A match made with the Rising Star
In the amount of time that had passed since then, my curry restaurant, “Meteo Spice,” had risen to levels of success beyond my expectations!
The restaurant started out small, but it wasn’t long before people heard about it, possibly through word of mouth and the internet. I’ll admit my skills in marketing were nothing to brag about, so it came to me as a big shock when I witnessed the first flood of customers, three months after the restaurant was first built!
It wasn’t long before my schedule became hectic on a whole new level.
I had to continually tackle a gauntlet of business meetings, interviews for magazines and newspapers, and podcasts. I had to balance those with scouting rival restaurants and training people for managerial positions.
But that part’s behind me now.
Three more establishments of Meteo Spice had been built within three separate prefectures in Japan, and a fourth establishment is currently undergoing construction. With all the necessary dirty work now done on my part, a big chunk of my workload had been lifted off my shoulders.
For the first time in four years, I was finally able to take a vacation from work. And what better way to celebrate than what I did before those grueling years started?
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Early afternoon. For the first time in a while, I was waiting in a long line of people outside the same venue that marked my first attendance at a live event, Korakuen Hall Arena.
It had been a long time since I wore a set of casual clothes like a simple t-shirt, jeans, and shoes. Wearing a formal suit almost every day was quite the pain, and I had no other options if I wanted to make those investors know I was a great choice to throw their money at. It was also great that no one seemed to recognize me or, at least, had some respect for my personal space. For the first time in years, I wasn’t Ryūsei Igarashi: The Curry Tycoon, but Ryūsei Igarashi: Just another Pro-Wrestling fan.
I studied the ticket in my hand. The black, rectangular paper depicted the logo for the event, “Heaven’s Arena: Tengoku Genesis 2024.” Flipping it around showed the event’s matches from top to bottom in chronological order.
The match card was pretty stacked. Almost all of them included at least one wrestler who’d won me over as a fan in the past thanks to their diversity in styles. Seeing them together in one show was awesome, but the match at the bottom of the list, the main event, was what I was looking forward to the most.
Heaven’s Goddess Championship Match
Mirai Hoshino (Challenger) vs. Shuri Ienaga (Champion)
She finally made it. Hoshino was ultimately competing for a championship belt that would look amazing around her waist!
Work has kept me so busy that I couldn’t give myself the proper time to keep up with the current state of her career, as well as the Japanese Pro-Wrestling industry in general. I’ve occasionally procrastinated to catch up on the news, but it has struck me back in ways I’d rather not elaborate.
Hoshino also had her ups and downs during the four-year gap since that time we got to know each other a little. Her reputation had grown over five times since back then, but her desire to always entertain her fans led her to suffer concussions and a few other injuries from her high-flying style. Those injuries kept her out of action for a good number of months, but she always bounced back whenever she returned. Now, she’d finally earned her opportunity for a chance to stand on the top of the promotion.
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It wasn’t until six matches later that the main event of Tengoku Genesis finally went underway.
I was practically glued to my seat and, even though I wasn’t taking part in the match, I couldn’t stop myself from trembling.
Shuri Ienaga, with a fierce color scheme of purple, black, and gold, truly was a force to be reckoned with even though she and Hoshino were almost equal in both size and weight. Ienaga could strike, grapple, and perform high-flying maneuvers on an impressive level. In other words, her style was adaptive, something that I felt to be fitting for a champion.
Not only that, but her losses can also be counted with one hand, and she never lost by submission. The reason behind that is because of a quality her character portrayal shares with Hoshino – she’s a fighter that doesn’t quit. She has to be forcefully put down if she’s booked to lose a match.
There was also a bit of contention that made me test my faith in Hoshino’s chances of winning.
Ienaga’s current record for holding her championship belt was 364 days. That was just one day away from being the champion for an entire year, and long reigns are considered achievements.
Hoshino, on the other hand, had just won a grueling 16-woman elimination tournament to become the next challenger for Ienaga’s belt.
Thus, the conflict of the match’s story was as follows: Will Hoshino, who had worked through sweat and blood for her opportunity, topple the champion thanks to her hunger for winning the belt? Or will Ienaga take advantage of her opponent’s “battle scars” and stop the last obstacle that stands in her way to extending her reign past an entire year?
