Monday 17 December 2012

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Samurai

The Power Rangers Samurai in-costume

Following the excellent Power Rangers RPM and the completely forgettable remaster of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season one, the future of Power Rangers seemed bleak. Disney had completely lost interest in the franchise, so it was as good a time as any for it to return home. Saban Brands bought back Power Rangers and began work on Power Rangers Samurai, the 18th season and adapted from the Super Sentai series Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. What was different about Samurai to previous seasons is that it was split into two 20 episodes seasons (plus specials), with the second half/19th season taking the name Power Rangers Super Samurai.

Centuries ago the Power Rangers Samurai protected the Earth from the evil Master Xandred and his army of Nighloks, who planned to flood the world with the waters of despair from the Sanzu river. Although they managed to seal away Xandred, the Nighloks return in present day to continue what they started. Jayden, descendant of the Red Samurai ranger, must call together the ancestors of the remaining rangers - Kevin (Blue), Mike (Green), Mia (Pink) and Emily (Yellow) to defend the Earth from Nighlok attacks. Soon they are joined by Jayden's childhood friend Antonio, a fisherman who's trained himself in the Samurai ways to become the Gold ranger. But Jayden is carrying a secret from the other rangers, one that could change everything...

The cast of Power Rangers Samurai
Jayden, Emily, Kevin, Mike, Mia & Antonio: Rangers together, Samurai forever!

Those familiar with Shinkenger will know that Power Rangers Samurai is almost a straight adaptation of the source material, with very little actually changing other than certain elements to make it more kid-friendly for Western television. While originality is usually where Power Rangers thrives, straight adaptations can sometimes have their merits too. The problem when it comes to Power Rangers Samurai is that the source material is so inherently Japanese that not making too many changes makes the whole thing pretty ridiculous. The opening for each episode makes it pretty clear that the Samurai powers came from "ancient Japan", yet the five rangers are about as Western as you can get. Add the fact the red ranger has a distinctly Japanese surname (Jayden Shiba - taken after the Shinkenger red Takeru Shiba) and the concept feels less and less plausible. Not to mention rather racist.

The characters themselves would be reasonably passable, if not for the fact that Samurai boasts perhaps the weakest main cast in terms of acting ability of any Power Rangers show. This particularly relates to Mia and Emily, who are almost unbearable to watch. Thankfully things pick up dramatically with the arrival of Antonio (played by Steven Skyler), who is not only a joy to watch but also manages to bring out the best in the rest of the cast. Jayden grows into a somewhat more interesting character (especially in the final few episodes when his far worse sister is introduced), while Mike and Kevin become pretty likeable. Their mentor, Master Ji, is another character who will grow on you as the series progresses, although he never gets a chance to strut his stuff as much as he probably should.

Power Rangers Samurai Deker
Deker, who is probably about to talk about his sword Uramasa

Moving onto the villain side of things, the Nighloks aren't particularly great characters either. Master Xandred spends the majority of the series on his ship on the Sanzu river, complaining of a headache and doing very little to actually spur the plot along. It isn't until the final few episodes that he gets to come to Earth  and actually act like a threat. Octeroo is a little more active, but isn't a confrontational villain and has an incredibly annoying voice. Super Samurai introduces a contender to Xandred's throne in the form of Serrator, and he does indeed prove himself to be the more interesting villain.

The real strength (well, strength with Samurai's low standards in mind) comes from half human/half Nighlok Deker (played by Rick Medina Jr aka Cole in Power Rangers Wild Force) and (to a lesser extent) his past love Dayu. Deker's lust for a worthy challenge for him and his sword Uramasa (which he painfully/hysterically needs to remind viewers every second) spurs on some of Samurai's more impressive fight scenes and is beneficial to making Jayden a better character.

The Samurai Rangers in Mega Mode form
The criminally underused Mega Mode suits

The zord designs are great and there's a wide variety of combinations (with even the larger ones growing on me since the days of watching Shinkenger), but Samurai adds its own spin on things for the cockpit footage. When the rangers get ready to pilot their zords, they transform in mega mode - heavier armoured suits that add a silver mouthpiece to the helmet designs. The suits themselves are nicely designed and add a bit of much needed originality to Samurai, but the use of heavily armoured suits when they're piloting a giant robot is once again baffling. Had they been used perhaps as an alternative to the later super mode, then things might indeed have been a bit more interesting. This also applies to this season's battlizer - the Shogun mode. Only appearing outside of cockpit footage in the final episode, its a real shame because its without a doubt the finest battlizer Power Rangers has ever produced.

The Red Samurai Ranger in Shogun Mode
The even more criminally underused Shogun mode

Finally, just to make the return to Saban that little bit extra special Bulk has returned! Sadly once again its without Skull (although they are finally reunited in the final episode), instead looking after his best friend's son Spike and training him (and himself) in the way of the Samurai. Its great to see Bulk back again, but the segments with him and Spike are mostly either pointless or forgettable. Its the typical "Bulk gets covered in something" humour from the first season of MMPR, but mostly lacks any interaction with the rangers or acknowledgement of Bulk's past. His inclusion was exciting in concept, but subpar in execution.

Bulk reunites with Skull at long last
Probably the most satisfying moment of the entire series

The return to Saban was hopefully going to breath new life into Power Rangers, but for long time fans Power Rangers Samurai does not get this new era off to a great start. It has a lot of problems - dull characters played by terrible actors, a story that's often afraid to stray too far away from its source material when it really needs to and underused costumes. But however disappointing it may be, it has done a lot for the franchise where it counts - the toys sold well, children seemed to love it and Power Rangers is probably the biggest its been since the heyday of Mighty Morphin'. And underneath all the flaws there is a semi-decent, if very misguided show with great action sequences. A watered-down Shinkenger is still much better than the levels of Ninja Storm and Operation Overdrive...


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Stephen Cassat said...

Ninja Storm was so much better than Samurai. It may not be talked about as much, but it is miles ahead of Samurai in terms of how good it is.

And people need to stop giving Operation Overdrive SO much crap. You can still give it a little, but at least with Overdrive there was passion behind the ideas it had. Samurai was just a copy and paste.