This is the first episode of Aiba Manabu (相葉マナブ), a fresh half-hour variety show hosted by Arashi’s Aiba Masaki-kun. I have no idea what to expect so . . . let’s find out so I can do a proper introduction if I decide to continue reviewing this series.

The episode begins with Aiba-kun at a desk with glasses on, looking unconvincingly like he’s studying.

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A huge caricature on the wall calls out to him, and Aiba-kun addresses the . . . I guess I’ll call it a portrait, to use the term loosely, as “chief.” At the bottom of the screen, we see that he’s the riddle chief (謎の所長 – nazo no shochou).

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The chief gives us a preview of what’s to come in the show and my heart sinks, because all we see is Aiba-kun eating. Masaka . . . you don’t suppose this is going to be just another program where we see the host(s) eat stuff, is it? Well, the theme for the episode is food born in Japan (that people might not realize originated in Japan) so . . . yeah.

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On the bright side, at least Aiba-kun gets to go on-location – something we’ve seen very little of from Arashi of late. They give him a pair of comedic buddies for this trip – Tsuchida Teruyuki-san and Haraichi’s Sawabe Yuu-san. While not top-level talent, they’re both still reasonably popular, so they weren’t a bad get for a new show. Right off the bat, Aiba-kun makes sure that they know he’s the leader for this show.

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Without further ado, they try are faced with a menu of ten meals, and have to pick which ones they think are Japan-born (there are only three in the menu). Right away, we see a huge plus-side to having Aiba-kun host – there’s a lot of energy in the room. Instead of Aiba-kun reducing his tension, the guests brought theirs up to match his. There’s a lot of shouting, talking over each other, and laughter.

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Of course, after they get one of the dishes right, it’s just a matter of watching them eat and hearing them shout “umai!”

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Sawabe-san was especially vigorous with the latter requirement. He was just eating omurice, for heaven’s sake, but he acted like he had never tasted something like it before (as opposed to on half the variety shows he’s been on) – that’s good acting, folks.

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Still, the comfort-level between the three principals and their boisterousness made the show watchable. If they had been a more reserved bunch, it would have been unbearably boring.

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After going through the menu at the restaurant, they did the same thing with a ten-item menu at a bakery . . .

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. . . and then also took on desserts.

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I’m still absolutely opposed to variety shows centered on food, believing that they’re a recipe for boredom. And of all the things Aiba-kun could have been learning about (see Hyakushiki for good examples), I’m very disappointed that they decided food was what they would start with. If this was episode three, I would have probably shrugged it off with only a minor comment about hoping they didn’t do too much of it.

What about the preview for the next episode? Well, it’s not about food (yay!), but it’s about calories, so . . . that’s a bit too close for comfort. I really hope the show will drift away from lifestyle stuff. After all, Aiba-kun is probably most well-versed in food, clothing, and health. What I would like to see is Aiba-kun discovering the real world of science, technology, and what makes Japan run.

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Still, Aiba-kun did a good job, along with his guests, of making the show fun, and the preview for the next episode looks good, so it looks like I’ll at least be reviewing it again next week.