It’s a bit tricky to watch some US shows in the UK before they air here, especially if you don’t want to resort to pirating. For the past several weeks I’ve been dialling in to the States via VPN to watch a couple of programmes that could not be any more different. One of these is Hannibal, the dark psychological thriller that has developed a cult following through high production values, excellent writing and Mads Mikkelsen’s impeccable hair; the other is the 20th series of Power Rangers, Super Megaforce.
I don’t think I need to explain further why there’s a dichotomy there. Super Megaforce recently went on hiatus after eight episodes and won’t be returning until the autumn though, so I’ll just be popping over for dinner at Hannibal’s for the time being.
I’ll quickly bring you up to speed though: Super Megaforce is the second part of last years Power Rangers Megaforce, a show presented as a big anniversary series to celebrate 20 years of the franchise. After spending the majority of the Noughties in the hands of Disney, Power Rangers was purchased by original-owners Saban where it begun airing on Nickelodeon. Due to an enforced maximum of 20 episodes per season the current Power Rangers shows are being split up over two years; before Megaforce and Super Megaforce there was Samurai and Super Samurai, while next year will bring Dino Charge followed by Dino Supercharge.
The show follows five teenagers – only two of which have anything resembling attitude or acting talent – as they fight evil space aliens who want to take over or destroy the Earth or something; their motivations are never really that clear. While this may sound familiar to those that watched the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, it’s actually not all that common throughout the franchise. However it’s an anniversary season so the callback to the early days is appreciated. After spending a year getting little-to-no character development while they used collectible trading cards to defeat monsters, the team gets an upgrade in the form of special keys containing the powers of every past Power Ranger. Collect them all! I certainly will.
Jabs and cynicism aside, I have been looking forward to this years show. As a Power Rangers fan and a fan of the source-material for this season – the Pirate Sentai Gokaiger – I was excited to see the love, care and attention of Gokaiger translated to the West for the teams I grew up watching. Unfortunately there was something I didn’t really count on: the quality of a Super Sentai series does not influence the quality of a Power Rangers series. There’s no rule of thumb on how to adapt them, with some series following very closely to the original story while others make up their own.
Super Megaforce is still limited to the source footage though, which does involve a lot of morphing into past teams. It’s handled a little oddly though: the suits from Gokaiger are treated as a power up to their suits from the previous season, meaning they usually need to go through the process of morphing and the powering up before they can start using the source footage. This means they need to film new original suit footage using last season’s suits, which would be perfectly fine if they weren’t using this time and budget to shoot more original footage of the ‘Legendary Modes’ of past teams. Due to Super Sentai having more teams than Power Rangers, the Gokaiger regularly change into non-Power Ranger teams. While they’re usually cut out this has resulted in a couple of circumstances where non-PR teams have suddenly appeared in the show. To be honest I personally do not mind their inclusion in Super Megaforce, what I take issue with is the lack of explanation for it. When the Super Megaforce rangers change into their first set of unadapted suits their mentor merely tells them they have access to ‘new powers never before seen on this Earth’. That’s it.
Here’s the thing about that: Gosei Sentai Dairanger was the Sentai where the Thunder Zords and the White Ranger came from in the original series. This could have been a really cool shout out to this situation that didn’t even need much explanation. “The powers of the legendary Thunder Zords” is something that took me a few moments to come up with, think of what a professional screenwriter with years of experience and access to 20 years of history could do? In fact they made a great joke in a similar situation only one episode prior when the black ranger was given a green suit as his power up.
Skip to 2:40.
I understand that Power Rangers is aimed at kids (specifically an age range of young boys because Saban doesn’t want any money from young girls it seems), however it doesn’t mean you need to coddle them or treat them as if they’re dumb. I can still watch Disney films today and enjoy them as an adult. I grew up with memorable shows like Batman: The Animated Series that are easily watchable now I’ve grown up. There are current examples of Adventure Time, Phineas and Ferb and the new Ninja Turtles that manage to span the age gap. Power Rangers itself has managed it in the past with Time Force and RPM. Saban have been promoting the series as for the fans, yet they treat them and the intended audience with little respect.
Then they have the episode Spirit of the Tiger, a tribute episode to Power Rangers Jungle Fury. It’s not the best series of the last 20 years but they brought back the red ranger of the team, gave him an integral part in the episode and generally had a lot of respect for his character and the series he was from. This elevated the episode far higher than most of the others so far, showing that an episode that appeals to me as an adult can be done.
I know I’ve complained a lot over the course of this blog, however I do want to say that despite some glaring issues I have generally enjoyed watching these first eight episodes. The action scenes taken from Gokaiger are excellent, with the Power Rangers writers seeing it fit to add the morphing call of the teams during the Legendary morphs. It brought a smile to my face to hear the Super Megaforce rangers yell “Magical Source, Mystic Force!” when morphing into the Mystic Force rangers and I didn’t even like Mystic Force. While I have pointed out some of the more glaring plot holes with poor explanations, there are others that have thus far gone unexplained for which I have my own acceptable theories on. “Head canon” as the tumblr crowd would put it.
There is one more thing I want to talk about though: show length. As I’ve previously mentioned the shows are split up into two seasons spanning 20 episodes each. Saban are apparently in a deal which means they are unable to skip a season of Super Sentai, which is why the pre-anniversary season was merged with Gokaiger so it could be part of the proper anniversary. We’re going to miss out on a lot of great footage resulting in character development for these one, sometimes two dimensional characters being kept to an absolute minimum. They’ve wasted a bit of an opportunity here I feel, especially when they’ve managed to pull off some great moments in the series so far. There’s still 12 episodes to come after the hiatus, and the last two episodes which introduced the silver ranger had possibly the best storyline so far. For now though, you’re better off watching Pirate Sentai Gokaiger and getting your nostalgia from there.