Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Jungle Fury


2007-08's Power Rangers Jungle Fury is the 16th entry into the Power Rangers franchise, adapted from the Super Sentai series Juken Sentai Gekiranger. For over ten thousand years, the spirit of a pure evil known as Dai Shi has been guarded by the Pai Zhuq (the "Order of the Claw"). Three students - Jarrod, Theo, and Lily were initially picked to defend the world from evil by the Pai Zhuq, but Jarrod's arrogance leads him to be dismissed and Casey, a novice member, is chosen to take his place. When Jarrod, angry at his dismissal, tries to take the box containing Dai Shi it opens, and Dai Shi kills Master Mao and proceeds to take over Jarrod's body. The trio are sent to find their new master, who gives them the ability to become Power Rangers. They alone are the Earth's only hope to stop the army of evil animal spirits from overtaking the human world.

I'd always been wary about trying Jungle Fury, not only because of its reputation as one of the weaker PR series but also because of the costumes. Jungle Fury's ranger costumes are extremely basic one-piece costumes consisting of primarily one colour. The simplicity of them is due to the nature of the series it's based upon, but their radical difference took some getting used to. Initially I preferred the 'Jungle Master' super mode costumes the rangers later receive, which add some much needed white to the mix, but in execution these also proved to leave much to be desired (such as a strange 'jet booster' ability that could have done with a little more clarification). The morphing for the core cast is done through sunglasses (solar morphers), which seems a little silly, but I'd have probably loved it as a child so I'm hardly in a position to judge. The Wolf and Rhino rangers retain their transformation methods from Gekiranger - the wolf morpher is simple yet effective, while the Rhino morpher doubles as a weapon (but is huge and looks particularly clunky as a morpher). The costumes did grow on me in the end, but just because they're different I wouldn't necessarily call them good. The monster costumes on the other hand are excellent, from the shadow guard footsoldiers to the Beast Generals themselves. Dai Shi/Jarrod looks great in his morphed lion mode, giving off an evil ranger vibe similar to how Koragg the Knight Wolf had in Power Rangers Mystic Force before it.

There were many flaws I found in this series, but out of all of them I'd probably say the biggest was the casting. Casey proves to be a rather bland red ranger (but does get an interesting story arc when he loses his tiger powers temporarily) and Theo isn't much better, spending most of his time whining about something or other. And then there's Lily. Lily is by far and large the worst ranger I have ever watched in a Power Rangers series (and I'm watching Samurai on a weekly basis). Unmorphed she's tolerable at the best of times, but when in battle or morphed she has this horrible habit of screaming pretty much every line she has and being genuinely unlikable. For a core team, it's especially weak.

RJ, the mentor character for the series and later Wolf Ranger, is quite the opposite. In fact, he's the saving grace of Jungle Fury character-wise. His unorthodox training methods and lessons make the rangers' development as fighters all the more interesting, and he steals every scene he's in. Once he gets his ranger powers, he shows time and time again that he probably could have handled most of the villains on his own. If there's any reason you should keep watching Jungle Fury right through to the end, it's for this guy. Dom, Jungle Fury's fifth ranger, is another one I don't have many complaints about, but that's more because he doesn't really do very much. He shows up out of the blue, becomes a ranger, and fights. Nothing to particularly rant about, but certainly nothing special.

Another different about this series is that it also has three spirit rangers - rangers created from the spirits of three of the animal masters the core trio learn from in the course of the series. Initially evil rangers, they're later able to be summoned at will. The spirit rangers themselves actually don't do very much, but its a good concept which isn't completely ruined by the desire to sell more toys (something which is more apparent in this series than most).

The plot is all over the place - the origin episode is rushed, only for a mountain of filler episodes to follow and then all the plot advancement to happen at once. The rangers receive their Jungle Master modes BEFORE RJ takes up his role as the Wolf Ranger, meaning the three are pretty much already on par with him by the time he becomes one. While I'm on that subject - RJ's conquering of his crazed wolf spirit is done in a mere 2 episodes and Dom just turns up with no prior explanation and becomes a ranger for the hell of it. Both just seem to have morphers ready for them (although this does make a little more sense in RJ's case). The in-fighting between the Beast Generals and Dai Shi adds some good depth to the antagonists, but there are times when it completely detracts from the main story. There are a lot of good ideas embedded in Jungle Fury, but the poor pacing means it lulls between being really interesting and horrifically boring at regular intervals. That being said, the tail end of the series (starting with "Tigers Fall, Lions Rise" through to "Now the Final Fury") stands out brilliantly, with the whole cast coming together for an excellent finale. Particularly Jarrod, who's main strong point seemed to be being a jerk or looking sinister until this point. Its just a little bit too late unfortunately.

The zords for this series are a mixed bag. What makes this series a little different is that they aren't in fact robots, but instead manifestations of each ranger's animal spirit. The core team's first Megazord - the Jungle Pride Megazord (made up of the tiger, cheetah and jaguar spirits) is excellent and soon became one of my favourite Power Rangers megazords. Since Gekiranger is primarily a martial arts based series, the Jungle Pride Megazord differs quite greatly to both its predecessors and successors - it's very lightly armoured and (a rarity for both Sentai and Power Rangers) doesn't use a sword for a weapon. It occasionally is seen to use nunchuks, but mostly uses its body for battle. The light armour also helps the suit actor give it a much more organic feel, making it all the more apparent that Jungle Pride isn't a robot. Its very similar to Voltron in design, with them both being made of cats and the robot face appearing within one of the cat's jaws. Jungle Pride can also get a few power ups/hats from the Elephant, Bat and Shark spirit zords, but these aren't really anything noteworthy. Especially the shark.

The second Megazord of the series - the Jungle Master Megazord, is a lot more disappointing. Made up from a bizarre assortment of animals (a gorilla, a deer and a surfing penguin) and looks a lot more like a mecha in design - taking away everything that made Jungle Pride stand out in the first place. While the core team pilot this megazord, RJ pilots the Wolf Pride Megazord, which is....Jungle Pride with a wolf leg instead of a cheetah leg. While it was nice to see Jungle Pride still in action until the end of the series, being a leg hardly seems fitting for RJ. The Wolf Pride Megazord would have looked much better if the wolf had replaced the tiger are the torso piece. Dom also has a rhino zord to pilot, which in true 'extra ranger' style can convert to its own robot mode. It's not a bad zord by any stretch, but in robot mode the colour clashes are a little distracting, and the head looks much better in battle mode (which is rarely seen outside its first appearance).

Lastly I need to mention the music, or lack of. Most of the fight sequences have the series' main theme playing over it - which results in you hearing the series main theme 2-3 times per episode. While initially I thought the theme was horrible, as the series progresses it really begins to grow on you. While nowhere near as good, its easily the most addictive song Power Rangers has had since the original 'Go Go Power Rangers', and even if you don't like it I'd be very surprised if it didn't become some sort of guilty pleasure.

Overall, Jungle Fury is certainly a disappointing series, but at the same time it certainly doesn't deserve the rap it gets from the Power Rangers community. The story showed a lot of promise, but in the end fails to deliver. With a much stronger core cast and better pacing, Jungle Fury really could have shined. It's not the worst PR series I've seen (at this stage I'd still give that to Turbo) but it's far from the best.

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