The Ballad of Tam Nakano

No this is not technically a ballad but thank you anyway John Darnielle for the best title for any piece wherein you summarize a wrestler’s storyline.

Tam Nakano is my favourite wrestler. It could be because I happened to start watching Stardom around the time she debuted there, meaning I got to follow her story from the very beginning. It could be because I find that story extremely compelling, featuring more interaction with the rest of the roster, top to bottom, than pretty much anyone else. Or it could be because her kicks are very, very good. Probably a little of everything. A friend of mine said that while she really liked Tam, she didn’t really know any of her story. I started writing this up months ago and then put it on hold, so what better reason to finally get it finished.

Tam debuted as a wrestler in July 2016. From the get-go her career was pretty weird. Before training in wrestling she was an idol, although she never got really big and famous or anything. However she had also trained in martial arts for years, and used that in her wrestling style. She also incorporated traditional Chinese elements in her look and did a sword dance as part of her entrance. She called herself the “Violet Kung-Fu Girl”. She was also sponsored by a fireworks company and mentored by Japanese deathmatch legend Atsushi Onita and made a bit of a reputation for herself wrestling in, specifically, Electric Current Exploding Baseball Bat Deathmatches.

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She starts wrestling for Stardom in late Spring/Early Summer of 2017. She’s an interesting new wrestler with a bit of a reputation. She’s basically lumped in with Stardom Army, because this is during the time everyone who’s not explicitly with Oedo Tai or Queen’s Quest is lumped in with Stardom Army, but she doesn’t really have any allies or friends. Oedo Tai seem to approve of her very quickly.

Shortly before that year’s 5 Star Grand Prix begins, because they’re both relatively inexperienced wrestlers, Tam and Natsuko Tora have a match to determine who will be the final entrant in the tournament. Natsuko hasn’t been wrestling for as long as Tam, but Tam is freelance and Natsuko isn’t, so they’re on roughly equal footing. Tam wins the spot in the tournament. At the opening ceremony, Oedo Tai play rock-paper-scissors to determine who will be winning (since, obviously, it’s going to be one of their members). They include Tam in this, much to her surprise and confusion.

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Throughout the tournament she tries her best, but she’s a bit aimless, a bit alone. She finishes with only one win, against Konami, ending her run with 2 points. However, towards the end of the tournament, after Hana Kimura and Kagetsu face each other, she is finally convinced that the way Oedo Tai acts towards each other, and to her, isn’t an act, but genuine love for each other. She asks to join. Hana, in particular, is extremely happy with this decision, and in my opinion, given Kagetsu and Kris repeatedly looking to her throughout this moment, was the one pulling most heavily for her inclusion.

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Tam clicks with Oedo Tai instantly. In fact when she finally joined them, they already had a mask ready for her and she knew how to do their dance, which is definitely not suspicious at all. (The rumour I’ve heard is that outside of kayfabe she’s actually the one who choreographed Oedo Tai’s dances. While I don’t know if that’s true, the timing lines up, and I desperately want it to be.) She clearly has a particular bond with Hana, especially obvious from their social media posts, but is very close to the whole team.

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She leans in to her darkside — although how “dark” you could really call it is debatable — and in October debuts her new look, with sexier gear and new black hair. Sadly she also gets injured during this time and takes that year’s Goddess Tag League off from in-ring competition. This is when she starts to manage Oedo Tai and really develops her character. She gets extremely goofy, constantly joking around with her teammates. She reveals what I would call an outright obsession with pandas, and introduces the world to Oedo Tai’s new producer, P-sama, her panda hand puppet. Everyone very earnestly treats P like he is a real, valuable team member and not Tam being ridiculous and doing a silly voice. Wrestling is very, very good. During this period, Kagetsu and Tam sign with the company at the same time.

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Tam spends a while mostly just supporting her team, even once she is able to wrestle again. In this time Sumire Natsu is also added to the team, something Hana and Tam are jointly not pleased with. In December as Tam returns to the ring, Kagetsu really starts to ramp up her beef with Io specifically, and Queen’s Quest by extension. During this time Momo Watanabe also returns to QQ from a knee injury, putting the groups on equal footing. At the end of the year Kagetsu challenges QQ to a match that will determine which team is superior: an elimination match where, and this is all Kagetsu’s idea, whoever draws the last spot on their team and gets eliminated (so, whoever loses the match for their team) will be kicked out of the unit.

