It’s May and things are heating up. Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) has a lot of competition for attention this spring, with Gamushara and J’s Party giving the juniors the room they need, Maido Jani still giving the Kansai guys a good venue, Sexy Zone Channel really showing what SZ has to offer (not to mention all their other TV appearances), and even though I only get to watch it inconsistently these days, ABChanZoo still features the A.B.C-Z guys doing their thing. But this is still the only place where they all get together so . . . maybe this show can capitalize on that unique side?

First up, Iwahashi Genki, Jinguji Yuta, Miyachika Kaito, Kishi Yuta, and Abe Aran lead the juniors in a performance of NEWS’ “weeeek”.

We got the first bit of English I think I’ve heard from Genki-kun and he didn’t do a bad job of it (he said “let’s enjoy this song” and I could understand it – my threshold for whether English is being spoken well or not). I know Genki-kun is enthusiastic about learning English, and I think he’s been a bit more cautious about throwing it out there as a result.

I think I also have to make a note about Abe Aran-kun’s blonde hair (for his role in SHARK 2) here. I don’t normally comment about hair, and tend to prefer them to keep it black unless they’re going to pick a really shocking color, but I have to admit that blonde really, really suits Aran-kun.

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He’s really caught my attention in SHARK 2 as well (still trying to understand enough of the dialogue to write reviews on it).

Anyway, personnel notes aside, “weeeek” is always a good song, and it looks like they’ve decided to give some old NEWS costumes to the Fab Five (as I guess they now are). I don’t normally recognize costumes, but I remember these – especially Tegoshi-kun’s pink jacket – vividly from the opening of the NEWS Pacific Concert DVD – the very first Johnny’s DVD I saw, I think. And what a great intro to Johnny’s that was!

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Ahem, it seems to be my day for digressions. Everyone else among the juniors managed to get some camera time during the song – it’s a great song for this sort of distributed attention.

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Actually, since they managed to get all of the familiar junior faces in, I’d say it was one of the best Shounen Club openings ever. Definitely don’t miss this one.

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Hosts Kiriyama Akito-kun and Kawai Fumito-kun then introduced the theme of this episode: ENJOY. Being in a good mood after the opening, I was prepared to do just that.

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Kikuchi Fuma-kun for Sexy Zone was apparently in a high tension mood, too.

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Kawai-kun asked the SZ members what they enjoy doing in their time off, and Kento-kun managed to answer “golf” with a straight face.

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This talk is really all stalling – the some of the juniors needed to change costumes for the next performance: SZ’s “King & Queen & Joker”.

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As with all SZ A-sides, this single isn’t going to make my top 10 list of favorite SZ songs – those usually only appear on their albums or as B-sides.

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That said, it’s a huge improvement over singles like “Sexy Summer” and “Real Sexy” because it is much more musically coherent. It’s really a very typically Johnny’s song. It’s not as novel or catchy as “Bye Bye Dubai”, but it has some nice touches – the whispering in the refrain really irritates me, though.

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There’s a strange cut in the performance right after Kento-kun and Shori-kun make the fans scream. Can someone verify that I’m not losing my mind there – that there really is some sort of editing going on there?

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Also strange was the way the junior backdancers completely left the stage for part of the song – just an interesting choice that was very noticeable.

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I couldn’t capture it as a screenshot – it’d need a gif – but that little tilt of the head thing Shori-kun does at the end? I couldn’t help but smile at that. That’s genius.

So far, so good. Next up was Johnny’s West. Let me just say this right away before I have any idea what they’re going to do: as long as they sing a song that isn’t one of the typical ones – “Ee ja nai ka”, “Go West ~Kansai~”, or that wan-wan one – I’ll be satisfied. I mean, they’re going to have energy and it’s a given that they’re talented.

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Their talk with Kawai-kun seemed to be about sharing stories about the members.

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And the song was . . . “Ee ja nai ka”.

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They performed it very well, of course, and I don’t blame them for doing their debut song, which just went platinum in its first week. You might consider this sort of a victory lap – they even injected an extra bit of fun into it, and the fans got into it, too.

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It’s just that I already know they can do a great job of this song, and I wanted to see them to a great job of something else. Ah, well – at least this kept up the strong pace of the show so far.

The Shokura News segment was next with the two hosts presenting the VTRs.

