Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) is a music variety show usually hosted by Hey! Say! Jump members Yabu Kota and Nakajima Yuto that showcases the song-and-dance skills of the Johnny’s Entertainment agency’s most recently debuted groups – A.B.C-Z and Sexy Zone – as well as the agency’s trainees (known as juniors).

Sexy Zone were sporting their “Lady Diamond” outfits last week, so it came as no surprise to see them opening with the song this week. That said, since they have an album coming out in the next week that doesn’t include this song, it’s a strange choice for them to lead off with it, even if it matches the theme of the show – Love.

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Then A.B.C-Z sang their own second single – “Zutto LOVE”.

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And then the two hosts did “Romeo & Juliet” with a pack of chibi juniors backdancing. Once again, it’s nice to see them actually get to perform something on SC.

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After the opening medley, Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun explain that the theme of the show is “LOVE” (in English) because, of course, it’s the week of Valentine’s Day. They also preview a few things that we can expect later on in the show, including some photos brought in by SZ and a Johnny’s WEST performance.

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But before all that, we get the LOVE medley from the juniors. Iwahashi Genki-kun started it off, leading Matsukura Kaito-kun, Matsuda Genta-kun, Kuramoto Kaoru-kun, Hayashi Ippei-kun and other juniors in V6’s “Ai Nanda”.

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Iwahashi-kun is looking quite confident and charismatic doing solo stages, but I still can’t hear his voice.

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Next up, some juniors I don’t know well at all performed TOKIO’s “LOVE YOU ONLY”. The only one of them I recognize on sight is Vasayegh Hikaru-kun. I suppose the others are theoretically Twenty Twenty members as well, though if they ever get introduced as such on SC, I’ll eat natto.

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The trio of Nakamura Reia-kun, Takahashi Kaito-kun, and Kakuta Yuusei-kun took the stage for Kis-My-Ft2’s “Ai no Beat – Dance version-” next. As in the previous time we saw them work together, Reia-kun had his skateboard, Yuusei-kun was on roller skates, and Kaito-kun didn’t have any additional equipment. That’s sort of an interesting arrangement, but I can’t see how they can make it work as more than a novelty act.

Unlike the last time the trio performed, this was not as impressive or sharp. They were somewhat overshadowed by their fellow juniors on stage and Reia-kun in particular seemed a tad awkward. I think maybe he was trying out a different on-stage persona, so we’ll just say that it’s under development and cut him some slack.

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Yuto-kun interviewed SZ next, giving them a chance to show off photographs of things that they love (taking everything with a grain of salt).

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The first thing to notice is that SZ has apparently gotten the one thing they really don’t need – another set of pink costumes. When it came to the photos, there was a bit of tongue-in-cheek professional promotion. For instance, Shori-kun’s commemorated SZ’s Kouhaku appearance . . .

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. . . and there was a horseshoe from Kento-kun, which tied in to his upcoming movie “Silver Spoon”. Fuma-kun and Sou-kun both had pets, so their motives were pure . . .

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. . . and Marius-kun didn’t have a photo at all – he had a drawing of a childhood home (I think).

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The group performed “We Gotta Go” next. It’s a solid song, though it won’t be among my top 10 favorites from SZ, but holy mackerel were those costumes distracting! And frankly, they weren’t particularly well-suited to the song. Much more than “Bye Bye Dubai”, this song would have worked better with them in regular-ish clothes.

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And that’s because it has a cool song feel rather than a cute song feel. I’ll concede that “Lady Diamond” is a cute song, as is “Sexy Summer” and “Real Sexy!”, and those should be all glitter and neon. That’s not true of “We Gotta Go”, which is reminiscent of the songs in the Motown movie version of The Wiz.

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So yeah, I’d like to see this same performance with different costumes before I make a judgment on it. You’d think I’d be desensitized to pink after watching SZ for more than two years, but I underestimated how potent they could make the color.

A.B.C-Z’s Kawai-kun and Goseki-kun were the hosts for the Kansai segment, which featured Kiriyama-kun, Hamada-kun, and the three members of Kin Kan. The main focus was on the two elder Kansai guys, who decided to do a magic show! They dance, sing, act, do comedy, and now they can do magic? Is there no limit to their talents?

