There are changes in the works for Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) coming up in April, but rather than speculating about those, I’ll just wait and see how things shake out. For now, we’ve got the March episodes to enjoy, and plenty of interesting things going on including the début of Johnny’s West, A.B.C-Z’s first album, and continued promotion of Sexy Zone’s second album. Will they still manage to squeeze some juniors in? Let’s find out!

The show begins with Sexy Zone performing “Shout!!” from their new album in color-coded outfits that don’t match their image colors. Go figure.

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A word to the songwriters: a piece this light and fluffy shouldn’t be called “Shout!!” As the Isley Brothers can tell you, “Shout” is a title reserved for much more upbeat and especially loud songs (and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” is one of my absolute favorite songs). Doubly so if you put two exclamation marks at the end.

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Other than the title, it’s a fine song, though I was surprised they did a full-length version of it, taking four minutes at the start of the show.

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By the way, it seems like I’m getting used to focusing on Matsushima Sou-kun to figure out what the dance is supposed to look like – he always delivers the sharpest version of it.

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After the SZ performance, hosts Yabu Kota-kun and Nakajima Yuto-kun introduced the theme for the evening – Celebration. As Yuto-kun points out, it ties into the graduation/entry into school season . . .

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. . . but as Kento-kun points out, we’ve also got his birthday and Fuma-kun’s birthday coming up. Sort of sad not to have Kouchi-kun in the mix (his is March 8th). I did like Fuma-kun’s spirited attempts to wave to the camera and then his “asatte wa my birthday”, as well as Marius-kun piping in with better pronunciation of “celebration” and then “my birthday”.

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There’s an “o-tanjoubi omedetou” group photo from this scene that has turned up as screenshots all over the place, peppering all the relevant sites on weibo. I will take the liberty of omitting that screenshot – if you want to see Fuma-kun making a kissy-face at Yuto-kun and Sou-kun’s lips an inch away from Kento-kun’s cheek, you’re just going to have to watch the show.

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The Celebration medley began with Arashi’s “Sakura Sake”. Finally an Arashi song on Shounen Club! I guess they couldn’t avoid it – it’s literally the perfect song for the season because of its double-meaning – referring both to the bloom of cherry blossoms and graduation from school. It also has a good jogging tempo, fit for the time of year when it’s usually very pleasant to do some running.

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Shori-kun led Miyachika Kaito-kun, Jinguji Yuta-kun, and Iwahashi Genki-kun in the song and . . . I honestly don’t know why he was leading them. Couldn’t the three of them have handled it on their own? Isn’t this usually a junior medley? And while I’m asking questions, where’s Kishi Yuta-kun, who’s usually with these three?

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Anyway, since Kaito-Yuta-Genki were dressed in the appropriate seasonal color, I think it would have been a stronger start just to have them handle it in all their pinkness.

Even more curiously, Nakajima Yuto-kun sand Hey! Say! 7’s “Ganbaretsugo!” with Marius-kun and Sou-kun. Yuto-kun voice isn’t even in the same area as that of the other two – or the backing track for that matter. This would definitely have been better with just Marius-kun and Sou-kun, regardless of the fact that Yuto-kun was one of the original singers of the song.

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Next to the kids, Yuto-kun looked a bit stiff.

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Strange combinations continued as Kento-kun joined Hokuto-kun and Jesse-kun to sing SMAP’s “Original Smile”. First of all, it feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Hokuto-kun and Jesse-kun performing together. What on Earth is Kento-kun doing here, though? By the way, it’s not like we get very little Sexy Zone in this episode – on the contrary, SZ fans will not be disappointed in the rest of the show. So . . . yeah, this is a bit of SZ overkill.

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To wrap up the medley, Yabu-kun joined Noon Boyz, Taiga, Kouchi, Shintaro, Juri, and others for KinKi Kids’ “Garasu no Shounen” which . . . isn’t really a song that fits with the others at all. Is “Garasu no Shounen” really a celebration song? It sure never struck me that way.

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Lots of people singing in this one.

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So that means . . . Fuma-kun was the only member of SZ who didn’t get in on the medley. Strange.

Now don’t get me wrong – I actually enjoyed the medley. I was just very confused by the personnel choices, and that confusion trumped all other thoughts while I watched it.

Without further ado, we got the introduction of Johnny’s West – the newly debuted Kansai group.

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Except . . . there’s someone missing.

