Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) is a music variety show hosted Kawai Fumito of A.B.C-Z and Kiriyama Akito of Johnny’s West that showcases the song-and-dance skills of the Johnny’s Entertainment agency’s most recently debuted groups – A.B.C-Z, Sexy Zone, and Johnny’s West – as well as the agency’s trainees (known as juniors).

The juniors took the stage first to kick off the second April episode. Iwahashi Genki-kun and Jinguji Yuta-kun led a huge pack of them singing SMAP’s “Original Smile”.

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I think this was basically the full complement of juniors – at least, all of the juniors we’re likely to see in this episode.

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A.B.C-Z continued the song after some of the juniors cleared out . . .

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. . . then Johnny’s West and Sexy Zone joined in . . .

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. . . so that the performance ended with the three debuted groups at center stage, though every view of the stage was packed with faces. Nice to see Jesse-kun and Hanzawa-kun jumping up and down in the background, trying to put their height to their advantage by getting themselves into camera view.

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It was a fine start to the show – I prefer this method over just having one group in the forefront or having a convoluted medley.

Kiriyama-kun and Kawai-kun greeted the audience, introduced themselves and the three main groups, and then let SZ’s Shori-kun tell us that the theme of the show was “Smile”.

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Kawai-kun fooled around with Fuma-kun for a flash, then called for the Smile medley.

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The traditional junior medley started with NEWS’ “Cherish” as sung by Kyomoto Taiga-kun and Yasui Kentaro-kun – a duo we haven’t seem much of.

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And we didn’t really see much of them here, either, because they barely got to sing a couple of lines before the song switched to KinKi Kids’ “Kokoro ni Yume wo Kimi ni wa Ai wo” with . . . with Matsumura Hokuto-kun and Kouchi Yugo-kun handling the vocals. That’s surprising because we haven’t really heard Kouchi-kun do much singing and . .  honestly, we didn’t hear much of his voice here, either. It was almost entirely Hokuto-kun.

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That said, anything that gets Kouchi-kun on stage is fine by me, and pairing him up with his old B.I.Shadow friend isn’t a bad idea. If they eventually decide to turn up the volume on his mike, that is.

Next was Tanaka Juri-kun, Hagiya Keigo-kun, and Morohoshi Shoki-kun with Arashi’s “Kansha Kangeki Ame Arashi”. Nice to see my complaints about the lack of Arashi songs on Shounen Club being answered recently. And if they’re going to insist on having Juri-kun do rapping, I’d rather have him opt for Sakurai rap, since it’s generally less angry sounding and also uses English judiciously.

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It’s an interesting trio, and the best part of the medley so far.

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The medley concludes with Morimoto Shintaro-kun and Nozawa Yuki-kun singing V6’s “Believe Your Smile”. Yet another pairing that seems to come out of nowhere. Nozawa-kun looks sharp in that costume, though.

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So, the featured juniors good some nice solid camera time, but anyone familiar with them had to be wondering about the way they were being grouped. None of it gives the sense of being stable. Of course, some of the seeming stable pairings we’ve seen before (Jesse-Hokuto, for instance), were dismantled on a whim, so there’s no way to guess where Johnny’s is going.

Anyway, the two hosts had a chat with SZ next, and the topic was things that unintentionally made them smile.

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Kento-kun chose having a meal with Johnny’s West’s Shigeoka-kun. He even did an impression of Shige-kun’s voice.

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Shori-kun went with ice cream after a concert rehearsal. I thought I heard the word ‘junkie’ in the middle of his talk, and I definitely know the flavor was chocolate-mint. Suddenly, I have a craving for mint chocolate chip ice cream (happens to be my usual flavor) . . . .

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Fuma-kun said that his relationship with Kawai-kun makes him unintentionally smile. This was clearly designed to get some laughs.

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Matsushima Sou-kun turned the tables, choosing the things Fuma-kun decides to touch/play with. This definitely took some explaining. I didn’t get what Sou-kun said, but it had both Kawai-kun and Akito-kun on their feet immediately and Akito-kun gave him a tap on the head.

