Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) is hosted by Japanese idol group Hey! Say! Jump and showcases the song-and-dance skills of the Johnny’s Entertainment agency’s most recently debuted groups – A.B.C-Z and Sexy Zone – as well as the agency’s trainees (known as juniors).

For the new season, Shounen Club has a new opening:

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I don’t know whether that’s going to be permanent, but at the risk of seeming resistant to change, I have a few objections. The opening we’ve had for years can boast one definite benefit – it puts us right at the start of the action, and the first sound we hear is the audience cheering. It’s hard to come up with a more positive or energized way of opening a show than with screams of delight from a crowd. This opening replaces that with tacky computer graphics (apparently done on a system no less than ten years old) and opening “music” by someone named Kenta Harada which, unlike the old method, doesn’t blend into the music of the first song. So . . . it’s just twenty wasted seconds, right?

The real show starts with hosts Arioka Daiki-kun, Nakajima Yuto-kun and Takaki Yuya-kun performing HSJ’s “Arigatou ~Sekai no Doko ni Itemo~”. The little nametags have gotten a graphics upgrade, but still no furigana or romaji so that we have an idea about how to read the names.

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We did get to hear all three of the performers’ voices clearly for a bit – a little spot-check on how their vocal aptitude is progressing. I haven’t heard Takaki-kun in a while, and he sounded a bit nervous/strained.

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HSJ’s Inoo, Yabu, Hikaru, and Keito then took the stage to do “Magic Power”. Looks like the hosts have been tasked to start the new season off right.

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With seven HSJ members down, that left two – Yamada-kun and Chinen-kun – to do “Mayonaka no Shadow Boy”. Their vocals were distinct and Chinen-kun didn’t do a bad job. I’m usually a bit down on his voice, but he took care of some of the rough edges this time.

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After that, the full complement of HSJ performed “Super Delicate”.

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It was only after they finished and then started doing the opening talk that I noticed that they were all in blue jeans. Have I ever seen them all in blue jeans? I don’t think so. Is it possible for blue jeans to be a refreshing change? Absolutely.

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Appropriately, the theme for this episode is “Start”. This is the time of year when the Japanese like to start new stuff. In April, the new school year starts, new TV shows start, and generally the fiscal year for Japanese companies also begins. Obviously, Shounen Club is also looking to go in new direction. Not only do they have the new title sequence, but Daiki-kun also announces that the show is now longer, with 59 minutes of airtime. Part of the reason for this are new corners, including a Kansai junior corner.

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After that announcement, the hosts introduced an A.B.C-Z and Sexy Zone collaboration medley. First, SZ did their debut song “Sexy Zone”.

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In turn, A.B.C-Z took the stage for their debut single – “Za ABC ~5stars~”.

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Then they started alternated verses, with both groups ultimately joining in with the other’s song.

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I think it turned out well. It was a cute collaboration, and the two songs don’t clash badly. I’m ambivalent about Fuma-kun’s new hair color.

Next up, A.B.C-Z hosted a VTR segment with the usual suspects from the Kansai juniors – Shigeoka Daiki, Kiriyama Akito, Nakama Junta, Fujii Ryusei, Kotaki Nozomu, and Kamiyama Tomohiro. I hope the Kansai junior segment involves more than just these six, but I’m glad that there’s at least this attempt at inclusion (especially since the episode is longer to accommodate it).

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The Kansai juniors talk a bit about their activities, practice swordsmanship, talk quite a lot very quickly, . . .

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. . . then cue their performance of “Not Finale”, which also included Kin Kan.

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The song was pretty standard stuff, but they were – as you might expect – very spirited.

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Really, if the Kansai juniors are going to be this energetic every time, the Tokyo juniors will have to step up their game a bit. That, or they’ll have to save the Kansai segment for late in the show.

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Then HSJ had their own new segment – “Kokoro wa Hitotsu Hey! Say! Soroete Jump!!” (心はひとつ Hey! Say! そろえて JUMP!!). I really wish this segment involved them playing an active game, but rather it involves them discussing the kinds of questions that one would expect from an idol magazine.

