Tiger Mask W and the Lack of Friendship Redemption Arcs in Pro Wrestling

WARNING: Tiger Mask W spoilers

My decision to watch the anime Tiger Mask W came during a time that I’ve been watching more pro wrestling than I have in more than a decade. As I’ve re-acclimated myself to that world of holds, slams, betrayals, and glory, it only makes sense that a wrestling anime would hook me. The fact that it’s a sequel to a beloved classic that tries to capture the feel of the original but projected through the lens of today made that doubly possible. Watching Tiger Mask W and its story of revenge and redemption, however, made me extremely aware of the fact that real pro wrestling has plenty of the former but little of the latter.

One of the main plot points of Tiger Mask W is the rivalry between Tiger Mask and Tiger the Dark, two friends seeking vengeance on a common foe yet who aren’t aware of each other’s true identity. Eventually, they make amends and they grow stronger for it. This sort of narrative is incredibly common in anime and manga—think Naruto and Sasuke. In comparison, pro wrestling has backstabbing and teams imploding galore, but I can only think of very few cases where the reforging of bonds once broken actually seems planned in advance.

For example, over the past year, numerous duos in the world of the WWE have come apart when one character turns traitor. Kevin Owens attacked Chris Jericho during a celebration of their friendship. Tommaso Ciampa assaulted Johnny Gargano, ending the tag team DIY. Goldust hit R-Truth from behind, breaking up their alliance. Big Cass booted Enzo Amore in the face with disdain. All were and are meant to lead to feuds between former allies, the aftertaste of betrayal making them that much more bitter. Wrestling seems to be very much about building up teams only to tear them down and start an intense battle between the two, but actually bringing them back together is never part of the plan, at least not at first.

There’s always the chance that wrestlers will make amends. Perhaps one day Enzo will be fighting against the odds, when Cass runs out and saves him. After all, face turns (switches from evil to good) are part and parcel with the industry. But they’re not woven into the narrative from the start so much as something that’s done once a rivalry has run its course. They’re treated as two separate stories: the betrayal that occurs, and then later (if they really need it) the redemption and reunion.

But I want my “anime as hell” stories about a hero trying over and over to rescue a former friend from the darkness. I want face turns to come from realizing the errors of one’s ways. I want more Tiger Mask and Tiger the Dark narratives. I don’t want the restoration of friendship to be an afterthought, but something actually planned as part of a greater arc.

Miss X in Tiger Mask W is Her Own Woman

Based on first appearances, Miss X from Tiger Mask W comes across as a generic femme fatale whose primary purpose is to look hot as she antagonizes the heroic Tiger Mask. However, the more I watch Tiger Mask W, the more I find her character fascinating. While she’s clearly positioned to oppose Tiger Mask, what stands out to me most about Miss X is that she’s a businesswoman first, and a villain second.

Throughout the anime, there are times where Tiger Mask’s appearance means trouble for Miss X and Global Wrestling Monopoly, and if there’s any reason to have Tiger Mask involved, it would be to make him into an example. But instead of going that route, Miss X always thinks about the profits and the reputation of GWM, and even if her wrestlers come out looking a little worse she’ll welcome anything that increases the prosperity of GWM.

Miss X’s perspective and approach stand in stark contrast to that of her boss, Mister X, the main antagonist of the original Tiger Mask series. In that series and even in Tiger Mask W, Mister X is more the type to conquer others and force them into submission through his cadre of specially trained heel wrestlers.

In many ways, she reminds me of Agnes Joubert, the producer of Hero TV in Tiger & Bunny. Above all else, Agnes cares about the success of her TV show, and it gives her a unique position to view all of the various events that happen in that series.

As a final note, I mentally call Miss X “Stephanie McMahon.” I imagine I’m not the only one.

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The Secret Best Character: Kevin from Tiger Mask W

Pictured Right: The Best Guy

Both anime and pro wrestling are larger-than-life fantasy worlds, so it’s inevitable that a wrestling-themed anime like Tiger Mask W would be populated with big, bombastic personalities… some even based on real-world wrestlers! Among these characters, there’s one that at first seems easily forgettable, but as the show has progressed reveals himself to be the best man around: Kevin Anderson.

