This is the second episode of Sexy Zone Channel – they only have a new episode every other week, and just rebroadcast the most recent episode on the off-weeks. So, I have been waiting very, very impatiently to see if they can match the quality of the first episode. At first glance, the fact that they’re still in the sporty outfits looks promising.

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Again, the show starts out completely informally – as if the staff were catching SZ completely unaware. Kento-kun and Shori-kun were practicing their dance moves and the staff guy says “really? Should we stop recording?” There’s a level of comfort and gentle ribbing between the staff and the talents.

They talked a bit about the rock climbing last time and how their muscles still hurt. Marius-kun said that he wanted/went to go get a massage and there was some surprise that a thirteen year old would go for a massage. Kikuchi-kun brought up Marius-kun’s Takarazuka connection (I think his mother is/was in that theater troupe) and also says something about Ginza.

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So what’s the theme for this episode?

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Go-kart!

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Shori-kun is well-known to love cars, so no doubt he’s already psyched up for this, but you’ve got to figure that they’re all enthusiastic about this one.

The staff asks why they think go-karts were picked as the theme this time, and Kento-kun notes that last time to goal was to go higher, whereas this time they’ll be trying to go faster. If we continue with the standard triplet (higher, faster, stronger), does that mean the third episode will be a test of strength? The rock climbing was sort of that already.

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The staff mentions Matchy-san’s car racing career, and that rather leaves everyone speechless.

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There are strong winds as they make their way to the location for the shoot . . .

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. . . the Chiba Sports Plaza.

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Do you get the feeling that Marius-kun is really nervous this time?

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Last time, the guys got to train up on their rock climbing skills before tackling the main challenge, and the same pattern was true here. Rather than go straight into the karting, they were taken to a bowling alley where there were some Daytona USA racing games:

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First, Kento-kun faced off against Fuma-kun, though Kento-kun accidentally chose the short course instead of the mid-length one they were supposed to do. Now, the two of them both have their licenses, but when this was pointed out, Kento-kun was quick to quash any heightened expectations about his driving skills, saying that he always drives very safely and sticks to 20km/h (yeah, right). By the way, it’s really irritating that the Japanese take 20km to mean 20kph in context – it’s very important to distinguish the units for distances and velocities.

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I’ll leave out the winners for each round – I definitely encourage everyone to watch to find out the results. After Kento-Fuma, they tried to set up Shori-Sou-Marius, but the game requires one-on-one and Marius-kun had to play on his own. He was so delightfully young during this.

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So, after building up an appetite for some real racing . . .

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. . . they were led to the real raceway . . .

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. . . where their top speed will be 50 km/h (30 mph). I’m sure it will be substantially less than that.

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The course has plenty of twists and turns, and totals 250m.

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First of all, the man in charge – Itou-san – did the drive himself, giving them a model for how to handle the course.

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Their target time for a lap is 26 seconds, with the best times around 22-23 seconds, and they’re all going to get to try it out before the real race. And yes, we’re going to get to see the Sexy Zone boys go head-to-head in this.

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They did janken (rock-paper-scissors) to figure out who should go first, and Kento-kun won. Can he show off his driving skills or will he play it too safe?

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The others were laughing so hard while he was at it – Shori-kun and Sou-kun were in stitches – but how will they do when it’s their turn to try it out?

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Kento-kun announced that it was really fun. When he returned, the boys called him “tono” (殿 – lord), which was apparently a reference to Shimura Ken-san’s famous Baka Tono-sama character because Kento-kun did Shimura-san’s Ai-ing gag. That was a very nice touch – a reference with broad appeal.

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Marius-kun was second (and during his drive Kento-kun said he felt like a parent worried about his kid) . . .

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. . . Sou-kun was third . . .

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. . . and I discovered that it’s really hard to get good screenshots when their whizzing by. They had cameras on their helmets and on their vehicles, but those were really fuzzy.

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Marius-kun was really, really slow, but Kento-kun suspected that he would show his true colors in the real race. Based on the way the thirteen year-old was saying “kowai” all the way through, though, I’m not so sure. They got a lot of good laughs watching him. Sou-kun was all-smiles, as always.

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Now, how will Shori-kun, who’s really into cars and has been showing his excitement the whole time, do?

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Well, he had an additional problem – the helmet really didn’t fit well. Even more than with Sou-kun, it kept slipping to obscure his view.

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Finally, the other licensed driver gave it a go. Will Fuma-kun get the best practice lap time? He sure didn’t lay off the throttle.

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Next, they had to set lap times to determine how they would line up for the main race. Those with the best established times will start at the head of the pack in the race. After a very vigorous round of janken, Shori-kun went up first to set his time. They go around for three laps, but the time is only recorded for the second lap.

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After Shori, it was Kento, Sou, Marius, then Fuma.

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Now, when it comes to the final race . . .

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. . . there’s a little matter about the penalty for the loser, and the staff introduces a spinning wheel with which they pick the batsu game.

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And they’re off! The race will be five laps of the track, or 1.25 km.

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There will be lots of bumping and some embarrassing fails.

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And I’m absolutely not going to tell you how it ended, though I will say that the penalty – the batsu game – was hilarious, and that they decided to go for a second race.

Afterward, they had some time to chat and reflect on the experience.

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Gotta love the images captured during the closing credits. They sort of remind me of the photos Mogi-san took during Johnny’s Jr Land.

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I don’t think I’ve seen a more entertaining full hour from a Japanese variety show in ages. Half-hours, maybe, but to sustain this level of entertainment through an hour is impressive. It helps to know the members, obviously, but even for viewers without any prior knowledge of SZ, it should be easy to figure out the dynamics of the group just from this episode. Once again, knowledge of the Japanese language wasn’t essential – it was pretty easy to figure out what was going on at every turn.

The SZ members showed a lot of camaraderie and also the ways in which they are all unique. They brought even more excitement than they had into the first episode, which is saying something. Marius-kun was somewhat the victim in this one because he clearly had much less car-driving acumen than any of the others, but it was all within the usual bounds of variety show silliness. I hope he didn’t feel too bad about it.

There was a consistent sense that they were just having fun rather than the show being some kind of work, and that’s the best way to make a variety show enjoyable. I have no idea what we’re going to get two weeks from now, but I’m definitely eager to find out.