Due perhaps to Hey! Say! Jump promoting their new single or other commitments I’m not aware of, this episode of Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) featured the members of Sexy Zone as the main hosts of the show with A.B.C-Z handling their usual segments. It’s not my preferred arrangement, but let’s see how they do.

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I always like it when one of the members start in the midst of the crowd – don’t ask me why.

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The opening song was one I haven’t heard on Shounen Club in a while, but always liked – Tackey & Tsubasa’s “Yume Monogatari”. Jesse-kun and Hokuto-kun were at center stage, but flanked by Masuda Ryo-kun and his cadre of Elder Juniors.

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Finally daring to look at the new season of dramas, it looks like both of the ones I’ll definitely cover – Kamen Teacher and Pin to Kona – have Jesse-kun in them. So . . . this is going to be quite a season for him. It therefore didn’t surprise me too much when Hokuto-kun left the stage during the next song – V6’s “Honey Beat”, so that Jesse-kun was firmly in center stage with Noon Boyz and the Elder Juniors backing him up. Let’s see what he does with the spotlight this season.

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For KAT-TUN’s “Yorokobi no Uta” (one of my favorite KAT-TUN songs), Masuda Ryo-kun and Hanzawa Akatsuki-kun had the front stage, but Hokuto-kun was sort of at the center with Kishi Yuta, Nakamura Reia, Haniuda Amu, Jinguji Yuta, and Iwahashi Genki encircling him. Jinguji-kun was doing his best Kamenashi impression here with the bare shoulder.

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All the juniors joined Sato Shori-kun to sing Kis-My-Ft2’s “Everybody Go” to close out the opening medley.

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With two of my favorite songs involved and no objections to the others, I think I can rate this an excellent start to the show. Now, on to the three hosts – Nakajima Kento-kun, Sato Shori-kun, and Kikuchi Fuma-kun of Sexy Zone. Speaking of dramas, they all have roles this season. Sato-kun’s got a bit part in Yamapi’s Summer Nude, Fuma-kun’s in Kamen Teacher, and Kento-kun is doing something called JMK Kento which is . . . well, right up his alley, really.

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The theme for this episode was “Negai” (願い – desire/wish/request). I have to admit, I was completely distracted by the feathers on Kento-kun’s and Fuma-kun’s collars. Kento-kun’s were especially excessive. There seemed to be a concerted attempt to overdo it with them while Shori-kun got the proper amount of feathering.

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Shori-kun had a little comic poem for us. His counter-reaction after Kento-kun commented on it was great – he suddenly had the energy I wish he showed more of.

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The next performance was really something. It started with Hayashi Ippei-kun doing a fabulous Michael Jackson-style dance complete with a moonwalk and plenty else besides.

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Other members of Twenty Twenty followed up – it looks like Matsukura Kaito-kun is in, and Matsuda Genta-kun did some fine tumbling.

Then Miyachika Kaito-kun, who I think of as the leader of Twenty Twenty, kicked the song off – it was Sakamoto Masayuki-san’s “Shelter”.

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I think I’m just going to call Miyachika-Matsukura-Matsuda 3-M – after this performance, they deserve a special designation. This was some phenomenally sharp dancing from them.

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Next, we got the return of Marius-kun and Sou-kun, who have been absent from Shounen Club for a couple of months. The question is: are they returning to Sexy Zone or Sexy Boyz? The fact that they didn’t take any part in the hosting isn’t a big deal. Nor was the fact that they were interviewed by Kawai-kun of A.B.C-Z, though I found it interesting – seemed like the three SZ hosts could have done it.

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The topic was their desires, and Marius-kun went with the sure-fire way to get my absolute approval. You may recall from a review last year that I put Iwahashi-kun on my favorites list after he said he had wanted to be astronaut. Well, here Marius-kun is, saying that he wants to look upon the Earth from space. He translated that into English as “I want to see the whole world” on the other side of that card, so I think it’s fair to say his Japanese is better than his English (no surprise there). Still – that’s really all it takes to win me over.

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Kawai-kun seemed to have some fun with this and Marius-kun did a good job of engaging with him so, as usual, Marius-kun got a lot of camera time.

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Matsushima-kun wants to go to Florida with his family. Immediately, my question was “why not California?”, but f he wanted to visit a Harry Potter theme park in Florida, so that was an entirely acceptable reason. I’m a Harry Potter fan, especially with regard to how it’s become a part of our worldwide common culture.

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That was a very good talk segment. I usually don’t pay much attention to the chatty bits of this show, but I guess because we haven’t seen these two in a while, I gave it extra attention. They also got Kawai-kun to do a dance impression while introducing the next set, which was a nice touch.

