Friday 27 July 2012

Series REVIEW: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season three

After having a lot of Zyuranger footage to work with for season one and a considerable amount from Dairanger for season two, the third and final season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers saw quite a change from what had come before. The 43-episode series saw designs from Super Sentai series Ninja Sentai Kakuranger make it across the pond, but outside of the zord footage a lot of it was brand as there were still “old” ranger designs being used. The result was a very different feeling Power Rangers series, but one that still managed in keep in tone with what had come before.

Season three opens with “A Friend in Need”, a three-part crossover with the then forthcoming Masked Rider series (adapted from Kamen Rider Black RX). Although the story was an introduction to the characters, it later proved to be non-canonical to the Masked Rider series itself although Alpha-5 is from the same planet as Dex, the series protagonist. Much like Masked Rider, “A Friend in Need” isn’t a particularly strong set of episodesand isn’t worth discussing in any further detail.

From Ninja rangers...

The story really begins with the four-part “Ninja Quest”. Rita’s brother Rito Revolto arrives on the moon with a belated wedding present for Rita and Zedd – a fearsome platoon of Tenga warriors. Completely overpowered by Rito and a platoon of monsters, the rangers’ powers and Thunderzords are completely destroyed in battle. Their search to regain their powers leads them to an ancient temple and the creator of the power coins, a being known as Ninjor. Replacing their dinosaur powers with the skill of the ninjas, Ninjor grants the rangers new powers and zords to battle against evil. As veteran rangers leave the team and are replaced by new faces, a new threat comes in the form of Master Vile – the father of both Rita and Rito.

The season concludes with the ten episode Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers mini-series, in which time has been reversed by Master Vile and the rangers have become children. Billy manages to find a way to reverse the effects on him, but interference from Rita and Zedd results in the complete destruction of the ranger powers. While the remaining five rangers search for fragments of the Zeo crystal across time to move time forward again, the world is protected by the alien rangers of the planet Aquitar. Alien rangers.

As you can see, there is a huge amount of ongoing plot contained in this season of MMPR, far outstripping the previous two seasons. The Power Ranger suits remain the same, still retaining the dinosaur motif despite all traces of the dinosaurs being effectively removed by now (the morphing callout is now simply “*colour* ranger power”). They do later receive a “metallic armour” upgrade, but all that really consists of is glittery spandex and metallic paint helmets. It’s not particularly impressive to look at, but thankfully they don’t appear all that often either.

The civilian battles however receive a huge shake up, and are replaced by the rangers fighting in cloth “ninja ranger” suits. While similar in design to the ones seen in the movie, these cover their entire faces and the rangers are able to display stereotypical ninja powers such as super speed and disappearing in a cloud of smoke. The ninja ranger fights trade the sense that you were watching the actors themselves fighting for a gimmickier approach that set them far apart from the putty patroller scenes that came before them. Whether that’s a fair trade off is for the viewer to decide.

The introduction of the alien ranger sees the use of the Kakuranger suits, but those inside are very different to their Japanese counterparts. As their name suggests, the Aquitian rangers are amphibious life forms and heavily depend on water to survive – something that is exploited in all of their episodes. In costume it’s great to finally see some new look Power Rangers (which is fitting for what was to come next), but outside they come off as a mixed bag, especially in some of the more cringe-inducing scenes where they learn Earth culture and mannerisms.

Goodbye Kim, hello Kat

Aside from new villains, zords and powers, the most notable part of the series is the departure of Kimberly, one of the two rangers left from the very first episode of the show. Her leaving is not something that is taken lightly, with a multiple story arc leading up to it and serving to introduce her replacement – Katherine Hillard. Much like Tommy, she starts out under one of Rita’s spells and assists Rita and Zedd in some of their main triumphs of the show, including successfully capturing both Ninjor and the Falconzord for a number of episodes. Eventually her good nature breaks Rita’s spell and she is able to admit to the rangers all of misdeeds. Meanwhile Kimberly has been training for the Panglobal games, and is selected by a top gymnast coach to go and train with him in Florida. Initially she is hesitant to go, but is persuaded with a little help from Katherine and leaves the pink power coin in her hands. Katherine is a very different character to Kimberly, quieter and far more reserved. Her introduction as a ranger is followed by multiple focus episodes and while she does prove a great addition to the cast, someone else wearing the uniform never quite sinks in. It wouldn’t be until the following season that Kat truly shined as a character.

