Natsu Sumire is not the best wrestler in Stardom. She’s not their biggest name.
If Stardom was a fancy five course meal, Natsu would be the dessert.
She’s not the focal point, nor the meal that you fill yourself up on. In theory you don’t need dessert to make the experience, but once you’ve gone without you can’t help but notice something is missing.
In her absence since October due to a shoulder injury, Stardom has missed her antics. Although her being out doesn’t affect the main event scene, she brought a lot of fun to the low and mid card matches she was involved with. The shows aren’t devoid of comedy without her, but simplifying what Natsu brings to the table as just ‘comedy’ is underselling her work.
Nobody makes a throwaway lower card match into a must-see like her, and no one but Natsu creates stories from those matches that gets you interested in the next show’s opening fight as well. She has done it time and time again, daring her opponents to play into her various gimmicks and give their characters added depth and personality.
Saki Kashima during her time with STARS was a good wrestler that didn’t bring a whole lot to the table character-wise other than ‘Friend of Mayu and happy to be here’. That was until Natsu started taking every chance to poke at her. It started by using Saki’s entrance theme as cause for impromptu karaoke sessions. Then she started to suggest Saki’s prim ‘idol’ persona under STARS was a sham and that she should let out the real Saki. Natsu would mock where she came from, and even cosplay as the ‘true Saki Kashima’, with a bad wig and ‘Donki’ shopping bag in toe. Her antics brought a fire out in Saki the likes we had yet seen, and in a wonderful twist she would eventually show her true self. She betrayed Mayu and joined up with Natsu in Oedo Tai, even going so far as to dye her hair blonde in similar fashion to the bad wig her former enemy paraded around in when imitating her a year before.
As a one-off achievement, Natsu could be applauded for piloting a fun story. However this has become par for the course. Before AZM started getting chances to shine in higher profile matches, she and Natsu were playing off of each other in fighting spirit spots that weren’t just forearm exchanges, but roast sessions. She absconded with Tam Nakano’s manager, the stuffed panda named P-Chan, and posting pictures of her new prize on Twitter where the doll was tied up bondage style to mock her foe.
Stardom is a promotion that generally doesn’t worry about running too many stories at one time. A couple of championship arcs, and maybe one additional one to spice things up. Considering Natsu Sumire is not a perennial title contender, she could easily just end up as a steady hand for the rookies to work with. Instead she’ll drag these matches into relevancy.
It’d be one thing if she was simple comedy relief, but Natsu’s so much more than that. She’s a storyteller, and one who is always looking to make her opponents look better. During the Oedo Tai Diet video series where the members sit around a table telling stories, Natsu spoke on how she views the ring as a stage, and approaches it as one might a music performance. It lines up with her style. Everything is exaggerated and performative, and any lulls in the action are filled with her Osaka dialect as she berates opponents or psyches herself up.
Explaining the character of Natsu Sumire is easy. She’s a dominatrix whose vanity sometimes gets the better of her. She loves to dish out the humiliation (like when hitting opponents with the most aggressive bronco buster in existence) but can’t always take it. She’ll talk a big game but if she has to face the consequences, she would rather hide.
That last point is what she does so well in lifting others up. She’s not afraid to be made to look like a fool for the benefit of her opponent. She can beat up AZM and call her names, but at the end it’ll be Natsu who is left looking silly because the teenager outsmarted her. She’ll steal Konami’s mask (named Prince) but there’s no way she wants to actually be the in the ring with someone as dangerous as her, preferring to retreat to the back like a scared cat.
In an industry where it can be so easy to buy into your own hype, being willing to embarrass yourself for the good of another is a sign of humility, an understanding of oneself, and your position on the card.
It cannot be stressed how valuable her work in the lower card matches is for Stardom. It provides more than just simple entertainment to fans, it serves as a proving ground for others. When a rookie debuts in Stardom, it’s common to see them thrown into the deep end and get singles matches against some of the company’s best wrestlers. If you want to see how good a newcomer is in the ring, you put them against Jungle Kyona or Momo Watanabe. They can drag good matches out of just about anyone. If you want them to learn to develop character inside the ropes, you put them against Natsu Sumire. The way she performs forces you to either react or flounder.
Of course, personality is sometimes harder to develop than in ring skills. Especially when you’re new and a bit nervous, which is often clear in the rookies. So they get plenty of reps against someone like Natsu, who is comfortable and experienced enough in the ring to lead, but doesn’t ask for too much from her opponents. They can focus on the little things, and in time their work can grow. Natsu’s charismatic enough to make these short matches entertaining by herself, but once her opponent is comfortable enough to contribute, the matches become memorable.
