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Saturday, October 6, 2012

The end of the All-Star Era

Latest Sasuke All-Star Theme

Over the past few months I've been expecting the inevitable to happen and dreaded when/if it would be announced.  With the formal announcement of Sasuke 28 this winter I knew this might be the last Sasuke that I knew in the format that I loved for almost 6 years.  The show is expected to be redeveloped and be taken into a new era.  So, in anticipation of going with a new concept, the All-stars will be retired. There are far-reaching implications with that announcement and an entire post can be dedicated to what will happen in the future.  However, I prefer to post what I've been feeling for the past day since I read that tweet.  Bear with my sentimental and often meandering journey through my fondest memories of Sasuke and the creation of Rambling Rican. It's my way of going through catharsis. It's a way for me to sort out my depression and melancholy over the news.  I'm not entirely sure if I ever explained how this all started for me anyway.  Lord knows I've been asked a lot about this.  I'll have to start at the beginning.


In 2006 I was watching late-night television (which is a constant for me) when I flipped through the channels and stopped at ESPN2.  There I was listening to someone that sounded like John Tesh lose his marbles over some Japanese people on an obstacle course that looked friggin' rad to me. Heck, I've watch Sumo on ESPN2 for years so this was just something different.  I loved obstacle course shows anyway (Hell I used to watch every Battle of the Network Stars.. from the beginning when it premiered.. remember I'm 40 years old now folks..).. anyway, I instantly knew what I would be watching for the next hour or so. It wasn't Sasuke (or Ninja Warrior as it would latter be known as).. it was Viking.

All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠 defeating the Heartbreaker (ハートブレイカー) in Viking

In front of me was some short Japanese dude with bad teeth but with super human strength and an infectious laugh.  His giddy emotion is what struck me as I've never really seen Japanese ever really show that much emotion in television.  He wasn't a celeb.. he was just some random Japanese fisherman who was awkward in front of the camera.  A normal man.  He was surrounded by his friends who cheered him on.  Blue collar people.  Akin to me.  When it was his turn, he stopped smiling.. looked up.. made a stern face and then continued to make a mockery of what was in front of him in badassery form. It was the Heartbreaker.  I couldn't believe anyone could do that.. I mean.. seriously.. (imagine my surprise and delight at seeing it reborn in Sasuke years later as the Spider Flip (スパイダーフリップ).

All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠 defeating the Ultimate Plank (アルティメットプランク) in Viking

Anyway I kept watching as this giddy short but ripped Japanese man was astounding in what he was doing.  It looked easy.. and having played sports most of my early life and well.. I was quite the tomboy growing up.. I was always climbing on things (long before parkour was ever coined as a phrase)... so I knew how difficult this was in actuality despite how easy he made it look.  Then I saw the pegboard and he had my complete attention. I was in shock how smooth he went through all of it.  Perfect form.. no wasted motion.. I was going WHO IS THIS GUY??? (P.S. I WANT a Sasuke sign.. that would be AWESOME.. and difficult!)

All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠 running out of gas right before the buzzer of the Vertical Rope (バーティカルロープ) during Final Viking.

Seeing the full final stage I kept thinking no way he's going to go through all that in that time.. he's gotta be tired.  Finally.. just a short of his goal.. he just ran out of gas. He couldn't get his muscles to respond.. He was human after all. Still.. I couldn't believe what I just saw.. I was hooked.  I then found it again on the schedule and watched it from the beginning and were introduced to a lot of the people that were to be in another show just about a year later on another channel.  Some show called Ninja Warrior.

All-Star Kazuhiko Akiyama 秋山和彦 narrowly defeating Stage 1 in Sasuke 11

I was watching what I later found out was Sasuke 11.  G4 wasn't known for actually telling you what show you were watching so I had no bloody clue what tournament, what year.. Heck.. they don't do that now as it is.. so, I had to do a lot of digging to find out what this show was in reality.  I did however notice someone that I vaguely recognized with a serious vision problem finally make it to the 2nd stage after 3 years of failing in the first stage.  It was Kazuhiko Akiyama.. whom from this tournament on was my favorite competitor. I go into a long discussion as to why he's #1 for me in a blog I wrote a couple years ago so I'll spare you the long history on that.

