And so begins a new era of Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部). Hey! Say! Jump has graduated and Johnny’s West, freshly debuted, will take their place alongside A.B.C-Z and Sexy Zone as the senpai groups on the show. We now have two explicit hosts of the show – Kawai Fumito-kun from A.B.C-Z and Kiriyama Akito-kun from Johnny’s West. The general configuration looks a lot like the early Koyama-Nakamaru era, with SZ in place of Ya-Ya-Yah (though YYY’s status at the time was a bit complicated). Let’s see how the new arrangement works out.

I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t replace the tacky graphics in the title sequence they added to the show last year, but that’s a minor thing.

SZ opened the show with the self-titled debut song, dressed in those futuristic pink and white outfits. The music to the song was somewhat redone, but the net effect is subtle.

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Fuma-kun seemed a whole beat off during this dance – a rare lack of synchronicity on a song that should be sharp.

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As you might have already guessed, A.B.C-Z followed with “Za ABC~5stars~” – their own debut song. Unlike SZ, they were on a forward platform, and only vaguely did the dance to the song.

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Now, at this point you’d expect that Johnny’s WEST would sing their debut song “Ee ja nai ka”, right? But they can’t do that because they surely want to perform the entire song later in the show. So, they sang the Kansai anthem . . . I mean, “Let’s Go West ~ KANSAI!!~”. Thankfully, Shigeoka Daiki-kun is present this month, so we finally got to see all seven members of the group in NHK Hall.

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At this point, even I thought that the medley would end, since each of the senpai groups had done their thing. Instead, it continued with SZ singing “We Gotta Go”, which did not match up well with the other songs in the medley because of its more restrained tempo and tone.

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With SZ getting that second dip, the medley ended. On the bright side, it was an energetic start to the show, but the inclusion of the fourth song really through off the feel and pleasant symmetry the opening would have otherwise had.

Kento-kun got to introduce the two new hosts – Kawai-kun and Kiriyama-kun – and here again Fuma-kun seemed somewhat distracted because he was late to clear center stage as the hosts emerged.

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I’ll admit, I’m a little worried that with these two as hosts, no one else will be able to get a word (or a joke) in. We’ll have to see.

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Kawai-kun prompted Shori-kun for the theme of the episode, which is “Start”. How appropriate.

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On that note, let’s have the traditional junior medley – a special 10 song medley, as introduced by Kiriyama-kun. I think that with the exception of an extended medley from a single group, such a long medley shouldn’t be allowed. That said, let’s see if it works out.

The first song was Kinki Kids’ “Jounetsu” as performed by Abe Aran-kun, Iwahashi Genki-kun, Jinguji Yuta-kun, and Miyachika Kaito-kun. I wonder if Abe-kun’s addition to this team is temporary (because Kishi Yuta-kun is busy with other activities) or whether this is now the Fab Five.

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That was looking good – the first interesting performance of the evening considering we’ve seen everything from the opening medley before – but it was cut all too short because we had to move on to the next song – Matsukura Kaito-kun, Matsuda Genta-kun, and friends with Arashi’s “Ashita ni Mukatte”. Not one of my favorite Arashi songs, but I’ll take it.

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Song three was “Take Me Higher” from V6 as performed by Nakamura Reia-kun, Kakuta Yuusei-kun, and Takahashi Kaito-kun (so we’ve gotten three Kaitos in a row in this medley – should be some kind of record). That bit was over so quickly I couldn’t even get a clean screencap of it before the chibis took over, dancing to “Theme of Coming Century”. My eyes sort of popped out when I saw the lyric credit for this one – it was credited to Johnny K. – I presume that’s Johnny-san himself, isn’t it?

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Kis-My-Ft2’s “SHE! HER! HER!” was the fifth song. Nozawa Yuki-kun, Kouchi Yugo-kun, Tanaka Juri-kun, Morimoto Shintaro-kun, and Morohoshi Shoki-kun did the honors here.

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I was surprised to see Nozawa-kun with this bunch without his longtime partner-in-crime Sanada-kun. At this point, I wondered if Sanada-kun was simply absent for this month.

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Matsumura Hokuto-kun and Kyomoto Taiga-kun sang Takizawa Hideaki-san’s “Ki-se-ki”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen these two do a duet before. Their voices work very well together, though.

