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Q&A with Marino Saihara, on love of comics and AWG

1 year ago

Q&A with Marino Saihara, on love of comics and AWG

By: James Carlin

Since the beginning of the century and even before, professional wrestling has seen itself overlapping with nerd and popular culture many times, from The Rock presenting the reveal of the Xbox all the way to Kenny Omega using the Hadoken back in DDT and entering the Tokyo Dome to Hopes & Dreams from UNDERTALE; and on the joshi side, Asuka (before signing to WWE) was sponsored by Microsoft and had the Xbox 360 logo on her attire.

There’s no denying that these two fandoms have considerable overlap – wrestling itself can be compared to real-life manga in some of its aspects, and one company that displays that best is Actwres girl’Z – a company of actors and performers who use wrestling as a base, but are not wrestlers themselves.

One of the roster members of AWG is Marino Saihara, someone who isn’t afraid to share her love of pop culture both online and in the ring. As a former idol, she continues the long intertwining connection between idols and wrestling and uses her talents from that time to bring a unique and entertaining personality to the world of AWG.

Monthly Puroresu: Previously before becoming part of Actwres girl’Z, you were a part of the idol group “Chubbiness,” which looked to promote body positivity no matter the size. How did you end up joining the group and what was the experience like being an idol?

Marino Saihara: AVEX and CanCam (Japan’s most famous music production company & Ladies Fashion Mag) had a collaboration and promoted an audition called PuniKo Audition, so I decided to do a tryout. It was originally a tryout for models, dancers, singers, and actors – it wasn’t for idols.

Somehow I was selected as a member of a new idol group called Chubbiness. There were around ten girls in this group, and we made music and performed live which was a lot of fun. I continued as a part of the group for five years and in March 2019, all of the members graduated.

Monthly Puroresu: May I ask around how many fans were there?

Marino Saihara: Fans were growing, and in the end probably 500 to maybe 800 people came to our last live show, but we toured across Japan and many times hand sold CDs or did our promoting, so I can’t answer exactly how many there were, but we had fans all around the country.

Monthly Puroresu: How was the group constructed, was there a role you played?

Marino Saihara: Everyone did the same equally, and there wasn’t a fixed center. But three of the girls mainly sang and danced, and I usually did the talking and MC work along with action type of movement, which was to keep on jumping throughout the songs, haha. I kept on jumping as if I was losing weight during the show.

So my character was all about being “GENKI” (A positive and happy vibe). The group concept was not to be too skinny or too over weight, but looks that are really healthy and genki.

Monthly Puroresu: After graduating from Chubbiness, you ended up with Actwres girl’Z, making your debut at Step 3 in March last year, teaming with Misa Matsui. What led you to Actwres girl’Z? How did you discover it and realise “This is something I’d love to try out”?

Marino Saihara: Since I was the most active “action girl” in the idol group, joining Actwres girl’Z was a smooth transition.

Originally I had been doing budo, judo and karate throughout my childhood and that helped too as I began training. For karate, I was able to get a black belt in the kyokushin style. During middle school, I had to quit judo because the women’s judo elective at school shut down and the membership clubs were far from home, but I still use quite a few judo moves at ACTwrestling.

After graduating Chubbiness in 2019, I was acting and doing MC work at events as a solo performer under the same management, but COVID spread around the world and there weren’t many events that the management could offer me. So I went freelance and at one of the places where I was doing acting and drama work, I met Kouki and Naru.

They invited me to the Actwres dojo and from the first Actwres girl’Z show of the new era, I watched and started to help sell merchandise. Everything fit so well – my dad is a big WWE fan (He’s especially a big fan of John Cena) and in Osaka, my mom used to go to Actwres events so I did have their influence when it came to joining the organization.

Additionally, I had always wanted to be able to battle and fight on stage, so it clicked to me that this will be my last challenge as a performing artist, using all of my skills in one place.

Image courtesy of Actwres girl’Z

Monthly Puroresu: You wanted to perform in both Actring and ACTwrestling?

Marino Saihara: At first, I was invited by President Sakaguchi for Action Ring Girls, but since I also wanted to be able to fight & battle, I requested to join ACTwrestling alongside it.

I’ve always loved American comics but one of my favorite actors is John Cena, and he sometimes uses pro-wrestling moves in his movies, so at that time, many things came together and I got excited.

All the pieces fit and completed like a puzzle – everything that I loved all in one. It was fantastic.

Monthly Puroresu: Outside of AWG, you also perform in a number of different performances, so your acting ability has quite a range. What was the most fun project that you’ve worked on?

Marino Saihara: Definitely the spots I got at Tokyo Comic Con! From the very first Tokyo Comic Con, I always got spots like a talk show or MC opportunities.

After joining Actwres, I wanted everyone to see Actwres girl’Z at Comic Con so I proposed to build a ring stage in the venue and take Actring and ACTwrestling. Actually, I wanted my teammates to see Comic Con too and how American Comics are cool.

