Going into Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部)’s first August episode, there are a few questions on my mind – one for each of the debuted groups that are part of the show. Will Hey! Say! Jump return to their previous duties as the primary hosts of the show? Will Sexy Zone verifiably have five members this time or will it be vague as in the July episodes? And since A.B.C-Z has a new variety show where they also have live performances, will they have less of a role in these episodes, or will they still be dominant as in the July episodes?

As usual, I’m also wondering what we’ll see from the juniors, but that’s the big question mark and drama of every Shounen Club.

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To my surprise, I got one answer delivered in convincing fashion right away – the show opened with just the five members of SZ on stage. I’ll take it.

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Unfortunately, they were performing “Sexy Summer ni Yuki ga Furu”, the song from them that I like least. On top of that, Shori-kun’s attempt to sing the opening bars was . . . unconvincing. Hopefully we’ll get better from him later.

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SZ gave way to A.B.C-Z singing “Walking on Clouds”, which actually works quite well following “Sexy Summer” – it’s as if the songs were written as a pair.

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Interestingly, SZ didn’t vacate the stage for the A.B.C-Z song. but joined in, and the song turned back to “Sexy Summer” will all ten on stage. I still get the unpleasant feeling like someone in the organization wants these two groups together.

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There was one side benefit to having both groups on – Hashimoto-kun grabbed Shori-kun’s mike to keep him from saying “Merry Christmas” in the middle of “Sexy Summer”. That was a great moment. Don’t worry – he let Shori-kun say it later after another round of alternating “Walking on Clouds” with “Sexy Summer”.

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Well, you know I don’t like “Sexy Summer”, but it’s hard to object to the opening on musical grounds after adjusting for that. The two songs worked great together, and once A.B.C-Z took the stage, the performance was fun to watch.

The hosts for the show were Hey! Say! Jump’s Takaki Yuya-kun and Yabu Kota-kun, but we’ll have to see how much part they really play. The theme of the show was summer.

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Kawai-kun was working hard to steal the scene here.

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The summer medley began with Hashimoto-kun singing KinKi Kids’ “Flower” a cappella, and after the first verse Jesse-kun took over, and then it became a duet with Masuda Ryo-kun and Kyomoto Taiga-kun. Finally, Kikuchi Fuma-kun joined in, with all five singing parts, still without musical accompaniment.

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This was classy stuff folks – a real 11 out of 10 Shounen Club special performance.

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After that, the chibi juniors came out to backdance for Kouchi-kun, Shintaro-kun, Tanaka Juri-kun, and Taiga-kun singing SMAP’s “Bang! Bang! Vacance!”.

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I like this quartet – it isn’t the compelling combination that Bakaleya was, but with just these four there’s more of a sense that it’ll be a fun, energetic group rather than a cool, broody group.

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Noon Boyz joins the four of them to sing Coming Century’s “Natsu no Kakera”, and we’ll see this six-person combo later as well. I’m . . . not so fond of it, because while there’s some balance within the quartet, there’s a clear impression that the Noon Boyz duo are set above the other four even though nothing about their talents justifies this and they bring nothing more to the group (unlike say, Masuda Ryo-kun, who would be a strong vocalist).

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There was no way for them to get this performance wrong, though, especially since they’ve performed this song since they were chibis, and the chibis were present to help out.

The medley continued with the stage clearing for Iwahashi-kun, Miyachika-kun, Jinguji-kun, and Kishi-kun performing NEWS’ “Akaku Moyuru Taiyou”, then a five-member version of the Bad Boys team we saw last month doing TOKIO’s “Ambitious Japan”.

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I like this group, but their vocal leaders, Iwamoto-kun and Kentaro-kun, both have similar high voices – it would be better if one of them had a lower range.

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Well, nothing wrong with that medley – the songs were great and appropriate to the theme. The performances all looked sharp. The mix of units was excellent – I think all the familiar loose groupings got a shot at the stage. So far, this episode has had a really positive opening.

The first talk segment was the Monthly Ki ni Naru 2020, where we learned about even more members of Twenty Twenty. The hosts were A.B.C-Z, who usually host this segment. However, for those counting (and I am), this means A.B.C-Z is either tied or one ahead of the HSJ hosts, depending on how you count the opening talk where all three groups were involved.

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I’m . . . not going to discuss the three new additions to Twenty Twenty (the tall one, Vasayegha Hikaru-kun, was already introduced as part of the group before). They look a bit young for me to be learning their names or critiquing their stage presence just yet – I think it’s safe to give them until around 2016. To be sure, though – these little fellas will be at the perfect age once 2020 rolls around. I’m glad the show is giving them this early experience and hope they continue to get such chances.

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Vasayegha Hikaru-kun was really just chaperoning his younger brother:

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So that was a constructive talk segment because unknown or little-known juniors got some valuable stage time.

