Sunday, August 26, 2012


 Welcome back, y'all. Apologies for the paucity of updates here lately, but the plain fact is that I didn't have anything to review here lately (I've gotten a few things since then) and I had not a whit of interest in covering anything recent (Batwoman is still visually stunning, but textually muddled, most of the current comics scene I'm not into--save Glory/Prophet?Harbinger, and my sole reaction to Rob Liefeld's Fuck You Yankee Bluejeans Tour 2012 is the same as Abhay and Tucker's thoughts the last time someone lost their shit on Twitter--grown people really act this way in public?) So, then, what to do in the meantime?

 Fortunately, I remembered I do these little remembrances of things past from time to time, and this coincided with the first seven seasons of Power Rangers landing on my doorstep, as well as some general rumbling that Power Rangers is now on the verge of its 20th year of running, with no let-up (this despite nearly being cancelled three times) That's. . .in addition to making me feel hella old, it's also pretty stunning. The other huge properties that are considered evergreen--Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, the Ninja Turtles--all had years-long interregnums between revivals. Year in, year out, Power Rangers has been there.

 For another, a cheapo show that was only supposed to run 40 episodes and used a whole bunch of footage from a Japanese series . . .has now been pretty regularly homaged in the Japanese series that originated it and has all but been enfolded in its collective lore as well--in their recent anniversary series, Gokaiger, they say that "across the ocean, we're called Power Rangers." So I guess it's officially a thing, now.

 I will not try to persuade you that it's because its good. Occasionally, Power Rangers has risen above its remit and done some pretty impressive work. Sometimes it's the visual representation of what an abscessed tooth feels like. Generally, it's exactly what it needs to be--30 minutes dedicated to pushing toys and sticking to a basic formula: Monster appears, Rangers fight it, blow it up, monster grows the Rangers summon their giant robot and destroy it. At its best it moves at such a relentless pace and plucks the nerves that respond to superhero stuff at its most basic level, that young and old are going to be engaged with it on some level.

 Plus it had been awhile since I'd done a week-long event post, and while writing about Power Rangers for seven days straight is sure to erode whatever cred I had, the jokes on you guys--I never had any cred to begin with. And yes, I'm aware that Linkara already does this kind of thing and goes into things at a much higher level than I probably will. Plus, my perspective is liable to be a bit different. Plus, I say "fuck" a lot more.

  Also, maybe it'll get "Power girls tits" off my top search results finally.

 And since I've written 200 some words already and not even gotten to the preamble, I better get moving. I sort of missed the golden age of dubbed Japanese live-action shows on TV--stuff like Johnny Sokko, Ultraman, Spectreman and the Space Giants. Apparently, before I was around, it was not uncommon for producers stateside to buy a Japanese TV show, dub the whole series with three people in a room, and syndicate the hell out of it in the name of wringing some of that interest that kept impressionable 4 year olds filing into Godzilla movie matinees.

 The closest I'd come to seeing anything like that was seeing Dynaman redubbed into hilarious insanity on the late, lamented Night Flight (another topic for another time) The attached Youtube clip will give you an idea of what it was like, but to get the full effect, watch it at 3 in he morning when your sense of reality is starting to grey out. While I thought it was hilarious, I also dug the fact that it was people in costumes fighting monsters with giant robots. That it was very similar to Voltron (another team of guys fighting monsters with giant robots) probably gave me a certain affinity for that kinda thing.

 Plus, around about 1993, it was a horrible time for action cartoons on TV. Most all the shows from the 80's were long gone, and those that has survived were pretty nerfed and sacrificed a lot of their action quotient for comedy and well, nothing had really hit immediately. Things were in the process of changing (Batman the Animated Series had just started and there were a few other things ticking over) but these were the end of the dry years, by and large. So when Power Rangers came around, it was quite a welcome return to those bygone days of kicking people in the face, dangerously irresponsible levels of violence, and transparent toy advertising, all done on the cheap.

 OK, now, let's actually get into the mechanics of the first iteration of Power Rangers: All the action footage (at first) is from a Japanese show called Zyuranger. It's not terribly good--I know; I've seen it. The action footage is then framed by some Saved By The Bell-esque stuff filed stateside so that people will not recognise this is a Japanese show, except 1) they totally do 2) I'm not sure how this ever worked out to be cheaper than just dubbing the show, but whatever. I should also point out that you can see the join between the two footages perfectly, because Power Rangers is shot on video and the sentai shows are shot on film. The old-school Doctor Who fan in me appreciated that. But the main thing to take away is that occasionally, in trying to reconcile two different cultures into a gestalt entity . . .crazy shit ensues.

