Sunday 22 January 2017

First Impressions: Power Rangers Ninja Steel

With the two years of Power Rangers Dino Charge having finally come to an end, 2017 marks the arrival of a new Power Rangers team - and thanks to the incoming movie eyes are going to be on the franchise more than ever. Adapted from the 39th Super Sentai series Shuriken Sentai Ninninger (skipping over previous series Ressha Sentai ToQger), Power Rangers Ninja Steel is the 24th entry in the Power Rangers franchise, which means that its second half will also act as the 25th anniversary series as well. Judd 'Chip' Lynn returns once again to handle writing duties, with the cast notably including Peter Sudarso - the brother of Yoshi Sudarso/Koda in Dino Charge, as the new blue ranger.

Ten years ago an alien artefact known as the Ninja Nexus Star crash landed in Brody Romero's backyard. After his father was able to chip away the metallic crust surrounding it (the titular 'Ninja Steel'), he was attacked by the evil alien Galvanax. Reaching into the prism surrounding it and pulling out the Nexus Star, Brody's father was able to transform into a Power Ranger and defend it. Just as Galvanax was about to seize victory, his father was able to break it into six Ninja Power Stars before disappearing in the resulting explosion. Unable to take the stars from their protective prism, Galvanax took both the prism and Brody captive.

Now Galvanax is the reigning champion of the intergalactic gameshow Galaxy Warriors, where aliens battle for the opportunity to pull the stars out from the Prism. After years of failure, Galvanax hatches a new plan to return to Earth and find the Ninja Steel - using it to forge new Power Stars. With home finally in sight Brody, along with fellow captives Redbot and Mick, escape and take the prism with them. When threatened Brody, along with highschool students Preston and Sarah, are able to take the stars and become the first three in a brand new team of Power Rangers!

The most surefire way to make a Power Rangers series immediately interesting is to make it more than just a copy/paste of the Super Sentai footage, and in this regard Power Rangers Ninja Steel has gotten off to a very good start. Story-wise the show isn't just about as far from Ninninger as you can get, it's also a pretty wacky concept in general. The whole idea of a mystical space Ninja Star isn't really expanded on (and much like the Energems probably never will be) and the idea of using a gameshow for ten years to find potential candidates is incredibly silly, but at least the show is winning points for trying. It's something that's was sorely lacking in Power Rangers when Saban first took it back, and it's great to see Ninja Steel continuing what Dino Charge had started. Like it's predecessor this was an episode of entirely original footage, immediately setting the bar high for a US/Japanese footage ratio.

But the problem is while Ninja Steel might have done a good job distancing itself from Ninninger, it hasn't done such a good job doing it from Dino Charge. Not only do we instantly have yet another red ranger with a missing dad backstory, but the forest fight that concluded the episode was almost note-for-note the same as Dino Charge's first episode - right down to slight variations in dialogue. Despite coming up with this wild concept for a Power Rangers series where anything can go, Ninja Steel is already at risk of falling into the same cliches that fans have been watching for the past two years. Judd Lynn was behind some of the very best seasons of Power Rangers, but the tail end of Dino Charge drew some criticism that will hopefully have been learned from going forward.

This episode introduced a number of different characters, but only three of the rangers were given a proper debut. The episode itself focused around Brody, while blue and pink rangers Preston and Sarah came in later as the action moved to Earth. Also appearing were Redbot (an Alpha-sised version of Ninninger's Shinobimara - aka the red ranger's zord) and Mick - a shapeshifting alien played by Power Rangers veteran Kelson Henderson (SPD's Boom). Despite getting the most focus Brody came across as the weakest of the three rangers, lacking the energy that both Preston and Sarah had. Also appearing in this episode were Vincent and Monty - a new comic relief duo that can best be described as Bulk and Skull by way of Gaston and LeFou. An unexpected addition as the show has lacked these kind of characters for a while now, but admittedly they work far better than Bulk and Spike ever did in Samurai.

Ninja Steel is also still sadly ridden with the usual Neo-Saban tropes that have plagued the show since Samurai. Clunky dialogue, unthreatening villain voices, incessant chattering during the fight sequences - its definitely a modern Power Rangers production alright. Some of these things the show is sadly stuck with now, but when it comes to the fights a good balance can be struck to make sure the focus is on the action rather than the bad puns. More interesting for longtime fans though is the cameos and callbacks to older shows, as both RPM's Venjix and a Fearcat from Operation Overdrive appear as generic aliens. Even Baron Nero from ToQger makes an appearance as gameshow host Cosmo Royale, showing that even though the Express Sentai has been skipped over it hasn't been completely forgotten. His new head however is both unfortunate and unnecessary.

Power Rangers Ninja Steel's premiere was one that definitely caught my attention, but it was certainly more out of interest than out of enjoyment. There's the makings of a really original Power Rangers series in there and this episode displayed that, but it also showed off a number of flaws that could potentially hold it back going forwards. However by not introducing the whole cast just yet Ninja Steel hasn't thrown all its eggs in one basket and should at least ensure viewers come back for more before making a proper decision on whether to stick with it for the next two years. Time will tell.


Lucas said...

To those who say that ToQger couldn't be adapted because it as too silly, Ninja Steel is about a samurai-like alien hosting a gameshow where they look for magical shurikens that give the users ninja powers.....FROM SPACE, and their Zords include a train, a tip truck a surfing guy and a UFO. I think we already established that in Power Rangers there's no boundary in silliness!

Lucas said...

Are you going to review the series or not?

Alex said...

Of course, probably have it written in the next week or so.