It took me this long to get into Power Rangers?
Why am I writing a post about Power Rangers? Well, I am married and have nephews and they are really really into Power Rangers, and when they come to visit, that’s what we always put on the TV via VOD or youtube to placate them. I never really liked Power Rangers when it first came out in the US in the 1990’s. I’ll tell you why in a bit. But this past weekend while babysitting my nephew Youn-hyuk, he kept clamoring for Power Rangers Captain Force. Seeing that via VOD that would cost money to watch, I went on the net and figured out that the Captain Force in Korea is called Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger in its original Japanese, and there were plenty of videos of that on youtube. But I think this is the first time we actually watched it together. Oh my gosh.. this is one of the best series ever! And now this article is going to be all over the place, because as I am thinking about all the things I need to explain… So if you would like to read more about something extremely geeky, then read on.
I will begin my disclaimer and say that I am a huge nerd.. and when it comes to new nerdy things, be they games, books, movies, TV shows, or comics, I never really just watch something, say it’s cool and be done with it. If I like it, I have an insatiable thirst for more, becoming obsessed with it. For example, I watched Professional Wrestling in college, and was hooked on it during the Monday Night Wars, so much that I would go rent videos of previous Wrestling Events. I’ve probably watched the original 3 Star Wars movies more than 100 times.. each. I’ve seen every episode of G1 Transformers… after my 30th birthday. There was a period in high school when I got hooked on Spider-Man comics, in an era that was known as the Clone Saga. This caused me to waste money on back issues trying to reassemble the whole thing, and then I bought even more back issues after that. I play pen and paper tabletop roleplaying games in an ongoing campaign once per week. I am a huge nerd, and if I think something is cool, I will immerse myself in it. That is because I want to know everything there is to know about it. Everything.
So you’ve actually decided to read more! So where do I start? When I was a kid, I liked this series called Voltron, which was an animated TV show about 5 space travelers who found a planet with a ruined castle. Inside the castle waited an old man who had once lived in a vibrant kingdom, and he told the tale that the kingdom had been destroyed by an evil empire, but the 5 space travelers could possibly be the ones to defeat the evil empire and restore the kingdom, if they would agree to pilot the 5 mechanical lions, each representing a different element. The red lion was fire, the green was wood, the blue was water, and the yellow was earth. Finally the black lion was like.. well they never explained that one, but it was mounted in front of the castle. Using their special keys, the 5 guys (later 4 guys and 1 girl) could pilot these lions against the forces of evil. But then there would be times where the lions were not strong enough to defeat the enemy, so they would form Voltron, which was a giant human shaped robot out of the lions (I guess in this case it’d be a mech, since technically they were still piloting Voltron). 4 of the lions formed the limbs, and the black lion formed the body and head. This show was a hit with kids because unlike other shows at the time, there was actual continuity, rather than 30 minute episodes that could each stand alone. It also used a very typical trope, the 5 man band. What’s the 5 man band? See, I told you this article was going to go all over the place. The 5 man band is when there is a team of 5 in the story. There’s the leader, who is always doing the right thing all the time, and he’s slightly more skilled than everyone else. The Lancer, who is almost as good as the leader, but he’s usually willing to compromise on his morals, and he has a different way of doing things… he’s the bad boy. The nerd, who can sometimes be a kid or an old man, who is physically weak, but thinks his way out of trouble. The Muscle, who uses his brawn, and may be comic relief because he usually tends to be stupid too. And.. the chick, who is the girl. She usually has the role of moderator between all of the conflicting personalities in the group, and in many cases is the love interest of both the leader and the lancer. In almost all movies featuring groups, you can see all of these types.. although sometimes it won’t be so straightforward. Sometimes the roles will be divided between two characters.
Here’s some examples:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Their theme song even spells out who fills what role. Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines (nerd), Raphael is cool but rude (lancer) Michelangelo is the party dude (muscle, though only the dumb parts, he’s not really that much stronger than the others). April fills the role of the chick.
In the Avengers movie, the roles can be split up. The Leader should be Captain America, but sometimes it’s Iron Man. The Lancer is clearly Iron Man, but sometimes it’s Captain America… because his morality seems different from the rest of the group because he comes from the 1940’s. The Nerd is sometimes the Hulk (as Bruce Banner) and sometimes Thor, who exposes information about Asgardian stuff. The Muscle is also Hulk and Thor, because they enjoy beating people up. the chick would be whatever that girl’s name was.
But then we come to something like Star Wars episode IV, and some roles are clearly defined. Han is the lancer. Chewbacca is the muscle. C-3P0 or R2-D2 is the nerd. Some are not clearly defined. Who’s the leader? At first it’s Obi-Wan, but then it’s Leia. So wait, if Leia is the leader, who’s the chick? Luke is. That is the role he fulfills.
You’ve talked in depth about Voltron and tangented to the 5 man band, and you haven’t yet once actually mentioned the Power Rangers in an article that’s supposed to be about Power Rangers? What gives?
Okay okay. The reason I brought up Voltron is because it has many similarities with the Power Rangers. Below I will list them.