 SUCH AS (but not limited to) The Rangers fight an evil clown who turns people into cardboard with fairy dust, who is actually a giant pineapple/octopus monster, because of reasons. Or the time they fight a giant monster pumpkin whose superpower is that he has awesome raps (I am not exaggerating these) and there's also someone called "Mister Ticklesneezer," which is just nasty.

 So the plot of Power Rangers is thus: Released from a garbage can in space, Rita Repulsa, decides it's time to conquer Earth in the most inefficient way possible: By sending one monster an episode down to Earth to just screw with five specific teenagers (and to a lesser extent, one town) Rita apparently is taking the long view and was inspired by Wowbagger in the Infinitely Prolonged.

 Zordon, a giant floating head in a tube who'd apparently been hanging around with his robot life-partner Alpha-5 (who sounds like a certain Irken invader) recruits five demographically acceptable teenagers "with attitude" (which was the early 90's version of "extreme" for you younger folks out there) who, in the best tradition of that phrase, have nothing of the kind. There's mall-rat gymnast Kimberly; gifted nerd (and crush-object of a friend of mine) Billy; Serene asian girl Trini; ladies man/master of Hip Hop Kido (man, twenty years later, that phrase still hurts to type) Zack; and Blast Hardcheese stand-in Jason. Together they turn into Japanese actors and fight monsters and pilot giant robots and loiter at juice bars and be pro-social in that kind of bland early 90's way that so many kids groups (like the goddamned Planeteers) were

 While all this is passable entertainment and the kind of thing you'd happily absorb at 7:30 in the morning before school, it's not really appointment television yet. No, that comes in a few episodes in when Tommy shows up. Tommy is utterly badass, and concomitant with his appearance, the fight choreography in the American scenes goes up quite a bit, but also he doesn't really conform to the character stereotypes that the first five did (though as time goes on, they will sort of grow out of those) Tommy is press-ganged into being the Green Ranger--like the others, but evil.

 And the Green Ranger looks badass, and cements his badassedness by kicking the shit out of the Rangers for five damn days straight. This is a major deal for several reasons: 1) up until now, the Rangers never lost 2) multi-part episodes never happened on this show (boy will that change soon enough) and 3) Green Ranger is pretty unrelenting: Day 1 has him destroying the Rangers' base, leaping into their giant robot and knocking them out of it, beating them down hand to hand, and finishing them off with an EX Hadouken. By the end of 5 days he's wrecked the base again, destroyed the giant robot (it got better) kidnapped Jason, got his own giant robot (who loves candy-coloured smokestacks and jazz flue)  and kicked the Rangers' collective asses so hard I can't precisely remember how many times he does it.

 So they turn him face, because, like Steve Austin, a heel run that hot means people will cheer for you no matter how evil you pretend to be. So Tommy becomes the sixth member of the Power Rangers, and so begins Power Rangers' crazy-ass popularity.

 This is good and bad. Good in the sense that a show that was due to run 40 episodes and was basically tossed on to TV would ultimate run 20 years, which is good for the long-term. Bad, in a very short-term way: Zyuranger, like all the Super Sentai shows that proceeded and followed it, was a finite series--when their year-long run is over, they're done, finish (which is why you're able to take so many chances in those--given a fixed end point, things can build to climaxes, characters can die, etc. The best Super Sentai shows build to tremendous finales, and pretty much anything is possible) and a new show starts in its place, using the same general idea--people in costumes fighting monsters--but usually in a different context and a different tone. Things have changed as crossovers and team-ups are more popular in Japan, but all the same, a line is drawn under it.

 Such a fate befalls the Green Ranger's counterpart in Zyuranger--his Japanese counterpart is actually killed off (well, a couple times in the course of the series--it's complicated and this post is long enough) and the Red Ranger inherits his powers for the final battle. Not really realising that Green Ranger was gonna be that popular, the producers finished out the initial 40 episodes. . .and then had to walk back certain aspects, and here, Power Rangers becomes a bit more than just an adaptation of a Japanese show, as in working harder to spackle over the joins, it kinda forces it to become something else.

 The producers actually contract the Japanese company to produce 25 more episodes of footage they can use, bringing back the Green Ranger, and all of a sudden, there are a lot more American footage fights start happening, which will eventually end up better than the ones they were doing in Japan (sadly, twenty years on, neither show seems to have them any more, dammit) and now there's going to be a second season of the show.

