With Arashi dressed in a manner fit for the year of the snake, this three-hour VS Arashi (VS 嵐)special begins with Ohno-san expressing his enthusiasm for the coming year. And after they laugh that off, they introduce the opposing team – the Otokoge team (男気 – literally, male spirit).

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As in previous New Year specials, the comedy duo Tunnels (とんねるず) – Taka-san and Nori-san – lead the team. They are joined by the duo Ogiyahagi (おぎやはぎ) – Ogi-san and Yahagi-san, Mixed Martial Arts Fighter Akiyama Yoshihiro-san, former baseball pro Kiyohara Kazuhiro-san, and Fuji TV announcer Kato-san. No one seems to ask why Kato-san would be on the “male spirit” team. Instead, Sakurai-san throws a curveball and asks why Ogiyahagi are on it, since they don’t really give that impression.

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The rules for this special are a bit different than for a normal VS Arashi. This time, their points in each game will earn them pucks for the final game – Bound Hockey. So, even if one team is leading by a lot in points, they could lose if they fail to score with the pucks they earned with those points.

The first game is Korokoro Viking. Because of the length of the show, I’ll be a bit more pointed with my comments. So, let me just say that the Tunnels pair showed that they were full of energy and ready to play.

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The Arashi team was short a members and, to balance the athletes on the Otokoge team, they got “plus one” guest Maeda Kenta-san – a current pro baseball pitcher and Arashi fan.

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Korokoro Viking is a long way from baseball, though. Will Maeda-san really be any help, taking a spot in the all-important scoring zone?

Next was the new game – Popcorn Hitter. Each player used a tennis racket to bounce balls into a net-ring above them, and each team had three players in relay.

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The best aspect of the game is that they play songs in the background, and the balls are released according to the rhythm of the song. They played two rounds (each team got two turns up) and the first song was an Arashi one – “Happiness” – but the second wasn’t.

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On the second round, Aiba-kun decided he wanted to do it stylishly:

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Meanwhile, Maeda-san discovered what Kiyohara-san figured out in the first round – that this isn’t much like baseball, either.

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Nori-san has a reason to smile, though, since both he and his partner in crime Taka-san put on an amazing performance here, despite the fact that they’re both past 50.

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Fuji TV announcer Kato-san is the Otokoge team’s runner in Pinball Runner . . . 2013.01.03 VS Arashi 022 2013.01.03 VS Arashi 023

. . . but what’s Nori-san doing behind her?

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Bless him for not acting his age! (oh, and Taka-san and Ogi-san follow up with a wild moment of their own).

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Maeda-san gets to run for Arashi, but they give him the handicap bucket anyway.

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After that, we get a Lucky Seven interlude, as the MatsuJun and his fellow cast members in the drama get challenged to a round of Dual Curling by the other members of Arashi.

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First, it’s Oizumi Yo-san, Ishihara Satomi-san, and Matsumoto-kun against Ohno-san, Aiba-kun, and Ninomiya-kun. Ohno-san finds a novel way of psyching Ishihara-san out. Oizumi-san is, of course, immune to such tactics.

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The second round is much more interesting. Sakurai-san alone takes on Koyama Keiichiro-kun, Eita-san, and MatsuJun.

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Aside for pointing out that Koyama-kun looked like Eita’s manager, I was surprised by how little regard they gave him. It was a pretty rushed segment, though.

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In a flash, we were back to the main battle between Arashi and Otokoge with a game we haven’t seen in a while: Giant Crash.

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I thought they had retired the game because Arashi had more or less solved it, but maybe they’ve forgotten after so long.

Maeda-san had to leave (I think he actually said he had to go on one of Sanma-san’s shows), so they got a new “plus one” guest. This one really got Sakurai-san excited, because it was soccer player Nakamura Shunsuke-san. This is his first time working with Arashi.

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How big a deal is he? Well, he was on the TOKIO half of the New Year’s special two days ago, where he tried to shoot a soccer ball from a moving boat into the window of a house. He’s also got an asteroid named after him, though there’s a lot of that going around these days.

I’m not entirely sure how a soccer player will help on Giant Crash, but at least we know there will be a game coming later on with kicking involved.

For now, though, it’s all a matter of whether Taka-san can confuse Nakamura-san enough, since he’s the one pushing the buttons for Arashi.

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The next game is Bank Bowling, where Nori-san’s excessive energy finally does some damage – he actually messes up the set so that the staff has to rush out to fix it.