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The first VTR featured Kouchi Yugo-kun and Sanada Yuma-kun investigating a musical starring Uchi Hiroki-kun. It was nice to see the two of them get to do a segment like this, and I hope it’s indicative of things to come.

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The show also featured other Kansai juniors, including Hamanaka Bunichi-kun and Muro Ryuta-kun, who were interviewed by Kouchi and Sanada.

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The star of the show himself also got interviewed for this segment.

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The second VTR was about the Johnny’s WEST debut – specifically the press conference.

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And that was it for the news. Next up was the Fab Five (Iwahashi, Jinguji, Miyachika, Kishi, Abe – I’m absolutely never going to call them by the name they were introduced with in the show) performing SMAP’s “$10”.

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This was a great song for them to do. It’s got a good feel to it, and since they’re a more dance-oriented group rather than vocal-oriented, the song suits them, giving them a chance to pull some moves.

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I loved this performance – it had lots of fireworks, and it was new material for SC (while the song has been done before, it hasn’t been done by this group this way). It was a definite highlight, and continued the very upbeat tone to the episode.

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Next was the Johnny’s WEST abake battle. In years past, groups would be blindfolded and their voices changed through their microphones to allow them to say whatever they liked about fellow group members. Often, this has had hilarious results, but the last time it was done was with A.B.C-Z (if I remember correctly), and they were unusually restrained.

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For Johnny’s WEST, the situation was even less likely to produce surprises. First of all, these guys are pretty willing to say all sorts of stuff even without their voices disguised, but more importantly, there were no blindfolds. They were just sitting in a circle, which made it hard for them to look at each other. There’s a problem with relying on this method for anonymity – it limits their movement, and movement is an important source of craziness. On the other hand, it made their eyes visible, enhancing the effect of their facial expressions.

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All that said, I thought they did a great job of making this corner interesting for viewers. I can’t translate what went on with sufficient confidence, but what I thought I understood was pretty darn funny.

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They really know how to craft punchlines, these guys, and Shigeoka-kun is great about laughing at stuff. If I think it’s funny, I just have to look to see if he’s cracking up to see if I’m right. Kiriyama-kun’s laugh, as modified by the microphone, was hilarious on its own.

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Kotaki-kun was amazing fresh-faced . . .

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. . . and Hamada-kun seemed to appeal directly to the camera.

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So full marks to Johnny’s WEST for this – it was pure comedy.

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It really ended too soon.

The three elder members of SZ were up next, singing “A My Girl Friend”. The song starts with a solo from Shori-kun, and his voice has remained fairly consistent since we heard the improvement last year. It’s still tender and beautiful, but lacking in strength and depth.

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And that continues to make it hard for him to be heard between Kento-kun and Fuma-kun, once they start singing and the band plays louder.

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Anyway, it’s a wonderful song and does manage to highlight all three of their voices. I’m still very much liking the performances so far.

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There was a new segment next – Shokura Blog. As a blogger myself, I approve. The first installment was composed by Hirano Sho-kun who . . . who showed off the image of a toilet.

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I think I’ll take a pass on trying to comprehend this – it might be more fun just to speculate what he’s doing with a toilet portrait. He sure had a lot to say about it. I wonder if he could say as much about that toilet as I could about a Shounen Club episode . . . .

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That was followed by a Hirano Sho-led performance of “Ai wa Mikata sa”. Well, I say Hirano Sho-led, but actually Nagase Ren-kun and Takahashi Kaito-kun had equal staging.

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Which is interesting, because . . . what’s Takahashi Kaito-kun doing there? Is this a mixed Kanto-Kansai performance, or does he work both regions?

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Or maybe I should be asking what Sho-kun and Ren-kun are doing here, since once the backdancers appear, it looks like they’re all Kanto juniors. Hmm.

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This is all distracting from the main point, though. The main point is that the three main vocalists sounded quite good together, and this was a totally fresh performance – at least, totally new to Shounen Club. Takahashi Kaito-kun was a bit outclassed by the other two, so I’d have reservations about this trio becoming anything steady, but it was a neat surprise.

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The most striking thing about it was that it was a full performance of the song – juniors rarely get this kind of time on SC.

The A.B.C-Z stage was next, and Kiriyama-kun interviewed the group before they went up . . .

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. . . to show their stuff in “5 Rings”. This was a cool song with a heavy beat, and a good match for the feel of the show.