Either of them winning the match was a fitting end to the story, and that was what made the match’s outcome unpredictable.
For over twenty-five minutes, both Hoshino and Ienaga surprised us with how they outplayed the other. Neither looked to be on the losing end, so it was all a matter of who made the final mistake that would prove to be their downfall.
I almost screamed Hoshino’s name from my seat when Ienaga lifted and prepared to slam her back-first toward a ring corner for a Buckle Bomb. That kind of move was deadly enough to end careers if not performed by an expert.
At the last moment, however, Hoshino took advantage of her current position to scissor her legs around Ienaga’s head before falling backward to send Ienaga into the ring corner instead.
Ienaga’s face bounced off the ring corner. She then fell and laid down, vulnerable.
My hands balled into fists as I told myself this was Hoshino’s chance. She must’ve thought the same, because she climbed the same ring corner with notable signs of becoming exhausted, and prepared to execute her finisher.
With a shout to psyche herself for one last burst of strength, Hoshino saluted her signature five-pointed hand star gesture toward the crowds in her sight, the north and eastern side of the audience. I happened to be seated on the east side, and this time I was able to salute her back.
“Now, win this!” I cheered within my thoughts.
Just as I finished, Hoshino sprang off the corner and dazzled us with her aerial finisher, the “Nova Crash.”
I felt the echoing impact through my feet and spine when Hoshino crash-landed on Ienaga back in the ring. Immediately, Hoshino scrambled in her movements and pinned the champion down.
We all counted out loud as the referee slammed his hand on the ring’s canvas.
“1…! 2…! …”
Silence filled the arena and drowned out the voices.
A hand had shot toward the ceiling, lifting its shoulder right before the referee could slam his hand down for a 3-count.
Like everyone else, I was rendered speechless. For the first time in her career, Hoshino’s “Nova Crash” finisher didn’t end the match! Ienaga had made history with her act of defiance!
Still, the Nova Crash did tremendous “damage” from the looks of it. Ienaga had yet to stand back up, only managing to kneel.
As for Hoshino, she was right behind her and eyeing the weakened state of the champion. She pulled down her left knee pad. Then she ran toward the ropes, bounced off, and struck Ienaga’s face with her exposed knee!
I couldn’t help but think, “Holy Shit! Did Hoshino just debut a new finisher?” And… wasn’t it a better version of the move I tried to hit her with during our wrestling match!?
I had to shelve my pondering for later as I then saw Hoshino dragging herself with waning strength toward Ienaga’s motionless body.
My hands balled into shaking fists.
Then one of Hoshino’s arms fell loose and landed limply on top of her opponent. That was still a pin attempt, but a weak one that can easily be escaped. I held my breath as the referee made the countdown once again. The crowd counted out loud.
I exhaled and smiled. Pent-up energy was just waiting to burst as tears brimmed under my eyes.
It wasn’t even a second after that final count when an eruption of cheers filled the entire arena. Hoshino’s theme music also began to play. With all the loudness going on at the same time, no one could comprehend any words that were spoken, except for the ring announcer’s voice as he announced the result of the match.
“WINNER! AND NEW HEAVEN’S GODDESS CHAMPION!! MIRAIIII HOSHINOOOOOO!!
Confetti rained from the ceiling. People in every corner of the audience jumped out of their seats while continuing to cheer.
I was one of them.
She did it! Hoshino finally did it!
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The main event of Tengoku Genesis 2024 was finally over. And it ended the way I hoped it would! I had recently achieved a rousing success with the booming popularity of my curry restaurant, and now I got to witness the crowning of Mirai Hoshino as the new Champion!
I watched the new champion slowly get up. A weak, but relieved smile brightened her face. Once she was back on her feet, the referee and fastened her new championship belt around her waist before bowing and taking his leave. That belt really did look good on her, and boy was I happy to watch Hoshino be crowned live.
But then Hoshino unstrapped the belt and gently laid it on the floor. Curious about what she intended to do next, the audience went quiet.
