As interest in Puroresu has developed in the last few years, with NJPW, NOAH, and to a lesser extent, AJPW, having easily accessible streaming services, interest in the history of all three companies has also gone up. This is where a book like J-Crowned, and now J-Crowned 2, sit. Lovingly illustrated, written, and researched by Matthew Charlton of Shining Wizard Designs, it profiles the movers and shakers in the Junior Heavyweight divisions of the big three companies over the last thirty or so years. It also looks back on Joshi history and links together profiles on the legends of the ’80s and ’90s with modern-day warriors who have forged a new path of the distinctly Japanese wrestling art form in Stardom.
The book gives a potted history of how the titles came into being, their significance in Puro history, and then moves on to highlighting the champion. The book starts with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, explaining the division’s lineage from the WWF Junior Heavyweight title and moves on to profile people who would become the biggest names in the industry. It is a good starting point to work from. While the ’80s feuds are incredibly important, they’ve been written about ad infinitum for the last forty years. This shines a very fair, and evangelical light on no less important but sometimes forgotten wrestlers. Liger is there, of course, as is Owen Hart and Kenny Omega, but early champions like Kuniaki Kobayashi, Naoki Sano, and Norio Hanaga get their due. It also chronicles the peak period of Junior Heavyweight history. The J-Crown era that saw a collection of the world’s best Juniors, arguably the greatest generation of Junior wrestlers compete in the Super J-Cup, Top of Super Juniors, and of course, for the IWGP Title, as NJPW worked widely with Michinoku Pro, WAR, and WCW.
The AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Title is also covered in depth. Perhaps the lost title under the auspices of Giant Baba, who couldn’t find his booking groove with the belt despite being a genius at Heavyweight storytelling. It has been historically the underappreciated title of the three major championships, but again, it offers fascinating history. Especially as long term veterans like Masanobu Fuchi being players within All Japan for over three decades and influencing the long term politics of the King’s Road style with the likes of Naomichi Marufuji often in the driving seat.
The newest title covered in the book is the Global Honoured Crown Junior Heavyweight Championship, but it perhaps has the most spectacular legacy. Only twenty years old at the time of print, NOAH’s King’s Road Plus style that allowed for the importation of talents from different companies meant the title to grow into a complex playground for future legends like KENTA, Marufuji, and Yoshinobu Kanemura. The book explores the stories of each and the other NOAH Juniors incredibly well.
Big Red, the WWWA Women’s Championship is the belt with the most history in this book, and by choosing to focus on ten standout champions, rather than the full lineage is understandable, there is little information on the early ’70s champions or footage, and the belt always meant more than anything else in the company. As Akira Hokuto put it, one day when challenging for the belt, “Aja (Kong Champion), I am injured, so I don’t want to wrestle for the title because it would ruin the prestige of the championship.” The coverage of these women is much appreciated to give context to the other two titles from recent history featured in the book.
The World of Stardom Championship really does have great lineage to Big Red, partly because it is red, but the first champion Nanae Takahashi was also the last WWWA Champion. Takahashi helped found the company and built it on the foundations left by AJW. The profiles echo the company’s development too, foreign heels like Alpha Female, all the way up to current stars.
The Neo High-Speed title is the last to be covered and looks at, what is in effect, the Junior Heavyweight title in Stardom. A groundbreaking concept that has featured legends of the mat, as well as break out stars, it is a great way to celebrate another title that means so much to Japanese fans. Starting life in NEO Women’s Wrestling and migrating to World Wonder Ring Stardom when NEO closed down, it showcased fast aerial wrestling as an alternative to the heavy lifting of the Red Belt.
Supplied with incredible illustrations, this book is well worth the money for the artwork alone. However, the fascinating history of each wrestler will give you a greater, more well-rounded knowledge of the most tumultuous time in Puroresu history, in its most dynamic divisions.
Read our latest interview with Matt Charlton here.
You can order the kindle and paperback version of J-Crowned Volume 2 here.