The members of Arashi have quite a lot to promote at the start of this VS Arashi (VS 嵐). First there’s their new single, which comes out on March 6th. Since that single has the title songs from both Ninomiya-kun’s new movie “Platina Data” which opens on March 16th, and Aiba-kun’s drama “Last Hope” which will be wrapping up in March, those get their mention as well. Sakurai-san takes the opportunity to butcher the names of both, though – no good just doing straight plugs without adding in some humor.

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The team opposing Arashi in this episode is the International Team, made up of entertainers who are part-Japanese and part-Something-Else. I find that interesting because, in the United States, we wouldn’t really consider that an international team – as long as they spoke English, they’d be as American as anyone else (and all of the guests are fluent in Japanese).

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Anyway, each of the International Team members got to introduce themselves in turn, and to specify which country they get their international claim from. LiLiCo-san is part Swedish and it looks like her occupation is movie commentator:

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I had no idea JOY-san was part British. That’s a good hairstyle for him . . .

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. . . especially when he’s standing right next to the guy who always gets mistaken for him (as a gag – not seriously) – Yuuji-san. They’re both models, but it looks like Yuuji-san is part American . . . which could mean pretty much anything, couldn’t it? He’s also got a bit of Dominican Republic.

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Melody Yoko-san is also a model and also American. Looks like if you’re “international”, it’s a good idea to be a model if you’re aiming to appear on Japanese TV.

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Looks like part-Swiss Haruka Christine-san didn’t need to go that way, though. She’s a straight-up TV personality – good for her!

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Last but not least, part-Brazilian Ueno Yukio-san (植野行雄) is the only one who lists himself as a comedian, though they all seem to play that part on TV.

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Sakurai-san can’t resist noting that all the others have western components to their names, but Ueno-san doesn’t. Ueno-san confirms this fact, denies the existence of any middle name, and points out that he can only speak Japanese.

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The “plus one” guest added to the Arashi team was Nakayama Hideyuki-san (中山秀征). He’s certainly a pro, and knows when to insert himself into proceedings and when to keep to the background.

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The first game was Korokoro Viking. LiLiCo-san noted that she was the oldest member of the team (at 42), and I’m not sure why she brought that up.

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Ueno-san had his own joke – a batting center anecdote – which had nothing to do with the game.

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Well, with JOY-san and Yuuji-san in the goal-scoring orange zone, how difficult will the International team make this for Arashi?

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JOY-san was guilty of one fault – he gave instructions in English. That would have been fine except that he was directing them at Ueno-san, who doesn’t understand English.

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That little flub aside, it looked like the Arashi team has a serious competition on their hands.

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I didn’t really understand the banter before the game, except that there was a reference to the episode where Nakayama-san led the team that opposed Arashi:

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Otherwise, there was nothing too interesting to note. Especially not with this sight greeting us next:

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It’s been a while since we’ve seen Ohno-san do the running in Pinball Runner (at least, according to my limited memory). How will he do with Nakayama-san shouting the yellows?

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On the International team’s turn, announcer Nakamura-san says that runner Ueno-san is kawaii (可愛い – cute).

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Ueno-san has some monomane prepared with a bag of hats, including this one:

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Unfortunately, he decided to keep the Mario hat on, and nobody bothered to mention that the brim would make it harder to see the balls.

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With a relatively active team challenging Arashi, they decided it would be good to do Jungle Bingo:

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The Arashi team has some planning to do, and Nakayama-san gets assigned three numbers to aim for – 8, 17, and 23.

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Can the aging Nakayama-san do it? More importantly, will the camera Aiba-kun wore capture anything interesting?

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The visiting team gets to pick an extra free space as a handicap:

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The fact that Ueno-san can only speak Japanese turns into a running gag – the others all discuss the numbers they’ll go for in English, and Ueno-san is left out of the loop.

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Even in this huddle, they excluded Ueno-san. I wonder what kind of mirror on society is being held up here – is it a reflection on Japanese society (in turnabout-is-fair-play form) or a claim that all societies exclude on the basis of language?

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Anyway, Bank Bowling was next. Aiba-kun and Nakayama-san went first for Arashi, with the plus one guest using his own  ball. Is there any chance that could help?

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MatsuJun and Ninomiya-kun handle the clean-up duties. Nino-kun dubs MatsuJun “Mr. Red Pin J” to indicate the likelihood that he’ll knock down the most valuable pin.

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Will he live up to the name?

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After the performance of the Arashi team, Christine-san and Melody-san are pumped up and ready to go. Especially Christine-san, who follows Sakurai-san’s prompting and does an imitation of a famous gag.

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I’m not sure JOY-san and LiLiCo-san could have been more entertaining than their teammates, but perhaps they could get more points.

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JOY-san was up again right after that in the last game – Kicking Sniper.

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So was LiLiCo-san, who did some weird gags after being introduced:

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And they were joined by Yuuji-san, who Sakurai-san messes with by turning his name into Koji. That’s a feigned katakana error – Yuuji=ユージ and Koji=コージ – with the added bonus of referring to a comedy duo – U字工事 (U-ji Kouji) – and allowing him to do one of their gags to apologize. It was a remarkably well-crafted joke from Sakurai-san – so much so that I suspect it was the work of the comedy writers in the staff, though there’s a slim chance it was his own idea.

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JOY-san has a bit of soccer experience. He seems confident. Will that translate into a spectacular performance or . . . not.

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LiLiCo-san was sure making lame excuses afterward:

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In their final opportunity of this episode, Arashi sent up Sakurai-san, Nakayama-san, and Aiba-kun.

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It usually makes me a bit queasy when a variety show has an “international” grouping like this because it tends to lead to an hour-long reminder about how insular a society Japan is. I don’t think that was much of a problem in this episode (unless you’re even touchier about such things than I am).

This was an excellent episode, and will probably end up being one of my favorites of the year. There was a lot of humor at every turn. Granted, much of it was in the form of set gags, but they weren’t the goofy variety.

There were remarkable results in the games, as well – from both teams. I suppose that’s what made it a truly great episode – it wasn’t a matter of choosing between a solid competition and light-hearted fun. We got both.

I have to give the Most Omoshiroi (Interesting) Arashi to Aiba-kun based on his participation in Bank Bowling and Kicking Sniper. Technically, Sakurai-san took the lead on the comedy front, but I felt that Aiba-kun efforts ultimately overshadowed his.