OPINION: Power Rangers Deserves More Respect

“I’m just warning you now, I’m a bit of a nerd,” I tell my date as we’re about to enter my apartment. Imagine she’s pretty, if it helps.

“I figured that out earlier when someone mentioned Star Wars. It’s OK.”

I open the door, and turn on the lights. She looks surprised, as though I didn’t just warn her.

She sees Watto and Jar-Jar and Yoda. She sees the lightsabers and posters. But she expected all of that. Star Wars is the most popular movie series of all time. It’s the other memorabilia she sees that turns her stomach.

Staring down at us from my living room wall are two signed photographs of some of my colorful childhood heroes. One, that of Steve Cardenas, the second Red Power Ranger. Chilling alongside Rocky is Jason David Frank; Dr. Tommy Oliver; the Black Dino, Red Zeo, Red Turbo, original White, and most famously, original Green Power Ranger.

GREEN RANGER AUTOGRAPH

“This is… pretty nerdy,” she says with an eye toward the door.

“If you think this is bad, you should see my bedroom,” I say, not making things better, and as if I’ve planned some sort of move.

A look of disgust washes over her face. Looming above my bed like castle gargoyles are Tommy Oliver’s Zords; the Red Battlezord, the White Tigerzord, and the Green Dragonzord. They look prepared to battle the machines across the room — the other Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers’ Megazords.

She looks ready to leave. She’d never get involved with a man so childish. I don’t care. She said she’d come over and watch Power Rangers with me. She thought it was a ploy to get her into bed. I wanted to watch Power Rangers.

I’m twenty-seven years old.

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OK, this never quite happened, but it’s not far off the mark. Friends have told me to remove the toys, shelf the autographs, and at least stop bragging about my fandom. But that’s not me. That’s never been me, and it likely never will be me. I love the Power Rangers. They’ve shaped me into the person I am, and I find no shame in that. Pretty girls be damned.

I know that I’m unique among Power Rangers fans. Most people grew out of it by age seven. But I often believe that the show gets a bad rap for simply being what it was: a campy kids’ show. More importantly however, Power Rangers is a triumph of the creative process, almost as much as it is a triumph of marketing. As someone who prides himself on creativity, and has a drive to become a better videographer, graphic designer, and writer, I still find inspiration in a show that has long been maligned as terrible television. This is why.

 

Origins

From the beginning, everyone needs to understand that Power Rangers is not a standalone American show. Especially noticeable in the show’s maiden season, there’s very obvious differences in the show from shot to shot. It’s as if half of it was shot in one country, and half was shot in an other. It was.

When Rita Repulsa groans about her headache and those pesky Power Brats, her lips never seem to line up quite right. Obviously, this is because her words are being translated from an ancient alien language. She is from space, after all. That, or it’s dubbing over Japanese.

It’s dubbing over Japanese.

It seems obvious in retrospect, right? There’s no way any American would come up with something so hokey. Even Stan Lee’s craziest ideas usually involved a strong individual coming up from nothing like a Horatio Alger character. The Power Rangers are all about teamwork and the strength of the group. In an earlier era, the Rangers would be considered downright communist. Not to mention the zaniness associated with the show that hadn’t been seen in America since Speed Racer.

The idea of a brightly colored team working for the common good originates in Japan with a series called Himitsu Sentai Gorenger, internationally known as Five Rangers, in 1975. And it’s very 1970s.

Himitsu-Sentai-Goranger

Look. At. Those. Suits.

They look like they’re preparing for a nuclear fallout, not getting ready to fight an evil space witch in a dumpster. But then again, how does one dress for such an occasion?

The show was a hit due to its bold colors, craziness, and several other factors that this blogger has no expertise to elaborate upon. As a result, the series ran for a few years before Toei Company set it aside to work on an adaptation of a Marvel comic hero you might have heard of: Spider-Man.

Full disclosure. This commentator has never seen Toei’s 1978 Spider-Man show, but it was probably just marvelous. Why? Spider-Man piloted a giant freakin’ robot. I don’t recall seeing Tobey Maguire do that.

In a real shocker in the land of Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, Toei found that giant robots were pretty popular, and with the reintroduction of Sentai in the form of Battle Fever J (the best name for any show, ever,) the show incorporated this popular element, rebranding the overarching series, Super Sentai.

The show continues as Super Sentai to this day, constantly creating fresh content while also paying homage to its 40 year history. However, the show is wildly Japanese, and a direct translation is impossible to follow. I definitely didn’t buy a season of Super Sentai and find out personally, by the way.

