Just a heads-up: this is not the final Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) of the year. There will be a Christmas special on December 18th, so look forward to that!

This episode began with a “2013 medley” introduced by Noon Boyz, who I continue to think are being groomed as the future hosts of the show.

The first song in the medley was “Real Sexy!” performed by Sexy Zone. I guess the medley is going to involve singles released in 2013.

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A.B.C-Z continued the medley with “Walking On Clouds”.

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Nakayama Yuma-kun sang “Darkness”.

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And then . . . Yabu Kota-kun and Nakajima Yuto-kun from Hey! Say! Jump performed “Come On A My House”. Now, the fact that they didn’t have the whole group on to perform this and to promote their Christmas release “Ride With Me” is quite a signal. Yes, they still have the Christmas special, and I sure hope they get to do it there, but I remember seeing Yamada-kun on SC with “Mystery Virgin” last year more than a month before that release, and how many times have SZ done “Bye Bye Dubai” lately? Clearly HSJ is being treated as a graduated group that will only stop by to perform their new single once or twice – the way Kis-My-Ft2 now does.

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So yeah, my impression of the opening was somewhat marred by my HSJ-related disappointment that we weren’t getting the whole group until possibly next week. To be sure, they’re doing plenty of promotion elsewhere, but . . . .

Anyway, enough of that. The best part of the opening was the chibis dancing behind Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun during “Come On A My House” – the song is more of a junior song in the first place, and well=suited to the kids.

The intro talk had the HSJ pair as well as Noon Boyz, and the theme was 2013. Well, technically the theme was 2013, but it sure sounded like they were talking about 2020 considering how many times the Olympics was mentioned. Is Johnny’s seriously going to give us seven solid years of Olympic talk? I love the Olympics and I’m totally excited that they’re going to be in Tokyo, but I think this could get a bit tedious around 2016.

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After that, Sexy Zone took the stage again for . . . “Bye Bye Dubai ~See it again~” . . . ahem, sorry, I meant “Bye Bye Dubai ~See you again~”.

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For those keeping track (possibly just me), this is the sixth episode in a row that this song has been presented in one form or another. I still like the song and the staging, but it’s seriously cutting into other things we might be seeing.

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Does the director go “no, that wasn’t good enough – you’re going to have to do it again in the next episode” every time, or is it the costume department going “we’ve got some new clothes for them to sell . . . I mean, wear”?

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They make it up to me by talking to Marius Yo-kun and Matsushima Sou-kun after the performance. And what a wonderfully talkative pair!

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It’s been a really long time since I’ve heard Matsushima-kun talk, and he sure seemed like he was making up for lost time. I don’t even understand Japanese, but I do recognize an articulate cadence when I hear one. I’m pretty sure Sou-kun can get his thoughts out in Japanese faster than I can get mine out in English (verbally – I probably still have him beat in writing, but that’s down to practice).

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Bonus points to Marius-kun for the effort when saying the title of the next song – “Shining Star”. Sounds like he’s trying to refine his English, at least when it comes to reading the song titles.

Now “Shining Star” turned out to be something completely interesting and new. With Miyachika Kaito-kun dancing upstage, A.B.C-Z’s Totsuka-kun and chibi junior leader (at least in my book) Inoue Mizuki-kun sang the song.

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I think we’ve heard Inoue-kun sing before, but we sure haven’t heard nearly this much – he had the entire opening verse and it was solid all the way.

As Totsuka-kun sang a verse where the lyrics slightly overran the music, Goseki-kun was dancing upstage. How unique is this performance? I’ve seen years and years of SC, but have never seen anything like it.

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It was amazing how well the two voices worked together, but even more amazing to me that Inoue-kun sings this well and we haven’t heard more from him. Consider that at the same age, Yabu-kun couldn’t sing nearly as well, but was in the lead on plenty of songs.

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That was great – easily one of the top five performances of the year in my book (and to be fair, part of that is the sheer novelty/surprise value). Kudos to Totsuka-kun for smooth vocals, too.

