The Mystery of AKI Man
AKI Man: International Man of Mystery
Through out the annals of wrestling video games, there is one character whose actual identity has always been speculated on, but never revealed. A character that, nearly 20 years later, still has a foothold in the imaginations of wrestling fans who played WCW/nWo Revenge in the late 1990s. I am talking about the legendary AKI Man.
With his full body jump suit, bizarre motorcycle helmet mask, and Cenobite-esque jaw, AKI Man was the go to character for many playing WCW/nWo Revenge. He had strange taunts, an eclectic set of moves, and while the other unlicensed characters in the game are clearly based on real wrestlers from Japan, AKI Man was seemingly a unique character made just for that game. After 17 years, I am confident that I have cracked the mysterious identity of AKI Man. But first, let's take a trip through wrestling's long history of unlicensed characters in video games.
Pro Wrestling's Unlicensed Competitors
Pro wrestling video games have a long history of using slightly or massively altered appearances to sneak in wrestlers they couldn't get the rights to. The earliest wrestling games were so basic that even if someone was supposed to be a rip off, you couldn't tell. Wrestling games started using unlicensed characters as early as 1985's Mat Mania – The Prowrestling Network, an arcade release from Technōs Japan (creators of the Double Dragon series). Mat Mania featured characters inspired by the Dynamite Kid, Bruiser Brody, the Road Warriors, Bobo Brazil, Mil Mascaras, and a generic karate character that could be just about anyone. It also featured unlicensed fans, as characters such as Superman, Batman, ZZ Top, Darth Vader, the xenomorph from Alien, and John Travolta can be seen in the crowd.
This certainly didn't stop in Japan. Through out the rest of the 80s, many, many wrestling games were made, most of them unlicensed. One game, Konami's The Main Event, was so blatant that the then World Wrestling Federation sued and got the game pulled due to copyright issues. It also featured the engine that ended up being used for the TNMT games.
Fire Pro Wrestling Enters The Ring
ust a year later, Human Entertainment started the long running Fire Pro Wrestling series, which is built entirely on the foundation of using unlicensed wrestlers from all over the world. As the series went on, the roster became larger and more diverse, with legends from Japan, Mexico, America, Europe, and contemporary stars, all with minor cosmetic and name changes. The series had women-only games, and had four releases outside of Japan: Fire Pro Wrestling (2001, GBA), Fire Pro Wrestling 2 (2002, GBA), Fire Pro Returns (2005, PS2, later released on PS Network), and Fire Pro Wrestling (2012, X-Box 360). All in all, the Fire Pro series has 28 games, making its presence felt on the PC Engine, Super Famicom, Mega Drive, arcades, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, WonderSwan, Dreamcast, Game Boy Advance, PS2, and spin off card games. Not to mention the 3D spin off series, King of Colosseum, which did feature licensed rosters, but also had significant pre-made create-a-wrestler selection of unlicensed characters. But for the Fire Pro games, you knew who everyone was supposed to be. There were no mysteries, and if there were, they were due to graphical limitations, not intentionally hiding the identity of a wrestler.
AKI vs The World
When wrestling blew up during the late 1990s, WCW struck while the iron was hot and beat WWE to the punch by being first of the companies to release a 3D wrestling game. WCW vs The World was released in the US in 1997. In Japan, it was known as Virtual Pro Wrestling. Both games featured a roster of 51 wrestlers, half of which were unlicensed. This game was made by the group that would become AKI, and formed the basis of the highly acclaimed N64 games. We're now closer to the mystery of AKI Man than ever.
The sequel, WCW/nWo World Tour, jumped from PSX to the N64. In Japan, it was known as Virtual Pro Wrestling 64. Again, the roster is full of unlicensed, yet obvious, characters. The version released in America has two groups of unlicensed characters, including future WWF star Taka Michinoku. However, the Japanese version has nearly triple the roster, with nearly every major promotion in Japan being represented, including shoot fighting promotions. Along with the edit feature present in Revenge, but not the US release of World Tour, you could recolor and rename all the wrestlers to their actual selves in no time. At this point in time, it had the deepest roster of any wrestling game, and was fully 3D to boot. The sequel, however, took an interesting twist.
WCW/nWo Revenge hit shelves in America in October of 1998 and was a smash hit. Pro wrestling was on top of the world, and WCW was the leader. With an already successful and critically acclaimed first game in the series, AKI hit the ball out of the park with improved animations and gameplay, a greatly expanded licensed roster, and dramatically improved graphics. However, fans were likely confused when they got past the cruiserweights, which revealed two sections of seemingly made up wrestlers. They, of course, were not, as all were characters present in VPW64, with heavily altered names and appearances to pass for more stringent American copyright laws. For example, Kenta Kobashi became the hooded Executioner, Jumbo Tsuruta became a leather wearing Frankenstein's Monster, and Akira Taue became Wesley Snipes. AKI Man, however, was still a mystery.
A Mystery Finally Solved?
A quick play through of AKI Man's move set reveals some iconic maneuvers. A rolling elbow. A tiger driver. Tiger and German suplexes. Spinning clothesline. Rear naked choke. Spinning head scissors. Mounted punches. All moves that can be easily traced if you have a keen eye for Japanese wrestling.
The real answer is that AKI Man is no one. He's two people. FAQs for years have listed AKI Man as unknown. Some may mention Mitsuharu Misawa. What they don't mention is that AKI Man is indeed based on Misawa...and the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama. Those shoot style submissions, head scissors, and fancy roll ups are lifted directly from Sayama's turns as Tiger Mask and as his real name under shoot style matches.
After Revenge, theWWF picked up the AKI license and the unlicensed character trend ended in the US. The mystery of AKI Man has haunted wrestling fans for years. Some might have picked out Misawa's influence, but never before has Satoru Sayama's influence on the character been revealed. But being that this is wrestling, you never know who is really under that mask.