At the time this post goes up former Ice Ribbon member, Giulia, and Stardom are in an awkward position that pissed off some of their fellow wrestlers and promoters. With the Bushiroad acquisition bringing a new context to this situation it makes the whole thing stink more, someone probably tipped Giulia off that this purchase was happening and would bring more money, so she decides to tell her employer on short notice that she has to leave and in under 12 hours appears at the competition’s big Korakuen Hall show, ironically wearing a snake print shirt. Giulia has yet to make a statement herself and the Stardom apologies are all half-baked since it’s real suspicious that Giulia so desperately needed to end her contract with Neo-plus and Ice Ribbon by the 13th of October she couldn’t tell her fellow wrestlers in their group chat and instead announced it on twitter, according to staff members she still hasn’t returned her insurance card and is still a contract employee of Ice Ribbon. This situation is similar to one years ago when Kagetsu suddenly held a little press conference to announce that she was going on a hiatus from wrestling only to show up as a contracted Stardom wrestler not too long after, again similar to how Tam Nakano went freelance after leaving Beginning Pro and started teaming up with Manami Katsu in Pure-J, working in GPS Pro, and some stuff with Onita then showing up in Stardom a couple weeks after abruptly leaving her tag team. The pattern that Stardom has set in how they get outside talent to sign with them continues to add fuel to other promotions’ dislike of them and leaves a bad impression on fans from other promotions.
This isn’t going to be some galaxy brain take about how sexualizing wrestlers ruins the integrity of the sport and fighting spirit, thinking that ignores the history of joshi wrestling (and wrestling as a whole), the effects that the Japanese economic bubble bursting had on marketing and demographic shifts in the 90s, and the realities of living in a patriarchal society with a dismal track record of gender equality in modern times. I’m mainly focusing on the track record Bushiroad-era NJPW has when presenting female characters on-screen and the long history Rossy Ogawa operations have with sexualizing minors (the age of adulthood in Japan is 20, it’ll be lowered to 18 in 2022) and why I’m cautious about their mission of trying to attracting a broader audience with women. NJPW has never been a promotion that heavily used ring-side managers in its near 50-year history but in the expansion under Bushiroad we saw the arrival of Maria Kanellis, Mao, Mimi, Peter, and the pole dancers performance for one of Shinsuke Nakamura’s Wrestle Kingdom entrances. It only takes a couple minutes to notice that the main audience for Stardom is adult men that are assumed to have jobs, and thus more disposable income than other wrestling fans, that then go and buy merchandise like gravure photobooks, posters, shirts, and polaroid two-shots. Neither promotion has presented women on-screen as anything too far past objects of desire for the heterosexual men in their audience because they’ve never had to present the women as more than sexy things to reach their bottom line. Looking at the other media franchises owned by Bushiroad you can tell that the target demographic is young boys all the way up to adult men with the almost inescapable Love Live! franchise while their kickboxing promotion, Knock Out, doesn’t seem to make an effort to book women on their cards in contrast to another Japanese fight promotion, Rizin. Yes, Bushiroad is a major corporation with plenty of resources to put together a think tank on how to market a women’s wrestling promotion to a broader audience, it’s been done before and they can easily look to AJW, Oz Academy, and Marvelous to figure out how but they still have an uphill battle to climb with modern wrestling audiences and their own lack of experience. Thanks to Rossy’s pervasive horniness Stardom is stuck with this layer of vulgar that only comes when you open up a bikini photobook and see that teens, that as far as I know still haven’t graduated high school, are in, and when you look around you notice how it’s uncomfortable that it’s a bunch of grown men giving gifts to wrestlers who might be close to half their age.
For most of their history teen girls and young women made up a large part of AJW’s audience, taking off with the phenomenon of Beauty Pair and skyrocketing to its height with the Crush Gals run in the 80s, after the major split of talent in 1997 AJW kept a big female presence in their crowds when the opposite could be said about new competitor, ARSION. With AJW and GAEA Japan closing their doors in 2005, pro wrestling in Japan in general being not as popular as it was in the 90s we got a generation of people that just don’t think about women’s wrestling existing or being something more than “just for men”; even after getting a big investment from Abema and putting more effort into TJPW, their attendance hasn’t grown fast and it’s still a majority male audience despite how diverse the normal DDT audience is. It feels a little similar to how some idol girl groups get stuck with a reputation of “Ah, this is for male fans” even if they release songs that have neutral lyrics and basic outfits, if you look at AKB48 and E-Girls, both are very popular groups from major music labels and feature a lot of members that are all attractive women but a major difference between the two (I am aware of how the AKB48 theater system works and relies on making fans crave interaction with their favorite members but this isn’t the blog for discussion of wota fan culture) a big reason why E-Girls has way more female fans is that their members have a cool aura that AKB lacks. This is the major issue that Stardom has had since I’ve been watching since late 2016, I and many others love the talent and the wrestlers but I’ve personally never been able to say that Stardom wrestlers are ‘cool’. Cool is hard to quantify and explain fully but except for a small handful of wrestlers no one on the Stardom roster is cool, they feel like the female characters in a shonen anime that are afforded limited screen time and character development and stay kind of flat. Hazuki, AZM, Hana, Natsuko, and Konami are cool but the other members just don’t hit that ‘something’, that doesn’t mean that everyone needs some type of edge but none of the factions in Stardom feel really different, one wears leopard print, one has lights & fake guns, then the rest.
God help me, the discourse. Stardom wrestlers getting full contracts, and in theory more money, is good for the talent but having a major company that was already grabbing up people from other promotions attain more funds to continue this trend isn’t good for women’s wrestling. It’s ultimately up to someone to sign a contract or not and I can’t fault any wrestler in their decisions on where to sign but the gobbling up of talent from outside promotions while most of the Stardom homegrown trainees aren’t very impressive is both hilarious and frustrating since this just feels like the beginning stages of Stardom copying NJPW and WWE in just buying up talent across the country. The part of this that’ll be really mind-numbing is the group of people that will suddenly become experts and trusted voices on matters involving women’s wrestling, joshi wrestling, or any manner of how NJPW needed a women’s division and that this purchase by Bushiroad is much needed or some other short-sighted “insight” that modern talking spaces for pro wrestling affords us.