Normally I have this reserved for movies that deserve some praise but this week I thought I would change it up. Today we look at a series of my childhood that I really got into. I love some good western fantasy series as well as some anime and secretly I also enjoy teen comedies like saved by the bell or even Lizzie McGuire. Luckily there is one franchise that combines it all in one hilarious and captivating mix.
Now it is commonly know how this show came to be. In order to adapt the Sentai genre for western audience, which of course would not be very relatable to western audiences in its pure form some very smart tv makers decided to splice footage of the original sentai show, of the costumed heroes, with shot in america footage with western audiences so that we as the viewer could connect to these heroes. The Sentai show chosen for this was Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger which translates as Dinosaur Squadron Beast Ranger, which aired about a year earlier as Power Rangers. Zyuranger was the 16th season of the Super Sentai series and features some significant differences from it more well known western counterpart.
The most well known difference is that the yellow Zyuranger is not actually a female but rather a boy named .. well Boi. This is why Trini does not have a skirt unlike the pink ranger. Which is kinda funny because the season before that DID in fact have two female rangers.. but I guess based on Birdman it seemed less cool. The most notable difference however is in the way things are themed. Power Rangers is not just an acted out dub it is a completely different series with a very different tone. Where the Sentai series focuses on ancient magical powers, Power Rangers usually spin their series with a very technological aspect. Which kinda makes more sense to me given that for the biggest part is about combiner robots.
Zordon does not exist in Japan, the team is assisted by the immortal sorcerer Barza, whose footage is used for back when Zordon was NOT an interdimensional being. The rangers are not random teens but ancient warriors of five clans kept in stasis for 170.000 years until the witch Pandora escapes. Pandora and Rita are the same person however in Zyuranger she is not the ultimate villain of their season.. it’s a floating head called Great Satan. There is no command center, no alpha 5 and no Angel Grove High. These are fairly serious warriors. The Green Ranger is the brother of the Red Ranger and he eventually ends up dying, so this series had a bit more consequence something that would take power rangers five seasons to really kick in. In the first Sentai series one of the team members already permanently died.
Another difference is between the tone in narrative. While Power Rangers is episodic with only a mild tread going through their show, the Zyuranger have a much larger journey to go trough. They do not get their signature weapons right away they have to find them. Also they have to find their power crystals to combine their robots. They earn their powers as they go on. Which makes a much more compelling show to follow compared to the rinse and repeat power ranger format that seems to borrow more of it’s narrative structure from Sailor Moon than the actual Sentai show. This is usually the argument that Sentai fans throw in your face for liking Power Rangers, their show makes more sense.. which is fair.
Yet I usually reply “If A super powerful being has the power to bestow you with magic power to fight of great evil, why would he hide the keys to your weapons and zords?’ In the world of Power Rangers that set up would make very little sense. Since they are american they can’t really go with the asleep for 170.000 years either.. or else by the first series standards they would all have to be native americans and all red rangers. While the Sentai Series is definitely worth a watch and does indeed make more sense, I am on team Power Rangers. Though I might see if I can track down Battle Fever J the third season of sentai based on great nations!
Can you imagine if these were our first rangers?
Now enough talk about Sentai for now it is time to look at the Western product. Apparently to make colourful superheroes in spandex and helmets interesting to us we needed something else. No not giant combiner robots that still was not good enough! Saved by the Bell! That’s it we need some highschool drama about bullying, school projects and dating. We need teenagers with attitude… and with attitude we mean that they have to be so squeaky clean they could be on the Disney Channel. Their favorite hangout is a juice bar and they all take sports and are very well performing students, that on the side do a lot of charity work as well.
Kimberly Hart is the only Power Ranger that actually has some attitude. She would rather go back to gymnastics and read fashion magazines when this show starts but after their first move she also flips over like a leaf. However throughout the show she keeps at least a slight bit of pettiness making her the most teenager feeling in the show. To know surprise this makes her my favorite ranger in the earlier episodes. Amy Jo Johnson portrays a wonderful character that we can see and grow. While the Zyurangers grow as a team, I rarely see them grow as people.
Billy Cranston is another good example of this growth.. while definitely not having Attitude as promoted he grows throughout the series so much. David Yost to me is the BEST blue ranger ever to this day. It was such a shame when he was bullied to leave the show. Even when he stopped being a ranger he was such a welcoming and warm presence. In the first episodes he talks needlessly complicated and completely unhuman which is so stereotype and cheesy.. I love it.. it feels wrong.. but in the right kind of way. The auditory stimuli of this social gathering hub is perceived as pleasurable and I wish to express this sensation by applying motor skills to said output.. would be a way Billy says he wishes to dance. In fact he even talks more complicated than that.. so I could not remember an exact example.
MMPR has it issues but these are part of the beauty of the show. While Trini Kwan and Zack Taylor are oftenly subject of debate because of the colour of the suit they were put in let’s not forget that the yellow ranger was hispanic first, but got recast because of failed contract negotiations a theme that would follow the series. Regardless wether you find some choices offensive one can not help but be amazed by how iconic Zack’s Hip Hop Kido was. Back than it was super cool. Zack was my favorite guy in the team. I liked his zord the best as well.. but hey I got a thing for clunky animals so it makes sense I’d choose a Mastodont. Because of the anime-esque stereotyping of characters all these guys became dear to me.
