Monday, August 27, 2012

POWER RANGERS WEEK--PART 2: "Zeo . . .Go . . .Zeo?"

 Continuing on from yesterday's inaugural (and amazingly popular--I guess everyone was just stoked for new stuff on the Prattle) installment of Power Rangers Week, we continue on with the Power Rangers franchise past it's event horizon (usually with stuff that gets white-hot anything after the movie is pretty much a cooling-off period) and in dire need of a change. After three season sticking to the same paradigm, more or less, and accumulating rather a lot of internal mythology and backstory that could prove daunting to the new (and lapsed, in my case) viewer, it was decided that perhaps a slight rebranding should take place as 1996 dawned.

 It was a good idea--hell, Japan changes Super Sentais completely every year, which gives them a blanket brand, but gives them the freedom to experiment as well--if one thing doesn't work, it's not anything they're locked into. Pointing Power Rangers in that direction and keeping the mythology somewhat malleable was a good idea. Plus, slapping a new coat of paint of it would at least give them a platform to give their relaunch more ballyhoo than "oh look guys--new season!"

 (And man, did they milk the shit out of it in the run-up. There were like ten little mini-episodes they played during the re-runs that were showing bits of the intro and filling in the new status quo, and

 And so, Power Rangers Zeo. I'm not really sure whether it was genuinely an attempt to relaunch the Power Rangers and start into the Super Sentai paradigm, but there's no way of knowing because Zeo is. . .well, overall it's strong, but in general, it's a little confusing, and watching it as a whole, you get the idea the producers wanted to have their cake (new beginning! New costumes! New everything . . .) and eat it too (. . .except for the stuff that isn't new) I'll try to explain as I go.

 We're now three seasons into Power Rangers, and it's clear that they can't go yet another season still using the Zyuranger costumes with another set of mismatching footage that they'll have to film more in America to cover over (especially now that PR's not the money-spinner it once was) and there was a whole new series (Ohranger, now commonly known as "the Super Sentai which almost ended the Super Sentai franchise." I didn't remember it being that bad, more "just kinda there.") of footage to go with, and so, this happened:

 After the destruction of the Ranger powers and their base at the end of Season 3, the Rangers find out there is an entirely new Command Center underneath the old one (you'd think we would have seen that by now, considering that a lot of the final stretch of season 3 featured the bad guys wandering aimlessly through the basement of the old Command Center, but when things don't make sense in Power Rangers, the wises course to take is to just say "Power Rangers is full of very inaccurate and contradictory information about itself that is generally just whatever is a good idea at the time"), and that Zordon and Alpha are waiting for the Rangers with new powers from the Zeo Crystal, a long-running season 3 MacGuffin that they used for a dozen things in that season and is now the foundation for the new Ranger powers.

 And since we didn't have time to last time because we were covering a mind-shattering amount of show before now, let's do a ROLL CALL. Ladies and gentlemen, these are YOUR 1996 Zeo Rangers:

 TOMMY--Men envy his ability to do three jumping spin kicks in quick succession, women envy his skill with hair-care products. Tommy is finally the leader of the group in fact. He gets dumped by Kimberly with a "Dear John" letter, as she's met someone else (and that someone is "Felicity, Tuesdays on the WB") grapples with being the leader, finds out he has a brother, but in general he's only expected to be awesome, and well, that ain't hard.

 ADAM--Still not Vash the Stampede. Adam is the Green Ranger this season. He grows his hair out and kicks ass.

 ROCKY--Rocky's promoted to second-in-command, which he always was. Gets bumped down when the Gold Ranger shows up, which gives him an inferiority complex which causes him to try to fight the head bad guy on his own and gets curb-stomped. He's the Blue Ranger this season.

 TANYA--Aisha stayed back in Africa when they were time-traveling at the end of Season 3, and a girl from Africa, Tanya took her place as Yellow Ranger, and no one really seemed to notice the change because Aisha had real problems registering. Not the actress' fault--they just didn't give her much to define her. Tanya, sadly, will have much of the same problem. Gets put under a spell later in the season with Tommy that causes them to sing everything. It is fucking hilarious.