What I didn't do though.. was make the connection between Sasuke and the show with the pegboard... I thought I was watching Viking the whole time! I mean sure.. it had a different name but I kept seeing the same people over and over. I figured they renamed it when it switched networks.. Lord knows we've seen that over the years.. After all.. that's Makoto Nagano on the right of the screen. Shingo right behind him.. I saw him in Viking as well.. Yamada as well.. and even Akiyama was in Viking. It didn't occur to me that they were two different shows filmed around the time (same production company but shown on two different Japanese networks) until later when I tried to explain to a friend of mine what they were watching on my television screen when they came over to visit.

All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠 posing with fans during Sasuke 18

Since you know how I obsess over these things.. I threw myself at the internet to see what I could find.  There was no warehouse of information.  Wiki wasn't around.  G4 was useless as usual when it came to stats, etc. or even any reliable information about the shows on the channel. So I spent hours trying to find information on a show I didn't even know the name of.  Finally, I ran into different posts scattered here all pointing to a Webjam page (which is now gone) that had current pictures and stories of Sasuke and it's competitors.  They even took the time to answer questions that we all wanted to know.  Given that it was more of a group of women than kids wanting to be on the show, our questions and answers were very different and therefore more difficult to find. It was only then that I figured it out that Viking and Sasuke are two different shows with basically the same competitors.

All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠 trying the horse stance balancing teacups

Not just finding out about the show itself and what tournament they were on.. I found people that ultimately would become my small circle of friends. Even to this day I have them.  All because of Sasuke.  What started out as a passion over talking about dyed crunchy hair, capped teeth, muscular bods, primped eyebrows.. (wow I'm digressing quickly aren't I?) turned out to find other women (my age and older) whom I enjoyed their company (and they seem to tolerate mine LOL).  Among those was the creator of what still stands as a great testament to Sasuke and the power of it's ideal.  The Power of Sasuke.  I found a group that were interested in the PEOPLE of Sasuke. not just the inanimate objects they jumped or climbed over.

All-Stars Bunpei Shiratori 白鳥文平 and Makoto Nagano 長野誠 during the Maguro Festival of 2007

To me, Sasuke is about people.  And for once I found a group that saw it the same way.  It was then that I started to have a clear appreciation for the All-Stars as a group.  All 6 of them (yes yes.. even Yamada).  I had my clear favorites but it was then that I understood what they stood for and why they were together.  As I learned more about their history I began to like them more and more.  They were very different people who lived in very different parts of the country all bound together by the show twice a year.  We saw them grow older, get married, get divorced, have kids, get job promotions and even retire.  They were the ambassadors of the show that when the time I got to watching it.. was exploding worldwide.  The show itself was losing viewers after the great exodus of Kane Kosugi ケイン・コスギ from the show in Japan.  However the myth of Makoto Nagano and the All-stars (heh.. sounds like a rock band..) was quickly replacing it in the eyes of the West.



It was then that I found Lost in Ube. Ube posted on the G4 boards of the time a link to a program that to this day still works.. LOL  And for the first time.. I was able to watch Sasuke.. live.. as it aired in Japan.  Ube was into the minutia of the show. Something that I am into as well.  Clearly we focused on different things but the concept was the same.  Learn anything and everything we can from the show we love.  It was Ube that inspired me to even blog about the show. He encouraged me to find my own style and experiment. Not everyone can do a live-blog like Ube (and to this day I STILL don't know how he can do it.. while listening to me lose my marbles in IM chat).  Anyway, in the end I took the plunge and started my first and last post on Sasuke.. (yeah.. so much for that idea.. LOL)  My first tournament was Sasuke 20. I wasn't even going to blog about it.. then Ube told me about the show Sasuke Maniac and that is when the blog .. kinda took off.

All-Star Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟

It kept gaining momentum and the world of Sasuke expanded.  I learned more about the All-stars and met new people who have been trying to get on the show.  People like Moody and Keita and Ryo and some shoe salesman from Tokyo with a high pitched voice. I mean.. Al Bundy was trying to get on the show.  He couldn't possibly go far right? Oh yeah.. he won the show twice.. Anyway..  I started to write more and more about Sasuke and my goofy interpretation of what was going on via my little streaming program.  Every week I started getting more and more followers literally out of nowhere.  Call me naive but I honestly didn't think people outside of the small circle would even read it.  Since then I've had loyal followers who followed every word and picture of this blog.

