Wednesday 6 June 2012

Series REVIEW: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season one

Almost 20 years ago a series began in America that would practically shape children's TV in the 1990s and would still continue its legacy today. When creators Haim Saban and Shuki Levy took the 16th Super Sentai series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger from Japan and adapted it for a Western audience, few probably imagined that the story of five spandex-clad brightly coloured superheroes would take off in the way that it did. The Power Rangers became a worldwide phenomenon, prompting Saban to look into several other tokusatsu series to adapt, and bringing forth a slew of competitors and influencing what would follow. The first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers originally ran for 60 episodes between 1993 and 1994. As this episode count exceeded Zyuranger's, Toei was employed to create new footage exclusively for Power Rangers, with these later episodes being dubbed by fans as "Zyu2".

When astronauts on an exploratory mission to the moon accidentally release the evil alien sorceress Rita Repulsa from her 10,000 year confinement, five teenagers from the city of Angel Grove are called upon by the inter-dimensional being Zordon and his robotic assistant Alpha 5 to battle against her forces of evil and prevent her from conquering the Earth. Calling upon the power of ancient dinosaurs, these five teenagers - Zack Taylor (Black), Kimberly Hart (Pink), Billy Cranstron (Blue), Trini Kwan (Yellow) and Jason Scott Lee (Red) become the fighting force known as the Power Rangers and battle Rita's army of monsters. In times of great need, they are also able to call on giant robotic vehicles known as Zords, which have the ability to combine into the Megazord.

The original five: Billy, Kimberly, Jason, Trini and Zack

Soon Rita tires of her constant defeats, and instead attempts to defeat the Rangers using one of their own. Using the sixth power coin and her evil magic, she brainwashes new student Tommy Oliver to do her bidding and become the evil Green Ranger. After several close calls against the Green Ranger, many of which they almost didn't survive, the five are able to break Rita's spell and Tommy joins the team as the sixth Power Ranger. Using his Dragon Dagger, Tommy is able to call upon his own Dragonzord in the fight against evil.

The five rangers come from different backgrounds and so compliment each other nicely. Jason is the karate expert and leader, Trini is the kung-fu fighter, Kimberly the gymnast, Zack the dancer (his Hip Hop kido is probably the show's most interesting fighting style) and Billy the smart one. Upon first glance all five seem somewhat stereotypical and wholly defined by these traits, but as the show progresses we see that there's often a lot more to each character. One problem with the cast is though that they just seem so perfect. They're constantly helping out with charity work or martial arts classes and attaining high grades. Any signs of conflict between the five is always due to some sort of spell they've been put under by Rita. From a story point of view it makes sense that Zordon would choose the best to be the Power Rangers, when episodes are dedicated to Billy getting a B on his test (oh lord no) it does kind of suck the naturalness away from the characters. On the subject of Billy, he's probably the weakest of the five (in this season anyway) - not due to the character itself, but because his lines are so horribly written and clunky to convey that he's smart. Its quite possible to understand that without him having use long and complicated words for no apparent reason.

Tommy Oliver: The sixth ranger

When Tommy was introduced as the Green Ranger he quickly became a fan favourite, but upon revisiting the series he didn't gel with me that well. The five part "Green with Evil" saga is by far the strongest part of the season's 60-episode run, adding some much needed continuity to the show and presenting the rangers with their first real threat. But when Tommy actually becomes a member of the Power Rangers, he never feels like a full team-mate. His appearances with the other five rangers are initially fleeting, instead usually be off at a karate tournament or teaching students, and would join the rangers to battle Rita's latest monster at a later point in time. The 2-part "Green Candle" story, in which Tommy loses his powers, comes around all too quickly, and then the character is barely seen until "Return of an Old Friend". Even Jason's guilt at being able to stop Rita's Green Candle from taking his powers is severely downplayed. While the Green Ranger certainly leaves an impression on the viewer (though I'd argue this is largely down to aesthetic), Tommy feels like a bit-part at best. For now anyway...