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The questions were “who’s the most childish?”, “who’s the stingiest?”, and “who’s the most narcissistic?”

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I really, really hope this isn’t all they’re going to do with their corner.

Next up was the Johnny’s junior special medley. First up was Jinguji Yuta, Iwahashi Genki, Nakamura Reia, Takahashi Fuu, Kuramoto Kaoru, and six others with V6’s “Music for the People” and “Beat Your Heart”.

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They followed those two songs up with NEWS’ “Dancing in the Secret”.

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It was a solid and energetic performance, but at points I felt like the choreography needed work. I enjoyed it, and was also surprised that the junior medley focused on just this one team of juniors – usually it involves bunches of them rotating through, doing one or two songs a piece. In this case I think it worked all right, but we’ll have to see whether this is going to be a pattern, or more of a one-off thing.

SZ’s Nakajima Kento-kun and Kikuchi Fuma-kun followed that up with the usual “Shokura You Bin” fanmail segment, dressed now as . . . I guess space aristocrats from an old anime?

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Whatever issue the fan wrote in with, they decided that SZ’s own Sato Shori-kun would be the best person to consult on it.

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As usual, this involved a little skit. Shori-kun tried to play his part, but at every second he was on the verge of laughing. The corners of his mouth kept flicking up and down again – it was hilarious to watch as his mind battled his funny bone for dominance.

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Meanwhile, Fuma-kun does stuff that worthy of an animated gif, making everyone else laugh while keeping a straight face himself.

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Altogether, this was a fun little segment, and I don’t think what they said really did anything more to make it funny than Shori-kun’s expressions.

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Following that, A.B.C-Z performed “Crazy Accel”, an up-tempo song with demanding choreography and acrobatics.

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I like the song – it’s more rock than most of their offerings. I suppose it’s missing some of the A.B.C-Z quirkiness, but we’ve had no shortage of that on Shounen Club over the past year, so a little reminder that they can pull off something like this is welcome.

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After that, it’s A.B.C-Z hosting the Ki ni Naru KJ segment. That’s right – KJ as in Kansai Juniors.

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The subject of the fan interest this time is Shigeoka Daiki-kun. He’s not the most unknown of the Kansai juniors, but I guess he’s a logical person to start with.

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And Shigeoka-kun’s Ki ni Naru KJ is followed by him performing “Makehende Baby” with the other Kansai juniors we saw earlier. Looks like the Kansai junior bits are going to be mixed in with everything else rather than segregated into a corner.

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I don’t particularly like “Makehende Baby”, though the performance of it is fine. 7West follows it with NEWS’ “Shock Me”. A more than average number of NEWS songs in this episode so far.

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The HSJ hosts speak to A.B.C-Z next. At this point, I feel very confused, in that everything seems out of order. Shouldn’t HSJ interview A.B.C-Z before A.B.C-Z interviews everyone else? It’s just . . . for most of this episode A.B.C-Z have done more hosting than HSJ has, so this particular talk feels like it’s going against the flow and should have happened earlier.

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The performance after the talk was Hashimoto Ryosuke-kun doing a solo – “One By One” – so at least that makes sense.

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His dancing was sharp and well-suited to Shounen Club (unlike some of last month’s solos). The song is so obviously single-worthy that I wonder whether it hasn’t already been released.

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I don’t think Hashimoto-kun could have made a better impression on a solo – this was certainly one of the highlights of the show.

Then we got . . . another Johnny’s junior medley! Except with different juniors. This time, it started with Morimoto Shintaro, Kouchi Yugo, Yasui Kentaro, and Tanaka Juri singing Kinki Kids’ “Kiss kara Hajimaru Mystery”.

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But in the middle of the song they vacated the stage for noon boyz, who took a verse . . .

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. . . then left for the duo of Matsumura Hokuto-kun and Jesse-kun (I guess that’d make them the afternoon boyz?), who got the bulk of the time in the song.

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Then Kyomoto Taiga-kun and Masuda Ryo-kun started to sing Kinki Kids’ “Kanashimi Blue” . . .

