I don’t know how the weather is in Japan, but it’s blistering hot here, so will Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) bring on some summer vibes or will we have to wait until we get deeper into the season?

The first song was promising – KinKi Kids’ “Flower”. Sexy Zone kicked it off with all the familiar juniors close behind.

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There were some brief attempts at certain groupings that I shall not name:

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And then the other two debuted groups – Johnny’s WEST and A.B.C-Z – appeared. Johnny’s WEST looked particularly suited to the song – an explosion of color.

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So ultimately we got the bulk of the cast on stage for the opening, which is always sort of nice, though not as good as the opening format where groups and unaffiliated juniors are introduced explicitly one at a time.

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Nothing wrong with the song, of course – KinKi Kids music is pretty much always welcome. And I always prefer a single song for the opening rather than a medley.

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Hosts Kiriyama Akito-kun and Kawai Fumito-kun took over after that and let Sato Shori-kun introduce the theme of the song, which was “Change”. Hmm . . . I wonder if we’ll actually see any changes?

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Well, Shori-kun points out that he changed his hairstyle, and that’s good. I approve.

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I’m not sure what the rest of the talk was about – it went by really fast  . . .

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. . . but then everyone left the stage so that Sexy Zone could do a medley of all their singles. Now, I might have mentioned it before, but I don’t consider their singles to be their best songs.

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That said, since they’re all so similar in mood and melody, they all tend to blend together in a medley. I guess that could be considered a positive. Musically, it was a very coherent set.

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Oh, and since they’ve performed these songs so often on SC, they’re fairly good at them.

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No real changes there, though, and no junior medley related to the theme, either. We went right on to the next debuted group, Johnny’s WEST. Kawai-kun asked them about changes since their debut (if I understood that right).

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Have the members changed the way they relate to each other?

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I didn’t understand everything they said, but at the very least people recognize them more often than they did before the debut.

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Johnny’s WEST went on to perform “Konamon” and “Ee ja nai ka” – very much their usual Kansai-style stuff, so no substantial changes there. I don’t remember hearing “Konamon” before, though, and  the off-key falsetto notes in it are sort of different. I doubt many SC songs would have included those.

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They did their best to make the performance fun, and as long as they put this kind of energy into a stage, it’s worth watching.

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Next up was the Shokura NEWS segment, and this time it was focused on these five fellows:

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Kishi Yuta, Iwahashi Genki, Jinguji Yuta, Miyachika Kaito, and Abe Aran. Vocally, they’re not a great group (though they’re improving, as we’ll soon see), but in terms of charisma they’re an interesting bunch, and hope they eventually get a better name than Johnny’s is doling out these days.

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The most interesting aspect to the VTR was Jinguji-kun with a guitar.

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Now, he only played very basic chords and we didn’t hear much of it, but he was not on the list of people I expected to ever try to play an instrument, much less go acoustic with a guitar, so definitely a change in my understanding of who Jinguji-kun is. Bonus points to him for that, and I hope he keeps working on it.

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Oh, and it also sounded to me like he had put extra effort into the vocals on this song.

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They talked about being able to do things they haven’t been able to before, thanks to being the main act this time, and how close the audience was.

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I got a good laugh out of Marius-kun stealing Iwahashi-kun’s “genki” gag.

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Miyachika-kun’s gag at the end of this segment, though . . . .

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Anyway, the five of them went onto the stage next to sing “Dial Up”. Iwahashi-kun got a substantial solo part, as did both Kishi-kun and Jinguji-kun. I thought it felt fresh.

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Yup, I definitely think that was a highlight. It was also (perhaps not coincidentally) the first junior performance of the show.

Shokura You Bin was after that, and that brings up a question to mind: what happened to the segments that used to introduce juniors? For a while, we had Ki ni Naru J, Ki ni Naru KJ, and Ki ni Naru 2020 all going at the same time, and all presenting opportunities for juniors to take the spotlight. Now . . . not so much of that.

I mention that here because even before reading the piece of fan mail, they brought out A.B.C-Z’s Tsukada-kun.

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The topic seemed to be a concern/worry Tsukada-kun has, and he decided to go with “Japanese is difficult.” You’re telling me!

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But Tsukada-kun is apparently reading some lofty literature, so his Japanese difficulties are on a totally different level.

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The next piece of mail led A.B.C-Z’s Hashimoto-kun and Goseki-kun to appear. They were armed with an umbrella and took the comedy duo name “Rain Man.” I’m guessing they don’t know about the Dustin Hoffman-Tom Cruise movie.

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As long as the Shokura You Bin segment only features debuted members, though, I can’t get particularly interested. After all, I know from years of watching them that these two are capable of comedy and plenty more.

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As are Kento-kun and Fuma-kun. What would be interesting to see is whether some juniors – any juniors, really – could have come up with an interesting skit.

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A.B.C-Z performed a medley next. Hashimoto-kun started it off with a ballad rendition of “Za ABC ~5stars~” before they moved to the regular version of the song.

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Well, I guess they haven’t done it in a while, so I’ll let it pass. They continued with “Vanilla” – a good and very different song – and then went back to “Za ABC ~5stars~”, which made it a somewhat strange medley. Who thought it was a good idea to put these two songs together?

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This was certainly not the best I’ve seen from A.B.C-Z, and nothing new, either. Not much by way of change in this episode.

Well, they made an attempt at addressing the theme in the Junior ni Q segment by asking what they would like to be if they were reborn. Morita Myuto-kun said a migratory bird. Why be a human again, right?

