Wanna Hear A Grown Woman Rant About POWER/RANGERS?

7

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Saban, 1994Okay, Power Rangers was always a bootleg.

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, as you probably know, began life as Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, a Japanese Saturday morning show, latest in a long line of similarly colour-coded superhero shows stretching back to the seventies. One per year. Saban took (yes, they paid, it was a business agreement, so the bootlegging’s technical) the footage of the sentai members — wiki sez: in Japanese, sentai (戦隊?) is a military unit and may be literally translated as “squadron”, “task force”, “group” or “wing” — in their fighting lycra, and the footage of the monsters they fought, and their dinosaur (kyoryu) mecha, and intercut it with new footage of American “teenagers”. Two (eventually three) white boys, one white girl, one Vietnamese girl, one black boy. Jason, Billy, (Tommy,) Kimberly, Trini, Zack. Now they spoke English, and went to high school, and to the children it was screened for it seemed like Power Rangers was the most tremendously exciting thing ever to happen. It was dissonant. Where did these monsters come from? Why were there brightly coloured explosions behind the characters sometimes? Where did the idea of “morphin'” come from? Who was this cackling Space Witch and why did she throw her staff down to earth from the moon? Zyuranger was thoroughly Japanese, it adhered to and worked within established traditions of modern and ancient Japanese entertainment. In America, and in England? Felt like trippin’ balls, man. Or, because I was six, it felt like being ALIVE. I played Power Rangers in the woods with the other wild children. I was “a Power Ranger”, until eventually I was Green.

Himitsu Sentai Goranger, Toei, 1975

Goranger, 1975: The First

Power Rangers became a franchise, resetting regularly, and eventually fell into the same patterns as its source material (because they still cut’n’paste most of the action, use the same outfits, borrow or ignore the yearly themes): one series per year, vague sense of absolute continuity. My interest in Power Rangers did not keep past Mighty Morphin’, and when I discovered (because the internet wasn’t everyday yet–we didn’t know) that forty years of Sentai was out there waiting for my ironic teenage enjoyment it didn’t take me long to discover a genuine appreciation of the franchise, and other shows like it.

Not to say that my desire for ironic enjoyment was vanished; I dipped into Power Rangers here and there, because that’s what you do when you’re Millennial and insomniac and Venture Bros isn’t on yet. And it started to really bother me that Power Rangers makes fun of the motifs special to Japanese special effects shows (which one calls tokusatsu, or just toku). “Why are there explosions behind us when we morph?” “Not another rock quarry”, characters would say, and more little quips that fans call lampshading. There’s a whole episode of Power Rangers Dino Thunder in which the Power Rangers watch and discuss “a Japanese show about US!”.

Bakuryu Sentai Abaranger, Toei, 2003

It’s comprehensible, although not sensible, in context

Lost and Found in Translation is an episode of Bakuryu Sentai Abaranger, Dino Thunder’s source Sentai, which for the purposes of the PR episode has been re-dubbed by Disney (who at this time held the rights to the Power Rangers franchise). Presumably this episode was ~too strange for Power Rangers to adapt — it’s pretty goofy in its original form, with coloured wigs and mushrooms and a lot of Japanese-specific references and visual puns — but they have adapted it. They’ve ridden roughshod over the original Japanese script, and replaced it in dubbing booths with the equivalent of a DERP meme. Haw haw haw, this is so weeeeird, say the Power Rangers.

Power Rangers Dino Thunder, Lost and Found in Translation, Disney, 2004

Red Ranger has opinions about TV (like me)

By the end of the episode, the Red Ranger (played by my non-relative James Napier) has become fond of the show anyway, whattaguy, and “writes an essay” (reads a voiceover) about how Japan and “America” (actually New Zealand, but let’s not quibble) aren’t that different after all.

