At the start of this VS Arashi (VS 嵐), the hosts reflect on their poor performance in 2014 and the fact that Most Most Dame Arashi (MMDA) is coming up – the annual occasion where they take stock of who did the worst in the past year, and punish that member mildly. I still wish they did Most Dame Arashi (MDA) at the end of each episode, but at least we’re finally going to see some accountability around here.

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The Arashi members were dressed mostly in black, looking cool and somewhat sporty, though not full tracksuit mode. So, we know they’re up against a guest team that isn’t completely inept in the athletic department, but not an actual sports team.

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In fact, the guest team were representatives of the Takarazuka Revue – a theater troupe composed only of women. Looking specifically at stage shows, plays, and musicals, there’s a sense in which they’re the female equivalent of Johnny’s. Or, more appropriately, Johnny’s is a male version of them, since Takarazuka has been around for a hundred years compared to Johnny’s fifty. Any way you look at it, these are two of the most venerable (that is to say, old) institutions in Japanese entertainment.

The guest team had three former members and three current members of the Takarazuka Revue. As usual, former member Makoto Tsubasa-san was the leader, and alongside her were Shibuki Jun-san and Ryouga Haruhi-san. The current members present were Yuzuki Reon-san, Yumesaki Nene-san, and Kurenai Yuzuru-san. In all cases, these are stage names.

Clearly, the fact that Takarazuka is celebrating 100 years in business is a huge thing (and they can keep celebrating it for the next two or three years as far as I’m concerned if it means more TV appearances).

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But it’s also quite an event to see both former members and current members together on TV. The current members usually don’t make TV appearances – perhaps because they don’t need to and perhaps to maintain their mystique.

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Wondering who the “plus one” guest might be, MatsuJun guesses that it’s probably a Johnny’s member to maintain the Takarazuka vs. Johnny’s theme, and he’s right:

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But when Kazama Shunsuke-kun emerges the Arashis look disappointed and pretend that he’s just one of Aiba-kun’s random friends. They found novel ways of giving him a hard time, as Sakurai-san even made him introduce himself.

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Poor Kazama-kun – the graphics people had to repeatedly clarify at the bottom of the screen that he really is a Johnny’s member:

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So, here’s the line-up:

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And the first game was Dual Curling. Having watched certain parts of the Winter Olympics, I have to say that though this game is more fun to watch than real curling, it’s still unfortunate how little skill is involved. I still think a viable solution would be to raise the different point circles at different times – the 50 point slot around 20 seconds in, the 30 point slot 40 seconds in, and then finally the 10 point slot at the end. That would force some tactics.

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There were two rounds of the game so that every member from each team could participate. Kurenai-san, Yumesaki-san and Shibuki-san faced off against Matsumoto-kun, Kazama-kun, and Ninomiya-kun in the first round, and the rest took part in the second round.

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The three Arashi team participants were from the same year.

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The Takarazuka team members look cool, but this is a game of patience and luck, and they’re up against gamemaster Nino-kun and uber-competitive MatsuJun. This could be tough.

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The second round featured the older members of each team, and here Makoto-san had a seriously competitive stance. She clearly wanted to show her kouhai how it’s done.

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Next was Pinball Runner with the Takarazuka team up first. Yuzuki Reon-san was the runner, and she is the top star for male parts (otokoyaku) for the Star group (there are five groups in the Takarazuka Revue – Flower, Moon, Snow, Star, Cosmos). The huge peacock costume she sometimes has to wear on stage weighs 20 kg, so you know the doesn’t have trouble running around with a small basket on her shoulder.

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So it’s really a matter of how well her teammates do with calling out numbers. Makoto-san has an amazingly deep, completely deadpan tone when calling out numbers.

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Naturally, Kazama-kun ran for the Arashi team. That saved them from having to use the handicap basket.

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But did it really have to be all five Arashis up there to call out numbers? You just know that they were trying to find new ways to perturb him.

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This time, it was Aiba-kun and Sakurai-san with the bright idea – get Kazama-kun to show that he can dance and thereby prove that he’s Johnny’s.

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And Kazama-kun couldn’t get out of it because even the Takarazuka team was shouting that they wanted to see it. How will he do? Well, I can’t really describe it – you’ll have to watch to see.

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As they tried to figure out how to manage things with all five Arashis as supporters, Makoto-san asked Kazama-kun which Arashi he trusted the most. I wanted to leave out who he picked, but it turns out that it has ramifications on the rest of the show, so I have to reveal that he chose MatsuJun. Aiba-kun then realizes that Kazama-kun’s connection to MatsuJun led him to copy MatsuJun’s hairstyle.

