Wednesday 19 August 2020

Series REVIEW: Dogengers


Local heroes are a huge part of Japan's superhero scene. From heroes that act on behalf of a specific company to heroes that represent cities or prefectures, these mascots are beloved across Japan - educating children and proving that being a hero goes beyond just what you see on television. Unfortunately they're also something many Western tokusatsu fans ever get a glimpse at. Even if you go beyond the obvious language barriers, the clue is in the name - many of these heroes act locally and thus their exploits are rarely seen on wider scale. However this year the various heroes of Fukuoka came together for Dogengers - a 12-episode crossover series which has quickly gained a cult following. The series was created with the intention of promoting "good health and wellbeing" and directed by Fumie Arakawa - notable for being the first ever woman director in tokusatsu, having worked on a number of Super Sentai series as well as last year's fan-favourite Tokusatsu Gagaga. The heroes featured in the series are Kitakyushu City's KitaQman, Ohga Pharmacy's Ohgaman, Yamashiro Gas' Yamashiron, the hero of Tengen El Brave and Fukuokalibur. Dogengers takes its name from "dogen", a phrase in the Hakata dialect similar to that of "y'all".

Fukuoka's HeroesYabai Kamen, Evil CEO

When Fukuoka is taken over by the Secret Society of Darkness and their evil CEO Yabai Kamen, its heroes are scattered and Ohgaman, the mightiest of them all, seemingly falls in battle. However Ohgaman secretly survives, passing on instruction to Jiro Tanaka - a young man who has recently moved back to Fukuoka to see his childhood friend Yuki. Seeing potential in Jiro, Ohgaman entrusts the safety of Fukuoka to Jiro.

Fighting as the hero simply known as "Rookie", it's now up to Jiro to reunite the heroes and save his home from the Secret Society of Darkness. But with Yabai Kamen's forces possessing a secret power, that's going to be no easy feat! And neither is confessing his true feelings for Yuki either!

Ohgaman and JiroJiro becomes Rookie

Going into Dogengers not knowing anything about Japan's local hero scene it would be very easy to look at it cynically. Here you have a show based around a specific prefecture featuring several heroes that are representative of organisations or companies - in a Western equivalent that would simply scream advertising. Granted that many of the bigger tokusatsu franchises are heavily dominated by advertising themselves, but there it's at least a much more obvious case of brand synergy ("watch the show, now buy the toys" etc.). But that isn't how local heroes operate in Japan, nor is it how Dogengers presents itself. It’s hard to imagine many other places in the world where a superhero representing a pharmaceutical company is anywhere near this endearing. Put simply, Dogengers is a show for superhero fans that's made by superhero fans. It has nothing to prove, and everything it does it does out of love for both the medium and everything local heroes stand for. That said, it's also extremely approachable. As mentioned previously the wonderful world of local heroes isn't the easiest thing for a non-Japanese speaking fan to immerse themselves in, but it only takes five minutes with Dogengers to feel clued up on the basics.

It’s core “boy becomes hero” story line may be a simple one, but it’s undoubtedly both the best one to tell from an emotional standpoint and for a series of this length. With all of Fukuoka’s heroes presented as literal characters (meaning no transformation sequences or civilian identities...for the most part anyway), Jiro is very much the audience surrogate for the show - a normal person thrown into this wild world of superheroes and villains. Though Dogengers' sense of humour will definitely appeal to fans of Super Sentai’s own “unofficial” parody Akibaranger, the presentation of their central character is very different. Jiro may know of Fukuoka’s heroes, but he isn’t an expert on them nor is he a fanboy. Again this adds to just how approachable Dogengers is for newcomers, since it means the humour never has to rely on in-jokes that’ll only be understood by those who’ve followed the heroes’ real life exploits. That isn’t to say that the other approach is wrong, but it means anyone can pick up Dogengers without hesitation. Iku Masaki plays Jiro as extremely relatable, both in terms of his demeanour and his growth as Rookie.


Of course, Jiro isn’t alone in his fight against evil. Joining him are Fukuoka’s finest, coming together for the first time in an Avengers style crossover. The show’s first episode gives us a quick introduction to these heroes and a sense of what they can do, but following that it quickly becomes apparent that these are quite different from your usual masked heroes. As mentioned previously these characters are their hero personas, and what follows is a heartwarming comedy about this bunch of oddball mascots that also just happen to be superheroes. Yamashiron is a fusion of a Sentai-esque team where the dominant persona is well-spoken and timid, El Brave is a hot head who’s sensitive about his height, and KitaQman...well he’d rather be taking selfies and posting them online than doing any fighting. Overall the team’s presentation is very different to that of Ohgaman, who in his brief appearances is treated with reverence and respected as the prefecture’s greatest hero. But while they aren’t your conventional superheroes, they’re exactly the kind of heroes that Fukuoka needs and it’s a lesson both themselves and Jiro have to learn. KitaQman might seem like he’s goofing off most of the time, but as they say - not all heroes wear capes (which is doubly true in KitaQman’s case). As Jiro begins piecing the group back together, each hero gets their own focus episode that helps define their personality and gives them a personal obstacle to overcome. Fukuokalibur’s is particularly notable, as while the the series itself debuted a brand new costume for the hero, his episode focuses on him accepting his past self. While all the heroes in the show are played for laughs, there’s a genuine sincerity and love behind them all as well.

