NOAH DEPARTURE 2004 on 7/10/04
review by PdW2kX

Mitsuo Momota vs. Haruka Eigen

Eigen teases a dive to the outside, as does Momota, and the two men grapple with each other for a big until Momota hits a giant swing, which is actually pretty cool since he really did get Haruka up there and swinging for a good while. Eigen hits a Piledriver, only for Momota to get in a backdrop, and yet Haruka hits a DDT to come back. In the end, Momota wins with a reverse cradle at 8:03.

Analysis: A very, very basic opener, but that can be forgiven due to the limitations of Momota and Haruka (those limitations being, of course, the fact that they're old). Both men were really over, and it was a nice bit of nostalgia, even though it wasn't a classic. **

Tamon Honda, Jun Izumida, and Kikuchi vs. Masao Inoue, Kishin Kawabata, and Masashi Aoyagi

A bit of stiff kicking and stand offing begins the match, while Aoyagi nails a surprisingly athletic fake out. All six men trade blows with each other, including some backdrops, an STO, and, of course, Kikuchi's signature hard-headed headbutts. Aoyagi also gets in those incredibly stiff kicks of his, to good effect. Kawabata semi-botches a senton of the top, but I'm a bit unsure over who's fault it was since Izumida, the intended target, was way too far off. After a bit of a cluster-****, Jun wins it for his team at 10:58 with the Mukado Domu (Fireman's Carry Hold to Ace Crusher).

Analysis: Ehh…decent. 2nd on a gargantuan ten-match card, so I'm not exactly expecting much. Everyone got their spots in, everyone saved face. Still continued the tricky purpose of serving as a time-waster first, but it was halfway passable. **¼

Kotaro Suzuki and Ricky Marvin vs. Michael Modest and Donovan Morgan

Ricky and Kotaro start out with some typical junior flashiness, including Kotaro's twisting splash to the outside. Morgan, however, responds with a sick DDT from the apron to the outside mats onto Marvin. Modest follows that up with that ass smash move of his for 2, and an Exploder-like move which Kotaro breaks, only for Kotaro to get an elevated Ace Crusher for his troubles. A bit later, Marvin botches what was probably an elevated Ace Crusher reversal (into a tornado DDT) by sliding down the back of the guy he was supposed to DDT. Ouch. Marvin even quasi-botches a double DDT. Marvin gets his act together, though, and the double Tiger Feint Kick spot is thrown in there for good measure. Marvin even nails a nice diving splash to Morgan on the outside. After more varied and sometimes entertainingly frantic moves by all four men, Morgan and Modest hit the Day After Tomorrow at 11:55 for the win.

Analysis: I sense a change brewin'. This was a good, unique match, one where everyone complimented each other and went at it for just long enough with just enough substance for both myself and the crowd to get into it. That said, some slight sloppiness and a botch or two kinda downgraded this otherwise solid match. A good effort by all involved, and a surprisingly good 3rd match. ***

Akitoshi Saito & Makoto Hashi vs. Scorpio & Richard Slinger

Saito and Scorpio exchange kicks, only for Saito to hit a lariat, which Scorpio responds to with a Ganmengiri. A bit of stiffness with light chain wrestling soon follows. A very long stalling suplex is mixed into the match for dramatic effect, or at least a cheap pop. Scorpio also hits that 450 Legdrop of his, but it gets broken up, while a powerbomb and moonsault combo by Scorpio is kicked out of at 2½. Even a 180° moonsault gets two. Scorpio then gets on the losing side as Saito cleans house and Scorpio accidentally lariats his partner in the corner, prompting lariats by both Saito and Hashi. After move stiffness, some of which was particularly stiff, Slinger digs deep and pulls out a win with the Chattanooga Choo Choo (best described as a pseudo-Jackhammer from a Fireman's Carry position).

