Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) is a music variety show hosted by Japanese idol group Hey! Say! Jump that 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).

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Juniors Matsumura Hokuto-kun and Jesse-kun kicked off this episode, starting the performance of Kis-My-Ft2’s “Everybody Go” . . .

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. . . before stepping aside for KMF2’s own Kitayama Hiromitsu-kun. The backdancers were the Elder Juniors, noon boyz, and the Bakaleya juniors.

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I was hoping Kitayama-kun would do something upbeat in this episode, and got my wish. This was a fine song to start the show off with.

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The Hey! Say! Jump hosts were Arioka Daiki-kun, Nakajima Yuto-kun, and Yaotome Hikaru-kun and the theme was mirai (the future).

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The hosts did an extensive opening talk with Kitayama-kun which included a funny moment between him and Hikaru-kun . . .

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. . . before turning the stage over to the junior group that I will persist in calling Think Yuuki unless the they get introduced some other way. Iwahashi Genki-kun, Jinguji Yuta-kun, et al. (looking closely, I think they snuck Okamoto Kauan-kun in there with a mike unless my eyes were mistaken – isn’t he supposed to be with Twenty Twenty, or is that non-exclusive?) sang “Kaze ni Notte”.

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It was easier than usual to distinguish their voices – at least, I didn’t think there was as much post-processing on the audio.

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The second song they did was “Keep It Up” with lyrics from Akanishi Jin-kun. That’s interesting because we got another one of his songs last week. Once again, the lyrics were in English and rather unlike what we normally hear juniors singing on Shounen Club. It technically wasn’t quite as bad as the lyrics to Hokuto-kun’s solo last week, but still . . . rather rude.

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They followed that with Domoto Koichi-san’s “Supersonic”, another song with English lyrics. Forget the other songs – they did a marvelous job closing the performance out with this one.

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So, that junior performance was double-edged, but at least it ended well.

Next, A.B.C-Z’s Kawai-kun, Tsukada-kun, and Totsuka-kun did Ki ni Naru KJ – the Kansai Junior version of the segment where they introduce a Kansai junior to the world.

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Previously, they introduced Shigeoka Daiki-kun, and I commented that it was hardly necessary since he was one of the most well-known of the Kansai Juniors, and that others we know little about would have benefited more from the attention. Well, this time it was even worse, since they introduced the best-known Kansai Junior of them all – Kiriyama Akito-kun.

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At least Kiriyama-kun took the opportunity to plug Mayonaka no Panya-san, the drama he’s doing with Takizawa-san. It’s pretty rare to hear people even mention the dramas they’re doing on Shounen Club, but I’m all for it. He did it smoothly in the course of talking about Tackey-san.

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The Kansai Junior performance followed, and they did what I’ve come to call the Kansai Junior anthem – “Let’s Go West ~Kansai!!~”.

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I’m still not a fan of the song, but it’s a huge step up from last week’s KJ offering. We got a much more populated stage, too – another important improvement.

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The HSJ corner started off really awkwardly. Normally every segment starts to wild applause and screaming fans, but we got an uncharacteristically weak applause this time. I don’t know if they had to restart for some reason – probably.

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I’ll have to hope for subtitles to understand what was said, but I have some stylistic points to make. First of all, I would still prefer that HSJ do something a bit more dynamic for their corners instead of just talking, though at least this time it sounded like a topic related to the theme of the show (I think it was plans/hopes for the future). However, even if it’s a talk corner, they shouldn’t be half-sitting like this, since having two rows makes conversation cumbersome. They really ought to do it standing, like an MC talk in the middle of a concert. That way, they would be able to communicate more fully – using gestures as well – and it’d certainly be more fun to watch.

On the bright side, the guys tried their best to make it interesting within the constraints.

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They had to call out Kawai-kun so they could take the stage for their performance . . .

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. . . and he filled the time with some Inagaki Goro monomane.

