This episode of Gamushara (ガムシャラ) . . . well, let’s get the elephant out of the way first: there’s a pole dancing challenge involved. They show a very brief teaser of it at the start of the show, and the sight of Matsumura Hokuto-kun attempting to pole dance surely must hook anyone with curiosity or a sense of humor into watching. Right?

But we begin in the studio, where there’s a slightly different cast for May. I was hoping that the director would dispense with the studio scene entirely, based on its absence in the previous episode, but I’m not surprised to see it back. I was a bit surprised to still see the three elder members of Sexy Zone present, since they weren’t in the J’s Party episodes for May, and that probably means we’ll get more in-studio footage than I’d like.

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Anyway, for the first segment, we returned to the challenge from last week where the juniors were getting ready to bang some drums and hand out 1000 flyers advertising this show. Hokuto-kun was not doing so well with his part, and between this and pole dancing, this episode could do wonders for his image.

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As I said with the costumes last time, the two members with the big drums – Iwahashi Genki-kun and Takahashi Kaito-kun – were lucky with theirs. The rest of the members involved in this challenge – Jesse, Nakamura Reia, Matsumura Hokuto, and Yasui Kentaro – had somewhat sillier stuff to wear.

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The six of them were divided into two groups. One would be bound for Harajuku – the shopping district for young people – with two of the professional chindon players . . .

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. . . while the other three would take on the challenge of playing to an older crowd in Sugamo.

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This could be interesting, because while young people might be more interested in what they’re promoting, the older generation might be more enamored by the way they’re promoting it. Will both teams manage to hand out their allotted 500 flyers?

We start with the Sugamo team. The chindon sensei is playing the saxophone, since they definitely didn’t ahve time to learn that.

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I’m not sure what Reia-kun thinks the kid is going to do with that flyer, but it was sure a cute moment.

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When we leave them, they’ve only managed to hand out ten of the flyers, so it’s going to be a long hard slog.

Meanwhile, in Harajuku . . .

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. . . things get a bit crazy:

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This is a hip crowd, and there’s no doubt that these guys are recognized, so they get so swamped that even the members who are playing the instruments have to stop so they can help hand out the flyers. Hey! That’s cheating!

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The staff detects this, and tries to move them on to another location. People were mostly crowding around them snapping pictures anyway. But they managed to get through 180 flyers by the time we left them! If the Sugamo team manages to catch up, it’ll be a minor miracle.

Speaking of which, Reia-kun is still the only one handing things out, and I’ve got to give him credit: he’s making every effort to explain what this is all about. Those guys in Harajuku just mass distributed the flyers to waiting hands.

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They realize the pace isn’t working out, though, and start to all work on the distribution end . . .

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. . . but Genki-kun finds himself in a bit of a pinch, since he’s shy, and really doesn’t know how to approach people. You might say he’s getting some valuable experience here . . .

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. . . though I think he was disillusioned and disappointed by how little mileage he was getting out of his smile. His problem was that he only managed to say “sumimasen” (excuse me), instead of quickly mentioning “shin bangumi” (new TV show). Since people didn’t know what he was advertising, they just played it safe and assumed they wouldn’t be interested. If they had known, they might have been interested, since a TV show willing to promote itself like this is bound to be somewhat fun. Also, it’s generally not the case that a TV show will cost them anything more. Oh, well.

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Reia-kun wasn’t having too much luck in the new area they were moving into, either. He’s less shy than Genki-kun, though.

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They had 420 flyers remaining when we turned away from them and went back to the Harajuku team. By the way, because of the nature of the video, we’re still getting a lot of the announcer’s voice. I don’t know whether that’s really justified, but I would have to have the raw footage to determine whether we could have done without the announcer – it’s not a given in this case.

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For now, we leave the two teams and turn to a different challenge – the monthly challenge that we’ll be spending a number of episodes on. The juniors involved are Matsumura Hokuto-kun, Morimoto Shintaro-kun, and Nagata Jiei-kun.

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I’m not sure I believe that they don’t know what the challenge is . . .

