This is the start of a new season of VS Arashi (VS 嵐), but will it be any different from any other season in the two-and-a-quarter years I’ve been reviewing this show? I love Arashi, but things have been feeling repetitive for a while now. Even the tiny tweak to Dual Curling seemed like a big deal considering how static the show has been.

Now, game shows don’t necessarily have to change games – Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and countless other shows have had the same format for decades without anyone getting tired of them. But Japanese TV is a much more dynamic arena, which is largely what I like about it. The variety in this variety show for the past few years has mainly been a matter of guests rather than activities, but that’s not been enough. In particular, it hasn’t really been enough for the Arashi members themselves. Early in VS Arashi, they were constantly surprised by happenings on this show, and the games were a real challenge. In recent years, those surprises have been few and far between, and they are well-practiced on all the games. It would be easier for them to make things interesting if they were facing games that they had little experience playing.

And that’s the thing about the other game shows I mentioned: the hosts in those shows didn’t play the games, so things were relatively fresh for all the contestants involved. With Arashi taking part, they need to find a way to keep things fresh for themselves.

So, let’s see what they do.

The episode began with Sakurai-san noting that Aiba-kun’s left nipple seemed to be showing through his top, but it turned out it was just a logo on the tee-shirt underneath. It was good that Sakurai-san clarified that right away, though, because it was easy to get that wrong impression.

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The guest team was one of those mish-mashes of talents – it was the Pocchari (plump) team. The only member of the team I’ve seen a lot of and have confidence in is Kendo Kobayashi-san. The rest all have variety show experience, but I just don’t know much about them.

Aside from Kenkoba-san, there were two newcomers to VS Arashi – actor Watanabe Tooru-san and Morning Musume member Suzuki Kanon-san. There was also Fall in Love’s Barbie-san (at least, I think it should be romanized that way), Yanagihara Kanako-san, and Matenrou’s Antony-san.

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Now, Watanabe-san doesn’t seem particularly plump, but he points out that he used to be an action star and a top idol, so I guess by those standards he’s put on a bit of weight.

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I was really hoping that we wouldn’t get another TV talent as the plus one guest, but no luck there. Imada Koji-san was added to the Arashi team. On the bright side, Imada-san is a veteran and has worked a lot alongside Kenkoba-san and Arashi. Imada-san starts by poking fun at the state of the guest on this show, including himself. A total lack of beautiful actresses.

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Suzuki Kanon-san points out that she’s an idol and in Morning Musume, but Imada-san doesn’t seem to believe it. Just in case the TV audience doesn’t either, the good people in editing provide photographic evidence.

Imada-san also points out that there’s a lot of activity involved in this show (well, that depends on what games they play), wondering whether the guest team will be alright with that. Kenkoba-san responds that he does have one request – that they turn up the air conditioning.

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The first game wasn’t too taxing – it was Korokoro Viking. The Pocchari team was up first. Perhaps considering Watanabe-san’s history . . .

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. . . Matsumoto-kun wondered if the members of the guest team were always . . . well-rounded, if you will . . . and that was clearly a deliberate segue into a prepared segment with a lot of old photos which they selected as their coolest. Kenkoba-san was always meant to be a comedian:

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Something about this pic of Antony at five years of age seemed a bit off.

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Barbie-san totally doesn’t look twelve years old in her photo.

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Yanagihara-san went for hilarity, choosing a photo from when she was only a year old and on the cover of a baby magazine. She said it was from her modeling era.

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After all of that, how will they do in the game?

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So yeah, how many times have the Arashi guys played this game? Granted, the combination of Ohno-san and Imada-san in the scoring orange zone might produce some interesting results – the pregame talk was totally about their teamwork and lack thereof.

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This sequence gives Ohno-san an early lead on the Most Omoshiroi (Interesting) Arashi for the episode.

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Hmm . . . should Imada-san really be looking this spirited after what happened in Korokoro Viking?

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Well, I certainly like that they picked him to do the hard part in Pinball Runner. He’s a bit afraid of Ninomiya-kun at this point because Nino-kun shouted at him after Korokoro Viking.

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Will Imada-san be able to win a smile from Nino-kun for his efforts in this game?

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Suzuki-san handled the running for the Pocchari team. There’s no doubt that she had confidence in her ability to do better than Imada in this game, but how will Kenkoba, Antony, and Yanagihara do in calling out the numbers?

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Actually, I mentioned all three of them, but Kenkoba-san just stood off to the side and looked worried.

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The third game was Bank Bowling. MatsuJun and Imada-san went up first for Arashi. Imada-san looks like a guy who would enjoy bowling. How will they do? Will they be able to set up the long-awaited spare?

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Ninomiya-kun and Sakurai-san tried to handle the pins that were left behind. When asked if getting a spare would put a smile on his face, though, Nino-kun was absolutely firm that getting a spare was impossible. Well, the track record so far is definitely on his side. M.O.A. points to Nino-kun here.

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Watanabe-san and Yanagihara-san got the initial shot for the guest team . . .

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. . . and then Kenkoba-san joined Barbie-san to handle the clean up.

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Oh look, they decided to pull out the least active game for the Pocchari team – Rolling Coin Tower. And here I thought the guest team might try to defy the impression that they can’t compete athletically.

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Nothing much to say about Rolling Coin Tower except that it was in the wrong part of the show. It should definitely have been the first game.

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The final game was Kicking Sniper, which means that this set of games was the blandest selection possible. The shooters for the guest team were Watanabe-san, Antony-san, and Kenkoba-san. As usual, they talked about their soccer background or lack thereof. Kenkoba-san actually brought up his Kicking Sniper experience.

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With Arashi up in their make-or-break final round, they sent up Aiba-kun, Nino-kun, and Imada-san. Kenkoba-san decided to try and psych out the soft target – Aiba-kun.

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Hmm . . . I wonder whether we’ll see Dame Aiba or Miracle Aiba after that. Actually, since he’s the last kicker, will he even get a chance to strike at a target?

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Well, what can I say? This was a very average episode of VS Arashi with a below average choice of games.

The guest team basically exited as it entered. The main contributor was Kenkoba-san, as expected, though Suzuki-san had substantial participation – especially with her part in Pinball Runner. I knew Yanagihara-san from previous shows, but she didn’t really make much of an impact here. The remaining members of the guest team didn’t make any impression at all.

The episode largely centered on Imada-san, which was also expected as soon as he showed up. There was a relative entertainment vacuum and, like a pro, he filled it. No gags or cheap humor like that, but most of what he did was fairly easy to understand nevertheless.

Ohno-san started out with a Most Omoshiroi Arashi lead, but Nino-kun stepped in at the end of Korokoro Viking and Imada-san sort of latched onto him for the rest of the episode, trying to win that smile. So, in the end, Ninomiya-kun was the M.O.A. for this episode. Nothing to write home about, though – there was practically nothing really interesting in this episode.

Fortunately, the July 10th two-hour special with Kanjani8 and baba-nuki at the end should be a blast. It won’t be an indication of where this show is headed, but at least it’ll be a more proper start to the season.