So here we hare: the Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) Christmas Special! I got a ton of screencaps out of this one – more than I could put in this review without slowing the page loading to a crawl (apologies ahead of time if it still took too long to load) – so you know it had to be good with plenty of stuff to see.

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Well, okay, there were scenes like this which irritated me – especially in the opening Christmas medley:

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After Nakajima Yuto-kun and Yabu Kota-kun introduced what we would get to see on the show, they kicked things off with Sato Shori-kun and the Fab Four (Iwahashi Genki, Jinguji Yuta, Miyachika Kaito, and Kishi Yuta) singing the Japanese version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.

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The dancing here was pretty basic, but hey, it’s a Christmas medley. The next song was a brief part of “Awatenpo no Santa Claus” with Shori-kun still in the lead.

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Then Kikuchi Fuma-kun, Matsumura Hokuto-kun, and Tanaka Juri-kun took the stage for “Jingle Bells”.

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Nakajima Kento-kun, Yasui Kentaro-kun, and Jesse-kun did a brief bit of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”. Then the five members of Sexy Zone sand (what else?) “Sexy Summer ni Yuki ga Furu”. You know, ’cause that’s totally up there with all the other Christmas classics.

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Oh, well. At least this is the one time of year it’s legal to use those Santa outfits, so they might as well put them to use

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Incidentally, there were all sorts of annoying camera problems above and beyond the usual. For some reason, one of the cameras had a filter on that dulled the color – some sort of grey filter. There was no good reason for it, even vaguely, so I wonder of they had just forgotten to take it off. I don’t think that problem recurred for the rest of the show.

The truly special part of this episode isn’t just the proximity to Christmas – it’s that they got the entire current cast of Shounen Club to sit down together in a cozy studio set. So, for most of the episode you’ll see the juniors messing around in the background, and you’ll also get to see a clear picture of who they consider to be part of SC proper.

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Of course, most of the juniors are totally mixed together. Units? What units?

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The hosts make note of the fact that the gingerbread houses in front of them are, in fact, edible. Then they turn to the first of many VTRs . . .

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. . . which is a special message from Yamashita Tomohisa-kun. I totally approve, since back in the day, he was one of the biggest things on SC. I’ll need translation help to understand what he said, but the words are less important than the fact that he saw fit to participate.

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He also had a special Christmas card for them, which introduced something he is very much connected with . . .

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. . . namely, Shounen Club history. His card was used as a segue into three clip montages – one for A.B.C-Z, one for SZ, and one for Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun. In each case, we got to see some classic clips from the members when they were young.

But first, they decided to kick off the A.B.C-Z montage with Kawai-kun’s epic monomane (impression) of SMAP’s Kimura Takuya-san imitating Arashi’s Matsumoto Jun-kun. To be sure, not an easy thing to pull off, which is why it was highlight-reel worthy. Of course, Kawai-kun has had to repeat his MatsuJun monomane many times since.

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But then we turned to the members when they were chibi. And as far as I’m concerned, this is what Shounen Club is all about. SC is a unique chronicle of all these Johnny’s members from the time they entered the agency. Consider, for instance, an 11 year-old Hashimoto Ryosuke-kun:

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How about a 14 year-old Tsukada-kun from all the way back in 2001:

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And I totally remember watching this epic junior battle where Goseki-kun beat KAT-TUN’s Ueda Tatsuya-kun all the way back in 2000. These days the younger juniors don’t even get to participate in the Nekketsu Battle! It’s so unfair! And keep in mind – back in 2000 the episodes were still only half an hour long.

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Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun were already around in 2000, too:

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And this is all great footage because, if you’ve tried to look for classic SC episodes like these, you know that the quality of the recordings is absolutely horrible. The only way we get to see these moments in good quality is if they show clips on SC itself. They should release some of the old episodes to DVD! I’m absolutely sure they’d make a ton of money off of it, and I don’t understand why they don’t.