Next, SB performed “Don’t Stop Sexy Boyz!”. Here again, I don’t really like the song, but Marius-kun and Sou-kun did a great job performing it. Marius-kun’s dancing in particular seems to have improved a lot – much more confidence in the moves. Of course, this is SB’s marquis song, so we’ll have to see whether that improvement is really across-the-board.

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The five member SZ then performed “Real Sexy”. With Marius-kun and Sou-kun back in the mix, the juniors didn’t have to contribute vocals in the song. Marius-kun looked a bit more tentative here. The dancing was mostly smooth, but this was nothing new from the group.

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Have I mentioned that SZ needs to stop doing their A-sides in favor of all their B-sides and non-single album tracks? That just needs to be repeated every time they do “Sexy Summer” and “Real Sexy” in the same episode of anything (I don’t mind the other two singles quite as much).

Time for the Kansai segment next and . . . it was the same boisterous mess with the same cast of characters as always. As usual, we had A.B.C-Z hosts for this segment (Goskei-kun and Hashimoto-kun), so add that to the tally.

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I’m sure it’s all very funny for those who can understand what’s going on – something about ikemen – but I really didn’t feel like there was anything I could comment on. There was some rapping and . . . I don’t like rapping. It was quite long, too – five and a half minutes.

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As for the Kansai performance, Kin Kan kicked it off with KinKi Kids’ “Kaze no Iro”.

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The singing was strong with this one – there was a clear three-part harmony, which is sort of rare to hear on Shounen Club.

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Score that one a very good performance, so we’ll call the whole Kansai thing even. But . . . wait . . .

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They’re back!

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For the record, the hosts for this segment were Kawai-kun and Takaki-kun, so that’s half a point for A.B.C-Z and half for HSJ. Why couldn’t it have been Yabu-kun and Takaki-kun? Anyway, they spoke with Hirano Sho-kun of Kin Kan, and the two members of B.A.D. Mostly, it was just Kiriyama-kun and Kawai-kun talking – it’s tough to get a word in between the two of them unless they specifically prompt you.

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And that led to another Kansai performance, though this one was on the Shounen Club stage in NHK Hall. Kin Kan started it with “2nd Movement”.

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Then 7WEST minus Shigeoka-kun joined them for “Dial Up”. No problems so far. I’m not a big Shigeoka fan anyway (his vocals don’t suit me).

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B.A.D. added themselves to the mix for “Ko-wa-re-so-u”, which was another good hard-hitting dance tune.

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But with B.A.D., 7WEST, and Kin Kan all on the NHK Hall stage, I guess it was inevitable – we got “Let’s Go West ~ Kansai!! ~” to close out the medley.

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There’s no point arguing against the Kansai juniors singing what I’ve come to think of as the Kansai anthem, so setting that aside, this was a good medley. There was a gap in tone between “Ko-wa-re-so-u” and “Let’s Go West”, but that was the only noticeable downside.

Finally, the two HSJ hosts appeared together again – to lead the Nekketsu Battle.

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There was still A.B.C-Z infiltration, but Hashimoto-kun was a contestant rather than host:

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While the other contestants included usual suspects like Nakajima Kento-kun and Matsumura Hokuto-kun . . .

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. . . we also got two juniors we don’t often see in these games – Hagiya Keigo-kun and Fukusawa Tatsuya-kun. They’re in the middle of the Bad Boys bounce – will they be able to make as much or more of it than the Bakaleya guys did?

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The format was that they had three seconds to name something in a particular category without repeating something already said. The first category was Japanese public holidays. Kento-kun surprised me by delivering his answers in a quiet, tentative voice. I also liked the losing answer in this first round- I think Arashi’s Aiba-kun would have approved.

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I like this game format for the Nekketsu Battle. The negative aspect is that it doesn’t allow for broader participation – it’s really limited to five contestants – but the bright side is that the guys are active and the results are unpredictable..

The A.B.C-Z performance was next (it was introduced by SZ’s Kento-kun and Shori-kun doing what amounted to a mini-skit, so one hash mark for them). Hashimoto-kun, Kawai-kun, and Totsuka-kun began with a very nice a capella of the beginning of “Twinkle Twinkle A.B.C-Z”, disregarding their English enunciation (the pronunciation itself wasn’t too bad except for Hashimoto-kun on ‘diamond’). Can we keep getting a capella on Shounen Club? Definitely need more of it.

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From that, they went in a fully accompanied version of “Za ABC ~5stars~”. I wasn’t sure what was going on with the choreography on this song – it didn’t seem as sharp as I normally expect them to be, especially on their debut single.

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They very briefly did “Zutto Love” . . .

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. . . then went back to “Walking on Clouds”, which we hear the refrain from in the opening, but they reprised in full here. I felt like this was sort of a fail – there’s no excuse for them to repeat a song they’ve already performed in the same episode. The only explanation is that this performance was originally supposed to go into next week’s episode, but the director put it back into this one for some reason.

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Next, Yabu-kun interviewed Shori-kun, Kento-kun, and Fuma-kun.