It would take creative slight of hand to make Sentai work in a western market. Enter Haim Saban. Saban, an Israeli-American man born to a Jewish family in Egypt, and recent recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, saw potential in the Japanese property and formulated a unique way to create a nearly new show using existing footage. By using Japanese video of the heroes in action, fighting monsters, and piloting robots, known as mecha, and splicing it with American footage of teenagers living out their daily lives, Saban could save money on production costs while still creating a money-making children’s show packed with strong morality tales. As you might have guessed, it worked out pretty well, and made Haim Saban a billionaire.

 

Writing and Editing

In implementing Saban’s plan, a lot of creative people had to find a lot of creative ways to tell stories. It is in this way that Power Rangers deserves a lot more respect.

See, creating coherent kids’ content to complement culturally distinct canned footage comes with a cornucopia of conundrums. Writers had to create an entire story around footage that’s already been shot, comes from a completely different culture, and was once part of an already established narrative. The writers of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers were tasked with this mighty venture, and expected to do it for over 50 episodes a year.

As a result, it can be easy to look back at the show as a hodgepodge mess of kicks, camp, and craziness, but it doesn’t do justice to the incredible work that had to be put into it. And keep in mind, this was always intended to be a kids’ show. It ultimately didn’t matter if there was continuity — kids just wanted to see the heroes overcome evil and head on back to the juice bar.

This led to a simplification of the Sentai into a pretty basic formula. One which was best explained when Uproot interviewed the voice of Alpha 5, Richard Steven Horvitz.

This simple formula was perfect for kids like me. Every episode would begin with a reasonable status quo. Young people hanging out with friends, worrying about homework and the upcoming talent show — before all hell would break loose and giant golden monkeys would attack the city.

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Today’s cynical writers would have a difficult time squaring the constant destruction of the city and the almost lax attitude held by soldiers in a war about their life/superheroics balance. But for children, it’s perfect.

Kids could easily imagine themselves being those superheroes. They weren’t born on planet Krypton or traumatized as wealthy children. Their origin stories were similar to those of Spider-Man. This power fell into their laps and they were expected to use it for the greater good. Children like me saw this and wanted to be like the Power Rangers.

As a result, kids not only wanted to be the Red Ranger, but they wanted to be like Jason, a strong, wise, honest guy, who gave his time to others and never expected payment or praise in return. Sure, we can dismiss it today as shallow characterization, but for kids looking for a hero, there was no one better.

Then there are the real heroes. The editors who had to create coherent narratives from several unmatched sources. Splicing together a show from American and Japanese footage had to be a difficult task. But the show ultimately works, even if it was never in line for an Emmy Award.

This task became even more difficult with the second and third seasons of the show, as the Zord footage started coming from a new season of the Sentai, Gosei Sentai Dairanger, which featured different heroes in very different costumes. The editors were then asked to cut Zord video from one season with Ranger video from the previous season, except for the White Ranger, who came from the second season also, all with the human video from the American footage. And again, this all had to make some sort of sense.

The result is narrative visual storytelling — using a tight shot of a fist followed by a wide shot of a monster falling. With all of this in mind, the show is undoubtedly not perfect from a writing or editing perspective, but is one that is still a marvel that can be studied and learned from.

 

Impact since the 90s

In 2017, despite a new movie now in theaters, Power Rangers just isn’t as popular as it used to be, but the Rangers have never actually gone away.

After the Mighty Morphin’ years, some of the original cast continued on with the show, with the lovable bully duo of Bulk and Skull lasting until 1999’s Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Even without original cast members, the show has continued on to this day, with the exception of one year under the ownership of Disney when the powers-that-be decided it would be cheaper to simply recut old Power Rangers episodes.

It’s still campy, it’s still shallow and messy, and it’s still about multicolored costumes, teamwork, and giant fighting robots. It’s still Power Rangers, and it’s still fun.

As a result, kids today still harbor the same type of love for the teenagers with attitude that we adult millennials once did. It’s a fad that may never reach its original peaks, but, like the Japanese source material, doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon — something the original Power Rangers have been happy to see, as they told Uproot last year.

As for me, I still enjoy catching up on the team, even though they’re now younger than me and the show will never have the same magic it once did when I was wide-eyed and idealistic. Sometimes when things just get too heavy and you want to stay away from alcohol to try and ease your troubles, the best thing to do is go to Netflix and watch Green with Evil, or Day of the Dumpster. Our heroes are still there to inspire us. Bad dates be damned.

 

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