All Stars Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟, Toshihiro Takeda 竹田敏浩, (Mr. Sasuke) Katsumi Yamada 山田勝己 and Makoto Nagano 長野誠 in the old Muscle Park in Odaiba (Tokyo)

Rambling Rican kept going like a train without breaks.  What followed was an interesting journey through Sasuke and meeting a growing international community.  Along for the ride was my expectation on what to do with this blog. Some good.. some bad.  There were times I felt this blog turned into a job.. other times (like now) it was used as expressing my ever random feelings.  Each week was different as each Sasuke Maniac went on closer and closer to the demise of that late-night show and the start of Sasuke 21.

All-Stars Makoto Nagano 長野誠and Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟

It was then where I had to make a choice. I literally worked myself sick over the blog and I thought I started to hate Sasuke as a whole. I lost the reason why I was doing it in the first place. It was through the friendships made through Sasuke that I managed to get through it and continue even to today.  Many of my friends have moved on from staring every week to Sasuke.. but.. curiously enough.. they remained.  No other obsession of mine ever survived that.  Even to this day.  Sasuke fans are just.. different.

He turned the hat around and said "Yamamoto" and laughed :-) @Pittsburgher

Trying to keep me from going nuts with my blog was the small Webjam community which included Pittsburgher.  She made the trip all the way to Florida to meet Nagano in person.  That whole event was crazy from organization to final product but in the end we finally confirmed what we always suspected.  These guys are genuine. Nagano was a shock to many that met him.  It finally sunk in the difference between them and celebs on other game shows.  They are normal people.  He was just happy to meet fans and finally travel the world.  The same of any of us who have always wanted to travel abroad.

All Stars Toshihiro Takeda 竹田敏浩, (Mr. Sasuke) Katsumi Yamada 山田勝己 and Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟

I guess it's because they are not celebrities. I mean.. each are blue collar workers (well with the exception of Bunpei..) who are just normal guys who just happened to be on a game show.  They weren't friends when they started either.  Most know the story between Akiyama and Yamada from their times on Banzuke. But, we grew with them and a bond was formed over the years of being together as a group.  TBS formed their entire show around them and it is because of that mold that we have strong feelings for them.  To many, Sasuke is not Sasuke without them.  Even the newer guys could never live up to the mystique of the originals simply because the focus is different.  Do I like them? Hell yeah.. anyone who sees me birth kittens when Ryo steps on the screen when I wasn't expecting... or I see Kongo and immediately think of snowy and midget ninja army in training...

Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟, Makoto Nagano 長野誠, Danchō Yasuda 安田団長, Kazuhiko Akiyama 秋山和彦 and Sasuke Veteran Kenji Takahashi 高橋賢次

The All-stars were created in a time where the show had no stars to speak of. I was alright with that though because THAT was the Sasuke I fell  in love with. It was "Ordinary people doing extraordinary things".  It wasn't the Olympics. It wasn't a scripted show.  And it certainly wasn't Survivor.  Sasuke came to me during a time where Reality shows were becoming the mainstay of television. While many jumped on that bandwagon, I was craving something simple and much different than was available to watch here in the USA.  Sasuke filled that void.

All-Stars theme used during the opening introduction of Sasuke competitors

To me the All-Stars were and still are a representation of my generation. A little old fashioned perhaps but I identified the most with them.  I also was happy to see the friendships blossom between radically different personalities. That's something I always have had issues with.  Even now.  I liked how they never really changed much from the time they entered the show to the time they left.  Outside of having to endure an announcer prying into your personal life and damning your offspring to the indignant shame of your inexcusable failure.. they really still were the same people from when they started. You can't say that for most celebs these days.

Mwahahhahahahahahhahahahahahh :D Pull up a chair baby!!!

