Okay, so this month’s episodes of Gamushara J’s Party!! (ガムシャラ J’s Party!!) are that thing they’ve been building up to all summer in Gamushara – the Summer Festival. It’s going to be a very different pair of J’s Party episodes than we’ve been getting the past few months because there will be at least twenty juniors involved rather than the usual ten – the sort of breadth that I’ve been pushing for. At first glance, this should be exactly what I’ve wanted to see on this show.

It all begins with an extended look at how everything started in February and some of the challenge highlights along the way . . .

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. . . and then a clip of the Natsu Matsuri announcement . . .

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. . . and finally an explanation of the four teams and their challenges. Altogether, that intro VTR took almost four minutes – not the best possible start to a show (it’s always better to get directly into the action and save the exposition for a little further in).

We finally got to the main event with Marius Yo-kun of Sexy Zone doing a squeaky introduction in English and Japanese. He and fellow SZ member Matsushima Sou-kun were the only two debuted Johnny’s members present.

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Other than the twenty juniors participating in the challenges, there were also a lot of chibi juniors present dressed in white costumes. The opening song was a theme written specifically for the show – “Gamusharara” – and it was performed by the two SZ members, Iwahashi Genki, Jinguji Yuta, Matsumura Kaito, and Matsuda Genta. They weren’t the only ones singing, though – the white-clad juniors were also miked up, so no chance to assess vocals on this one.

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The dancing was a bit haphazard, though.

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Marius-kun introduced host Yasui Kentaro-kun, who called out the basketball trick team and the members of the breakdancing team not already on stage. I think these were the two teams we saw first when it comes to the challenges, right?

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Yasui-kun takes over during the transition between the opening and the most extensive one-from-each-group medley I’ve ever seen . . .

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. . . which featured the songs “Sexy Zone” with Marius-Iwahashi-Jinguji, “Everybody Go” with Matsushima-Matsuda-Matsukura, “Ee ja nai ka” with Marius-Iwahashi-Jinguji . . .

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. . . then “Sukiyanen, Osaka” with Yasui-Hanzawa-Takahashi Kaito, “Za ABC ~5 Stars~” with Iwamoto-Fukusawa-Hayashi-Takahashi Fuu, “Yume Monogatari” as sung by Yasui-Hanzawa-Takahashi Kaito . . .

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. . . then “Ultra Music Power” and “NYC” with Iwahashi-Jesse-Matsuda-Masuda, “Kibou Yell” with Iwamoto-Fukusawa-Hayashi-Takahashi Fuu, and “Garasu no Shounen” as sung by . . . some of the above listed. Wait, the medley isn’t over . . .

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. . . and during “LOVE YOU ONLY”, the white-clad juniors got a brief moment in front of the camera as their names flashed by. Interestingly, of all the songs so far in this attention-deficit medley, this was the one with the clearest singing because the chibi juniors were not contributing their voices. As a result, we got an unusually good chance to hear Sou-kun’s solo vocals, as he was singing with Masuda Ryo-kun. His voice is still a lot younger than his speaking voice, and thinner than the voices of the three elder members of his group, but sure sounds more developed than Marius-kun’s.

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No, the medley isn’t over yet – there was still “Real Face” as performed by Yasui-Matsuda-Matsukura and “A-ra-shi” sung by Marius-Iwahashi-Jinguji-Jesse-Masuda.

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Isn’t Johnny’s running out of groups yet? No – there’s still “Music for the People” with Matsushima-Matsuda-Matsukura, “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana” with Iwahashi and Jinguji. I’ve got to hand it to them, this is certainly the most epic senpai medley I’ve seen in a while, just from the sheer breadth of senpai coverage (they even included NYC!). I’d have liked to see more of each song – just make an episode out of it – but you can’t have everything. If we’re going to have a Johnny’s Party with the juniors, then this is a good way to start it.

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While continuing directly on the heels of “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana”, Marius-kun’s performance of “MIYABI” marked the start of a new phase in the concert . . .

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. . . in which we got a sword dance showcase with Marius-Iwahashi-Jinguji battling the Matsus. This is classic Johnny’s, too, of course.

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Then after a quick costume change while the Matsus were still on stage, Iwahashi-kun and Jinguji-kun reemerged to sing “Tokyo Boogie-Woogie”, which led into “Tokyo Sinfonietta”, for which Marius-kun joined them.

