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 show begins with A.B.C-Z performing their debut song “Za ABC ~5stars~”. There are a lot of juniors in the background and many of them even have microphones, but I’m pretty sure A.B.C-Z can do this song without their help. The stage was way too crowded for me at the very start.

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Thankfully, they started doing some specific introductions, beginning with Takahashi Kaito-kun, Nakamura Reia-kun, and Takahashi Fuu-kun. Hmm . . . I was sort of hoping they’d skip surrounding Kaito-kun with skateboards and the like, but it looks like they’ve replaced the rollerskates with head-spinning, and Kaito-kun continues to look a bit slow by comparison. Worse, it’s inconvenient to have two Takahashis in the same trio, isn’t it?

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Miyachika Kaito, Abe Aran, Haniuda Amu, and Tajima Shogo also got individual intros. This is sort of strange, though. I was thinking that this would be one of those things where they’d go through all the juniors on stage, but instead they stopped at those seven. I mean, they didn’t even do Jinguji, Iwahashi, and Kishi, even though the other two members of the group were named. Do you suppose some of it was cut out?

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So yeah, sort of a weird opening in that I thought they were going to go in a particular direction, but they didn’t. In terms of the song, it certainly wasn’t the best performance of “Za ABC ~5stars~” I’ve seen on SC.

Anyway, on with the intro talk. The two hosts greeted the audience and told us the theme of the episode – Tanabata, referring to Tanabata Matsuri – the festival on July 7th. I trust they’ll at least sing the Tegomasu song, then? I am going to be very disappointed if they choose this unusual theme and yet fail to perform the Johnny’s song most associated with it.

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Kawai-kun notes that the “5 stars” of the opening ties in (barely), since Tanabata is the star festival. However, I believe that Tanabata only involves two starts specifically – Vega and Altair – about which there is a certain legend. So, where the other three stars come from . . . .

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The first junior performance of the evening was “Inori” (prayer). This ties to Tanabata because a custom of the festival is to write one’s wishes on pieces of paper and hang them on bamboo trees. The performers for this one could best be described as Bakaleya Plus. Kouchi Yugo, Matsumura Hokuto, Kyomoto Taiga, Tanaka Juri, and Morimoto Shintaro were all present (all the Bakaleya Six members except Jesse), but so were Nozawa Yuki, Morohoshi Shoki, Iwamoto Hikaru, and Fukusawa Tatsuya.

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My usual complaint holds – it’s too many people and that led to a very indistinct sound to the vocals. The dancing was minimalist, so no entertainment value there, either.

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Basically, there was nothing to that performance. I would have expected them to be able to do that two years ago, and probably even further back than that. With three of them on stage, maybe that would have been a compelling performance because there would be more of a vocal burden on those three, but here the only interesting thing was just seeing them on stage. It’s nice that they got some stage time, and Kouchi-kun (who I root for in sort of an underdog spirit) has been getting plenty of camera attention in this episode, but I want to see something memorable.

Johnny’s West got to present their tanzaku – their Tanabata wishes. We’re probably going to get a lot of these in the episode, so you’ll have to forgive me for not attempting to translate them. It’s not really possible to review their wishes, and I would probably make excessive translation errors anyway.

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Now, if I had my wish, it’d be that Johnny’s WEST would perform a cool stage instead of one of those Kansai specials and . . . they did “Let’s Go West ~Kansai~”, which I sort of think of as the Kansai junior anthem. No Tanabata magic for me.

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I didn’t mention it before, but Shigeoka Daiki-kun was absent for this month’s recording due to an overabundance of other commitments.

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One of the reasons I tend to look down on performances of this song is because of the way they’re tied to those microphone stands. There are valiant efforts to break from that, especially from Hamada-kun, but it’s still the most static performance Johnny’s WEST ever does, limiting their freedom to be wacky.

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No apparent tie-in to Tanabata here, either. So far, this episode has been very lackluster with minimal energy. The opening was very static, as was “Inori” and this.

We don’t get any energy boost next, but I generally like the Shokura NEWS segment. This time, Kishi Yuta-kun and Matsukura Kaito-kun interviewed Kis-My-Ft2’s Fujigaya Taisuke-kun about his recent activities.

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I didn’t expect to see Kishi-kun and Matsukura-kun in this capacity – interviewing someone else – and I think this was the first new thing we’ve seen. This was the first part of the show where we saw members expanding their horizons.

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The main topic was a play that Fujigaya-kun is in, but Kishi-kun seemed unprepared on that score so the subject wandered a bit.

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The director had a bit of fun with the fact that neither interviewer was particularly good at this, and it was admittedly amusing to watch them struggle a bit in the middle of the slick presentation of SC. I hope that this experience will spur them to work on these skills.

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Fujigaya-kun was great about it, so it turned out fairly well despite the stumbling.