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Marius-kun said that the stuff he forgets makes him unintentionally smile.

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And with that . . .

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. . . SZ performed “Doki Doki Break Out!!”

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It wouldn’t have been a noteworthy performance if not for the live backing band featuring Ogawa Yuu-kun on guitar, Kobayashi Mizuki-kun (so that’s where he went!) on bass, Hagiya Keigo-kun on drums, and Kishi Tadayoshi-kun on keyboard. Could be a good band going forward.

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Finally, a grouping of juniors that might actually work out!

Following that, Shigeoka-kun and Tsukada-kun joined forces to bring us . . . I think this is the same backstage segment Tsukada-kun hosted with one of the other A.B.C-Z members before, right? This seems to be a better arrangement, though.

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For this installment, they targeted Nakayama Yuma-kun. I’m curious about what he was reading when they barged in.

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Yuma-kun didn’t seem surprised at all – he had seen Tsukada-kun’s segment before and knew the drill.

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The first topic prompted him to consult Tsukada-kun about a worry he has, but beyond that my weak ability to understand the language failed.

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Next, Yuma-kun and Shigeoka-kun competed in a competition to make the other laugh first.

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I’ll exclude any hint about the result, of course.

That transitioned smoothly into Yuma-kun performing his new single “High Five”, though I think this version was brighter and more upbeat than the one we heard last week. In cases where they’re prominent as in this performance, the staff really needs to give us the names of the backdancers. It was tough to get a good look at them, and I’m horrible at recognizing faces as it is. I’m pretty sure Morita Myuto-kun was in there, but I have less confidence about the rest.

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No other complaints about that performance. While I’d be thrilled to see something even better in the remainder of the show, I’m not holding my breath.

Shori-kun introduced the Anata ni O-Tegami Kakimashou corner (the tegami segment, as I’ll call it) next. Looks like they’re going to fully revive this classic segment, and this time the participants – Shigeoka Daiki-kun and Fujii Ryusei-kun – should have plenty to say to each other.

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Shigeoka-kun moved from seriousness to silliness smoothly, and brilliantly delivered the punchline with the serious tone.

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I think Fujii-kun had some notes about the consistency of Shige-kun’s hairstyle, if I understood that part right.

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Continuing in the streak of good segues, that corner led into the Johnny’s West performance of “Criminal”. I don’t think I’ve heard this song before, and while it’s a welcome break from the Kansai-ish stuff they’ve been mostly made to do on this show, it’s a bit too busy with the electronics for my taste.

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But I’ll give it to them – at least it wasn’t “Ee ja nai ka” again.

Kento-kun and Fuma-kun handled the Shokura You Bin segment as usual. The first fan mail asked a question of Jesse-kun regarding his dimensions, so they brought him out to get a good measure of him. Kento-kun and Fuma-kun got some good fun out of this, but I think a chunk was edited out.

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That left some time for the second piece of fan mail – a question about Okamoto Kauan-kun. I didn’t understand the question, but I sure understood Kento-kun’s hilarious impression of Kauan-kun’s singing in the middle of that horrendous song that I never want to hear again.

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We don’t really hear much of Kauan-kun speaking off-the-cuff like this, and he acquitted himself well.

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Editing allowed for a third fan mail, which asked Sanada Yuma-kun about the senpai and kouhai he admires.

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Interestingly, he cited SZ and specifically Kento-kun as kouhai he admires. I guess he’s going with the senpai-kouhai definition based on when they entered the agency, which is fair enough.

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Somewhere along the way, I think he was confirmed as a SZ supporter (味方 – mikata).

A pack of elder juniors then took the stage for “Brother”, which was another song in need of rebalancing because the background music was out-of-hand. On stage were the three we just heard from – Jesse, Kauan, and Sanada – as well as Masuda Ryo, Anderson Casey, Morita Myuto, Hanzawa Akatsuki, and Yamakura Shalf. That’s  way more vocal talent than needs to be on stage at the same time – totally redundant.

