Friday 30 September 2022

Series REVIEW: Dogengers High School

Dogengers High School

Not just content with being among the heroes to make a cameo appearance in the Ms. Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department anime adaptation, Fukuoka's finest returned once more in 2022 for a further 12 episodes of local hero shenanigans. Dogengers High School is the third entry in what could now be comfortably called the Dogengers franchise – taking things back to school with a brand-new hero and slightly shifted focus. It seems as though the team behind the series are also beginning to notice the popularity has garnered on a worldwide scale too, with the episodes having been made available complete with English subtitles for a very limited time on their official YouTube channel. Sadly though that tight window has now past, with only the first episode remaining on the channel (and without the subtitles no less).

Meet Mako YamadaMako & Kireko

Between her grades, skills and even appearance, high schooler Mako Yamada is about as average a student as you can get – and that's something she's not particularly happy about. After being elected to become part of her school's festival committee she hopes there's a chance that normality might finally be broken, but when she's kidnapped a member of the Evil Secret Society it's truly shattered forever! 

When the katana-hilt hero Kireko hears her wishes to change, he comes to Mako in her time of need. Now when she draws the sword from its hilt, she becomes Fukuoka's newest hero – MAKO! As the Dogengers arrive to help with the festivities, Mako gets to grips with her new powers as her, as well as her friends, story of change truly begins.

MAKOMeeting the Dogengers

With two seasons under its belt, Dogengers has now built up its own little slice of continuity. But while this may only be 24 episodes of content, in some ways it might seem even more daunting then jumping into one of the bigger tokusatsu franchises out there. After all, "local hero" implies that some aspects may work best with an element of local knowledge behind them – something that can definitely be said for the previous two seasons no matter how accessible they are. However Dogengers High School cleverly avoids this by taking its story in a whole new direction. While the Dogengers are still very much a constant presence they are no longer the main focus, with the story instead almost wholly revolving around Mako and her friends. The end result is something similar to Rookie's debut in the original series, but adding in an element of high school superhero drama somewhat akin (albeit not as in depth) to Toei's own recent attempt with The High School Heroes. For those who have been around since the beginning and are wondering about things like how Great-2 is getting on following the events of Nice Buddy show that continuity is still there, just told in a way that is easily explainable to a newcomer – whether that's the viewer or Mako herself. It's a fun reinvention that puts a whole new spin on this wonderful vision of Japan where heroes (and villains) live among the people. 

The story of someone looking to break out of the confines of normality is one viewers can easily relate to at any age, immediately setting Mako up as the ideal protagonist. Not only does her inclusion add a much-needed female perspective to what's otherwise been a male-centric franchise (poor Yuki has been largely forgotten by now), but actress Sora Fujimatsu is also a real injection of energy into what's already a considerably hyperactive cast. Every day issues like organising the school's culture festival or balancing heroics with high school crushes aren't particularly original ideas, but they are a very different change of pace for the show in question. Watching Mako come to realise that her strength doesn't come from her powers but rather the people she wants to protect is the kind of story that inspires no matter how many times you see it unfold onscreen, as is seeing the relationships she builds up over the course of the 12 episodes. Kimeko is a great partner too, his appearance alone adding the right amount of absurdity to what otherwise could be considered normal situations. His backstory takes some time to unwrap, but in the meantime simply acting as support to Mako is more than enough to justify his place.

Mako and her school friendsDogengers dance!

Though the Dogengers are still very much a team and introduced as such, the episodes largely follow the format of Mako and her friends meeting one of the heroes at a time – with an element of her school life mirroring both her journey as a new hero and the lives of the Dogengers themselves. Although each member of the team has had their own specific focus episodes in the past, they've never really had them to the extent where they might be the only other hero appearing in it. As well as ensuring the cast doesn't get too bloated it also allows us to spend more time with each of the heroes, with those who are more unfamiliar with the concept of a local hero arguably getting a better sense of what it entails. The focus on the various businesses many of these heroes represent isn't necessarily more prominent, but it is more obvious in a way that explains it without turning the whole production into one giant marketing drive. You don't know the ins and outs of the Yamashiro Gas Company, Ohga Pharmacy or Pizza Cooc to appreciate Dogengers, but getting a better idea of them as real-life companies certainly enhances it.