 There was no more footage of Zyuranger to go around, so the producers turn to to next super sentai series, Dairanger, (which is better than Zyuranger by a lot) and take the mecha footage from it (leading to the Rangers having to utter stuff like "Triceratops Unicorn Thunderzord Power!" just to get their giant robot out), de-power the Green Ranger, and make him into the White Ranger, and create their own new master villain in Lord Zedd, who is. . .fucking evil looking--all chrome and viscera and glowering and stuff. He ends up being a little too scary (as things usually seen on a Slayer album cover don't typically wander into kid's shows), so he's softened, to the point where he and Rita get married (The absolutely hilarious and utterly demented spectacle of Rita and Zedd's Jewish wedding, populated entirely with monsters is my fondest and most "what in the actual fuck is this?" memory of the second season) and the two of them bedevil the Rangers some more.

 Oh, Jason. Zack, and Trini leave the show, and are replaced by Adam, Rocky, and Aisha. Despite what you may have heard, Adam is not Vash the Stampede. I don't know how these rumours got started. The second season kinda spins its wheels for the rest of the time--it's . . .OK. If the goal is just to keep the train rolling and the money spinning, you'd be a fool to upset the apple cart, wouldn't you? There's a movie somewhere about this time, and it's. . .if you wanted to see a movie in 1995 use CGI that was state of the art in 1988, well, they did that.

 Season 3 starts with yet another power-switch, as Season 2's robots get trashed, along with their powers, and they all get ninjas powers, yet still dress in the dinosaur themed outfits because branding rather than reality, dammit. Thankfully they don't have to yell out anything like "Triceratops unicorn thunderzord wolf ninjazord power," because really, we'd be here all day.

 I didn't watch much of Season 3, so my immediate memories before I watched the DVDs were 1) oh God, that fight song they play when they fight the Tengas is never going to get out of my head, ever. 2) The American fights are pretty awesome and 3) I think I've reached my saturation point with this--it's getting hard to follow, and when Power Rangers is getting unworldly in its continuity, there is a problem. There were a lot of multipart episodes this season, all of which seemed to change the dynamic of the show, and I had a real problem with coming in in the first or second part of the stories, and couldn't make heads nor tails or what was happening.

 Revisiting them and watching them in the right order, they're. . .pretty damn good. They take a lot of chances this season, and the bad guys actually make substantial progress in beating the Rangers in numerous ways over the course of the season. Plus, I was amazed that they set up the season/series finale and the new series like, twenty episodes or so before the finale even got here. This is not a show that usually does that kind of foreshadowing.

 Anyways, Kimberly actually has a whole arc in the middle part of the season, where she nearly gets killed/loses her powers/gets replaced by an Australian girl who used to be a cat (as you do) and the bad guys finally HALT THE FLOW OF TIME and turn the Rangers into kids, and for a couple episodes, the Power Rangers don't even appear in their own show. The Rangers bring in alien Power Rangers from another planet (man, if only they'd remembered they had reinforcements before now. Woulda helped a lot, huh?) to dep for them while they collect MacGuffin #215 to fix all this, and also, actually use more than 5% of the footage from this year's Super Sentai, Kakuranger (bringing the footage percentage to 20%) I laud them for taking chances with it and shaking it up, though I wonder if the problem wasn't that things got shaken up too much and there wasn't a "normal" for sufficiently long enough to shake up in a way that stuck.

 I'll pause for a moment and let you reflect as to whether that's an ongoing problem in superhero comics as well.

 In any event, the Rangers succeed, kinda--they're resorted to normal, time is back on track, but their base is finally destroyed (*snerk*) their powers annihilated, and their alien buddies forced into retreat.  The series closes on a note where things just plainly don't look good, and since it's the end of the series, this downturn might stick after all. . .

 . . .oh hey, all those weird-minute-long mini-sodes they show between re-runs make it look like they're building to something new--I wonder what all that's about? I guess you'll just have to find out tomorrow when we look at where they go from here. Join us Monday when we look at Power Rangers Zeo, which features Tommy getting dumped, triplets, team-ups, awkward recasting, steampunk, Scottish robots, drunken robots, Louie Kaboom, and a musical episode (sorta) Join us then, won't you?


C. Elam said...

Been meaning to comment on these forever. Was it just serendipity or did you realize Shout Factory was releasing the first half of the first season on official DVD?

Anyway, rewatching the show for the first time in ages, I am struck both by how much I remember and how much I had forgotten. I could (and probably will) talk about a lot of that, but it's...much better than it has any right to be. That's even before you get to the Green Ranger, and that multi-parter definitely does a more than adequate job of raising the stakes. It's actual TENSION, which was almost unheard of in American shows of this type.

Also, I realize I am biased, but I am amused to see any episode that requires something beyond basic "acting" (remember your lines and try to sound natural!) inevitably features the Pink Ranger. I guess Amy Jo being the one with career potential was obvious even to them.

Oh, and about Tommy - man, Jason Frank is great, but he was better as a villain. His charisma and sheer badassness compensated for weaknesses as an actor.