The match is made for the Anniversary show at Korakuen Hall in January, the main event. Throughout the month Oedo Tai finally comes together and Hana and Tam accept Natsu as a part of the team, a part of the family. Oedo Tai is stronger than ever and as far as they’re concerned, their victory is assured.

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Tam and Momo draw the respective last spots for their teams. It comes down to the wire, but eventually, Momo manages to pin Tam. She has to leave Oedo Tai. You can hear her sobs over Queen’s Quest’s music while she lies in the ring. The ring doctor and the ref both check on her, sure she’s injured; she’s not. The only thing broken here is her heart. I hate this match.

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Hana vanishes from ringside as soon as the bell rings. Natsu briefly comes into the ring and gives her a pat on the back and says goodbye. Kagetsu also checks on Tam and, before Queen’s Quest gets a chance to speak, asks for the mic. She tells Tam that she doesn’t blame her for losing, says that what’s happening isn’t her fault. She needs to stand on her own now and figure out who she is. She welcomes her back, like Tam Nakano had been somewhere else the past 5 months.

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This show was also Mayu’s return from injury, after dislocating her elbow in a championship match against Toni Storm several months earlier. After Kagetsu leaves Tam just sits in the corner of the ring, stunned, in shock, while Queen’s Quest speaks. Momo challenges Io for her white belt. Io accepts, but as an aside, seems impressed by Tam’s performance. And well, Tam is currently without a unit, after all. Tam finally takes the mic, at last allowed to speak, to react. She chokes back a sob. She says she doesn’t know what she wants anymore. The implication is that Tam either can’t or doesn’t want to think about anything right now. Can’t worry about being bad or good, can’t process who she made herself into while she was in Oedo Tai. But Queen’s Quest doesn’t worry about things like that either; they just worry about winning. Maybe just focusing on being the best wouldn’t be so bad…..

As Io holds her hand out to Tam Mayu rushes to the ring, asking everyone to hold on a second. She also welcomes Tam back, and points out the funny coincidence that they’re both returning on the same day. As such, she says, wouldn’t it be great if they teamed up from now on? Tam is taken aback and actually seems like she’s about to refuse Mayu — who interrupts her and says she doesn’t need to worry about giving a response, takes her by the hand, and spirits her away. Tam is, uh, in the Stardom Army now?? Again?

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Tam breaks her old Violet Kung-Fu Girl stuff out of storage. She’s tagging with Mayu who, after a couple of warm-up tags to get a feel for each other, has decided they’re going to challenge for the Tag Team Championships. The only issue with that is that the Tag champs are Hana and Kagetsu.

Where Tam is still trying to find her footing, still seems to be fairly numb to what’s happening around her, the past few weeks haven’t been easy for the members of Oedo Tai either. While they keep up appearances like everything is the same as normal, the loss of a member rattled them. On top of that, Kris is suddenly doing a tour overseas, and then gets injured. Oedo Tai is down to just Kagetsu, Sumire, and Hana. And Hana has taken it the worst of all. Her first promo after Tam leaves the group is to just scream and get up and walk away. She starts posting some stuff on social media that does not exactly imply she is doing great.

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When Tam and Mayu challenge Oedo Tai for the belts, Kagetsu and Hana take all of the hurt and doubt that they’ve been holding on to and channel it directly at Tam. Suddenly, going after them is a huge betrayal. Kagetsu told Tam to move on and grow, but she didn’t mean by targeting Oedo Tai!

Oedo Tai gets extremely mean towards Tam, way out of proportion with the perceived slight of Tam going after them — something she was never really driving to begin with. The worst it gets is in a match they have in Kyoto, where Oedo Tai dump a trash can on Tam. She cries a lot. Mayu and Tam get their shot at the titles, and they lose.

