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 second episode for September begins with A.B.C-Z introducing the theme of the show – 15th anniversary year again, even though I still have no idea how they figure that – and then performing “Legend Story”. Hashimoto-kun’s opening wasn’t quite as striking as before – more muted this time.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 000 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 0012014.09.10 Shounen Club 002

Maybe it’s because it’s at the start of the show, but it seemed lacking in energy and not as sharp as the previous time I saw this performed.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 003 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 004

 

So, I’d call that an iffy opening. The song itself could probably work if it was done with some over-the-top exuberance, but they were restrained on it this time.

Moving along, Kawai-kun and Kiriyama-kun introduced the first performers – Hirano Sho, Nagase Ren, and Takahashi Kaito. This is a bit unusual since we’ve normally had one of the other debuted groups out to do the talk at this point even when a junior group was preparing to perform.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 005 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 006

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 007

It’s also noteworthy because we’ve mostly seen these three on that mini-stage segment that occurs later in the show, not on the NHK Hall stage. I guess this means they’re ready for prime time? We’ll see.

 

 

Hirano-kun was funny here, as he had trouble figuring out how old he was fifteen years ago, and when asked what age he is now, he said “probably 17.” Hmm . . . nervous much?

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 008 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 009

 

These three are featured because they’re part of the long-running stage play Dream Boys. As a team, they’ve created some consternation among fans because of questions about whether Kin Kan and Naniwa Oji – the groups Hirano-kun and Nagase-kun belong to – are still going to be active. I’m concerned as well, because this team doesn’t have a good personality balance – all three members are reserved centers and there’s no mood-maker. So far, though, this team hasn’t been named (at least, not here on SC), so there’s still hope for Kin Kan and Naniwa Oji.

They performed NEWS’ “Flying Bird”, and the opening dance moves seemed a bit sloppy – like they hadn’t really worked on the timing together.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 010

 

The vocals were a marked improvement over what we’ve heard from them so far, though. It was just a verse and chorus, and each of them got to deliver some solo lines during the verse, making it easy to assess their singing.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 011 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 012

 

The dancing could use work, though. Some of the chibi backdancers seemed to be doing a better job. The trio might have been a bit nervous or tired, I don’t know.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 013 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 014

 

Next up was the Shokura News segment, and it involved Jinguji Yuta-kun, Takahashi Fuu-kun, and Tamamoto Fumito-kun discussing the recording of SZ’s “Otoko never give up” music video.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 015

This is something I don’t really feel Shokura News needs to cover – because the song is almost certainly going to be performed after this and will get plenty of promotion, in contrast to the stage plays and more obscure activities of the juniors. Also, some of the footage had bad audio even though we know there must be clean audio – that might be atmospheric for a butai, but it’s ridiculous for a VTR of a recording session.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 017

 

On the bright side, each of the three hosts did a one-on-one interview with the three members of SZ involved in this single. Takahashi Fuu got Kikuchi Fuma, Jinguji Yuta talked to Nakajima Kento (they seem to be buddies, considering their previous interactions), and Tamamoto Fumito drew Sato Shori.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 018 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 019

 

Somehow, I get the feeling Shori-kun likes being around his kouhai, though it was funny seeing him tell Fumito-kun to relax when he’s always a bundle of nerves himself.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 020

 

Best part was the three juniors playing around with the one-way mirror.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 021 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 022

 

Sure enough, that was followed by Kento-kun, Fuma-kun, and Shori-kun performing “Otoko never give up” with a huge number of juniors backdancing. The three main performers were tied to the dreaded microphone stands, so the backdancers were necessary to give the illusion of movement and energy.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 023

 

I only recently criticized these three for doing a some without proper choreography, and now they come to SC with their new single and do a lot of hand-waving. The parts where they actually had steps to the dance were badly out-of-sync and unpracticed. It would be all right if the vocals to this song were impressive, but for these three, the notes weren’t much of a test. I would probably let the microphone stands go if the song was as boisterous as Johnny’s West’s “Let’s Go West ~Kansai~”, but I even argued against the stands with that song.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 024 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 025

The song itself missed its chance at a proper identity. With a name like “Otoko never give up”, any reasonably experienced observer of Japanese entertainment might have expected a more matsuri-style song – something festive and boisterous, possibly leaning toward the Kanjani8 side of things (though perhaps not going all the way to Johnny’s West). In fact, a song more along the lines of “Bye Bye Dubai” in style and in choreography would have been more appropriate.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 026

 

Instead, this song had a generic feel – like the writers of the song tried their best to find the average of all Johnny’s songs and put it out there. That works about as well as trying to find the average family – you end up with a fractional child. Even with pop songs, it’s better to make a song distinctive, and this was just laziness by the writers. Why this song ended up as the A-side when some of the other new songs they’ve been doing have been better, I have no idea. I continue to favor B-sides on most Johnny’s singles, though.

