Even though the numbers are out for the week, the Oricon chart starts on Mondays and ends on Sundays so most new releases only have six days of sales, and Sexy Zone has managed to debut with about 173K copies of their self titled debut single sold it was still a narrow victory. Their main competition, AKB48 sub-unit Not Yet, is reported to have sold about 172K with their single so it was still a close call between the two. And while I am happy that the single was #1 I think it's more a victory for Johnny's & Associates and their marketing department than for Sexy Zone.
It's hard to argue that the only reason SZ got their #1 was largely in part because of the handshake events on Saturday and Sunday which several Juniors, and for Sunday's members of the recently debuted Kis-My-Ft2, participated in. Without them backing the group up I don't think they would have gotten the numbers that they needed to beat Not Yet.
I am glad they got the #1 as it would be miserable for the boys to be the first Johnny's group in about a decade not to debut with a #1 single. But at the same time they did not get the #1 because they were able to attract new fans of their group, but instead had to rely on the fans of other groups, some not even debuted, to get it. So while this battle is over and won for them they still have a long way to go until they can stand on their own as a group.
I know there have been a lot of people worried about SZ's debut getting in the way of Kisumai's promotion or building popularity but in my opinion Kisumai's debut was one of the factors to why SZ's debut was rather weak. The two debuts are only a few months apart and Kisumai was a debut that grabbed a lot of attention as the group was already popular from their Junior activities and they had dramas to help them attract new fans. With all the fanfare and attention given to them and the fact that they did not slow things down much after their debut with getting added to variety programs and already lined up for another single with two tie-ins there's little doubt that they will be able to continue on with their success. How this affects SZ is that simply people probably weren't ready to switch attention to another new Johnny's group so soon. I think if Kisumai debuted when they were supposed to it may not have been such an issue but while the delay was understandable without being able to delay the SZ debut hurt the group gain attention, IMHO.
But as I said the debut timings is only one factor. Another is which Juniors were selected. I personally have nothing against any of the SZ members that debuted and think they work well together as a group so far but there are some things that they can't help that probably contributed to their debut being a bit rough. I think the older two though make a lot of sense for debuting and were good choices as they are two of the more popular Juniors coming from one of the most popular Junior groups. The younger three though have the weakness that they just weren't well known at all. Even though Sato Shori has been around for about a year he really didn't start standing out and grabbing attention until a few months ago. And the other two are both newer than him, even though Yo Marius joined about a year ago but until four months ago was in Germany from what he said in an interview, so they didn't have much time to attract much attention before the debut announcement. The reason groups like Kisumai do so well with sales and can have big debuts like they did was because they are Juniors that have been around a long time and have had time and opportunities to gain fans that of course are more than willing to support them when they debut. SZ's younger members lacked that so while there are plenty of people gaining interest in them now it may not be enough to support them by buying their CD yet.
I do think the fact they have not had an announcement for a debut concert yet is also a sign that Johnny's knows SZ isn't doing so well. I can't help but shake the feeling that the New Year concerts for Hey! Say! JUMP very well could have originally been planned to be SZ's debut concerts but Johnny's decided to give them to HSJ instead in case SZ would not be able to sell out the venues. Of course that's just complete speculation on my part but the complete lack of debut concerts makes me more nervous for this group than anything else as concerts are a big thing for any music artist and it really shows if a group has attained a certain level of popularity by what kind of venues they are given to perform in. It's part of why dome concerts are such big deals because you can't get much larger than that. It will be interesting to see where the debut concerts will be for SZ, though because all members are in school they will have to be planned around the school holidays much like HSJ's have been.
Of course I do have faith that eventually this group will begin to turn things around. The talent is there, it's just they need to get the right chances to show it off. Unfortunately wit how young the members are it will probably be some years for most of those opportunities to come to them for most of them. Having Nakajima Kento being part of the group can be a big plus if they make sure he keeps getting roles. While they may be pushing Sato Shori to be the center for the group Nakaken is more likely to be the more popular member as he's the one more likely to get drama roles, which are usually big factors on what members are more popular with the general public. At least they have a couple of variety programs to get them seen more and hopefully keep building the fan base that has been growing since their debut announcement.
I have also been of the opinion that not starting at the top isn't a terrible thing. Some of Johnny's top groups had rough starts but over time and with hard work were able to climb to the top, with SMAP and Arashi being two such groups. So hopefully SZ like them will fill driven to work hard and do their best with what they are given as they go and hopefully success will find them eventually.
But I can see that Johnny's may very well be quite serious about A.B.C-Z's debut next year. With the success of their solo concerts and the fact that Junior groups that debut do tend to be rather successful as they already have a good sized fan base prior to debut it would make sense they would want another safe bet like Kisumai to debut next. Though personally I'd rather have a Kansai Junior debut, like 7WEST, but unfortunately I'm not running Johnny's & Associates.