This Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) has a lot of questions to answer. There are two much-anticipated songs: Hey! Say! Jump’s “Come On A My House” (which may be a single, or may not) and Sexy Zone’s “Bad Boys” (which definitely will be on a single). How will those songs play on the Shounen Club stage? There’s also the general format of the show, which undertook a radical change last week after years of pretty much the same system. Will it have better flow this time? And finally, what about the Twenty-Twenty thing? Will what this episode reveals clear up concerns about the new group, or heighten them?

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With all of that to deal with plus the slightly depressing new opening sequence, we might need a bit of courage to get through this. So, it’s totally appropriate that they started with “Yuuki 100%” (勇気 100% – Courage 100%).

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The main performers were SZ’s Sato Shori-kun, Matsushima Sou-kun, and Marius Yo-kun, but there were plenty of mid-to-younger juniors who got their time front and center, too.

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Hey! Say! Jump’s Yamada Ryosuke-kun and Chinen Yuri-kun joined in at the end. With Arioka Daiki-kun, they’re the three primary hosts for this episode, though the members of A.B.C-Z will doubtless play a large part as they did in the last episode. The theme for this episode is radiance/shine (輝き – kagayaki).

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And naturally, that means we need a kagayaki medley. Morimoto Shintaro-kun, Tanaka Juri-kun and Kouchi Yugo-kun started things off, singing “We never give up!” from Kis-My-Ft2. This struck me as a great choice to follow Yuuki 100%.

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Noon Boyz took the second song, performing Kis-My-Ft2’s “Dancing Star”. It maintained the upbeat musical flow, and also the overall style of the music (it being another KMF2 song).

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As a change of pace (though not a sharp break in tone), Masuda Ryo-kun and Kyomoto Taiga-kun sang Takizawa-san’s “Ki-se-ki”. Interesting to see Masuda-kun getting more attention in these April episodes, and there’s no question that he’s a fine duet partner for Taiga-kun.

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NEWS’ “World Quest” was the next song, picking up the pace again. Performers included Iwamoto-kun, Yasui Kentaro-kun, and Hagiya Keigo-kun.

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The chibi juniors plus some mid-teen ones closed it out with NEWS’ “Hoshi wo Mezashite”

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The overall musical consistency of this medley despite its relatively fast pace struck me when I first heard it, as did the fact that it flowed naturally from the opening. Again, it looks like they’re trying to present us with a more polished product in this new Shounen Club.

But there are already improvements over the previous episode’s choppiness. Instead of going to a VTR, they went smoothly into the game segment Nekketsu Battle, albeit with Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun joining Daiki-kun in hosting duties.

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The contestants are the usual suspects – Nakajima Kento, Sanada Yuma, Kawai Fumito, Matsumura Hokuto, and of course (since he’s the HSJ member most willing to join in on these things) Nakajima Yuto.

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So yeah, I would have liked to see some juniors who have never done a battle segment, or even members of the debuted groups who haven’t done one recently (how about Inoo-kun/Keito-kun, Sou-kun, and Totsuka-kun, for instance?), but I was so happy they placed this early instead of right in the middle of the episode, I was ready to give it a chance.

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As it turned out, they did some pretty engaging games. They had to name letters of the alphabet without repeating one that had been said before, Johnny’s singles with “Ai” in them, and then prefectures of Japan.

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And finally, the players who were left had to make Yabu-kun’s heart throb, with the first one failing to do so losing.

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It was fun, particularly because they all came packing unique mannerisms (with Yuto-kun having the most naturally amusing of them in my opinion, since the others were actually trying while his were just Yuto-being-Yuto).

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Time for A.B.C-Z to do “Twinkle Twinkle A.B.C-Z” next. They kept it fresh with prop stairs – a move I thoroughly approve of. I wish Shounen Club performances incorporated props more often.

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Because the tone of the song is different from that of the songs that started the show, I’m glad they did it right after the Nekketsu Battle, since that was the natural place to begin a new phase of the episode.

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And since I can’t think of an act to follow A.B.C-Z, this was an excellent time to cue up the VTR with the new Kansai junior corner. After all, Goseki-kun and Hashimoto-kun from A.B.C-Z are hosting the corner, so there’s a natural personnel flow.

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This sort of carried on from what we saw in the last episode, and I still couldn’t understand too much until they said “monomane.”

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After that, we saw them attempt a range of impressions including Degawa Tetsuro-san and various A.B.C-Z members.

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After they messed around a bit, we saw their performance of “Not Finale”. And here, I have so say they ought to have adopted a firm policy for the new Shounen Club – a particular song can only be done once a month. We already saw “Not Finale” from the Kansai Juniors last week, and while this was a different look at the song, and I still like it, there’s a question about purpose. If the goal is the give the Kansai juniors a chance to shine, then they should have done some other song. If the goal was to sell this particular song, then that’s a different story. But I was always under the impression that Johnny’s was more about promoting the performers than just selling singles.

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In probably the first awkward transition of the entire show, the next act was Hey! Say! Jump with their new song “Come On A My House”. I say awkward, because it’s more of a cute song than a cool song, so it would have felt better coming before “Twinkle Twinkle A.B.C-Z” (which is also the same sort of cute song) than after “Not Finale”.

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The song has a Broadway feel to it, so the costumes were definitely appropriate. I wish they had added some color to them though – we already had the three SZ members opening the show with all-white costumes.

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Musically, the song sounds like more of a follow-up to “Magic Power” than one to “Over” or “Super Delicate” – are they trying to alternate cute and cool songs?