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. . . before handing it off to everyone else.

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Well, Johnny’s has deftly and gradually broken the Bakaleya team apart. But if they’re supposed to starting something new in this episode, what exactly is this? We’ve got three duos –  noon boyz, Hokuto-Jesse, Taiga-Ryo – and then everyone else. It’s not a coincidence that they did Kinki Kids songs, and Kinki Kids is a duo as well, but are these three pairs battling it out to become the next Kinki Kids, or what? Unlike the earlier junior performance, there was no sign of a single unit here.

By the time we got to Junior ni Q, I was really feeling the extra time they added onto the episode.

The topic was (translating roughly) “My Shining Moment/Time”, and the first junior up was Hanuida Amu-kun.

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Junior ni Q reigning champion Tanaka Juri-kun managed to rope Takaki-kun into his answer, ensuring that they wouldn’t skip over him.

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And, as usual, he keeps talking as he walks/gets dragged out.

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Matsuda Genta-kun does one better – he brought Yamada-kun into his answer. Apparently, he imitates Yamada-kun’s dance moves, and they do a bit of the “Mystery Virgin” choreography together.

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Then Takahashi Fuu-kun was up, and I have no idea what he was doing. Even Yamada-kun suggested cutting it out.

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Last was Kyomoto Taiga-kun, who tried to give Yamada-kun a hug at one point, but was spurned.

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Sexy Zone showed us their new single, “Real Sexy!”, next. Hearing it a few days ago, it sounded like pretty standard stuff, and not quite as uneven musically as “Sexy Summer ni Yuki ga Furu”. The choreography here, however, was less than ideal – it’s too jerky and the parts where they had their legs wide apart looked awkward.

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Their performance of it was all right, though, except for a brief spot where Fuma-kun looked bored. Oh, and I could have done without the part where Shori-kun threw in the word “sexy” when the song mercifully otherwise lacked it.

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I don’t think the division between the elder three of SZ and the younger two could ever have been clearer, though. The agency clearly made a concerted attempt to have Marius-kun and Sou-kun blend into the backdancers on the first Shounen Club performance of the group’s new single. Anyone watching this clip without knowing about the group would clearly see a group of three with a bunch of white-clad backdancers.

As a finale, Hokuto-kun and Jesse-kun kicked off NEWS’ “Kibou ~Yell~” . . .

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. . . and were joined by the rest of Bakaleya, the Elder Juniors, and noon boyz, though Hokuto and Jesse continued to hold center stage until Iwahashi-kun and Jinguji-kun led their group out.

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Well, there you have it – a new start for Shounen Club. One thing no one will be able to argue about – it’s grown. It’s amazing how much longer fifteen minutes can feel when you’re very, very conditioned to seeing a 44 minute Shounen Club. Of course, it felt even longer because I ended up writing 2000 words about it . . . .

I know what they aimed for with this episode – a polished product. That’s not what the history of Shounen Club has led me to expect from the show, but my expectations clearly need to change.

I think the performances were uniformly good, with highlights being the first junior medley, Hashimoto-kun’s solo, the first Kansai junior medley, and the SZ + A.B.C-Z collaboration. In the talk portions, the Shokura You Bin segment was fun, and the rest were standard. I’ll look for something more interesting from the HSJ corner in the future.

Were there any misses? The show lacked structure and seemed too haphazard – a feeling brought about by the sheer number of transitions. I think that Japanese audiences might be more tolerant of this than I am, but I still hope the director of the show figures out some way of making all the segments flow together better.

It’s difficult to compare this episode to the earlier, shorter ones, but if pushed to it, I think it deserves either an 8 or a 9 out of 10. The question is: how much better do I think they can do with the new format? If I think there’s lots of room for them to make this better, I should give an 8, but if I’m more pessimistic, it’s safe to give a 9. I’m going to choose to look for growth and give this one an 8 out of 10. Most of the work will have to be done by the staff rather than the performers, though.

The questions were “who’s the most childish?”, “who’s the stingiest?”,