J-Crowned is an exemplary piece of work that offers unrivalled insight into the champions of Japanese wrestling. From the very beginning with the incomparable Rikidōzan in 1951 to the modern champions of 2020, Matt Charlton’s clear enthusiasm and commitment to documenting this history are remarkable and commendable.
This is substantially more than a look into history. It’s a fascinating amalgamation of intrigue and wonder, starting with the iconic wrestlers who have paved the path for the eventual coming of today’s greats. It is impressive how Charlton juggles the enormity of the wrestlers and channels their unique stories into a single page, documenting each of their journeys from debut to becoming champion and beyond. The ability to condense each wrestler’s marvellous history so succinctly gives the perfect measurement of information and ensures the book is never overwhelming.
The deviation J-Crowned makes from the norm are in the illustrations. More than words can offer, the hand-drawn portraits of each champion truly help to grasp their full character, along with drawings of the Championship belts and certain matches. The simplicity of having illustrations be such an essential part of the narrative makes J-Crowned a distinct contribution to the wrestling library.
The knowledge gained leads to unyielding respect for all the subjects mentioned. I found myself making notes of matches I wanted to see and wrestlers I wanted to learn more about, engulfed in the unparalleled lore of Japanese wrestling. I actively sought out matches from legends I have only seen in the twilight of their careers: Yuji Nagata; Vader; Satoshi Kojima, to name a few. Thankfully Charlton highlights classic matches for each of the three Championships covered in the book.
This first entry of J-Crowned covers the top title of the top companies exclusively: All Japan Pro Wrestling’s Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship; New Japan Pro Wrestling’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship; Pro Wrestling NOAH’s GHC Heavyweight Championship. Volume 2 is currently in the works and will dive deeper by detailing different titles and wrestlers.
Equally important as the champions holding the titles are the Championship titles themselves and the rich backstory surrounding their creation. Japanese Championships are arguably the most prestigious in the wrestling world due to the willingness to acknowledge their legacy and how that has built their present, making the Championships fiercely symbolic and a great weight of belief is imparted on each holder.
The core of this book lies with the champions but it inevitably has a further reach. As a result of the detailed coverage a wider familiarity with the entirety of Japanese wrestling is naturally provided: How even in death Rikidōzan’s achievements led to the Triple Crown of AJPW; The birth of NJPW in 1972; The mass exodus of AJPW leading to the formation of NOAH IN 2000.
Given the constant growth of Japanese wrestling among English speaking fans it is significant that Charlton has made J-Crowned accessible for both new fans whilst still imparting wisdom on veteran fans. There is an avenue to be explored by everyone. An extended benefit of J-Crowned is in its use as a reference guide. This is not a book you will finish reading and then have no further use for. J-Crowned will provide value in giving readers a helpful reminder when names of the old crop again, as they often do.
In a world where the mountaintop is being Heavyweight Champion, J-Crowned cements itself as the harness needed to make your ascent to the top easier and far more enjoyable.