I’ve been waiting for this episode ever since I first heard of the premise of Aiba Manabu (相葉マナブ). If Aiba-kun is going to learn, as the title implies, what could be more natural than for him to visit a school?

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His sidekicks for this episode are the two who have worked the most with Arashi this season – Watabe Ken-san and Sawabe Yuu-san. Personally, I would like to see some fresh faces in the new season.

Aiba-kun starts things off with the shorts they used to wear for P.E., and how they were a lot shorter than what the boys wear now. There’s also the fact that elementary school students now have English class, whereas they didn’t have it when Aiba, Watabe, and Sawabe went to school.

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But before they can go in front of elementary school kids . . .

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. . . they have to get some disguises. No one is going to pay much attention to someone in a grey suit, standard part in their hair, and glasses, right?

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Just your average salarymen (actually, they’re supposed to be interns), except that Aiba-kun added some interesting facial hair because his face is too recognizable otherwise. Of course, he’d be found out as soon as they heard his voice, but as a fresh intern he probably won’t do much talking.

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Except for the principal . . .

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. . . nobody is supposed to know what they’re really up to. Now, the cameras are bound to raise the kids’ curiosity, but I don’t know how odd that might be for them.

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The kids seem unimpressed by them (though you can hear some murmurs, which you’ll get when anyone new walks into the room), and unless they’re all great actors, it looks like the disguises are working.

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For their first class, Aiba-kun and his pals sit in on social science, and the teacher seems to be discussing the formation of the Kamamura bakufu – the first shogunate (that is, the first dynasty of shoguns who held practical power in place of the emperor).

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Aiba-kun takes notes. He probably should – I hope they give these three a quiz afterwards.

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There are some surprises. Just like American history as it is taught now has changed from decades ago, there are some definite differences in the teaching of Japanese history compared to the way Aiba, Watabe, and Sawabe studied it. There’s the difference between the date for the bakufu founding – it used to be dated to 1192, but is now considered to be 1185. I was taught both dates in college just like the teacher did here, but by the time I took that class in Japanese history, Aiba-kun and the rest would have already been out of grade school.

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The guys also remark on the use of the flat-screen TV during instruction. Frankly, though, I’m not impressed with this teacher’s instruction method, which is entirely teacher-centered . . .

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. . . and also seems to jump around. She seems more interested in introducing things that are different from the way Aiba-kun learned it than in teaching history.

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Aiba-kun actually exclaims at this point, and has the rest of the class look back at him in a truly amusing moment.

Afterward, the three of them compared notes, especially on the points which differed from what they learned.

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Aiba-kun also had to remark about how well-behaved the class was. Indeed, this was an exceedingly attentive class – the principal did not choose the worst class in the school to show off to the cameras.

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What would Aiba Manabu be without a specialist? Enter the education specialist:

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In response to the confusion about what is correct and incorrect, he explains that the most recent research consensus is taken to be correct, which is how it is in every field – not just history.

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There seems to be particular confusion about who is represented in famous portraits. The one the specialist is holding is supposed to be of Takeda Shingen . . . but is it?

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Thank goodness we don’t have that problem in Western history – the statue of Augustus Caesar really was supposed to be him (though it was undoubtedly flattering), Leonardo da Vinci’s self-portrait really was him, and the guy with the really tall hat is genuinely Abraham Lincoln. Oh, and Ramesses II made sure we would know what he wanted us to think he looked like even 3000 years after his death by filling Egypt with huge statues of himself (see Ozymandias).

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They check out a classroom without the students present. I especially liked how they but broken tennis balls at the bottom of the legs of the chairs and tables so that they could be moved easily without making that horrendous scratching sound (which is especially bad if you’re in a school with multiple floors and the people upstairs are apparently rearranging everything).

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I think Aiba-kun asked if the teacher threw chalk, to which the principal says no. I think it’s more important to note that they haven’t moved on from chalkboards to whiteboards. Whiteboards are not only easier to clean, but they are also high-contrast and therefore easier for students to read. That might not be as critical in elementary school, but by the time they start doing higher-level algebra on the board, I think it’s a real difference.

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But there’s one thing that Japanese schools often have that I wish more American schools had – animal pens.

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Unfortunately, this school doesn’t have one! Is that something that’s changed from when Aiba-kun went to school? If so, that’s sort of a shame.

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It seems like the reason has to do with bird flu. But what about the rabbits?

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I really don’t understand the explanation that follows – somewhere in here, there’s probably a history of how they got animal pens in schools, but what do fighter pilots have to do with it? Don’t tell me . . . the fighter pilots were wearing rabbit skins!?

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Aiba-kun had a scene on stilts, but they didn’t give it proper time – they only showed it for a couple of seconds before moving on to . . .

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. . . food.

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I know school food in Japan has to be better than what kids get here in the U.S., but . . . isn’t this a bit much for an elementary school student? That would be filling for me!

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Getting good food into schools took legislative effort in Japan. I will refrain from making the obvious comments about the state of politics in the U.S.

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Moving right along . . .

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. . . Watabe-san had a good moment with a class full of kids . . .

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. . . and we found out what sort of future the kids dream about.

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There’s a difference between the boys and the girls, but also a difference between 1990 students of each gender and the kids in 2011.

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The boys were once dominated by wanna-be baseball players, but now soccer is all the rage (I prefer soccer myself, but Aiba-kun is on the opposite side of that one). While policeman and toy store owner scored highly in 1990, doctor and eatery/restaurant owner do well now. Along with restaurant owner, I think the fact that cook is at #8 also shows that all the gourmet shows on TV are having an effect on the kids. Japan’s relatively good results in swimming also lead to swimmer getting to #6.

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And what about the girls?

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Being a teacher holds steady at #3, but restaurant owner now tops the list, pushing nursery school teacher down to #2. Singer/talent went from #8 to #4 but pianist went from #6 to #10. Otherwise, there’s just a margin-of-error shuffle, though it’s worth noting that designer now makes an appearance in the ranking while manga artist dropped out. I think there have been too many features about how difficult it is to be a manga artist. With the success Japanese Women’s soccer has had, it’s a shame that soccer player didn’t rank at all.

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It’s time for the three guests to reveal their true natures. You’ll have to watch to find out the reactions from the kids.

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The school assembled in their gym, and Aiba-kun addressed the lot of them (and yes, they all called him ‘Aiba’). There was at least one pair of girls who had Aiba-fan reactions.

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Now, as far as what we learned in the episode, this wasn’t a particularly brilliant episode. Except for the end, Aiba-kun, Sawabe-san, and Watabe-san didn’t engage in any great activities – the editors cut out Aiba-kun on the stilts, and I would have liked to see the other two trying those out, too.

However, even though the normal ways I rate Aiba Manabu episodes don’t give a good result to this one, there’s the overriding factor that schools feature a high concentration of energy, and Aiba-kun is simply made for the environment. The part where he exclaimed and the rest of the class looked back at him was a great example of this.

Also, as I already said, the show had to do this episode, and it was a natural way to end the first season. I have to give them bonus points for meeting my expectations.

In short, this was not an episode Aiba-kun fans will want to miss. On the other hand, I’m not sold on the idea that it gave an accurate picture of what school in Japan is like. There’s bound to be variation from school to school, and I doubt any principal in his or her right mind would want to broadcast the problems that keep them up at night.