Karate Master was an anime series that aired in Japan about… karate. It also depicted American wrestlers and wrestling fans as xenophobic hate mongers. I have no idea whether or not this was supposed to be aimed at kids or adults at the time it came out, but the adult me definitely appreciated it more than 10-year-old me ever would have.
“The Red-Headed Killer” & “Get Ken!”
Before Hulu Plus pulled the series, I was able to watch four episodes in which main character and the titular karate master, Ken Asuka, finds himself going up against American wrestlers. Also, finding out his last name was Asuka made me mark out even more for NXT Women’s Champion, Asuka. I’m not sure if that name just happens to be really common or if little Asuka one day found herself with a VHS collection of Karate Master and was forever changed.
Asuka and his partner, Igarashi, are talked into doing a karate vs. wrestling exhibition tour in the U.S. by the half-American, half-Japanese, Jim Cornette look-a-like, Todd Wakamatsu. Todd is a dick and doesn’t care about Asuka’s or Igarashi’s well-being. He’s just there to exploit them and make money. Unfortunately, Asuka, the bad ass karate master, is susceptible to motion sickness and by the time the plane lands in Los Angeles he’s in no shape to take part in the match that Todd had book them on that same night. That’s not even taking into account the jet lag! Todd is such a dick.
Todd reasons with Asuka to at least put on a karate exhibition for the crowd. Asuka agrees to it despite still being sick. As they prepare themselves in the locker room, Asuka and Igarashi are greeted by The Red-Headed Killer, a red-headed wrestler who is still pissed about Pearl Harbor as is the rest of the L.A. crowd, which we later find out. After being harassed for being Japanese, Asuka goes out to the ring and proceeds to break some blocks of wood and awe the crowd. The best part about this bit is the cutaway to a real-life Ken Asuka (I’m assuming) who also breaks blocks of wood. The anime does this type of cutaway a lot.
This brings out Red-Headed Killer, who calls out Asuka for being a phony and gimmicking the boards beforehand. You can’t really blame the guy because, after all, he is a wrestler and that’s how things get done in professional wrestling. Red-Headed Killer fails to break the wood himself and him and his pals proceed to beat the shit out of Igarashi, who was sticking up for Asuka.
After watching Igarashi get the crap beaten out of him, Asuka finally makes the “hot tag”, so to speak, and goes one-on-one with Red-Headed Killer. Still feeling sick, Asuka wears down Red-Headed Killer by dodging his attack and then blinds him. Yes, he blinds him. Asuka basically does that signature Roddy Piper eye-poke, but instead of laughs, draws blood. Lots of blood. Red-Headed Killer goes down and the L.A. crowd is on the verge of rioting. To be continued…
With the crowd chanting “Kill the Jap! Kill the Jap!”, Asuka takes on another white meat babyface-type named Thunder Julian. Who’s just another bland dude in colored trunks. The best part about this is Asuka never losing his cool, even in the face of a potential full-on hate riot. He simply busts out a Kill Bill type three-point triangle kick, which the show’s sensei narrator carefully explains in detail. Asuka warns Julian that the kick will eventually kill him when he least expects it, unless he gets the crowd to quiet down so that they can make their exit. Julian complies.
From there, it’s on to Asuka’s next match in San Francisco, against “The Human Crane” Kid Morgan, a gigantic “bronze statue come to life” according to Asuka when he first sees him. Staying true to his name, Morgan is shown lifting a car with some chains as if he was indeed a human crane.
Kid Morgan overpowers Asuka and hoists him up in the air for a Cesaro-like UFO spin. As soon as Kid releases Asuka and hurls him outside the ring, Asuka sneakily kicks him right in that Vulcan nerve pinch sweet spot. Kid goes down on his own and passes out. The kick is replayed for the audience watching at home, while our sensei narrator comes back to explain what Asuka did.
All seems well for Asuka, until a little old lady sitting in the audience (most likely a plant, if Exposed! Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Secrets has taught us anything) stabs him in the kidneys with the pointy end of her umbrella. Asuka frees himself, but spills some blood in the process. Know what else happens in the process? He knocks out the little old lady. The crowd completely loses their shit, calling him a bastard and ordering his lynching. Asuka remains calm, giving us viewers an internal monologue of his choices. It’s like an episode of a kid’s show when the host presents the children with the predicament at hand then explains the possible choices they can take to solve the problem. Think Blue’s Clues, but with more karate and racism.
Before shit gets way out of hand, the cops show up and save the day. Police escorting a heel out of the building and avoiding a riot from breaking out? Someone working on Karate Master definitely knew a thing or two about the dangers of professional wrestling. But even the cops say they’re only following orders while they’re in uniform, and in about an hour they’re going to be off the clock. All 10 of them. And they’ve also lost family members in the war. This is some heavy shit.