It also helped me goof around with the newly found friends online. We all had a crazy sense of humor and enjoyed watching the eye candy.  We all had our preferences and we all had "stupid things we notice™" in every frame of every picture.  That's where the passing popcorn phrase came from.  Half the time if I didn't do screen-capping and watching every single still frame I would have missed some spectacular moments.  Besides.. as it's been pointed out to me when I start getting overwhelmed with the blog.. half the fun is LOOKING for those things in the frame after the show has aired.


A rare siting during Sasuke 24.. All 6 Sasuke All-stars in one event (still Sasuke 17 marks the last time all 6 COMPETED together) so it was a treat to see.

Over the past 4 years I've enjoyed following them as they represented the show.  From small shows about hauling a block of ice through Japan in July.. to trying to cross a rope between two moving ships in the open ocean.. to making talento work your job for one night.. and so on.  I especially enjoyed the participation of fans in each of the mini-events they entered or created - like the Maguro Festival, BUG IN MIKI, Disaster relief or all of the Muscle Park events.

All 6 All-stars during Nagano's wedding to Asami

Ultimately though.. we knew this was going to end.  As I approached my own 40th year on Earth I began to realize how the show was changing around them.  Bunpei had moved on (mostly because of successive injuries), Yamada retired twice.. or was it three.. I lost track.. Akiyama was becoming sporadic in appearances.  Takeda had retired.  Only Shingo and Nagano were the consistent ones.  even so, to carry all 6 All-stars on two sets of shoulders is tiring.  Shingo's been complaining about how much pressure he's been under the past few years.  Nagano's mentioned a few times he's getting tired but will endure for as long as they want him and his legs can hold up.

Toshihiro Takeda 竹田敏浩 trying to wrangle Nagano's son Kaiou 塊王 during the 2012 Maguro Festival

Still, the shock of the disbanding of the All-Stars is still painful to accept.  I know that's the way things are going with the introduction of all the other countries finally catching up to the main show.  Just as Sasuke survived after Kane Kosugi, I'm sure the show will endure without the All-stars.  With them is 10 years worth of memories that no one will ever forget.

All 6 All-stars with some of the wives and kids

I've been asked why disband them at all?  It's simple really. They carry the baggage of the past with them.  Do I like it? Hell no, but I see why it's important. The show is going to change to Japan being the ultimate final after each country has their respective trials.  Each having their own 4 stage course. Each earning their spot to the big show.  Gone will be the dominance of the wildcards and ultimately the automatic entries we got so used to. That's what the Sasuke All-stars were.



All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠 and ANW4 Announcer Matt Iseman in Las Vegas for the taping of American Ninja Warrior ©Matt Iseman 
In the end it was bound to happen.  I'd rather they go now then slowly trickle through a never-ending sea of trial competitors.  Given that it would be just Nagano and Shingo with the occasional Yamada showing up.. it's best to stop here than linger.  I don't even want to know what will happen and who will stay and who will go in addition to the All-stars. That's for the next few months to be ironed out.
All-Star Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟 - July 18, 2012 ©Pittsburgher
(Sasuke fans are the best blog)
I don't know what I am going to do about Rambling Rican.  Anyone coming to my website knew my focus.  It's splashed all over my banner.  It's a tribute to Sasuke with an emphasis on my love for the All-stars.  I'll take my time in deciding what to do.  We are still 3 months away from airing of Sasuke 28 and of course the blogging of Sasuke 28.. LOL In the meantime I'll savor the memories. Be prepared for more tributes though.. fair warning..

Pittsburgher in Japan with All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠  and his wife Asami 阿紗 美 and their son Kaiou 塊王 saying hi to me! - August, 2012 ©Pittsburgher

With the expansion worldwide and the slowly disappearing roster of All-stars the time was right to make a radical change.  I'm happy though that TBS at least plans to do something about recognizing their 10 years of service to the show (and in Shingo's case.. 15 years).  As the new era of Sasuke in light of the world expansion begins I want to take as much time as I can savoring the past for as long as I can.  There will always be a soft spot in my heart for the All-stars. That will never change.




I think if there's much to regret is the fact I never got to see them in person.  I never had an inkling to compete. My sports days are long past me.  Every time they were in the USA I couldn't travel to see them.  And now.. with the All-stars leaving.. I will never see them all in one place ever again.  That's just sad.  I was never able to travel (most of you know why so I'll spare you) so that part of my bucket list will never be scratched off.

