Recent converts can be the most zealous, and this is exactly how I am about Dramatic Dream Team.
I’ve been aware of DDT for ages. If you hang out with art nerds who are into wrestling, the name’s bound to come up eventually. But I’ve only been subscribing to their streaming service, DDT Universe, for two years now. And I’ve only been obsessively consuming its offerings for about a year and half. In that relatively short time — which amounts to slightly less than 9% of the promotion’s existence — I have become convinced that it’s among humanity’s greatest achievements and that everyone should watch it.
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Part of the reason for my (over)enthusiasm is that DDT uniquely appeals to my specific sensibilities. So many of its offerings contain the things that I value most in art and entertainment, like an off-kilter sense of humour, a smattering of serious drama, moderate perversion, self-awareness that is cheeky without becoming overindulgent or smug, goths, and butts. Beyond that, though, I genuinely happen to believe that there’s something really special about the promotion. I’ve been writing about about music, film, books, TV, and sports entertainment for two decades now. I’ve been consuming copious amounts of pop culture for even longer. And, in that time, I’ve come across few works in any medium that are as consistently clever, innovative, and cohesively executed as DDT’s shows. I sincerely believe that anyone who has similar tastes, or anyone who cares what I have to say about anything, will find something they’ll appreciate in this universe.
So when Hunktears approached me about writing a guide to getting into DDT, I responded with the same level of enthusiasm that MAO displays for running over his boss, president Sanshiro Takagi, with a van. I might not be an expert in DDT yet, but I do have first hand experience with getting really, really into it. And I’m fast becoming an expert at getting other people into it. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Dramatic Dream team was founded by Sanshiro Takagi, MIKAMI and NOSAWA Rongai in 1997. Over the course of its existence, DDT has evolved from a promotion that leaned heavily on WWE parody to a multi-brand group that encompasses a wide range of styles and tones ranging from main event seven star-worthy epics, to bonkers romps through unconventional venues, to pro wrestling parody. (For a more comprehensive history from a better authority on the subject, see Dramatic DDT’s overview.)
It’s arguably best known in the west as the creative launching pad for stars like Kota Ibushi, El Generico, and Kenny Omega, and a source of wacky viral clips featuring wrestling sex dolls, emotional mid-match flashbacks, and butts. But it has also cultivated a loyal and enthusiastic cult following thanks to the consistent quality, depth, and breadth of its product.
Currently active brands in DDT include:
DDT- I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call DDT the flagship brand, but it would be fair to say that it’s the main focus. (At least for now. Takagi seems open to — and enthusiastic about — the prospect that Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling could overtake it in the future.) The tone here ranges from rapturously goofy nonsense to some of the best serious wrestling you’ll find anywhere. It’s the primary home of the wandering Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship— DDT’s anytime, anywhere belt that has famously been held by minor celebrities, mayors and pieces of furniture. The Extreme Championship, which is defended under different arcane rules each time, is even more absurd and entertaining.
Tokyo Joshi Pro- DDT’s women’s wrestling brand. TJPW has a reputation for being high on character and low on workrate among people who use the word “workrate” to talk about wrestling. It’s an assessment that’s both wrong and boring. The wrestling skill level in TJPW ranges from “has a good grasp of the fundamentals and is constantly improving” to “one of the best strikers in the entire business.” If the characters and their antics sometimes attract more attention than the wrestling, well, that’s just because that aspect of their game is even stronger.
Ganbare☆Pro Wrestling- Founded in 2013 by Ken Ohka (who has one of the most impassioned promos and the best theme in wrestling), Ganbare’s shows tend to be a slightly straightforward and straight-faced than DDT’s, but no less spirited. This is also the banner under which wrestler, cameraman, memoirist and underrated hunk Yumehito Imanari realizes his strange, deeply personal, and legitimately emotional visions, like Pocchari Joshi Pro Wrestling and Zenshin Imanari.
Rojo Pro Wrestling- This is less of a separate brand with its own roster and/or ethos than a section on DDT Universe, but Rojo Pro Wrestling encompasses the ridiculous and innovative matches that don’t take place in a wrestling ring or its general vicinity. If the sprawling gonzo match happened in a campground, pool, bookstore, monorail car, amusement park, craft show, or other non-traditional venue, you’ll find it here.
BOYZ- A series of shows for a women’s only audience that are filled with gleefully indulgent fanservice and good-natured, accessible wrestling. The absolute antithesis of smarky, gatekeeping bullshit, and an utter joy.
YarouZ- The men’s only audience id to BOYZ’s super ego.
Muscle- Comedy/ conceptual art work wrestling from the unparalleled mind of Muscle Sakai.
How to start watching DDT (Practical)
For dabblers and toe dippers, DDT and TJPW have YouTube channels where you can watch press conferences and a generous number of full matches for free. To properly enjoy the complete DDT experience, though, you’ll want to subscribe to the streaming service and fan club, DDT Universe (name subject to change). A subscription costs 900 yen (approximately $9 USD) a month and while there’s no free trial, payment for the first month of registration is free.
This will give you access to live streams of current events, a fairly comprehensive back catalogue from all of the promotions in the DDT family, and benefits like early ticket sales. (There’s also an archive of BASARA shows from when the promotion was a part of the DDT family, and a growing amount of material from NOAH, which was recently purchased by DDT’s parent company, Cyber Agent.)