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At the very least, though, this means that Tam and Oedo Tai can stop interacting for now. Tam just wants to move on, she’s hurt and wants to forget about that part of her past, this black spot on her record. Oedo Tai continues to torment her whenever they cross paths. As things escalate, in March Natsu challenges Tam to face her and Kagetsu with any partner of her choice in any type of match she wants. Fine, she says. Exploding Baseball Bat Deathmatch. She says she wants Mayu, but Mayu’s not so sure about that match (suddenly Natsu’s not so sure about it either, for what it’s worth). Kagetsu says no, it shouldn’t be Mayu. There’s someone else who she knows has been watching.

 

Out comes Io.

(Io is also not so sure about the exploding bat deathmatch, but Tam manages to talk her into it.)

At the start of April they have their match. Tam says that “In order to face her future, she needs to reach back to her past.” Kagetsu says “This isn’t about Tam Nakano. This is about me and Io Shirai.” Tam and Io win, it is very good. Oedo Tai are still dickheads in general, but they stop deliberately targeting Tam. Hana, who has been furious every time she’s come into contact with her as part of this build up, seems to have decided Tam just doesn’t exist now. Tam is…. working on herself. She’s immensely unsure of herself, and not sure what she’s going to do next, but she’s moved past this roadblock, at least. She can finally look towards the future.

Still in early April 2018, an old friend of Mayu’s makes her return. Part of the second class of Stardom trainees and the founding era of Stardom, Saki Kashima is returning to wrestling after being retired for ~5 years. It’s very exciting and Tam does her best to welcome her into Stardom Army. Stars still isn’t quite a thing. Tam has begun making overtures to give the Stardom Army a more solid identity, a new name, something they can actually rally around. So far she’s mostly done this by copying Taguchi Japan’s poses, but she’s trying and also Taguchi Japan is very good. Mayu and Tam haven’t really been a real tag team since they lost their shot at the championships, and Mayu starts tagging with Saki now that she’s back. Tam cools down a bit and is mostly on the lower end of the card, tagging with pretty much everyone on the team.

At the end of March when Kris Wolf leaves the company and Oedo Tai goes from being functionally three people to actually three people. Kagetsu calls for them to hold the first ever Stardom Draft so she can bolster their ranks. Mayu ends up with the last pick, behind Kagetsu and Io. She chooses Starlight Kid first, to “protect the future”, then her tag team partner Saki, then she starts picking other rookies to keep them safe. She ends up picking Tam sixth, which is also her last pick, because at that point Oedo Tai and Queen’s Quest decide they have enough members and everyone else can join the newly named Stars. Hanan and the people who will go on to form JAN go undrafted and for now are lumped into Stars.

Mayu picking Tam so late isn’t necessarily mean or cold. Oedo Tai are at odds with her, and QQ isn’t especially interested in her beyond Io thinking she has potential. She definitely hasn’t had the kind of win record that would have them sniffing around lately. (Months later Kagetsu would reveal in a blog post that she had been tempted to draft Tam back into the group, but thought staying in Stars would be better for her growth.) Tam seems mostly just happy to have been picked at all.

For the next couple of weeks, Tam does her best to smooth over the hurt feelings of the people who weren’t picked in the draft. Saki and Mayu are a tag team now, once again aiming for Oedo Tai, who still have the belts, and focused on that more than the rift in their faction. The annual Cinderella Tournament happens. Tam is feeling very small at this point, and coincidence of coincidences ends up having to stand next to Hana during the opening ceremony. She shrinks in on herself while Hana freezes and pretends she doesn’t exist. It’s very awkward. 

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Tam does unremarkably in the tournament, losing to Mayu in the first round.

During the series of Golden Week shows at the start of May, Jungle Kyona finally splits off with the other girls who weren’t picked to form her own faction, JAN.

During this time, while Tam tags with every other member of Stars as Saki and Mayu are so busy with their own thing, something interesting happens. Tam’s not at the top of the unit, but she begins to feel like the heart of the unit more than anyone else. Bouncing around at the bottom of the card with all of her teammates ends up making her the one who knows every member of the team the best. A unit’s “lieutenant” is usually the leader’s tag partner, and yet Tam feels much more like the lieutenant of Stars at this point than Saki does.