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And the hilarity continues . . . .

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When we next see Kazama-kun, he’s on the bench and his hair has been restyled – to an approximation of the hairstyle he once shared with Matsumoto-kun.

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Let’s face it, Kazama-kun is totally stealing this show, even though literally everyone involved is a show-stopper in their own right. He actually apologizes to Yumesaki-san and Tsubasa-san for stealing the spotlight from them – they were up to bowl in Bank Bowling and waiting patiently.

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We found out here that Yumesaki-san was studying abroad and got to see Tsubasa-san in a production of Nova Bossa Nova in Rio de Janeiro, and that’s what led her to join Takarazuka. Small world. Will there be some chemistry between this senpai-kouhai pair as they try to strike down the array of pins?

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With Kurenai-san and Ryouga-san up, Tsubasa-san explains that the different Takarazuka teams work together in situations like Johnny’s Countdown, and Sakurai-san comments that she seems to know a lot about Johnny’s.

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But that also leads to the question of Kazama-kun not participating in Countdown. Oh dear.

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Once again this leads to a long conversation, and this time it was both Aiba-kun and Kazama-kun apologizing to the two bowlers who were waiting around.

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It would take a lot of space to describe some of the Kazama-related antics that went on, so you’ll have to watch to catch them all.

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Kazama-kun and Ohno-kun were the first bowlers for the Arashi team. And we discovered there was a West Side Story connection between the two teams – both Johnny’s and Takarazuka put on productions of the musical (though has Johnny’s done so recently?) and members of both teams have played parts in West Side Story. One of the Takarazuka members actually watched Kazama-kun and Ohno-san when they performed it back in the day.

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It’s funny – in the Shounen Club review I just did, I wondered what the word “JARK” that occurs in an A.B.C-Z song meant, and thanks to this conversation I suddenly realized that the opposing gangs in West Side Story were the Jets and the Sharks. I wonder if there’s a connection? It’s as good a theory as any.

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Kazama-kun tells about his entry into the agency, and one of the Takarazukas wondered how it could be that easy to get into Johnny’s. Sakurai-san said that it was easy for Kazama-kun while implying that it isn’t easy for everyone. Ultimately, they decided that it was because Kazama-kun was a nice guy and handsome.

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Hmm, this praise might primed him for a good performance in the actual game. What do you think?

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But where does that leave Sakurai-san and Aiba-kun? Can they get the spare?

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You know, it’s amazing that there’s still time left in the episode with all the side talking that’s gone on. In fact, we’ve got two more games. First, the Takarazuka team was up for Kicking Sniper, and did their standard “dekiru” cheer.

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Announcer Itou-san couldn’t resist pointing out that Kazama-kun’s hair was back to normal. I’m telling you, this is the Kazama Shunsuke episode of VS Arashi.

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The kickers were Yuzuki-san, Ryouga-san, and Shibuki-san. Please note that they aren’t playing from the ‘ladies zone’ or given any handicap like that, and there’s every expectation that they’ll all score points.

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Aiba-kun, Ninomiya-kun, and Kazama-kun were up for the Arashi team, and they did a ‘handsome’ cheer to counter the ‘dekiru’ cheer from the guest team. I guess it’s all about whatever word is stuck in their minds and might work as a gag.

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Apparently this is the ‘handsome’ pose:

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After that, Kazama-kun got to promote his drama . . .

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. . . and it was time for the final game – Korokoro Viking. This was far from a straightforward version of the game, though.

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By the way, there was a handsome face-off between Takarazuka and Arashi right at the end of the show, so make sure not to miss that – it was the funniest part.

This was an excellent episode of VS Arashi. The guest team was very ready to entertain, but they didn’t really get much chance to use all the inside-Takarazuka stuff they undoubtedly had up their sleeves.

And that’s because this was totally a Kazama Shunsuke episode. You know, there are plenty of Johnny’s members who have appeared as plus one guests on VS Arashi, but not a single one of them had the kind of chemistry Kazama-kun had with the Arashi guys. At every turn, they couldn’t resist messing around with him, and he with them. He also picked up on things quickly and put them to use – like Aiba-kun’s mention of the hairstyle.

The Arashi leaders in this episode were definitely Aiba-kun and Sakurai-san with some support from Matsumoto-kun. They were the ones most frequently interacting with Kazama-kun, turning the episode into what it eventually became. The Most Omoshiroi (Interesting) Arashi was Aiba-kun, thanks also to his Kicking Sniper performance and the fact that he setup and built on a lot of the craziness. Aiba-kun was definitely on in this episode.