I’ve seen some fellow new subscribers struggle with the streaming service’s interface, but I’ve honestly never had any major issues with it. It’s not perfect, but is fairly intuitive. It’s easy to browse through categories and tags in chronological or reverse chronological order. And Google’s translation is reliable enough to help you figure out basic titles, names, etc. The search function is fine as long as you remember that you’re using a Japanese website and act accordingly (i.e. if you want to see more matches featuring DDT’s preeminent high flyer and beetle expert, you’ll want to search for “遠藤哲哉,” not “Tetsuya Endo”).
As for the viewing experience, DDT does not have English commentary or any formal translation in its broadcasts, but I’ve never found it a challenge to follow matches or angles as someone with very, very limited Japanese. The unofficial but authorized godsend DDT English Update provides near instant translations for live events and backstage comments for almost everything else on Twitter. The fansite Dramatic DDT also provides recaps of shows. And while the average DDT match contains more dialogue than, say, the average New Japan match, there’s still a lot of physical, nonverbal storytelling that you can follow pretty well without assistance. And dipshit stunts are a universal language.
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How to start watching DDT (Philosophical)
In general, I find it easier to introduce non-wrestling fans to DDT. For one thing, they’re unlikely to have any preconceived notions that might make them hesitant to watch. For another, people who love any sort of underground or left of center culture are always hungry for new sources of weirdo genius. Even people with somewhat more conventional tastes have the potential to be DDT fans, though. Anyone who finds themselves revisiting and reevaluating Jackass, for example, would probably love a good pool or campground match. To anyone in the above demos, I suggest coming for the ridiculous and over the top wacky shit, and staying for how well it’s all put together. And then maybe getting sucked into the actual wrestling while you’re there. (It can happen! This is how my mom became a massive DDT fan.)
Established wrestling fans can be a mixed bag. Some are game from the get go, but some are extremely leery of DDT based on the viral clips they’ve seen and the reductive reputation it can hold among some wrestling nerds. I’ve had more than a few people tell me that they’re curious about the promotion, but worried about the comedy aspect. I’ve seen other DDT faithful try to argue that the undercards might be silly, but the main events are usually pretty serious. While I sympathize with the desire to get some respect for the roster’s incredible wrestling talent, I feel like it’s a misrepresentation. The serious wrestlers have great senses of humor and are more than willing to play along with the oddball stuff. A number of the funny guys can really wrestle. The line between comedy and drama in this universe is extremely fluid.
As a raging dork who has completely overthought this question, I think the answer depends on what a person means by “I am not sure I’ll like the comedy.” If It means “I like my combat stylized and predetermined, but it has to be somber,” then this strange and magical world is not for you. But if it means “I am worried that a medium I care about will be disrespected or treated like a joke,” then I’d encourage you to watch with an open mind. DDT can be bizarre, silly, sophomoric, profane, perverted, and maybe just a little indulgent at times. But it is never, ever cynical. Everyone involved clearly loves wrestling and is very sincere about it. They just happen to love it enough to know that you shouldn’t always take it seriously.
Sample Match and Show Recommendations
In more normal circumstances, if someone is potentially interested in DDT but doesn’t, for some confounding reason, want to sign up for an entire streaming service without seeing a single match, I’ll recommend a few on YouTube. Something like Tetsuya Endo vs Akito from March 2019 (embedded above) to give them a sense of how DDT’s talent are no slouches when it comes to things like ring psychology and selling. And because I think Endo is the most compelling wrestler in the world right now and never waste an opportunity to convert others to the cause. Then I’ll follow with something that is zany in concept and smart in execution like HARASHIMA and Antonio Honda’s Panty☆Hunt Tiger Rope Deathmatch or the chair vs chair match booked and refereed by the mascot, Pokotan.
In times such as these, though, DDT Universe has made a number of its best shows available for free until the end of April. So I’ll add some basics suggestions from that list. I say basic because my actual suggestion is that everyone should watch all of them.
For the intrigued wrestling fan: Ultimate Party 2019 is almost 6 1/2 hours of wrestling that absolutely flies by. There’s no filler, just match after match of quality entertainment that will give you a good idea of all of the styles and brands that thrive under the DDT umbrella. Follow the live translation thread here and enjoy.
For the reticent wrestling fan: Start with the main event of Peter Pan 2019, Tetsuya Endo vs Konosuke Takeshita for the KO-D Openweight title, which starts at the 5:52:00 mark. It’s my match of the year, awe-inspiring from start to finish, a perfect example of why Endo is the most compelling wrestler in the world today, and should assuage any concerns you might have about the quality of DDT’s wrestling. Once you’re on board with that, go back to the 1:54:00 mark for the Ippon Light Tube Death Match (follow the explanation of the rules and live translation here) for a brilliant match and perfect example of how comedy and serious wrestling can blend together. If you’re still not sold, then I respect your choices, but feel sad for you. If you are, you are ready to go back and enjoy the whole show from the beginning.
For the relatively normal non-wrestling fan: I’m pretty sure you’re gonna love this hour-long pool fight which includes dipshit stunts, a figure four leglock on a water slide, Endo being the most compelling wrestler in the world, and a synchronized swimming routine. Once you’re hooked, you can also watch similar shenanigans in nature.
For the art nerds and weirdos: You need to watch Musclemania 2019 in its entirety. Follow the translation here. It’s an unmitigated work of genius. If art house cinemas survive this pandemic, I think they should start hosting screenings of it and allow it to become the rapturously adored cult classic it so clearly deserves to be.
And for anyone who just wants to feel something other than dread right now: Pocchari Joshi Pro Wrestling: P2 Trainspochatting (translation here), Imanari’s surprisingly emotional ode to body positivity, Terminator 2, a mother’s love, and found family, is such a gem of a show. I cried watching it. I cry every time I recommend it to someone, which is often. I’m tearing up thinking about it now.