Analysis: Another solid match, although "surprisingly solid" might carry a negative connotation. Again, this was only the 4th match of a card that spanned ten matches, and it was surprising how solid a match it was when you consider it like that. But when you considered those involved- Saito, Hashi, Scorp and Slinger- all of them are basically good whenever they have a match, and this was not exception. Saito proved he was stiff, Hashi proved he could take a beat, Slinger did a good job in a variety of ways, and Scorpio was…Scorpio. Departure '04 is hitting its stride quite well. ***

Akira Taue and Takuma Sano vs. Daisuke Ikeda and Mohammed Yone

In an early, great spot, Yone takes a disgusting (as in disgustingly great) backdrop that folds his neck almost in two and sells it like gold: he sits up and acts like he doesn't know where the hell he is. Then again, he probably wasn't acting. Taue gets tagged in, only for Ikeda to hit a Ganmengiri off of Yone's back. Taue responds with a Nodawa Atoshi! Ikeda breaks it up, and a powerbomb is followed up with a double stomp, which Ikeda also breaks up. Ikeda keeps interfering, saving Yone from submissions and pin attempts. Ikeda tags in, dishes out some punishment, takes some punishment, and then plants Sano with a Death Valley Driver. There's also a slightly-botched segment mid-match…miniscule, but it was there. Yone then hits the Muscle Buster for a big pop, only for Sano to drop Yone right on his head with a release German Suplex. Sano hits the Northern Lights Bomb, only for Ikeda to break it, and even a grimace-inducing brutal double stomp nearly flattens poor Yone's chest is kicked out of at 2¾. The match concludes when Sano nails an insane Avalanche Northern Lights Bomb that once again drills Yone right on his damn head, finishing off a pre-Asian Disco Man Yone at 10:45.

Analysis: Basically, a spotfest of high-impact moves. But most of the moves had backing, and weren't exactly thrown out at random. Not to say they were built up very well, either, but, for what it was, I found it really entertaining. The bumps were brutal, and the last couple of minutes were really frantic, fast-paced, and made for a very good showing from all four more-than-capable men. Think of it as a spotfest, but a good one, with just enough balance on all sides of the spectrum to offshoot, or at least give enough meaning to, some very sick moments. Departure, as a whole, is starting to get good. Real good. ***

GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match: Naomichi Marufuji and KENTA (c) vs. Kendo Kashin and Takashi Sugiura

Mmm…KENTAfuji…Right off the bat, Naomichi nails the flippy arm bar reversal thingy of his, followed by Sugiura and KENTA beating the hell out of each other. A small comedy spot of Kashin crashing into his helpers after trying an outside dive leads into more Sugiura/KENTA stiffness. A small cluster-**** breaks out, leading to a gutwrench suplex off the apron to Marufuji, only for Kashin to roll Naomichi in at 19. Sugiura and Kashin then exchange blows due to a few in-ring mistakes and general animosity stemming from Kashin choosing to continue the match when Takashi thought it'd already been won. Later on, Kashin hits a Shirunai on Marufuji, but a severely botched one: instead of running up the ropes, Kashin tries to run directly onto the top rope, then slips, then falls back and Marufuji has to carry Kashin over to complete the move. Hate for Kashin: growing. Marufuji is then treated to a sick German suplex that plants him right on his cheek. KENTA and Naomichi then fight back and hit the powerbomb/Shirunai combo, only for Kashin to break. After a Busaiku Knee to keep Kashin at bay, Sugiura kicks out of a Shirunai and a Senton, but is finally put away with the Avalanche Shirunai at 22:26.

Analysis: Some blown spots, pacing issues, and lack of a good flow hampered what could've been a small sleeper hit, or at least a hell of a way to kick off the top of the card. Everyone came out strong, as it was neck-and-neck for a long while. All four stuck to their guns (i.e. KENTA and Sugiura stuck to stiffness, Naomichi with his regular offense, etc.), but this ended up being a double-edged sword where, on the one hand, they're doing the same things that made them good wrestlers, but, on the other hand…they're doing the same things. All in all, though, not living up to my personal expectations didn't stop it from being a solid match, a highlight of the card thus far, and a great (just not excellent) way to kick off the second half of what's becoming a phenomenal show.

GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title Match: Jushin Lyger (c) vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru

The match is very high-impact right from the start, as Liger hits the Shotei palm strike and a Lyger Bomb, which gets 2¾, only for Yoshinobu to respond with a brainbuster that gets 2½. After a good dropkick right to Liger's face, Kanemaru eats a rolling kick and then a powerbomb to the outside mats, and barely manages to get back in the ring. A dazed Yoshinobu is then beaten down, and nearly just plain beaten, with moves like a powerbomb, a release German Suplex, and some of Lyger's signature submission maneuvers. Yoshinobu mounts a comeback, only to be backdropped right onto his neck. After an increasingly frantic assault by Yoshinobu is met with some full-force strikes by Liger, Yoshinobu hits two brainbusters in succession, the last one being Revolution Style (spinning), both of which Liger takes right on his head, and pins the champ, crowning a new GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion at 17:36 and ushering in the "Age of Yoshi".