Next, the hosts brought Nakajima Kento-kun on to talk about his wish. Isn’t it amazing that it’s taken eighteen minutes for us to see the first signs of Sexy Zone in this episode? It’s like someone got the memo that we’ve been getting SZ overkill for the past couple of months. Probably, it has something to do with the timing of other activities like concerts, but I don’t know much about that.

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The SZ stage naturally followed that talk, and here we got so see something new – SZ’s performance of “Ghost ~Kimi wa Maboroshi”. Now, this was not my favorite song off of their new album, but it’s not a bad song, either. The hosts billed it as a more grown-up version of SZ compared to their normal cutesy mode. Let’s see if they’re right.

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The black and white costumes are a positive (as opposed to, you know, pink or otherwise color-coded). The feathers are, of course, de rigueur among Johnny’s groups.

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I was happy to see that all five members got to participate in this cool song – in contrast to “Bad Boys” in particular.

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This was the most substantial dancing that we’ve gotten all episode, so after the relative boredom of the choreography so far, I was just happy to see people move throughout the song. Some of the choreography was a bit hokey – especially the ghost-walk (sort of more a mummy-walk) that they did very briefly.

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Altogether, though, it was certainly a highlight, and in particular worthy because it’s a different feel than we normally see from the group. Nice vocal touches from Fuma-kun, as always. If only HSJ could have done the music show circuit promoting their album with a song like this . . . .

Marius-kun managed to pull off cool fairly well – obviously he was the biggest question mark on that. Kento-kun and Fuma-kun . . . I think someone decide that gyrating hips was the essence of grown-up, but that might have been Elvis Presley, so I might have to give them a pass on that. Whenever I complain about that sort of thing, I feel like the codger who decided to record Elvis from the waist up only. It was fairly borderline for Shounen Club, though.

Anyway, suddenly we have some positive momentum. Can we keep it going?

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Not if the Shokura You Bin segment only features debuted members and it’s just another mune kyun type challenge, which it was.

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The competition was between Kento-kun and Kotaki-kun, and the target of their affection was Goseki-kun. Why do I feel like I’ve seen this before?

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I know these guys can do it, whether they’re playing for real romance or just humor. It would be far more interesting to see the attempts (and possible humorous fails) of random juniors, and I’m not going to give this segment a thumbs-up unless they get juniors into the mix.

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Kento-kun did a whole mune-kyun series (his Loveholic Prince thing) for heaven’s sake! I don’t need to see any more of that!

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A.B.C-Z was up next with “Bokura no Kotae ~Here We Go~”. I think this is new – it certainly felt new, and that’s good enough for me.

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It definitely continued the freshness and high energy that the SZ performance brought, and like “Ghost”, it was at the cool end of this group’s spectrum.

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Very nice singing from Kawai-kun to open the song. A.B.C-Z was in good form, and as usual that means they were at a completely different level than the other performers on the show.

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I especially liked the carnival-like turn in the middle of the song – that’s the sort of musical touch that makes a song memorable.

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So that was excellent, though perhaps they could take the dancing up a notch – they looked a bit heavy somehow (possibly the costumes). They should have really done this in the rock episode, incidentally.

Next was the Shokura Blog segment, which continues to be sort of a replacement for Ki ni Naru J. I’m all right with that as long as there are new juniors featured each time, and that was true here with Nakamura Reia-kun speaking on the topic of his Tanabata wish.

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His wish was for skateboarding to become an Olympic competition, and I thought this was quite a brilliant little blog topic. First of all, he justified it by pointing out that snowboarding was an Olympic sport now, which was sharp. More importantly, though, this not only tied-in the skill he is best known for, but also hinted at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics that Johnny’s continues to want some piece of.

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So that was good. Now, I have a question: what’s with this junior stage that always follows Shokura Blog? Why is this the only stage that doesn’t seem to be at NHK Hall, and why does it always have horrible cameras?

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This time, it was Takahashi Kaito-kun and Nakamura Reia-kun performing Kis-My-FT2’s “Ai no Beat” and “Ki-su-u-ma-i” with a host of other juniors. This is nothing new, though I appreciated the better role for Matsuda Genta-kun, Matsukura Kaito-kun, and Takahashi Fuu-kun, who have been left in the background for a lot of these, but got better position this time.

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The camera was just ridiculous, though. Most of the time it was hardly catching the juniors at all, had audience hands in the way, was too far away, or doing some Dutch angle which was totally unnecessary. Nevertheless, if you look really hard, this is the best segment to spot juniors you haven’t seen before. Not J’s Party – after the first April episodes, that’s been the exclusive territory of the established juniors. And certainly not the rest of SC.

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That would have been a worthy performance if not for the camera issues.

Kikuchi Fuma-kun shared his Tanabata wish. Hmm . . . we seem to be getting more SZ infiltration now. Fuma-kun seems to be working on his English pronunciation – he said “I’m nineteen years old” smoothly without the most common pitfalls.

