If there’s one idea that Gatoh Move Pro Wrestling and ChocoPro embraced over the past six months, it’s that it’s important to make the most of even the most unfortunate circumstances. March saw the professional wrestling world, as well as the world at large, rocked due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Widespread illness and high unemployment were just a few results of the pandemic in question. In terms of professional wrestling, companies were left with a choice: cease operations or adapt to the new normal.
A number of promotions chose the latter. Case and point, World Wrestling Entertainment shifted from large venues with hundreds upon hundreds of fans to the crowd-less Performance Center in Florida before setting their sights on the Amway Center. As for Gatoh Move, events that were previously scheduled had to be called off. In the wake of the pandemic, Gatoh Move founder Emi Sakura and her crew started to develop a new concept. This would bring professional wrestling to the masses in a way that was unique to the industry.
Enter ChocoPro, Gatoh Move’s YouTube initiative that officially kicked off in March. This episodic wrestling show would be available for viewing on YouTube both live and afterward on demand. Since then, ChocoPro developed a dedicated following, with fans tuning in whenever new episodes were set to go live. The show recently crossed its fiftieth episode milestone, which is a remarkable achievement. With that said, what made this show so important following the impact COVID has had on wrestling?
The Presentation of ChocoPro
The location may be the same, but the presentation itself is not. Up until earlier this month, ChocoPro took place within the small, intimate venue of Ichigaya Chocolate Square. Longtime Gatoh Move fans will undoubtedly be familiar with this location. However, where ChocoPro differs from pre-COVID Gatoh Move events is in its overall presentation. This comes down to everything from the structure of the show itself to the way that it is shot.
Every episode of ChocoPro begins with the hosts, typically Sakura and Baliyan Akki, providing a rundown of the matches to come. They also shed light on the sponsors before getting into the pre-match warm-up, which is often accompanied by a musical performance from one of the competitors. Following the matches, which we will get into more detail on later, the show wraps up with a rock, paper, scissors – or janken, in Japanese – tournament, the prize being a piece of celebratory chocolate. An interesting structure, to be certain, but it complements the lighthearted vibe Gatoh Move has cultivated over the years.
Another element of ChocoPro’s presentation is how it’s shot. The show is recorded, live on YouTube, with nothing more than a smartphone. Not only does this allow the videographer to keep up with the YouTube chat in real time, but it provides a first-person experience for the viewer. Through this vantage point, the viewer in question feels as though they’re part of the show. They’re being welcomed into Ichigaya Chocolate Square, resulting in a more active instead of a passive experience. It’s a style that, while peculiar at first, is easy to get accustomed to and adds to the show’s charm.
The Stories of ChocoPro
Pre-ChocoPro, Gatoh Move wasn’t a promotion that relied on emotional, dramatic angles. Keep in mind that Gatoh Move events have often been accompanied by idol performances, where competitors sing and dance, which is indicative of the promotion’s style. Simply put, Gatoh Move shows are easy to watch. As traditional events were canceled and ChocoPro grew, the company had the opportunity to experiment with the ways in which it told stories. The result of this experimentation would be a series of stories that not only entertained viewers but challenged the expectations of long-time fans.
Nowhere was this more evident than this past spring. “The Pineapple Girl” herself, Yuna Mizumori, had been in something of a slump. Not only did she find herself losing matches she believed she shouldn’t have, but she took umbrage with Sakura, who pushed Mizumori to become more “real.” This only infuriated Mizumori, who began to act out and wrestle more aggressively. This was a stark contrast to the bubbly, colorful personality she exuded since her debut in 2018. It also caught the attention of viewers, many of whom empathized with Mizumori’s struggles. I wrote about this storyline in detail this past May, but in short, it’s a story worth seeing from beginning to end.
Of course, this is a story that focused on one wrestler’s feud with another; what about a feud between a wrestler and the promotion they work for? When Mitsuru Konno returned to ChocoPro in May, having been out of action for several weeks, she returned disgusted. She believed that ChocoPro, and Gatoh Move by extension, didn’t take wrestling seriously. She took umbrage with the show’s more childish, in her view, approach, with Mei Suruga being a catalyst of this. It was easy to see the situation from Konno’s perspective, as she was one of the stalwarts of Gatoh Move; she debuted for the company in 2016. Her views failed to align with Suruga’s, which ultimately led to a clash of values in singles competition.