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Takahashi Kaito-kun would want to be a magician – not the trick type, he wants to do real magic. Do they get to pick things that are purely fictional? I mean, generally you have to be reborn as something that exists.

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I’m a bit worried about him – he said he wanted to conquer/subjugate the world with his magic. I don’t think he fully appreciates how bothersome that would be.

Jinguji-kun was much more reasonable, yet still full of surprises – he would want to be an admired dentist. Before he got started on explaining that, though, they noted that he was wearing one of Kawai-kun’s former costumes.

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I have no idea about Jinguji-kun’s dentist logic, but I think he just wanted to put something surprising up there, anyway.

Abe Aran-kun went the fictional route, choosing to become Superman. His primary reason was to fly, so three out of four juniors in this segment decided to pick someone or something that would allow them to fly. Interesting.

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And for his regular persona (when he’s not being Superman), Abe Aran-kun would want to be himself again. Sounds healthy to me.

The Elder Juniors did their rendition of Kis-My-Ft2’s “Luv Sick” next. Yasui Kentaro-kun led the pack, and besides him, it was some of the usual suspects – Hagiya, Tanaka, Nozawa, Morohoshi, Kouchi, Shintaro, Matsumura, and Taiga.

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Not all the usual suspects, though. No Jesse, Sanada, Morita, Hanzawa, Masuda, nor numerous others who have been lumped into the Elder Junior pack at one point or another. Shintaro-kun is actually still on the young side, but an elder in experience.

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It was a very good performance, and I especially favored the way they put Kyomoto-kun’s voice to use. This is a slightly trimmed-down version of the way they often lump all these juniors together, but nine members is really still pushing it.

We got the newest installment of Shokura Blog, and this time it was Nagase Ren-kun, who actually did a very good job with it. He named his three favorite songs to sing and also gave an a cappella sample of his singing voice.

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And since he got to talk, I suppose it was natural to have him also perform. Now, I’m not sure about once again giving him a solo (frankly, I’d much rather see a performance from his two sharp backdancers – Matsukura Kaito-kun and Matsuda Genta-kun), but he’s got poise.

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The song was Akanishi Jin-kun’s “Murasaki” – hence the purple theme to the lighting.

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It’s tough to assess Ren-kun’s singing at this point – it’s still a work in progress and he’s clearly putting effort into it.

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Unfortunately, he didn’t dance this time, so there’s not much to reason to recommend the performance to anyone except his fans. Not the best showcase of his skills.

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They keep trying to find new segments for Shori-kun, and here he had a random ranking segment where he ranked himself, Kawai-kun, Kiriyama-kun, Iwahashi-kun, and Kishi-kun on various points.

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The first one was narcissism, and it quickly became apparent that this was not going to go well. While Shori-kun has many noteworthy traits, it doesn’t appear that being a judge of character is one of them.

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How could Kawai-kun be the most narcissistic of these five? Kawai-kun wondered that himself, and the reason Shori-kun gave suggests that he doesn’t know what the word means (or, it means something different in Japanese).

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Shori-kun likes to put himself in the middle of the five spots – strangely convenient for him.

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I think the next topic was a stinginess ranking, but this went even worse . . .

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. . . and Shori-kun was eventually forced to reconsider the order.

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I would be very surprised if we see this corner again.

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Shori-kun took the stage with the Fab Five to do a medley. That’s right, he got a solo medley. Now, to be fair, this medley involved twelve juniors backdancing, and they were quite prominent. Also, Shori-kun wrote the lyrics to  “Onaji Sora no Shita” and “Kimi wo Hanasanai Kimi wo Hanarenai”, and he also sang “A My Girl Friend” to conclude the medley.

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And it was a nice performance – I enjoyed it. I’m growing to like Shori-kun’s voice.

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But I still wanted to see more diversity in the performers than we got in the May episodes, and we didn’t get that this time.

The Elder Juniors (this time with Jesse, Masuda, Sanada, Hanzawa and Morita) concluded the evening with their rendition of KinKi Kids’ “Garasu no Shounen”.

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But with so many people in the mix, it was once again a crowded stage, and a muddy sound.

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The dancing was better than we often get in the finale, so there was that . . .

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. . . and the way the two hosts turned it into a proper duet (as it was meant to be) for a few bars was nice.

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That wasn’t quite the end, of course – there was still Shori-kun’s omake segment. Did I say something about not ever seeing the ranking corner again?

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Well, Shori-kun attempted to sneak it in for one last chance, but he let Kiriyama-kun pick the topic, and Kiriyama-kun chose a star quality ranking. I think you can guess how this is going to go.

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Okay, so there was nothing horribly wrong with this episode, but there was nothing delightfully right with it, either.

The only highlight was Shokura NEWS + “Dial Up” because that was the only part of the show where we got to see people going above-and-beyond what we’ve seen them do before. To some extent, I guess that can be applied to Shori-kun’s medley as well, since his voice is continuing to get better.

There were a number of good performances – particularly the effervescent Johnny’s WEST stage and “Luv Sick”.

The A.B.C-Z effort didn’t really show off the best of their dancing skills, and it was hampered by an odd combination of songs. Nagase Ren-kun’s stage was a good effort for someone so young, but he really could have used a dancing showcase with minimally taxing vocals instead.

It felt like there wasn’t much content to this episode. We didn’t have that many talk segments, no game, and yet the performances weren’t quite there, either. This one gets an 8 out of 10 from me. It’s quite pleasant to watch from beginning to end, but there’s nothing memorable. There’s also no apparent change from the pattern we saw in May.