Aiba Manabu (相葉マナブ) started off this episode in a slightly more active way than in the previous two weeks – with Aiba Masaki-kun descending the stairs in the back instead of sitting at the desk pretending to study. And that was a sign of things to come, because this was an even more active episode for him than the first two.

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Technically, the topic is Japan’s spring, but the more specific aspect of spring that Aiba-kun is going to investigate this time is the bamboo shoot (タケノコ – takenoko).

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Can Aiba-kun make bamboo shoots interesting?

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We’re about to find out as Aiba-kun goes on location . . .

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. . . prepared to dig for the shoots with helpers (or competitors) Sawabe Yuu-san, Cunning Takeyama-san, and Drunk Dragon’s Suzuki Taku-san.

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As Sawabe-san comments and Aiba-kun admits, Aiba is the takenoko-digging idol.

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But instead of going right to it, they talk to other farmers who are doing their work to make sure their crops are ready for the summer. First, they pass a man tending to his onions (タマネギ – tamanegi).

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When they bring the topic to takenoko, he says it’s a crop failure (不作 – fusaku) year, though I wasn’t clear whether he was specifically speaking about bamboo shoots, or whether there’s a general malaise. He invites them to ask around to see whether the other farmers in the area agree.

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The four of them head down the road to do just that . . .

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. . . but manage to get distracted by dandelions (タンポポ – tanpopo) and the musical uses of the same.

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Meeting a Kanagawa woods instructor (just, you know, wandering into him randomly), they ask him whether any of the grass and plant life lining the road is edible.

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As it turns out, it is. While this might not seem so interesting, check out the physical way the guys draw attention to things (I especially liked Aiba-kun peering around Suzuki-san to get a look at the edible plant in question).

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And, of course, Suzuki-san’s exclamation when Aiba-kun tries to feed him some of it:

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They move on. I love how they didn’t go straight to the bamboo shoots and are talking to a number of people who are just busy with their daily work.

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The next person was a tomato farmer with some formidable greenhouses to control the climate for his plants.

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Naturally, he gives them a taste since the season’s right:

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Aiba-kun looks like he wants to do some serious learning, donning his glasses and getting in touch with the greenery.

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The other three are totally puzzled about what he’s up to  . . .

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. . . when they ask, he answers that he was looking for a four-leaf clover!

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The strawberry farmer was up next . . .

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. . . but mainly she points them to the rather obvious bamboo grove where they’re supposed to be going. They seemed to be getting conflicting directions, but they managed to find Masahiko-san (the owner of the grove) all right:

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Unfortunately, he immediately confirms what the onion farmer had said – it’s a crop failure year and he shipped his stock to meet the urgent demand. So, they have no luck with him, and have to turn to the other bamboo farmer in the area who hasn’t made his shipments yet – Tachikawa-san.  It was interesting that they made it seem like it wasn’t all planned ahead of time, to the point where there really seemed to be a possibility of failure.

Tachikawa-san, of course, was ready to let them do some digging, since even though his crop was meager this year, it’s still in the ground and needs to be brought up anyway (not to mention they’re probably going to pay him a lot more for what they pull out than he could ever dream of getting at market).

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So, they change from shoes to boots and into the woods they go. There’s no doubt that Aiba-kun is 100% eager to get to work.

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They’ll do it in the form of a game, with two teams of two. The winning team gets to eat while the losing team fashions fully grown bamboo into eating ware.

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Aiba-kun has to decide who his team member will be . . .

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. . . and they each make proposals:

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I’ll leave out the details of what happens and who wins the competition, but I can’t resist including some screencaps of Aiba-kun avidly digging for the bamboo shoots.

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After the competition ends, there’s a little VTR that extols the virtues of bamboo which includes a little graphic of apparently Edison using it as filament in his light bulb – I’m not sure whether that was the case or not.

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They’re on totally solid ground when it comes to bamboo eating ware, though. Looks like a delightful way to eat:

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There’s no two ways about it – this was a superb episode. It was well-paced and the four main characters were wonderfully energetic and engaging. They goofed around in a way that seemed totally natural, and I don’t think I covered even half of the cute moments (for instance, there was a point where Aiba-kun said to the camera as he worked hard to dig the bamboo shoot out “jii-chan miteru?” (uncle, are you watching?).

Bamboo is also an intrinsically great topic, so that helped.

I enjoyed the free flow to things and how they minimized the sense that the show is structured. It’s the complete opposite from the VTR shows and in-studio shows which are completely structured and give the participants minimal freedom. That’s not to say there isn’t a script or VTRs here, but they’re limiting the obtrusiveness of the script. The producers clearly have faith that Aiba-kun and his pals are real professional entertainers instead of random panelists who have to be confined to a box at the corner of the screen for most of the episode.