Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部 – the Boys/Youth Club) showcases the song-and-dance skills of Johnny’s juniors – the next generation of Japanese male idols – alongside the more recently debuted groups in the Johnny’s Entertainment agency. Last week, the theme was “world”, so naturally it was “peace” (平和 – heiwa) this time. If you didn’t see that coming, welcome to Johnny’s!

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A.B.C-Z started the festivities with “Bokura~Love&Peace~”:

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Their dancing outpaced the music, but I enjoyed both the song and the performances as an opening act. As it progressed, various cadre of juniors joined them on stage.

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But the focus was firmly on A.B.C-Z for this first stage, making it a real performance instead of an opening mash-up.

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The three Hey! Say! Jump hosts for this episode were Arioka Daiki-kun, Chinen Yuri-kun, and Yaotome Hikaru-kun, all looking quite sharp.

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They introduced the next song, which was Bakaleya Six performing KAT-TUN’s “Six Senses”. Right away, I knew I’d like this song. That’s because the opening of the song is spare on music, allowing the vocals to come through clearly. It’s also quite different from the type of song we normally hear on Shounen Club, and that’s usually a plus.

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The dance was very energetic, and what I’ve been looking from this group for months now.

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No question about it – I think this was Bakaleya Six’s best Shounen Club performance so far. They’ve still got a lot of improvement to make, but it’s nice to see them moving in a positive direction again.

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After that, the hosts talked with Sexy Zone. Hikaru-kun was in a really good mood, which is always fun to watch.

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I think the talk revolved around how the peace within SZ is holding up – whether they get into fights or anything like that.

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Don’t expect them to give away any huge secrets, though. Somewhere along the way, I think Marius-kun got declared SZ’s symbol of peace.

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Then it was noon boyz with “Lost My Way”.

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No objections to the song itself, which had a cool feel to it and was another one which allowed the vocals to stand out. That was a problem in this case, though, as Sanada-kun’s voice was really weak. This pair needs someone to provide vocal support at the lower end.

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On the bright side, the dance was fun to watch. This has been a good episode for dancing so far.

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The Gekkan Ki ni Naru J segment, hosted by Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun of A.B.C-Z featured Sato Shori-kun.

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The thing is, I’d rather they featured a junior – and especially an obscure junior. Sato Shori-kun is debuted, and it stretches credulity to think that people interested in him don’t already know (or have trouble accessing information about) his birthdate, family, blood type, foods he likes and hates, and his hobby.

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Kawai-kun notes that they’re both October births, though Kawai-kun is nine years older:

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I guess it’s interesting that of four siblings three brothers and one sister – Shori-kun is the youngest. Does he give off a youngest child feel? Definitely not a middle child.

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For some reason, Kawai-kun gets way excited over Shori-kun’s sushi preference. I couldn’t get a screencap of that moment because he moves so fast every frame was blurry. That was about as exciting as this talk got.

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The three elder members of SZ – Nakajima Kento, Kikuchi Fuma, and Sato Shori – then performed “Namae no Nai Omoi”, which was the bonus track to the limited edition version of their album. Since I reviewed the regular edition, this is my first time hearing this song.

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Sato Shori-kun handles the dancing duties with two backdancers while Kento-kun and Fuma-kun focused on singing.

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The effect was pretty good, I thought. The song itself is entirely straightforward and nothing to get excited about, lacking any of the great touches that make a ballad memorable, but the performance was well-crafted. It felt smooth and classy.

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Kento-kun and Fuma-kun followed it up by doing the Shokura You-bin segment. They brought out Hikaru-kun, Hashimoto Ryosuke-kun, and Okamoto Keito-kun, and with such a motley assortment, I wondered what this was going to be about.

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I think the question was what to do if a foreigner is speaking quickly (possibly as if panicked). Needless to say, Keito-kun played the foreigner, speaking English, and the other two gave their best responses.

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The thing is, Keito-kun doesn’t do panic and Hashimoto-kun actually seemed more flustered. Might I say that Keito-kun was truly brilliant here.

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We already know Hikaru-kun was amped up earlier. What kind of craziness does he have in store for this skit?

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Again, it’s so lovable that Keito-kun can’t act distraught even when he’s saying that his car has run out of gas.

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Hikaru-kun’s tactic was interesting – not at all helpful, but interesting. You’ll have to watch for yourself to see what he does, but maybe you can guess from the screenshots.

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In theory, the next performance is from Hey! Say! Jump, but they get piano support from Kento-kun, and at first it’s just Yamada-kun and Chinen-kun out there. The song is “Where My Heart Belongs.”

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The value of having Kento-kun out there was minimal, as the sound of the piano started out barely audible, and quickly got overwhelmed by the rest of the music. For most of the song, you don’t hear the piano at all.

