Tuesday 2 October 2012

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Zeo

Power Rangers Zeo Rocky Adam Tommy Kat Tanya Red Yellow Green Blue Pink

After three successful seasons and the merging of three completely different Super Sentai series, time was running out for Power Rangers as fans knew it. After the major cliffhanger that came at the end of season three, it was time for big changes. 1996's Power Rangers Zeo marked the beginning of the franchise's annual change to match the succeeding Super Sentai series (however it would continue to use an overarching story until Power Rangers In Space), and was adapted from Chōriki Sentai Ohranger.

Following the destruction of the Command Centre at the hands of Rito and Goldar, the six rangers (along with new recruit Tanya Sloan) are left in despair at the destruction before them. Searching among the rubble they discover the Zeo crystal, the powerful object they had searched for in order to revive their lost powers. With that in their possession, they are soon reunited with their mentor Zordon and Alpha who had survived the blast by retreating to their newly created Power Chamber.

Meanwhile on the moon Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa's victory over the Power Rangers is short lived, as the Machine Empire arrive on the moon in preparation to take the Earth for themselves. As Zedd and Rita flee for their lives, the Royal House of Gadgetry - King Mondo, Queen Machina, Prince Sprocket and their butlers Clank and Orbus, prepare their cog army to attack the Earth.

With Billy stepping down from the rangers in order to provide assistance in the Power Chamber, the remaining five rangers are charged with brand new powers from the Zeo Crystal. As Zordon tells them that "the Power Rangers as they know it are gone forever", the Power Rangers Zeo use new zords and weapons to fight against the Machine Empire.

Power Rangers Zeo Tommy Rocky Adam Kat Tanya Red Blue Green Yellow Pink Helmetless
New rangers, new colours: (From left to right) Rocky, Kat, Tommy, Tanya & Adam

Gone are the dinosaur motif suits of old, as the rangers take on new suits (and in some cases, new colours) with the Zeo powers. As leader Tommy tends to remain at the forefront of character development, but an ample amount is given to the two members of the team that needed it the most - the girls. Katherine never really had a chance to step out of Kimberly's shadow in MMPR and Tanya's introduction came a bit out of the left field. Here they both get a chance to strut their stuff and develop as characters, with Tanya even getting a relationship side-story in early episodes. Adam and Rocky still receive a fair share of character-centric episodes, but the characters don't really grow outside of what had been previously established.

Power Rangers Zeo Gold Ranger Jason Scott Lee Trey of Triforia
The mysterious Gold Ranger

Then comes the subject of Zeo's sixth ranger, who was the subject of a multi-episode mystery as everyone scrambled to work out his identity. Tommy's newly found brother, Billy and even Skull were used as red herrings for the Gold Ranger. When he is eventually revealed as the alien Trey of Triforia, the time comes for a new person to temporarily receive the powers. With Billy unable to take them, the next candidate is completely out of the left field - Jason, the original red ranger. This is a very surprising but welcome return, as Jason assumes the role of second-in-command and it feels like he never really left.

The only real problem in terms of characters was Billy, who's role is lessened as the series goes on. Initially he serves as an advisor and extra team member, but later disappears to both Aquitar and Triforia for various circumstances. Due to disputes behind the scenes, actor David Yost left the series before its end and so never gets a proper goodbye (his words dubbed by another actor). Its a shame that the last of the original team (although Jason has returned by then) goes out on such a disappointing note. The only real plus was that his last episodes were also the first team-up in ranger history, as the alien rangers of Aquitar return to fight side by side with the Zeo rangers.

Power Rangers Zeo Machine Empire King Mondo Queen Machine Prince Sprocket Clank Orbus Villains
The Royal House of Gadgetry

We also have brand new villains in the form of the Machine Empire, an empire of robots planning to take over the Earth and use its resources to increase their machine army. In the early episodes of the series King Mondo presents himself as a villain who feels very much above the rangers - when defeated, he simply brushes the defeat off and acknowledges them as worthy adversaries who will be a welcome challenge to his empire. As time goes on his mood worsens, and his schemes more desperate until he fights the rangers himself (and is subsequently destroyed). But the good thing about robots is that they can be rebuilt, and Mondo does make a return before Zeo is through. In his absence we are introduced to Prince Gasket, the king's estranged first built son, and his wife Archerina. Their quest to take over the Empire in Mondo's absence not only leads to some great stories (such as the 2-part "King for a Day") but clashes with Prince Sprocket, who believes he is the rightful heir.

The decay of the Machine Empire as a threat also paves the way for the return of Rita and Lord Zedd, who are no longer afraid of them as they prove just as incapable of taking over the Earth as they were. Reappearing as space hobos in a mobile home, the two often throw a spanner in the works for the Empire, cultivating in a humorous return to power in the very last episode (sadly this didn't go anywhere).

Power Rangers Zeo Zords Super Megazord Red Battlezord Mecha
The Red Battlezord, Zeo Megazord and Super Zeo Megazord fight alongside

Much like what had begun in season three of MMPR, Zeo also saw the rangers take on more than one Megazord as the show progressed. First came the animal/vehicle-based Zeo Megazord, followed by the human robot Super Zeo Zords. The Megazords are very different to each other in terms of design and components, but share much more uniformity in terms of colour than any previous Megazord had (the Zeo Megazord being predominately blue, Super Zeo Megazord silver). Tommy also received his own personal Red Battlezord, a fast punching robot that could combine with the first Zeo Megazord. The Gold Ranger also had two zords, the first being the carrier zord Pyramidas and the second the rather underwhelming Warrior Wheel (which mainly served as a bowling ball for the Super Zeo Megazord and wasn't actually used by the Gold Ranger all that much). Pyramidas and the Red Battlezord were also capable of combining with either Megazord to form an Ultrazord, but despite Pyramidas' impressive warrior mode these involved the components mostly hiding completely out of sight. An alternate, more elaborate carrier mode for the Zeo Ultrazord is seen once very briefly, but fails to have any real impact and is never heard from again.

Finally we have Bulk and Skull, who despite continuing to grow as characters revert a little back in terms of comic humour. The first half of the series sees the two continue as junior police patrol officers, but also take in Goldar and Rito (who lost their memories in the Command Centre explosion) as servants. Midway the pair inadvertently get Lt. Stone fired from the police, and leave alongside him in protest to form their own detective agency. From here on out the pair take on a variety of cases, usually with them suspecting the wrong person in typical Bulk and Skull fashion.

Power Rangers Zeo Bulk and Skull Farkas Bulkmeier Eugene Skullovich Detectives
Detectives Bulkmeier and Skullovich

Power Rangers Zeo is a lot of change, and so could have gone either way after three years of the same. With great new characters and entertaining stories it breathes new life into the franchise, firmly cementing its place as the next level of Power Rangers. After such a high, its a shame that it would next hit it's lowest when it shifts into turbo...

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