But it’s racist! It’s othering and patronising and shows little to no understanding of quality writing, and it’s RACIST. Look, you don’t get to be the bigger man and hold out an olive branch of un-duh-standing, after dubbing bullshit over an episode with, if not gravitas, at least integrity and the dignity of self-belief. All of those negatives are also how I read the wry lines about “explosions behind us”, and coincidental disruption juuust when a character asks another with more authority about the science behind physical aspects of their lives. These aspects might seem overly convenient to any adults watching, but given the chance children would just suspend their disbelief. Children, the primary target demographic, have enough heart left to trust their imaginations to stories. Sentai does the self-deprecating one-liner thing too, but that’s fair, if annoying– it belongs to them. They made things that way. Power Rangers pretends that it’s above this silly colourful nonsense, because white Euro-America disdains Japanese entertainment modes, because they’re different. As if those aren’t just as legitimate and historic as any of their own (let’s be honest: often enough, more so).

Zyuranger heroes, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, Toei, RangerCentrak

Zyuranger’s original cast, thanks to RangerCentral

Maybe I have no right to curl my lip at Power Rangers because I think it’s racist. I am white. If you want to dismiss my arguments from that angle, ok, that’s your prerogative. However! Even white people can see poor quality creation. Power Rangers doesn’t believe in itself, and so it sucks.

Red Cheetah, Gobusters, 2012, ToeiYes! I hate Power Rangers. This is a stupid thing for an adult to say, or bother feeling, but there we are. I’m a big gross nerd, just like you. I think it’s a disingenuous franchise and the people in charge of it should pull on their smart, clean, grown-up pants and admit that for the past twenty years or more, American children have been growing up seeing brightly coloured explosions and elaborate poses before/during/after their fight scenes. Power Rangers, and by extension Super Sentai, are a part of American culture, and that trickles down to me in Britain, you in wherever. It would be such a relief if y’all could quit denigrating something that’s shaped you, pretending you don’t need it. Please? People argue that the franchise is “good”, and I just. No?

Of course it has parts you can isolate, that any given rando will enjoy. That’s what makes it classifiable as “entertainment”. But it it good? Does it honour storytelling? Does it honour its legacy? Does it make the world better, instead of increasingly stale? The current series only has two white members on a five-person team, so I was going to give up and accept the lean to yes. But Golden Number Six is going to be white, too, and like. Why? And does the writing in this season have any more ambition or respect? There’s nobody I trust to tell me, because all the PR fans I know like Lost and Found in Translation.

I apologise for that long preamble and ugly diss-vomit. What I wanted to say was, as Power Rangers has always been a chop job, it tickled me, aha, pink! To read “This is a bootleg experiment not affiliated or endorsed by Saban Entertainment or Lionsgate”, underneath the Vimeo upload of yesterday & today’s big mover, fan film POWER/RANGERS.

SO! THE HUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED!!!

Bakuryu Sentai Abaranger, Toei, 2003

Click for gif: me IRL

POWER/RANGERS is what we here in Blighty call “a pisstake”. Joseph Kahn made the fourteen minute dark and gritty reboot that nobody would actually bother taking to feature length. Because it is inarguably child-unfriendly. And niche. “Power Rangers– For the original fans!”. Guys, it is so, so, so funny.

Mighty Morphin’ characters are played by new actors. In a WORLD… WHERE POWER… ISN’T ENOUGH… AND THE RANGE OF PEOPLE… YOU CAN TRUST… IS DIMINISHED… NO MORE MORPHING… NOW ALL KIMBERLY NEEDS… IS TO… GO! GO! [dubstep version of original theme tune plays]

That’s not from the trailer. I don’t think there is one. I just made it up to express the gist of the thing. James Van Der Beek plays Rocky, the second Red Ranger (remember how Jason went off to join the UN or something?), and now traitorous villain. Katee Sackhoff is Kimberly, the last (but one) remaining Teen With Attitude. Not so much a teen anymore, but the attitude? Like a fine wine. Matured. All the special effects are serious; they don’t register too well as SFX because they’re designed to blend in with reality. This is far better suited to the American film industry’s inclinations towards ease of belief (Batman’s black gadgets over yellow and blue X-Men, an’all), and! That’s part of the joke. This really is what Power Rangers would be like, if America had invented it on its own. This is what they point to, every time they make an embarrassed little joke about the conventions of their genre. Power Rangers distilled. And I’m drunk on it, and it’s sweet, like revenge.

