The first VS Arashi (VS 嵐) of the new season was a three-hour special with three different segments. First, Arashi faced a team of comedians (the Rola team) and a team of actors (representing the drama Kamo, Kyoto e Iku) in the regular format of VS Arashi. Then, they faced their seniors in TOKIO in a match of Kicking Sniper. As a grand finale, the five Arashi members faced each other in a series of Bet de Arashi challenges. The order of events couldn’t be better, as they clearly saved the best for last.

That’s not to say the first battle should be skipped – it contains some memorable moments of its own. For instance, how about right at the start when Aiba-kun put up four fingers when everyone else put up three (to signal a 3-hour special), everyone laughed at him, and then he explained that he was going with the airdate (04-04)? Nice little comeback for Aiba-kun.

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The Kamo, Kyoto e Iku (鴨、京都へ行く。) team included Matsushita Nao, Shiina Kippei, Daito Shunsuke, Koyanagi Yu, Okamoto Azusa, and Sasano Takashi.

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The Rola Gundam team was made up of Rola, Tsuchida Teruyuki (土田 晃之), the comedy duo Ogiyahagi, Koumoto Junichi (河本準一), Kojima Kazuya (児嶋一哉), and Kojima Yoshio (小島 よしお).

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The first game was Dual Curling R, which really should be called . . . whatever the equivalent of “dual” is for three things instead of two. You see, all three teams went for it at the same time:

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The teams sent up three members in each of two rounds, and the first thing to notice was that Rola-san was definitely trying hard to fill her role as team leader, grabbing as many laughs as possible. She’s usually a side figure when there are so many talents around, so it was interesting to see her as the center of attention.

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The drama team was pretty sedate, so it was all up to Arashi and the comedians to keep things interesting.

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I haven’t really mentioned the plus one guest that’s usually added to the Arashi team, and that’s because no one had been introduced until Sakurai-san and Matsumoto-kun went up for the second round of Dual Curling R, and pointed out that they were lacking a member.

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To remedy this, they got Ashida Mana-chan, who got to play from a special zone.

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Will 8-year-old Mana-chan really help them win? Will Rola-san remember that Mana-chan is 8 and not 3?

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By the way, I’m going to try to ignore the “Come On” gag that Shiina-san introduced and they kept on doing throughout the show.

Moving right along, they did Bank Bowling next.

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This would have been quite tedious (and the editors tried to cut as much as they could out) . . .

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. . . if not for Ohno-san going up there with Mana-chan (who bowled for the first time) . . .

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. . . and a now infamous scene where Sakurai-san and Aiba-kun did the old gag where they pretended to be upset with each other, and kissed to make up. I guess I should just call it the reconciliation gag (仲直り – nakanaori).

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I’m not going to post the screencap of the key moment – you’ll have to watch the episode to see the gag play out properly.

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Next was Giant Crush, which has been a useless game ever since they put the giant on stilts (since it seems almost completely about random chance rather than skill), but was a totally predictable game before that.

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Cliff Climb was much more interesting, but why is Matsumoto-kun the only one up for Arashi?

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Oh, it’s because there’s a new plus one guest to replace Mana-chan. It’s her physical opposite – kickboxer Bob Sapp (who last shared the stage with Arashi in 2002 – truly a long gap).

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But with Bob Sapp weighing in at 160kg (more than 350 pounds), there’s definitely pressure on MatsuJun to do his part quickly. Bob Sapp might be strong enough to do the climb, but he’s not going to be able to move from rung to rung with any agility.

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The Rola team sent up the two Kojimas. Oddly, I was much more confident that Kojima Yoshio-san would do a good job and try his best than I was about Kazuya-san.

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After some decent excitement in Cliff Climb, they went to the comparable calm of Korokoro Viking. The Rola team picked on Kojima Kazuya-san for entertainment.

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With the drama team, we got a brief VTR of their rehearsal at this game – I don’t remember them showing video of the guest’s practices before.

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More importantly, Bob Sapp got a kick out of Shiina-san’s “Come On!” gag. It was really something to see the big guy laugh.

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He also puts a formidable face on when in the midst of the challenge:

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Really, Bob Sapp made it all so much better.

Korokoro Viking was the last game to decide which two teams would move onto the final round – Rolling Coin Tower. I won’t post any images of Rolling Coin Tower, because that would give away which team were the losers.

