This is the Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) Christmas Special for 2012 – a panoply of exactly the kind of energetic and cheerful performances that are perfectly suited to this season, but Johnny’s juniors put on all year long.

The new performances in this episode were recorded in a studio rather than in front of a live audience at NHK Hall, so they have a much more relaxed feel to them than usual. In addition to these new performances, we got recorded messages and recaps of Shounen Club performances from this year from illustrious guests like Yamapi. Hey! Say! Jump introduced everything from what looked like a lobby. I’ll mention but not critique the old performances, and focus on the new ones instead.

HSJ do the title call in front of a live audience in NHK Hall, then the juniors kick things off with introductions while dancing to a light seasonal tune. The juniors were introduced in turn, and I was a bit shocked to learn that Sexy Boyz was still a unit:

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Maybe just for Christmas? Anyway, it’s still Junior Team A (Kishi, Iwahashi, Takahashi) and Team B (Jinguji, et. al.) as far as I’m concerned. They were followed by Travis Japan, which seems to have more members now, what I will call the Masuda-Anderson team, the Chibi team, and Bakaleya Six (though they’re still not called that, and named individually).

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Since Lewis Jesse-kun has dropped the “Lewis” because of complaints that his name was too long (I suppose just in terms of writing it in katakana), I wish they’d at least say “Jesse” right. Whoever said his name when he was introduced made a total mess of it. It’s only two syllables now, dammit, and the average Japanese name is around seven, so come on!

The intro sequence was extremely simple and, if I may say so, completely unimpressive. The normal start to Shounen Club is much more energetic. Worse, the tune they danced to was pathetically pedestrian.

With the intros over, and after the briefest of Christmas greetings from Yamada-kun, it was back to the lobby with HSJ for the more formal opening of the show.

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Sato Shori-kun’s message followed that, then Sexy Zone performed “Sexy Summer ni Yuki ga Furu”.

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Well, at least the costumes and theme are finally in-season.

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The depth of the stage meant that the juniors backdancing are barely distinguishable – unlike on the NHK Hall stage, which is broader and naturally allows the viewer to see more of the performers.

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After the SZ performance, we got messages from Hashimoto Ryosuke-kun and then Yamapi.

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Then, they showed VTRs of Yamapi’s past performances of “Ai, Texas” on March 2nd and “Love Chase” on July 4th and July 11th.

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I continue to strongly prefer “Love Chase” over “Ai, Texas” for a number of reasons, including the fact that the limits of Yamapi’s vocals are way too clear in “Ai, Texas”.

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Then we got an NHK Hall A.B.C.-Z performance of “Vanilla”, but no date was shown, so I guess this performance didn’t make it into a previous episode, or was recorded especially for this one.

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It was a fine performance and a straightforward song. Nothing about it stood out, with the acrobatics within the normal range of what we see from A.B.C-Z, but I certainly prefer the song to some of the others I’ve heard from them.

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Nakajima Kento-kun offered his Christmas greeting . . .

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. . . which was followed by Bakaleya Six in snappy white suits performing “Cinderella Christmas” from Kinki Kids. This is very different from the types of songs we usually see from this group, so it was a pleasant surprise.

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The dancing was easy and smooth, with the main question being how well they could pull off the vocals.

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The answer – not bad at all. They’ve had some troubles with their performances of late, but I’d say this one went off without a hitch. I didn’t really get a good read on Kouchi-kun’s voice, but otherwise, they all seem to be able to carry a melody without forcing their voices into unnatural contortions.

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Back in the lobby, Arioka-kun introduces a Johnny’s World VTR . . .

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. . . and that VTR looked something like this:

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To be sure, the two minutes or so that we saw definitely made Johnny’s World look fun. Are we going to get a DVD (and considering the huge number of moving parts, a Blu-ray version) of this?

After Nakajima Yuto-kun and Chinen Yuri-kun gave their season’s greetings . . .

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. . . we got a new performance of “Missing Piece” from Nakayama Yuma-kun.

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This performance was remarkable because Yuma-kun did it without any backdancers. It was somewhat eerie to see him on his own like this, though appropriately so considering the feel of the song.

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Anyway, he did a superb job of it, as you might expect, then delivered his message to the fans.

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In a delightful surprise for me, the next bit was a performance from Yara Tomoyuki-san, who was the choreographer for the “Missing Piece” performance we just saw. I was less enthusiastic to see Uchi Hiroki-kun sitting there with him.

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In both vocals and dancing, Yara-san is far superior to Uchi-kun, so the performance of “Yuki no Furu Hi” that followed basically had me wishing that they’d just yank Uchi-kun off the stage and let Yara-san do his thing. I’ve tried, but I really can’t stand Uchi-kun’s extremely weak, airy voice.

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They did sound good when singing together, though.

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I suppose the main point about this performance is – why don’t they just declare Yara-san debuted? You know – give him his own page on the Johnny’s website, just for the sake of meritocracy?

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Anyway, seeing Yara-san on Shounen Club after so long was a huge plus for this episode.

The next song had Takahashi Fuu-kun out in front, as Team A and B performed to the tune of “See You Again . . . !” and then sang “Omedetou Christmas”.

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Well, this is more like what we tuned to see. The Elder Juniors followed up with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, scoring above “tolerable” on the English pronunciation scale.

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Teams A and B returned for “Hiiragi Kazarou” (Deck the Halls). Then Travis Japan did SMAP’s “Yuki ga Futtekita”.