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So what are we on now, seven? Yasui Kentaro-kun and Hagiya Keigo-kun managed to squeeze in a few seconds of “Kamira Tamara”, then Anderson Casey-kun, Okamoto Kauan-kun, and Yamakura Shalf-kun (that’s a rare sight!) did “Kimi no Hitomi ni Koishiteru” . . . I mean, Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”. The Japanese title for the song is not even remotely a translation of the real title, by the way.

Morita Myuto-kun and Sanada Yuma-kun performed SMAP’s “Oretachi ni Asu wa Aru”. So . . . it looks like with the end of Waratte Iitomo, Noon Boyz might no longer be a thing. So much for one of the few remaining named teams among the juniors. Nice job by this pair here, though.

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The medley ended (finally!) with my favorite KinKi Kids song – “Ne, Ganbaru yo.” Naturally, they kept some top vocalists for this one – Masuda Ryo-kun, Jesse-kun, and Hanzawa Akatsuki-kun. I notice the name graphic was back to “Masuda Ryo” this time, and hopefully the agency will just keep his name to that from here on.

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While I hated the fact that we only got a tiny part of each song, this medley was remarkably smooth. I wish they’d give all these juniors more time, but at least everyone got some quality space on stage. The songs were good, with a nice spread of dai-senpai groups. My only objection is that maybe they should have thrown in a TOKIO song, just for completeness’ sake.

Kawai-kun introduced Johnny’s WEST and poked fun at Shigeoka-kun for his inconvenient absence. No mysteries about the topic of conversation – it was about their debut and dreams as a group. No surprises.

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And naturally, Johnny’s WEST performed “Ee ja nai ka” here. It was about on-par with the six-person version I enjoyed in March except . . . Shigeoka-kun’s solo lines. Nothing against him, but I’m still not a fan of his nasaly singing, and having it stand out like this was a bit jarring.

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Anyway, nice to see the group all present and accounted for, and I remain a fan of Kiriyama-kun’s vocals, which were also featured in key solo lines.

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Next up, Sexy Zone performed “Be Free”. When delivering the intro to the song, Kiriyama-kun mentioned it was from SZ’s new album, and I get the feeling that the agency continues to be unhappy with the sales figures on that album. I would be, too, considering how good the songs on the album were.

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“Be Free” is a sophisticated track from the album.

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The dance they’ve come up for the song looks good, though SZ could use a bit more practice on it – it was nowhere near as sharp as it should be. Nice suits, though.

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Anyway, I love the song and the vocals, and was thrilled to see it on Shounen Club. I hope we get to see it again once they get the dance ironed out.

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The topic for Junior ni Q this month prompted the juniors to talk about their names. I’m not going to detail the very involved explanations that require specific knowledge about the Japanese language – hopefully someone will translate this segment. First up was Morita Myuto-kun.

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Takahashi Fuu-kun explained his Fuu.

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Kauan-kun had to bring in Brazil.

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Tamamoto Fumito-kun explained his Fumito to a totally different Fumito:

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Masuda-kun has some explaining to do about the whole Shani thing. Even his card on the wall said “Shani” and expressed the fact that he was changing his name, but when he talked he said that he was going back to Masuda Ryo. Kawai-kun complained that this is getting too confusing.

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It sure sounds like the decision to change his name is completely up to Masuda-kun, though, so that’s good at least.

Nakayama Yuma-kun was the special guest for this episode, and after a humorous exchange . . .

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. . . he had to come up with a three-line poem with the starting syllables of each line chosen from the theme of the show. His poem was about jumping off of high places, so he had to clarify that it was about bungee jumping.

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Yuma-kun performed his new single “High Five”, and it was easily the best performance of the show so far. Like, by a mile.

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As usual, he got top-notch backdancing support to complement his own sharp moves and brilliant vocals.

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Yuma-kun is always a guaranteed highlight. And since it would be unfair to have another act follow him, they had a Nekketsu Battle instead. The hosts for this segment were Nakama Junta-kun and Hashimoto Ryosuke-kun.

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The rabbit (or, if you’d like, bunny) team had Kento-kun, Kotaki-kun, Jesse-kun, and Abe Aran-kun. Nice to see Abe-kun in the mix.

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The frog team was composed of Fuma-kun, Hamada-kun, Yasui-kun, and Miyachika-kun.

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The game involved naming things in a category while jumping rope. Each team would get thirty seconds to name as many items as possible – 10 points per answer. The first category was “red things”, then it was “white things”. It was nice to see them reject Jesse as an answer for “white things” when Hamada-kun tried that. Jesse-kun got a surprised laugh out of it, though.