Mayu and Saki successfully take the Tag Team Championships from Hana and Kagetsu in June. Shortly after that Hana runs away to Mexico. Kagetsu wins the World Championship. This brings us into the 5 Star Grand Prix 2018.

Tam starts the tournament off strong. She repeats her win against Konami from the year before — except this time, the night before, Konami had just beaten Kagetsu, the World Champ, so this is a big deal. She debuts a new finisher, the Violet Shooting, a running knee. She, uh, does not exactly carry that success throughout the tournament. She loses over and over, losing every other tournament match throughout August.

Tam’s feelings towards Mayu also grow more complex. She sees her getting so much success and she becomes her to motivation to move forward, a shining beacon of where you can get by always doing your best. But she’s also frustratingly untouchable, always so many steps ahead of Tam. It’s almost like she starts to worship Mayu, sees her as something above regular people like her.

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In early September, Hana returns to Stardom, and her first match back is a 3-way tag team match. One of the teams in the match is Tam and her main tag partner at the time, Shiki Shibusawa. Hana and Tam re-enact their entire conflict in this match.

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At first, Tam is shy and rattled. Hana is mean and angry. But throughout the match Tam believes in herself more and more, and by the end of it, Hana is doing anything she can to get a rise out of Tam, but she can’t hurt Tam any more. Hana is just another opponent to her now. Hana’s team wins, pinning Tam’s partner, but after the match Hana seems frustrated and rattled, while Tam leaves with her head held high. She finally believes in herself, a fire has been lit. Tam has spent the tournament losing and losing, but she’s finally found her fighting spirit.

The tournament stops being about winning even, and just becomes about not being willing to stay down. Tam’s whole year so far has been defined by loss, and she’s going to fight against it. Even with all of her losses, she loves wrestling, and nothing is going to stop her.

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Unfortunately her next tournament match is against the Queen of Fighting Spirit herself, Natsuko Tora. Natsuko has had beef with Tam for ages at this point, tracing all the way back to Tam shutting her out of the 5 Star the year before. Natsuko saw Tam’s attempts to make her feel included in Stars as demeaning, and Natsuko brings all that anger and frustration to bear and manages to beat Tam. Tam is disappointed and mad at herself for losing all the time. She holds on to her resolve and that fighting spirit, but she’s beginning to get angry as well. She’s sick of people pushing her around, for getting mad at her and blaming her for things that weren’t her fault or her choice.

What’s more, since their match Hana has been putting on a very strange babyface act. This is mostly via social media, but she calls faces fake while act like one herself, to prove how stupid it is and how easy it is to put on that mask. Her main target is Oedo Tai; she hasn’t left yet, but she’ll soon reveal she feels like they’ve sold out, they’re not real heels anymore, just faces that pull pranks. This starts to eat away at Tam as well, who is convinced that, if she’s capable of the kind of anger she’s been showing lately, maybe that means she’s just a fake babyface too.

Her last match of the tournament arrives, against Kagetsu. She still hasn’t won a tournament match since her first, against Konami. Kagetsu hasn’t lost a tournament match since her first, against Konami. Kagetsu will be in the finals if she wins or draws here. That fire inside Tam is lit, and she is angry, and what’s more, Kagetsu seems to be deliberately trying to draw it out of her. Kagetsu was a mentor to Tam, and even though they’re not teammates any more she’s never stopped keeping an eye on how she’s progressed and grown, and she thinks this anger is good for Tam. She’s being rough, but she starts taunting Tam as well. Calling her weak, saying she knows she wishes she’d never been kicked out of Oedo Tai, that she was better there and ever since she’s just been a failure and —

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Hana hits Kagetsu with a chair. Tam doesn’t see this, rolls Kagetsu up, and wins the match. Her second win of the tournament, she finishes with 4 points. But those wins are against the World Champ, and the only other person who beat her.

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Tam is stunned, not quite sure what happened for her to get the win so suddenly. Oedo Tai run into the ring to help Kagetsu; Sumire looks at Hana as if to ask what she’s doing, but Hazuki doesn’t even glance at her. Hana struts around the ring, enters slowly, and attacks her teammates while Tam is collapsed in the corner. She says Stardom sucks, Oedo Tai sucks. Kagetsu’s gone soft, tainted by the company and the championship, she actually cares now, which wasn’t what Oedo Tai was supposed to be about. She gives a speech about how “all these bitches” had better watch out. Surely the timing of her attack was only about keeping Kagetsu out of the finals. Definitely doesn’t have anything to do with the resentment that grew from watching her friends leave the group all year.