Kevin is a wrestler for the dastardly Global Wrestling Monopoly, the largest wrestling federation in the world and front for the Tiger’s Den, a clandestine organization that trains evil wrestlers. He does not have any appellations, like “Hitman,” or “the Ace,” or “Bigfoot.” With generic tights and a generic look, Kevin’s just Kevin. At best, he’s the guy always next to the GWM’s hot new wrestler, Tiger the Dark.

But it’s in the background where Kevin shines. Through thick and thin, Kevin rises to the occasion, especially when helping out Tiger the Dark. He knows he’s not quite as strong a wrestler, especially compared to the top echelon of GWM big-shots, but he’s loyal to this friends and will lend a hand in times of need. Over and over again, Tiger Mask W makes it seem like Kevin is just going to fade away into irrelevance as the other characters grow in power and intensity, but Kevin’s actually never far behind. When others look out for themselves, Kevin has an eye for the bigger picture.

In the anime and manga Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, there’s a scene where the characters are playing a dating sim and trying to genuinely find the right partner for the protagonist. As they go through all the girls, they find in every single one of them a deal breaker that makes them not good enough for their precious player character. Suddenly, it dawns on them: it’s the best friend, a guy who’s always there to help out, lend an ear, and even give a shoulder. Kevin is Dating Sim Best Friend.

Kevin Anderson is a seemingly milquetoast character who defies his own design. In doing so, he might just secretly be the greatest supporting character around.

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Tiger Mask W and the Significance of Global Wrestling Monopoly

In Tiger Mask W, a young wrestler dons the mask of the legendary Tiger Mask in order to fight against the villainous wrestlers of the Tiger’s Den. Most frequently, this involves taking on a wrestling company that exists as the outward-facing image of the Tiger’s Den, a thinly veiled World Wrestling Entertainment parody called “Global Wrestling Monopoly,” or GWM for short. The GWM is actually a brand-new creation for Tiger Mask W, something I personally found curious given how much having the most evil force in wrestling also be the largest and most popular. Why didn’t something like the GWM exist in the original Tiger Mask?

Upon reading the original Tiger Mask manga, I realized something: it would have been impossible to reference anything like the WWE. Tiger Mask first began in 1969 and ended in 1971, a time when there was no such thing as an international wrestling organization on the scale of what would become World Wrestling Entertainment.

In 1969, the promotion that would eventually become the World Wrestling Federation and later World Wrestling Entertainment was still known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation. At the head was Vincent James McMahon, father of current owner Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who ran the WWWF as just one of many territorial wrestling promotions in the US; in the WWWF’s case, it covered the Northeast, especially the New York area. During this time, Bruno Sammartino, one of the greatest WWE champions of all time (if not the greatest), was in the middle of his historic nine-year reign as WWWF champion.

Tiger Mask vs. “Classy” Freddie Blassie

Tiger Mask came from a time long before what many people today think of as wrestling. This was the era before Wrestlemania took the WWF national with Hulkamania, before Ric Flair’s battles with Ricky Steamboat and Dusty Rhodes. Naturally, it’s long before the eras of The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and John Cena. In addition to the Tiger’s Den wrestlers, Tiger Mask encounters real-world wrestlers of the time like all-time Japanese greats Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba. He wrestles against big names such as “Classy” Freddie Blassie (who would go on to train Triple H) and Angelo Poffo (father of “Macho Man” Randy Savage).

This is why the strategy used by the Tiger’s Den makes more sense for the period Tiger Mask came from. Unlike in Tiger Mask W, where they’re presented as employees of Global Wrestling Monopoly, the villainous secret organization would train heel wrestlers and send them around the world to various countries and territories in order to traumatize local wrestlers and take their money. Of course, in the world of Tiger Mask and Tiger Mask W, wrestling is 100% legitimate, so there’s no such thing as pre-planned matches or notions like kayfabe.

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