Tuesday 25 October 2011

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers S.P.D.

Power Rangers S.P.D. (or Space Patrol Delta) is the 13th season of the Power Rangers franchise, following on from Power Rangers Dino Thunder. The story takes place in the year 2025, after Earth has welcomed alien beings to live peacefully with the human race. But peace is short lived, as the planet-conquering Troobian Empire turns its destructive attention to Earth. When the Earth's first line of defense, the S.P.D. A-Squad, vanishes without trace, the protection of the planet falls to their replacements: the B-Squad Rangers, and their doglike alien commander, Anubis "Doggie" Cruger. When two reformed thieves join the team as the Red and Yellow S.P.D. Rangers, tensions threaten to tear them apart. With the alien threat growing stronger every moment, the Rangers must put aside their differences and go into action as one.

S.P.D. has an excellent group of protagonists. Where I've often found other series' have left particular members underdeveloped at the expense of others (Lightspeed Rescue and Time Force for example) each ranger here got great development and had their own specific place on the team (apart from Sam/Omega Ranger, but I'll come to him later). Jack (Red) struggles with suddenly being the leader of the team; Sky (Blue) struggles with NOT being the leader of the team, his father being a famous red ranger is S.P.D.'s history; Z (Yellow) is the member that takes pride in being part of something bigger and helping others; Bridge (Green) is the brains/comic relief and Syd (Pink) is the typical pink ranger with a good heart. Okay, so maybe they all aren't quite equal, but they all at least brought something to the table.

S.PD.'s version of Doggie Kruger is a strong, driven character with a troubled background, not often part of the show's lighter moments but not completely devoid of comedy. A great leader, and a great part of the team as the excellent Shadow Ranger too. On the subject of Doggie - going into the show I didn't think I'd like the American suit at all (which exchanged Dekaranger's fur suit for a scaly, more alien-like appearance). Initially the suit's googly eyes and rubbery facial expressions were distracting, but I came to like the suit a lot as time went on. The aesthetic changes made a lot of sense in the context of the show (as did the other S.P.D. staff who received similar changes) and was just as good as its Dekaranger counterpart. Kat was also an excellent side character, receiving much more screen time and characterisation than I was expecting. The most interesting side character for me however was Piggy, an alien turncoat who works as an informant for both sides. While some of his appearances may have been bad slapstick, I really liked the idea of a morally ambiguous character.

Unfortunately the villains aren't quite as good. Grumm just comes across as a ranting villain (mostly ranting at himself actually...or at least you think he is) who sometimes comes down to Earth to have some stupid fights on his motorbike and Mora/Morgana is just terrible whichever form she's in. Broodwing is better, an arms dealer who eventually tires of Grumm and proceeds with his own aspirations of world domination. However the most interesting villains are without a doubt the surprise twist of the show (I won't spoil it, because it's the best part of the series) and while their final fight may be a little anticlimactic, they've earned their place among Power Ranger's more interesting antagonists.

S.P.D.'s zords are (in my opinion anyway) among the best in Power Rangers. The Delta Squad Megazord is a fantastic combination of futuristic/alien emergency vehicles and the addition of the OmegaMax Cycle only adds to it. The S.W.A.T. Megazord makes up for its rather boring name and lack of individual component focus by being not only a brilliant robot, but having the ability to turn into a giant cannon! The weakest link is the Delta Command Megazord - but its gigantic size (akin to the carrier zords of previous shows) and impressive array of weapons more than make up for its lack of manoeuvrability.

While the cast (most of it anyway) and zords of S.P.D. may be excellent, there are several places where the story is less than stellar. While I usually praise a Power Rangers series for going a different route to its sentai counterpart, I found that with S.P.D. more instances than not differing from Dekaranger actually didn't work to its favour. In most cases, you don't even need to have SEEN Dekaranger to realise how misplaced some of these things feel. Firstly, Grumm felt completely out of place in the show. In a show that had quite a bit of focus on small time criminals as well as run-of-the-mill monsters, an evil empire looking to conquer Earth seemed a bit dumb (not to mention completely ineffective). Had Grumm been a crime boss or something more akin to Ransik from Power Rangers Time Force, I feel he might have worked much better as a character.

The Omega Ranger is equally as lazy. A ranger from the future is a great idea - having him only appear in ranger form or as a ball of light is not. Sam looked completely out of place in pretty much every non-fight scene he was in, and his weird voice (I'm not sure if it was processed or not, but it certainly didn't sound natural) made him feel like an extra more than a character. Since the Omega Ranger had no place in the current timeline, it meant pretty much all of DekaBreak's characterisation was shifted over to other rangers. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it did make for at least one out of place moment. In the second part of the episode 'Reflection', monster-of-the week Mirloc (who killed Sky's father) has his mirror dimension (and thus, the source of his powers) destroyed by...the Omega Ranger. Why? Because in Dekaranger, it was DekaBreak who had the rivalry with the character, not the blue ranger. While this was eventually redeemed by Sky's brilliant battle sequence where he uses Jack's morpher to become the battlized red ranger, the lead-up to said event paid far too much attention on the wrong character.

Next comes S.P.D.'s tactic of killing barely any of the monsters in the show, instead having them all captured in small, card-like devices at the end of each episode. While this in itself isn't a bad idea (in fact, I thought it was a pretty interesting approach that certainly diverged from usual Power Rangers precedent), in the early episodes the monsters would be seen to explode in a ball of flames (as usual in Sentai/Power Rangers), only to be perfectly fine 2 seconds later so that they could be put into the containment card. While this was rectified later on by having them put immediately into the cards, final attack's had absolutely no point to them at the beginning of the show, other than to use the footage of course.

As a final note, it should be mentioned that S.P.D. is also the last series (thus far) to include a two ranger team team-up episode. Two of them in fact, both with the Dino Thunder ranger team. What's great about these episodes is they both take place in different times - one in S.P.D.'s future timeline, and one in the Dino Thunder period. While the first of the two (History) only has the three core Dino Thunder rangers, I felt it to be the stronger of the two - as opposed the second which featured all the rangers (and Zeltrax) but lacked Jason David Frank...but to his credit Jeffrey Parazzo did a pretty good Tommy Oliver impression.

Finally comes the pacing. At 38 episodes Power Rangers S.P.D. isn't particularly long (but its not the shortest Power Rangers season either) but I couldn't help feel everything happened at once. The OmegaMax Megazord appears straight after the OmegaMax Cycle is introduced, so there's absolutely no build up to this new combination. The S.P.D. battlizer is probably the best battlizer that has ever appeared in Power Rangers (so good it even appeared in Mahou Sentai Magiranger vs. Dekaranger), yet is barely seen or heard from again two episodes later when the S.W.A.T. armour is introduced. An episode after that the S.W.A.T. Megazord is introduced, but is severely underused. Everything comes at once, and the most interesting addition that was made doesn't even get a proper chance to be taken in.

Power Rangers S.P.D. is not a bad series - in fact it's a really enjoyable show, but I can't help feel that some of the ideas the show had actually ended up shooting itself in the foot rather than it benefiting from them. An average show that had the potential to be something much bigger, and much better too.

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