Kazekage said...

Less "serendipity" than "I went in for the buying the first 7 seasons in big boxes" before the first half rolled out. Needless to say, I'm a touched Power Rangere'd out for the foreseeable future. *L*

It's. . .OK. It's aged well more by virtue of the fact that it's too bland to really be a product of its time. I'm just impressed that the fight choreography is as strong as I remember--there's a bit of a lack of that in series in both iterations, now.

But yeah, it's diverting enough for the early days, and then the Green Ranger stuff comes in and blows up the formula. I loved that they were hyping it day by day and every damn time, it seemed like the Green ranger was kicking their asses.

I. . .well, that becomes more a factor in Season 3, when she's called upon to do more (she has a LOT of episodes focused around her before she leaves) Though I understand a few after her have gone on to careers of some note, she is probably the biggest success story, isn't she?

Man, he'll never have to play a villain again, ever. I mean, he could, but it's like Ric Flair--some people are too beloved for the crowd to ever pretend they're buying the whole "heel" thing.

C. Elam said...

Hokey smokes, yeah, I can see that happening. That might be too much even for me.

I am in no way calling it great, but you would expect it to be an unwatchable mess and it's sorta not. That's an amazing achievement in itself. The stunt work is really amazing - even the Rangers themselves are busting their butts out of costume.

I can't say the watering down of the fights surprises me. The "violence" was one of the big issues for killjoys and I'm sure most of the people responsible for the earliest stuff have moved on. Sentai had been slowly moving away from good fights since the mid-80s, so really, it's a trend.

The Green Ranger thing was a revelation to me as I had been sort of enjoying it on its own merits and had no idea they were going to do something like that. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to experience it as a child. Other than "awesome," I mean.

Since I was mostly focused on how cute she was when I was 21, I was struck that she (and sometimes David Yost) were the ones called on to do different things. Even if it was as broadly drawn as pretending to be "evil" or male nerd trapped in a female body, that was challenging stuff for that sort of show. I went and looked her up after watching these and she's working on financing for a short film she's writing and directing. So yeah, she's the one with the highest profile post-Power Rangers.

I feel like you're right. He was the cool heel and people loved him for it. It's almost too bad they couldn't have dragged Green with Evil out longer, but I suppose the kids of America would have spontaneously combusted.

Your random MMPR fact I just picked up from IMDB - the referee in that first Jason/Tommy showdown is Ed Neal from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It seems he did quite a bit of Power Rangers stuff. I had no idea.

Kazekage said...

I don't regret the buy, but holy shit . . .it's not a great thing to do over a weekend. *L*

It's an adequate kid's show with a solid storytelling engine that makes for reliably good episodes. It's always been interesting to me that every time they tried to do it again (VR Troopers Masked Rider) they could never capture lighting in a bottle again. Apparently the action and pace was just unrelenting, so it's a testament to them that they were able to do it at all--I can imagine that kinda pressure grinding many folks under.

Well, as CG became easier to do, flashy effects took the place of the more harder-hitting fights. That said, I am VERY happy that Kamen Rider Wizard does extensive hand-to-hand fights as well as peppering in the CGI. I also like that his henshin activation uses the word "shabadoobie." But then, I am weird that way.

Well, he had a cool look, his power set blew the rangers away (and then the kept making him stronger) and dude just exuded badass from every atom. Plus the Dragonzord is just plain swank.

It's funny, but it seems like a lot of PR rangers get more interested in stuff behind the cameras, rather than going on to act in more things. There's a lot of that about, actually.

I think it was probably as long as it needed to be--it was an "event." One of the problems with later series, when they try to drag a hell to face turn out over a whole season is things get a bit static and some rather artificial contrivances must then be engaged to keep it going.

I. . .man. I'm going to have to go back and look for that. Guy didn't look anything like the Hitchhiker.

C. Elam said...

Ha, man, I felt like my brain was going to spontaneously crawl out of my skull just watching 30 episodes. I don't know if I could have made it.

I noticed this too! There was always something missing from the other shows, and they never caught fire. It really is amazing that Power Rangers has managed to not only survive, but sort of endure.

IMDB and Wikipedia both are convinced Ed Neal and the "Ed Neil" credited in many Power Rangers thing are one and the same. I never would have made this connection in my craziest daydreams, but can even see why he'd use an alternate spelling of his name (working for less than scale).

Kazekage said...

I drink a lot now, so that kinda helps.

I think it's now become as much of an institution over here as much as it has in Japan, now. I mean, it's been twenty years, a whole generation, right?

Yeah, because you see in in TCM 1 or 2 and it only seems natural he'd show up in Power Ranger, right?