I never played with barbies when I was a kid, but I kept had a lot of barbie like dresses and some Ken clothes I used them to dress up my Power Ranger figures, and most of what I played was romance between Tommy and Kimberly because I was a big Tommy fan, like the rest of the world. Jason David Frank plays the most iconic ranger ever. To this day he is deeply involved in the franchise and loves the character so much. No matter if it’s the comics , which are quite good too by the way, or the newer series, we can always wait for Tommy to make an appearance.. and even though he is such a 90’s product that tells you how well this series has aged.
Dinosaurs Lighting and Metal
In a weird way this show has aged well by aging poorly. While the Ranger action itself has clearly aged and has long been surpassed, the teenage drama the weird scenario set up are so dated they become timeless. Set in the 90’s has become part of these first four seasons. It gets a bit Wonky when we enter age of Zeo and nearly came crashing down when we enter the Turbo season. While Power Rangers in Space saved the series with some actual amazing storytelling and belongs to the top seasons for me and many fans, this first one i’d classify as cult. It’s zanier, more repetitive and not always acted out the best but something about it is just so fun to watch.
I’d even argue this show is better now than it was before Power Rangers was so in your face nineties and cheesy that back than it polarised people but now… it’s like Fudge Yeah that’s the sound of the nineties. If we compare the opening of Zyuranger to Power Rangers there is not a shadow in my mind of which is the best opening. Zyurangers one is forgettable while Power Rangers one is iconic. Now you can blame Nostalgia for this but I actually prefer Head Chala over Rock the Dragon so I would say I have an open mind about this. When you hear the Zyuranger theme you think “Oh dear Arceus this has not aged well” when you hear Go Go Power Rangers you are like “Heck yeah 90’s’. Synthesizers metal, the clothes , the simple mindset it was something I really appreciate.
Where the, at times , hammy acting, bad effects and clunky dialogue often annoyed me in Star Trek TOS and caused me to drop it here, I find it much more tolerable Again part of it is the setting but also the pacing. With 20 minute episodes and two to three stories to tell per episode this show doesn’t linger it rushes past everything. Some episodes are very strangely cut together, like the rangers being transported out their zord for no reason..the giant monster “won” and apparently shrank without damaging their zord.. he just allowed it to leave, now being in tiny form again the rangers defeat it with new weapons. It made no sense to see all those lighting filled transport effects within a minute but I sure was entertained.
When I watch this I feel like a kid again. I can shut down my brain because “it’s Power Rangers’. It’s like how you do not question the logic in a Jojo series or apply fluid simulations to the debate on how to eat chocolate croissants in Lucky Star. Power Rangers is in the so Bad that it’s good kind of category when it comes to world building yet if we look better it’s ALSO actually good. The whole lore of the Morphing Grid that was later tacked on still kinda makes sense today. The whole reasons how rangers are chosen, what the colour of their suit represents still matches up. Tommy Oliver always being an exception. Tommy has been a green, white, two reds and a black ranger by now as well as becoming the iconic villain Lord Drakkon in the comics. That being said extra rangers are always except from the colour rules so even he makes sense.
Power Rangers is filled with clichés but there is so much commitment to these that they can get away with so much. A monster based on traffic lights would suck in just about everything but Cute Earth Defense Club Love… yet in Power Rangers it works too. A piece of wall that turns the team into bricks from which they are freed by treating them with pollution sounds like a very bad Captain Planet episode yet with Power Rangers it works.
In fact it’s something we WANT to see from this show. We dont care about the episode with this dark edgy knight guy.. we want to see a the rangers face a lipstick martial artist, a turkey in an armor made of an oven, using a baster as a blaster or a evil tentacled pineapple that turns people into cardboard cutouts… these are all real examples by the way. This show made a candle threatening. Where like half the episode is images of a green candle slowly burning down… we all watched in horror as it became smaller and smaller and we lost our beloved icon. Because obviously Ranger powers can be linked to candles.
In many ways MMPR introduced me to staples that would cause me to fall in love with the anime genre. I loved the randomness and over the top storytelling. How it was more imaginative than anything i saw before. While the Japanese story in part is responsible for that .. much also comes down to the american writing giving us something truly unique. As a kid that is what I saw in power rangers. It wasn’t like anything else. It was different from Turtles, it was different from Saved By the Bell. It helped me learn English AND German.
Sentai as a genre is unique in western media. Though VR-Troopers tried (which almost cast Jason David Frank as the main character after Tommy lost his powers) and Masked Rider made a fair attempt.. only Power Rangers really stuck. While I enjoyed Big Bad Beetleborgs, nowadays there is only one contender. It is a show that has been running for 27 years now. While not everything is as good as In Space, or Time Force , I am looking at you Mega Force, it is hard to deny the work the first season did. Heck in fact Jason shows up for the new season of Beast Morphers and people are really excited about it. The classic theme is still being used in mash ups and even main themes. The show has adapted and grown.. and dialogue even for MMPR would get better as the show goes along.. but some things never age. While not all do it..plenty of rangers still shout out “It’s Morphin Time”
Did you ever watch Power Rangers? Have you ever watched A Sentai Show? Let me know in the comments! I will look at a certain Sentai show next… a very unique one at that. Once I am done with the first season expect a review coming up! Until then, Keep smiling! May the power protect you!