Shounen Club (ザ少年倶楽部) is a music variety show hosted by 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 main fascination with the show, at least for me, is to try to figure out which of the juniors will emerge as the next generation of stars. This episode opens with some prime candidates handling the intro, as Jinguji Yuta, Iwahashi Genki, Abe Aran, and Kishi Yuta led a cadre of other juniors in SMAP’s “Bang! Bang! Vacance”.

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They made way for the elder juniors, who continued the song. While the four listed above seem to be in a stable grouping (except that they’re missing Miyachika Kaito), the elder juniors have no such luck, and every time I turn around, they’re in a totally different arrangement.

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For the final phase of the song, Sato Shori, Nakajima Kento, and Kikuchi Fuma of Sexy Zone as well as the entirety of Johnny’s WEST and A.B.C-Z (except Totsuka Shota) joined the rest on a very crowded stage. Fair enough, though, since I typically like this type of all-in one-song opening for Shounen Club. It feels right to have the whole cast out front to kick things off.

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Anyway, the song was a solid opening – not noteworthy in the vocal or dance departments, but an appropriate intro to the participants. After it was over, the two hosts plus Sato Shori-kun (why don’t they just have one host from each of the three debuted groups, by the way?) told us that the theme for the episode was Vacation.

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The hosts also mentioned that there will be a special guest, and since I looked ahead at the show, I know that they correct.

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First of all, though, it was time for the junior Vacation medley, which started with KinKi Kids’ “Jetcoaster Romance”. We got Jinguji, Aran, and Kishi again, but this time Miyachika replaced Iwahashi. That’s interesting. Normally I’d speculate that Miyachika-kun hadn’t rehearsed the opening and Iwahashi-kun hadn’t practiced this song, but the opening didn’t really require much practice as long as Miyachika-kun knew the lyrics.

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Since this is possibly the most stable featured junior grouping, I really, really, really don’t want to see the agency messing around with it. I also happen to be in favor of having groups of five or six.

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The next song in the medley was “Ki-su-u-ma-i ~ Kiss Your Mind~” from Kis-My-Ft2, and I’m not sure about the connection to the theme of the episode (I haven’t read the full lyric sheet, though). It was performed by Jesse, Iwamoto Hikaru, Masuda Ryo, Fukusawa Tatsuya, Hanzawa Akatsuki, Morita Myuto, and Sanada Yuma. So that’s one person extra, but since the probability that we’ll see these seven sing together for very long into the future is very low, it doesn’t matter.

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Following them was Nozawa Yuki, Kouchi Yugo, Hagiya Keigo, Matsumura Hokuto, Kyomoto Taiga, Morimoto Shintaro, Tanaka Juri, Yasui Kentaro and Morihoshi Shoki singing NEWS’ “Chankapana”. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know which group of six I would have rather seen here (hint: starts with a “B” and originated in one of the first dramas I reviewed).

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Speaking of groups of six, the next song was “Take Me Higher” from V6, with Takahashi Kaito-kun as the center. Based on the costuming, Nakamura Reia-kun has been demoted to being a backdancer for Kaito-kun, but I suspect that the main problem was the obvious fact that he attracts more attention than Kaito-kun when he’s riding his skateboard. Instead of just abandoning the skating, they went with the costume change, which works, but still means Reia-kun is effectively demoted.

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Good clean vocals from Takahashi-kun in that one, though. In fact, I think it was the first clean vocals we’ve had in the entire show, since everything else has been sung with an overabundance of unison.

Next, we found out where Iwahashi-kun was hiding – he was getting ready to do Coming Century’s “Natsu no Kakera” as a semi-solo (really with accompaniment from Takahashi Fuu, Tajima Shogo, Matsuda Genta, and Matsukura Kaito).

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Speaking of which, I’m going to propose that Fuu, Tajima, Genta, Matsukura, and Reia could be a solid group of five. I hesitate to put Takahashi Kaito-kun in there because it’s already apparent the agency would make the others into little more than his backdancers, and it’s also inconvenient to have the name overlaps (two Takahashis and two Kaitos).

Anyway, Iwahashi-kun and these four are perfect for this song, and I’d say this little snippet is the best performance so far, though Takahashi Kaito-kun’s solo lines right before this were pretty good, too.

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That was a pretty strong note on which to bring out the special guests – Tackey & Tsubasa!

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Wow, how long has it been since we’ve seen these two together on Shounen Club?

They sang “Dakinatsu”, which is a very Tackey & Tsubasa song. The initial lyrics were a bit lazy (“Da Da Da Da Da Dakishimete”? Really?), but it progressed to more solid territory after that.