Back at their hotel, Asuka, Igarashi, and Todd calm the mob that’s followed them there by saving some unattended child who almost dies.
“Killer Move! The Scorpion Punch” & “The Red Scorpion Terror”
The next wrestling two-fer episode involves the Father of Puroresu, Rikidozan. Seeing as Rikidozan died in 1963, this gives the anime some context, and the U.S. anti-Japanese sentiment makes a lot more sense. Not ideologically, just in terms of history.
The Red Scorpion, Tam Rice, or anime Fritz Von Erich, is the main villain here. He’s not happy with all the hype surrounding Rikidozan and his 60-match winning streak in the States, and probably because he’s also racist against the Japanese. It has been a common trope in this series’ wrestling episodes. Rice’s claim to fame is having a magical red scorpion tattoo that only shows up when he’s excited. He’s like one of those G.I. Joe Eco Warrior figures whose battle damage showed up whenever you wet them. He’s also like a Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! character in that the red scorpion tattoo is the signal for his special attack in which he goes ape-shit with a flurry of punches. He really should be boxing than wrestling. It’s all he knows.
Rice is supposed to be Riki’s 70th opponent. During the build to the match, Rikidozan enlists Ken Asuka to help him perfect his karate chop. Asuka warns Rikidzoan that the only way to defeat Rice is to execute the chop before Rice can perform the Scorpion Punch. Riki gets cocky and announces that he’ll knock out Rice in less than a minute. Before the big bout, Asuka gets an emergency phone call and runs backstage. Of course, it’s all a ruse and Asuka has to defend himself against Rice’s crony. Meanwhile, Riki tires himself trying to throw the damn chop throughout the entire match. Didn’t he know how to actually wrestle? Maybe wear down Rice with some actual wrestling holds, then throw the chop, Riki. Rice then goes into Red Scorpion special attack mode and knocks him the hell out. Backstage, Riki apologizes and asks Asuka to avenge his loss.
In the final wrestling episode, Asuka decides to challenge the Red Scorpion, but Rice demands it be a death match with no referee, where the only way to win is by knockout. Further proving that a lot of American wrestlers really wanted to hurt Asuka for no reason, other than being Japanese and knowing karate. Who would’ve known there was so much disdain for karate back in day? Then again, this is American professional wrestling, where the Japanese had always been tricky evil foreigners who knew how to throw a kick.
Rice goes on a couple of exhibition matches to train for his fight against Asuka. Naturally, he takes on boxers and a football player, because how else are you supposed to train to fight a karate master? His Red Scorpion tattoo appears in each bout when he gets excited without fail. And yes, it’s not when he’s pissed off, it’s when he’s excited. It’s kind of weird. Is he getting off on being hit by other dudes? It doesn’t help that the scorpion tattoo even looks like a penis. A penis with claws.
Anyway, Asuka faces Rice at the famed Olympic Auditorium, which used to hold classic wrestling bouts that featured guys like “Classy” Freddie Blassie and luchadores, like Mil Mascaras. Now, it’s a Korean church. Asuka is visibly nervous, which makes sense seeing as it is a death match, and then there’s also the fact that the American audience still wants to kill him. He then goes off on this five-minute internal monologue about every possible thing that can go wrong, and processes his feelings regarding these outcomes. Asuka’s second finally talks some sense into him and Asuka regains his Fighting Spirit. But then takes it out on the ring post by chopping the hell out of it. It’s meant to be a scare tactic and psyche Rice out, but I can’t imagine that it’s helping Asuka’s chopping hand any. Rice naturally responds by punching his own ring post. Instead of attacking Asuka while his back is turned, like a true heel. Sure enough, it doesn’t take Rice long to get excited from it.
The announcer states that this will be a karate-boxing-wrestling match. Basically, the first MMA match in anime history. I think. Rice gets the early lead on Asuka and backs him up into the ropes. Asuka repeatedly dodges his punches then suddenly develops the ability to fly and bounces slightly overhead from post to post, until he comes down with a devastating kick from like 30 feet in the air. It knocks Rice into the corner and out of the ring, leaving him incapacitated on the floor.
The sensei narrator once again goes into detail about the execution of the triangle jump kick, which Asuka has used before. In a previous wrestling match, against another white wrestler, in Los Angeles. All seems well, until Asuka reasons with himself internally that he ran away from the boxing and used a trick move to defeat Rice. He dishonored himself by using a “coward’s strategy”.
This leads into the next episode: “A Deadly Battle with Boxing”, which is where I stopped watching since this is a blog about pro wrestling in pop culture, and not goddamn boxing.