The Power Rangers...
There were very few TV phenomenons of my youth that could compare with that of the rainbow-colored youths that achieved the one thing The Shredder never could - the destruction of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I remember the *VERY* first commercial for the Power Rangers - one that ran prior to the season premier of the show. I remember it, specifically, because of the monster Pudgy Pig, who at first glance appeared to me as Ganon's head - I got so excited thinking it was a live-action Zelda show and so disappointed when I found out it was something about 'rangers'. I mean, since when were rangers cool? A ranger was someone who either worked in a park or wore a mask/rode a horse/had a little Indian sidekick. From the commercials, the 'monsters' were incredibly cheesy looking stuffed animals crashing into toy buildings.
How I eventually started watching the show was a long story; it involved going through several stages of grief as my much-adored Ninja Turtles began to lose their 'cool' status with my friends and at first hating the "for babies" show (MMPR) which was replacing it. But like all things truly awesome, the Rangers would not be denied both my patronage and utter hero worship.
I came to know the characters of the show well enough. When it came to playing Power Rangers on the playground, I'd always have to duke it out with my buddy (usually through rock/paper/scissors) for who got to play Jason. We even occasionally courted the attention of girls who would fill in the roles of the Pink and Yellow rangers, albeit their actual monster fighting was quite limited (and we had them get kidnapped enough to the point where I think they were tempted to join a women's lib movement). There was one girl in particular who relished in the role of Rita Repulsa... last I heard she had just passed the bar exam.
Playground memories aside, though, what made this show so utterly cool is that it totally transcended what we thought of as Saturday Morning TV. Instead of goofy cartoons or even action-packed animated series', the Power Rangers was a live action show filled with dynamic characters, actual human emotion, and explosions.. Explosions. EXPLOSIONS!
I had, until this point, never saw a show so full of explosions, and it was enough to make me forget about "cowabunga" and replace it with "morphinominal". The cheesiness of the monsters/special effects was made up for by the heavy metal techno battle music and screams of 'HI-YA!' followed by watching a creature die a fiery death. And just when I thought that the show couldn't get any cooler...
...this guy came along. No longer did I care if my buddy wanted to play as Jason, as long as I had dibs on Tommy (he didn't care, as Jason was still technically the leader, but we all know Tommy was infinitely more awesome).
The show got more and more awesome as time went on. The move from Saturday morning only to five days a week plus
Saturday. The introduction of Zedd, the new Zords, and the transformation of Tommy from Green to White... God only knows how much of my allowance went to VHS tapes (even after the discovery of "EP/SLP" tape speed).
And speaking of spending my allowance - oh the merchandise! Like Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles before them, I simply *had* to own every Power Ranger toy I could get my hands on. The marketing geniuses at Ban-Dai spared no expense or attention to detail. Just about everything that could be found in the show was available for purchase at your local retailer for hideously large amounts of money, from the Rangers themselves in action figure form to the Zords they piloted. Let's not forget the actually quite-fun Super NES game.
Looking back at this show, I realize, even with its unsurpassed level of cheesiness, just how pioneering it was in regards to kids TV today. Putting aside the pyrotechnics and boiled-over action came this one little-known aspect - we were watching a Japanese show. Well, a Japanese show that had been heavily Americanized and recast via the heavy-handed editing of Saban, but it's true - the Power Rangers we know and love were part of Japan's "Super Sentai" series - a show called Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. Ever notice how early in the series it looked as though Rita wasn't quite
mouthing the words that she was saying correctly? That's because she was originally speaking Japanese as the character "Witch Bandora". Goldar was Grifforzer
, Scorpina was Lamie
, Finster was Pleprechuan
, and Babboo and Squatt were known as Totpat
. Later villians like Lord Zedd weren't part of the Sentai series at all, and Rita was played by an American actress when she returned and married Lord Zedd.
While the villains pretty much retained the same personalities as they did in the Power Ranger universe (with the exception of Goldar/Grifforzer's marriage
to Scorpina/Lamie), the Rangers were an entirely different story. Instead of being chosen modern-day teens, they were, in fact, warriors who had been sealed away for eons much like the villains they fought. There's a slew of other differences that I won't bother outlining due to the already longwindedness of this article, but in all the show was a tad darker and much more in the vein of traditional Japanese anime. Most of the action footage we've seen, however, including just about every monster/Zord battle from season one and two, was from the original show, redubbed with English voiceovers.
That being said, I believe MMPR worked as an experiment to see if anime would work in America. Certainly, no Japanese work before or since has had quite the same impact that the Rangers did (save for maybe Pokemon), it showed producers that American kids got just as excited by explosions, swords, giant robots and evil spikey-headed aliens as Japanese kids did... perhaps even moreso!
The Power Rangers phenomena continued, with a major motion picture release, more Zord changes/villians and new characters replacing old ones. A problem began for Saban, however, when they started to run out of Zyuranger battle footage. This problem began as early as season 2, as each installment of the "Super Sentai" (of which Zyuranger was but one) had an entirely different cast of characters, and different ranger costumes (the White Ranger's costume actually came not from Zyuranger, but its successor, Gosei Sentai Dairanger). At first, simply changing Zords was enough, but it became clear after awhile that unless Saban wanted to abandon the Super Sentai/Power Ranger link altogether, they'd have to start changing costumes as well.
Thus "Power Rangers: Zeo" was born, and so was the modern Power Rangers tradition of changing costumes at the end of every season to coincide with its Super Sentai
counterpart. The history has pretty much followed that trend ever since. Power Rangers still exists today, the rights of which are now owned by ABC/Disney instead of Fox, but for me the magic truly ended when Zordon, the ever-benevolent leader of the Rangers, was quite literally killed off at the end of "Power Rangers: In Space". In what amounts to me as a rather weak story arc, a wave of purifying energy was released across the galaxy when Zordon's energy tube was smashed, destroying all the monsters and turning archvillains like Rita and Zedd into normal, happy human beings. (This always begged the question from me - why didn't Zordon just do this in the first place? Wasn't the whole reason for the tube supposed to be that he was stuck in a time warp and it was his only means of communication with this dimension?)
Power Rangers, in my opinion, was one of the first steps in a sophistication of sorts regarding kids television. It introduced us, although unknowingly, to Japanese TV fiction. Since then, kids (and big kids like me) have gotten Dragonball Z, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and a slew of other great Japanertainment. And we owe it all to you, Saban, and your great experiment.
Footnote - No, not even a hyper Ranger fan like me ever got the "Mighty Morphin' Underwear", though yes, I do remember the commercial quite well. I imagine the poor kid who did that commercial probably STILL requires counseling.