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Fuma-kun had a solo next, and as with his previous offering, it was simply a song he likes to sing rather than an SZ solo. This time, in fact, it was TOKIO’s “Boku no Renai Jijou to Daidokoro Jijou”.

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I sure haven’t heard this one on SC before, and Fuma-kun was in a very engaging mode – he was clearly delighted to be able to sing this song, and often that makes all the difference.

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Excellent song + great vocals + superb presentation = highlight!

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It was also amusing to see the emoticons in the lyrics at the bottom of the screen – that was a great touch.

The Junior ni Q segment was quite different from the usual pattern, as the juniors got to add their own Tanabata wishes to the mix.

First up was . . . holy mackerel! Is that Abe Aran-kun?! I swear, he looks so grown-up! I thought the change from pre-SHARK 2 Aran to SHARK 2 Aran was striking, but it’s like he’s become an adult overnight! Obviously, not being in one of the standard Johnny’s junior outfits is critical to that impression.

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Next up was Kyomoto Taiga-kun . . .

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. . . and then Jesse-kun, who surprisingly hasn’t made an appearance in this episode so far despite all of his Bakaleya teammates being in “Inori”.

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In fact, Junior ni Q featured three Bakaleya members, as they rounded it out with Matsukura Hokuto-kun.

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I’m going to have to rate this an underwhelming Junior ni Q, since the striking development of Abe Aran-kun aside, we only got juniors with substantial popularity.

Now, we haven’t heard the theme song for the original SHARK – “Keep Walking” – before. Well, now we have:

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Honestly, they really should have done this in the rock episode, shouldn’t they have? This would have been a very good capstone to that episode, and seems thrown-in this time.

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Nice work by Mizuki . . . . I mean Hirano Sho-kun. This version was actually slightly better than the one that opened the episodes of the drama.

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My only complaint is that it’s in the wrong episode. Otherwise, it was as solid a performance of this song as I could have expected.

The hour ended with  . . . Sexy Zone’s “Kimi to . . . Milky Way”. Okay . . . there are stars involved . . . but where’s my “Tanabata Matsuri”?

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Now, this happens to be my favorite song from the group’s first album, and both vocally and musically, I rate it very highly, so I will never actually object to hearing it.

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And at least there were junior backdancers (albeit all the usual suspects).

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Still, it looks like SZ managed to invade this show successfully.

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And naturally, they capped off that success with a Shori omake segment, with Kotaki-kun as the guest. I was disappointed that this was all talking – no game or anything like that.

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So here’s the thing: I found the first third of this episode painfully slow, but that happens to have been the part before SZ’s first (of many) appearances. Does that mean I’m biased toward SZ despite all my protestations that I’d rather see some juniors, or was it really just very slow?

I think it was really just a lackluster start, honestly. After “Ghost” and especially once we got clear of that Shokura You Bin and A.B.C-Z did their thing, it was fairly smooth sailing except perhaps for a minor lapse in Junior ni Q. Lots of highlights. Two performances stand out in particular – Kikuchi Fuma-kun’s solo and the performance of “Keep Walking”. Right below those two, I’d set the SZ and A.B.C-Z performances, which had very similar feels to them. The post-Shokura Blog junior performance was okay, but I don’t like how the young juniors only get to lead the stage when it’s that tiny place where the fans keep getting in the way of the cameras and the cameras are doing their best imitation of flying insects.

There were numerous unremarkable performances – the opening, the Johnny’s WEST performance, and “Inori” in particular.

Despite some good performances, the lack of balance in the episode felt off, and I’m going to give this one an 8 out of 10.

The junior situation is really distressing, and it’s not as if J’s Party is giving them adequate space – less than a dozen juniors get to perform on J’s Party every month, and with rare exceptions it’s the most popular juniors. It’s still true that SC is the only place where we can see a broad spectrum of the juniors at one go, but those sightings are increasingly fleeting. Until now, I’ve thought that departures from Shounen Club should be based on seniority – not the historical pattern, but at least a logical one. Since any discussion of how to clear some space for the juniors invariably leads to people suggesting that the group they like the least should be the first to go, though, I’m going to amend my general recommendation: all three debuted groups should leave simultaneously, but retain the ability to appear as guests when they have a release to promote. The two hosts should remain Kawai-kun and Kiriyama-kun. If SC could weather the departure of Hey! Say! Jump without any fuss, it can certainly keep going strong with such a large contingent of popular juniors to draw from.

Or, if you don’t like that idea, how about if each debuted group gets to do one and only one performance every month instead of one per episode? I’ll even throw in an extra shared solo slot per month if Fuma-kun wants another crack at it or Hashimoto-kun gives us one of his generally-solid solos or something like that. The point is that the debuted groups would then only take up half the space while still being present. I don’t understand why they all have to be in every episode.