So this year, the first AWG show took place at Tokyo Comic Con and we succeeded into the next Osaka Comic Con. AWG and I set the ring stage and at different time slots, rented it out to other organizations with STARDOM being one of them.

Monthly Puroresu: Something that I wanted to ask about was the idea of “genderless” which you’ve had in your Twitter biography before. From what I recall, it’s like a fashion subculture?

Marino Saihara: The concept of genderless means that there’s no borders – not a man, not a woman – you don’t want to be restricted.

I never liked the idea of being categorized by gender, that I can do this but I can’t do that. I really hate when I’m told that I’m a woman, so I should or shouldn’t do certain things. It’s the same for men too, I never liked to hear someone telling them they are supposed to or not supposed to do certain things. We all should be able to decide ourselves what role we play and what we can and can’t do.

I’m not actively involved in any genderless movement group or organization, but I wanted to show my intention. Well, with an acting role, I can prove that I can do roles suited for both men and women. That’s where I stand but for judo and karate, it wasn’t a big deal because my opponents were all men.

Monthly Puroresu: You made quite an impact when you debuted, as many people, including myself, liked that there was now a performer who was a squirrel (and of course accompanied by her little friend, Yukio). Did you always want to debut with a squirrel costume or was there anything else that came to mind before settling on your current costume?

Marino Saihara: Ten years ago, I went to a subculture comic event known as American Comic Night, which years later would end up evolving into Tokyo Comic Con. The staff and many attendees at the event told me I looked like Squirrel Girl! When Marvel’s chief editor, C.B. Cebulski, came to Japan for a talk show as well as at his welcome event, he also said I looked like Squirrel Girl.

The organizers of the event created the Squirrel Girl cosplay costume and that’s how it all began. Influenced by the character, I kept the nuance and used it as my costume as part of ACTwrestling. My intention was to be recognized by the international fans abroad.

Monthly Puroresu: Something that we both have in common is our love of American comics, which is where the inspiration for your “Squirrel Girl who wishes to be an American Comic Hero” catch-copy originates. Do you have a preference over DC and Marvel, and which character is your favourite from each one?

Marino Saihara: Honestly, I can’t say I have a preference over Marvel or DC, but my favorite character is from Marvel – “Iron Fist”. He’s a minor character and I’ve never cosplayed him but I did consider a green and yellow costume that has the Kung Fu taste for my in-ring performances.

For the future, I’m not sure if I should continue using the squirrel but maybe incorporate it and mix the two. Any direction I take, it will be original but I will always show my love of American comics.

Monthly Puroresu: Some of the Actwres girl’Z performers stream and play Fortnite sometimes, including yourself, how did this originate? Did some of you decide it would be something interesting for fans to watch and then asked AWG if it could be done?

Marino Saihara: Mizuka Arai had heard that I love American comics so she persuaded me into playing. If we were going to play together, we decided why not turn it into a AWG game club. Mari, Mii, Kouki and Nagisa joined, that’s the order.

AWG isn’t a strict company, they listen to what we want to do and if it’s a solid idea, we can develop it with AWG’s help. In this case, technology, setting things up for live airing.

Monthly Puroresu: As a follow up to this, you also have an interest in videogames. What have been your favourite games to play recently, and what would you consider your favourite game ever?

Marino Saihara: To be honest, my number one game is a horror game called SIREN. Recently, I’ve only been focusing on Fortnite. I do love it, but the Insomniac Spider-Man game and The Walking Dead Telltale games are what I play. I really like the Walking Dead TV show and it started there.

Monthly Puroresu: In AWG, you’ve got a very versatile set of moves that you can unleash against foes, including your signature stunner and sneaky pinfall manoeuvres. What qualities do you think gives you an advantage against others when in the ring?

Photo courtesy of Actwres girL’Z

Marino Saihara: Judo is in my blood because I’ve trained since… I don’t even remember. I was so small, but my body remembers the moves. So I use ippon seoi, tai-otoshi (koshi nage), osotogari (STO) and tomoe nage, and they come out instinctively when I fight.

Like I said, budo is my base core so I’ll need a little more experience to figure out how to build and show my signature style. I’m still adjusting and working on how tight I can deliver each waza (move). Once I can perfect it, my budo experience will definitely be an advantage against others.

Monthly Puroresu: You also have a black belt in karate but we’ve never seen you punch and kick – why is that?

Marino Saihara: There’s so many performers that use kicks in Actwres girl’Z…. I’d definitely be anticipated and predicted if I used the same moves, but no one is a judo-ka. So I promised myself not to use striking techniques.

But I’m trying to incorporate “shime waza”, judo ground submissions as much as possible. For example, my pin is probably different from others in ACTwrestling because I try to use the basic skill osaekomi (hold down) from judo. One rule in judo is that they keep the opponent down for thirty seconds to get the ippon.