A week later, Tam, Mayu, and Saki have a shot for the Artists of Stardom trios championships, currently held by the JAN team of Jungle Kyona, Natsuko Tora, and Kaori Yoneyama. Natsuko still has beef, but Tam is, if anything, even more angry than last time they met. Tam is furious, she’s had enough, and she explodes on Natsuko. She gets mean, and petty, and as much as she wants to win, she wants to hurt her more. Tam pins her with another new finisher, her Tiger Suplex, created to thank and compliment Mayu, with her Dragon Suplex.

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After the match, as Stars receive their new belts, Tam takes the pink one — notably the specific belt that Natsuko had held. She walks over to Natsuko and holds out her hand, once again, for the handshake that she’s been asking for for months now. And at last, Natsuko looks at her, and is ready to return the gesture.

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Tam shoves her belt in Natsuko’s face and sneers at her. She’s done with letting everyone else decide their relationships with her. She loves her team, and fuck everybody else.

But as the adrenaline fades and Tam reflects on what she did in the match and after it, doubts start to creep back in in a very big way. She’s ashamed to have this kind of anger inside of her, to take such joy in hurting someone else. She feels like this wasn’t fighting spirit at all, just proof that she’s a terrible person. She starts to obsess over the one year anniversary of her time in Oedo Tai, like that was the true version of herself, and sooner or later her friends are going to realize that and kick her off of their team. A seed of resentment towards Mayu, planted by her losses to her, grows.

Goddess Tag League starts in October, a round robin tag team tournament where the winners get to challenge for the tag belts, currently held by Jungle Kyona and Natsuko Tora, who took them from Mayu and Saki as retaliation for taking the trio belts. Tam teams with Shiki for the tournament. Tam really does care a lot about Shiki, and she relishes the chance to spend time with her teammates (something that she’s convinced she won’t be able to do for much longer), but Shiki’s not exactly the strongest competitor. Tam is entering the tournament decidedly not caring how she does. She’s just there to have fun with her friends. The team makes “bakyuun” laser sound effects in their promos, they’re cloyingly saccharine. Tam brings P-chan back.

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This is a bit of an act. Tam is wrestling like she’s half asleep, not letting herself care about the matches. But as time goes on and the losses begin to add up yet again, it becomes obvious that Tam can’t just squash herself down so easily. She starts to wake up in her matches, and she wakes up angry. Tam spends most of her next matches going from autopilot to being out for blood. Her team is already a longshot to win, and yet she’s fighting like she wants to murder her opponents for real. It’s too late, this side of her that’s driven, that needs to win, took too much to awaken, and she can’t put it to sleep. But to her, going to any lengths, enjoying putting your opponents down, is proof that she’s evil.

Her resentment towards Mayu feeds on this. What makes Mayu think she’s so much better than everyone else? Who decided Mayu got to be some shining light of purity that no one else could reach? She needs Mayu to be fallible, because if even Mayu isn’t actually perfect, then maybe that means there’s room for her in Stars after all.

Momo nominates Mayu to be the next challenger for her white belt. Mayu tries to put on a brave face, but she’s rattled. She’s been trying to hide it, but she’s extremely unsure of herself, that she reached her peak as a singles competitor a year before and since losing the white belt to Io and then getting injured and losing the red belt, she’s never going to get there again. She loses to Momo and she’s crushed, and for Tam, something snaps. Mayu has the audacity to act like she’s somehow better than everyone else, to call herself the “Icon of Stardom”, and to take one loss this hard?? Mayu doesn’t know shit about losing, about working hard and doing your best against all odds.