Hoshino wandered to an edge of the ring and reached out a hand for a microphone. Obtaining it from a staff member, she prepared to end the night with a promo like before.
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There was one more thing to do before I could truly call the night to be over.
Once again, I was lining up at the event’s meet-and-greet. Just like last time, I purchased a print of Hoshino, making the most alluring pose I could find under the choices and a picture stub. It’s been four years, after all, so it was about time I got an updated autograph and picture.
While I waited for my turn, I observed the other lines on both my left and right. All of the wrestlers taking part had a fair number of people itching to meet them, and that made me feel happy that they weren’t left out of the equation.
From what I could see, the longest line, seconded only to Hoshino’s, lead toward the former champ, Shuri Ienaga.
I have to say this. Even though I chose to meet Hoshino again, especially on the night she became the champion, that promo she cut to end the event made me consider meeting Ienaga instead.
In that promo, Hoshino expressed that although she was thrilled to now stand on the top of the Heaven’s Arena roster, her main reason for winning the 16-woman tournament was not because she wanted the championship belt. Instead, she wanted to face Ienaga in a match to prove herself the whole time. Because Ienaga was the champion at the time, she could only be encountered in a match under special conditions.
Hoshino then ended her promo by offering a hand to help the downed Ienaga up, telling her, “You may not have the belt anymore, but you’re still a true champion in our eyes. So stand up. Staying down doesn’t suit someone like you.”
Ienaga was a neutral character – neither a heel nor a face, so her response could’ve been anything.
In the end, the event ended with the entire audience chanting Ienaga’s name.
The former champion had accepted defeat with grace and even took the liberty of strapping the belt back around Hoshino’s waist before exiting the ring and the arena on a peaceful note. On the way out, Ienaga got a microphone of her own and gave Hoshino some parting words. She told her to savor the moments she’ll have with the championship belt because it won’t be long before she earns the chance to win it back. Hoshino was more than happy to take that warning to heart.
And thus, the event ended with the tease of a rematch between Hoshino and Ienaga, and the audience wanting more. I couldn’t think of another emotion more excellent than that for a Pro-Wrestling show to leave behind for its fans.
Seriously Hoshino. If you keep on giving me reasons to give your opponents a new supportive fan, one of them might usurp you eventually. Well, emphasis on “might.”
“Next person, please.”
I heard those words and realized there was no one else between Hoshino and I. This was it! I was next in line to meet her for the first time in four years. As I walked toward her, I marveled at how the passing years didn’t affect her looks one bit.
She still looked as cute as ever, but the nervousness that once hindered me when talking to her up-close was no longer taking hold.
This time, I was ready to make full use of the 30-second time limit!
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I stood outside the arena. Many other fans who already had their turns at the meet-and-greet, passed me as they prepared to head home.
Meanwhile, my face wouldn’t stop staring at the pavement.
What… the… hell!?
I was able to talk to Hoshino normally after shaking her hand, but her responses… they all came to me as a repeat of the first time we met. Anyone could’ve gotten the same reactions as me! It must’ve sent me into shock and made me lose track of time because, before I knew it, I was dragged away and escorted outside.
Not only did I not get to use my picture stub again, but Hoshino was still in the middle of signing her autograph on my print. In other words, I left the Korakuen Hall empty-handed.
It was only after I recalled an old thought, did it become more comfortable for me to move on.
Hoshino has too many fans to keep track of, and I bet her earlier accomplishment would lead to her gaining more. People with a lot of star power like her are often treated as some sort of goddess, almost untouchable by the public. Only those on her level would have it easy to meet her on a regular basis. As humble as I was to keep my distance from her during that time we’ve spent together, that experience nearly deluded me into thinking I was a special kind of fan, the type that deserved to talk to her like we were close friends.
After I reminded myself of my place, my shoes finally began to take steps.
“Stop right there!”
I looked back to find someone heading my way. His black Tengoku Genesis 2024 shirt sort of gave away his identity. He was one of the event’s staff members and, if I recall correctly, was also the same guy who dragged me out of the meet-and-greet when I inadvertently overstayed my welcome.
