I don’t think I’ve quite recovered from the 3-hour special on April 4th yet. Can this episode of VS Arashi (VS 嵐) retain some of the energy of the special and give us continued reason to be excited by the new season or will it kill the buzz? Will it be the same old stuff, or will it feel fresh?

Well, how about this for fresh – the first voice we heard this time wasn’t Sakurai-san’s , but Ohno-san’s. Of course, we know what that means, but how rare is it to hear Ohno-san opening a show, given his propensity to spend most of the show silent? They make a note that his silence was the reason why he was dubbed the MMDA (most useless Arashi of all). With him doing most of the MC-ing in this episode, he’s sure making up for that flaw. This is the shortest amount of time he’s taken before speaking in a VS Arashi episode, so there you go – practically immediate improvement.

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With Sakurai-san out of the Arashi line-up, we know the guests are the actors of his new drama Kazoku Game. How they do in VS Arashi may help determine whether I cover this drama or not.

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The Kazoku Game team consists of Sakurai Sho-san, Kutsuna Shiori-san (忽那汐里), Kamiki Ryunosuke-kun (神木隆之介), Uragami Seishuu-kun (浦上晟周), Kitahara Rie-san (北原里英), and Itao Itsuji-san (板尾創路).

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The Arashi members point out that all of them have won against four-member Arashi when they appeared as guests except for Sakurai-san, who lost with the Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de team. So, the pressure’s on him – another failure this time will bring shame on him and will be further proof that he needs to work on his VS Arashi skills.

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The plus-one guests were Bananaman’s Himura-san and Bakarhythm (バカリズム). I don’t know about the latter (and I’ll be surprised if I mention his name again), but Himura-san is always fun. Himura-san has been on this show a whopping nine times! Bakarhythm . . . this is his first, I think. Seems to me Himura-san was throwing a friend a bone by letting him tag along.

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The first game was Korokoro Viking with the Kazoku Game team up first. I think for some reason Sakurai-san was complaining about doing the orange zone (the goal scoring zone), which he usually doesn’t do. He (for laughs, of course) tried to trade with Itao-san and Kamiki-kun, but got denied.

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Ninomiya-kun and Aiba-kun talked about working with Kamiki-kun in 2000 and 2001 respectively, and marveled that he’s now got a girlfriend in his roles. I think they were trying to make him blush.

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For Arashi, the plus one guests (Banana-rhythm as Nino-kun pretty much dubbed them) took the critical orange zone (and for some reason, they still had to face the -50 point slot meant to give the guests a handicap). Ohno-kun was caught by surprise as announcer Itou-san asked him whether he wants to win (a stock question that everyone usually knows is coming). Looks like Ohno-san needs the MC practice, and hopefully they’ll have the Arashi members rotate instead of giving it to Sakurai-san all the time (but I doubt that’ll happen).

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By the way, the Korokoro Viking performance from the Arashi team was truly something new.

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I’m not a big fan of Korokoro Viking, but it’s plenty more fun than the next game they played – Rolling Coin Tower. That said, they managed to make things interesting at the start (mostly picking on Himura-san). They also did a good job of trying to keep Ohno-san awake, tossing questions over to him to make sure he doesn’t get away with staying silent anymore. Let’s see how long that lasts.

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Dual Curling was next. First, Kazoku Game’s Itao-san, Kitahara-san, and Kamiki-kun went up against Bakarhythm, Aiba-kun, and Nino-kun.

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Itou-announcer asked Kamiki-kun about how Sakurai-san was during drama shoots, and that somehow led to Nino-kun brining up the “Candle Sho” thing. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry – you’re not missing much.

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After that, the other three members of Kazoku Game (including Sakurai-san) faced the remaining three of Arashi. I was sort of surprised by this, since we should get a one-on-one between Sakurai-san and another Arashi member at this point, shouldn’t we? Well, I guess everyone wanted to play.

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Kamiki-kun had some words to say afterward about one of Sakurai-san’s shots.

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With things heating up and the games getting more interesting, we finally got to Sakurai-san’s long-standing bane – Cliff Climb. The Arashi team went first, sending up Ninomiya-kun and Bakarhythm. Will Rhythm-san do well enough so Sakurai-san will have a challenge when the Kazoku Game team’s turn comes?

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Sakurai-san and Kitahara-san challenged the climb for the Kazoku Game team. It would have been interesting to see Kamiki-kun try, but this was probably better.

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Kamiki-kun does do his part, though, challenging Sakurai-san to get a perfect score and to pursue a Sakurai Kakumei (櫻井革命 – Sakurai Revolution). Will this lead Sakurai-san to shine, or do something silly?

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By the way, we also found out that this is the first time on VS Arashi for an AKB48 member (or was it just the first time any of them had done Cliff Climb?), so Itou-announcer put the pressure on by saying Kitahara-san was representing the entire group with this climb.

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The last game was Kicking Sniper. Arashi went up first, with Banana-rhythm, Ohno-san, and Matsumoto-kun representing.

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So, will Sakurai-san the soccer player be able to win the day in a kicking game? He had Kamiki-kun and Uragami-kun to support him in the attempt.

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The episodes where one of the Arashi members are in the guest team are always great, and this was not an exception. Having Ohno-san as MC was a great way to start things off. However, it was somewhat unfortunate that the episode placed so much of the attention on Sakurai-san (though understandable) – except for the Cliff Climb bit with Kitahara-san and some clever lines from Kamiki-kun, we didn’t get too much from the rest of the Kazoku Game cast. I couldn’t get a read on the cast’s chemistry.

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The games started out very lackluster, but got more interesting in the second half. That said, it was a very normal line-up of games. Neither of the newer games – Shotgun Disk or Popcorn Hitter – made an appearance. And wouldn’t it have been interesting to have Falling Pipe with Sakurai-san versus one of the Arashi members and Kamiki-kun against one of the Arashi members he worked with when he was younger?

So yeah, it was a good episode, but could have been better. The Most Omoshiroi (Interesting) Arashi goes to Sakurai-san – I don’t think it even requires explanation.