Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Happy 20th Anniversary, Power Rangers!

On this day in history, 20 years ago, the following words were heard for the very first time: "Ahhh, after ten thousand years I'm free! It's time to conquer Earth!" The rest of the story is well known by now - kids all over ate up the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, and it would go on to become one of the biggest and most divisive franchises of the 90s. Every kid watched the show, even the ones who pretended to be too cool for it.

I remember one day being cornered by a couple of bullies who wanted to make fun of me for being a fan. One of them got right in my face and saying, "I bet you think that blue guy is real. What's his name?" His crony immediately replied, "Zordon." In the greatest comeback of my little nine year old life at that point, I asked "How would you know, Andy?" The bullies turned on their own and I fled.

For me, the Power Rangers started an obsession with colorful heroes in spandex or armor, who transform with a magic word and fight for truth and justice. I stopped watching around the same time the rest of you did, when I was a kid. But when college came around, I suddenly was stopped in my tracks by a revelation that had never occurred to me as a child: "Holy crap, some of that footage probably came from a Japanese show." As I laughed at nine year old self for not figuring out something so obvious (I had always wondered why Rita talked like one of the characters in one of my Godzilla movies), I decided to go and look up the Power Rangers.

To my surprise, even back then the show was going incredibly strong. They had just started the show Dino Thunder, and my favorite Ranger as a child had come back - Tommy, the Green/White/Red and soon to be Black Ranger. For the first time, something I'd loved as a child hadn't stopped like He-man had, but had continued until this day. For a lark, I started watching an episode. And I was hooked from that point on.

These guys quickly became new favorites of mine.

These days, I'm into the Japanese versions of the shows just as much as the American ones (maybe more so in the case of the last two series). I'm going through the backlog of all of the episodes that I missed, currently on Lightspeed Rescue. And four years ago, I attended a Power Rangers convention where I actually got to hang out with some of my heroes from back in the day. I still love the look of awe and jealousy I get from some people when I tell them I had drinks with Austin St. John, the original Red Ranger.

So why has this show gone on, almost entirely uninterrupted, for twenty years? The cynic in us wants to say it's because of how cheap it is to produce, but that's not it. The truth is twofold: The first part is that kid will never get sick of brightly colored heroes and giant robots. But the second is this: Power Rangers is one of the few stories left on the planet where the heroes and villains are black and white, where good always conquers evil, and where the power of love and friendship can solve almost any problem. This sounds like cheap and lazy storytelling in this day and age (and sometimes it is), but when you watch a season like In Space, RPM, or Dino Thunder, you realize that when done right, it's totally engrossing. Even in the darkest world, the Rangers stand tall.

So thanks for 20 years, guys. Don't stop morphing any time soon.

Although if the next season could be somewhat decent I'd appreciate it.

If you're interested in getting into Power Rangers, here's some reccomendations to get you started:


The show that started it all, MMPR is just as cheeseball as you remember. But what sets it apart from other cringe worthy entries in the series (Turbo, Samurai) is how invested in it the actors are. The reason we, as kids, believed in this stuff is because the actors all seemed to believe in it, too. They may not be the best actors in the universe, but they gave it their all. By Season Three, this version of the show starts to go a little more comedic, but it works for me.


The first time a serious, season long storyline was attempted in this show. It's not perfect, and the acting hasn't gotten any better, but it's still remembered fondly for what it brings to the table, and certainly worth your time for the drama between Andros, the Red Ranger, and the evil villain Astronema. Also the first season to include my favorite - infighting amongst the villains. Plus, you can not miss the finale, Countdown to Destruction.


I admit, I haven't gotten to Time Force yet. I just hear it's really, really good. So...check it out.

Ninja Storm's gonna be a controversial choice on this list, but I think it's worth watching. This is the season that decided to take a satirical look at the franchise, with a lot of fourth wall breaking and humor. Combine that with a pretty sweet storyline for Cam, the Power Rangers technical helper, and you get a fun season.

Dino Thunder is my favorite season, so I'm biased. But beyond the return of Tommy, the show is what I like to call "Mid-90s Joss Whedon does Power Rangers." It takes place at a high school, the characters are fully developed and full of fun quips, the villains are really interesting and layered, the action is awesome...really, just watch this show.

Here's the thing with SPD: It's got some of the best acting the series has ever seen. The problem is that it's mostly wasted. The first twelve episodes or so and the last five are fantastic. Everything in between is really uneven. I'd watch it if you want an example of the potential Power Rangers can have, but don't expect magic.


 And last, but not least, one of the most beloved series of all time. The last series before Disney cancelled Power Rangers and it was bought back by Saban Brands, RPM is noted for departing 100% from the Japanese source material and giving us a dark tale of a bubble city on the edge of a wasteland controlled by an evil machine empire. Great acting and direction elevates this series, which is also the first to sit down and try to explain Power Rangers tropes like explosions when they pose. 

 As a last note, here's an interview we did last year with two former PR actors:


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