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.
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!”.
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.
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).
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.
Yes! 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!!!
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.
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.