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For each of the groups, they cut a certain clips short to ask what a member of the group was about to say. For A.B.C-Z, the question was what Hashimoto-kun said was his ambition/goal in the 2007-11-11 episode.

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Does Hashimoto-kun himself remember?

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They moved on to the SZ VTR after that. As you might imagine, this was somewhat less amazing because, after all, it all happened much more recently and most of the member look similar to how they did in the video.

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I totally didn’t remember that Kento-kun and Fuma-kun had one of the tegami segments in the first February 2009 episode. By the way, what every happened to the tegami corner? If you look at these highlight reels they’ve put together, the tegami corner plays a major part, but we haven’t seen one in ages.

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Really, the only way Marius-kun and Sou-kun have changed is in height and skills, and maybe hairdo. There will be a necessary gauging of height, but first the question.

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What did Shori-kun say about his first love? (as if he could have answered the question seriously back then). Does even Shori-kun remember? (whether he did or didn’t, present-day Shori-kun had some really interesting expressions).

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Here they are trying to figure out how Marius-kun grew so tall, and Marius-kun failing to be delicate about Sou-kun’s comparative lack of stature.

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Which leaves us with the Yabu-Yuto VTR. Now this is something. Here’s a 13 year-old Yabu-kun singing lead with Kawai-kun and Goseki-kun backdancing. Now, even though plenty of juniors now have just as much talent as Yabu-kun back them, there just isn’t as much drive to put them forward the way Yabu-kun took the lead so often.

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And then there’s the ever-precocious Yuto-kun. Back when SC had a listed junior producer, Yuto-kun actually got to lead an episode – more than a year before Hey! Say! Jump’s debut. I still think he was the most amusing little brat to ever appear on SC.

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In a different clip, he was asked to do a monomane, and the question is: who did he choose to do a monomane of?

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Yuto-kun came very close with his guess, but in another way he was completely and utterly wrong.

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That was the end of the retrospective VTR portion of the show. Next, Kis-My-Ft2 performed their recent single – “Snow Dome no Yakusoku”.

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Their outfits were seasonal and very snappy, but I still have trouble digesting it when the costumes rigidly enforce the 3-4 division within the group.

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It wasn’t the most spectacular performance I’ve seen from them, but once again – it’s Christmas. We’ll let it slide. One thing I won’t let slide is Tamamori-kun’s hairdo. I didn’t get a good screenshot of it, but it struck me as very . . . Spock. I mean, if he had pointy ears, he might have been cosplaying a Vulcan at a Star Trek convention.

After the performance, Kis-My-Ft2 sat down with A.B.C-Z in a full-fledged Ebikisu conference. No juniors or anyone else here – presumably this was recorded at a totally different time from the main studio scenes.

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This sure feels like a special event, and I’m sure some intrepid translator will give it some quality time.

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For my part, I could only reflect that the two groups should do a show together where they compete with each other. Maybe it could just be a one-off thing like A.B.C-Z appearing as the guest team on Kis-My-Fake and then Kis-My-Ft2 returning the favor on a special episode of ABChanZoo.

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There’s just so much potential for mayhem here. I can almost smell it. A Christmas special shouldn’t be the only place on TV where the two groups come together.

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After a transition provided by some juniors . . .

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. . . let’s see the special message from Nakayama Yuma-kun.

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He provides the transition to the next bit . . .

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. . . which is a VTR of Sexy Zone in Dubai. Apparently SZ fans are going to get a lot more of this on the upcoming SZ album, so that’ll be fun to watch (especially since it includes all the members unlike the New York trip or the Okinawa trip).

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I don’t think this angle really does the height of the Burj Khalifa justice – it’s almost twice the height of the Empire State Building (which was the tallest building in the world for forty years)!