1. Color coded members of the band of 5 who control robotic animals who can combine to form gigantic human shaped robots? (check)
2. Originally conceived in Japan, from Japanese source material, but adapted for the American audience, thus fooling American kids into thinking it was originally made in America with them in mind ? (check)
3. Had lots of merchandise of things in the show, such as toys? (check)
4. Several different versions of the same concept? (check, In the U.S. there were 2 versions of Voltron. Power Rangers, now in its 20th season has had almost 20 different gimmicks).
But you liked Voltron. Why didn’t you like Power Rangers.
This is a hard question to answer, because there are many many reasons. For one, I was 5 when I first saw Voltron. I would have been 15 when Power Rangers came out. But I actually liked a lot of anime, comics, and The Batman Animated series back then… so maybe I don’t think this was such a big factor. I think what it was was the fact that since Voltron was animated, everything looked like it belonged. In Power Rangers, because the series was originally a series called Kyoruu Sentai Zyuuranger in Japan, the American actors were only the Power Rangers out of costume. In costume they simply used footage of the original show. This sometimes was very obvious, from something as subtle as the lighting, to something as blatant as the fight changing from a grassy field to a Japanese mountain side. I knew the actors weren’t the ones in the costumes, so I didn’t like that part of the show.
So you’re a purist then? You’re one of those snobs that only wants to watch the original Japanese? You hipster! Go back to your hipstery hipster friends and talk about how you watch Kyoryuu Santai Zoolander or whatever it is, and how they probably have never heard of it.
Not true, although at the time I preferred watching anime in Japanese with subtitles, and I usually hated how Americans would take something and bastardize it, from video games, to anime so I thought this might have been the reason… but I’ve recently tried watching Zyuuranger, and it was also terrible. There are several reasons why. Whenever in costume, the rangers’ faces were hidden, so when one of them was talking, they had to exaggerate all their movements so you could know who was saying what. This was ridiculous looking. The live action fighting robots were also very obviously guys in robot suits. Also the alien antagonists tended to be very elaborate puppets who’s mouths never moved, and it had a very Sesame Street feel to it all. Combine this with all the slap stick stuff that went on in the show… and you’ll begin to understand why it just didn’t appeal to me. Furthermore there was their annoying robot friend Alpha and their wise leader Zordon, who was a floating head in a tube who’s mouth never moved when he spoke. You can also see that it appears that they went out of their way to have token minorities in their ensemble cast, which made me feel my intelligence was being insulted. And to top it off, the Yellow ranger was Asian, the Black ranger was black, and the pink ranger was the valley girl. (Although the casting directors claimed they didn’t realize that they had done this and the stereotypical undertones were unintentional). I don’t really see why people liked this series so much, there’s just so much to hate. But it was so popular and to this day I don’t quite understand why. But because my friends watched it, I also watched it with them.
It got even worse when members of the original cast decided to leave and were replaced, sometimes unceremoniously. Within one season they replaced 4 of the 6 changed (red, yellow, pink, and black, but it is good that the black ranger was now 1/2 Asian and the yellow ranger was now African-American… but now the red ranger was 1/2 Mexican and I bet people complained, so it seems like they just couldn’t win). It’s not like I was watching enough to have known any of the characters, but it had a very Coy and Vance feel to it.
So why do you like it now if you hated it then?
I have been watching Power Rangers Captain Force (which as I said earlier is simply Korean-dubbed Gokaiger). Usually when Japanese series are adapted to Korea they have to change so much, to remove every reference to Japan that they possibly can, but they seem to have relaxed on this one, even leaving Japanese writing and money exactly as they are. They even left all the names the same… but the Space Pirates who make up the Gokaiger group aren’t Japanese in origin anyway so I guess it isn’t a problem. To talk about what I like in this series, I have to talk about the Sentai series.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of Sentai series TV shows. So yes, Japan has 15 more seasons of Sentai than America has Power Rangers. Given that the first incarnation of the Power Rangers was based on only one of those 35 seasons, and it lasted for 3 seasons before its first major costume change, there’s so much more material that America hasn’t even seen.
What does this have to do with Captain Force or Gokaiger?
The gimmick of the Space Pirates in Gokaiger is that as well as their pirate ranger costumes, they can change into any of the previous incarnations of ranger teams, going all the way back to teams from the 1970’s. The funny thing is, the most famous ranger group in the states is that Zyuuranger group, which is really insignificant and the Gokaigers don’t change into them that often. But even though I didn’t grow up watching Sentai, I appreciate the nod to nostalgia that the current season has. Also, technology has improved greatly so in Gokaiger, the robot fights are all low quality CG, but it still looks better than guys in robot suits. Also the plot seems way more interesting than anything I’ve seen in American Power Rangers.
Then there’s this..
Do I really need to say more?
Yes, you do. What is it about the plot that you like?
Well, even though this is a kids’ show, and it follows the tried and true formula (fight minions without turning into power rangers, fight minions as power rangers, boss becomes huge, get in robots and fight, boss wins, combine to huge robot, the good guys win), it seems that they have actually put effort into developing the characters. This is something I heard that they did with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and all the subsequent seasons, but again, I have not seen those. Maybe I should.
I don’t want to go into detail because that will make this article way too long, and there will be a lot of spoilers, but just trust me, the story is good.
Also the yellow ranger.. she’s hot.