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I wish they had given this part – you know, the part where they were performing actual Christmas songs – a bit more time, and let each junior team get some more time on stage. As it was, it all felt very rushed, with only the SMAP song at the end with all the juniors on stage getting proper time.

A.B.C-Z (minus Hashimoto) did their holiday message next.

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Then HSJ introduced the Kansai Junior VTR, highlighting the Kansai X’mas Concert for 2012.

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Honestly, I wouldn’t have objected if they had showed the Kansai Concert instead of this special – it looked far more engaging and coherent.

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“Let’s Go West”, though . . . .

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Takaki-kun, Daiki-kun, and Keito-kun blew a kiss to fans . . .

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. . . and we got a HSJ performance on the NHK Hall stage – I guess they were really there for the title call, after all. They performed an excessively jazzed up version of “Ultra Music Power”. Is it just me, or have we been hearing this song a lot lately?

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They followed that with “Magic Power” and “Mayonaka no Shadow Boy.” “Magic Power” is already jazzy, but they decided to give “Mayonaka no Shadow Boy” the same treatment, with mixed results. I think the problem is that they didn’t sufficiently get their singing into swing time.

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They continued with the single medley, doing a jazzy remix of “Dreams come true.”

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Again, the music didn’t quite work out. It felt like something done in a rush, and not really well-edited. The sound mixing was horrible.

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This is the second time in a month we’ve had a HSJ single medley, but the attempt to mesh the songs together with blaring brass and confused jazz made it sound even worse than the last attempt in the December 12th episode. Once again, I’m left wondering why we’re hearing so much of HSJ’s early singles and so little of their newer material. Why, by the way, did they not do their only single released this year – “Super Delicate” – or any of the new songs released on their album?

Kikuchi-kun got to give his message while eating a cake, then the assembled juniors  – Elders, noon boyz, Bakaleya, and both Yuta teams – performed V6’s “Can do! Can go!”

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It was a party-spirit performance, and the dancing showed good coordination.

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Most important, though, was that they were smiling and appeared to be having a good time, and that good atmosphere more than anything else made this one of the better parts of the special.

Next up, Kis-My-Ft2 delivered their message.

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A VTR of “She! Her! Her!” from April 4th, “WANNA BEEEE!!!” from September 5th, “Shake It Up” from September 12th, and “Ai no Beat” from December 5th then rolled:

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Well, at least they’ve been busy. I can’t help but notice the contrast between them and HSJ, though, since all we got from HSJ was old material, while the KMF2 portion was filled with four new songs from just this year.

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Ah, well. Anyway, SZ got another shot at the stage with the Chibi juniors, performing “Kyou wa Arigatou”.

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I’m still a skeptic about Shori-kun’s voice. If he’s going to get more solo bits, and I expect he will, he’ll need to get some help with it.

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After his opening solo, though, I enjoyed the song. It was one of the better ones off of their first album, and features nice vocal work from Kento-kun and Fuma-kun.

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Back where I talked about the A.B.C-Z performance of “Vanilla”, I said I preferred it over some other songs they’ve done. Well, here’s the song I was thinking about – “Za ABC ~5stars~”.

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It was in NHK Hall, but once again undated, so I guess if was done especially for this episode. They continued by doing their other single – “Zutto Love”

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The next performance, this time in the studio away from the live audience, was noon boyz with NEWS’ “Snow Express”:

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Unfortunately, neither Sanada-kun nor Nozawa-kun have voices at all up to the task of singing this song. Their rendition fell completely flat and was rather painful to listen to.

They were joined by the Masuda-Anderson team for “Bokura no Machi de” and boy, what a contrast Masuda-kun’s voice was. He’s got far more depth to his voice than the noon boyz pair do.

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That was interesting. It sure took a better turn with the Masuda-Anderson team up, so that’s another potential solution to the noon boyz problem, though I still prefer putting them in with the Elder juniors.

HSJ do the wrap-up talk . . .

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Then the assembled juniors, this time on the NHK Hall stage, perform “Silent Night”, all in red and white.

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I didn’t mind the singing, whatever the pronunciation, but that electric organ was the most annoying thing ever. What a horribly sloppy sound! It totally ruined the song. They would have done better with a simple piano.

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This was a very uneven Shounen Club. Unbelievably choppy, it jumped from one location to another with clips joined together by fading to white. On the bright side, it was heavy with Christmasy songs and had some good junior performances. I would have preferred the retrospective of singles released this year to be unified instead of segmenting each groups’ releases, but understand the idea of having those VTRs matched with the year-end messages from Yamapi, Kis-My-Ft2, etc.

I can see what they were trying to do when they edited this together, and I don’t think they could have made it less choppy, considering all the material they wanted to fit in. At least the result had a fast pace and there weren’t any dull moments.

The biggest problem for me was the HSJ performance, which seemed to me a total non sequitur. They neither performed seasonal songs, nor did they do the songs they released this year. The medley itself was musically horrendous. The rendition of “Silent Night” at the end was similarly messy.

Having the hosts introducing everything from an undisclosed location was another weird thing. Why not have some juniors around them, at least, and some Christmas decorations? The way it looked, they seemed to be doing it at the last moment on the way to something else. It didn’t contribute very well to the atmosphere of the show, and was a marked difference to the way previous Christmas specials were handled.

There were some good performances, though, and we certainly saw the juniors doing songs they don’t normally do. I think it’s fair to give this one an 8 out of 10. Yes, there were some issues, but they could have easily just given us a VTR special stitched together with a bunch of talk segments, and they at least tried to give us something more substantial. The time devoted to new material far outweighed the recaps.

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