Rita Repulsa and her band of evil space aliens

Rita Repulsa and her band of alien invaders provide a decent threat, even if they come across as comedic a lot of the time. Rita herself is sadistic, power hungry and quite clearly evil, delving into comedy when she is beaten by the rangers (with her classic catchphrase, "I've got such a headache."). Goldar is her fiercely loyal servant, and the most active of the villains. He is a competent fighter, with both the Red and Green rangers often struggling to hold their own against him. Finster is Rita's chief monster maker, and less of an evil character but more of an eccentric artist who simply wants to see his monsters come to life. Squatt and Baboo are the main comedy section of Rita's band, while Scorpina kind of comes out of nowhere and is along the same level as Goldar, albeit more downplayed.

Meet Zordon and Alpha 5

Zordon and Alpha aren't really looked at in much detail, and we learn little about them other than that Zordon once fought Rita, who in turn trapped him in a time warp. While they mostly act as plot exposition to fill the details in on Rita's monsters/schemes, they do set the standard for mentor-type characters. The rest of the extended cast is made up of Bulk and Skull - two characters that will grown considerably over the next six seasons but for now are little more than comedy relief bullies, Youth Centre owner Ernie and teachers Ms Appleby and Principal Caplan. None of them really add anything to the overall story, but help make Angel Grove feel a little more fleshed out.

First appearances be damned, Bulk and Skull would later go far

As I mentioned early, the majority of the episodes are one-shot stories and there is little to no overarching plot threads (these were simpler times). What helps carry this format is the great monster designs this season had - particularly with the likes of King Sphinx, Eye Guy, the Pudgy Pig and Shellshock (among others, but these are my favourites). The show has a great balance of civilian fight sequences and morphed ones - something which some of the later seasons lack. The cast chosen to play the Power Rangers were chosen for their physical abilities as well as their acting, meaning more natural fight sequences and less obvious stunt man replacements.

When it comes to the zords, Saban made the right choice in making Zyuranger the first series to adapt. Both dinosaurs and robots are cool, so the shows theme is pretty much a winning combination. There's a reason both the Megazord and Dragonzord are the most iconic of the Power Rangers zords, despite arguably not being the most interesting. When the Dragonzord is introduced it brings along two new combinations in the form of the Dragonzord Battle Mode (where it combines with the Mastodon, Sabre-Tooth Tiger and Triceratops zord) and the Mega Dragonzord, where it the two complete robots combine. The Battle Mode is a great design, but in all of its appearances I wonder where the Pterodactyl zord goes off to since its not used in the combination nor seen fighting separately (like the Tyrannosaurus) - would it really have been that difficult to have it included on the combination somewhere?

Memories of your childhood: The Megazord and Dragonzord ready for action

Unfortunately, there are some areas where Mighty Morphin is really beginning to show its age. The editing is often sloppy, with some of the Zyuranger footage raising questions that are never answered (such as the alternate type of putty patroller seen in most fights - in Zyuranger that was the designated squad leader). Certain instances blatantly show off the Zyuranger logo and weapon names will randomly change episode to episode. The worst offender is perhaps Goldar, who's voice alternates from episode to episode early on. But to top it all off, there's even an instance in the episode "For Whom the Bell Trolls" where a COMPLETELY UNRELATED Japanese child shows up in the Megazord footage. These may be little things that children might not notice, but point towards poor editing and ridicule at the show's expense.

Season one of Power Rangers certainly has its flaws, but its the one part of the franchise people remember the most for a reason. The plots, while incredibly simple, keep you watching and the show makes full use of its spectacle in terms of the suits, fight sequences and zord battles. The core rangers have an excellent dynamic and are each provided with equal focus. While Mighty Morphin Power Rangers might have started to show its age as it rapidly approaches its 20th anniversary, it certainly hasn't lost any of its relevance.

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