14 comments:

ad uk said...

Well what can I say I feel like crying I really do . I think they have to take the focus off them to ease the pressure but should be allowed to go to trails if they wanted to then only the ones capable and wanting to be there would be. I really hope they are allowed to be honoured guests at least if not competing .

On a different note I have not seen much of Viking but hope to eventually

I think you should go the director virtually invited you I know the cost but you only live once and I think it means so much to you

I know I'm one to talk but I will wait to see what happens in Europe and if I ever get to Japan ill track them down

DutchNinjaPerry said...

Well Arsenette,
What a huge blogg you wrote!

I have never read a blogg in my life but this blogg about how it started for you is amazing to read(also the pictures inbetween)!

You really are a true fan and I just really hope you still get to meet the All-stars in real life(I don't know in what condition you are) but if I get a chance to make it happen, I will.

As you may know me from the twitter messages we've had a long time ago, I'm Perry from The Netherlands. I'm super happy about knowing that Sasuke Rising is coming soon. And the fact that hopefully in a few years the show will let international contestants compete as well. You are doing a fenomenal job and I will definitely keep you posted on how it is going here in The Netherlands(Europe).

I would like to stay in contact with you via Facebook message or Hotmail or twitter. That would be nice to keep each other posted on news or other things, such as, me training for this event, (i'm representing The Netherlands and I have already made a few videos of my training and obstacles(to be ready for the real thing) but I also just like you love obstacle courses.

Since I've been watching Sasuke(Ninja Warrior) and ANW(American Ninja Warrior) I've been having a different view in life, but I also now when I'm outside walking in the street, I see obstacles. The creativity goes through my mind and if we could be in contact via something personal, I would love you to show a few(maybe 2 or 3) videos of me and the creativiy of obstacles I've made.

Wow this message is getting way to long and I'm not even slightly done with everything I want to say, or ask etc.

Keep going with this Arsenette!
(I will give you my email adress via twittermessage)

Greetings from The Netherlands!

Perry Oosterlee

Rufus said...

Thank you for sharing your journey from your discovery of the show up to now. I'm a bit melancholic too, but I figured it was a long time coming. Nothing gold can stay.

The effect Sasuke and the All-Stars have had on my life has been almost ridiculous. From my friend telling me about this "awesome Japanese sports show you HAVE to see" to me thinking I would like to try out for it someday and losing almost 40 pounds getting in shape (no joke), to multiple birthday cakes with pictures of the All-Stars on them and Nagano's "glamor" shots plasted on my refrigerator, to me literally crying along with Akiyama and Nagano when they won the 4th and 17th competitions... the list goes on but the point is, Sasuke has effected my life TREMENDOUSLY and I have you to thank for keeping me informed about the competition and the All-Stars. Even when I wasn't watching the show I would read your posts and become rejuvenated by your excitement and enthusiasm. Regardless of what you decide to do with the site, know that you've done the fan community a huge service over the years... you're practically an institution!!!

*chants*
RICAN! RICAN! RICAN!

snowy said...

Whatever you end up deciding, you have my undying gratitude, admiration and love for adding the phrase "Shinji's Flying Teabag" to my lexicon. I'm going to start using it every chance I get, and I don't give a Shinji's Flying Teabag what anybody thinks.

Arsenette said...

Thanks guys :)
UK you should really watch Viking. I honestly think you will enjoy it. Definitely watch the Nagano one (which I believe is Viking 2).
As for being able to afford it.. we are a one income family. There's no way I can go unless someone paid for it and I doubt anyone would do that just for the blog.
Hey Perry :) I do remember ya! Yep you know my twitter so definitely keep in touch. I'm not a FB fan myself so here, YT, twitter and SMF are my contacts.
Hey Rufus :) Man it's been a long time hasn't it? I met ya through this blog so it really does take me back!
Hey snowy! Awwwww thanks :) and yea the Shinji's Flying Tea Bag was priceless! I'm not sure which one is funnier though.. the name or the fact that Pitts got Nagano to reenact it in Florida.. LOL!