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Unlike “Magic Power”, though, this song has a generic underlying rhythm and brass pattern and lacks any catchy musical phrases. I ultimately got to like “Magic Power”, though it took a while. This seems too bland to have any strong feelings about – and therefore probably too bland to be a single. But seriously, if they decided that this was the next single, I’d buy it. At least it’s not horrible, and who knows when we’d get the next one?

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Come to think of it, with the white costumes and all, it sort of reminds me of “Romeo & Juliet”, except that “Romeo & Juliet” is actually a slightly more interesting song.

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I’ll concede one thing, though – I think it’s a good dance. I thought it looked sharper when Yamada-kun, Chinen-kun, and Hikaru-kun performed it on School Kakumei, but it still looks fun with all nine doing it.

Next, Yabu-kun and Chinen-kun were the hosts for the Junior ni Q segment, which continued with the topic from last week – “My shining moment”.

The players this time were Kouchi Yugo-kun . . .

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. . . a junior I have never seen before – Vasayegh Hikaru-kun (ヴァサイェガ光) – though he’s apparently appeared on Johnny’s Jr Land episodes I haven’t gotten to yet . . .

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. . . Iwahashi Genki-kun . . .

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. . . Inoue Mizuki-kun . . .

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. . . and finally Jesse-kun with some singing monomane.

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With Jesse-kun ending that segment, it was a nice move to go to his duet with Matsumura Hokuto-kun next. This was Kinki Kids’ “Shinku no Hana” (深紅の花 – Crimson Flower).

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Much as I don’t know what to do with duos since they don’t have the balance of personalities that makes watching groups at work interesting (especially on variety shows), I have to say that this was a fine, even excellent, performance.

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Compared to the leading junior duo – noon boyz – this pair was sharper in their dancing, the vocals were more dynamic, and they have an order of magnitude more charisma.

A.B.C-Z’s Totsuka-kun and Kawai-kun handled the Ki ni Naru J segment after that. Their guest junior was another junior we haven’t seen much of – Miyachika Kaito-kun (宮近海斗).

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They immediately note that, instead of being in a costume, he’s in his regular clothes, which is indeed very interesting.

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After they introduce him thoroughly . . .

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. . . we find out why he’s in regular clothes – because all the other members of Twenty-Twenty are, too. Remember Vasayegh Hikaru-kun from just a few frames ago?

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Seeing the current line-up for Twenty-Twenty, I relaxed. The juniors are all faces I barely recognized, if at all. Actually, the only one could really name was Matsuda Genta-kun:

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What does that mean? That means Twenty-Twenty is really a vehicle for juniors who would be overshadowed by their contemporaries (like the members of Think Yuuki, Travis Japan, and the current chibi team with Inoue-kun) to get a chance for some exposure.

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The silly rumors that this would be the only group to debut until 2020 is clearly not the case, or Twenty-Twenty would have some more prominent faces. Rather, it’s a means for Johnny’s to retain talent, which it has an overabundance of in the junior ranks right now, and put it to use. It’s an experiment, to be sure, but these juniors are young enough and unknown enough that they could probably bounce back even if this experiment falls apart. Put some of the juniors who have already built substantial fanbases into the group, and the stakes for everyone are higher, and the presumed consequences of failure also high.

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So yeah, I’m totally supportive of this Twenty-Twenty thing now that I see who’s going to be in it and I’m convinced that it’s not going to interfere with other debuts. This could be a great chance to showcase some juniors in a new way – give Johnny’s an excuse to put them out there instead of hiding them behind everyone we already know. And who knows? Maybe this could be a format that works to some extent – as long as it doesn’t displace the existing debut system.

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And I also have to say that they were a wonderfully charismatic and varied (and to some extent international) bunch. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen a more promising batch of juniors pop out of (seemingly) nowhere. One of them even played HSJ’s “Dreams Come True” on the trumpet:

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The fact that they appeared in plain clothes was also a positive sign. Now, if only they keep doing that in their appearances as Twenty-Twenty, that would really set them apart. I guess . . . I’ll have to learn all their names now.

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After that, we got another one of the anticipated elements of the show – “Bad Boys” – the second A-side to Sexy Zone’s new single.

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Because it lead with a guitar riff, I was almost certain to like the song, and indeed I did. Oddly, it strikes me as a very KAT-TUN song – I say oddly because I really didn’t think SZ was going in that direction at all. Of course, the group that was most obviously suited to this song was Bakaleya and . . . yeah.

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But still, Kento-kun, Fuma-kun, and Shori-kun didn’t do a bad job of this. Shori-kun was borderline as far as acting like a ‘bad boy’, but maybe he could join the gang if he’s a member’s little brother or something. He had that kind of look to him-  the kid who’s part of the gang because his older brother’s in it, but is otherwise unsure about the beating up people thing.

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Does anyone else find it odd that HSJ got the cute song and SZ got the cool song in this episode? I just thought the groups were supposed to be oriented the other way around.

Anyway, HSJ got to do “Star Time” as the finale. It’s definitely a good song to conclude on, so no problems there.

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I also like how they handed the vocals off to each other, completing each other’s lines. I’m not sure if I’ve heard that done before on this song, but it was just much more obvious to me here.

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And that’s how it was.

Concerns Addressed? Check. Transitions smoother than in the last episode? Check. More juniors? Check.

Were there any cringe-worthy elements? Not that I could see. All the songs were at least good, and some were great. I didn’t see any horrible fails except in the game segment, where they’re always welcome and make things interesting. It was very watchable from start to finish and never gave me a desire to skip over anything. Plus, with the smoother flow and a good pace, it seemed to go by a lot quicker than the last episode.

I could probably find something to be picky about, but I don’t feel like it. This episode gets a 10 out of 10 from me. I’ll risk the possibility that they’ll come back with something even better in May.

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