Nazotoki Batoru TORE! (謎解きバトルTORE! – Riddle-Solving Battle TORE!) was one of the first shows I reviewed back in April of last year. While it’s always an interesting show, the quiz questions rely heavily on knowledge of Japanese, so it’s a difficult show to enjoy without being fluent, and I haven’t reviewed it since then.

One thing can help drive interest in this show even when the language barrier makes it difficult: guests. In April, it was Aiba Masaki-kun promoting Mikeneko Holmes. This time, it’s Yamada Ryosuke-kun, Arioka Daiki-kun and Kawaguchi Haruna-san for the Kindaichi special that drew me into covering this special.

That said, there are other interesting features of this two-hour special. First, the pharaonic host is usually played by Yama-chan of Nankai Candies. This time, he’s actually playing, and Wakabayashi-san of Audrey is the pharaoh.

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And the total slate of competitors is huge. Instead of the usual two teams, we’ve got four!

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There’s are problems with having so many guests, though. First of all, there’s no way I’m going to be able to figure out who they all are and keep track of them – not if I actually want to enjoy the show. Also, they’re all competing for screen time, so now matter who you’re tuning in hoping to see, you’re probably going to spend most of the time watching other guests. So yeah, having four teams is interesting, but even in a normal episode I find the teams on this show too big.

Right from the first challenge, they’ve made some changes for the new year – or perhaps just for this special. Instead of just members of one team, two teams each sent a pair to go head-to-head against each other. In this case, it was Yamada-kun and Kawaguchi-san for the Kindaichi team against Yama-chan and Kato Koji-san (加藤浩次) for the Sukkiri team.

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When it was just one team up, they would all have to get the answer right for three questions to proceed. This time, the first person to get it right gets a point, and once one of them got two right, they could take on the challenge to win points for their team.

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The questions were simply slowly revealed images of entertainers, with the players trying to guess who the face belonged to. If you watch enough Japanese TV, you could play along in this one, too. I actually managed to get a couple of them before any of the players did.

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The challenge to win points for the team was the usual one – getting steel balls into a chute. However, this time they didn’t get keys in return – they just got the balls. Then they placed balls into slots before the walls closed in on them to score team points. If you’re not following the description, I don’t blame you. This is really something you have to watch to really understand.

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Anyway, it’s a lot of fun to watch them at it.

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Can Yamada-kun score points for his team? Will he get squeezed in by the walls, or manage to slip through?

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No offense to Kato-san, but I kinda wanted to watch him get squished by the walls.

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Anyway, I totally approve of the changes to this game. It increases the tension to have the teams going head-to-head, and skipping the keys made the critical part a lot more straightforward. Because only one person had to get the question right, they could put up more difficult stuff than they used to, and it still went quicker.

Next up was the idol team of Mori Masako-san (森昌子), which includes formidable quiz show queen Becky-san.

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Mori-san, Ikoma Rina-san (生駒里奈) of Nogizaka46, and Hori Chiemi-san (堀ちえみ) had twelve minutes to tackle three difficult multiple-choice questions for which an incorrect response would result in the demise of one of them. This game hasn’t changed much, and unfortunately it’s consistently the dullest of all the games, so it could have used some new improvements.

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One thing they’ve been doing is having guests ask the questions – in this case, Hugh Jackman promoting Les Misérables asking a question about its writer, Victor Hugo.

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I really don’t like the guest questioners. If they want to promote something, they need to come on the show – no fair phoning it in. Also, it tends to slow the pace of things way down, because they have to cut to a preview of the film. That said, I’ll have to say it was still amusing to see Hugh Jackman suddenly pop up in this (though his attempts to pronounce Japanese were embarrassingly bad).

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After getting the questions, they have to arrange the kanji tiles they received into  proper compounds in order to receive points.

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Next is a relatively new game – introduced a few months ago, where the competitors hang from a wall, each having to answer a question in turn.

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If they fail to answer, they have to do a mini-crossword, finding three of a certain type of word. If they complete the crossword before time runs out, then a little plank extends. They have to hide on the plank, or the moving wall will knocked them off. Again, if you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, it’s all right. This is another one that you’ll have to see to understand.

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After the Sukkiri team does that game, it’s time for Mori Masako-san and Becky-san to take on Kanjani8’s Murakami Shingo-san and Gushiken Yoko-san (具志堅 用高) in the first game we saw.

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It’s all about the spheres and chutes:

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Poor Gushiken-san, that’s not Tokyo Tower.

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It’s gets pretty bad for him. No rest for the weary, though, as it’s Gushiken-san joining Chono Masahiro-san (蝶野 正洋) and Degawa Tetsuro-san (出川哲朗) for the twelve-minute challenge:

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What a crazy team! It was real fun to watch this trio at work.

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And of all people to do the guest question, it was Yuzu:

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In terms of temperament, Yuzu is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Degawa, Chono, and Gushiken.

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Then for the Kindaichi team, Daiki-kun, Kawaguchi-san, and Yamada-kun took on the most dangerous-looking challenge – the one I tend to think of as the “Crossword Crash”.

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The Kanjani8 members get a kick out of seeing their kouhai at work:

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It gets difficult quickly for our young heroes:

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Perhaps this shot gives you a better idea what I meant about the plank and the moving wall:

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Will Daiki-kun be able to save himself?

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Actually, what really got me was that Yamada-kun doesn’t know that you can’t do L-shapes in crosswords. He tried to, and they had a note at the bottom of the screen that clarified that only the straight-line formations (up-down, left-right, or diagonal) were answers. That caused Yamada-kun a bit of trouble.

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The final game was as usual – the players tried to cling to a wall while answering questions with blocks sliding into place trying to push them off.

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Having four teams made this challenge a bit more complicated.

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I didn’t like the change they made where the team members not in the middle of the game answered the questions, but it wasn’t a bit problem. I just prefer it when the players have to answer under pressure.

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There was more variety to the questions than usual.

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Ultimately, my main interest was on quiz queen Becky-san and normal host of the show Yama-chan. Surely this match-up involved some bragging rights.

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So, the show has made some improvements for 2013, especially in the first game they played and the questions they asked. There’s still some room for improvement, but I think this special was more accessible to those who don’t speak Japanese than the usual episode from a few months ago would have been. It’s still a long way from being as exciting as its predecessor DERO was, though.

I was watching for the Kindaichi cast members, and I guess they got some decent attention with a game solely focused on them and major parts in two other games. Certainly, they got more screen time than the Kanjani8 regulars of this show. The Murakami-Becky match in the middle of the show was memorable, though, so TORE-master Murakami-san wasn’t completely missing-in-action.

Well, there’s no telling when my next review of TORE will be. The line-up they have for next week is not quite as inspiring, though watching the newscaster team taking on these challenges might be amusing.