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Actually, the backdancers were another grouping of juniors that has been fairly consistent despite many attempts to disrupt it – Snow Man.

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The song is straight-forward stuff, but perhaps too much so. It doesn’t really have the kind of hook that makes this pair’s more memorable songs work.

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Still, no problem with the performance – they put their full energy into it, unlike some other senpai who might come onto Shounen Club (and so few of them do so any more, with three debuted groups already performing as regulars).

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The fans were clearly thrilled to see Tackey-san and Tsubasa-san, and so was I. Just seeing them makes me want to watch classic Shounen Clubs again.

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The talk was about summer and vacation. At one point they talked about Tackey & Tsubasa’s recommended vacation spots.

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Tackey-san likes Las Vegas while Tsubasa-san advocated for Shounan in his home prefecture of Kanagawa.

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Beyond that, I don’t have a very clear idea of what they said.

The surprises keep coming, though, as Masuda Ryo-kun got to do this episode’s installment of the Shokura Blog. Seems like his popularity has been getting a huge boost of late (much deserved, considering his vocal skills), and this is only the most recent sign of it.

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He got to talk about his hobby, which is . . . oil painting! As if the guy wasn’t talented enough already!

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Next was the junior performance with the cameras in all the wrong places:

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The featured performer this time was Hirano Sho-kun singing Kis-My-Ft2’s “Black & White”, which is a very different song than we’ve seen him do solo before. He had help from Morita Myuto, Anderson Casey, Masuda Ryo, and Hanzawa Akatsuki, and this is a very different song from their usual fare, too.

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It’s not my preferred style, though I can appreciate that it was done extremely well.

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That said, based on previous performances on this special stage, I thought this was going to be a special corner for the younger juniors. Last time, we had a lot of chibis featured, and that was generally the pattern – a pattern I wanted to see continued.

Next up, the three elder members of Sexy Zone . . . didn’t talk about summer.

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Instead, they did that Shori ranking corner that I thought we had all agreed was ridiculous the only other time they’ve done it.

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And . . . it turned out ridiculous this time, too. The topic what who it would be fun to go on a trip/vacation with, and he always feels compelled to put himself in the middle. With no disrespect to him, given the five people he was trying to rank on this topic, he should have probably accepted the bottom spot. They’re all much better at humor and carving some fun out of the mundane.

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The next ranking was even more likely to get those involved riled up – who among them is more beloved by the juniors?

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Kiriyama-kun and Kikuchi-kun got the short end of Shori-kun (because he put himself in the middle again) this time.

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This corner is impossible in the first place – a single person shouldn’t rank others like this. If any ranking of people is desired, it should be done by a vote involving as many knowledgeable people as possible. In the case of both of these questions, clearly Shori-kun should have been presenting the results of a poll from all the juniors and some of the comments they made rather than just his own ideas.

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Oh, well. This is what happens when no one in Johnny’s consults me beforehand.

Kento-kun, Fuma-kun, and Shori-kun got to do a medley next. Shori-kun started it off with “Onaji Sora no Shita”, which he sang well (as one would hope, since he wrote the lyrics). Tajima, Matsukura, Reia, and Fuu were backdancing – considering how much of that they (usually with Genta as well) do, I need to find a name for this team.

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Fuma-kun did a bit of his own solo, “rogue”, and Kento-kun of course followed that with “CANDY ~Can U be my BABY”.

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So, nothing really new here, though no problems with any of these solos either. To round out the medley, they did their most recent single, “King & Queen & Joker,” which would be a great song if not for the opening (which is usually repeated later in the song as well, though not in this performance).

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Without the opening few seconds, it has some commendable melodic coherence, especially when compared to their other singles.

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We got a Nekketsu Battle next – a Johnny’s song mixed quiz. Nakama Junta-kun and Hashimoto Ryosuke-kun were the hosts, and the participants were Nakajima Kento, Matsumura Hokuto, Kikuchi Fuma, Sanada Yuma, Jesse, Shigeoka Daiki, Yasui Kentaro, and Fujii Ryusei. All of them were in pairs (so Kento-Hokuto, Fuma-Yuma, Jesse-Shige, and Yasui-Fujii).

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The game involved them listening to two songs played at once, and they had to identify both songs.

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Unfortunately, the audience wasn’t fully allowed to play along – we were shown the answer at the bottom of the screen.

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The first round only involved Kento-Hokuto and Fujii-Yasui.