Sexy Zone had its performance next, and it began with the three-member version of SZ singing “Bad Boys”. Since it was written for their voices, I didn’t read anything into this, either.

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But with “Real Sexy!” and the costuming, it’s hard to ignore the impression that Marius-kun and Sou-kun are more a part of Sexy Boyz than SZ. I don’t know . . . at least Marius-kun and Sou-kun are back and they didn’t blend into the background. I guess we’ll have to wait until the next single to really understand what’s going on here.

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As for the performance, it was unavoidably a step down after the 3-M stage. Shori-kun’s cracking voice during his solo “Real Sexy!” line was both a laugh and completely ridiculous.

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There was a smile on Shori-kun’s face at the end that made me think he was inches away from breaking down in laughter.

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Somehow, the Ki ni Naru KJ segment took three hosts – Kawai-kun, Totsuka-kun, and Tsukada-kun. Their job? To introduce Fujii Ryusei-kun.

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And there he is in all his glory:

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I think they had Kawai-kun and Tsukada-kun in it just so that I could get screenshots of the height differential. No, this is not false perspective.

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There was some discussion about how much of a B-blood type personality Fujii-kun is and, as someone who shakes his head in dismay at how much weight the Japanese place on blood type, I shook my head in dismay.

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Unfortunately, I found his profile fairly uninteresting. His hobby is online shopping, for heaven’s sake!

Next was the Kansai Junior performance featuring B.A.D., 7 West, Hamada-kun, and Kin Kan. The song was Higashiyama-san’s “Be COOL”, and it was a thoroughly excellent stage with the sort of dancing I most enjoy seeing on stage.

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If I recall correctly, this was the song I was most impressed with in a Kansai special last year – if not, it was in this style. The best aspect was how many performers got camera time and solo lines. We got to hear a lot of voices clearly during this song – always a plus in my book.

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The Ki ni Naru J segment this time was hosted by the usual two people – in this case, Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun . . .

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. . . but it turned out that the subject was Tsukada-kun anyway, so the trio was back after . . . a little over three minutes.

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Technically, though, it wasn’t Tsukada-kun – it was Darkness. I guess we can call him Tsukada-kun’s alter ego?

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According to his profile, his real name is Tsuka Daakunesu, and he was born on New Year’s Day 2013, showing that no one is too young for Johnny’s. He has a younger brother though no parents, his favorite thing to eat is . . . Hasshi . . . and his specialty is singing.

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Normally, I’d gripe about them wasting a chance to introduce some unknown juniors during this segment, but this was so hilarious and unexpected, I can’t complain.

This is Darkness demonstrating why singing is his special skill:

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This episode had really been great so far – truly spectacular. Then, out of nowhere, they pulled this on me:

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I haven’t made much of a secret of the fact that I hate Uchi Hiroki’s voice. It’s not just his style – his voice is simply weak and unpracticed. There are juniors who can match him on any song he’d care to sing. Heck, Jesse-kun could have done a much better job of this song (it was “Share our heart”).

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I like the song, and it was so painful to hear it so badly butchered that I’m tempted to learn to sing it myself. I can’t possibly do worse than he did.

But there were positive aspects to the performance. It’s always nice to see Ishigaki Daisuke-kun back on Shounen Club, and Goto Hiromi-kun with his violin is flat-out iconic and . . . oh my god . . . is that Hagiya Keigo-kun on the drums!? I didn’t know he could do that! (at least, I don’t remember knowing it – have we seen him at the drums before or not?)

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Ogawa Yuu-kun from Twenty Twenty was on guitar to round out a very interesting backing band.

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Forgive me, but I totally tuned out during the Uchi Hiroki talk. At least the hosts got into better costumes – I had my fill of the feathers in the first few minutes.

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It was Kento-kun at the piano for the next performance, and I have a soft spot for piano performances, especially from young people. He sang KinKi Kids’ “Ai no Katamari”. Goto-kun and Ishigaki-kun remained to assist Kento-kun for the song while Hagiya-kun left the drums to do some dancing with Iwamoto-kun and the other guys from Bad Boys. The dancers entered and exited the stage so that there were only two or three of them at a time until the end of the song. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any good shots of the dancers, but here’s Kento-kun:

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Kento-kun then joined Fuma-kun to  present the Shokura You Bin segment.

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They got a different team than usual to help with acting out the scenario – it was Kawai-kun, Shori-kun, Iwamoto-kun, and Fukusawa-kun. The situation was how to correct a senpai who has just gotten your name wrong, and Kawai-kun played the senpai.