With such a grand departure for Kimberly, it’s a shame to see that Aisha leaving in the final episode of the season is treated with much less grandeur. There is next to no build up, hardly any emotion and most importantly, actress Karan Ashley doesn’t even get to say a proper goodbye. Granted Aisha isn’t really on the same level as Kimberly, but perhaps a little more could be done for the yellow ranger who had been around for one and a half seasons plus the movie.

Rito, Rita's dimwitted brother

As for villains the rangers continue fighting against the newly married couple of Rita and Zedd, but with a slight personality change and some new faces in tow. While it may have begun at the tail end of the second season, this is where Zedd truly becomes a lighter and more comedic character. Some people dislike this change, but Lord Zedd proved to have a much higher success record when married to Rita than he ever did alone. He successfully destroyed the Thunderzords, the power coins and eventually the command centre itself.  Having a larger cast to bounce off rather than being a brooding loner may make Zedd less scary, but it certainly makes him more interesting to watch.

The main additions however were the extension of Rita’s family tree, with the permanent introduction of Rito and the more reduced appearance of Master Vile. Rito firmly takes the place of the comedy relief villain, often seen hanging around with Squatt and Baboo (who are much more prominent than they were in season two) and later Goldar. Master Vile on the other hand fills the hole left by Zedd’s change of mood. While he proves to be considerably evil and an effective planner, his presence is a little marred by his insistence on holding an “End of the World” party in Ernie’s juice bar.

Ninjor alongside the Ninja MegaFalconzord

Season three would also see the rangers receive two sets of zords for the very first time, a tradition that would carry on throughout most of Power Rangers. First there are the Ninja zords, not unlike the ones previously seen in the Power Rangers movie (but obviously using Kakuranger footage this time around). The Ninja Megazord is a good visual example of the how the Ranger arsenal had changed in going from dinosaur brute strength to the swift ninja powers. Far lighter and simpler in design than its predecessors, what the Ninja Megazord lacks in weaponry it makes up for in its unique design when compared to other Megazords from around this time.

Secondly there are the Shogun zords, ancient humanoid robots discovered by Lord Zedd, whose plan to have the rangers pilot them for him severely backfired. Due to there being no pink ranger in Kakuranger (the crane ninja zord belonged to Ninja White, and the Falcon Zord was an unpiloted mecha), there is no pink Shogun zord and so the white one is piloted by both Tommy and Kat/Kim. The Shogun Megazord is much more akin to what came before, and while may not be iconic as the original Megazord is still arguably one of the best looking Megazords to date.

The Shogun zords with the Alien rangers' Battleborgs

The Falconzord is able to combine with both, and Titanus is also reintroduced to make both the Ninja and Shogun Ultrazords. These are both American creations, and while it is a nice idea it doesn’t work very well. Why Titanus is suddenly back is never really explained, and the Ultrazord effects are quite obviously done with the toys (the American Shogun Megazord replaced the white with pink, and this can be seen on the footage). The Alien rangers also bring with them their own Battleborgs, lighter armoured versions of the individual Shogun zords that are controlled by telepathy and lack the ability to combine.

Bulk and Skull receive their next bit of character growth, giving up on attempting to unmask the Power Rangers and joining the junior police patrol. They are no longer bullies (although they still crack an insult or two), and are now more good-natured goofballs. They may constantly get on the nerves of their superior officer Lt. Stone, but most of the time they show a determination to solve a case and sometimes even manage to pull it off too.

Bulk and Skull join the force

The tone is certainly much lighter, but season three of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers justifies that with much more continuity and less reliance on Japanese features.  The new ideas that came with it were both hit and miss, but never once is it so bad that you wish they hadn’t bothered. Ending on jaw-dropping cliffhanger, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers legacy made sure to go out with a bang.  Until they would return, stronger than before...

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