The Matches of ChocoPro
Ultimately, the value of a wrestling show will boil down to the matches as a whole. Gatoh Move has not had a shortage of solid bouts over the years, not only featuring its dedicated roster but stars from around the world including Kaori Yoneyama, Minoru Fujita, and current AEW Executive Vice President Kenny Omega. ChocoPro continued this trend, providing competitive matches to its dedicated user base. More so, they could be watched for free! When it comes to the best matches of ChocoPro, the discussion can go on at length and it may be a topic I revisit in the future. However, here is just a sampling of the recommended matches that showcase the importance of this YouTube show.
Baliyan Akki vs. Minoru Suzuki (March 28, 2020)
When discussing the wrestlers that would appear for ChocoPro, few may expect someone as gritty and gleefully brutal as Minoru Suzuki. However, not only did Gatoh Move get him to wrestle, but on the first-ever episode of ChocoPro at that. On this show, the two-time NEVER Openweight Champion took on Akki. Since then, Akki became one of the faces and voices of ChocoPro. Suzuki dominated the young star from India, though not entirely without a fight. Seeing Gatoh Move stars attack Suzuki was like watching a series of video game characters challenge the final boss. Ultimately, it was a challenge they were ill-prepared for. At first glance, placing Suzuki in Gatoh Move would be like dropping Freddy Krueger in Sesame Street. However, Suzuki would just be one in a long line of guest stars the show would bring in.
Mei Suruga vs. ASUKA (May 23, 2020)
In terms of ChocoPro guests, ASUKA was a big surprise to many. When I saw her face Mei Suruga on episode sixteen, I immediately became a fan. Little did I know just how successful ASUKA would become, as she became a double champion by the end of August. In terms of this match, it was an excellent showcase for both competitors. The diminutive Suruga was definitely at a disadvantage against the tall, slender ASUKA, but this didn’t deter the “Apple Girl” of Gatoh Move. Suruga was so confident in her abilities that she had the courage to have a mini-dance off. This match went for twenty minutes, showcasing the endurance of both competitors. Whether you’re a fan of ASUKA or are unfamiliar with the joshi star, this match is recommended viewing.
Yuna Mizumori vs. Emi Sakura (June 30, 2020)
This was the climax of the long-running storyline discussed earlier. After leaping one hurdle over the next, finally, Yuna Mizumori received her chance to face Emi Sakura in a Last Man Standing Match. This was the only match of episode twenty-eight, but what an affair it proved to be. Between Mizumori’s power and Sakura’s experience, something had to give. Unlike many Last Man Standing affairs, this wasn’t built on unbridled violence. Instead, it focused on emotion. Yunamon entered this match with the intention of defeating her mentor, exorcising a figurative demon in the process. However, Sakura wouldn’t let her have the victory so easily. When discussing the best matches of ChocoPro’s short history, this is one that fans should revisit and newcomers must experience as soon as possible.
Lulu Pencil vs. Chris Brookes (September 2, 2020)
This is one of the more recent entries, but to say that it’s worthwhile viewing would be an understatement. It’s yet another chapter in the lengthy story of Lulu Pencil, with the leader of the Pencil Army fighting from underneath in order to pick up the singles victory that has long eluded her. However, she was up against Chris Brookes, the two-time DDT Universal Champion, who seemed to be more preoccupied with toying with his physically weaker opponent. Throw in some comedic moments, including a seated duel of fists, and you have a match that helps to showcase what ChocoPro is at its core. It’s an earnest affair that provides fans with an escape, courtesy of the creative folks at Gatoh Move.
One can go on and on about ChocoPro and its importance to professional wrestling, especially following the COVID-19 outbreak. ChocoPro signified an opportunity for Gatoh Move to take a different direction, providing wrestling fans with an experience unlike any other. It built a dedicated following in short order and, as the months go on, there is no doubt that the following in question will continue to grow. Where will ChocoPro be in 2021 when it hits its one-year anniversary? Regardless, I will be more than happy to take the journey along with the rest of the ChocoPro faithful.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can watch Gatoh Move on YouTube and via the Gatoh Move Experience.