I couldn’t resist reviewing the first episode of Sexy Zone Channel, idol group Sexy Zone’s new variety show, immediately after watching it. That’s because it was exactly what I would have wanted and hoped for from the first episode of a Johnny’s variety show.

I can sum this episode up in two words: Cliff Climb. Those of you who read my VS Arashi reviews know that the only game they regularly play on that show that I consistently enjoy watching is Cliff Climb. Well, we’re going to get that in this episode, except magnified by an order of magnitude. You’ll see what I mean.

First of all, unless they’re in dance costumes, this is how I want to see Johnny’s dressed in the first episode of a variety show:

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The show begins with staff approaching the group members (Nakajima Kento, Kikuchi Fuma, Sato Shori, Matsushima Sou, and Marius Yo) to talk about the show is sort of a candid format. It doesn’t look like the members understood what was going on, and it was an opening reminiscent of one of the challenges in Sekai no Hatemade Itte Q.

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Eventually, the members each introduced themselves, with Marius-kun doing it in English because . . . why not? They each express their hopes about the show, and in every case it seemed like they wanted to be active and to be traveling around, so that sounds great. They were clearly all excited and there was a messing-around feel to the scene. Lots of laughing.

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Their challenge for this episode was to do some free climbing, which they call “bordering”. There are no ropes in this place, but the floor is covered in mats so . . . I guess they’re safe?

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The sensei teaches them the basics and gives them a demonstration, but them they have to just go for it. Kento-kun invited Sou-kun to climb first, and he goes up roughly three meters and then jumps down to get a feel for it.

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Fuma-kun goes second, followed by Shori-kun. Shori-kun’s reactions in particular were great – somebody’s going to turn that into a gif, guaranteed.

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After Shori-kun, it was Marius-kun and Kento-kun. All of them climbed up a good way and then dropped down.

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It gets more complicated as they have to navigate a particular course along the wall next. The sensei does the climb and we see them react in a split screen. I’m beginning to think the director is a genius, doing this.

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Surprisingly, Marius-kun was the first up. I totally approve of this – I want to see them all approach the challenges as equals, and that was certainly the pattern in this episode. Marius-kun made use of the bag of chalk they carry to solve sweaty palm syndrome in order to complete the climb and got a positive reaction from the sensei for this.

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Fuma-kun was up second. I’m not going to give away how they did, by the way.

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You can see a whole lot in this expression from Shori-kun, I think:

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He was great, with his voice always perilously close to cracking. Amazingly, getting this far isn’t the end of the challenge:

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There are rules that make it hard even at that stage.

And how do you suppose Kento-kun and Sou-kun will do? I think we saw some new expressions from Sou-kun from this, and there were many reasons to favor his performance – like the way he waved to the camera and actually got a chance to talk.

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As if that wasn’t good enough, they went on to do an even more daunting climb . . .

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. . . involving a . . . can I call it a convex wall? You know, one that bulges out so that it’s more difficult to climb. Fuma-kun went first, then Kento-kun, and all they were trying to do was see how high they could get on it.

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Marius-kun never seems short on confidence, the plucky kid.

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Shori-kun looks to be in an especially precarious position here.

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Finally, Sou-kun tried to show them how its done, to make sure this phase of the episode ended on a good note.

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In the next phase, they go out into the wild . . .

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. . . to take on the real thing!

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Of course, here they’ll have ropes to keep them safe, but the flip side is that the climb is a whole 15 meters! Will any of them be able to make it to the top?

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Well, if they want to keep this show going, they had better get at least one member up there, right? But who should go first? Obviously, this has to be decided by janken.

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I won’t keep the janken result a secret – the first up was Kento-kun. That’s fair enough, since he hasn’t been the first one up in any of the other challenges so far.

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Oh, come on. Even if you’re not a Sexy Zone fan, it’ll probably be fun to watch how they do here. Knowledge of Japanese is totally not required.

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Let’s hope Kento-kun’s piano-playing hands didn’t get beat up too much.

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Shori-kun was the second to climb. Fuma-kun had better not make him laugh too hard with that running commentary, or there’s still plenty of chance for him to knock himself against a rock.

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Marius-kun took on the cliff climb next. Will the youngest member of the group make it to the top?

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What sort of reactions will Kikuchi-kun have on the way up?

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And finally there’s Matsushima Sou-kun, who seems to be attempting something strange here:

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One thing is certainly, they had a blast making this episode, and have to be satisfied with the result. But who do you suppose was the best climber? Or was it even possible to decide?

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Before watching, I was tempted to have a Most Omoshiroi (Interesting) SZ for this series like I do for the Arashi shows, but they were all interesting in this one. I want them to keep it that way, and as long as they do I’ll forgo highlighting one member artificially.

This was a great hour – and it was a full hour, by the way, though I don’t know whether the rest of the series has an hour block or a half-hour slot. It was purely focused on the challenge without any segments – not even a live stage. I don’t know whether they’ll be able to keep things this way, but I hope that they do. The constant flow without interruption produced a good pace and made it very memorable.

The manner of the members was very key – they were all relaxed, somewhat goofy, and participated equally. They didn’t need any supporting entertainers or even an adult host – the staff member who spoke to them at the start was carefully kept off-camera. For SZ fans, the entire thing was a highlight reel. For the casual viewer, it certainly gave the best impression of the group possible. It’s rare to be able to satisfy both audiences, but the fact that we didn’t get a live stage may be an indication that they’re trying to do so, and at least for this episode I think they succeeded.

There are a lot of thoughts that come to mind about certain other groups and how one in particular that I support doesn’t really have a show, and how much I would have loved to see them do this. But its nice to see SZ putting on the sort of show I’m looking for, and as long as future episodes are at least half as much fun as this one was, I’ll keep watching. Good first impression.