Even in Dogengers local heroes are just as strong as their villains though, and I have nothing but massive respect for Akunohimitsukessya Inc. for coming up with the genius idea of creating local villains. Yabai Kamen is the perfect antithesis to this loveable bunch of goofballs - equally ridiculous in his own way but at the same time carrying enough menace that you can take him as a credible threat when the time comes. Positioning him as the CEO of the Secret Society of Darkness plays brilliantly in a modern setting, though the character was cleverly designed so that he would work as an enemy to any local hero. Yabai Kamen isn’t alone though, as the Society ranks are bolstered by other villains that wildly differ in design. These include the fast-talking commentator Shaberryman, the smooth-talking Maid Butler and even Uzagi - a plush toy that you certainly wouldn’t want to get into a fight with. Like the heroes themselves each villain gets their own moment in the spotlight, playing off each other to create some satisfying rivalries. Playing a much bigger part in the story though is the wonderfully named I-Doll, a villain designed by Studio Trigger’s own Akira Amemiya who’s pivotal to some of the show’s more emotional moments. This no-nonsense android may debatably be the toughest member of the whole society, but outside of Jiro himself easily has the most definable arc out of the entire cast. And just like any tokusatsu production that’s truly worth its salt, even when said story is at its most ridiculous you completely buy into it.

El BraveFukuokalibur

There aren’t that many supporting characters outside the suited ones, but there is one that Jiro is especially fighting for - his childhood friend Yuki. Whilst Yuki arguably doesn’t play a huge role in the show and is thus often overshadowed by her larger than life co-stars, her presence does add a touch of humanity and gives our protagonist something personal to fight for. The relationship between them isn’t the focus, but its inclusion strengthens everything else around it. The fact is isn't Yuki's sole purpose in the show was also a wise move, as she integrates into the group fairly early on and quickly feels like part of the family.

Again the idea of a “local hero” show might conjure up some notion of Dogengers being some sort of low budget affair to those unfamiliar with the concept, but again this is far from the case. While it’s true that it’s more story-driven approach lends itself to fewer action sequences, those it does have aren’t any less the spectacle and play to the strengths of characters involved. The series doesn’t just end on a big note either, it also opens with one - and the difference between the two are important in showing just how the characters have grown in everything in between. But if you want a real indication of just how seriously Japan take their local heroes, look no further than the quality of their suits. These are just cobbled together costumes that have gained traction on social media (though of course many will start out this way!), these are fully-realised suits whose quality easily rivals even the bigger name productions. The stark differences between them all ensure that each character is memorable in their own way, and even adds to the overall message that heroes can come in all shapes and sizes. The only thing “local” about Dogengers is it’s setting - director Arakawa is a tokusatsu veteran and both she and the rest of the production team have created something that looks as good as it feels. There’s no doubt that you’ll come away from the show wanting to visit Fukuoka, not just to hope to bump into these heroes but also to see why both they and the show itself as so passionate about it in the first place.


For fans outside of Japan the medium of tokusatsu is very much overshadowed by the big franchise names, so much so that it can be quite easy to forget just how much there still is outside of it. Which is why it’s so important when a show like Dogengers comes along - not just to remind you of everything else that’s out there, but to show you just how much Japan love their superheroes. Dogengers truly is a production from the heart, and everything it does it does with nothing but love for tokusatsu, Japan’s superhero/local hero culture and Fukuoka itself. While it’s essential viewing in that it perfectly captures just how much these heroes mean to people, it’s also just an incredibly fun series that manages to be completely engaging whilst not taking itself too seriously. Bigger shows may have more impressive visuals or command a bigger budget, but rarely to they have this much heart. Roll on season two.


M said...

Who subbed it?

Alex said...

Subtitles can be found at

M said...

The subs are time to what RAW?

Alex said...

The subs are timed to the NicoNico stream, so any RAW that uses those should work. I used the ones from Juggler Jugglus Fansub.

The first episode is mistimed, but the rest work fine.