Analysis: Impossible. Another good match. I'm beginning to think NOAH is trying to fool me into believing that Departure is there best show, ever. And I am beginning to grow shocked and appalled at how long I waited to both get this show and review it. A good contest, if not a bit spotty and stalling at times. It got better as it progressed, but since it was good to begin with, it didn't get a whole lot better…it just remained good throughout. Yoshinobu came back after hell, while Lyger refused to stay down until he got dropped on his head a bunch of times. Just another all-around good match. ***

IWGP Tag Team Title Match: Yoshihiro Takayama and Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Takeshi Morishima & Takeshi Rikio

Rikio and Minoru start it off and play off of a small "former sumo vs. current shoot fighter" story, seen when Rikio isn't fast enough to catch sneaky Minoru and begins to grow agitated. Rikio and Takayama then tangle up, and, of course, exchange a few power moves. Suzuki tags back in, and Morishima tags in for the first time, but even Morishima can't get his hands on Suzuki for more than a couple seconds. In a good and partially well built-up opening segment, Rikio gets in and does something he should've done to begin with: he simply waits for Minoru to get close, grabs him by the throat, and smacks him good. Then a cluster-**** breaks out, only for Morishima and Rikio to hit a combination backdrop/Nodawa Atoshi to the outside mats, and then they both take turns mauling Suzuki. After being subjected to some double teaming of his own, Rikio nails a surprise (yeah, right) Nodawa Atoshi for the quick tag. In the end, Minoru latches on the choke sleeper to keep Rikio at bay, leaving Morishima all alone and pinned by a bridging German Suplex courtesy of Takayama at 12:55.

Analysis: Another "power" spotfest, but one that benefited from a story, even if it was basic and played off of some real-life things. In a way, it resembled the short, "cash" style matches of current NJPW: flash and flare, long enough to be meaningful, short enough to be frantic and exciting, good enough to leave you wanting more. While I'm not accustomed to it, and it was apparent that Rikio and Morishima probably weren't either, that doesn't mean I ended up disliking what I saw…quite the contrary, actually. Short, sweet, and gave just enough of a rush to leave you wanting more. Like candy. Or crack. Whatever. **¾.

GHC Tag Team Title Match: Mitsuharu Misawa and Yoshinari Ogawa (c) vs. Keiji Muto and Taiyo Kea

Kea and Ogawa start out this little "dream match" with a tad bit of chain wrestling, and basically simple feeler moves that starts the basic story of "let's find out what makes each other tick". Misawa and Muto then tag in…and it begins. Tiger Driver for 2, then a Shining Wizard courtesy of Mr. Muto. After that all-too-brief exchange, more chain wrestling follows, and Kea takes a double stomp/elbow drop combo. Keiji comes in and hits the Shining Elbow a bit later on. After some more Kea/Ogawa slightly-bland action, Muto nails an Emerald Frosion on Ogawa, only for Misawa to run across the ring and hit Keiji with a Shining Wizard. Ogawa is then repeatedly worn down, only for Misawa to repeatedly come in and save his partner. Muto and Misawa tangle up and once gain do everything they can to out-do each other. Misawa even hits a diving elbow through the ropes into Muto, sending Muto into the crowd. Kea then gains an advantage over Misawa, only for Misawa to roll through, nimbly land on his feet, and hit a rolling elbow that was made all the more better by Misawa's excellent timing and Kea's excellent selling. This is immediately ruined, though, with a botched segment. I can't even describe it, since I have no idea what the hell they were trying to do, and even Muto nailing a Shining Wizard to both Misawa and Ogawa barely salvages the damage. Muto hits the moonsault, and Kea nails a sick Cobra Clutch Suplex and a T.K.O. Misawa nails two well-executed Emerald Frosions, both of which make Kea's body nearly fold up under his neck, and pins for the win at 21:46.