POWER/RANGERS, fan film, Joseph Kahn, 2015, gift via residentevil.tumblr

Kahn says “the joke is that we did this ‘fuck you’ thing in the first place. You’re going to look at it and you go wow I can’t believe they fucking did that.”

I fucking can, though. I fuck. King. Caaaan.

It’s not perfect (I don’t think that Zack’s compounded Blackness would incline him inexorably towards blaxploitation-ripped one black/one white villainess threesomes, f’rex, and real-life tragedies of the original cast are fodder for their characters’ fates, which ain’t all that classy). But it’s better than any Power Ranger ever had any right to be. And it knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t blink.

Catch the safe-for-work version (minus the threesome, etc) on youtube; the uncut film’s been yanked from Vimeo. Saban’s pretty mad, I guess.

Good.

Share.

About Author

The rock that drops on your head. WWAC Chief Comics Ed. Find me at claire.napier@wwacomics.com

7 Comments

  1. Correction, Super Sentai aired on prime time TV in Japan during the 70’s-90’s. It was later moved to a Sunday morning schedule during Megaranger’s run, which was later adapted into Power Rangers In Space. Back then, an average length of a Super Sentai episode in the prime time slot is 19 minutes. After the move, an average episode clocks up to 23 episodes.

    As for the one series for year thing, the first series, Goranger lasted for 3 years. Super Sentai had a hiatus during the 70’s because the 2nd show, JAKQ Dengekitai is not doing well. In between JAKQ and the 3rd series, Battle Fever J aired the Japanese Spider-Man TV series, which caused Toei to add giant robots in later seasons. The explosions and spandex suits were added in Dynaman, which had a gag dub that aired in the U.S. years ago.

    As for the Abaranger episode, the actual title is “The Rampaging Leaguer Bind”. “Lost and Found in Translation” is the title of the Power Rangers Dino Thunder episode that dubbed the episode. The original episode is about an American baseball player who seek the Blue Ranger’s chiropractic abilities because he has this major baseball injury or something.

    So yeah, this is what I learned for blogging Japanese superhero shows for more than 6 years now.

    • Yes, indeed.

      On the point of your third paragraph I’m afraid my clarity was lacking; Lost and Found in Translation is made up of the abaranger episode etc etc. You see? Beg pardon.

  2. I’m not gonna lie, for the most part I disagree. I’ve never found it terribly racist or patronising when the PR series make self-aware nods at their tokusatsu origins. The genre is absolutely ridiculous and silly, it’s good writing and I’ve had way more emotional investment in Super Sentai than I ever have in Power Rangers, and the wink-wink-nudge-nudge sometimes snarky sense of humour is something I’ve always seen as a translation of humour. In China and Japan, that sort of tone doesn’t have nearly as much prevalence. We tend to be silly and take that silliness seriously, referential quips and breaking the fourth wall happens, but it’s more theatrical seeing as our shows are more like broadcast stage productions, especially with tokusatsu.

    That said, very few Power Rangers series still stand up, barely a handful that really have any heart or semblance of fun that isn’t just wholly ripped from the plot of their Super Sentai counterparts. The shows also don’t ever come close in earning any investment in comparison, and as time has gone on they’ve focused way too much on being marketed towards kids rather than engaging with children. This is most evident with the last few seasons of Samurai/Super Samurai and Megaforce/Super Megaforce, which felt more like chop-jobs than any other previous season.

    As for the satirical short film, I hate it. Yes it’s making fun of the gritty and dark reboots that infantile fans demand without ever really knowing what they want, but here’s the thing: It’s indistinguishable from the actual gritty and dark reboots that actually happen. Slap Michael Bay’s name on it and I would have 100% believed it was real. I don’t think it knows what it is, I think it knows what it should be, but since it’s entirely played straight I think it has zero quality and is just incredibly boring. It’s not even shocking in how dark it tries to be, it’s horrifically vanilla.

