After the flurry of Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) episodes at the end of last year, the gap between the second January episode and this one seemed inordinately long. How might have things changed in the past few weeks? Well, I see a few changes right from the opening:

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Sexy Zone started things off singing V6’s “Wa ni Natte Odorou”, and they did so wearing the costumes I had hoped never to see again (I swear, I think I said so just last month in response to a comment). But wait . . . if you pan down . . .

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The pants are no longer too short! They’re wearing boots instead of showing those hideous white socks! I wouldn’t say I love the outfits now, but they certainly managed to get rid of the thing I hated most about them. So, improvement there.

And in that picture above, I also see another continuing change – Marius-kun is pretty much the tallest member of SZ, isn’t he? I mean, maybe he’s within an inch of Kento-kun and Fuma-kun, but he’ll have that covered by March, right?

Interesting staging here as the three younger SZ members were in front first, then Kento-Fuma along with the Fab Four (Jinguji, Iwahashi, Miyachika, Kishi) . . .

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. . . then A.B.C-Z joined them, and the two debuted groups mingled together. I love how they paired Marius-kun and Goseki-kun and they each made fun of their relative heights.

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Special attention to the two centers:

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And this time, hosts Yabu Kota-kun and Nakajima Yuto-kun also joined in. We don’t get to see them participate in the opening much anymore, but this song in particular is conducive to it.

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So, a very strong and interesting opening. The theme of the episode? Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun inform us that it is “kizuna” (絆 – bonds). Well, I know at least one song that’s going to be sung in this episode in that case – too bad they probably don’t have Kamenashi-kun in to perform it himself.

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Anyway, SZ and A.B.C-Z are both on stage for the opening talk, but at first it looks like Yuto-kun is going to do all the talking. Yabu-kun eventually throws it to Kikuchi Fuma-kun and Matsushima Sou-kun, but I found his segue curious – something about graduation? I didn’t get it. Honestly, it looked like he was just stalling for time as the juniors got into their places.

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And speaking of the juniors, they went straight for the song I was expecting – Kamenashi Kazuya-kun’s “Kizuna”. It was an interesting quartet singing – Yasui Kentaro, Kyomoto Taiga, Masuda Ryo, and Hanzawa Akatsuki.

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“Kizuna” is a simple song to sing in terms of the notes, but it’s best when sung with the appropriate emotion behind those notes. That’s hard to do when four people are singing, so I was disappointed that they didn’t have solo parts. It was all unison, and that robbed the song of most of its potential, and also denied the good vocalists on stage a chance to show what they could do with the subtler side of singing.

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That was only the first song in a medley, though, and the next one was NEWS’ “Sayaendou”, which is a very, very different song. The transition between the two songs was quite a jump.

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I like “Sayaendou”, and it was yet another interesting mix of individuals on stage performing it. We had Morimoto Shintaro, Tanaka Juri, Kouchi Yugo, Hagiya Keigo, and Morohoshi Shoki. The first three were Bakaleya boys while the other two were part of the Bad Boys J drama team, and I don’t think I’ve seen them work together before.

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While Hagiya-kun was really something at center stage, and it was great to see Shintaro-kun and Kouchi-kun with their usual effervescent energy, I don’t think I see the merits of this particular grouping. Not yet, anyway.

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So far, this medley has featured the very people who I complained were mostly sidelined in the January episodes, and as if to underscore the point, Matsumura Hokuto-kun was up next to sing “Zenbu Dakishimete”.

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If you recall, we got a lot of Jesse-kun in January, leaving me wondering where his usual partner in crime was.

This song doesn’t do Hokuto-kun’s voice any favors, but there are very few voices that it would really suit.

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So, we’ve gotten some Bad Boys and Bakaleya all mixed up, which means we need Noon Boyz now, right?

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They did V6’s “Honey Beat”, which is always safe. Everyone can do “Honey Beat” – even the chibiest chibi junior.

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So count this as the medley we were missing in January. The plus side is that they didn’t lump all these guys together on the stage at the same time. The minus is that they still managed to give the guys the same amount of screen time when there really should have been three full performances rather than one senpai medley. Hopefully we’ll see more of them later in the show.

Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun introduced three of the seven members of Johnny’s WEST next. I think at this point the Kansai group still only had four members, so they were just missing Shigeoka Daiki-kun. They did mention him, but I didn’t understand why he wasn’t present.

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The talk was all about the debut, which is entirely appropriate. I would have been shocked and dismayed if they had discussed anything else, since the whole reason the Kansai side was given its own segment for the past year was to set up this debut.

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Kiriyama-kun had a good point about the fact that the group has “Johnny’s” in its name, which makes it somewhat special – as if the group has even more of a burden to represent the agency. What would it say about Johnny’s if Johnny’s WEST wasn’t a success?