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If there was some significant dancing involved, that would be a different story, but the choreography here was pretty weak.

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Point is, any three of the eight people singing could have handled the song, and it would have sounded better that way. Having all eight voices made it sound muddy – indistinct.

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After that, we got the Shokura News segment, and an answer to the question I had in the previous episode. Last week, Shigeoka-kun handled this corner and I wondered whether he would always be the host of it and also what it would actually focus on. Well, now we have two points of reference, and from the look of it . . .

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. . . any group can handle this segment and give an update of their on-stage activities with VTRs.

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Like with the Johnny’s West one, the VTRs are short and perhaps a bit too choppy. They spend most of the time talking and answering a piece of fan mail.

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Frankly, I’m getting more and more of an appreciation of the SZ in-group chemistry, especially thanks to their new show. This segment was was just another sample of it. I especially liked when Kento-kun called Matsushima-kun “Matsuyama” out of nowhere, and also when he went to grab a manjuu to munch on.  A lot of their humor tends to be in-the-flow and easy to understand – even for someone with limited Japanese skills.

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After another VTR, which included a brief glimpse of their new single (as usual with their A-sides, not one of their better songs) . . .

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. . . it was time for the A.B.C-Z stage – “Crush”. Right when Kiriyama-kun said the name of the song, there was a definite reaction from the audience, and that was entirely justified.

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This was a very high energy stage full of those characteristic acrobatics and sharp dance moves we expect from A.B.C-Z. I had trouble deciding what standard to hold A.B.C-Z to in the last episode, but this performance is clearly beyond what I was looking for from them.

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I have no trouble calling this one of the two highlights of the show, next to Yuma-kun’s “High Five”, since they did a spectacular job of it, and it was a relief after those two electronically off-kilter songs.

In the Junior ni Q segment, Kawai-kun and Totsuka-kun continued to ask juniors about their names.

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Abe Aran-kun was up first, and I think I heard a Hanyu Yuzuru reference in there . . .

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. . . but that was nothing compared to the surprising Santa reference with Takuto-kun.

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Up after that were Morohoshi Shoki-kun  . . .

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. . . Hanzawa Akatsuki-kun, who could have been Akira instead using the same kanji . . .

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. . . and finally Matsumura Hokuto-kun, who was actually named after the Big Dipper – the constellation (北斗星 – hokutosei) – because it remains up in the sky (at least in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s so close to the celestial pole that it never sets). Well, I’m definitely going to remember that explanation!

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The finale for this episode was Johnny’s West performing “Rainbow Dream” – a nice closing song that also helped to show that this group isn’t all “Ee ja nai ka”. It started somber . . .

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. . . but then smoothly turned into a much more upbeat Johnny’s-style closing.

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Well, there you have it. This episode was . . . well, it wasn’t as good as last week’s episode, I’ll say that up front.

There were two clear highlights – the A.B.C-Z performance and Yuma-kun’s performance. Aside from that, the opening and closing were both good. The SZ stage with the back-up band was fun, though mainly because of the band. Everything else, though, was iffy.

Views on the junior medley will probably depend on what people think about the groupings. I thought they were too random and unsustainable.

“Criminal” and “Brother” were both outside of my preferred styles. If they tone down the music a bit, maybe I could enjoy them, but only if they also get a smaller group to handle “Brother”. Or maybe add some more impressive choreography.

The talk segments all had their special moments, so no complaints there. SZ got an unusual amount of space, though, and considering they’re now the group with the best platforms for promotion, maybe that room should have been given to the juniors. I would have liked to see the juniors tell us what they’re up to in the Shokura News segment, even though I found the SZ guys amusing.

There weren’t any critical failures in this episode, but I’d skip a lot of it on a second viewing. I’ll give this episode a tenuous 8 out of 10. I considered giving it a 7, but I’ve usually reserved that if there was something I actively disliked, and that wasn’t really true here.