Rufus said...

Seems like just yesterday we were fighting off the ODB (Olivia Munn Defense Brigade)... oh, the memories... :(

Chaki said...

It would just be such a finale if you could go and watch the All-Stars for the last time in person!!

We should do a petition!

Anna said...

What sad news! Thanks for sharing your journey and all of these posts with us. I know it's been awhile since I commented here, but I really enjoyed talking with you and everyone else on Pam's Sasuke group. (Not sure if you remember me, I was franna724...it's been a long time!) I used to watch the show just for the All-Stars. :(

mchiii said...

Arsenette - we're all so grateful that you're able to keep this blog going, and obviously you cater to a wide audience: we're here in Canada, but there are others in the US, the Netherlands, and I'm sure a whole list of people in different countries that get their info from you! It's not easy getting SASUKE information, especially with the language barrier, so everything that you're able to bring our way is very much appreciated!

My friends and I were talking recently about where SASUKE is heading: we joined in around SASUKE 23, and have been very excited for every release since. Things are changing now, and as sad as it will be to see the All-Stars go, this opens up a space for new competitors to step up and make a name for themselves! This really is exciting, because it gives us an opportunity to learn all about new competitors and come to love them; and these new competitors will look to the former All-Stars and follow their example - I'm sure we will be seeing an excellent crop of new faces for SASUKE 28!

You have really brought together a spectacular community of people with all your hard work, and words alone can't express how thankful we are! As a fun suggestion, I think it would be really cool if everyone that follows the Rambling Rican blog submitted pictures of themselves and friends watching SASUKE 28, along with where you're from. What better way to celebrate the "everyman" in the spirit of SASUKE? I think it would be really cool!

Looking forward to 28!

Matt

Unknown said...

Hey Arsenette! It's Venus Butt Trap. ^^ Thanks for all the fond memories in a single dynamic blog. Often times, when I read your blogs, your words are meaningful and your coverage in depth. Not in a typical boring "Newsflash" way, but in a pretty normal and funny way. I often wonder what it would be like if I had a blog to express myself through. Sasuke blogs are just so much fun to read! Cheers on the news about 28!! Whooooo!

Of course we subsequently received terrible news as well. It sucks about the All-stars...

But I don't want anyone to be sad at this point. Sasuke will continue. I just want to share my optimism with everyone. I'm up for a change in format too, thou shall not be a stick in the mud XD. I will be there (and I hope all of you will be there as well) no matter what changes the show goes through, as long as it is still SASUKE.

Now, about that interview...

Arsenette said...

OMG Rufus.. OMDB.. Wow that's going back.. what.. 4 years? ahahahhaha that's priceless!!
Awww thanks Chaki :)
Anna! Yes of course I remember you! I read your blog a lot. (very informative! I wish I read more.. ) Thank you so much for the kind words.
Matt that's an excellent idea. I'll see how the season goes in deciding what I'm going to do with the blog in addition to the TBS coverage. Especially in the light of the changing of the guard.
Aahahahha hey Venus! I haven't forgotten about that interview.. I still find it unusual you want to interview me.. we'll see we'll see.. ;) Seriously though thanks for the kind words. Doing this blog and sharing with all the Sasuke fans is what I enjoy the most. That was the whole purpose of the blog. Plenty of birthing kittens and popcorn passing. I should bring that back though. I've sounded like the news-hour for a while there...

Unknown said...

Arsenette, thank you for what you've done over the years. I hope that someday, somehow, you can meet up with some of the All-stars, even if not in competition. I know you've said before how you have your limitations in life, but that the blogging is something you're certainly capable of doing. I think you've been far more than capable--you've done wonderfuly. May your friendships through this last a lifetime. Rod

band97 said...

Huh....it's official theyre done...and I think they all are some what unhappy. I know Takeda expressed regret. Akiyama broke down. Yamada is well...Yamada. And Im not sure on Shingo and Nagano but I dont think they could be to excited about forced retirment. I know I sure as hell dont like it!

Arsenette said...

I haven't finished the blog yet but within the past week 3 of the All-stars have been openly campaigning on their Facebook pages to get back on the show. I'm hoping it gains traction :D

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