The start of the drama season has delayed my variety show reviews a bit, but even without that, the start of this episode of Arashi ni Shiyagare (嵐にしやがれ) would have given me pause and made me reluctant to continue watching:

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WHY!!?? Why is it that the one thing they decided to bring back from the old format of Arashi ni Shiyagare was the Tokyo Ii Mise Kudoi Mise segment, which was the original red flag indicating that the show was headed downhill?

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If the rest of the episode turns out to be boring, that’s one thing. Just don’t start it like this.

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Okay, I’ll admit that they made one really tiny improvement – the little image of the Arashi members in the upper right corner watching this clip. At least that somehow connects it to the rest of the show.

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Well, here’s the food:

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And here’s the kudoi:

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That restaurant ad took nine minutes, after which . . . we went into the backroom segment. In other words, we still don’t get to formally start the show.

The guest for the episode was actress and singer Matsushita Nao-san, but before we get to her, the Arashi guys had to talk about . . .  something.

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The topic seemed to eventually turn to stuff they do in vehicles . . .

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. . . and when Matsushita-san walked in, they asked her what she does. She answered listen to music, and more specifically said she was into One Direction.

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She also talked about watching foreign dramas. On the bright side, she seems chatty and engaging.

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Eleven minutes into the show, they finally walked onto their brand new set and introduced the show and the guest properly.

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To my surprise, Ohno-san was the one who first gave his thoughts about Matsushita-san. I don’t know what the connection between them is, though.

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Then came the “Don Matsumoto Fashion Check”, in which Matsumoto-kun gave his appraisal of what Matsushita-san was wearing. He gave it three Js, but I don’t know what the scale is (or whether he now dares to give anyone more than that or less than that). Is he going to do this with male guests, too?

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Ninomiya-kun took charge as the rest of them sat down. His job was to introduce Matsushita-san. I’m glad it looks like they decided to dump the part where they all give their impressions of the guest and the guest has to say who came closest – that was just awkward.

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I’m not too interested in Matsushita-san’s origins and background (beginning to learn piano at age 3 . . . ), so you’ll have to forgive me as a I gloss over this part.

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I will say that Ninomiya-kun does a good job of presenting this stuff – wish it didn’t take so long, though.

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I think that most people probably know her as an actress, yet they hardly mention her acting at all, and instead focus on her piano playing. Seems like this is going to be another episode where the best parts involve musical performances, much like the previous episode. At least, they’re setting it up like that.

There was a good VTR of Matsushita-san in her college years at the Tokyo College of Music:

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After Ninomiya-kun covered the rest of the board, including some Kouhaku talk about when she hosted the year-end show alongside Arashi (their first time doing it on Dec. 31, 2010) . . .

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. . . they tested her piano skills. They played a common sound – the first example was the Windows shutdown sound (I think) – and she had to play it on the piano after hearing it just once. This was truly amazing, and the first part of the show that was entertaining and worth watching.

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After that, they had a legitimate activity. (Yay! Finally!)

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That activity was . . . picking a sofa – a quiz presented by Aiba-kun (well, this is a huge step up from the previous Aiba Quiz).2013.10.19 Arashi ni Shiyagare 062

There were two teams – Sakurai-san and Ohno-kun on the Arashi team and Matsushita-san, Matsumoto-kun, and Ninomiya-kun on the Matsushita team. I really think they should have come up with better team names, given there were as many Arashis on the Matsushita team as on the Arashi team.

They had to order the sofas by price:

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While it was fun to watch them test the sofas for the last twelve minutes or so of the show, I also felt a bit like I was watching a sofa infomercial.

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Still, the images we got out of this were worthwhile:

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Ohno-san and Sakurai-san celebrating after they turned this one into a bed was priceless.

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And I was genuinely interested to hear what they thought about the prices of the sofas.

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The Matsushita team had a different set of sofas than the Arashi team, by the way.

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So the verdict for this episode is very simple, and may sound familiar – skip the first half of the episode, and start watching around 23 minutes in. Unless you really want to know about Matsushita-san’s history, you won’t miss anything.

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If Aiba-kun keeps giving us stuff like this, the Aiba Quiz is going to become my favorite segment on this show – not unlike the way A no Arashi used to be back in the day (except he clearly doesn’t have the freedom he had back then). Of course, it’s not as if there are any other compelling segments competing with it.

Any time they actually get the guests to show off their talents seems to be solid entertainment, too, so they should definitely keep that up.

There are signs that steps are being taken to improve the show, but I also think that the people who brought us this new format have totally the wrong idea about what might make the show better (like bringing back the Mise segment). On the other hand, the Arashi guys themselves are clearly making strides in fixing the format’s rough edges – this episode was much smoother than the previous ones – and I think there’s some hope there.