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And that brought us to the “Come On A My House” performance. Word on the internet from concert reports is that what I was dreading Johnny’s would do will be done – “Come On A My House” will be the A-side to the new HSJ single, and “BOUNCE” along with some other good songs they’ve put out there will be B-sides. Of course, this has been a pattern with Johnny’s lately – for instance, the new Sexy Zone single might have been a double A-side, but the group did the cutesy song on all the music shows rather than the cool song. The same happened with “Magic Power”, though at least that had a movie tie-in. I have a number of theories on why Johnny’s does this, but it’s not worth the space to go into it here. It’s just one of the annoying things . . . .

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Going back to the bright side (and what could be more natural while listening to this song?), at least their costumes are decent – much better than the “Magic Power” ones. The dance is also a good routine.

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But . . . it’s still an unfortunately repetitive tune which may be suited to a stage show like Johnny’s World, but is not the song that I want HSJ to do on Music Station. This will do nothing for them with the Music Station audience, while “BOUNCE” might score them a huge extra boost over their sales for “Super Delicate” (not to mention continue moving the group in that direction).

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I will, of course, buy the single – HSJ is my don’t-think-twice list. And I don’t actually dislike “Come On A My House” until it repeats the refrain for the third time. The problem is with HSJ’s ability to attract a broader audience – the Music Station audience.

Moving on to Ki ni Naru J with Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun hosting (why didn’t they do it on stage?), we learned a bit more about a junior featured in the April episodes – Vasayegha Hikaru-kun. I think he and Okamoto Kauan-kun have been the two who have gotten the most attention since Twenty Twenty was introduced.

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He’s a sharp kid, but while he did an excellent job speaking here, I would have been more interested to see how he handled himself in front of the NHK Hall audience – whether he would have been just as smooth, or if he would have been too nervous.

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Next, Nakajima Kento-kun sang lyrics he wrote, performing “CANDY ~Can U be my BABY~”. So, for once, I have to criticize the person on-stage for the lyrics – Kento-kun clearly doesn’t know English well enough to be writing English lyrics. Nice try, though – I’ve heard worse from Johnny’s professional lyricists. Let’s hope he continues to develop his English, because there’s every chance he might actually become good at it.

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The song is musically reminiscent of “Sexy Summer ni Yuki ga Furu” in that it is dynamically sloppy and the mixing is harsh. Unlike “Sexy Summer”, it doesn’t have a particularly catchy melody. In short, this is a pure test of Kento-kun’s star power, because practically nothing else could make you want to listen to it.

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Kento-kun’s performance was followed by a medley. Hokuto-kun and Jesse-kun started it off with Kinki Kids’ “Parental Advisory Explicit Content”, which is perfect on so many levels. First, “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” is exactly what I was complaining about with Hokuto-kun’s solo in the last episode, right? But on top of that, it’s become increasingly clear that Johnny’s wants Hokuto-kun and Jesse-kun to be an explicit content team. They’re definitely getting the cool/sexy image while other groups get the cute and maybe an occasional touch of cool.

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Of course, Kinki Kids’ “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” isn’t actually as edgy as its name implies, and Hokuto-Jesse soon handed it off to a team including noon boyz, Elder Juniors, and the other Bakaleya boys. The whole ensemble continued the Kinki Kids sequence with “Kanashimi Blue” . . .

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. . . then “Angel” with just Jesse-kun and Masuda Ryo-kun (okay, now I’m confused, and it sounded like they were too) . . .

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. . . and then the others came back on stage for “Kiss Kara Hajimaru Mystery”.

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But wait, there’s more! This Kinki Kids medley just kept going and going, but it finally ended with “Burning Love”.

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The stage was just too much of a mess – there were too many people, each deserving of more attention, trying to perform at once. It would have been better to divide the ensemble into teams of five or six, each handling one or two of the songs. These are the more experienced juniors, but they’re being treated like chibis who have to be herded together.

The Nekketsu Battle was another animal drawing competition – a lion this time – and they’ve figured out a way to make me even more irritated with the segment than the last time we had it. My objection then was that they could easily have more than four people doing it, and thus include more juniors. Since great art skills are not actually required, pretty much anyone can be included, and it’s a great opportunity for more juniors to get some exposure. Unfortunately, not only did they have just four people again this time . . .