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What’s up with Shigeoka Daiki-kun? I mean, he wasn’t present last month, when the four member version of Johnny’s West was on with only three members, and now he’s missing so the seven member version only has six. Missing two iterations of debut appearances is . . . well, I’m looking for an explanation. I think Kiriyama-kun said something about a dentist, but that seemed to be in jest. Unless Shigeoka-kun is studying to become a dentist, I don’t think any dentist-related excuse would cover missing something they’ve all worked so hard for.

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Yabu-kun asks them what kind of group they plan to be, and naturally the word “genki” comes up quickly. As it should.

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And what did they perform? “Ee ja Nai ka”.

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While we’ve seen it a few times already, this was definitely much, much better. The choreography was more complete with tons of amusing touches, and having six members was a major improvement over having just three and a pack of juniors, making the whole thing more dynamic.

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For the first time, I felt we were finally seeing what this group would look and sound like, and the effect was excellent. It was like I was hearing this song properly for the first time, too.

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So . . . with the picture looking this good already, will Shigeoka-kun contribute more than just another winning smile? I look forward to finding out when we actually see the full version of this group.

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The Junior ni Q segment was next – fairly early in the show compared to where we usually see it. Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun asked the juniors what songs they wanted to hear with the start of Spring.

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Iwahashi Genki-kun was up first, and he had a song that I’m totally not familiar with – possibly what they were playing in the background while he talked.

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Kyomoto Taiga-kun picked Takizawa-san’s “WITH LOVE”. Butai connections.

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Anderson Casey-kun went with KAT-TUN’s “No Matter Matter”, which has that running pace that works so well with the season.

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The discussion seemed to go all over the place . . .

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. . . then they called out Teranishi Takuto-kun, who picked Moriyama Naotaro-san’s “Sakura”. Well, it’s certainly quintessential for the season, and it sounds like Teranishi-kun has specific memories associated with it.

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Next, the two Nakajimas – Yuto-kun and Kento-kun (no relation) – informed the crowd about A.B.C-Z’s new album and led the crowd in congratulating the group, then introduced the A.B.C-Z stage . . .

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. . . which was “Star Seeker”. This song is very spirited, but it’s lyrically all over the place. What the heck is JARK, anyway?

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It’s safer to ignore the lyrics – it’s musically all right and the words don’t get in the way of enjoying it. The group’s dancing looked sharp and energetic, though the lighting on stage was often distracting, making it hard to keep my eyes on the screen.

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Kento-kun and Fuma-kun handled the Shokura You Bin segment, in which a fan posed a problem . . .

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. . . that took the full force of Johnny’s West to solve. The question was how to be frank with everyone when making a self-introduction. What kind of solutions will they propose?

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While Fujii-kun’s was really good, I was more impressed with the singing intros done first by Hamada-kun, and then by Kamiyama-kun dovetailing on his example. Those showed a lot of confidence in their vocals, and that’s something you don’t see enough of in Johnny’s.

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Next up, Kento-kun, Fuma-kun, and Shori-kun performed “Soba ni Iru Yo” with live instrumental support from Ishigaki-kun and Goto Hiromi-kun.

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No complaints here – I love the song, think highly of the vocals, and this is exactly what I thought SZ should be doing in this episode – singing some more of the great songs on their new album.

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As far as costumes go, snappy white suits are solid.

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So, another great stage. Minor complaints aside, this episode has had some really good performances so far.

Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun interviewed Jesse-kun next.

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With Jesse-kun . . . I’m seeing too much of him. Really, in the past two years he’s been in six full-season dramas, two specials, and two movies, and now he’s getting quite a lot of time on SC. He’s good, but he’s not this good.

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He performed KinKi Kids’ “me ~Chikyuu no iro” as a solo with backdancing from Teranishi-kun, Anderson-kun and two others.

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The song sounds too thin as a solo. When KinKi Kids perform it, is it usually just one member that sings it, or do they both sing it? Sounds like something that would work better with two voices.

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After that, he was joined by Hanzawa Akatsuki-kun and Masuda Ryo-kun for KinKi Kids’ “Kimi to Boku no Uta”.

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They’re calling Masuda Ryo-kun “Shani” now and I can look at this in two ways. First, that the agency is deliberately giving these foreign-looking half-Japanese members katakana names to have them stand out as ‘other’. Taking a lighter view of it, perhaps they want to pair Jesse-kun and Masuda Ryo-kun up, and “Jesse and Shani” could be a thing. Either way, I still like Masuda Ryo better – to English ears the name “Shani” doesn’t really convey the right image.

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Whatever his name, what a voice! And Hanzawa-kun did well this time too.

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It has come to my attention that Hanzawa-kun is very tall. From the look of it, he’s about my height, and therefore within a centimeter of the Ayukawa Taiyou record. As a general principle, I support all Johnny’s above six feet tall, so he’s got my vote.