Take her singles match against Saya Iida in May 2019. By this point, Iida was only a few months into her career, and while she showed potential early she was a very stock-standard rookie still finding herself. There is a moment about halfway through the match when Natsu climbs the top rope, only to be stopped by Iida. As Saya climbs up she’s verbally berated by her opponent.
For nearly a minute the two would stand on the top as Natsu instructed Iida that she hasn’t wrestled for long enough to be doing a superplex in a match. Natsu got a laugh from the audience and made herself look crafty, but the final exchange was won by Iida when Natsu’s trickery ultimately blew up in her face. Even with Iida doing very little, some personality was allowed to build through Natsu’s actions.
By the time they faced off in the Tag League later that year, Iida had grown more confident as a performer, both in technique and character. Natsu, meanwhile, was in full on drunk party girl mode alongside Session Moth Martina, dancing to the ring with Asahi cans in hand. As you would expect Natsu takes the lead with the performance, but this time Saya isn’t just a passive bystander; she bounces off of it, stealing the beer and imitating Jackie Chan’s Drunker Master routine in a true highlight moment.
Just as pitting a young wrestler against Kyona or Watanabe tests and challenges their wrestling ability, Natsu Sumire (and veteran Kaori Yoneyama) provide a similar litmus test for character work. You need both skills in order to truly succeed in pro wrestling, but while every promotion has veteran performers who can test a wrestler’s in-ring skill, they don’t always have people who can do the same with character work.
Like any wrestler, she has put her body on the line and has paid the price for it, now finally taking time to fix a shoulder that has been taped up for years. Despite her preference for not taking superplexes in an opening match, she’s taken her share of bumps and then some. She stood alongside Kagetsu in the Exploding Bat Deathmatch against Tam Nakano and Io Shirai, taking an exploding strike as Tam lined up a home run hit (and continued to prove her character work as she sold the danger of the match perfectly in the lead-up).
Though for all of her hard work, she doesn’t have many accolades to show for that sacrifice. Just a single title win, alongside Andras Miyagi and Kagetsu as the Artists of Stardom Champions. The crowd could sense the title change coming, and their reaction as she pinned Saki Kashima was immense. This was in Osaka, who are normally particularly vocal for their hometown favourite, Kagetsu. It wasn’t her name they were calling out though, as the whole building erupted in a ‘Natsu’ chant.
The moment clearly meant a lot for her, and the lines between ‘Natsu the person’ and ‘Natsu the performer’ were more blurred than ever as she sat in the middle of the ring with the pink belt over her shoulder. Genuine joy radiated from her as she soaked in the feeling. There was no breaking of character, instead it was a rare moment of honesty and humility for the normally boisterous poser. The night she won, she said:
“I didn’t stress about belts. I was just happy if I got something good to eat. That’s how I wandered around for the past six years. I might not have been the best wrestler, but right now I’m just so happy.”
She later speaks of this victory being proof that the path she walked wasn’t wrong – fitting the Oedo Tai vibe of a bunch of rebellious misfits, but also someone who knew her limitations would prevent her from becoming a top star. All that wear and tear on the body to be a midcard act as best – it would have to make you question yourself at times. It pays the bills, but at what cost? There are plenty of other jobs that don’t extract the same physical toll from you.
In that moment though, the journey had been worth it. And whether Natsu comes back to wrestling after her surgery (which seems to be a decision she still needs to make based on one of her Vlogs), she can know that her hard work paid off in lifting up others, but also getting a moment in the sun as a champion.
Being the steady hand in the mid to lower card isn’t a glamorous position to be in. It’s not what young aspiring wrestlers dream of doing when they picture themselves in the business. The sad reality is, not everyone can be the main event star of a company. Just like a movie has a leading actress and some side characters, wrestling needs people who know their role and can do it well.
Natsu Sumire knows her role, and she does it better than anyone. Her presence alone makes any match she’s in entertaining, and anyone she’s against more interesting. Stories will materialise out of thin air that brings life to the early parts of a show when they could easily be ‘seen it before’ tag matches. She’s out there working with the teenagers and the rookies, helping them master the basics inside the ring and helping them find their voice.
Every company needs a Natsu Sumire, just like any dining experience needs a dessert to cap it all off. Right now Stardom is a great meal, but it is missing its dessert.