict – but as a conduit for storytelling all its own. The massive story contained solely
in the fight of Goku (and eventually pretty much everyone) vs. the invading, planet-destroying
force that was Vegeta isn’t much different from the kind of story two wrestlers can tell
inside the ring One of the best examples of this would be
Bret “The Hitman” Hart and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s historic match at Wrestlemania
13 in 1997. Bret represented the old-school face, the guy who showed that hard work and
determination would always lead to success. Austin, meanwhile, represented taking what
you want and destroying those that stood in your way. After an absolute war of a match,
Bret had Austin locked in his finishing move – The Sharpshooter – with Austin splayed on
the canvas – his face covered in a crimson mask of his own blood. But instead of submitting,
Austin elected to pass out, his pride not letting him concede. Bret was declared the
winner, but his emotions ran high and he continued to attack his unconscious opponent Bret Hart entered as one of the most
loved wrestlers in the company. And left as one of the most reviled. And Steve Austin’s
show of resolve propelled him to superstardom where he would further represent WWE’s new
Attitude Era Though just by watching, you can see lot of
obvious similarities. The crazy storylines, the outlandish characters, the cartoonish levels
of punishment these people take, and – yes, the amount you may need to suspend your disbelief
to appreciate the fights. You could wonder why in anime the hero never attacks the villain
while they’re monologuing just as easily as you could wonder why wrestlers always fall
for the same tricks. Why do they even bounce off the ropes when they’re clearly going
to be attacked?! Not to mention the fact that most wrestling promotions take the form of a perpetual, decades
spanning tournament arc that never falters. Wrestling never ends. There are always new
challengers to the various titles that are held. And with new talent always coming in,
the doors open for virtually endless story opportunities. After all, what wrestler doesn’t
want to train their abilities toward the end goal of becoming the next Hokage- uh, I mean
being the very best like no one ever wa- BECOMING THE CHAMPION?
But we can go in deeper. The convention of ridiculous fighting maneuvers having comically overblown
names is nothing new to shonen and other action heavy animes – whether the characters in
the fight or an off-screen announcer lets us know what technique our hero is utilising
to best decorate the far wall with the villain’s face. And in a genre that places such importance
on fighting, many of these signature moves come with strong identities and histories
attached to them. Think Luffy’s gear attacks or anything Kenshiro does in Fist of the North
Star Almost every twitch of any muscle can be traced
back to its roots. From something as simple as a “shoulder block” to the completely
ludicrous “People’s Elbow” The People’s Elbow is also just one example
of a signature move in wrestling. Virtually every wrestler is encouraged to develop a
collection of moves which can be associated with their in-ring identity. Some moves, like
the Tombstone Piledriver or “Stone Cold Stunner” become as iconic as the athlete
that uses it. These signature moves bring us to another important similarity between
wrestling and anime: Power creep Dragon Ball’s ever-increasing number of
Saiyan levels or Izuku Midoriya’s utilization of “one million percent” of One-For-All
should be a familiar concept anyone who appreciates a good shonen battle. As the stories continue,
there’s pressure to constantly one-up the previous stakes – resulting in bigger and
more powerful moves and consequences. This is also a prominent criticism of wrestling,
especially in the WWE Some of the signature moves we mentioned earlier
are colloquially known as “finishers”. At the apex of a match, one wrestler will
hit their finishing move to a huge crowd reaction – which is also called a “pop”. Eh-
whatever, wrestling terms. This would generally signal that the match was nearing its conclusion.
The finishing move has been performed. This would be the anime equivalent of when the
protagonist unleashes their final move and you can tell the entire budget for the season
was spent on the animation of that one attack, possibly accompanied by a declaration that
this is the ultimate attack. Escaping a pin after a popular wrestler’s finishing move
would be regarded as a Herculean task. Something only the toughest of the tough could accomplish.
That’s how it used to be. It’s fairly common to see marquee matches
absolutely littered with various signature and finishing moves, with wrestlers shrugging
them off like they’re nothing, essentially rendering the term “finisher” meaningless.
This power creep is also observable in that the moves that were considered devastating finishers
in the past, like Jake the Snake Roberts’ DDT have since become somewhat standard techniques
that newer performers use as a baseline, rather than a demonstration of one million percent Wrestling and anime are both character driven mediums It’s no coincidence that many wrestling and anime fans will go to war with each other over who
their favorite wrestler is -Let’s go, Cena!