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When they had to name big things, though, Kotaki-kun was instantly accepted as an answer by Abe-kun (after Tokyo Tower, Space, and the Sun). And with small things, Yasui-kun brilliantly named himself, and Miyachika-kun went with Goseki-kun.

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This was a great game segment – my only complaint is that it was too short.

The A.B.C-Z stage was “Suna no Glass”. They were in excellent form here, as the dancing was well-coordinated and the singing was faultless.

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Sato Shori-kun has a new segment – Shori no Houteishiki (Shori’s Formula). He hosted it with Kento-kun, and the guests were Iwahashi Genki-kun, Jinguji Yuta-kun, and Nakamura Reia-kun.

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Points to Jinguji-kun for introducing himself as . . . I don’t know what he said, but it was definitely not his name. The real winner, though, was Reia-kun, who asked whether it was alright to continue and then introduced himself, smoothly stealing the limelight before Jinguji-kun could give his correct name.

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The way this segment works is that the participants have to fill in the blank in an equation of the form: me x blank = something. In Kento-kun’s case, the something was great pleasure. What should Kento-kun be multiplied by in order to generate great joy? Apparently, Korean-style beef ribs (karubi).

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Each of the others also had similar formulae to fill in. Genki-kun is multiplied by wild ideas/fantasies to generate fun.

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Jinguji-kun’s is a bit difficult to explain – it involved Shori-kun, and Shori’s reaction was the best laugh of the episode. I think Shori-kun was a bit worried where Jinguji-kun might be going with it.

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By the way, both Jinguji-kun and Reia-kun don’t seem to understand the concept of a hint – in both cases, their hints were actually the answer. In Reia-kun’s case, he was multiplied by something to produce a kyun (heartthrob).

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I might just be suffering from inadequate memory capacity, but I think the next song is a new one to Shounen Club. “Happy Happy Lucky You!!” was performed by Iwahashi, Jinguji, Miyachika, Aran, Reia, Yuusei, and Takahashi Kaito. The title of the song makes it sound silly, but it’s actually a very standard Johnny-type song with a number of catchy melodies. It would be a great song for a young group to make a strong start with.

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So how about these seven as a group (or perhaps eight if you include Kishi-kun)?

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Count that as another highlight as far as I’m concerned, since it was both surprising and promising.

I’m not sure what to make of the next segment – Shokura News as hosted by Shigeoka Daiki-kun. It was focused on Johnny’s West this time, but is it going to be a recurring segment or just a one-off thing? If it’s recurring, will it focus on different groups and, if so, will it still be hosted by Shigeoka-kun? Unlike with Shori-kun’s segment, they didn’t really make any of that clear.

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Anyway, this segment mainly served to show off some of the group’s theatrical/comical stagework through VTRs.

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Wrapping up their first stint as official hosts of Shounen Club, Kawai-kun and Kiriyama-kun introduced the ending song – “Yuuki 100%”.

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The seven junior performers that we saw right before the Shokura News segment kicked things off, but the rest of the evening’s cast soon joined them.

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“Yuuki 100%” is in some ways the Johnny’s anthem, and therefore the perfect song with which to conclude this start of a new era in Shounen Club.

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There wasn’t any Shori Omake segment. I hope they didn’t decide to get rid of it now that Shori-kun has a more formal segment within the show – it had a unique charm to it.

This was a very interesting episode. The highlights were Nakayama Yuma-kun’s performance, “Happy Happy Lucky You!!”, and even though it can use a little work, SZ’s “Be Free”. Oh, and both the game and the finale were pretty good, too.

The A.B.C-Z performance was good, but it continues to be really hard to figure out what standard I should apply to them, given that they’re so much more experienced (and therefore should be held to higher standards) than anyone else on the show.

I preferred the March version of the Johnny’s WEST performance to this one, though maybe I’ve just heard this song too often in the past few months and it’s wearing thin.

The ten-song medley was okay, but with the significant caveat that it was really way too quick. In relation to the rest of the show, the opening was quite iffy.

The slowest point in the show was the Shokura News segment, which seemed a bit disorganized with some VTRs thrown in. They should have just done a more polished VTR presentation – like the SZ Kouhaku video from a few months back.

Giving this episode a score is tough. There was nothing significantly wrong with the episode, and it wasn’t lacking in strong points, but at the same time I want to leave room for improvement. Last year, I gave the first episode of the new format an 8, but I think this was definitely a better start than that was, so I’ll give it a 9 out of 10.