Wednesday 15 May 2024

Series REVIEW: Dogengers Metropolis

Dogengers Metropolis

If there was every any proof on just how much Japan loves its superheroes, you don't need to look much further than just how much the Dogengers series has grown since it began back in 2020. What started out as a fun little series about the local heroes (and villains) of Fukuoka has continued to expand across multiple seasons, each showcasing brand new heroes alongside its roster of established favourites. It certainly shows no signs of stopping any time soon as well, returning for a further 12 episodes of hijinks in 2023 with its fourth series Dogengers Metropolis. Continuing to spice up the format a little from previous entries, this entry pays tribute to Japan's long-standing love of police-themed heroes as it follows the newest member of the team - Special Duty Police Hyakutoban!

Introducing SP110-Px, HyakutobanYuz-Yuz

As the Dogengers continue to protect Japan from Yabai Kamen and his Secret Society of Darkness, the police force aren't too happy with their vigilante activities. Similarly, Yakuza members the Oshikawa family don't appreciate their livelihood being threatened by villains more evil than them. To that end, both groups have employed the help of mad scientists to combat this. While the police have developed the Special Operations Suit SP110-Px, the Oshikawa family have the Special Operations Mechanioid Yuz-Yuz!

Police officer Meguru Shiraishi is appointed to become the Hyakutoban due to his compatibility with the SP110-Px suit, which has seemingly accepted him due to his cowardly nature. As the Dogengers' new home is forced to become a police substation, Shiraishi (along with his superiors Masayoshi Yokiri and Tadasumi Akuta) move in with the heroes as he begins to learn not only what it takes to be on the police force, but what it truly means to be a hero. Meanwhile Yuz-Yuz escapes after leaving the Oshikawa family in ruins, quickly causing chaos as she aligns herself with the Secret Society of Darkness.

Meguru ShiraishiHyakutoban and the Dogengers

There's a moment in Dogengers Metropolis where it breaks away from the main story for Secret Society of Darkness member Shaberryman to address the audience directly, explaining the show's stance when it comes to continuity. Despite the odd callback to something significant from a previous series (one of which prompts this whole discussion in the first place), there's a clear aim to make the story more accessible - not naming their seasons "Dogengers 2"/"Dogengers 3" and such so there doesn't feel like the overwhelming need to catch up before each one. As such, any of them could be someone's first Dogengers series. Though the show didn't necessarily need to spell it out in this way, it's nice to know that the creators approach it in this way despite it building up a fair bit of continuity by now. While personally I'd still encourage a new viewer to go back and start from the very beginning if they can (at 12 episodes a series it's still only 48 episodes so far), if you were to start here you wouldn't be too lost.

As has generally been the case with all the Dogengers series thus far, the basic premise sees a brand new protagonist enter the world of heroes and learn about what it truly means to become one. The original series played it fairly straight with the introduction of Rookie, Nice Buddy added some conflict into the mix with Great-Z and then finally High School moved it to a brand new setting with MAKO. Metropolis turns that concept on its head once again by bringing the police force into it - a fairly logical step given the popularity of police-themed heroes in tokusatsu. While the format does allow for a tenuous dynamic between the heroes and police, this is largely played for laughs in the typical Dogengers way. While the police at large are represented as moustache-twirling pencil pushers who view the heroes as nothing but vigilantes, the "heart of the force" is represented in Shiraishi - our main character for the series. A nervous soul who immediately transforms every time he's startled, Shiraishi is the perfect protagonist for Dogengers - not too bright, but with a heart of gold and the determination to do the right thing in a crisis. While how the heroes inspire those around them has always been at the heart of Dogengers, for Shiraishi it also comes from his colleagues in the police force. While his backstory may be a little cliche, Metropolis manages to pull off the theme well without coming across as an advertisement for the Japanese police force. The SP110-Px/Hyakutoban suit is also a great addition to the Dogengers lineup - carrying on that slick tech-based aesthetic so many similarly themed tokusatsu heroes have but also managing to capture some of the more mascot-like qualities that make local heroes stand out.

Yuz-Yuz and ShiraishiHyakutoban in action

On the flip-side of Shiraishi's journey is Yuz-Yuz, the android created in a bid to be more evil than the supervillains. Whilst her antics for the most part are more mischievous than outright evil (stealing all of the heroes' most prized possessions), her storyline of finding what she truly wants in life still manages to bring a lot of heart to the show - much like I-Doll did in the original series. Though Dogengers continues to work in a very specific style when designing its female characters, as a robot the mascot style look works particularly well for her - even if that colourful and over-detailed design never really ever helps sell her as a villain. Yup-Yuz also works as a good counterbalance to the Secret Society of Darkness, interacting with them individually in each episode the same way Shiraishi does with the Dogengers. All of the villains from the previous series return once more, between them offering a good mix comedy antics and genuine villainy when the story calls for it. While they might spend a lot of the time acting goofy in a manner that's in-keeping with the overall tone of the series, both Yabai Kamen and Shaberryman have some proper villain moments towards the end.