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While Dubai has some spectacular sights, though, those mostly feel artificial and have no history behind them. There might not be any spectacularly tall buildings in London, but there’s history down every street (and a ton of fiction, too – Baker Street being my favorite). And you just have to shake your head in wonder when you realize the Eiffel Tower replaced the Pyramids as the tallest man-made structure.

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I can’t say the white desert robe look does anyone any favors. Even the most charismatic Japanese idols look hideous in them. Watching them fight while in them . . . it almost looked like a Monty Python skit.

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After the VTR they got to talk about it . . .

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. . . and Marius-kun was totally proud of his English skills. He mentioned something about the Arabian accent the people of Dubai had when speaking the language. But yeah – Marius-kun in one of his more charismatic moments here.

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With that – you guessed it – we got to see “Bye Bye Dubai” for the seventh Shounen Club in a row. Aren’t we blessed.

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Vocally, it was not the best version out of the seven, though at least the vocals were very clear. Perhaps some of the flaws were just noticeable due to the clarity .

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You know what? Maybe I should clip out the “Bye Bye Dubai” performances and do a close comparison of them to better refine my ability to assess performances. After all, it’s hard to compare apples to oranges, which is what I’m usually doing when weighing one performance to a totally different one – even if it’s from the same group. I’m not really sick of the song (yet), though I do feel the fact that they keep doing it limits what we get to see on Shounen Club and what the juniors get to do.

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Following that, we got a very special Junior ni Q, where all the juniors tried to shout to get their shot to ask another person a question . . .

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. . . but ultimately I think the choices were probably decided ahead of time. After all, I have no idea how Kawai-kun could have decided who to call on otherwise – certainly not the junior who could shout the loudest, since I think some juniors had the lead in that.

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The first respondent was the guy I at one point considered the master of Junior ni Q – Tanaka Juri-kun. As expected, he was prepared to get the laugh – he asked Shori-kun whether Shori-kun liked him. The reaction from Shori-kun was precious. As usual, Juri-kun delivered his lines with a straight face – he’s not the type to laugh at his own jokes.

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Anderson Casey-kun came prepared to do a magic trick. Good plan – in your rare chance in the spotlight, play to your strengths.

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I think, since this didn’t involved asking a question, some of the other juniors objected (to no avail, of course).

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Jinguji-kun was up next. I’d say that most of the juniors were at a disadvantage because Kawai-kun might not know their names to call on them, but I actually think of all people, Kawai-kun might remember most of their names.

Jinguji-kun asked Kento-kun his question, and I think it was about something Kento-kun had said, but I’m not sure.

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Everyone wants in . . .

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. . . but the next round goes to Jesse-kun, and the disappointment is palpable.

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Surprisingly, Jesse-kun asked his question of Yuto-kun (have they even talked before?) and it was about Yuto-kun’s well-known beetle fascination.

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Well, we’ve had KMF2 do their newest single, SZ do theirs, so it’s only fair for A.B.C-Z to now do “Never My Love”.

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While it was an excellent performance of the song (in terms of audio), this is might have been the least interesting thing in the show involving this group – compared to the clips of them when they were young, the Ebikisu talk, and what’s coming up later.

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There’s one very important person who we haven’t gotten a special message from yet – the original grand master of Shounen Club, Takizawa Hideaki-san.

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And his final words served as a segue into the talk about Johnny’s Densetsu – a play about the original Johnny’s group which stars A.B.C-Z.

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After Kawai-kun gets another shot of imitating Fuma-kun’s part in “Bye Bye Dubai” . . .

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. . . cue the VTR of the play!

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Sounds like this play has some seriously good and classic music in it.

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There’s even a scene about the original Johnny’s meeting Bing Crosby. Now, if you don’t know who Bing Crosby is, the music gods are displeased, so let’s try to correct that. In a very real way, he was Frank Sinatra’s senpai (and the one time they sang together is one of the truly great musical movie scenes ever). Also, he had the best-selling single in the world for decades – “White Christmas.” You can be sure that Johnny Kitagawa-san, somewhat conscious of Guinness World Records in the past few years, definitely has Bing Crosby and “White Christmas” on his mind – even in the summer.