Analysis: Good, but not too good. A bit contrived at parts, and even a bit bland at others. Sometimes I had no idea what they were thinking and, sadly, some times I thought they also didn't know what they were doing. Other times, though, they were spot-on, and several bright spots managed to salvage what at one time was a rapidly sinking ship. Even knowing that, this match clearly illustrated the flaws of all four men, not their strengths. The argument can (and will) be made, though, that, even on their crappiest day, this guys can still turn out a good match. And they honestly did. They all ended up pulling together and turned out a match that was good by regular standards…just not by their standards. ***

GHC Heavyweight Title Match: Kenta Kobashi (c) vs. Jun Akiyama

A short highlight video for both wrestlers preludes a match that has been both hyped and labeled as, at one end, the best match in NOAH's history and, at the other end, the worst. The match starts out with…what else? Standard "me stronger than you" spots and chop/elbow exchanges. Guess who wins…Kobashi, of course. It should be said, though, that Kobashi's chops really are in full-force, or "you die now" mode. Kobashi ends up flying right into a knee, and then takes a DDT onto the apron. Jun hits a flying knee from the 2nd rope to the back of Kobashi's head in a good opening moment. Akiyama even nails the Double Underhook DDT. More back-and-forth action follows, as does a "no letting go" headlock spot, almost a mirror image of their match from the inaugural Great Voyage. Kobashi hits the Sleeper Suplex, and then brutalizes Akiyama in the corner with machine gun and spinning chops. And, in one of the highlights, Jun takes a sick-as-**** suplex from the apron to the outside and bounces nearly a foot off the mats. Kobashi then subjects Akiyama to some of the most powerful moves in Kobashi's repertoire: the Half Nelson Suplex, the Orange Crush, and the Burning Lariat, all of which Akiyama kicks out of, but just barely. Jun wiggles out of a Burning Hammer attempt, hits a swank release German suplex, and then a big knee. In another one of the big moments the match was/is known for, Kobashi takes an Exploder from the second rope all the way to the outside mats, courtesy of Akiyama. After crawling back in at 19, Akiyama then gives Kobashi some payback in the form of three of the most powerful moves in Akiyama's repertoire: the Exploder Suplex, the Avalanche Exploder Suplex, and the Wrist-Clutch Exploder Suplex. Kobashi, like Akiyama, also kicks out of all those moves, but just barely.

Akiyama then sets up the Sternness Dust, but it gets reversed into a brainbuster. This, of course, leads into the "orgy" of Half Nelson Suplexes/Exploder Suplexes. Kobashi ends up hitting a lariat, and then both men go down. Kobashi busts out the moonsault, but again Akiyama kicks out. Kenta hits the Burning Hammer (without the top-rope setup) for the win at 35:34.

Analysis: The main event of Departure '04 ended up a whole lot like the main event of Destiny '05: honestly, I fell gypped. N…O… flow whatsoever. Stiffness, big-move-with-no-buildup, resthold, repeat. Sprinkle with a few signature moves, which also weren't worked up to. In my honest opinion, this match paled in comparison to their encounter at Great Voyage '00, and it's a shame that this one is so over-pimped when there's a possible sleeper hit no one really knows about. As it stands, this match fell flat at times and, quite honestly, sometimes it barely held my attention. I respect the hell out of both men for putting their bodies through this, of course, because this thing was damn brutal in nearly every way except for heavy blood loss. But nothing ever really meant anything. At all. I just wasn't pulled in. Then again, it speaks volumes for both men over how disappointed I am over a match that ended up being "only" good. ***¼

Final Thoughts: If Kobashi/Akiyama really was the fantastic bout I thought it would be, I was ready and willing to label this as my first "must-have-or-die" show. But that's not the case. What Departure is, though, definitely qualifies as a must-have, especially for NOAH fans. Those unfamiliar with NOAH will likely become hooked since everything was so diverse, and even a few haters will at least had to admit that there was a string of good matches that continued from basically the third match all the way to the last one. I've already said my peace on Kobashi/Akiyama, so just remember one last thing: don't go in expecting the world out of Departure. If you go in with a level head, you'll be very pleased and maybe even a tad bit pleasantly surprised. Even though Navigate for Evolution '05 still takes it as my favorite NOAH show, Departure made #2 with ease, based solely on the fact that it continually delivered quality matches that appealed to a broad spectrum of fans.

So, even though my expectations were a little let down, Departure is still one hell of a show, and it easily earns a sincere ***½.

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