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Each of them did a card trick with rather peculiar decks that had random cards with Johnny’s images on them (I think there was a JUMP deck and a Kanjani8 deck). I wasn’t impressed by Kiriyama-kun’s trick, but Hamada-kun’s was pretty good.

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Surprisingly, that wasn’t followed by the usual Kansai stage via VTR. Instead, we turned back to the NHK Hall stage, where A.B.C-Z started “Za ABC ~5stars~” with some chibi juniors in the distant background.

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Then the Kansai guys joined in – Nakama Junta, Hamanaka Bunichi, Shigeoka Daiki, Kiriyama, and Hamada. But wait . . . I thought Shigeoka-kun wasn’t on in the previous episode . . .  so that must mean this was recorded at a different time?

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Beyond that, it’s sort of interesting that they had these five Kansai guys here. Did the agency at one point think about debuting these five instead of the original four or current seven that became Johnny’s WEST?

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Another question – are those purple-clad kids Kansai chibis? If so, then that supports the idea that this wasn’t recorded at the same time as the rest of the Feb. episodes, since if they had the Kansai chibis available, they would have surely had them backdancing in the last episode, when I noted there were only Tokyo juniors there.

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But we’ll leave that mystery be for the moment, and turn to something completely different – a Johnny’s 2020 World extract.

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The song was “Mirai no Saiten”, and it started with Jesse-kun singing a mishmash of English phrases. His pronunciation was fine here though the way the words were delivered was off, but the lyrics themselves showed scant knowledge of the language so it hardly mattered how he sang it. I think I’d do about the same if I tried writing a song in Japanese so . . . yeah. My jaw dropped at “I do all right under the sun” – it’s pretty clear that the music was written first, and then the lyricist pulled random phrases out of a box and tried to fit them to it.

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It was painful. Is this Japan’s revenge for the way American tourists make a hash of their language?

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You know, if they want me to, I’d be glad to take a look at any lyrics they want fixed up – pro bono, of course. I once set a substantial collection of famous sayings from mixed sources to ten syllable lines (to make them easy to remember), so I’m pretty sure I can set words with approximately the same meaning to the music, and with better fidelity since I actually know where the stresses in English words are.

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We got a token line from Okamoto Kauan-kun (who literally popped out of nowhere –  haven’t seen him on SC in ages, though I suppose he must be doing Johnny’s 2020 World on stage) and Kishi Yuta-kun. Kishi-kun actually has a rather pleasant voice from the little bit I caught of it. Kauan-kun is too forceful – as if he was performing without a mike.

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This is one of those songs I hope to never hear again. I swear, if they do it again on SC, I’ll skip it.

Kento-kun and Fuma-kun took care of the Shokura You Bin segment and the fan question  seemed to be about receiving chocolate on Valentine’s Day and how to respond.

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Fuma-kun showed the recommended technique. I approve.

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Then they brought on the three members of Johnny’s WEST that they had on last week – Kiriyama-kun, Nakama-kun, and Kotaki-kun.

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Of course, they proceeded to get laughs.

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Next we got A.B.C-Z performing “Vanilla”. Now, this group has a debut album release next month, so I expect to see a lot of them in March, but we seem to be getting a lot from them this month, too.

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Fortunately, “Vanilla” is a great song and the performance was the best of the show so far.

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Of course, it’s sort of unfair comparing these guys to SZ and the juniors.

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Kento-kun and Hashimoto-kun hosted the sporadic “Power Up” segment.

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The contestants were Iwahashi-kun, Yasui Kentaro-kun, and Jesse-kun. Their challenge was to each act out brief line accompanied by a prompt. Hashimoto-kun started off with an example.

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I had the same reaction as the crowd when Kento-kun said Iwahashi-kun had to pretend to be confessing love to a female teacher (I think I might actually have said “eh!”, though in a deeper voice). Iwahashi-kun didn’t have any problem with it, though.

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And I think Iwahashi-kun’s delivery was the most interesting one.