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I loved Shori-kun’s version of this. His idea was brilliantly funny, and his comic timing was a good match for Kawai-kun’s own rhythm.

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Iwamoto-kun had a good one, too, but it didn’t quite force the laughter out of me the same way.

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I didn’t really understand Fukusawa-kun’s version, Kento-kun seemed impressed by it.

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There was a weird bit of humor involving the contact information box for those who want to write into Shokura You Bin. I haven’t seen that before and, just to keep it special, I hope they keep it rare.

A.B.C-Z did their new single “Walking on Clouds” next. The song’s all right – I think I judged it too harshly the first time I heard it, but it’s growing on me.

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The cloud effect got a bit excessive during this performance, though. There must have been a substantial budget for fog.

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With HSJ unavailable, Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun were the hosts for Junior ni Q. I wonder – has A.B.C-Z actually done more hosting during this episode in terms of time than SZ has? I don’t feel like timing it, but I swear Kawai-kun has been on-camera more often than not during this episode.

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For the third time in this episode, Kawai-kun found himself dwarfed: (the second time was with Iwamoto-kun during the Shokura You Bin segment).

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The topic was what the junior like to eat when the temperature gets hot – a solid summer question. Jesse-kun answered with soumen, and that was a very frequent answer on the board.

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Nakamura Reia-kun picked orange juice. The hosts quibbled that it’s a drink rather than a food, but I’m with Reia-kun on this one. Looking at the board, plenty of people put ice, green tea, and other things what weren’t strictly food. Besides that, when someone puts tomato, melon, or watermelon, how much of that is because of the liquid content of those ‘foods’? Case closed.

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Vasayega Hikaru-kun went with Zaru Soba. Kawai-kun totally couldn’t believe it, but I’m not sure why.

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Iwamoto-kun returned, but this time Kawai-kun kept some distance to avoid unflattering perspectives. Iwamoto-kun’s answer was shaved ice, but since there were no objections, I guess it counts as food.

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Back to the music. Kyomoto Taiga-kun kicked thigns off with SMAP’s “Lion Heart”. The volume on his mike seemed to be really low, so his voice didn’t really come through as well as I normally expect to hear it from him. Either that or he had a cold.

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Continuing with the SMAP songs, Noon Boyz performed “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana”. The song is relatively easy to sing – probably a contributing factor to its popularity – but these two managed to do a truly horrible job of it. They put no energy into it.

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The other Elder Juniors joined in to backdance for “Moment” and . . . I think I’d have rather had Masuda Ryo-kun and Hanzawa-kun with the mikes and Noon Boyz backdancing.

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Anyway, breaking with the SMAP medley, the four remaining members of Bakaleya Six (Kouchi, Juri, Shintaro, and Taiga) performed KAT-TUN’s “Fall Down”. Since there was four of them, they inevitably got the notorious (in my mind) black and orange costumes. I always consider these costumes to be bad luck – oddly superstitious of me, but there you are.

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Frankly, their voices are not suited to singing this song – it was far too high-pitched.

Then, the medley went back to SMAP (why did they have a KAT-TUN song in the middle anyway?) with “SHAKE”.

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This was a barely acceptable medley. Considering the good stuff we had early in this episode, it was sort of a let-down.

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The episode concluded with the three member SZ performing “Namae no Nai Omoi”

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Interestingly, the juniors from Sexy Boyz joined Kento-Fuma-Shori on stage as backdancers, but Marius-kun and Sou-kun did not. Since there were some chibis in the very back, it wasn’t an age thing.

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Of course, it wasn’t really the end, because there’s the omake segment with Shori-kun in which he got Fuma-kun to eat something and was cut off regardless of whether the segment was properly concluded.

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At the beginning of the episode, with the excellent opening, the performance from Hayashi-kun and the three Ms, and even the Kansai Junior stage this time, it was looking to be a great show. Then there was Uchi and Noon Boyz – the big downsides to the episode. In general, the arc of the show started strong and ended weak, with some perturbations in between. The talk segments were generally good – especially the return of Marius-kun and Sou-kun, the Tsuka-Darkness humor, and the Shokura You Bin segment.

We didn’t really get any new music, but I think the Hayashi + 3-M contribution was fresh enough to qualify.

It’s tough for me to rate this episode when it started out as a solid 10 and just lost it along the way. Comparing it to the other full-hour Shounen Clubs, I can’t give it more than an 8 out of 10, but that’s on the understanding that there were cannot-be-missed performances mixed in.