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After the VTR, they talked about Bing Crosby and his distinctive crooning singing voice among other things. Incidentally, Crosby did a lot of variety show Christmas specials in his time, and they’d have looked a lot like this Shounen Club. In fact, his last TV appearance was a Christmas special – a particularly eerie and noteworthy one since it aired weeks after his death.

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Hashimoto-kun tries to croon “Silent Night” in the style of Bing Crosby, but while some aspects of it are good, he’d have to lose an octave (at least) to really be a crooner.

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Yabu-kun joins in after a bit, and then they sing the Christmas lullaby together.

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Next, they turned to a performance of . . . well, of “White Christmas”, of course. Masuda Ryo-kun and Jesse-kun gave it their best, and since they both know English pronunciation, it sounded great.

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What didn’t sound great was the totally incomprehensible transition between that sweet song and KAT-TUN’s “Fall Down”. What the heck! These guys gave me some sort of cognitive whiplash with this!

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Wait a minute . . . is that a rapping trio of Juri-kun, Kouchi-kun, and Masuda-kun? No! Please don’t turn Kouchi-kun into a rapper!

Ahem. Well, after that they did another KAT-TUN song – “Right Now”. You know, there are honestly very few KAT-TUN songs on my work playlist, but there’s one called “White X’mas”. If they had to follow “White Christmas” with a KAT-TUN song in a Christmas special, why couldn’t it have been that one?

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Anyway, it looked like the Bad Boys bunch on “Right Now”, and then Noon Boyz did SMAP’s “Moment”.

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This medley was just . . . stew. They were throwing random stuff in, hoping that it’d all work together somehow. Really very sloppy when the rest of the episode seemed well-thought out and organized. They kept it going by having Jesse-kun and Hokuto-kun do KinKi Kids’ “Shinku no Hana”. . .

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. . . and then finally had all of the medley performers do “Cinderella Christmas”.

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That was rather confusing. Did they think that just having Christmas songs to begin it and end it would be enough to make it a Christmas medley? And didn’t Jesse-kun and Masuda-kun each pop up as part of two different combinations? (I didn’t know that was legal in SC medleys!)

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And after the sign-off from Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun, it was the same bunch of juniors wrapping the show up with “Can You Feel This Christmas”.

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It was a good song to end the show on, at least.

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The debuted groups also joined the juniors on stage for the close.

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There was only one obviously problematic part of the entire show, and that was the medley near the end. Otherwise, it was a perfectly smooth and enjoyable hour.

That’s not to say I didn’t face a monumental disappointment when not only was there no HSJ performance of “Ride With Me” (even if recorded at a different time like the Kis-My-Ft2 performance was), but not even a special message from the other members of the group. It was nice to see Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun getting the retrospective treatment, at least.

I’m not going to rate this the way I do with the other episodes because it’s really a totally different format. We didn’t even get any Kansai juniors in this one (except Yuma-kun’s message). The only real comparison would be to other Christmas specials, and that’s a tough one because the casts are quite different.

Favorite parts? Well, Christmas is a time for young kids, really (or perhaps the kid within all of us), but we really didn’t see the younger juniors being brought forward. In Junior ni Q, it was all the older juniors who also did the medley that I had so much trouble with. Which means . . . the youngest people who were really involved in the episode were Marius-kun and Sou-kun (possibly Jinguji-kun and Shori-kun as well). So, I’m just going to say that the highlights were their parts, which is pretty much the truth anyway. Oh, and I obviously got a kick out of the Johnny’s Densetsu VTR and the whole Bing Crosby thing. And the retrospectives.

So there you have it! What do you think of the episode and Shounen Club 2013 as a whole? Feel free to leave your thoughts below as we look forward to what changes the new year might bring.