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Somehow, Hashimoto-kun was surprised that Jesse-kun and Iwahashi-kun were the same age. I’m not even sure why Jesse-kun brought it up, but surely the real shocker is that Yasui-kun is older than all of them and even has two years on Hashimoto-kun.

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Next was a Johnny’s junior special medley, and it started with something even more unexpected than anyone’s age – Kyomoto Taiga-kun singing a song called “Tears” written and composed by Kyomoto Taiga. Wow.

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So that‘s his vocal range! Well, no wonder he had to write his own song – they just don’t have songs that don’t properly showcase the way he sings.

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This was the best performance I’ve heard from Taiga-kun in almost two years, and I certainly hope he gets to write more of his own material considering the results.

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You’d think it’d be difficult for anyone to follow that, but Yasui-kun and Masuda Ryo-kun didn’t have any problems, singing Kis-My-Ft2’s “Inori”.

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This is also the absolute best I’ve ever heard Yasui-kun sing. He was an excellent match for Masuda-kun, which is high praise.

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The medley was just those two songs, but that was enough. I don’t even have to hear any more – that was the highlight of the show. We’re certainly not going to get anything better vocally, and A.B.C-Z has the dancing department all locked up.

Junior ni Q was next with Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun still asking juniors about confessions that make the heart race or something like that – it’s hard to say what the topic is supposed to be, since the range of answers is so broad.

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Kakuta Yuusei-kun had the first crack at it, and it was really nice to see him up there. He talked about being ni-dan in kendo (Japanese swordsmanship), which is very good. The karate equivalent would be a second-level black belt, though I don’t know how challenging the dan-level tests in kendo are. It’s probably quite an achievement.

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Matsumura Hokuto-kun talked about . . . pink grapefruit and body oil? In other words, something completely different.

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Morohoshi Shoki-kun outfit made him look like a sci-fi character, and he found a way to work Kawai-kun in his answer. That happens a lot.

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Masuda-kun confessed to otaku-ish obsessions.

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Takahashi Kaito-kun brought Hayashi Ippei-kun into his answer. I keep forgetting about Takahashi-kun’s unique speaking voice.

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I’ve seen enough of Kiriyama-kun in this episode of SC, but here he comes again with Nakama-kun and Kotaki-kun with “Ee ja Nai ka”.

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I’m not even going to comment on this. We’re going to get another round of Johnny’s WEST next month with all seven members, right? I’ll see what they look like as a group then – this three-member version is less than half of the Johnny’s WEST experience.

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The finale was KinKi Kids’ “Ai no Katamari” as performed by the elder juniors – the Bakaleyas, Bad Boys, and Noon Boyz. It’s a good ending song, but I feel like we’ve heard it a lot on SC – it’s a bit overplayed for a senpai song, especially when there are so many to choose from.

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Still, it was a fine closing stage.

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Now, I know what you’re thinking: Jesse-kun didn’t get enough screen time! Well, don’t worry – they had him show up as Shori-kun’s guest in the omake segment.

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If only they played Tataite Kabutte Jankenpon like Shori-kun did with Kiriyama-kun and Nakama-kun, we might have seen a different side of Jesse. Instead, Shori-kun had Jesse-kun do a replay of the “power-up” challenge.

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There were one clear highlights in this episode – the Taiga-Ryo-Kentaro stage. Alongside that, I enjoyed watching the A.B.C-Z stage and the finale, and wouldn’t mind seeing the junior “LOVE” medley again.

The SZ performance was borderline thanks to the costumes. The opening medley was generic – nothing exciting about it. The talk segments were all okay – the best parts were the SZ talk early on, Genki-kun’s little bit in the “power-up” segment, and then maybe the card tricks.

I don’t think I need to expound on what I thought about “Mirai no Saiten”. It dug a pit that the Taiga-Ryo-Kentaro highlight barely managed to fill. But that left an episode that was not in any way better than last week’s, so I can only conclude that this hour deserved a 7 out of 10 as well.

Oh, and I didn’t even rant about HSJ not getting to promote “AinoArika” on SC. Seems like I’ve already reached the fifth stage of grief on that one.

Well, let’s hope for better next month, but I get the feeling that we’ll have to wait until April for a real turn-around, since that’s the month for such things.