Professional wrestling is utterly ridiculous when you think about it. It’s just a bunch of people in skimpy clothing trying to look as cool as can be and pretending to be someone else, while they safely beat each other up so they can take it all to the next town the next night. What a weird medium.
This ridiculousness has garnered wrestling quite the following along what we here in the US call “The Bible Belt” for…reasons. Always a hotbed for the foundations of North American wrestling, this particular stretch – mostly in the southernmost states – is host to a certain culture and people that many label ‘rednecks.’ I’m sure there are rednecks all over the world, bumpkins of every nation.
I am looking at the US one, though, simply because about a month or so on Twitter, a very popular tweet rang out about the WWE being the equivalent of redneck anime. If there is any art form that even approaches the ridiculousness of pro wrestling, it might be the Japanese animation phenomenon. While cartoons in the US have been restricted to a certain vaudeville air for nearly their entire existence, anime has taken the world by storm with the infinite, otherworldly, and often mature content to explore. That said, there are many aspects of its storytelling that are utterly ridiculous if you think about it – not unlike our live-action grappling medium.
So here I am about to suck all the fun out of what I’m sure was an innocent observational joke because, as one ancient Chinese advisor once said, “jokes don’t stay jokes for long.” Quick disclaimer in that I’m not claiming to be any kind of definitive expert on either wrestling or anime, I’m just a dude who thoroughly enjoys both.
For starters, we can’t ignore that enormous purple thing on the horizon that everyone keeps pointing at – WrestleMania is literally right around the corner. Two of the biggest matches on the card are for the WWE Championship and the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Who are these matches between? The former is between a physics-defying man with a noticeable accent from Stone Mountain, Georgia taking on the Japanese lovechild of Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury. The latter is a contest pitting a woman who made her name off of her father, has a southern belle air about her, and has even adopted a ringname of a major city in North Carolina against a woman who is essentially an eccentric Kabuki kickboxer from Osaka. I could straight up end this analysis right here.
But I won’t because a common trait among both mediums is their enthusiasm for taking things too far and always crossing lines that no one asked to be crossed.
Speaking of crossing those lines, one of my favourite anime that did this on the reg was a show called Mobile Fighter G Gundam. The premise of the show revolved around giant robots, as does everything in the Gundam franchise. For this particular series, every nation in the world has a giant robot represent them in a big brawl-for-all for control of the world government. Of course, every robot (and pilot for that matter) was essentially big clunky stereotypes of literally every nation you can think of taken up to eleven. The Japan Gundam? A robotic samurai with attacks based on Buddhist teachings and a warrior pilot with no indoor voice. American Gundam? A mechanical football playing surfer-boxer who used an enormous six shooter and whose pilot used “America the Beautiful” as a lullaby. And so on and so forth.
The parallel here is the WWE – or rather Vince McMahon – is a lover of this trope, seeing as how the character depth of many a Superstar who has come through the company has simply been being where they’re from. And that’s their gimmick. Often times it’s a heel, as with the Iron Sheik or Nikolai Volkoff or Rusev. Even when they’re not, they’re not given much more depth, all the way down to accentuating in every other sentence that Sheamus is from Ireland and that Rey Mysterio is a luchador of Mexican lineage. They’ve gotten better with this over the years, but for every Bret Hart, there is a Mountie in the way.
G Gundam fully falls under the anime genre known as ‘shonen,’ which in literal terms means ‘for boys’ and is generally the most popular genre in the medium. It is mostly comprised of brightly-designed superpowered individuals trying to rid the world of some kind of evil, which parallels it directly with the superhero genre from the west. If there is anything the WWE loves to compare its Superstars to, it’s superheroes. Probably because they’re mainstream and moneymakers these days, but that’s beside the point.
Point is that they’re not entirely wrong in comparing them. These are individuals who are portrayed as larger than life in vibrant tights and idolised bodies to perform feats of skill that we could only dream of. WWE stars as shonen heroes fits insanely well. And this isn’t even delving into the idea that the biggest selling point of both is simply the fights.
Of course, there are other genres in anime because anime is a medium, not a genre like many people seem to think. This is something that other mediums like poetry and, naturally, pro wrestling seem to fall under. It is not uncommon to hear people say they don’t like these things thinking all of them are the same. There is a variety in all of them. The WWE is not the only genre of wrestling on the planet; virtually every promotion in the world has their own style and specialises in certain kinds of stories and action that can cater to anyone on any level.
Another supremely interesting and integral part of the presentation of both mediums is the soundtrack. An anime opening intro and the songs played for individual characters is, of course, akin to wrestling where virtually everyone gets some sort of grand spectacle entrance, complete with a thumping theme that stays stuck in your head for days or even years. I say all this knowing no Monday Night Raw theme could hold a candle to the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, but I digress.
Putting a lot of this analysis together, perhaps the single biggest unifier when it comes to the relationship between what the WWE does and anime is the characters. Sure, story is an important aspect of both, but it’s the characters involved and the things they did that stick with us. The scope and audacity of the characters in both emphasise so many things at the heart of their respective processes. They are individuals whose entire essence knows not the words, “hold back.”
We wouldn’t be nearly as interested in these things if Kurt Angle didn’t say he wants to make Jesus tap out or if we didn’t see a schoolgirl unabashedly beating up a giant hamburger. Why do these things happen? Because these characters and their worlds are insane and audacious and we marvel at them and adore them for it.
All in all, a quote from Vinnie Mac himself seems to sum everything up – “To those who believe in the beauty of professional wrestling, nothing needs to be said. For those who don’t appreciate wrestling, nothing could be said to change their minds.” These two art forms are probably something you either like or you don’t, with little in between. Try explaining a wrestling storyline or an anime plot to someone who has no earthly idea what’s going on and you’ve probably just lost a friend or colleague and now every time you see Janine at the water cooler, it’s going to be awkward. But to you, there’s no need explaining. You just love it. And maybe that’s the biggest reason why the WWE and perhaps pro wrestling in general is my favourite shonen. Can’t wait for the One Piece crossover.
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