By the way, the winners got a 1 million yen prize (that’s around $10,000 – worthy of a big novelty check), so it’s not like they didn’t have any reason to play seriously.

With that phase of the special done, we move on to Arashi’s encounter with their senpai, TOKIO. The initial face-off occurred in a new set:

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They begin by noting that Arashi hasn’t had much success against TOKIO in the past when they competed in VS Arashi games. Sounds like they were trying to raise the stakes on this match over and above the 300,000 yen ($3000) yakiniku prize.

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The actual battle was two rounds of Kicking Sniper.

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First up were Aiba-kun, Matsumoto-kun and Ohno-san, but before they got around to kicking there was the obligatory talk, including a karaoke anecdote from Matsuoka-san.

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TOKIO’s first round was handled by Yamaguchi-san, Matsuoka-san, and Nagase-san. They picked on Nino-kun a bit.

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Aiba-kun was the Arashi who got double duty, as he joined Ninomiya-kun and Sakurai-san for the second round.

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For TOKIO, it was Nagase-san who kicked twice, with Kokubun-san and Joshima-san alongside him. Here, we found out that none of the Arashi members knew Joshima-san’s phone number, and that Kokubun-san is even more into famous soccer poses than Sakurai-san is. Also, Kokubun-san totally lied about soccer with MatsuJun.

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Could Arashi get the upper hand against their senpai, or did TOKIO trounce them in the final frame?

With that result in, it was time for Bet de Arashi, where Arashis would be both winners and losers as six guests, including Harisenbon, YOU-san, and Yamasato Ryouta-san (more commonly Yama-chan), bet on which Arashis would experience which fate.

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The first fight was blowdarts, with the Arashi members shooting at balloons released at progressively longer distances.

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The guests bet on the Arashis with a Singapore trip on the line.

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So, which Arashi do you think has the best combination of breath and aim?

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Are these expressions of relief, triumph, or disappointment?

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Following that game, we got something new. It was hide-and-seek (かくれんぼ – kakurenbo) with Ohno-san and Ninomiya-kun playing. How’s this going to work?

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Well, first Nino-kun left the area while Ohno-kun picked which locker to hide in . . .

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. . . then Nino-kun had to guess which one it was without getting any closer to the lockers than the red line.

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Then they switched places:

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And they kept switching until one of them succeeded.

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With the first two spent after hiding in lockers all day, the other three had an even more physical fight – a canoe race. If you remember the last time they did this, you know it was totally embarrassing, with them going around in circles and constantly bumping into walls. Will this be the same sort of insanity, or are they more prepared?

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Finally, they capped it off with all five of them playing Old maid (ババ抜き – babanuki). As we know from previous Bet de Arashis, watching them play babanuki is amazingly engaging.

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All things being equal, I think Nino-kun is the favorite on anything to do with cards. But of course, since there’s an element of chance, not everything is necessarily equal.

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And there you have it. This special was amazing in that it just kept getting better.

In the first, more standard, part of the show, it was amazingly the plus one guests who drove the action. Ashida Mana-chan was a fun addition, and the camera was always interested in her reactions. I don’t think the bowling or the fall of the giant would have been nearly as interesting without her – well, there was that Aiba-Sakurai kiss. But even with that peck, seeing the others trying to shield Mana-chan’s innocence by covering her eyes was an additional bit of humor.

Then there was Bob Sapp, who just dominated the second half of that segment. You had to watch, just wondering what he was going to do.

The TOKIOxArashi part could do with some translating. It looked fun, but enjoyment depended on understanding the jibes they traded. The actual game was sort of secondary to the talk.

Of course, the highlight of the show was Bet de Arashi. All of the games were great to watch – even the hide-and-seek was strangely compelling. Thankfully, the Arashi guys were as unpredictable with their canoeing as ever, though it looked a (very little) bit better than last time.

And I think I would watch them play cards for hours, so the fifteen minutes at the end where they played babanuki was a treat that was all too short. Actually, that’s where I have an objection about this special – they cut a chunk of the game out, skipping over a few rounds of play, and rushing to at least one other key sequence.

Looks like VS Arashi is off to a good start this season, but the specials are always pretty good – especially since they started including Bet de Arashi. Can they find a way to keep the regular episodes fresh going forward?