Five days later Tam and Shiki have an exhibition match against Saki and Mayu. It’s not a part of the tournament, as the teams are in different blocks and Tam and Shiki have already been eliminated and won’t be going to the finals. For Shiki, Saki, and Mayu, this is a fun exhibition, a low-stakes chance to compete against their teammates. Tam explodes. She finally takes out all of her frustration against Mayu. She and Shiki lose, and Tam even hits Mayu after the match. Mayu laughs. Tam hasn’t realized it yet, but Mayu accepts her for who she is. Having emotions, even dark ones, isn’t going to make her kick her out of the team.

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Tam’s last match in tag league is vs Natsuko and Kyona, but is mostly about the rivalry between Tam and Natsuko. They both get angrier and angrier, drive each other further and further, and the match ends in a double knockout, technically a draw. But things change between them. Tam loses her anger towards Natsuko, and Natsuko gains some respect for Tam. They’re certainly not friends, but now they’re rivals, not enemies. Tam finally gets all of her frustration out. The double knockout represents both competitors being completely spent in some way. For Tam, she’s finally out of all that anger and resentment that she’s been stewing in for months.

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She goes back to loving Mayu. Mayu has stood by her side all year, pulled her along beside her when she got stuck, pulled her out of the darkness when she thought she’d be consumed by it. Mayu really is the best person, and she’s so grateful and happy to be on her team.

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Back in September when Mayu won the 5 Star GP, another old friend of hers, Arisa Hoshiki, announced she would be returning to the company. Arisa was Mayu’s opponent at the first ever Stardom show, and her tag partner as the team AMA (which, I don’t know this for sure, but knowing Mayu’s boundless creativity, I would bet real money stands for Arisa Mayu Action.) Arisa then retired for 6 years, and is now returning. In November, it’s time for her to actually make her comeback, and she does so in a tag match partnering with Mayu.

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Saki and Tam are both a little hesitant about Arisa showing up in the group. They’ve finally found such a good balance, not only between the three of them but in Stars as a whole. However Mayu doesn’t exactly have the best track record at not getting sidetracked by the bright, shiny new person, and they’re worried she’ll just drop everything to focus on Arisa….. kind of like she did with Saki. Because of this though, Saki feels like it’s not her place to say anything, since she was the one getting that preferential treatment from Mayu just a few months ago. Tam says, don’t worry then, I’ll object enough for the both of us. She starts raising a stink on twitter.

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After the return match, Arisa formally asks if she can join Stars. Mayu says yes, but she’ll have to check with someone else first. She very amusedly, good humoredly, gives Tam a microphone, and asks if it would be okay if her old partner Arisa joined Stars.

“Ah,” Tam responds, “Thank you so much for asking.”

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Mayu is stunned, Arisa laughs, somehow not offended but charmed by Tam’s honesty. Mayu decides to ask the crowd if it’s okay if Arisa can join and without even really waiting for their response says “Okay great, Arisa’s in Stars! Tam we can work this out backstage.” It would seem that they do not work this out backstage.

For the next few weeks Arisa and Mayu continue to tag as AMA, and frequently Tam is included as well. She feels like an awkward third wheel though, not fitting in with their tag moves or poses. This is when she starts to take her anger out on Arisa, inventing “Tag moves” like slamming her on top of their opponents and stomping on both of them. Arisa keeps trying to befriend Tam.

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However, this time Mayu’s not ignoring everyone else. She’s excited that Arisa is back for sure, but doing much more work to avoid ignoring her team. This is around when Mayu injures her knee. Suddenly teaming with someone new isn’t much of an issue, since she can’t team with anyone. Now in tags a weird chemistry is building up between Tam and Arisa. Tam still disparages her on twitter, and Arisa still seems to be trying really hard to make things work. However in the ring, Tam’s story is changing. She starts to rely on Arisa, they start to function as an actual team, and every once in a while, in the heat of the moment, she does things like give her a fist bump or a hug. Of course she has to punch her once she realizes what she’s doing, but it’s progress.

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For the anniversary show at Korakuen Hall in January, Tam challenges Momo for her white belt. Tam talks about the significance of them having a match exactly a year after she was forced to leave Oedo Tai thanks to Momo. She dyes her hair black, like it had been then. Tam has finally found peace between what she saw as the two sides of herself. Before the match Momo disparages her and talks about how she won’t even need to try. Tam ultimately loses, but takes Momo to the limit and forces her to use her finisher, the Peach Sunrise, something she said she wouldn’t need. It’s not a win, but Tam still proves herself and demonstrates her growth.