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. . . because they don’t seem sufficiently surprised when they see a pole dancer, and Hokuto-kun’s reaction – saying that it’s sugoi sexy – is strange as a first reaction. You’ll notice that though we didn’t have a corner box showing reactions for the previous segment, we get it back here. I really didn’t like that, because the reactions in the corner took away from what was happening on-screen.

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And the reactions of the three participants must have been very muted indeed, since we didn’t get a very good gauge on them before the announcer broke in with a VTR explaining that pole dancing is acrobatics on a pole and it’s used for fitness. Yes, yes it is.

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In fact, we’re about to find out exactly how fit these guys are.

Hokuto-kun is quick to point out that pole dancing is usually associated with women, and there’s a sexy connotation to it. REIKO-sensei says that men have gotten interested recently, but let’s not get hung up on gender issues, shall we? This is about juniors taking on a daunting challenge, and there’s no question that this is going to be quite a task.

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Actually, I was very interested to see the staff reflected in the mirror – we don’t get to see them very often, but they had no way of hiding themselves this time.

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I like the attitude of the juniors in this, because their discomfort seems minimal, and that makes it much easier to watch than I might have anticipated.

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Hokuto-kun in particular should be commended, since he immediately wanted to try it out.

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Unfortunately, there was heavy editing as the sensei had them stretch for thirty minutes, and that editing means that we get a lot more of the announcer and a lot less of them shouting “itai!”. It’s worth pointing out that Nagata-kun specializes in ballet, so he’s already ahead of the game in terms of flexibility. I guess that’s why he’s in this particular challenge.

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As they learn basic skills like spinning, it turns out that they pick things up very quickly.

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Even given that, I was surprised that the second basic skill they learned was hanging upside-down on the pole.

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Even on this seemingly difficult skill, Shintaro-kun and Jiei-kun get it on their first try. Very impressive.

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And it goes on . . . .

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There was lots to be impressed by with this challenge – the sheer daring of having a challenge like this, their ability to pick it up quickly, and their persistence in the face of difficulty. I’m sure viewers will get a kick out of watching their progress as they prepare for a real performance.

The segment led to a much-shortened in-studio discussion – only thirty seconds. Honestly, if the director is going to bother to include them talking about the challenge, he ought to allow more time for it. If it’s just going to be thirty seconds, it’s best to leave it out and just show the main events.

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And after that interlude, we turned back to the first event, with the Harajuku transported to a new location and rapidly getting rid of their flyers.

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Life is not as easy for the Sugamo team.

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Genki-kun’s frustrations with approaching people were adorable to watch.

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The best part of this whole challenge might have been when Genki-kun tried to interest a dog in the flyer.

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Regardless of whether they managed to get as many flyers out as the Harajuku guys, they sure manage to get some quality contact with people when they do manage to grab some attention. They get some elderly people vowing that they’ll watch the show, and even get some snacks from well-wishers.

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Genki-kun rolls up his sleeves and goes into serious mode. Tough to keep those sleeves up, though.

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All right, I don’t want to give away how things end up for the two teams, so I’ll cut off the summary here. Will the two teams manage to distribute all 1000 flyers before sunset? Should the Harajuku team have taken more flyers than the Sugamo team? You’ll have to watch to find out.

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While I continue to have reservations about the structure of the show and the editing that requires overuse of the announcer/commentator, this show is about the challenges, and as long as they keep coming up with crazy stuff like we saw in this episode, I’ll keep watching.

When it comes to variety shows, I want to be surprised, and while I don’t know if Hokuto-kun, Shintaro-kun, and Jiei-kun were really surprised by the pole dancing challenge, I sure was. Give me something unexpected in every episode, even if its silly, and I’m a happy camper. My most vociferous complaints come when a show lapses into a pattern (which is why I dropped shows like KisuHama Learning and Aiba Manabu and continue to have trouble with VS Arashi).

I thought Hokuto-kun, Shintaro-kun, and Jiei-kun did a good job starting the pole dancing challenge on the right foot – setting a good tone for what we will see in the coming episodes. The MVP for this episode, though, was Iwahashi Genki-kun, who had the most quality camera time and a number of endearing scenes. Nakamura Reia-kun did some excellent work, too.

I wonder what sort of new challenge they’ll cook up for next week?