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Mina Shirakawa: Beauty is Devotion

2 years ago

Mina Shirakawa: Beauty is Devotion

The Cosmic Angel is no stranger to being overlooked but, above all things, she won’t lose hope.

By: J. Curbelo

In an era of women’s wrestling advocacy and validation, gone are the days where the sole objectification of its competitors was widely encouraged and celebrated. The term “diva” is a distant, bizarre memory from a different stage of society, and the focus is set on in-ring action and compelling, badass characters.

While this is clearly the right direction, it has also fostered a curious train of thought in which a female wrestler whose persona revolves around her conventionally attractive physical appearance is somehow less worthy of praise. Their goals are seen as disingenuous. Their efforts are often downplayed because “she’s just a model”. Their progress is ignored either by people who can only value the female wrestler for her beauty and sensuality, or people who despise her for being happy with such aspects of her life. Both viewpoints reduce the woman to a shallow concept instead of the complex human she is. One of the biggest victims -and survivors- of this convention is STARDOM’s Mina Shirakawa.

Photo c/o Masahiro Kubota

After an eye opening performance throughout the entire 5 STAR Grand Prix tournament, Shirakawa has a date with destiny where she’ll challenge for the Wonder of Stardom Championship on November 3rd. Momentum has never been so in favor of the former gravure idol who is set to make her United States wrestling debut on Friday, October 28th, for NJPW of America’s Rumble on 44th Street. To get to this point, though, Mina had to crawl through what she has recently described as a gravel road.

An outsider to the business, a lover of the sport

It was ten years ago that Shirakawa, who had just begun venturing into modeling, became infatuated by the art and athleticism of puroresu during a New Japan Pro-Wrestling show. For her, wrestling was what got her through the night. Her haven of hope. Her escapism from hard times. The prejudices she had to endure in her career, as she grew older in a business that unfairly prioritizes younger models, were too much to handle. With pressure over her to retire, she would end up resorting to pro-wrestling. That was just the beginning of her personal royal road.

Despite detractors claiming that she was in it for the money and to advance her gravure endeavors, Mina had a genuine passion for puroresu. She ended up becoming a loyal fan of Jyushin Thunder Liger, who may have drawn her attention thanks to his mecha-esque aesthetics, something Mina would eventually appreciate further as a Gundam collector. Upon her match against TJPW’s Yuka Sakazaki for the first round of the 2019 Tokyo Princess Cup, Shirakawa compared her opportunity to the 1994 Super J Cup first round match between Liger and a young Hayabusa. Mina is a student of the game, but her skills hadn’t quite matched her ambition, determination and charisma yet. Furthermore, her age was still a constant talking point among her “antis”, as Mina would confess to being constantly pestered about what she would do with her life.

Boarding the ring of wonder to a delicious destination

With the dismissal of not just purist wrestling fans, but also her own parents, Mina turned the other cheek and kept progressing in her wrestling career. She would find herself being brought to STARDOM by Tam Nakano, who had a personal mission of branching out of STARS and forming Cosmic Angels with the subsequent arrival of Unagi Sayaka to stand against Giulia and her group Donna del Mondo. Cosmic Angels turned out to be a unit of perseverant and hard-working wrestlers who embrace their beauty, femininity and absurd, sometimes raunchy humor. It did not sit well with everyone.

Photo c/o Masahiro Kubota

The trio was met with mixed reactions from STARDOM’s fan base, some of which deemed Mina and Unagi unfit for the promotion’s youth focused, workrate heavy presentation. The Cosmic Angels would have a lot to prove in front of their eyes for the next two years, but from the beginning critics would be silenced one by one. Despite a rocky start with the Artist of Stardom Championships due to Mina’s inopportune nose injury that had her inactive for a few months, the idol faction revitalized the trios division with its lengthiest reign in company history. All of this while Shirakawa and Unagi had a highly emotional rivalry for the Future of Stardom Championship, which both got to briefly carry in succession before targeting their own leader Tam Nakano and her allegedly cursed Wonder of Stardom Championship.

In the case of Mina, her feelings towards both Tam and the white belt have always fallen in line with her ethos of faith through despair. She felt that she was being underappreciated by Tam, who has an obsessively nostalgic personality and couldn’t let go of former teammates. Mina wanted to stop Nakano’s so-called road of trauma and pave it with positive traits. In order to do that, she channeled her own negativity and turned into “Bloody Angel”. A psychotic alter ego which makes it inevitable to draw a comparison to another famed, dark alternate character in Kishin Liger.

Unfortunately, Mina’s unleashed persona was not enough to withstand Tam’s own mind games, in which she ramped up those negative traits her challenger called her out for to retain the belt. It seemed like neither were on each other’s wavelength up to that point, a realization that made both appreciate their bond even further. However, just one month later, Donna del Mondo’s MaiHimePoi defeated Cosmic Angels for the trios belts, starting a new legendary run of their own and leaving Mina to focus on her faction’s growing problems.

Thriving through uncertainty

While Tam is the leader of the faction, Mina Shirakawa often feels like a strong second in command, frequently sporting the group logo on her gear and driving her teammates forward more often than not, to great results. Such as the time she got them to perform a match and dedicate their victory in full tribute to her masked idol, who was commentating that show live. Regardless of her leadership skills, 2022 has mostly been a year of tumultuous developments for the unit as a whole.

