Before watching, I wondered whether A.B.C-Z’s new variety show, ABChan Zoo, would be a place where they could show off their performance skills along with their natural ability to engage an audience in variety-type antics. Well, they settled that question right away:

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The sound quality was excellent, by the way – worth listening with headphones. The brightness of the set and placement of the audience reminded me of Yan Yan Jump, as did the whole idea of starting a variety show by performing a song, though I suppose this has been a pattern with Johnny’s shows for some time.

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Surprisingly, the only song they did was SMAP’s “Shake”. I wonder why they didn’t do one of their own songs, but at least it was a high-energy opening (with plenty of interesting screencaps).

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They transitioned smoothly into the introduction, then went straight into the main feature, which had the feel of a Sekai no Hatemade Itte Q mission.

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For instance, like they often do in Itte Q, the guys met in a room and there were cards that had potential missions on them (in this case, two mission – one for three members and the other for two).

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They each picked one, and Kawai-kun read his first – to get and eat the famous product of Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture.

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Goseki-kun and Hashimoto-kun had the same one, but Tsukada-kun and Totsuka-kun had a card that bid them to get and eat the famous product of Inakadate in Aomori prefecture. Since Aomori is the northern most prefecture of Honshu and Kagoshima is at the southern end of Kyushu, the two A.B.C-Z teams would basically be going to opposite ends of the country (short of Hokkaido or the Okinawa islands).

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But these mission seem to be just about eating stuff, and if you’ve read my variety show reviews, you probably know that I get bored watching people eat fairly quickly. Will this just be another gourmet show with some extra travel thrown in?

Much as I hate overalls as well, at least those outfits suggest that the guys are in for a bit more than just a meal. That’s the part where they have to get the meal before eating it.

We pick up the story with the Kagoshima team nearly getting blown away by the wind.

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Kawai-kun fishes out the map to where they need to go . . .

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. . . but after we get a primer on Yakushima . . .

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. . . we see them wandering around town for twenty minutes. During that time, they encounter precisely no one – it’s like a ghost town. Do people hide when they see cameras coming down the road?

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Goseki-kun looks seriously worried in this shot:

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Finally, they see an elderly couple, say that they’ve come in from Tokyo and . . . that they’re SMAP! Well, that got a laugh out of me – especially because the elderly couple barely showed any reaction. They quickly corrected that and re-introduced themselves as A.B.C-Z, then Kawai-kun approached the woman with the map, saying that they were looking for Kawatou-san

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She didn’t recognize the name, but then realized that it must be Kawahigashi-san. They were reading the character 東 wrong – something I can relate to, since I’m never sure which reading is appropriate when it comes to names.

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Kawai-kun sure took the opportunity for some humor with this first encounter – looks like he’s ready to make things interesting.

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Armed with fresh guidance . . .

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. . . they find Kawahigashi-san and actually address him with the proper name (though they say it so quickly I can’t tell whether they’re saying Kawahigashi or Kawasaki).

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The interior of the place has a simple beautiful carried through a very focused color scheme. Kawahigashi-san’s wife immediately asks Kawai-kun’s age before asking them all to sit down.

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Here they learn that the food that Yakushima is famous for is flying fish (トビウオ – tobiuo).

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Unfortunately, it’s too late to go fishing that day.

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In an amusing tone, Kawahigashi-san’s wife (her name is probably read Sachiko, but I’m not sure) tells them that they have to get up early in the morning to go fishing – they have to head out at 4!

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So . . . we shift to Totsuka-kun and Tsukada-kun at the northern end of the country in Aomori, and they seem to chatter incessantly . . .

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. . . and not only do they find intelligent life without any trouble, but the first person we see them talk to is the man they were looking for – Kasai-san.

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And from him we find out that the special product of Aomori is garlic (ニンニク – ninniku).

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Unlike their brethren down south, these two get to work straight away – you don’t have to get up a particular time in the morning in order to find garlic.

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It’s always nice to see Johnny’s idols getting back to their roots. Good thing they got the work experience they did in Australia in the Johnny’s Journey series – that definitely got them ready for the sorts of things they had to do here.

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And it doesn’t stop there – they had to help get the garlic ready for shipment – trimming off the unappealing and unnecessary parts. This must have smelled . . . well, at least they didn’t have to worry about vampires.

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But that’s just the start of the garlic’s journey to the shelves. Fresh garlic apparently has to be dried out a bit, so it’s stored for a month at 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit).

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The boys help to stack the garlic in the hot room:

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And there you have it – the first ever episode of ABChan Zoo. I’m not too sure where the “zoo” part comes in – from the name, I thought they’d be working with animals in a variant of Tensai Shimura Doubutsuen, but that’s clearly not the case. It would probably be more accurate to call it ABChan Farm since they’re gathering food, but I guess, Johnny’s being what it is, they couldn’t just let that Z in the group’s name go. Somebody in charge is likely proud of the idea of changing the group’s name from A.B.C. to A.B.C-Z and isn’t going to let that great innovation in branding go.

The show itself was all right. It certainly benefited from the positive, energetic attitude the five members bring – without that, it would have been less distinguishable from other shows on Japanese TV. I’m not sure the premise is enough of a departure from what audiences can already see elsewhere, but the personalities of the five hosts may be successful in winning over existing viewers of the other shows. But will those viewers be drawn in by the live stage at the beginning of the show?

I’ll give this series until we get the second set of missions before deciding whether to continue reviewing the series, but right now I just see a lot of farm work and fishing in their future, and that’s not enough to keep me interested for long.