Monthly Puroresu: At the last show, you were unable to defeat Asahi and pleaded to join Teppen – do you think you have what it takes to prove your worth to the group and eventually join them, and how will you accomplish that goal?

Marino Saihara: Misa Matsui is the one that I tagged with in my debut match. I was the first person to tag with Asahi when she arrived and debuted in AWG, but I do have a strong feelings towards those two in TEPPEN☆.

Even before I started to bring up about wanting to join TEPPEN☆, I had always been a second (cornerman) for both Misa and Asahi regardless.

Although I couldn’t join TEPPEN☆ yet, I think that was the right path and outcome for now. The last show against Kanamic, I had a small injury – I took that as a good sign to review what I need to do, straighten out my goals and to train the rest of my body.

Facing Asahi in the ring, I felt a breakthrough. It first time I understood the structure and method. Then that led to a contest against Kanamic where I got hurt but I finished the match, keeping the same energy. (Kanamic was panicking when she saw me hurt – she’s so sweet!).

Later at the merchandise booth, there were fans speaking positively of the match so I think I showed my level going up and on a good path. I took a detour by not being able to join TEPPEN☆, but I’m positive about being able to join forces with TEPPEN☆, in the near future. When that time comes, I’ll be standing next to them as an equal and we’ll be able to attract more fans to the unit.

Monthly Puroresu: Some of the performers in AWG have been performing for a long time, such as ACT, Natsumi Sumikawa, and Miku Aono. Do you often seek advice or guidance from others in AWG for help with techniques, or do you try and learn by yourself from your experience in the ring?

Marino Saihara: Sometimes the Actring groups’ veteran teaches the younger performers in their groups. For example with Shellol, Mari is the one that teaches the others. At the dojo, Natsumi Sumikawa would be there to help those in gem. There are group differences but these days there’s more unity as AWG.

As for myself, Hagakure’s leader was Tae Honma but by the time I started with Action Ring Girls, she had left. So Misa was my debut tag partner and taught me, also Ayano Irie was on the opposite team so she trained me as well. Mari, I knew back from working in drama, so I’m able to just seek help from them all.

Monthly Puroresu: Beyond AWG is the world of ARG, where you portray Shinobu of Hagakure, a group of maybe not so great ninjas. What does it take to be a leader in the world of ARG, and do any of the things that you’ve learned in AWG help with ARG and vice versa?

Marino Saihara: On the first day that I met President Sakaguchi, he scouted me to perform as the leader of Hagakure. This was before the new Actring or ACTwrestling started and before I officially joined AWG. He instinctively said, “You’re the red ninja leader and I think it’s going to work”.  I didn’t understand, but after 2 months I get called over and I became the leader of Hagakure.

Monthly Puroresu: What do you think are the best and worst qualities of Shinobu, and how does that affect their interactions with other members of Hagakure and the members of other groups?

Photo courtesy of Actwres girl’Z

Marino Saihara: The passionate side of Shinobu is probably the best quality she has. I try to be straight and passionate while on stage as Shinobu. And the worst part, maybe her passionate side is too strong, and she can be blind to details at times.

There’s three members left in Hagakure, myself included. And off stage, all three of us have been acting mainly. We all have our vision for acting and how we do things as performers.

We are very vocal about it, but a lot of times we share the same quality and agree on the same things. The three scripted characters that are left, they have strong personalities but our real personality is also kind of strong and we really match together. We have a good balance and good chemistry going.

When there’s an ACTwrestling event, the three of us meet up an hour before and have lunch together and head to the show. I don’t think many do that, our team get along real well. Maybe this strong bond comes from the feeling that no one from the original Action Ring Girls is left on our team, we are new and have to make a mark.

Monthly Puroresu: What are some goals that you have for yourself in the future in Actwres girl’Z and outside of it?

Marino Saihara: Being able to do Actwres girl’Z shows abroad overseas is my dream. Eventually, I do personally want to go but first, I’d like to go as a team, going together as AWG. Not only ACTwrestling, but I also want to perform Actring overseas.

Yes, I know there will be language barriers but as a performance, I think there’s potential. I personally think if we keep the show in Japan only, it’ll be hard to really grow.

I think Actwres girl’Z has the potential in many different ways and since it’s a global society now, I have confidence there’s many people who would see me and like what I do.

Japanese fans, I know it’s a matter of time but I’m looking ahead and want to keep an eye out for foreign countries.

Monthly Puroresu: Are you talking about America?

Marino Saihara: Well, for me, Comic Con comes first. So in America, I’d like to go to San Diego Comic Con or New York Comic Con. Europe also has their Comic Cons but in Asia, I haven’t heard of any Comic Con events other than in Japan.

But I know the biggest is San Diego Comic Con, so if we can do something there, any chance of AWG or even personally as well, I want to keep an eye out.

My biggest goal is to do something with American Comics through AWG. So I want to tell the international fans that if I do go, I hope everyone comes out to see me perform!