Time for the Kansai segment next, and the juniors were in for a serious fight – they had to make Goseki-kun’s heart throb (mune kyun). The competitors were Nagase Ren-kun, Hirano Sho-kun, and Shigeoka Daiki-kun – presumably the mune kyun leaders from their respective groups.

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I guess this was hardest for the youngest of the three – Nagase-kun – but except for a lack of eye contact he seemed to do all right.

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Hirano-kun was actually the most visibly nervous competitor – unable to keep himself from laughing.

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Shigeoka-kun is totally the old pro here, but will his experience be enough to win Goseko’s heart?

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The performance featured 7WEST with “Kimi no Wana dake Maboroshi demo Kamawanai” – a song I last saw from them a year ago.

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It was a smooth stage with a slick song, but nothing too remarkable. I rarely comment on the lighting and staging on SC, but in this case I felt it was extremely lacking.

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Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun next interviewed Sato Shori-kun and Kikuchi Fuma-kun. Not quite as much novel as seeing the younger members of SZ, but I still got a kick out of it.

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What exactly was going on between Yuto-kun and Shori-kun while Fuma-kun was talking? I didn’t get a good screencap of it, but they were both a bit hyper.

Anyway, they had a more focused 2013 talk – encapsulating the year in a single kanji. Fuma-kun picked umi – the sea. There was something about wetsuits and an R&B version, and it led to some strange singing, but don’t ask me what it was all about.

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Shori-kun’s kanji was hen – change/unusual/strange. I think he was most focused on it meaning ‘change’, but I always found it interesting that the Japanese use the same kanji for ‘strange’.

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After that, Hagiya Keigo-kun and Yasui Kentaro-kun stepped onto the stage for Kis-My-Ft2’s “Take Over”.

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Another surprise! And wow did they do a great job of the song (considering I don’t think I’ve ever heard a duet from them before). It’s not a vocally challenging song, but it takes a bit of attitude to pull it off, and they managed that.

The transition to the next song was a tough one to swallow – it was a complete change of pace that didn’t mesh at all. Matsumura Hokuto-kun sang Yamashita Tomohisa-kun’s “Himawari”.

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I know Hokuto-kun is a Yamapi fan, so I think this was a fairly significant solo stage for him. It wasn’t his best vocal effort, but certainly acceptable and pleasant to listen to.

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Jesse-kun naturally had to follow, but he had Kyomoto Taiga-kun joining him for KAT-TUN’s “Le ciel ~Kimi no Shiawase Inoru Kotoba”, which they performed as a pair on Shounen Club last year. But it wasn’t just the two of them – Masuda Ryo-kun also took a part. So that’s a little different.

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And Masuda-kun made a huge difference. This is a great vocal trio. Too bad Johnny’s doesn’t really do vocal trios, because I’d love to see these guys début next week. Or, perhaps them and Hokuto-kun, since he seems to be doing fine on his singing as well.

Nakajima Kento-kun and Kikuchi Fuma-kun handled the Shokura You Bin fanmail segment next. As usual, the fan questions asked what to do in certain difficult situations.

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. . . and the guys brought out some helpers starting with Kawai-kun, who has been hearing “Bye Bye Dubai” so often he spontaneously started singing an spectacular(-ly funny) rendition on seeing the SZ members.

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Kawai-kun in turn called out special Kansai helpers Shigeoka-kun and Nakayama Yuma-kun.

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I’m sure Shigeoka-kun will be funny (he handled a question about how to deal with being late for an appointment, I think) . . .

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. . . , but I really want to see what Yuma-kun does when he has to show how to correct a superior’s mistake. Have we seen him do funny skits like this much?

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By the way, since I took a shot at his outfit in the last episode, I should probably say that I very much liked this look for Yuma-kun. A huge improvement.

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Looks like we got some good laughs out of this.

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We’ve been getting a lot of interesting match-ups in this episode, and here’s another one for you – Kento-kun, Shigeoka-kun, and Hashimoto-kun singing “Bad Boys”.

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I guess it’s sort of expected since they were in the Bad Boys movie together, but it’s still an interesting collaboration that we may never see again on SC.