Chinen-kun did what he does best – dancing. Yamada-kun did not – he was singing in English. The normal test, which I’ve been doing more and more while watching Shounen Club recently, is to close my eyes and check how much of what they say in English I can actually understand. To Yamada-kun’s credit, he didn’t do badly on this test, and better than I’ve heard him do before.

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That said, this is not going to go down as a great Yamada vocal solo, though I look forward to the day when an English solo for him will rank up there. First, they’ll have to get better lyrics. These were minimally coherent and maximally repetitive, and that’s putting it nicely.

As for Chinen-kun, who was definitely at the center of this performance, I can’t really judge. I’m not a good critic of dancing at the best of times. At least with the normal Johnny’s dances I can gauge them against how difficult they are. With Chinen-kun that’s a given – the question is whether this is better than what he’s done before – and I have no answer to that. It looked . . . sophisticated.

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Once the rest of HSJ appears in the back, Chinen-kun gets acrobatic, and that’s much more fun to watch.

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In the middle of it, though, they showed the audience, leading me to wonder what the heck happened that they avoided showing what happened on stage. There’s no excuse for panning away from the stage right when things were getting interesting unless someone was getting hauled away on a stretcher.

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Finally, the rest of HSJ join Chinen-kun up front as the song wraps up.

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Then it was time for Jr ni Q, with Yamada-kun and Hikaru-kun asking the juniors what they’re number one in.

First up was Kyomoto Taiga-kun, who claims to be number one in drawing. This was good for a laugh. Taiga-kun’s got a deadpan sense of humor.

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Jesse-kun was up next, claiming some talent in monomane. He does an intriguing Donald Duck, a slightly weak Tokunaga Hideaki, a poor machine gun, and an iffy Fukuyama Masaharu. He’s got a long way to go before he can challenge Kawai-kun, and Kyomoto-kun has done convincing vocal impressions before, if I recall.

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The only non-Bakaleya junior in the segment was Haniuda Amu-kun, who’s into guns. He apparently picked up this fascination from movies, and has model guns.

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Last was Tanaka Juri-kun, but he apparently said he was number one in Tutankamen (ツタンカーメン), and that’s when I know I’m missing something.

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A.B.C-Z performed a song I haven’t heard before – “Twinkle Twinkle A.B.C-Z”. Well, I say I haven’t heard it before, but quite a chunk of it is inspired by “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” – not the most promising basis for a new song.

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But while the opening to the song had me worried, it quickly got very good. First of all, despite being in English, the lyrics were fine – no semantic problems here. The pronunciation was borderline at best, but mostly recognizable. The actual melody was great, and they sang it well.

Most importantly, the dancing had some brilliant moments. I still can’t be sure about the trick to it:

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My only objection is that the song didn’t end properly. You’ll have to hear it to understand what I mean.

The three hosts wrapped things up . . .

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. . . and then joined the rest of HSJ for “Hyakkaryouran” (百花繚乱 – flowers blooming in profusion/a gathering of beautiful women).

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They did a fully choreographed dance for this one – odd for the finale song to Shounen Club. That, and the bit where Yamada-kun sings a solo line have me convinced that this is meant to be a single, but whether things will go as planned is a different matter.

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Would it be good as a single? I’m not sure. It doesn’t really stand out from the pack – it’d be an unremarkable song on an album, for instance – but there’s also nothing wrong with it. The dance routine went a long way towards adding flair to it, so maybe that’ll be enough.

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So, wow, this was a complicated Shounen Club. Upsides? Let’s see . . . Bakaleya Six performing “Six Senses”, the SZ performance, Chinen-kun’s dancing, A.B.C-Z’s dancing, “Hyakkaryouran” at the end, and the Shokura You-bin segment with Keito-kun. Come to think of it, we got a lot of music that was new to the Shounen Club stage, didn’t we? I don’t think “Six Senses” was done before by KAT-TUN, was it? “Namae no Nai Omoi” definitely hasn’t been done, and nor has “Hyakkaryouran”. I’m moderately sure “Where My Heart Belongs” hasn’t been done, either. What about “Twinkle Twinkle A.B.C-Z” – I sure haven’t heard it before. So that’s a serious amount of new stuff to digest. Very impressive.

The downsides? The noon boyz performance needed work. Kento-kun at the piano was just for show,so that was a tad disappointing. The English lyrics to “Where My Heart Belongs” were problematic, but the better lines in “Twinkle Twinkle A.B.C-Z” sort of made up for them. Pronunciation? Not good, but better than usual. The biggest problem? Not much by way of juniors. We got Bakaleya Six and noon boyz, but that was about it, wasn’t it?

It felt like they were really trying hard. There was a lot of energy on stage, and I really want to give this episode a 10 out of 10. But musically and in the few soft spots cited above it doesn’t measure up to the episodes I gave that rating to before, so I’ll have to call it a 9 out of 10. I think this would have been a better start to the new year than the episode we got on the 9th.