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As their first performance on Shounen Club as a group on the verge of début, Johnny’s WEST did a medley, starting with “Let’s Go West ~Kansai!!~” – the Kansai anthem. Too bad they couldn’t bring any Kansai chibi juniors to backdance for them – those were Tokyo juniors, of course.

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The second song of the medley was “Naniwa Ittoushou”, which we heard in the previous SC episode on January 15th. This version was . . . dismal by comparison. The Tokyo chibis just didn’t seem to know what to do and there wasn’t enough camaraderie between them and the three older performers to make what was happening on stage mesh together.

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The next song was “Ee ja nai ka”, and here a much better team of backdancers supplemented the chibis.

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While this medley epitomized everybody’s picture of the Kansai side – boisterous energy – I was disappointed at how stereotypical it was. It would have been more interesting if Johnny’s WEST had taken the stage with a broader range of music that showed off the fact that they were a complex idol group just like all the Tokyo groups. I’m sure they’ll have time to present a different picture of themselves, but I’m going to take a good look at what they’re allowed to perform in NHK Hall as opposed to via VTR in the Kansai segment. If all they get to do is the party songs, then it’s going to be another case like Kanjani8 where the group’s penetration into the Kanto region will be less than it really deserves.

Tsukada-kun and Kawai-kun did their backstage segment next . . .

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. . . and this time their target was the Shounen Club hosts – Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun. Looks like Yabu and Yuto are the new Koyama and Nakamaru, except they don’t handle as many segments and barely mingle with the juniors.

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I’ll be honest – I didn’t care what they were talking about at all – I was fixated on Yuto-kun’s reactions to everything.

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So don’t ask me what it was all about – I was just trying to figure out how someone could laugh so much.

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Sexy Zone was up next with basically the performance they did at Kouhaku – medley of their singles. This was sort of predictable since they’ve got an album release coming up, and that always leads groups to do a singles-medley on SC, even though in this case most of the singles aren’t on the album.

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So yeah, they started with “Sexy Zone”, went on to “Lady Diamond”, and then persisted with “Sexy Summer ni Yuki ga Furu” – all songs that were on their first album and not their second.

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Finally, they got to “Real Sexy!” and “Bye Bye Dubai” – the singles that will be on the release coming up.

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I guess I can’t fault them for redoing the Kouhaku performance here, since it would have been a shame to do it only once after all the rehearsal and costume prep. The costume changes are still a fun to watch.

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Following that, we got the game segment. If you’ve read my reviews, you know that I have a very simple way of assessing whether this sort of segment was worth the time – I count how many juniors were involved, and how long the participants spent standing up (and preferably running around being crazy).

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It was a gesture game this time (where one team member has to make a pose to help his teammates guess a word). The participants were A.B.C-Z’s Totsuka and Goseki with Sanada Yuma and Kyomoto Taiga on the Totsuka Team and then SZ’s Kento and Shori with Matsumura Hokuto and Tanaka Juri on the Kento Team. I was especially happy to see Juri-kun, who seems like he’d be interesting to watch in these games. Hokuto-kun and Taiga-kun have been frequent participants before. Anyway, it’s 4 juniors and 4 debuted – could be better, could be worse.

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Naturally, I’m not going to tell you everything that happened – you’ll have to watch for yourself – but there was plenty of running around and craziness. A few bits were worth highlighting, though.

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Poor Juri-kun got some tough ones – how to you get your teammates to guess “apple”?

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Shori-kun’s first one was “Judo”.

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Taiga-kun had another one of those difficult fruits – banana – but one thing we found out about him is that he’s very, very persistent.

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After those random words, they had to guess songs based on dance moves. I loved how Sanada-kun referred to Hey! Say! Jump’s “Ultra Music Power” as “U.M.P.” and then A.B.C-Z couldn’t get the name of their own song right (they called it “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and got buzzed wrong for it, then corrected it to “Twinkle Twinkle” – the actual title is “Twinkle Twinkle A.B.C-Z”).

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Incidentally, you’ll notice that Kento-kun and Shori-kun are wearing the costumes from the opening, but in between there was that performance with a huge number of costumes involved. It seems likely that this game was actually recorded closer to the opening – on the other side of their medley – since otherwise the costume change situation seems very messy. Not sure, though.

After the game, Masuda-kun, Jesse-kun, Hanzawa-kun, and Noon Boyz sang KinKi Kids’ “Family ~Hitotsu ni Naru Koto~”.

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This time, they got those solo lines and the proper chance to show off their vocals. In that respect, Masuda-kun was in the clear lead, Jesse-kun can’t quite match him, and the other three were okay in terms of hitting notes but weak on delivery.