Next, we continued the showing of baby photos (or, more precisely, photos from approximately fifteen years ago) that began in the previous episode. First targets this time were Totsuka Shota-kun of A.B.C-Z and Nakama Junta-kun of Johnny’s West. They took the opportunity to promote the SC Selection Special, which they’re the MCs for. I have to admit – I don’t watch the selection specials.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 027 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 028

 

I continue to have little to say about these photo sharing segments . . .

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 029 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 030

 

. . . and in this case I’ll just say that, unlike Kawai-kun and Kiriyama-kun, these two look a lot different from their old selves.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 031

 

Totsuka-kun and Nakama-kun did a collaboration duet next, singing “torn”.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 0322014.09.10 Shounen Club 033

 

Interestingly, I was more focused on the four backdancers (Hanzawa Akatsuki, Masuda Ryo, Morita Myuto, and a junior I couldn’t identify) than the two vocalists. That might have been partly intentional, since for parts of the song Totsuka-kun and Nakama-kun went upstage to let the backdancers take the foreground.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 034 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 0352014.09.10 Shounen Club 0362014.09.10 Shounen Club 037

It was a good stage. Nothing too striking, but very satisfying. Solid work.

The Shokura blog segment was next, and the . . . junior . . . isn’t it supposed to be a junior?

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 038

 

Well, they decided to let Tsukada-kun invade and show off his photo from fifteen years ago. They let Goseki-kun invade Junior ni Q last week, and I’m not at all happy with these junior segments being encroached upon by the debuted members.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 039

 

The mini-stage that followed thankfully still had juniors, though. It was Masuda Ryo, Hanzawa Akatsuki, Anderson Casey, and Morita Myuto performing “Suna no Glass”. Considering we just saw three of these guys backdancing, I would have preferred to see this stage later in the program.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 040 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 041

 

Also, we’ve seen “Suna no Glass” plenty of times from them (or other combinations of elder juniors) either on SC or J’s Party, so in terms of song choice this wasn’t very remarkable.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 042 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 043

 

As you’d expect based on how often they’ve done it, though, the performance was sharp and professional.

Following that, Kotaki Nozomu-kun and Jesse-kun presented photos of their past selves. I was only interested in whether this meant that they were going to do a collaboration . . .

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 044 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 045 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 046

 

. . . and yes, yes it did. The two of them joined Nakajima Kento-kun and Hashimoto Ryosuke-kun for SMAP’s “Yozora no Mukou”.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 047

 

I have a lot of different and somewhat conflicting thoughts about this. First of all, while I like the collaborations between members of debuted groups, and SC is one of only a few places where it’s possible, aren’t we suddenly getting a lot of them? And it doesn’t seem to mean that the debuted groups aren’t also going to get their own stages as well – SZ already did theirs, A.B.C-Z started the show, and we’re just waiting to see whether Johnny’s West gets a stage. so really, this is only increasing the amount of time the debuted members are taking up.

Well, except for Jesse-kun. In this company, though, it makes him seem like he’s semi-debuted. I mean, surely the other three could have handled the song without him.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 048 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 049

 

Actually, to that point, this is a fairly easy and familiar song to the juniors, so why not a junior stage?

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 050 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 051

 

That said, these are among the best vocalists available to the show, and it was a good performance.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 052

Nice to see the instrumentalists in it as well, but since almost all of the music was on the backing track, I wondered whether there was any real point to them being there.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 054 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 055

 

Ah, looks like we’ll be getting that Johnny’s West stage. So, for those keeping track, there have been two songs sung by juniors up to this point and only one of those performances occurred on the main stage.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 056 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 057

Fujii-kun, Kamiyama-kun, and Hamada-kun showed off their photos. As they pointed out, Fujii-kun looked a lot like Marius-kun at first glance, probably because of his hairstyle.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 058 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 059

 

The song for Johnny’s West was “Summer Dreamer”, which was a heavily synthesized piece. The music should probably be fixed up a bit – the addition of some bass and heavier percussion and dropping a few effects might make it less distracting.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 060 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 061

 

And I hope they do made adjustments to the music, because the vocals were great, the theme was catchy, and it wasn’t hard to tell what kind of song it could be with the right music.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 062 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 063 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 064

 

So score it a positive performance with potential, but some issues.

Next up was Junior ni Q, and they continued on the subject of audition songs/songs they first performed as juniors. Hirano Sho-kun didn’t actually have a specific song, but rather cited his participation in an SZ Concert dance battle.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 065

Then we got . . . Fujii Ryusei-kun . . . who isn’t a junior! Foul! What is with these people – it’s like there aren’t enough juniors available!