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The second round featured Sanada-Fuma and Shige-Jesse.

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In the last round, the winning pairs faced off with only one quiz question determining the final result. The best part of this competition was Kikuchi Fuma-kun’s crazy energy throughout – he was moving around constantly and doing all sorts of silly things.

The next performance was Johnny’s WEST singing “My Best Friend”, which I believe is new to Shounen Club. It sure felt new.

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This was a great song and even more spectacular performance. It featured plenty of dancing flair – some serious competition for A.B.C-Z in fact – and a sharp look. I’m still not at all a fan of Shigeoka-kun’s sharp voice, which started the song, but Kotaki-kun made up for it with his smoother vocals.

The segment that followed that was one of those Tsukada specials. This time, he was paired with Hamada-kun in order to give a backstage look at Kiriyama-kun.

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I believe my policy on this is that they should have the elder juniors as guests in this segment rather than other debuted members.

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So, while there were no shortage of antics, as well as a little art project in which they created a mascot for Shounen Club . . .

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. . . I’ll forgo offering any other thoughts about the segment. It was somewhat tough for me to follow anyway because of my limited Japanese skills.

A.B.C-Z was up next with “Legend Story”. Interestingly, they had Kyomoto Taiga, Masuda Ryo, Hanzawa Akatsuki, and Morimoto Shintaro in the backdancing mix for this one.

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Some of the vocals were a tad strained on this one, but that was because the song tested their abilities during the slower parts.

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Now that was already a fairly impressive performance, but then they decided to follow it with another song – “Bokura no Kotae ~ Here We Go~” – and that had even sharper dancing and a quicker tempo.

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Well, A.B.C-Z continued to demonstrate why they’re way beyond all the other acts appearing on Shounen Club with this, despite formidable efforts from Johnny’s WEST.

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The Junior ni Q segment prompted the juniors for what fun thing they’d like to do during summer vacation.

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Tanaka Juri-kun said that he wanted to escape Japan (that’s the way he put it), and he mentioned Hawaii and Guam as possible destinations.

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Kishi-kun put ‘license’ on his answer, but you’ve got to figure it’s not something mundane like a driver’s license for someone like Kishi-kun. No, no – it’s a diver‘s license – he’s aiming for a scuba diving license.

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Iwamoto Hikaru-kun had something about a camp fire.

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Morohoshi-kun put a bicycle he yearns for – it was a plan that involved his father somehow.

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If I had trouble following that one, I was even worse off with Taiga-kun’s answer, which apparently involved a vanilla ice cream . . . house? I can’t be getting that right.

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With that, they closed the show with Genki, Jinguji, Miyachika, Aran, and Kishi singing V6’s “Can do! Can go!” along with many of the other young juniors we’ve seen in the episode, except that Okamoto Kauan-kun popped out of nowhere (as he does).

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The elder juniors eventually joined in, but the closing was free of debuted groups except for the two hosts, which I felt was a definite plus.

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So, while we got the currently popular juniors – the ones also featured on Gamushara – we got scant representation from the rest. I believe Matsuda Genta-kun was the only person on stage who was under sixteen – correct me if I’m wrong about that – as we didn’t even get Nagase Ren-kun this time. So this Shounen Club skewed unusually old, and I wonder if the average age of the performers would even qualify as shounen.

That’s a continuing problem, though, and there were positives in this episode. Leading the list were the A.B.C-Z and Johnny’s WEST performances, which were two solid highlights from the episode. In the junior medley, “Natsu no Kakera” stood out as having the right feel to it. After that, I think Hirano Sho-kun’s performance is worthy of note, though it’s hard for me to give a fair assessment of it since it’s not the sort of music I prefer to listen to.

It was delightful to see Tackey & Tsubasa, and they gave it a solid effort, but the song didn’t make enough of an impression. The opening and ending of the show were both very good in terms of atmosphere even if the performances weren’t challenging. The rest of the junior medley also ranks as good, but not enough to stand out.

The weakest performance of the show was the Sexy Zone medley. Unlike what we heard and saw from the other two debuted groups, it wasn’t as fresh and certainly not the best we’ve seen from SZ on any of these songs. I would also say that the talk segments dragged a bit this time, and the Nekketsu battle felt somewhat haphazard.

There was nothing horrible in the episode, and certainly nothing I would have skipped, but there was a lot missing. I’ll give this one an 8 out of 10. I really hope they figure out how to give the junior groups adequate time soon – it’d going to get increasingly hard to assess this show if I continue to feel that the entertainment value is good while the original purpose of the show is being undermined.