    However I’m not going to defend Saban, it tickles me too that they’re mad about the bootleg film. I think they’re a pretty lazy company overall, and that can be most seen in how they just rehashed the MMPR theme for the past few seasons. The writers though, the actors as well especially in Dino Charge, I have more faith in. Lightspeed Rescue created their own Sixth Ranger, Jungle Fury kept the names of the Jiangshi-inspired minions and created multiple new Rangers that never saw the light of day in their Super Sentai counterpart, Gekiranger. It should also be noted that almost half of the Power Ranger seasons have been redubbed and rebroadcasted by Toei and Bandai in Japan (notably the seasons whose original counterparts were some of the best-selling in terms of merchandise in Japan).

    That’s just how I’ve come to see it as time’s gone on, as I was raised on both as a kid, and have always had a taste of Western and East-Asian productions as well as styles of humour, action, and writing.

    • Claire Napier on

      I can’t help but notice the prevalence of “Oh Japan!” in PR/toku crossover fandom, you know? I feel like if Power Rangers is going to buy its genesis from Japan, it owes some responsibility to getting RID of the idea that Japan is inherently ridiculous, weird and baffling. Simplified, kids grow up hearing these conventions are lampshade-worthy, then they get online and learn that’s the Japanese half of the thing, and WOOOAAHHHH, well that just explains it all, rite?

      (~Nuance: I don’t entirely hate Ninja Storm; it has an atmosphere that’s less grating to me than the rest. But would I lose it to be rid of Power Rangers altogether? Oh hell yes. It’s ok to pass the time with but it’s not good. Mesogog, I think the guy was called, in Dino thing, had a really great head mould, which was entirely Saban or Disney or whoever. But it’s a drop in the bucket. I think the franchise is bad, a bad institution, and it’s pretty awful that diversity on tv is bad enough that there’s any point appreciating the fact that not every single Power Ranger is white. (Although Shin Ying Khor’s Yellow Ranger essay was fantastic, on that count, and ftr I am 100% in favour of Girl Yellow in MMPR.))

      I don’t think that POWER/RANGERS is indistinguishable from any other gritty reboot. Michael Bay is not that incisive. I genuinely thought the short was lol-funny. But whatever, we’re not invested in changing each others’ minds on that!

      I didn’t see too much relevance in PR having been dubbed, tbh. It’s a curiosity, so it’s very reasonable that that would happen.

      (I’m not that into Sentai as a brand loyalty either, cards on the table. There are some I really love bit I’ve not stuck with a full season since Deka. Ten years?)

      • I am very much over people pointing and laughing at Japanese culture and media, whenever people try and tell me something “whacky!!!” about it I always have one comparative example that we have in Western countries. However, I just think trying to achieve that through Super Sentai/Power Rangers and tokusatsu as a whole is impossible, you cannot eliminate the purposefully ridiculous and farcical nature that’s intentional and imperative to the genre itself. Yes, othering Japanese television as something weird to stare agog at is awful, but I genuinely do not ever get that sense from Power Rangers itself. I don’t even get that from dedicated fans of both Super Sentai/PR, I only hear that sort of ignorant bigoted tone from folks who saw one or two seasons as a kid and who wave off Japanese and East Asian culture in general.

        And yeah, I can agree with you 100% that diversity has always been in a bloody dearth for the most part with television, especially for kids. That doesn’t drag down though what PR has at least attempted more than most other live action shows for children. I finally saw people who looked like me in TV! I finally found people I could relate to, whose entire character didn’t revolve around them being Asian but it was still part of their background! I got to see Asian rangers stepping in front of fictional cops who wanted to shoot an alien for looking different, be calculating and cunning and showing up the rest of the team, and now with Dino Charge for once see a PoC caveman be a loveable goof. It’s the bare minimum and then some, but holy hell it is still LEAGUES ahead of what most other shows are doing and if I didn’t see any of that as a kid growing up, I honestly would’ve grown up a much worse person. I can’t spit in the face of that.