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 066

 

We were back on track with Nozawa Yuki-kun, whose first experience was on Play Zone.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 067

 

Abe Aran-kun mentioned doing “Fever to Future” at the Junior Touzai Uta Gassen. I remember that.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 068

 

And next we had . . . Foul! It’s Kento-kun!

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 069

 

Dang it! What about Junior ni Q do these people not understand!? This is horrible!

Could it get any worse than . . . oh, wait . . .

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 070 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 071

 

At this point, the last thing we needed was another performance from a debuted act, and among debuted acts, there are none that I have less respect for than Uchi Hiroki. That’s due mainly to the fact that a lot of the juniors could do what he does better and I usually find his voice annoying.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 072 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 073

 

The talk was long and tortuous, and the song after it was “Master Key”, and he got singing support from Snow Man.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 074

 

Nice to see Snow Man get introduced properly on SC and having a featured part, so that was a positive.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 075

 

And while Uchi stood rooted at the spot like a tree, Snow Man did some acrobatics in the background. Not the foreground, though – unlike Totsuka-kun and Nakama-kun earlier, Uchi-kun didn’t step back to let the juniors take the front of the stage.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 076 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 077

 

There’s no question in my mind, though – put Jesse-kun or Masuda-kun or even Yasui-kun or Hokuto-kun or some of the others who haven’t even gotten a chance to prove themselves – put any of them in front of Snow Man and it would have been a better performance. It would have sounded better, and the juniors would have done some token dancing to spice things up.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 078

 

That left us with the final stage, which was Shounentai’s “Hoshikuzu no Spangle” as performed by . . . the three debuted groups with the juniors in the background.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 079 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 080 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 081

 

Well, okay. I mean, it’s a full-cast closing, so that’s legal. Problem? It sounded very messy and wasn’t pleasant to listen to. The sound was too heavy.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 082 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 083 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 084 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 085

 

I guess this is also the closing of the season, so that might explain the tone of this finale, which seemed to leading into winter.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 086 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 087 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 088

 

We did get a Shori Omake segment, and to my delight his guests were Snow Man. I’m not particularly a Snow Man fan, but I was happy to see some juniors here – they’ve been rather rare on this show.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 089 2014.09.10 Shounen Club 090

 

Shori-kun’s specific victim this time was Iwamoto Hikaru-kun, and it was the same situation as before – sticking their hand into the box. Now, since Shori-kun hasn’t put anything properly icky in there, I wonder whether he can keep doing this after this month – seems like they’d all be prepared after watching the September episodes.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 091

 

Anyway, Snow Man volunteered Hikaru-kun because he was the most squeamish about this stuff, and he definitely turned it into a fun segment to watch.

2014.09.10 Shounen Club 092

Okay, so this episode was pretty horrible. The previous episode benefited from a lot of new material, but this time it was just “Flying Bird” and “Otoko never give up”, though I don’t remember if I’ve seen “torn” here. “Flying Bird” and “torn” were good, but “Otoko never give up” was not.

“Flying Bird” was the closest thing to a highlight. Otherwise, no one did anything approaching their best work (except possibly Snow Man).

The real killer in this episode was, of course, the fact that I’ve never seen an episode with so little junior representation. There were only two junior stages – Hirano-Nagase-Takahashi and Hanzawa-Masuda-Morita-Anderson. To those lists, we can add some other juniors who at least had their voices heard – Snow Man, Nozawa, Jesse, Jinguji, Takahashi Fuu, Tamamoto Fumito, and Abe Aran. That’s it, by my count. Considering the previous episode was short on juniors, too, that’s pretty bad.

I was pleased with the collaboration in the previous episode, but that was because I thought it would be an isolated thing. In this episode, it became clear that the collaborations were yet another way to give the debuted acts more time instead of letting the juniors take the stage. Don’t tell me all the juniors were busy with other activities – there are too many of them, scheduling should work around those things, and there’s no way they’re busier than the debuted groups.

Worse, of course, is the fact that segments that were previously ways that juniors could get some camera time – Shokura Blog and Junior ni Q – were invaded by debuted members.

And then they threw Uchi Hiroki in, just to annoy me further.

So, I have to give this one a 6 out of 10. After seeing few junior stages in the first episode for September, I was really hoping to see more here, and I got less.

Unable to stand much more of this, I checked the official NHK website to see what might be lined up for October, but they didn’t have any details up yet. It’s possible that with the start of the new season we might get some changes for better or for worse (April is usually the most drastic, but October is in second place for change probability). Anyway, I’m hoping we get something with October episodes.