While the focus may primarily be on these two, the success of Dogengers comes from it being an ensemble series - and the constantly expanding roster allows it to to play with just who gets the spotlight. New villain character Hatena is the only other major addition to the costumed cast, however the rotating character focus of each episode is used to highlight heroes that may have only had brief appearances in past instalments. For example, fried chicken delivery man Bincho Fire previously made his debut in Dogengers High School but here gets a full focus episode when his robotic voice box is stolen - with both he and Shiraishi learning valuable lessons about their duty/purpose. Similarly Koujin EX continues to appear more frequently alongside his Koujin Senshi teammates. Elsewhere after headlining their own seasons Great-2 and MAKO have become fully integrated into the Dogengers roster even if they don't always appear among the core group, each getting their own time alongside Shiraishi. Even storylines for fan-favourites result in good things for the extended cast - KitaQman getting his phone stolen is just about the perfect comedy subplot, but comes with some expansion on his relationship with younger brother KitaQman Metal.

The DogengersBincho Fire

But a bigger roster doesn't mean any less time to spend with our favourites, and each of the original members of the Dogengers team gets their moment to impart wisdom about being a hero as well - whether its alongside another member of the group or Shiraishi on his own. Four series in and while none of them are in desperate need of development by this point, the show is still able to give out the odd character moment to make them all the more endearing. Rookie in particularly gets a good focus episode when Yuz-Yuz starts messing around with his belongings, with the show breaking away from its usually lax attitude toward continuity to bring back some old favourites from the first season. Ohgaman continues to be an absolute joy as the leader of the group - constantly flittering between the wise hero and an eccentric old man. With so many of these characters not having civilian alter-egos it's the "heroes as people" approach that really makes Dogengers shine, and seeing them out living their day to day lives and working day jobs is just as satisfying as the heroics.

The show being about local heroes may conjure up all sorts of ideas about it being a low-budget affair, but fans of the previous series can confirm that this is anything but the truth. The quality of the suits alone shows just how much effort is poured into making these characters as impressive as possible, creating real-life mascots in the way only Japan knows how. The fight sequences always prove to be a lot of fun, not only leaning into the zany antics of these characters also continuing to impress when it comes to both stunt and visual effects work too. More importantly though having been crafted by clear fans of tokusatsu the creators of the show also know their limits - and that ability to pull off things in a low budget way continues to be a great source of comedy to the series. Not only do you have more classic-inspired styles of costumes sitting alongside their more modern counterparts, but you also have self-referential moments about the show blowing its budget on elaborate opening shots or quick changes from elaborate CGI models to physical props with limited mobility. Tokusatsu can tell deep and meaningful stories across a variety of tones, but it's always at its best when it's having fun with the medium.

Tadasumi AkutaUltra rise?!

And of course it also wouldn't be complete without some guest appearances from tokusatsu alumni, with this season's big draw being Takashi Hagino (Takeshi Asakura/Kamen Rider Ouja in Kamen Rider Ryuki) as Assistant Detective Tadasumi Akuta. Given his last notable protagonist role in a henshin hero series was as Akira Suzumura/Changerion in Choukou Senshi Changerion all the way back in 1996, it feels like quite the reversal for him and it's clear he (like the rest of the cast) is having a lot of fun here. Outside of tokusatsu there's also cameo appearances from Hololive VTubers (an insanely popular thing that I profess to know next to nothing about), with members Omaru Polka and Aragami Oga as Yuz-Yuz and Hatena respectively.

A final aspect to the show that has perhaps simply evolved from how Dogengers has developed over the years is just how it advertises its "local hero" aspect. Whereas the original series felt like it more of a focus on highlighting Fukuoka as a place to visit as well as the heroes that reside there, much like previous series Dogengers High School there seems to be more emphasis on the corporate side of things in Metropolis. Each hero that's showcased seems to be done alongside some product or company, and even some the heroes themselves carry sponsorship logos in a similar vein to Tiger & Bunny. It might seem a little cynical from time to time, but it's important to note that it isn't especially overt nor does Metropolis ever feel like it's directly advertising to the viewer - instead it just comes part and parcel with the concept of a local hero. Many of these characters have been created as mascots for these specific things, eventually taking on lives of their own that Dogengers has then been able to develop further. It's one of the elements that makes this sub-sect of Japanese superheroes so fascinating, and the fact Dogengers doesn't shy away from it is a good source of education to worldwide viewers - particularly when so much information about these heroes isn't readily available in English.

Great-2 delivers a pizzaYabai Kamen gets an upgrade

While Dogengers Metropolis may not be reinventing the wheel when compared to its predecessors, when the series has got its format down this well who's to blame it? Metropolis offers up another solid slice of superhero action on a much smaller scale, highlighting just how beloved characters like these are on a personal level as well as emphasising how there are heroes around us everyday. The new characters fit into the already sizeable cast wonderfully, with Shiraishi/Hyakutoban working up some great dynamics with the Dogengers as well as shining in his own more personal storylines. Dogengers continues to be feel-good superhero viewing at its very finest, something that will obviously appeal to fans of the bigger tokusatsu franchises but operates on a whole different level emotionally. With fifth series Shin Dogengers due to release later in 2024, it seems like it's only getting stronger.

1 comment:

M said...

Dogengers has been such a joy to watch yearly. I hope it continues for a lot of years.