As Cosmic Angels’ rivalry with Donna del Mondo became more and more personal, it went on to involve dramatic defections in both sides, inner conflicts, two controversially lewd matches, an enigmatic departure, new friends and an unlikely tag team title victory by hands of Tam and new addition Natsupoi. Shirakawa confessed about feeling a bit lost in the shuffle and, once again, underappreciated by her impulsively passionate leader, but it was in her unbreakable determination that she found the will to keep going because, who other than Mina to withstand the feeling of being cast aside and make the most out of the situation?

Photo c/o Masahiro Kubota

Contrary to fans’ slightly unfounded but high expectations for another betrayal to happen, Chanmina stayed with her team instead and decided that she was going to become better and stronger. The upcoming 5 STAR Grand Prix was the perfect opportunity to do that and steal as many wins as possible, and while Mina had made multiple believers at this point, no one expected her to evolve the way she did over the course of the tournament, both in the way she battled and the way she presented herself.

While STARDOM’s translation efforts are good, they’re only made for the absolutely necessary things, leaving it up for fans to convey many storylines and character arcs that would otherwise go unnoticed by the majority of the Western fanbase. Mina Shirakawa has become a great benefactor of this, as her recent promo work paints her in a much more serious light than we usually see her from official means of translation. It’s the ultimate buster of the outdated-but-very-much-alive myth that Shirakawa is just a wacky, horny comedy wrestler. Her words, fueled by her deepest feelings, were backed up by her actions.

The emotional redemption of an “H-cup modeling fighter”

Mina’s Grand Prix victories were few but significant. Former white belt champion Momo Watanabe, young powerhouse Saya Iida, strong newcomer Ami Sourei, high-speed trickster Natsupoi, each time displaying unprecedented levels of skill that surprised even her biggest supporters. Yet, no victory can compare to that of September 23rd. Mina, dancing her way into Korakuen Hall, defeated Wonder of Stardom Champion and wrestler of the year contender Saya Kamitani, taking her opponent out of contention for the tournament finals and putting herself in contention for Saya’s title belt.

Photo c/o twitter/hiroblack_0303

All of this happens at a time where Tam and Natsupoi walk their “revolutionary road”, Unagi goes away for her “gyan period”, and Waka Tsukiyama embarks on her self-imposed weight loss mission called “gao period”. With the additional backup from freelancer faction COLOR’S, Cosmic Angels has gotten to a point where their needs now lie not so much in their team efforts, but in the individual efforts of each member to prove their worth to the world. With this, Mina’s victory against Kamitani kickstarted the “Shirakawa Reformation”. The slander has run its course and it’s time to become undeniably worthy.

Earning ten points after the tournament was over, an improvement over last year’s six, Mina still stood at the bottom of the list in the tournament’s rankings. To the eyes of statistics and graphics, there’s not much to this 34 year old joshi. But it was never about data, because faith is belief in the absence of evidence. And for Mina, believing is hope. The same hope that had her try out gravure despite her early insecurities with her own body, switch to an even more uncertain line of work ignoring all naysayers, go to a workrate driven wrestling promotion in one of its most serious periods of time, be loyal to herself despite constant criticism and harassment from deranged fans, and bet on herself to achieve what no one thought she would ever achieve. When you say that lightning can’t strike twice, Mina goes and makes Saya tap out weeks later.

Mina’s invaluable worth

It’s likely that your first impression of Mina Shirakawa will be that of a big-breasted, fit woman with an enchanting smile who winks at you while she performs her hip-shaking dance routine to a legally distinct cover of Lucenzo’s 2011 smash hit Vem Dançar Kuduro. But what is wrong with that? There is a section of the wrestling community that has been led to believe that a wrestler who is comfortable with and proud of her sex appeal is an inconvenience to women’s wrestling. There is another section of the wrestling community that does enjoy the eye candy when they see it, but also obsesses over it and invisibilizes any other quality of said wrestler.

And because of all that, Shirakawa is held under tougher scrutiny for no good reason. She has to put in triple the effort than other peers, or else become worthless to the eyes of these fans. In an ideal world this doesn’t need to happen but, as always, Mina turns the other cheek and patiently gives you every reason to believe she’s the real deal. Little by little she developed an assortment of technical wrestling moves, improves her speed and precision constantly and builds an inspiring story that plays out in the ring. All while being humble and appreciative of those who support her, day one or yesterday.

Photo c/o Masahiro Kubota

That is the most appealing beauty of Mina Shirakawa. Her devotion to proving that she belongs in professional wrestling without changing a single thing of what makes her, her. This is a woman who has walked many roads. Earned a degree in English and American Literature, posed for magazines and videos, cheered as a vedette during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, but she stuck with puroresu in the end. Rebelling against the expectations those close to her had, she has not married, given birth to children nor worked a regular job. And we should be so grateful that she decided to follow this path. Her own path.

Come November 3rd, it can’t be safely predicted that she’ll be able to end Saya Kamitani’s seemingly unstoppable white belt run. But it also can’t be guaranteed that she’ll receive a CHANCE like this in the future, where the iron is as hot as ever. STARDOM could strike it for an all-time emotional moment, but until the day comes, we can only rest assured that no matter what happens, Mina Shirakawa’s worth has been proven by Mina Shirakawa. A long, long time ago.