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On the same show, Mayu wrestles her anniversary match in a trios match alongside Saki and Arisa. When Arisa cheers Tam on on twitter Tam tells her “Just focus on protecting Mayu! If you let anything happen to her I’ll definitely never accept you.” It’s the first time she’s admitted that accepting Arisa is even an option.

A couple weeks later, Tam and Mayu tag in a match against Hana Kimura and Bobbi Tyler. Hana and Bobbi at this point are becoming a bit of a proving ground for other teams. They’re functional enough (and Hana is very strong, so she’d be a threat on her own) that they can definitely take on any team that’s just kind of thrown together. However they’re not in sync enough to stand a chance against a true team, against two wrestlers who are genuinely partners. Tam and Hana spend much of the match avoiding each other, but once they can’t, their intensity is the same as ever. Tam and Mayu win, and Mayu continues to antagonize Hana, flipping her off after the match. Hana follows her around the ring, screaming “fuck you, motherfucker!” Mayu clearly wants to retaliate, and starts to turn around to go after Hana some more, and then reconsiders. She rolls back into the ring and pulls Tam in close. Then they part and have their hands raised and Mayu stares at Hana while she walks away, a smug grin on her face. This is the best retaliation she can think of, showing off how close and in sync she is with Tam now, while Hana is just an enemy.

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A few weeks later, Tam and Arisa have the same match. Tam grumps about it non-stop leading up to the match, but Arisa is in good spirits, talking about how they’re going to do their best and she’s really excited for them to work hard together. To begin with, Tam and Hana still want to avoid each other, and on top of that Tam is still trying to seem like she couldn’t care less about Arisa as well. However with a match on the line she finally gets over herself and tries to work together with Arisa, and just like Arisa predicted they are an amazing team. At the end of the match Tam rejects Arisa’s fist bump yet again, but things have changed. Where she was being closed off before, now she seems to be teasing Arisa. She would never just go and admit that she was wrong, or even that she had simply changed her mind about Arisa. But now this is something she does as a funny jab, with a smile. She seems to be saying “look at us, this is our dynamic, aren’t we cute.”

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Arisa tweets that she thinks they’re an amazing team, that they see things the same way, that they share the same energy. And she wants to fight her. Arisa seems to still vehemently believe that she and Tam are on the same wavelength and would be amazing together, but she wants Tam to cut it out with her tsundere shit. It’s not cute (it is very cute though) and she needs her to earnestly commit, for real, no more of this hiding her real emotions.

From this point on their dynamic as a team takes a step forward. Tam is still guarded, but starts letting her walls down slightly. Arisa, at the same time, starts sticking up for herself against Tam. Tam still tries to do her “tag offense” that involves beating up Arisa, but now Arisa turns it around on Tam.

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It’s never been a “will they be able to get along? Is this what’s going to drive them apart?” kind of situation though. Arisa is saying “we work great together but we need to do it as a team, this beating me up stuff isn’t fun.” The first time she did it Tam was shocked — and then she got it together and they were an amazing team.

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Shortly before the trip to New York, Tam tweets that she’s been thinking a lot and maybe she’s been unfair. Many of her recent failures have been her own fault and “someone” (she doesn’t expressly say who) has been helping her a lot lately. In New York they interact a fair bit, and now Tam seems to be going out of her way to get Arisa’s attention more often. Not that it takes all that much work.

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And that’s pretty much where she’s at now. Mayu managed to keep most of Stars together through the draft. Tam and Arisa work a little bit better every time they team, and Tam has started taking the initiative to interact with Arisa more, to spend time with her and train together.

I might have missed details and gotten some stuff out of order, and if I planned things in advance ever I probably would have split this up into chapters, but there it is. That’s Tam Nakano. She’s a huge butthead and she’s wildly petty. She’s obsessive and intense. She loves her friends and some of her enemies, too. She’s a textbook tsundere, and she struggles to believe in herself, and she has failed, over and over and over, but she keeps moving forward no matter what. She’s the fucking best.

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