A Tokyohive exclusive report!
Mere days after the flurry of record-breaking social media activity at the close of 2023, the next generation of JPOP stars were back on the networks with the global livestream of the KANJU Happy New Year LIVE 2024: The SHOWMONRAIFUKU on FAMILY CLUB online.
This iteration of what has become a mostly annual star-studded showcase was led by Lil Kansai, Boys be, AmBitious, and a colorful host of fresh-faced Kansai Juniors. It's an event fans look forward to not only to see their personal favorites shine in the moment, butalso a chance to witness the growth and improvement they have achieved throughout the year.
The concert began with the Fresh Juniors performing a skit and greeted the audience with a beaming “Happy New Year!” before making their way down the stairs while the big monitors behind them displayed the portraits of the three leading groups.
Boys be then opened the show proper with Naniwa Danshi’s Happy Surprise dressed in uniforms befitting a Disney prince, followed by AmBitious with their original song Reach for the Sky, raising the excitement while dancing to the upbeat song in member color-coordinated outfits. Lil Kansai followed suit, solidifying their own princely aura with a set comprised of King & Prince’s Cinderella Girl and their catchy original Lil Miracle.
Despite the palpable strength of the individual groups, nothing compares to their overarching familial bonds on display in the collective performances that followed with Aho New World and Omikuji HAPPY! You can't help but furiously wave your hand along to the beat and smile with the young talents, in whose faces even a casual glance would see a passion and drive to succeed. It's easy to forget that a lot of these boys have been doing this for much longer than their youth would suggest, but whether veteran or novice they're all equally committed to delivering the best entertainment there is.
Injecting some Japanese traditional culture into the mix, the next set saw a contingent of Fresh Juniors draw an slip of fortune-telling paper (called an "omikuji") from a box. As luck would have it, they selected well, giving fans even more to look forward to as the show (and the year overall) really gets underway.
Next up was a medley segment very familiar to longtime fans of the inter-group shows. Consisting of shuffled members either randomly selected or self-produced in accordance with some pre-set theme, the talent performed a setlist of senpai hits including Snow Man’s Orange Kiss, SixTONES’ Good Luck, and King & Prince’s Koi-wazurai; not to mention a fresh take on ARASHI’s A・RA・SHI and Sexy Zone’s Lady Diamond.
But no concert, and certainly not one featuring Kansai talent, would be complete without comical animal-themed onesies! It started with an adorable tribute to Kanjani∞’s Ryuhei Maruyama and You Yokoyama’s Panpanda getting crashed by a surprise visit from two gorillas, leading into Lil Kansai’s performance of Hey! Say! JUMP’s Pet Shop Love Motion. It's always hard to tell where the line of embarrassment is for such clever and comically-tuned young people, but even those better known for their cool vibes did their silliest for the audience's laughter and delight!
Without even a moment to catch your breath, the next stage began in darkness, revealing a selection of Juniors is a sea of strobe lights for a hardcore EDM number that left no question the multi-talented skills hidden amongst the boys. The intense and captivating dance segment was followed by King & Prince’s Naughty Girl, capping off with a more mature beat and a far cry from the childlike fun of the preceding performances. The principal trio then regrouped on the center stage to perform No LIMIT, a song that was originally performed by Naniwa Danshi, Ae! group, and Lil Kansai back in the New Year’s concert in 2021. A common sentiment among fans was how much the Kansai Juniors have grown, seeing as the former youngest group in 2021 (Lil Kansai) was now the ones now leading the current generation of Kansai Juniors.
But no Kansai show would be complete without laughter and games equal to the artistry of song and dance, and this year did not disappoint. True to their traditions, the next set began with a VTR clip narrated by former Kansai Junior and current Snow Man funnyman Koji Mukai, showing segments of previous Kansai Junior concert and shows for a healthy dose of sweet nostalgia for longtime fans and a treat for newcomers who only know the older versions of the faces shown. This was followed by a handful of delightfully nonsensical (but no less fun!) intra-Junior competitions such as having to recite the digits of π, singing an English version of SixTONES’ 2020 debut hit Imitation Rain, and some very clever bits of stand-up comedy. Much to everyone’s surprise, including the Juniors themselves, Ae! group’s Ken Kojima made a sudden guest appearance in his "Ken-chan" character to join in the fun. The sequence finally came to a close with the brand new Kansai Junior song Boku no Melody, filling the hall with the high energy of fresh tunes, followed by the signature New Year’s song LOUD-X as the groups ran through the hall's expanse, singing as loudly as they could and inviting the audience to follow along.
The highlight of the MC entr'acte was seeing four members of Lil Kansai descend onto the stage in dazzling white hakama outfits to celebrate their Coming of Age Day. Despite being down one in the form of youngest Ruku Toma (who won't be 20 until April) one could not help but feel emotional seeing the boys share their statements of gratitude and appreciation for everyone whose overseen their growth and development, and despite being on the other side of the world and through a computer screen I felt one with the audience in wishing them well on a road still open with so many possibilities and opportunities.
The show picked back up with a 49-strong performance of kids all having only joined the agency in 2023 singing ARASHI’s Ashita ni Mukatte with a vigor and energy that only boys of their age can muster. Boys be followed suit with a bright and dazzling performance of SUPER ROCKET and leaving everyone watching with a smile at how talented and captivating these young boys are.
AmBitious soon took over the stage with their newest original song RIDE, and if anyone had thought the concert had lacked a little bit of the wild side up to now, the group certainly made up for it. A full and mature 180° from Reach for the Sky it also marked AmBitious as a unit to look out for as they step even more fully into adulthood capabilities. With the current level of all the Kansai Juniors set so high, it's a fun reminder of how committed they all are to still aim higher and higher and defy expectations of the audience at every stage.
Following a return to adorable-ness with a vocally impressive love song medley and one more turn through a top-tier contemporary dance showcase, it was finally time to wind down. Each group center member gave a brief speech of thanks to all their fans both at the venue and watching through the livestream, closing out with a final pan-Junior performance of My Dreams. A fitting final touch, the song--written and composed by Tadayoshi Ohkura and Shota Yasuda of Kanjani∞ as a gift to their Juniors a few years ago--once again underscored the sense of generational continuity and love that builds up and supports successive groups across the years and for which the agency behind these talent is particularly well-known.
But of course, we were playfully jerked back into high gear with an encore performance filled with fan interactions throughout every level of the venue from moveable carts, truck lifts, and extended platforms and which showed how genuinely appreciative they are toward those who support them with such enthusiasm.
After roughly two and half hours, the concert finally truly concluded on an unmistakable high note with all of them singing the iconic and upbeat KANSAI Island. With barely even a breath of air in between the last note, they gathered on the main stage for the final yell before the hall exploded with sparkling confetti streamers, marking the end of the show.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of the Kansai Juniors or a newcomer still barely able to tell who's who, the New Year shows are always great and enjoyable introductions to the particular skills and strengths of the overall talent lineup. A lively mesh of legacy hand-me-down traditions and hot fresh takes and faces makes them all memorable, and strong starts to what any year has to offer.
As for the boys themselves, it's much more than a legacy that they carry on. After a year of stress and turmoil they show their that while much has changed, most of what we love has stayed the same, with the passion and determination of those who have come before is forever and inextricably linked to the hopes and dreams of the next generation of stars.