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. . . but three of the four were from A.B.C-Z (Hashimoto-kun, Totsuka-kun, and Goseki-kun), a debuted group. The only junior was Hokuto-kun. Why them? Well, apparently these four were the “finalists” – the winners of the previous drawing competitions battling it out. So . . . does that mean after this round, we’ll get a new (hopefully larger) slate of contestants or a totally different Nekketsu Battle game?

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Anyway – A.B.C-Z fans: enjoy!

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For some reason, that was followed by a mini-corner in which Daiki-kun asked Yamada-kun another one of those questions that sounds suspiciously like something from an idol magazine – who in HSJ do you think will get married the soonest?

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It was just a time-filling device, though, as the next act got ready on stage. The next act, in a rather amazing turn, was Sexy Zone’s Kento, Fuma, and Shori backed by the HSJ band’s Keito, Yuto, and Hikaru (plus a non-HSJ guitarist – I think it was Ogawa Yuu, who we met in the last episode).

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Well, there’s just one word for this – epic. This was unquestionably the best performance of the episode. I really don’t have anything else to say about it, but here are some more screenshots:

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For those who were excited to see Keito-kun get some quality screen time in the first episode of the month, you’ll be happy to know he outdid himself here. Keito-kun is always at his coolest when he’s got a guitar, right?

The Junior ni Q segment continued on the topic of favorite dons (丼 – rice-food combos). Shintaro-kun went first.

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Then Iwahashi Genki-kun with a nice choice – mini cha siu don.

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Ishida Naoya-kun, who we also met in the last episode in the Twenty Twenty segment, went with the standard – gyu don. Twenty Twenty seems to be full of good talkers, as Ishida-kun did a fine job here.

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Nakamura Kaito-kun choice was more inventive – an Original Negi-Toro Don (with mayonnaise).

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Of course, thinking of Junior ni Q, we now eagerly await what Tanaka Juri-kun will come up with. He wasn’t himself this time, though, bringing so little energy to it that the hosts seemed surprised. But I think this is just part of his grand plan to mix things up and keep us guessing.

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A.B.C-Z took the stage next, but when I said I wanted to see them do something other than “Twinkle Twinkle ABC-Z”, I specifically meant one of the cooler songs or something I haven’t seen on Shounen Club in the past year. I definitely didn’t mean “Za ABC~5stars~”, which remains the song of theirs I like least.

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There was an odd feel to the performance this time, with the first part of it in particular seeming awkward for some reason that I can’t pin down. The acrobatics were the highlight as usual, but after that, it went back to seeming a bit off. If you have any ideas, or think that the performance was actually all right, please comment below.

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This episode of Shounen Club ended with a new song from HSJ – “New Hope ~Konna ni Bokura wa Hitotsu”. As with some of the earlier songs, we could definitely hear the textures of their voices here – always good for a ballad like this.

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This was simply a wonderful song – I was immediately in love with it – and . . . why can’t this be the A-side? I mean, HSJ is entitled to at least one A-side ballad in ten, right? It was so well-done, it’ll be a shame if they don’t get to perform it on Music Station at least once.

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Okay, when I said that ended the episode, I lied – there was Shori-kun’s omake minute, in which he peeked in on Kitayama-kun. Either it was cut short in the copy I got or it really ended bizarrely.

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To summarize, this was a tale of two episodes. There were performances that deserved a 10 and others that would have been lucky to receive a 7. “Bad Boys” and “New Hope ~Konna ni Bokura wa Hitotsu” were far and away the highlights of the evening. Kento-kun’s solo and the Kinki Kids medley from the older junior ensemble each had good points that were outweighed by sloppiness – sloppy music in the first case and sloppy staging in the second. The Nekketsu Battle was a yawn. I’m still trying to figure out the A.B.C-Z performance – could it have just been the camera work?

It’s really difficult to score this as one episode when I’d recommend skipping half of it while I consider the other half unmissable. I’ll have to give the episode an 8 out of 10, but I think HSJ fans will find it extraordinary fun. These May episodes have been the best episodes for HSJ fans in a long time.

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