“Yes?” I asked, trying to be civil.
“Here.” He handed me a medium-sized envelope. “Hoshino-san insisted that I find you and give this.”
I took the envelope. “Hoshino-san did that?”
“Consider yourself lucky she’s kind enough to show you some concern,” the staff member said and walked away, back to Korakuen Hall.
A little happy, I opened the envelope and pulled out its contents. It was the autograph print I bought for the meet-and-greet. It had been signed in gold with Hoshino’s signature and was also accompanied by a short message she wrote:
「Thank you so much for cheering me on! Please continue to support me!
- Mirai Hoshino☆」
It was the same message as the one on my autograph print from four years ago, except my name wasn’t included this time. Because this was a message that could easily apply to just about any fan who asks for Hoshino’s autograph, I could give this to anyone, and they could blatantly lie that they had Hoshino’s autograph.
I’ll admit I was disappointed with the déjà vu I just went through, but I chose to accept it. In the end, I’m only one of the many fans supporting his idol, so I’m pretty much an afterthought to her.
And that’s alright. If I were in Hoshino’s shoes, I’d probably see my fans the same way. It’s not that I wouldn’t care whether or not they supported me; it’s just that I wouldn’t have the capacity to remember so many people. We’re all human, after all.
I was just about to go to my car when I noticed that the ring, middle, and pinky fingers on both my hands had some glitter on them. The only way they could’ve gotten them was if they touched the writing Hoshino made with her golden marker, so if those fingers had them…
I opened the envelope again and saw that another message was written on the back of the autograph print, which was usually nothing but white space.
「Long time, no see, Ryūsei Igarashi-san! Are you doing well? I’m sorry our interaction this time was just as ordinary as before. I have to be professional for all my fans and not show any favoritism.
But starting now, let me tell you my true feelings.
It was challenging to keep my excitement in check the moment I saw you again, mainly because you watched me become the new champion! I’m more than happy to know you’ve witnessed this moment in my career!
With all my heart, thank you so much for continuing to support me even after all these years!
P.S: My offer from before still stands. If you’ve changed your mind, it’s still not too late for you to start a career in Pro-Wrestling. Maybe then I could be more honest with you if you don’t mind seeing me more often.
Just a thought.
- Mirai Hoshino ♥」
My face burned hotter than a furnace after reading that last part. So Hoshino never forgot about me this whole time.
Just then, a couple of fans walked past me. They were talking so loudly that it was more difficult not to eavesdrop on them.
“Man, I love Hoshino’s new finisher! Simple, but quick, effective, and cool to watch too!”
“I know, right? I heard she calls it, ‘Ryūsei Kōshinryō.’ Apparently, she named it after her favorite curry restaurant.”
“Really? The ‘Ryūsei’ part made me think she named it after a special guy.”
“No way. I’m sure it’s just a Japanese translation of the restaurant’s name, ‘Meteo Spice.’”
“Maybe I should try eating there some time.”
“I wholly recommend it!”
After overhearing their conversation, I brought out my phone and checked on Hoshino’s Twitter account for the first time in a while. She hadn’t posted a celebratory tweet regarding her championship win yet, so this was what I saw first.
Hoshino✯Mirai 星乃未来 @hoshino_mirai . Jun 27, 2024
Sorry @ienaga_shuri, but the #RisingStar will end your reign before it reaches a full year.
A dish of @MeteoSpice curry burned my nervousness away and inspired something new in me!
The tweet included a picture of Hoshino enjoying a plate of Star-Croquette Curry, one of the most recent items I added to the restaurant’s menu.
I scrolled down more of her posts.
There was at least one post every week where she ate out in a branch of Meteo Spice while praising the kind of effects each of the different curries in the menu had on her.
I never knew about these posts because I had given the task of social media management to one of my trusted employees.
So that was why my restaurant had been doing so well. Hoshino had been using her celebrity status to endorse it and attract potential customers. And it just so happened that the quality of the food was good enough to back up her claims.
With all of those thoughts in mind, I re-read the last part of Hoshino’s real message on my autograph print before looking up to the stars in the night sky.
“See you again soon.”
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