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Once again, this was a fine performance despite the fact that the first song should have had two voices, continuing a very good episode.

In the Ki ni Naru KJ segment, Kawai-kun and Goseki-kun introduced Hamada Takahiro-kun, who really shouldn’t need any introduction at this point. For that matter, he’s not even a Kansai junior anymore, now that he’s debuting.

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There’s literally nothing surprising about his profile unless you didn’t know he was twenty-five. They make a big deal of the fact that he has an AB blood type, which is the classic sign that they have no idea what to talk about.

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Kawai-kun was exclaiming at everything, including Hamada-kun’s siblings.

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They got Hamada-kun to do some acrobatics – a 540 degree flip-kick (I have no idea what to call it).

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Hamada-kun then performed “Give me”. After seeing him demonstrate his vocal chops earlier during the Shokura You Bin segment, I was looking more for his slick dance moves here. Didn’t get too much in that area, but it wasn’t bad, either.

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It was really nice to see him at the center with the other Kansai juniors and Johnny’s West members supporting.

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Yabu-kun and Totsuka-kun then introduced the next stage: Miyachika-kun performing V6’s “Music for the People”.

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Miyachika-kun did a brief but vigorous stint on stage with Kuramoto Kaoru, Takahashi Fuu, Matsuda Genta, Matsukura Kaito, and another junior backdancing.

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He then stepped aside for Iwahashi Genki-kun, who sang “Ai Nanda” with the same five backdancers.

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Genki-kun’s stage presence has grown exponentially the past few months, and this is the best I’ve seen him so far.

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Jinguji-kun followed with KAT-TUN’s “Star Rider”. He’s been having trouble matching the other two recently, but this time he at least moved around with more confidence. Still the same pattern to the way he dances and winks at the camera, though – I’m wondering whether I’ll see some growth from him.

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The epic junior medley continued with Hikaru Genji’s “Diamond Hurricane”, as performed by Nakamura Reia-kun, Kakuta Yuusei-kun, and Takahashi Kaito-kun.

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Looks like Reia-kun has already dumped the uber-cool persona he was trying out, and is back to cute moves, though it possibly might depend on the song. His hair was a tad voluminous, though.

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In any case, the Reia-Yuusei-Kaito team did excellent work for the few seconds they had, then the real heroes of the medley – Matsuda Genta-kun and Matsukura Kaito-kun – got to close it out with KinKi Kids’ “Swan Song”. I say they’re the real heroes because they were backdancing through most of it, and during all that time they were usually more charismatic that the people out front – with the sole exception of Genki-kun. Even after all that dancing, the camera had trouble keeping up with them here.

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The show ended with Sexy Zone singing “Congratulations” – my favorite song from their new album.

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As with any song I endorse, the vocals are beautifully done. More importantly, though, the melody is absurdly catchy and the song incorporates a classy trumpet part.

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As I said in the opening, I was totally watching Sou-kun during this to get a proper sense of the dance, and this time it was well worth it – the dance was intricate and Sou-kun made it look like a lot of fun to perform.

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That was a superb stage to end the show with, but the episode isn’t quite over, because there’s still Shori-kun’s Omake segment.

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His guest this time was Kotaki-kun. Amazing as it is, they’re the same age – seventeen.

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They did a variation on jankenpon (rock-paper-scissors) – acchi muite hoi! – with the threat of a punishment of some sort for the loser.

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How do you suppose this will turn out? I think this was sort of a to-be-continued situation.

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This episode was full of highlights. Sexy Zone’s “Congratulations” and “Soba ni Iru Yo” are high on my list because of the vocals, and by the same token so was the Jesse-Shani-Hanzawa performance. The junior medley late in the episode was a blast and definitely shouldn’t be missed, making up for the celebration medley at the start of the show, though even that wasn’t really bad. Even though I’ve heard the song plenty of times before, the Johnny’s West performance was also a highlight because it felt fresh.

Besides those, Hamada-kun’s solo and the A.B.C-Z stage were both solid contributions. I’m surprised we didn’t get more A.B.C-Z here with their album release coming up.

Even the talk segments were very good. The Shokura You Bin was lots of fun, the Junior ni Q was a good topic, and Shori-kun’s Omake can’t miss as long as they keep doing janken.

There was nothing really wrong with the episode. I guess it started out a bit weak, but I appreciated how upbeat it was for most of the show and how the feel of the show matched the theme.

Wavering between giving this episode a 9 or a 10 out of 10, I think I’ll opt for the higher score. I can imagine better episodes, but will gladly watch this one a few more times without skipping a second.