As is customary since 2015, I will not do a proper homestretch review of all delegates of this year’s  Miss International.  This is because the real competition comes in during the pageant finals on November 14.  Instead, I’ll devote this piece to those who are making strong impressions and other stories of note.

First, the roster would’ve increased a bit back to 70.  Unfortunately, Denmark (Natasja Voldstedlund) reportedly fell ill and opted to fly back home after two days in Japan.  Because of this, the roster is down to 69, equaling last year’s tally.

Dropout: Denmark (Natasja Voldstedlund)

There was another contestant who fell ill after arriving in Japan and missed the bulk of activities, but she opted to hang on and after convalescing for a week and got clearance from her doctor, she’s back in the fray:  Thailand (Ratiyaporn Chookaew) was downed with chicken pox a couple of days after arrival, so she was bedridden for a week.  She’s deemed one of the favorites, though I have my eyes on other stunners out there.

Back in the running: Thailand (Ratiyaporn Chookaew) (Image courtesy of Roger Berioso for OPMB Worldwide)

Despite other pageant fans and pundits hyping the beauty of several contestants in this batch, I found last year’s batch far more exciting.  Not that there aren’t strong contenders here, as there are a host of them, with some who are poised to vindicate some unjust shut-outs from last year, just that I found last year’s group so special and astounding.

First, let’s begin with the three countries debuting this year:  Cambodia (Nheat Sophea), Cook Islands (Silas Tuaputa) and Laos (Phounesup Phonnyotha).  Of the three, Laos is the one who is making most serious inroads as she has prettiness and relative polish.

Now, let’s talk about the host country and the usual “goodwill” neighbors.  Japan (Natsuki Tsutsui) may not be as kawaii as her predecessor, but she seems solid enough to secure her placement in the Top 15.  Nothing is certain about Korea (Seung Woo Nam) and China (Jia Shi) securing those traditional “goodwill” slots, but they prove to be worthwhile contenders and a Top 15 slot can be within reach for these two.

Typically the Chinese Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of Hong Kong (Wing Wong) and Macau (Sofia Paiva) would at most aspire for the congeniality award, but the ladies fielded this year seems to be polished worthwhile contenders.

Africa is well represented with these strong dusky possibilities for the Top 15:  Ethiopia (Bamlak Dereje), Sierra Leone (Leone Abie Mansaray) and Tunisia (Khaoula Gueye).  But there is one African who seems to stand head and shoulders (almost literally) above these three, and could pull off another Eunice Onyango-type breakthrough–more on her later.  Interestingly, Tunisia fielded a dark-skinned contestant this year instead of their typical fairer-skinned Arabs.

There are also dark-complexioned ladies representing other regions.  USA (Shanel James) is undeniably polished, but it’s a risk for this country to be fielding someone of color as rarely the Japanese judges appreciate her brand of beauty.  The story is a bit different for Belgium (Virginie Philippot) as her looks are the sort that the Japanese appreciate.

Sure, Denmark is sorely missed, but the remaining Nordic trio are turning heads and garnering compliments.  Finland (Pihla Koivuniemi) is likely to capitalize on the typical favoritism the Japanese have for this country and she seems a shoo-in and possibly a Top Five finisher.  Norway (Vilde Andresen Bø) and Sweden (Lina Ljungberg) are comely lookers–the former might be hindered by her height issue but her prettiness is undeniable, while the latter is a strong semifinals possibility.

Like last year, the two big countries of Oceania, Australia (Amber Dew) and New Zealand (Michelle Isemonger) are represented by blondes.  Unlike last year, these blondes are not garnering much buzz, so unless either of them pull up a big surprise, we don’t expect these to make serious inroads in the finals.  Again behind these blondes in the region is Hawaii (Courtney Coleman), who is a solid follow-up to her much-buzzed about predecessor.

Southeast Asia is generally filled with ladies generating heavy buzz online due to their strong fanbase, but they are indeed deserving of the hype, even if none of them are approaching the charismas of Indonesia’s Felicia Huang and the reigning Miss International Kylie Versoza thus far.  Still, Indonesia (Kevin Liliana), Myanmar (Sao Yoon Wadi Oo) and Vietnam (Huynh Thi Thuy Dung) could still possibly do damage in the Top 15.

But also competing for those limited slots are striking ladies from Southern Asia:  India (Ankita Kumari) possesses Bollywood glamour and charisma, while Nepal (Niti Shah) is garnering compliments from the pageant fandom for her intriguing Eurasian features.

Now, let’s discuss the ladies from Central Europe.  It’s surprising that Czech Republic (Alice Činčurová) was absent for six years before returning, and it’s a near-auspicious return as this lady is a strong bet for the Top 15.  Slovakia (Petra Varaliová) and Poland (Paulina Maziarz) are not as strong, with the latter a relative major stepdown from last year’s stunner, as her beauty is of a less conventional sort.

Speaking of “Central”, now, let’s deal with Central America.  Honduras (Vanessa Villars) and Nicaragua (Helen Martinez) are pretty lookers while Panama (Darelys Santos) may not be a conventional beauty but she does have presence and polish.

South America again fielded a few big guns who could be crown contenders, but before I would discuss them in the next section, let’s also salute these lookers:  Bolivia (Carla Maldonando), Ecuador (Jocelyn Mieles), and in a less-conventional sense, Peru (Tiffany Lopez Borjas).

Two European countries whose names begin with the letter “U” are cited by pageant observers as among the best speakers during the Women’s Entrepreneurship Forum:  United Kingdom (Ashley Powell) and Ukraine (Kseniya Chifa)‘s stock rose and their Top 15 prospects are now deemed much stronger than originally perceived.

Two ladies are known for extensive pageant experience, with reportedly six previous international pageants between them:  Costa Rica (Paola Chacon) and Mongolia (Saikhantamir Amarsanaa) are clearly polished presences who know very well how to make a strong positive impression.

There are also two veterans from the erstwhile “Grand Slam” pageant*1 Miss Tourism Queen International who are seeing action and making strong impressions in this pageant.  El Salvador (Fatima Mangandi) took part in the 2011 edition, when it’s on its last gasp as a giant pageant, while Netherlands (Nathalie Mogbelzada) won in the 2015 edition.

-1 As dubbed by a big international pageant website.

All images courtesy of Stephen Diaz for Missosology unless otherwise indicated.