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27 Sep

The fierce girl gang variety of Sukeban wrestling takes

The fierce girl gang variety of Sukeban wrestling takes

Mixing fashion, beauty, and anime with traditional Japanese women’s wrestling, Sukeban brings together terror-filled IRL battles and cute costumes

Think girls can’t fight? Sukeban, a latest Japanese women’s wrestling league, had its world premiere in Latest York City last week [September 21], proving once and for all that girls can throw hands just in addition to men, while looking twice as cute. Although women’s wrestling – often called “Joshi” – has been popular in Japan for many years, the event brought the sport-slash-performance-artform to an eager latest audience who, for probably the most part, didn’t know what that they had been missing.

When guests entered Capitale, a grandiose former bank on the Bowery in downtown Manhattan, they were met with a lobby madeover as a Japanese street festival, with vendors offering Sukeban merch and snacks including fairy floss, candy apples, and the Japanese fish-shaped waffle taiyaki. Just before 8pm, the doors to the ring and seating area opened and guests flooded through to assert their seats while a ten-minute countdown timer helped construct excitement. Before the professionals took the stage, a gaggle of hyped-up kids entered the ring and started mock fighting until an adult intervened in time for the true games to start.

The Sukeban league is called for Japanese girl gangs of the Nineteen Sixties and 70s: groups of girls on the fringes of society who lived dangerously and challenged traditional gender norms. Along with their penchant for petty crime, sukeban gangs were defined by their fashion, which riffed on school uniforms with long, pleated skirts (perfect for hiding razor blades), and shirts with sailor collars. Western audiences were introduced to sukeban through Gogo Yubari, the deranged schoolgirl in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.

Just like the girl gangs before them, the wrestlers were perfectly outfitted, with costumes by Olympia Le-Tan, the designer known for her book cover clutches; hats by milliner Stephen Jones, who has designed for Princess Diana and Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, and Vivienne Westwood runways; and custom nails by Mei Kawajiri, whose clients include Cardi B, Dua Lipa, and… Seth Rogen. Le-Tan drew inspiration for the costumes from sukeban, anime and the wrestlers themselves. “We worked in parallel by deciding on the characters we desired to have within the league – a clown, a nerd, a biker – after which selecting which characters fit the best way the wrestlers look and their personalities,” she explained. “I wanted it to appeal to individuals who aren’t necessarily fans of wrestling, but are curious about fashion, beauty, and anime.” 

Opportunities for drama didn’t go astray; wrestlers entered the ring as theatrically as possible, with their anime bodies double flashing on screen and walk-on music akin to “I Want Candy” and “Bad Repute” blasting. The wrestlers rolled in 4 teams: the Harajuku Stars, the Vandals, Dangerous Liaisons, and Cherry Bomb Girls, each with their very own distinct aesthetic and athletic sensibilities. Standout stars of the show included Bingo, an evil black and white clown with an inclination to interrupt into mime; Lady Antoinette, who entered the ring with an Elizabethan style blue wig that she then ripped off pre-combat; and the Queen of Hearts, who wore a red latex dress, Cruella DeVille-esque dalmatian coat, and a jaunty little crown, and invited cries of “your highness” from subservient fans.

“I wanted [the wrestler’s looks] to appeal to individuals who aren’t necessarily fans of wrestling, but are curious about fashion, beauty, and anime” – Olympia Le-Tan

While Joshi wrestling is staged, the mix of acrobatic flips, full body slams, fly kicks, and audible slaps is chaotic enough to maintain probably the most easily distracted spectator highly engaged. The wrestlers are so good at faking terror that it’s often unattainable to inform that they’re not actually asphyxiating from using their very own hair braids to choke them out. Sometimes, the motion spilled out of the ring, with fatigued fighters literally rolled off stage to recuperate amongst the group (a combination of curious newcomers and seasoned Joshi fans). One particularly enthused man stood and clapped through the complete show, while a baby got so carried away that his hysterical cheering become painful shrieking.

After five frenzied matches, Commander Nakajima of the Dangerous Liaisons crew and Ichigo Sayaka of the Harajuku Stars emerged victorious. The pair will face off on the yet to be announced next leg of Sukeban’s US tour. After the fighters danced and hobbled their way offstage, the group filtered back out into the night, our collective adrenaline riding high from the delightfully unhinged spectacle that’s Sukeban.

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