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As with the best A.B.C-Z performances, this was a dancing/acrobatic showcase more than anything else, and that unfortunately meant that I couldn’t get many screencaps that weren’t blurry. It was an exciting performance, though – as always, A.B.C-Z is in a totally different class than the other Johnny’s current gracing the Shounen Club stage.

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We got a good view of a lot of the acrobatics, but sometimes there were strange shifts – especially late in the song when something interesting seemed about to happen and the camera cut to the audience for an extended period. The obvious conclusion is that something went wrong on stage at that point, but that’s just speculation.

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Still, I enjoyed their work. I always approve of the high energy A.B.C-Z efforts.

The Junior ni Q segment questioned members about their favorite (お気に入り – okiniiri) stuff. As with the best topics, it was somewhat open-ended.

Kishi Yuta-kun chose a home center (I guess this is an entertainment center?). He likes home appliances, and specifically mentioned an air cleaner.

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Jinguji-kun picked Abe Aran-kun, but I couldn’t figure out what exactly made Jinguji-kun interested in Abe-kun.

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Conveniently, they had Abe Aran-kun up next, and to my delight he talked about blond hair. I understood that perfectly. He colored his hair blond for the first time for the drama, and he was quite scared about it at first. Well, I hope he’s pleased with the result.

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Matsukura Kaito-kun was the last one up, and he talked about the morning drama Amachan. That’s quite understandable as well – it made a big splash (forgive the pun).

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The next stage was interesting. Marius-kun, the youngest member of SZ (and I suppose the youngest Johnny’s member to ever debut, isn’t that right?), was standing on stage all alone to start the song “PARAISO”.

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Now, I could say that SZ has gotten more than its fair share of space in this episode, but if there’s any member of the group who ought to get more SC performance time, it’s Marius-kun. He’s a proper shounen, and I don’t think he’s ever had more than a couple of solo lines in any performance on this stage.

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His voice is, of course, still undeveloped, so I’ll pass on commenting on that. Good pronunciation of English, though, and he was soon joined by Masuda Ryo-kun and Hanzawa Akatsuki-kun, who have proven abilities in this area.

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So it was a nice performance, and it was good to see Marius-kun getting his first leading role in one. I look forward to hearing more from him.

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And with that, it was time to wrap things up . . .

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. . . and Johnny’s WEST did the honors, performing “Naniwa Ittoushou!” You know, the wan-wan one.

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Still not the fresh song I wanted, but as the ending for a fun episode, I guess I couldn’t have asked for better.

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Wait – not quite the ending. We got a Shori Omake! I was worried that they would give up on this little corner in the new season, but it returned with a vengeance, pitting these two against each other:

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Now this was a match-up I wanted to see, and it proved as epic as I could have hoped. The game was janken acchi-muite-hoi, and Shori-kun is 0 for 2. Can he begin to turn his record around against Shigeoka-kun?

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Maybe it’s only because I had a lot of coffee before watching this episode, but I thought it was great. It’s very easy to sit through the whole thing, and I probably wouldn’t skip anything on a second run-through.

The highlights were the opening, “$10” with the Fab Five, “Ai wa Mikata sa” with Hirano Sho, Nagase Ren, and Takahashi Kaito, and the Marius-Masuda-Hanzawa stage. In all cases, it was the novelty and the feel produced by the performances rather than the song and dance skills that made those particular sections highlights (though that’s not to say there were significant problems with the footwork or vocals, either). Oh, and the Johnny’s WEST abake would be a highlight if we could get that subbed.

The three main performances by the three debuted groups all deserve roughly equal note – SZ’s “King & Queen & Joker”, Johnny’s WEST’s “Ee ja nai ka”, and A.B.C-Z’s “5 Rings”. Only the SZ song was new to SC, but I’m sure they’ll be doing it repeatedly over the next few months, so I’m not going to rate its novelty too highly.

Ah, the Omake segment was also no-miss stuff.

There were no bad parts of the show, and very little by way of talk segments. I guess they kept most of those for next week? The slowest part was probably the Shokura News segment, and even that benefited from the way Kouchi-kun and Sanada-kun were tasked to do the interviews.

So, there was new stuff, nothing bad, and plenty of highlights. That adds up to a 10 out of 10 in my book. I could quibble about junior participation, but given the way the show has been managed for the past two years, this wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary.