Taking to the stage in their white and pink futuristic outfits, Sexy Zone kicked off this episode of Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) by singing “We Gotta Go”, which is a nice high-energy song for the opening.

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Okamoto Kauan-kun sighting in this one – apparently he’s taking over for Kishi Yuta-kun while Kishi is off handling other activities.

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Interesting microphone handling from Kikuchi Fuma-kun late in the song:

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So, I think it was a nice opening, though it’s interesting that this is the second episode in a row in which we got an entire Sexy Zone song at the start.

The theme for the episode was Tabidachi (旅立ち – setting off on a trip), and Nakajima Yuto-kun offered a “Bon Voyage”. Yabu Kota-kun asked what language it was, pretending to wonder whether it was German (I’m absolutely certain he knew what language it was) in order to bring Marius-kun in. As we all know, Marius-kun is completely comfortable piping in with language support, and he told them the equivalent in German which . . . well, it’s no wonder he has no trouble pronouncing English when he can get around words like that!

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The Bon Voyage/Tabidachi medley began with TOKIO’s “Ambitious Japan”, as performed by Morimoto Shintaro, Morita Myuto, Kouchi Yugo, Morohoshi Shoki, and Noon Boyz.

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It was too brief for me to really assess this particular group of six. Miyachika-kun, Iwahashi Genki-kun, and Jinguji Yuta-kun were up next with Hey! Say! Jump’s “Bouken Rider”.

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Looks like they didn’t trust Kauan-kun with this part, even though the song is sort of a standard and the dance is simple.

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Tackey & Tsubasa’s “Mirai Koukai” was performed by Matsumura Hokuto-kun, Kyomoto Taiga-kun, Masuda Ryo-kun, and Hanzawa Akatsuki-kun. Now, this is a group of four I can definitely get behind. Wouldn’t mind them throwing in Jesse-kun, but with just these four there’s a better chance they’ll all be treated as equals within the group.

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They were followed by Yasui Kentaro-kun, Hagiya Keigo-kun, and Tanaka Juri-kun singing “Harukana Yakusoku”. I was wondering where Tanaka Juri-kun would end up, and this is certainly a surprising place – I don’t remember seeing him in a team with Yasui-kun much. Looks like the agency is once again having him do his elder brother’s raps, though.

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That was a weak way for the medley to end – the three of them couldn’t really do a good job of singing that song, and the vocals ended up sounding very thin. Otherwise, I’d say the medley was enjoyable, but very short – all four parts of it combined took less time than the SZ song at the start of the show. It didn’t allow for anyone to shine.

The Kansai segment was next with Kawai-kun and Goseki-kun hosting. It’s strange that this is the first appearance of A.B.C-Z in the episode, and I think technically the two of them should introduce themselves because of that.

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Their Kansai guests were Johnny’s West members Kiriyama-kun, Shigeoka-kun, and Fujii-kun. Now, Shigeoka-kun is in the pre-recorded Kansai parts, but is still not present with the rest of his group for the parts recorded in Tokyo. I’m still wondering about the reason for his absence.

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They did a Dou-suru type segment – exactly the same as the Shokura You Bin segment – and this time the scenario is about what should be done when friends who have come over to play aren’t leaving. First Kiriyama-kun and Shigeoka-kun give it a go, with Kiriyama-kun playing the annoying friend.

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Then it was Kiriyama-kun and Fujii-kun. Once again, Kiriyama-kun was the annoying friend.

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The Kansai performance was as usual as it could be – “Let’s Go West ~Kansai!!~” and “Bang Bang!!” as performed by all the usual suspects – Johnny’s West, Kin Kan, and Naniwa Oji. In fact, isn’t this an old performance? I’ve been taking some peeks at Maido Jani recently, and I know that Nishihata Daigo-kun has had to cut his hair for a drama role, but he was here with a full head of hair. This must be a seriously old recording.

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No points for old material! When we watch Shounen Club, we want the latest in Johnny’s! (well, within two months, anyway.)

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After that, Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun had a chat with Fuma-kun. Seemed unusually calm for something with Fuma-kun at the center.

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Fuma-kun took the stage for . . . for one of the very few Japanese songs I can sing – “Ue wo Muite Arukou”, which actually topped the U.S. charts in 1963 under the name “Sukiyaki” for reasons I still don’t understand. I sing it in a different key and way lower than Fuma-kun did, but we both put more edge and emotion into the notes than Sakamoto Kyu-san did in the original rendition.

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Fuma-kun, of course, sang it much better than I do at the best of times. The vital point in the song is the line “shiawase wa sora no ue ni”, because the line preceding contains the highest point and most dramatic notes, but then this line drops to the bottom of the singer’s range and needs to release the tension. Fuma-kun managed it smoothly and with a good amount of emotional content.

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That said, this song clearly tested both ends of Fuma-kun’s range, and you can hear the strain at the top end as well as the softness on the low end. Sakamoto Kyu-san has us all beat there – he got all the notes out effortlessly, though his version lacks the emotional impact.

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This was very nice and classy, and  a good way for Fuma-kun to complicate his usual image. This performance isn’t just a highlight for this episode – it’ll probably be one of the top highlights of the year.

Speaking of which, how about a segment we almost never get to see anymore?

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That’s right – it’s “Anata ni O-tegami Kakimashou”, a segment that used to be fairly common, for the past few years has seemed all-but-extinct. The letter writers this time were an interesting pair – Nakajima Kento-kun and Kiriyama Akito-kun.

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I’m amazed these two have much to write to each other about, considering their different bases of operations.

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I only caught little hints of what they were saying, and don’t think I can offer a reliable translation of anything, so I hope this part at least will get subbed.

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I appreciated the feel and novelty of it, though.

A.B.C-Z finally got to take the stage as a group, and they performed “My life”. It’s a latin-flavored song with some attempts at Spanish guitar, so no problems with the song style.

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The dancing wasn’t particularly challenging and wasn’t as sharp as they should have been able to make it.

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The singing was a bit harsh. Hashimoto-kun was fine, but Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun had some strained lines.

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Nevertheless, it was a good performance – just not up to this group’s best standards.

This month’s Ki ni naru J featured someone who deserves a bit more spotlight, especially after his nice work on the violin during “Ue wo Muite Arukou” – Goto Hiromi-kun.

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You know, usually these profiles have family members and something about food, with the blood type squished onto the same line as the birthdate, but Hiromi-kun had a much shorter profile:

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Since the last line is his specialty – the violin – the only thing they really have to talk about is the person he looks up to – David Garrett. Indeed, it’s interesting to see a western name there, and looking at Garrett’s Wikipedia page, it’s no wonder why Hiromi-kun looks up to him. Quite apart from all his other accolades, Garrett received a Stradivarius from the German president after performing for him at the age of 11. He also has a pop image that would translate well into Johnny’s.

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After talking about David Garrett, they naturally let him show off some of his violin skills.

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And he was in the background again as Jesse-kun took the stage to perform KinKi Kids’ “Mada Namida ni Naranai Kanashimi ga” – their most recent single, in fact.

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But not just Jesse-kun – this time they had all the top junior vocalists in play. They threw in Masuda Ryo-kun and Hanzawa Akatsuki-kun . . .

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. . . and also Kyomoto Taiga-kun and Yasui Kentaro-kun. While I would never have to worry about this group of five sounding bad, there are huge problems with it. First and foremost, they’re all lead singers, so it’s sort of a waste putting them all in the same group. It’s not like they do deep harmonies in Johnny’s – I’d love to see these guys do covers of Beach Boys songs, though.

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So yeah, nice performance, and I’m glad they didn’t do another mishmash melody. It wasn’t a song that challenged them vocally, though, so I wouldn’t call it a highlight (though it undoubtedly is one for the fans of the juniors involved).

Yabu-kun and Noon Boyz hosted the Omotenashi Box segment next with six members of Johnny’s West.

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The first topic of discussion was a big fail.

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It went on from there, but I can’t detail everything that went on in this talk segment. Hopefully Johnny’s West fans will mobilize to translate it.

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Kiriyama-kun, Kotaki-kun, and Nakama-kun took the stage for “Sono Saki e . . .”, soon after joined by the other three members of Johnny’s West. This song was a nice change of pace from their usual performance style. I’ve been hoping that Johnny’s West would show a more nuanced version of the group in NHK Hall, and this certainly satisfied that.

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Kotaki-kun has a weak but workable voice. Hopefully we’ll get to hear him develop it more – he’ll certainly get support from the Kiriyama-kun on that.

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Feathers.

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While I wanted a song in this style from Johnny’s West, this was a very forgettable performance – perhaps because we’ve already seen some more impressive heartfelt performances in “Ue wo Muite Arukou” and “Mada namida ni naranai kanashimi ga”. It would have been better to put this before those other two stages.

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The Junior ni Q segment followed that, continuing the topic of songs the juniors like to listed to in the spring. Nakamura Reia-kun was up first, advocating Arashi’s “Sakura Sake” – certainly one of my favorites.

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I’ll be honest – Reia-kun’s hair was very distracting. It’s like sculpted chaos.

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Jinguji Yuta-kun’s choice was “Tabidachi no Hi ni” – the ubiquitous graduation choral piece made by the faculty of Kagemori junior high school in 1991.

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Jesse-kun picked a KinKi Kids song, of course – at this rate he’s going to become a KinKi Kids cover artist. The song was Domoto Tsuyoshi-san’s “Somei Yoshino” – that’s the most popular variety of cherry blossom in Japan, so this is basically “Sakura” by a different name.

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Miyachika Kaito-kun picked a minuet, which has to be the most original choice on the board – even more sophisticated than picking Vivaldi’s “Spring”. Very classy.

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I couldn’t get a good screenshot of Tanaka Juri-kun, but he picked Hey! Say! Jump’s “Hyakka Ryouran”. Glad to have a HSJ song mentioned, but it really doesn’t match up well with the other choices, and I’m not sure Tanaka Juri-kun was being serious. He said he listens to it in the bath and when going to sleep and Kawai-kun outright called him a liar.

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A viewer wrote in to request Chicken Basket’s “Watashi no Okite” from the drama 49. I wonder if they thought they were going to get Chicken Basket doing it in their outfits from the drama. No such luck there, but it was still a very nice surprise to see this song done properly – we only got snippets of it in the drama, after all. It’s also on the new SZ album, but I really wish they had plugged it closer to the release.

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Yasui-kun is getting a lot of stage time in this episode! They included Jinguji Yuta-kun and Teranishi Takuto-kun in the front ranks in this performance, but strangely left out (or put in the back rank where it was hard to see them) Abe Aran-kun, Takahashi Fuu-kun, and Shimekake Ryuya-kun even though the former pair weren’t in Chicken Basket for the bulk of the series but the latter three were. Also, Morohoshi Shoki-kun and Hagiya Keigo-kun weren’t even in the series! Where did they come from?

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Anyway, looks like a really fun dance, the crowd was going wild just at the mention of Chicken Basket and gave it a hearty cheer at the end. I wonder why we didn’t get the Chicken Basket lineup from the series, though.

The show closed with Hey! Say! Jump’s “Dreams Come True” as performed by the Kanto juniors featured in this episode along with Nakajima Yuto-kun and Yabu Kota-kun from HSJ.

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We now know that this is essentially the last moment for Yabu-kun and Yuto-kun as the hosts of Shounen Club, and since HSJ no longer promotes its singles on the show, possibly the last appearance for HSJ altogether. We’ll see. But the theme of setting out on a journey with all the graduation implications seems to have been chosen to signal this.

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Shori-kun’s Omake segment followed that, and as far as I can tell, Shori-kun asked Fujii-kun for a rematch in Acchi Muite Hoi! and got it. Can he avoid the penalty by winning this round? I was sort of hoping to see him face the batsu game in this one.

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This was a very difficult episode to assess. The middle of it went very slowly – partly because of the choice of songs – but there were a number of special moments – most notably the Chicken Basket performance, Kikuchi-kun’s solo, and the Tegami segment with Kento-kun and Kiriyama-kun. Beyond those highlights, I’d say “We Gotta Go” was a good opening, the Tabidachi medley was too quick, but at least inclusive, and the closing with “Dreams Come True” had a good feel to it, even though it was bittersweet for me.

The rest of the episode wasn’t particularly impressive, though the low point was certainly the realization that the Kansai performance was old material – that’s no way to use a valuable chance to promote groups that get very little attention in the Kanto region otherwise!

We got a lot of representation from the elder juniors in this episode and the last one, and that’s good because they need at least a chance to debut, but I’m not seeing any real sense or pattern to it. The agency still doesn’t seem to know what to do with them, and I’m particularly worried that interesting characters like Kouchi-kun and Shintaro-kun are going to get left out. Yasui-kun, Jesse-kun, and Masuda-kun are currently leading the wave from the look of it, but whatever happened to Hokuto-kun? It seems like he’s been put on the backburner, too, even though he is in a position to contribute some solid vocals.

Meanwhile, we didn’t get anything from the younger juniors this month. The youngest members featured were the Reia-Yuusei-Kaito team and the Matsukura-Matsuda team in the previous episode. Honestly, I think the agency is actually in the process of getting people to forget that there was supposed to be a group called Twenty Twenty, and they’re trying to figure out what to do with the chibis now that they’ve scrapped that idea. The time taken by the Johnny’s West debut helps out with that, but they’re also putting forward the trio and duo in order to generate buzz with them.

In short, this was a good episode with some special scenes, but I probably won’t sit through the whole thing a second time. I’ll give this one an 8 out of 10, but the three highlights I cited were all worthy of being replayed in a year-end special.

We’re basically starting fresh in April, just like we did last year when the time slot expanded to 59 minutes of program time and they included the Kansai segment, so I’ll probably have a lot to say about the new format once I see how it works. See you then!