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“Tokyo Sinfonietta” had a mix of English and Japanese lyrics, and while I didn’t catch everything that was supposed to be an English word, it was still good listening. I’ve heard attempts at English lyrics that were a total mess and I’ve heard pronunciation that was cringe-worthy, but this song wasn’t a problem in that way. Would gladly listen again.

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Yasui-kun transitioned to yet another phase in the program, as he called on Team Ga – the basketball trick team – to take the stage. Jesse, Hanzawa, Iwamoto, Fukusawa, and Masuda performed “Crazy Accel”. I like this idea of having the teams perform together before doing their challenges – nice touch.

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I can’t say this rendition of the song sounded great (Masuda’s voice in particular seemed shaky), but Iwamoto and Fukusawa spiced things up with acrobatics, so all was good.

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Yasui-kun then invited Team Mu (the breakdancers) to take their turn, so Iwahashi, both Takahashis, Matsuda, and Hayashi did Ya-Ya-Yah’s “Itoshi no Playgirl”.

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This was probably the clearest read I’ve gotten on Iwahashi Genki-kun’s voice. This is a good song for him, but he and Jinguji both have a long way to go in terms of their singing.

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This one was fun to watch, though, especially because of the rarity of seeing these five holding the stage together.

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Marius-kun’s rendition of “Paraiso” is improving (and it wasn’t too bad the first time I heard it), and I was really thrilled to see Iwahashi-kun and Jinguji-kun singing it with him (on Shounen Club, I think it was Masuda-kun and maybe Hanzawa-kun). They sounded very good.

After that, it was finally time for our MC, Yasui Kentaro-kun, to get a chance at a solo stage. The song was “Kare Ha no Kage”.

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The agency really needs to find a way to debut him, and preferably with an appropriate group. His stage presence is excellent, but he could use vocal support.

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To my surprise, they kept going with the music. In a normal J’s Party, we’d have been done with the concert phase by now. Unfortunately, we’re not really getting as much of the cast involved as I would have hoped – it was Marius, Iwahashi, Jinguji, and the three Matsus up again for “Fight All Night”.

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They did an entertaining job of it. Not the edgiest version I’ve ever seen, of course, but still engaging.

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The bulk of the cast then appeared to sing “Bad Boys” in unison, and this finally felt like the end of the concert bit.

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During this song, team leaders Iwahashi-kun and Jesse-kun faced off and vowed victory.

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With that, it was time for the challenges to begin. we got a little intro VTR, but otherwise jumped right into it with the basketball team doing their tricks first.

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Even though everyone’s probably seen it by now, I’ll still treat the results of this as spoilerish. Anyway, everyone in all the teams did a great job – I certainly can’t do any of this.

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The breakdancing team went next.

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To my surprise, though, we also got the performances of the other two teams – the percussion team and the double-dutch team. But . . . we didn’t see all their members in the concert bit, and we only got the leaders of the first two teams calling each other out. We also didn’t see these two teams perform a song together yet, as the first two teams did.

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I’m only objecting because I don’t know what this means for the September 13th episode. Otherwise, it’s sort of nice to have all four challenges in a single episode with the excellent concert bit at the top. We already got a 2-2 split in the Gamushara episodes, after all.

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In fact, since the music was uniformly good, there was a greater than average representation of juniors, the challenges were all in, and there wasn’t much time wasted, I think this was the best J’s Party episode I’ve seen since May, and possibly altogether. It certainly would have been the all-time best if I hadn’t already seen the challenges in Gamushara.

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Even if you’ve already seen the challenges in Gamushara, they’re presented in a tighter format here and only occupy the final third of the show. It’s more enjoyable to see them like this.

On top of that, the two-thirds of the show occupied by the performances were entirely fun to watch. The senpai medley to end all senpai medleys was a bit formulaic, but the sword dance bit, “Tokyo Sinfonietta”, the team stages, “Paraiso”, and Yasui-kun’s solo were still more substantial stages than we’d get from these performers in a whole season of Shounen Club.

So this was very, very good. I’m interested to see what they do with the next episode after putting all the challenges in this one. Will they reprise the challenges entirely, just give a recap via VTR, or move on assuming everyone watched this episode?