For as many times as we’ve had it drilled in our heads that wrestling is a love story, or a war of attrition, it is with only the utmost seriousness that I must add that sometimes wrestling is just bare-assed hi-jinks.
If you are reading this, you’ve probably seen at least one wrestling butt in your lifetime. It might have belonged to a man once known as “Mr. Ass,” it could have been the result of Shawn Michaels being Shawn Michaels, but in recent years these butts have increasingly been attached to some of the fine men of DDT, one of Japanese pro wrestling’s most diverse companies and greatest internet era success stories.
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DDT always has been defined by how it zigs when you expect it to zag; the home of Danshoku (translation: sodomy) Dieno also birthed some of the most brutally heavy-hitting matches of the modern era with guys like Kota Ibushi, Kenny Omega and Konosuke Takeshita. Indeed, duality can be found where you give it the chance to exist. Thanks to the recent hard work of CyberFight (DDT’s parent company) in expanding the Wrestle Universe online streaming platform, and thanks to exposure in AEW and across the indies, we know now what DDT and even TJPW’s hard hitters can do.
For those who dare to look beyond the most familiar, for those who watch the strangely titled shows beamed out from Korakuen Hall or perhaps even a moving train or waterpark, the Takeshita types of the world are only the tip of a storied wrestling iceberg. Through even basic observation, it’s clear that DDT cannot be defined as any one style of wrestling company, which is how Yuki Ueno’s bare bottom ends up on the same show as Minoru Suzuki. The whiplash is a feature, not a bug – call it extreme duality.
Kiss My Ass
— 上野 勇希 YUKI UENO @サウナカミーナ (@dna_ueno) August 14, 2022
It’s understandable for fans raised in a world where Vince McMahon had a handful of employees publicly kiss his ass as part of a show, there can be a level of discomfort associated with this brand of comedy in wrestling. In the case of guys like Vince, I find hardly anything to add to the discussion that would explain why people take issues with WWE’s type of comedy (at least during its raunchiest years, now passed).
A common refrain in this discussion is as follows: “there’s a difference.” There are power structures to consider, business relationships to consider, cultural norms and expectations, and above all, which direction someone telling a joke is “punching,” so to speak.
In the case of WWE, we’ve seen quite a few examples both in and out of storyline of wrestlers suffering from being punched down on – becoming racial stereotype characters well into the 2010s and 2020s, the aforementioned kissing of Vince’s hindquarters, or maybe even a gag where one of the longest working women the company has was made to fart loudly and fart often. In a vacuum, some of this could seem like normal “banter,” but the presentation (or up until recently, the presenter) made it easy to question otherwise.
The DDT difference comes in many forms. In DDT, the on-screen and actual CEOs don’t assert themselves with their asses, rather, they’re often the subject of others’ assertions. Sanshiro Takagi, known for being equal parts down to clown and a rare charismatic wrestling phenomenon, knows that his audience does not want to see a story where a fired-up boss runs amok on his workers at all times.
However he arrived at this conclusion, it has helped out a lot: sometimes he is the important opponent for stars in the process of exploding like Hyper Misao or Maki Itoh, while other times he finds himself in the middle of an empty baseball field with the 37 (pronounced sauna, like the sauna) Kamiina using little more than being hot as offense. In another sublime moment from that match, opponents lined up alongside each other in the form of a star while two wrestlers in the middle of their shape did offense on each other — and occasionally everyone’s nuts.
As an on-air official at most DDT events, Hisaya Imabayashi is – at least for the moment – the person most often sandwiched between two men’s rears as part of “the DDT experience.” He doesn’t suffer from being an authority figure people can’t wait to embarrass, rather, he’s like an ever-present element of collateral damage. He is a great sport by all means; he sells like he means it, and clearly has found a way to have fun with all the action. He can project hilarity out of the uncomfortable in a really engaging way, where you feel for him as a character and perhaps cringe at all the right parts of his appearances along the way.
Extreme Duality in Practice
It works because DDT has set an odd standard for itself as a company – giving high concept matches, comedy matches, or those somewhere in between (like Hyper Misao and Shoko Nakajima’s capsule-based match) equal footing with heavy hitters like Jun Akiyama and the DAMNATION boys is how DDT keeps itself honest about how silly wrestling is.
DDT has characters all along the spectrum of sexuality and gender. There are straight men who play gay men on-screen like Danshoku Dieno (once a subject of controversy although arguably less so as his act … kind of … matured). There are men who are simply throw-caution-to-the-wind exhibitionists, unafraid to use the raunchy as a kind of punctuation – though their hijinks often are reactive to those of others, or better still, the very means by which they lose matches. There are nonbinary wrestlers who don’t get involved in any of this at all because they project a dazzling amount of class at all times. There are cisgender women, like Maki Itoh, who found out that nobody is inherently immune from the effects of the ass machine seen in this match.
In DDT, this kind of representation is presented so casually that it is obviously embedded into their booking and hiring practices. Ask Saki Akai and I am sure she would be able to tell you a thing or two about what equal footing means for her, one of the few women that work primarily with DDT rather than some hybrid of itself and TJPW or other CyberFight companies. There is no Chuck and Billy style moment of knowing disappointment waiting for you around these parts. The commentary team isn’t going for every low-hanging fruit of a joke about “bussy,” either.
Not Perfect, Still Ahead of the Curve
DDT’s focus on comedy means that here are many imperfections around the presentation of queerness and sexual discomfort, and explosive arguments in DDT fandom spaces have proven that these sequences are always up for different interpretations, but DDT has managed to present a pretty good faith version of that in recent, officially distributed, easily accessible years.
DDT succeeds when it tells jokes about butts because it never makes you the butt of the joke. The company’s approach toward toilet humor and its adjacencies is even keeled, something surprisingly mature given the nature of what’s being discussed.
In wrestling and media at large, there will never be a company with a perfect track record. This said, in the absence of public acknowledgements of past failures and promises to do better, fans of DDT get a living, breathing wrestling product that is always willing to integrate important changes into how it works. Changes in society, changes in attitudes, or changes in power dynamics – these changes play a role in how audiences interpret entertainment, so they should play a role in how that entertainment is considerately made.
Nobody is asking companies to move heaven and earth, and nobody is asking for an end to toilet humor writ large. For as likely as you are to see a fully exposed butt on any random DDT event on Wrestle Universe from the last year and a half, they are awfully considerate about the whole thing.