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Still, it was a nice, sweet performance. I’m not sure it was a good thing to put it right after the game segment, though – that’s quite a dramatic drop in energy. Once again, I wonder if they did these performances on stage in a very different order than the director decided to arrange them in the TV broadcast.

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Junior ni Q featured a novel topic – the juniors were prompted to confess/reveal a doki-doki moment (a moment where their hearts pounded, if you will).

Matsuda Genta-kun discussed the moment on SC when one of his shirt buttons exploded off (probably because of the way they pack all those costumes on).

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I think Morimoto Shintaro-kun was talking about ranking highly in karate.

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I don’t understand how Taiga-kun’s doki-doki moment could have led him to do a monomane of Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun – that smelled off-topic to me. Worse, there were some rough cuts here – three very obvious chops where footage was taken out (Taiga bloopers? They should have left them in!).

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There’s no limit to the attention Jesse-kun is getting on SC these days, and I have no idea at all how what he did had anything to do with the topic.

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Sanada-kun had a much more substantial story about going to Kyoto on his own on the Shinkansen and encountering a swarm of KAT-TUN fans in the train at Shin Yokohama because there was a KAT-TUN concert there.

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A.B.C-Z talked to Yabu-kun next, and you might notice that there are only four members on the bench:

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That’s because Tsukada-kun was out in front with a letter to the A.B.C-Z members about their mutual bonds (kizuna). This was sort of like the tegami segment we haven’t seen in a while, except it was one-sided.

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Since it’s Tsukada-kun, you know this is going to be funny. Here’s Kawai-kun valiantly trying not to laugh:

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Afterward, as the group took the stage for their performance and Kawai-kun got a last word in with Yabu-kun.

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Now, A.B.C-Z has an album coming out soon, too, and I’m sure they’ll have a single medley at some point. But not this time. This time they did the right thing and performed “Crazy Accel”, one of their popular non-singles that will be on the album.

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And it was a good, energetic performance worthy of the group with impressive vocals thanks to the edge in their voices as they delivered the solo lines.

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It was tough to get clean screencaps because, as in all good A.B.C-Z performances, they moved around too much.

The Ki ni Naru KJ segment featured Nagase Ren-kun of Naniwa Oji. It’s almost shocking that they haven’t featured him before.

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There were literally no surprises in his profile, though – he likes meat, dislikes corn and green peas, and admires Yamapi and Yamada Ryosuke-kun. It doesn’t get more straightforward than that.

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The Kansai performance (yes, we continue to get a double-dose of Kansai) was “Aoi Kisetsu” as performed by all seven members of Johnny’s WEST, Kin Kan, and Naniwa Oji. The usual suspects.

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It was a nice, solid performance, and much more what I would have liked to see Johnny’s WEST do in NHK Hall in place of the medley that we saw earlier in the episode.

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Finally, it was time to wrap up the show . . .

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. . . and the last song was SMAP’s “Best Friend” featuring SZ, A.B.C-Z ,the two hosts, the Fab Four, and a flock of nondescript juniors dressed entirely in white.

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I noticed that the SZ boys now had those blue robes with piles of costumes underneath. Now, what do you suppose that was about?

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The closing of the show pretty much epitomized the episode as a whole – it was very average. Nothing wrong with it, but also nothing spectacular.

What were the highlights of this hour? That’s a tough one. I suppose the opening – “Wa ni Natte Odorou” – was good and worth rewatching, as was the game segment. Other than those two, I can’t put anything else on the same level a highlights I’ve cited for other SC episodes.

There were other decent parts to the show, though. The SZ medley’s main flaw is that I have the far superior Kouhaku version to watch instead. The backstage segment with Yuto-kun being Yuto-kun was solid amusement – especially for HSJ fans who have very little to look for in SC anymore. A.B.C-Z’s “Crazy Accel” as well as the talk beforehand was entertaining – especially if we can get the talk portion subbed. The Kansai performance of “Aoi Kisetsu” wasn’t bad, either.

But then there’s the rest. In January I lamented the little time that the elder juniors – Bakaleya, Bad Boys, Noon Boyz, and other members of that tier got. While they seemed to get more attention this time, it was haphazard and unsatisfying. Like I said earlier, the only good thing about it was that they weren’t all shoved on stage together. It was impossible to get excited by any of the groupings, though, and the performances were lackluster. I have never been more worried about the state of this tier of juniors.

I already noted that Johnny’s WEST performance in NHK Hall lacked nuance, and certainly didn’t offer anything new. There are plenty of Kansai versions of the same songs that I’d rather watch than what they did here.

There wasn’t any new music in this episode, so no saving grace there.

Taking all that into consideration, I can’t see how this deserves more than a 7 out of 10 when compared to other episodes.