 KATHERINE-- The Pink Ranger, mark II. Formerly a cat, Katherine is the Pink Ranger and bashes the bad guys around with a dinner plate because of course she does. It's teased in this season that Tommy and Kat will get married, but it never really goes anywhere, because Power Rangers is not that kind of show. Seriously, for the amount of couples we see, romance on Power Rangers is a miiiighty chaste affair.

 They're pitted against the rather steampunk-esque Machine Empire, ruled over by the Royal House of Gadgetry. King Mondo is the ruler--he's rotund and befuddling and really never all that threatening, and he is attended by his family--Queen Machina, Prince Gasket, and later Sprocket and Archerina. They're not. . .well, super-developed, and the producers must have realised that, because a lot of the series seems concerned with not using them or sidelining them in favour of Zedd and Rita, who turned tail when the Empire first showed up, but soon came back and jockeyed for the role of head villain, with a weird-ass interlude wherein they had a sentient bomb named Louie Kaboom in charge of everything.

 You know, I'd been having a shitty day right up until the point where I got to type out "a sentient bomb named Louie Kaboom." I should be able to do that more often.

 Oh, and the Machine Empire have a robot named Clank, who is Scottish, who has a little buddy/Siamese twin/I really don't know what (who is not Scottish) who makes monsters grow by throwing the little twin at them. There was a time that this was the weirdest thing I thought Japan could come up with. I yearn for those days of innocence, now.

 There's a few storylines bumbling along while all this is going on--Billy vanishes from the show (because of reasons) the villains jockeying for power, but the main one is the identity of the Gold Ranger, this season's sixth Ranger. It's teased for a good part of the middle of the series that it might be Billy, or a number of other candidates, but it ultimately ends up being no one we've seen before, only that guy (those guys, actually--it's a set of triplets) and then the power get handed over to Jason, who is back from Season two.

 It's. . .eeeh, it's not much of a mystery, because it's really obvious to see that they had two or three ideas for paying it off and all of them saw enough airtime to really confuse the issue and make the whole bombshell feel more than a little empty when it's finally paid off.

 In fact, that's a big problem with the whole season in general--there's very little forward momentum that's not muddled or stuttery, and the whole thing feels a bit . . .flat. The phrase "old wine in new bottles" springs to mind. Perhaps the most immediate symptom of this is that the final episode of the season . . .sort of closes the book on the Machine Empire, except it also doesn't. That kind of muddled and unsatisfied feeling really seems to permeate this series, and I wonder if that was the reason things take such a drastic turn in the next series.

 And we'll look at that tomorrow, unfortunately. Join us then for the season that almost did in Power Rangers and it will not be pretty at all. Join us Tuesday for Power Rangers Turbo, and when you speak of me, speak well.


C. Elam said...

I was more or less off the train by the time Zeo rolled around, so my memory of it is minimal. However, given how utterly bland the "new" Rangers were when introduced (even compared to the folks they were replacing), my hat is off to Johnny Yong Bosch for carving out a decent little career for himself.

Also, I still really like that Zeo promo pic where it looks like the Rangers have big pitcher of beer. Or a weird new kind of bong.

Kazekage said...

Well, you didn't miss much--it was a lot of old wine in new bottles, but if you like that sort of thing, you will find that is the sort of thing that you like.

It's better than Power Rangers Turbo, but if I damned it with any fainter praise, you couldn't see it, could you?

They repro that pic in the book that came with my DVD sets. I look at it and immediately think of the drinking game article I did for your fanzine . . .

C. Elam said...

Even without the drinking game, it's hard to look at that picture and not think those thoughts. Though that was the sort of article Power Rangers fandom needed, if it had existed in 1996.

Kazekage said...

There are plenty of times where Power Rangers has inadvertently snuck in some crazy shit under the radar. I mean, they had an episode where everyone got a case of the muncihes. . .and it even debuted on 4/20, for fuck's sake.

My personal favourite moment where Power Rangers went psychotronic was and will always bee Zedd and Rita's Jewish wedding. With monsters.