Simply balancing the series between Mako and the Dogengers would probably be enough for some people, but you can't create a proper high school drama series without a memorable cast of supporting characters to go with it. These include Mako's best friend Ryoko, love interest Daisuke, classmate Akine, teacher Mr Osogawa and street punk Tetsu. All of these characters are just as key to the story, with their personal growth often at the forefront just as much as Mako's. Though she inevitably learns something by the end of the episode, the set up is about them – whether it's Ryoko's failure at growing alongside her friend, the pressure put on Akine to do well in school or even Osogawa's abilities as a teacher. Most significantly they're the ones learning from these heroes as well, highlighting the importance they play even in the more mundane of scenarios.

Daisuke & MakoEl Brave lends a hand

Of course every hero needs a good villain, and thankfully the Secret Society of Darkness are still hanging around to get up to more mischief. Much like the Dogengers themselves their presence feels a bit more limited at first, with a member popping up each episode to face off against MAKO and whichever Dogenger she's meeting that episode. Some of these appearances are more notable than others though, with Shuroumaru's rivalry with Fukuokalibur continuing and Tetsu's focus episode with El Brave featuring some character development for Uzagi's shadow of all people – done so in Dogenger's usually irreverent but surprisingly sincere way. These appearances do eventually give away to a more plot-driven finale though, as Yabai Kamen seeks the source of MAKO's strength to gain a new power of his very own. This feels much more in line with what one might have come to expect from Dogengers' story by now, bringing things full circle as Mako fully accepts the person she's become. There's also some great scenes of the Secret Society kicking back at a restaurant – where new local robotic hero Bincho Fire makes his debut as their waiter. It's also a big moment for Kagoshima hero Koujin Ex, who has as more prominent role in the series following his past cameo appearances. 

While most of the action (and CGI budget) is certainly saved for the big finale, the show consistently offers some great fight scenes that are sure to please any Japanese superhero fan and proves "local hero" does not by any measure mean "low budget". The suits for all of these heroes continue to be a sight to behold, and just show the imagination of all those coming up with Japan's colourful collective of local heroes. Equally impressive is the variety of the designs too, with some having more mascot-esque looks while others are more traditional masked heroes. But that's the beauty of these characters – acting as both mascots to the places they hail from and heroes to the people that live there. 

For self-professed tokusatsu aficionados there are also plenty of alumni actors that appear in the series too, both in and out of costume. Among the familiar faces you'll find making cameos here are Ayumi Beppu (Magiranger's Houka/MagiPink), Jun Yamasaki (Toru Hojo in Kamen Rider Agito), Ukyo Matsumoto (Taiga/Kamen Rider Snipe in Ex-Aid), Kazuki Yao (Kakuranger's Ninjaman), Eri Tanaka (Megaranger's Chisato/MegaYellow). Even the suit actors of the series include a number of tokusatsu veterans, further showing how much of a love letter to the genre and medium Dogengers is.

The Secret Society of DarknessYabai Kamen's new look

As charming, hilarious and heart-warming as ever, Dogengers High School once again proves that sometimes the best heroes are the ones operating a little more locally. The shift in focus to Mako makes a huge difference – allowing Dogengers to tell an all-new story not too bogged down by continuity but without losing any of the charm that made it so special in the first place. If anything the biggest shame about the series is that the fully subtitled version was taken down from YouTube so quickly – especially with how newcomer friendly it is. This could have been the perfect opportunity to make the worldwide Dogengers fandom either bigger, but the fact these episodes even appeared in the first place is still incredibly significant. With how popular they've become there's no doubt the Dogengers will be back again soon, and maybe this time they'll stick around a little longer.


Anonymous said...

Who subbed it?

Alex said...

I got the official subs while they were still up. I believe Haunted House Commune (who did Nice Buddy) are working on the full series now that they've been taken down though - they've done a few of the earlier episodes and the last one at least.

Anonymous said...

If I'm not wrong Kamen Rider Ibuki made a cameo too

Anonymous said...

Where Haunted House Commune posted the final episode?

Alex said...

My bad! HHC did the translation but GaGaGaScrubs released it. The link is on Twitter.