I took a lengthy pause from reviewing old Johnnys’ Jr Land episodes because I realized I had too many holes in my collection, especially since the series ended and reviewing the entire run from April 2012 onward became possible. I recently found where all the episodes were hiding (thanks hakucchan!), so now I’ll continue to take a look at what the juniors were up to. It is bound to be the case that, as some of these juniors eventually get to debut, JJL will become a major touchstone to see how they developed into stars.

This was a special episode of Johnnys’ Jr. Land composed only of the Jr. Dream Live performances from previous episodes, as requested by fans. Imagine Shounen Club with a smaller stage, no live audience, no talk segments, no Hey! Say! Jump, and mainly performances from juniors and Sexy Zone (and one from A.B.C-Z), and that’s basically what this episode was. Let’s see how the juniors were doing a year ago and how far they’ve come since then.

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The wonderful Mogi Junichi-san goes from MC to DJ in this episode:

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Performance one was Sexy Zone performing their self-titled début single. This was from the seventh episode (2011-11-13), and let’s say it right away since it was my main reaction throughout all of this: wow, they’ve changed a lot in two years! Here’s a fresh-faced Fuma for you:

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It’s amazing to recall that SZ started off with costumes that weren’t at all pink. These were actually pretty good costumes, all things considered – allowing them to stand out clearly from the junior backdancers without the colors being hard on the eyes.

While there was some of the stiffness and hesitation that you’d expect from the three younger members at this early stage, they weren’t too bad. Sou-kun was already quite loose. Marius-kun occasionally looked uncertain, but would then go into uber-confident mode. The whole performance was a bit static and stiff, so it was also true that the inexperience was somewhat masked by that.

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With the focus very much on SZ, it was hard to see much of the junior backdancers – a situation made worse by the fact that there were so many of them crowded so close together. Obviously Takahashi Fuu-kun was of note because he did his headspin thing during the song, but so were Kishi Yuta-kun and Kuramoto Kaoru-kun, who were each quite noticeable in their own ways.

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The second performance was Kento-kun and Fuma-kun from SZ doing “Yokubou no Rain”, from the 26th episode on April 1st, 2012.

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Now, I remember Kento-kun doing this song on Shounen Club, probably around the same time, and I preferred that version over this one because it was much more energetic and difficult – he simply had much more stage to work with.

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So I didn’t particularly like the dancing in this version, but the singing of Kento-kun and Fuma-kun is not to be missed. Even two years ago, it was clear that they’d be a great vocal pair.

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Performance 3 was a medley of “RESCUE”, “Secret Agent Man”, “Crazy Funky Down”, and “Wana” (罠) from the sixth episode on 2011-11-06. It featured Jesse-kun and Shintaro-kun among others on the first song, the three younger members of SZ along with juniors on “Secret Agent Man” and “Crazy Funky Down”, and then everyone on “Wana”.

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Interesting that Jesse-kun was tasked to do the rapping on “RESCUE”, when it was pretty much always Tanaka Juri-kun on Shounen Club when it came to KAT-TUN songs. And what about these costumes? I don’t remember when we last saw these, but you just know that they’re lying in wait and Johnny’s will pop them back on us when we least expect it. Really distinctive design.

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“Secret Agent Man” featured Shori-Sou-Marius with Takahashi Fuu-kun and Kishi Yuta-kun singing, but also many other familiar faces like Jinguji-kun, Reia-kun, and Tanimura-kun backdancing. We got a much better view of the juniors in this one. Kishi-kun was high tension as usual, and it’s really fun to just watch him.

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I don’t really know most of the yellow-clad juniors who were thrown in to sing “Crazy Funky Down”. At least, it was hard to identify them because they only got about ten seconds before everyone got to sing “Wana” in unison.

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Performance 4 was from the fifth episode on October 30th of 2011, and it had “1 for You”, “Love Me Baby”, and “Biri Biri Dance”. It began with the Shintaro-Jesse-Hagiya team which looks sort of like a Bakaleya prototype in retrospect. Then the three younger SZ members take over for “Love Me Baby” until later in the song, when Kento-kun and Fuma-kun enter the mix and wrap things up with “Biri Biri Dance.”

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“1 for you” reminds us of the days when Shintaro-kun was a major contender for junior leader – keeping in mind that he was the cast leader in Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou at the time this aired. Here he is at the center of a team that includes Hagiya Keigo-kun, and while the singing is electronically washed out, the dancing is dynamic.

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Shori-kun, Marius-kun and Sou-kun got “Love Me Baby” and Marius-kun is looking way uncertain in this one. Shori-kun is already his charismatic self. Tanimura-kun, though . . . shouldn’t he be getting more attention? I mean, even back then he knew how to catch the camera.

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“Biri Biri Dance” was a standard for Kento-kun and Fuma-kun from back in the B.I. Shadow days, and it’s always a fun performance to watch as long as the junior backdancers do a good job, and they did.