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But technically it was all about Shori-kun – specifically what’s inside Shori-kun’s mind. And if you believe that even he believes his mind is partitioned like this . . . .

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The guesses from Kento-kun and Fuma-kun were good, though – I think a bigger chunk of his mind is occupied by cars and bikes than he admitted. This would have been painful to watch without their comments – it was too full of B.S., to put it bluntly.

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Still, the kid’s got a good smile.

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Remember how I said we’d see a certain six-person combination again? Well, the next stage was Noon Boyz, Kouchi-kun, Shintaro-kun, Juri-kun, and Taiga-kun with NEWS’ “Chankapana”. I may be wrong, but isn’t this the first time we’ve heard this song on Shounen Club?

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I like the new upbeat feel for the ex-Bakaleya boys, since it breaks away from the KAT-TUN cover group thing they had going for a while. Altogether, this was a nice fun performance, though not a demanding one – especially not vocally.

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My qualm about this six person arrangement is the same as before – the two Noon Boyz members are being set ahead of the rest, and I don’t think that’s justified.

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We’ll see how that goes.

The Jr ni Q segment was up next and . . . now, this is usually a HSJ-hosted segment, and A.B.C-Z took it over last month because HSJ was not present, but here we have Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun:

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So, the hosting tally might go down to who introduces the ending song.

The topic was summer recommendations – hopefully we can get away from this being a food talk segment with this subject. First up was Matsukura Kaito-kun, who talked about being economical and eco-friendly (both eco- and both go hand-in-hand when it comes to conserving power in the summer). Nice to hear such an intelligent recommendation.

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Hayashi-kun suggested scooping superballs at festivals. His record is getting fourty.

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I didn’t understand Masuda Ryo-kun’s answer.

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Kouchi-kun’s actually caught my eye on the board at the start of the segment. It was about bringing something to the toilet, but he left blanks for the item that he would bring to create suspense. At the risk of ruining the surprise on the bet that a lot of people reading this won’t know what he said, his recommendation was to bring an electric fan (senpuuki) to the toilet. He tends to spend around twenty minutes in there (not unusual if one has reading material/an electronic device along.

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Might I say also that the yellow outfit suits him?

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Kentaro-kun’s response was a plain white V-neck tee-shirt. Well, that’s straightforward.

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It was probably the best Junior ni Q we’ve had in a while, largely because the topic allowed for such varied and unpredictable answers.

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And to figure out who really hosted the show . . . it’s a tie:

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With representatives from both HSJ and A.B.C-Z present, that makes the hosting duties even if you count the opening talk for HSJ – otherwise A.B.C-Z technically had more segments hosted. The only group that clearly didn’t have any significant part in hosting the show was the group that needed the experience the most – SZ. Go figure.

But SZ got to do yet another of their singles. They closed the show by performing their debut single “Sexy Zone”.

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I don’t mind the song (except where Shori-kun says “sexy rose”), and I’ll concede that it was justified as a way to properly signal the return of the full five-member SZ. I still think that there were a half dozen other songs (at least) they could have done that I would have been more impressed by.

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It was interesting to see the chibis on stage to close the show – they seem to be getting more time now. Other than their presence, it was an unremarkable ending to the show with a song that we’ve heard many, many times before.

There are a lot of ways to sum this episode up, but I think I’ll start by taking the three debuted groups in turn. Clearly, the two HSJ hosts were totally marginalized and basically superfluous, and as a fan of the group, I’m not really happy with that – especially when the duties are going to a group that is older rather than a younger successor. A.B.C-Z fans may be happy seeing members of the group playing such a big role in the show, but performance-wise the group, while great in the opening, was lackluster in their own stage. It was SZ that got the quality performance time, but they spent it doing songs that they should know well, and didn’t get the experience they needed on the hosting front.

While I took issue with the selection of songs for SZ, it was so good to see all five members together, and so much of the two younger members who had been missing for months, that I enjoyed the performances anyway. And altogether, I think the performances throughout the show were unimpeachable – even though A.B.C-Z weren’t up to their usual standard, they were still watchable, and the a capella made up for a lot.

On the junior side, I was delighted by how many members participated in this show and got stage time. They weren’t just confined to one part of the show, but played an integral part throughout. The Bakaleyas and the Bad Boys all got quality stage time. All the songs were appropriate and performed with good energy. Really, what more could you ask for?

The soft spots in the episode are easy to identify – the Kansai talk segment and possibly the A.B.C-Z performance. The highlights were the summer medley, beginning with the five-way a cappella, the Kin Kan performances, and to a lesser extent the opening and “Chankapana”. I’m sure either one of the Kin Kan performances or “Chankapana” was new to Shounen Club, so that requirement was met.

It’s tough to decide whether this episode deserves a 9 or a 10, but because I can’t say it was riveting from start to finish – that I wouldn’t skip any part – I’m going to have to give it a 9. While nothing went wrong, I think they can do better.

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