-Cena sucks! or why Chika from Kaguya-sama is
clearly the best girl of the season Then, when it comes to the discussion of anime
itself, the stories of most long running anime are conveniently separated into arcs or sagas.
A collection of episodes that tells its own story within the greater whole of the work.
And once again, since wrestling is a long-running program like most shonen anime, periods of
several years and common trends in broadcasts can be separated into neat eras, which serve
as great shorthand in discussions. We already mentioned the 80s golden age and the late
90s Attitude Era, but since then we also saw the end of the Monday Night Wars and the “Ruthless
Aggression Era”. What is the one quality that YOU possess? Ruthless. Aggression. The PG era where the WWE focused more on family friendly content, lowering
its rating to PG. As well as the “Reality Era” and the “New Era” which aimed to
make the in-ring action more hard-hitting while also catering to the savviness of the
average wrestling fan thanks to the internet. But more than just overarching eras, in the
wrestling industry, each athlete is encouraged to reinvent themselves frequently to avoid
stagnating or having their career peter out over a stale gimmick. For many, this can result
in many sub-arcs of their own careers that are easily recognizable. Following the career
of Mean Mark Callous becoming The Undertaker through to his Deadman phase, his Ministry
of Darkness phase, his American Badass phase where he has a mid-life crisis, buys a motorcycle
and listens to Kid Rock and Limp Bizket, to his various returns as his Deadman persona
aren’t unlike watching the growth of an anime character as they find their footing,
develop, and become someone completely unrecognizable from when we first met them. Think Vegeta’s
transformation from straight up villain to grumpy dad. Or Scar in Fullmetal Alchemist
or Kurama and Hiei in Yu Yu Hakusho This idea of constant reinvention is further
supplemented by wrestlers having their own theme music, which will change with their
personality as time goes on not unlike how anime has certain music themes
associated with each character. Or – more aptly, how anime will frequently change their
opening and end credit sequences to thematically fit better with the arc they’re trying to
tell at that moment The Undertaker is a bit of an extreme example
of gimmick reinvention, but these arcs are present with every wrestler, as they grow
and develop different personas as time goes by – some even across different wrestling
promotions The last few years saw the saga of Broken
Matt Hardy on IMPACT Wrestling, and eventually – a modified version of this gimmick in the
WWE. This was a character so strange and yet so timeless compared to not only the rest
of the wrestling scene but to Matt Hardy’s own character – which at this point had over
twenty years of history. Suddenly we were shouting in a strange accent to “DELETE” his enemies,
referring to his own brother Jeff as “Brother Nero”. His best friend was also a drone. He developed an affinity toward dilapidated boats. He and his brother
demonstrated their ability to teleport And while the character was somewhat
polarizing, it was undeniably captivating. The fact that the saga of Broken – and then
later “Woken” Matt Hardy only made up a tiny chunk of this man’s wrestling career
shows that with every re-invention, a wrestler creates an “arc” for themselves, not unlike
the narrative arcs anime form when they’re adapted from the manga which they’re based.
This has only been a brief overview, there’s so much more to wrestling than what we’ve
covered here. Not to mention all the time anime out there specifically centered around
wrestling, like Ultimate Muscle, or the Tiger Mask series, which has enjoyed a real-life
counterpart in New Japan Pro Wrestling since the 80s. And in 2016, the Tiger Mask W series
featured a plethora of real-life New Japan talent in the anime itself, including the
likes of Kenny Omega, Okada, Tanahashi, and Tetsuya Naito, among others
So yes, while both wrestling and anime have crazy costumes and completely ridiculous characters
you would never believe in any other medium – hopefully we’ve shown just how much
deeper this comparison runs than just the surface-level jabs.
Through the similar 80s boom of both, the execution of moves, the stories told through
combat, the meta-appreciation both communities have for their favorite shows or performances
– it should come as no surprise to see that there’s such an overlap of wrestling fans
and anime fans… because Daniel Bryan is Deku Triple H is Father from Full Metal.
Ric Flair is Master Roshi And wrestling… is anime

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