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Stage number five was from episode 24 and included “Happiness”, “Love Letter”, and “Marui Chikara”.

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Interesting combination of Shori, Shintaro, Tanaka Juri, Jesse, and Morohoshi Shoki, on “Happiness”. I hope this was the one and only time Shori-kun had to wear this outfit.

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Nice to hear an Arashi song – I don’t even know if the juniors learn them anymore since they’re done so rarely on SC.

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Marius-kun and Sou-kun handled “Love Letter”, which is a song meant for younger singers and therefore well-suited to them (I seem to recall a chibi Yuto-kun performing this way back when). Marius-kun looks very lost but Sou-kun is in top form here. The juniors save the day on this one, though.

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The three younger SZ members do “Marui Chikara” to wrap it up.

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After that, they went right into another medley – this one from episode 23 on March 11th, 2012. The interesting combination of Kento-kun, Fuma-kun, and Jesse-kun started it off with “Sepaku no Tsuki”.

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So it’s pretty clear that the agency had a high esteem for Jesse-kun’s vocals even at this point, to have him contribute with his two senpai, and to be at the center during it. He continued at the center for the only other song in the medley – “Haru Natsu Aki Fuyu” (not to be confused with the much faster Ya-Ya-Yah song). He performed this latter song with Morimoto Shintaro-kun, Tanaka Juri-kun, and Morohoshi Shoki-kun. So, apparently Morohoshi-kun was much more in-the-mix at this point. He would get sidelined as Bakaleya Six became a thing, and then saw a resurgence thanks to his involvement in Bad Boys J.

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Not much to say about this performance otherwise.

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Next was a medley from episode 27, which aired on April 8th – only a month before this special. To my surprise, the medley starts with SZ singing “Sexy Zone”. That’s a surprise because we already saw a performance of the song in the beginning.

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I’m sure they tried to limit how many times they put it in, though – SZ did perform it a lot since it was their only single at the time, and finding medleys that didn’t include it would be tough. Anyway, this gives us an interesting chance to ask a question – did the group improve between episode seven and episode twenty-seven – roughly twenty weeks or five months. They’d better have.

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Marius-kun definitely looks sharper and more practiced, and the whole dance is energetic in the way that we’re used to seeing it performed – not as restrained as in the earlier episode.

After that, Shori-kun led the juniors in singing Arashi’s “Love so sweet”. I barely caught a decibel of his voice in the middle of this, but he still made a good performance out of it. Looking back, I think he did better on JJL than he did on Shounen Club – possibly because there’s less of a live audience involved in recording these Live Stages (just the staff).

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Morimoto Shintaro-kun, Tanaka Juri-kun, Jesse-kun, and Morohoshi-kun performed “Shelter” and “Ai no Matador” to round out the medley. I wouldn’t mind seeing “Ai no Matador” on Shounen Club – seems like a long time since I’ve seen it there – and I’m sure there are plenty of juniors who would like to perform it – it’s a cool song.

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Then we finally got the one A.B.C-Z performance – a very sharp and well-sung rendition of “Suna no Glass” from episode 20.

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There’s no comparing them to the juniors, and I’m at least thankful that they saved this for close to the end of the episode, since the rest of the performances can’t even come close to this standard.

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We actually got one new medley not previously aired, and it started with Masuda Ryo-kun and Yasui Kentaro-kun singing “Bokura no Machi”.

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The music was way loud and killed my ability to enjoy their voices. Yasui-kun’s vocals have definitely improved over the past two years, but he wasn’t bad here. Masuda-kun’s singing was sweet as always, but it was difficult to hear through the music.

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There was a dance interlude . . .

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. . . then Hagiya-kun and another junior whose name I don’t recall (though he’s popped up a few times in this episode) joined the first two for NEWS’ “weeeek”. Lots of prominent junior backdancers in this one, including Kajiyama Asahi-kun from Travis Japan.

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We got one final song – “I see the light ~Bokutachi no Stage~” from episode 15. Shori-kun had a very stern air about him in this one – not really sure what sort of persona he was trying to project. Good song to end on, though.

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This episode was clearly dominated by Sexy Zone, which was true of the first two seasons of JJL as well. That said, we got a ton more from the juniors than we would from an average episode of Shounen Club – at least, from the Bakaleyas and their contemporaries.

Like I suggested at the start, this is very much a time capsule, but it was more focused on certain juniors than I originally realized. There was a lot of Shintaro-kun and Jesse-kun, as well as good parts for Masuda Ryo-kun, Yasui-kun, Hagiya-kun, Takahashi Fuu-kun, and a few others. But there were a lot of people who were completely missing. Even members of the regular JJL cast like Jinguji-kun and Kishi-kun barely got any attention in this one.

Still great fun to watch, though, and a good way to get back into watching and reviewing Johnny’s Jr Land episodes.