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Meanwhile, Taka-san continues to take liberties with Kato-san:

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Okay, so how’s Nakamura-san at bowling?

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And how will Sakurai-san be next to a soccer star he idolizes?

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In Cliff Climb, MMA fighter Akiyama-san shows off his physique . . .

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. . . but he’s paired with Ogi-san, who is . . . not the most athletic of human specimen at the best of times, and he seems to be injured.

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This leads to plan B, where the Otokoge team calls on the show’s announcer, Nakamura-san to his own shock and dismay. In shock all the way down from his booth, he rushes down and gets ready to climb. He’s going to do it while also announcing, so he has to do the play-by-play during his climb.

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This was definitely my favorite part of the Otokoge-Arashi battle. Nakamura-san has done the Cliff Climb before, again being called down by the challenging team, but they wisely left enough time between that occasion and this one to make it feel special. Also, the fact that his continued commentary as he climbed was incredible, and he has a great sense of comedic timing.

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Ohno-san and Matsumoto-kun were up for Arashi. Can they do better than their show’s announcer and the muscle man?

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After that, it was time for Shunsuke-san to shine in Kicking Sniper. Before he got his chance, though, the Otokoge team had their go. Nori-san was apparently in the soccer club in high school, but we know how much that’s worth in this game:

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Well, that’s just the first shot from him, and it still couldn’t be worse than what Kiyohara-san did. Kiyohara-san was a total bust in this episode.

Can pro player Shunsuke-san do better than high school player Nori-san? Will Sakurai-san and Ninomiya-kun even leave him any targets to knock down? Actually, just in case, they gave him a chance to show off – a shot at a target with a normal soccer ball before the real game started.

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Finally, it was time for the last game – Bound Hockey. Aiba-kun wants revenge for Spring special, which was a total fiasco for him because, as the goal scorer, he wasn’t able to get the puck into the net.

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Nori-san looks like he still has energy to spare for this, though:

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Which team will win?

With the end of the main competition, we get a special supplement – BABA嵐 – in which the members of Arashi play Baba-nuki (ババ抜き – Old Maid) against guests. They did this before as part of Bet de Arashi in another special, and in that episode, Ohno-san lost badly. So, they decided to give him a special jacket marking him as the weakest, and he’ll play against the losers of the three preliminary rounds to find out who is truly the worst at this game.

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The first game is between Ninomiya-kun, Nomura Katsuya-san, Tabe Mikako-san, and Ashida Mana-chan

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This was a great and fun round. Why is it that I felt like rooting against Ninomiya-kun? Maybe because he just seemed like the natural winner and I prefer underdogs. Anyway, Tabe-san and Ashida-chan really made this one interesting.

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The next preliminary was between MatsuJun, Imada Koji-san, Nakama Yukie-san, and Every Little Things’ Itou Ichiro-san.

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This one wasn’t quite as engaging as the first round, but Imada-san and Itou-san had some good expressions and it was still a lot of fun.

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The last prelim was between Sakurai-san, Aiba-kun, Every Little Things’ Mochida Kaori-san, and Yamasaki Shizuyo-san.

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This was another great round, because all the players have great expressions – especially great laughs – and they’re all remarkably different but familiar personalities.

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I’ll omit screencaps of the last round where the losers from each of the first three play Ohno-san to see who is the worst at Baba-nuki, since those would give away the earlier results. And since this was a great segment that you really, really should watch, I wouldn’t want to give anything away, thereby ruining the fun.

Altogether, this was a great special of VS Arashi, and far better in terms of keeping up the pace through the three hours than other VS Arashi specials have been. The choice to put the BABA嵐 after the result of the main show was decided instead of, say, inserting it like they did with the Lucky Seven bit, turned out to be brilliant. It gave the card game sufficient time, and I think it was the best part of the show anyway, and well worth sticking around to watch.

I like the new game, and especially the use of music behind it. That was really refreshing, since the auditory element of this show (all the sound effects especially) has gotten quite stale. Having the players do it tag-team style ensures that the flow is good.

The only downside to this special compared to previous ones was the “plus one” guests. While they are definitely high-profile athletes, and I generally like athletes appearing on this show, they didn’t contribute as much as I would have hoped. They also didn’t generate the same sort of excitement as the “plus one” guests on these specials usually do.

The Most Omoshiroi Arashi was Sakurai-san for, among other things, being the first to tackle the new game in a broadcast, taking on three members of the Lucky Seven team including MatsuJun on his own, and the way he lit up when Nakamura Shunsuke-san appeared.

On with 2013!

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