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And since the normal performers of this song are Kento-kun, Fuma-kun and Shori-kun, this was in no way less impressive than the original version. Hashimoto-kun isn’t quite a match for Fuma-kun vocally, but he’s got stage presence to make up for that.

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So it was a good rendition – even a great rendition thanks to the Bad Boys junior group backdancing. Well, except for one thing – the damned smoke! There’s smart use of smoke effects, and then there’s what we get on Shounen Club. There was too much smoke for most of the song, but then too little around the periphery near the end.

Junior ni Q featured the same open-ended question as last time – “2013’s me . . . .” The first respondent was Jesse-kun, who decided on “butai (theater) appreciation” as his topic. Kawai-kun couldn’t help but note that Jesse-kun is the busiest junior around right now. I hope they’re feeding him properly.

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Yasui Kentaro-kun talked about getting birthday congratulations from Kis-My-Ft2. He’s 22! Somebody, please put him into a group!

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Kyomoto Taiga-kun seems to be thinking along the same lines as Jesse-kun, because he answered with period/historical dramas (jidaigeki) – especially Takizawa-san’s work.

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Fukusawa Tatsuya-kun took aim at Kawai-kun, talking about going on a trip with him.

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Didn’t get enough of Hashimoto Ryosuke-kun from “Bad Boys”? I don’t blame you, and neither did the person who put together this episode’s slate of performances, because he performed Shounentai’s “Oh!!” next.

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I don’t think I’ve heard “Oh!!” before, but it’s pretty easy to tell how it must sound when Shounentai does it, and I think Hashimoto-kun’s effort compares well. Very good singing from him here – much better than he got a chance to do in “Bad Boys”.

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His backdancers were Iwamoto Hikaru-kun and Fukusawa Tatsuya-kun, and they did very athletic work in the background, complete with some great synchronized backflips.

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A.B.C-Z got to close out the show with “Never My Love”. I think Hashimoto-kun’s voice was a bit strained by this point, and Totsuka-kun’s didn’t sound fresh, either.

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It was a good song to end on, but in terms of audio, this is not the best I’ve heard A.B.C-Z manage on it.

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There was an omake segment, and a brief part of it was recorded on-location . . . in Dubai!

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Which reminds me – shouldn’t there be a lot more video from SZ’s trip to Dubai? I don’t think it was included in the “Bye Bye Dubai” release, was it? Do you suppose we’ll get something like that SZ in Okinawa thing, or are we going to be left in complete mystery about what they were up to?

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Okay, so there were some definite surprises in this episode sandwiched between stuff that was 100% expected (the opening medley and “Never My Love” at the end). This was generally an episode that featured the older juniors as well as SZ and A.B.C-Z, with the notable exception of Inoue-kun. So, we were missing most of the junior corps, including Shintaro-kun, Kouchi-kun, and Tanaka Juri-kun, who only got a brief moment in the spotlight in the previous episode.

The huge highlight was, of course, the Totsuka-Inoue piece. Beyond that, Hashimoto-kun’s solo, the Yasui-Keigo-Hokuto-Jesse-Taiga-Ryo medley, and “Bad Boys” were all top-notch stuff. And even after so many times, I still wouldn’t miss “Bye Bye Dubai”, even though I can’t help but think they’re pushing it by having it on week after week.

The talk segments were all pretty good – I definitely paid more attention to them than I normally do.

The weakest parts of the episode were the opening, “Never My Love”, and the 7WEST stage, but none of them were really horrible or anything – just not quite as enjoyable as the rest of the show.

And yes, I’m still disappointed that we didn’t get more of a HSJ presence as we approach the release of the new single, but I’m not quite upset yet. I’ll get upset if there’s no “Ride With Me” in the Christmas special, though. That would definitely be an indication of something in my book. The song is the theme for the new Kindaichi special, so I can simply compare it to the promotion that the theme of the last Kindaichi special – “Mystery Virgin” – received.

But I can’t hold my HSJ expectations against this episode of Shounen Club and I think it deserves a 9 out of 10.