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The Weirdness That Is Power Rangers

So, I'm pretty disappointed in my previous Power Rangers post, so I'm going to try and make up for it by talking about the show instead of the toys, which may be more compelling.

So, way back in the mid '90s, Saban released a show called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Looking back on it, it should have been a one off oddity, not the beginning of a massive franchise that is going to be showing it's 26th season next year.

If you're unfamiliar with Power Rangers, the basic idea is this: A group of young people, typically late teens to early twenties, are empowered to fight some encroaching threat to humanity. They do this by transforming into superheroes, with each ranger having a unique color. Often the monster of the week will grow into a larger form, and then the rangers will jump into vehicles/mechs and eventually combine their individual vehicles into a large robot. All of this is live action, which means the combined robot is a person in a cardboard and foam suit, along with the monster, and they fight in miniature cities, reminiscent of the Japanese Godzilla movies.

I'm more than down with the premise. Martial arts action, with transforming robots, aimed at kids? Great! Going back now to rewatch the initial season, it is aggressively overacted, and all of the lines are obviously ADRd (recorded separately and then added onto the video), which gives it a really weird 70s/80s Kung Fu movie vibe. It somehow manages to be very difficult for me to watch.

"Okay Bryce, I get it, you like transforming robots. Why should we care about Power Rangers when you just told us it's pretty bad?"

I was getting there! The thing I find fascinating about Power Rangers is that it's a western TV show that steals a bunch of  footage from an unrelated Japanese show. Obviously there's a long history of localizing media from other countries to the US, but this is a far cry from dubbing a cartoon and cutting out some of the more blatant sexual content or aggressive violence. This is more akin to the first Godzilla release in the US where they cut out some content, and inserted Canadian actor Raymond Burr as the "main" character.

Okay, so let's get some details on what they pulled this footage from: Super Sentai. Super Sentai is often referred to as a "metaseries", this is because season to season, Super Sentai starts over. Each season starts new heroes, that get powers for different reasons, and defend a different Earth from a different threat. They just carry forward with a similar theme: Color coded heroes that fight monsters, and usually the fight will escalate from person sized to requiring robots.

The first Power Rangers season draws from a Sentai show called Zyuranger. Zyruanger starts off with astronauts going to a nearby planet that only comes close to Earth every 170 million years and accidentally freeing the witch, Bandora, who was imprisoned there. She immediately starts wrecking stuff, like hundred million year old witches are wont to do. A sage that had a hand in sealing her, who's been secretly living as the grounds keeper of a residential tower, awakens the Zyurangers, five warriors who helped seal Bandora in the past, and then were put into suspended animation. Each member is from a tribe that worshiped a different prehistoric beast.

The mechs that the Zyruangers pilot are actually the guardian beasts of their respective tribes, and have autonomy, even going so far as to eject the Zyurangers when they don't approve of the action they're taking.

That's... kind of similar to the first Power Rangers show, except the part where they're all ordinary teenagers that get empowered by a floating head in a secret base in the desert. So, basically anything that doesn't feature them suited up, or in their mechs, is original footage.

If you're watching Power Rangers, you might have some questions about the Yellow Ranger. She's a petite Vietnamese girl, but when she suits up, she looks kind of... butch. Also, how come the Pink Ranger has a mini-skirt incorporated into her costume (a staple for the women in Sentai) but Yellow doesn't? Simple answer, in Zyruanger, Yellow is a dude, amusingly his name is Boi.

So if Power Rangers ever seems weirdly chopped up, or disconnected, it's a symptom of how it was made. This weirdness just gets better though. You see, there is a finite amount of Zyuranger at this point. As the first season of Power Rangers approaches the end, it was popular enough to justify a second season. So what are they going to do? Recreate the Zyuranger props and start building their own miniature cities? I'm guessing that's not something they were prepared for. Instead they came up with the mechs were destroyed, but then rebuilt into the mechs from Dairanger. A completely different show from the Sentai series. This starts to introduce problems.

First off: They want to show the old mechs being destroyed and transformed into the new mechs. Since these were both from completely shows, no such footage exists. Solution! They used the toys. You can literally make out the "Saban America" stickers in some shots.

Second problem: The Ranger suits aren't the same. Dairanger is a completely different show form Zyuranger, so they designed new uniforms, the colors don't even match up one to one. Instead of coming up with a reason for the costume change, they just kept them in the same costumes. So all of the scenes featuring them in costume either had to be recycled from Zyuranger, re-shot, or spliced together.

Third problem: The "extra" ranger. It's quite common in Sentai, and thus Power Rangers, that there's an additional ranger added a significant way through the season. Zyruanger and MMPR season 1 had the Green Ranger. He's still around in Power Rangers when the shift to the second season happens, but the "extra ranger" doesn't show up in Dairanger for half the season, and thus there's no mech for him to pilot. The solution they went with, was to have a contrived reason that he was losing his powers, and his mech, the Dragonzord, wasn't destroyed like the others, but is gradually weakening along with him. Weirdly, they decided to have the Dragonzord show up occasionally anyway, by recycling footage of it from Zyuranger, just using scenes where it was alone on the screen, and then it would shoot at the enemy off camera. When the Dairanger extra ranger shows up, they had the Green Ranger assume the new mantle of the White Ranger. So now they've got only the Dairanger mechs to work with, and they're using a combination of rangers from Zyuranger and Dairanger.

Eventually they started just using the new costumes from the source series, and coming up with a reason why that would happen. Like a new source for their powers. I'm not sure why they didn't do that to begin with, maybe they were trying to preserve some brand image, since it was early days.

So, there's my rambling infodump on Power Rangers. Hope you had fun, I'll leave you with my favorite clip of the Dragonzord.


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