Since the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers are getting a film reboot scheduled for a 2017 release, I decided to take a look back at the original series that started it all. As any hardcore Power Rangers fan will tell you, every iteration of the franchise recycles footage from the Japanese Super Sentai franchise.
Saban Entertainment used a combination of Japanese footage and new scenes with American actors to create a new “Americanized” program for western audiences. Power Rangers heavily used footage from a show called Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. I grew up on a steady dose of Power Ranger as a kid, so I decided to revisit the series as well as it’s Japanese counterpart. I was curious to know how faithful Power Rangers was to the source material and what differences there were between the two. More importantly, I was curious to know which of the two series was better.
In the Power Rangers, Angel Grove and the world is threatened by the evil space witch Rita Repulsa. In response, the all knowing floating head named Zordon summons five “teenagers with attitude” to become the Power Rangers. Utilizing the best P.R. demographics available at the time Zordon recruits Jason, Zack, Billy, Trini and Kimberly, to be his adolescent combat team against an ancient evil.
The would-be Rangers were reluctant to get involved until attacked by Rita’s Putty Patrol. Later they fight Rita’s lieutenant, an armored flying monkey named Goldar. Golar grows to massive size and the Power Rangers must fight him in their Dinozords, dinosaur robots that can also combine into the humanoid Megazord. Our heroes intuitively save the day and decide to protect their home and the world from Rita and her forces.
The premise is mostly the same: An ancient witch named Bandora and her cronies are freed from the planet Nemesis.
Seeking to eradicate the entire human race and rule the Earth, Bandora launches a full-scale assault. Also, because she is super evil, she captures a spaceship carrying two Japanese kids and shrinks it down to size and threatens to crush them with a method that would make Rube Goldberg proud.
The ancient sage named Barza seeks to stop her by summoning the Zyurangers. Geki, Goushi, Dan, Boi, and Mei are five ancient warriors. Originating from different tribes that evolved from dinosaurs they originally banished Bandora in the distant past. In the two-part premiere, the Zyurangers fight armies of Golems, Grifforzar, and a giant monster knight called the Dora Titan. Also somewhere in all of this they save the kids and beat the bad guys.
Power Rangers is very bland compared to Zyuranger. The Japanese have a more imaginative story and lots of action. While there is a lot less character development in Zyuranger, there is a lot going on to make it even more exciting. I get that the American producers were going with an all-inclusive show, but it suffered from a prolonged set up and a rushed conclusion.
Also, the theme song gets stuck in your head.
How can five teenagers with attitude compete with five warriors that are dinosaur people?
I’ll take two of whatever this director is on.
Rita Repulsa is incredibly lame when compared to her Japanese counterpart. I know it seems hard to believe because both characters are basically the same footage. The answer to that is dubbing. Rita only wants to conquer Earth, but Bandora wants nothing more than the complete eradication of the human race. Also, Bandora isn’t above squashing children simply because she is evil.
Lost in Translation
A lot of things from Zyuranger were lost when it was turned into Power Rangers. The rich and action-packed storytelling was bled dry and starched over. Somewhere, someone decided that all the martial arts and monster punching needed to be overbalanced with parables about trying your best and being confident.
The Zyurangers were kick ass warriors that were confident in themselves, whereas the Power Rangers and their supporting cast needed constant reassuring that they could do anything if they put their mind to it. I don’t profess to be an expert on stopping magical alien invaders or anything, but if you’re going to use teenagers as your front line of galactic defence, perhaps some individuals with more self-esteem?
In Saban’s defense, they were primarily dealing with an American television market during a time where interest groups were pushing for more “wholesome” television for children. Despite the best efforts to tamp down a lot of the violence and the utterly cruel villains, Power Rangers was still the source of some harsh criticism.
However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that they steam cleaned the culturally rich tapestry the original creators made. They scrubbed every bit of footage that looked Japanese. In their attempts to Americanize Zyuranger, they bled out a lot of the elements that made it a more interesting show.
Part of what made Power Rangers so compelling to me as a kid was all the Japanese footage. The costumes, the weapons, all the explosions and sparks flying everywhere. It was a very visually compelling show in the 20% of footage they cannibalised from its Japanese counterpart.
The budget they had on Power Rangers was laughable. Cheap reproductions were made instead of importing props from Japan. Comparing the costumes between the two, it was easy to see that the American ones were of a lesser quality. Nowhere is that more laughably obvious when you see Tommy the Green Ranger in action. In Japan, the shield looks solid and durable whereas in America it’s cheap cloth.
These production values go well beyond just the costumes. When imported to the United States, a lot of the great special effects in Zyurager ended up on the cutting room floor. From pyrotechnics, animatronic dinosaurs, the intricate set designs. All gone. What a waste.
The gadgets were part of the appeal of these sorts of shows. From weapons to robots. Zyuranger didn’t put it all on the table all at once. It did slow reveals as the show progressed and that showed a progression. Power Rangers put it all on the table all at once. Instead of building up to revealing a lot of the gimmicks it went with showing things as quickly as possible. The Megazord was revealed in the first episode, whereas Diazyuzin wasn’t revealed until six episodes in.
You know what also made Zyuranger more awesome than Power Rangers? Motorcycles. Dinosaur themed motorcycles. Our heroes regularly sped across Japan on these vehicles to beat the snot out of some monsters. The motorcycles were completely cut from the American show. Which is weird because they marketed toys of these vehicles. It certainly wasn’t for any safety concerns considering the Masked Rider series heavily featured a talking motorcycle. Likely it was because it was part of the cultural scrubbing of the show, what with all the Japanese road signs and driving on the left side of the road.
You feel cheated when watching Zyuranger after years of Power Rangers. In terms of rich story telling, amazing special effects, and action, Zyuranger blows its American contemporary out of the water.
Sure, both have silly gimmicks and wacky monsters-of-the-week, but there are massive differences between the two shows. Zyuranger was a silly but fun romp that had a compelling story. Every story tied together and it slowly built to an ultimate conclusion.
Power Rangers dumbed down the entire concept. One dimensional characters, poor production values, and watered down culture. In each episode someone has a personal problem and 2 minutes after a monster blows up, the problem is solved. In their need to appease “concerned groups” they crammed a moral message down our throats in lieu of something with substance. However, these morals were just as watered down as the action. Power Rangers told me we need to save the environment, but they don’t exactly tell me how I can do my part.
Most importantly, everything in Power Rangers seems either forced or rushed. Each subsequent episode feels more and more like an unpleasant chore. Compare that to Zyuranger, which is quirky and fun, and different. The hatchet job they did to the show to sell it to an American audience is almost upsetting. A lot of the greatness is still there but damn is it sad to watch.
Honestly, if you liked Power Rangers, do yourself a favor and watch the show it was based on. It’s not hard to come by since Shout! Factory recently started releasing various Super Sentai series on DVD.