By Jerry Hrechka / May 5th, 2015
If you’re like me and you grew up in that special subset of the nineties, then you probably also have a nostalgic fondness for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The story of five shockingly well-adjusted kids teenagers with attitudes who fought the evil witch Rita Repulsa with the power of the dinosaurs… and a saber-tooth tiger, mastadon, pterodactyl, and dragon. It works a bit better if you pretend that it’s meant to teach science classes in Kansas. Power Rangers still goes on to this day and is moderately successful, partially owing to the fact that it is dirt-cheap to make. However, in those mysterious prehistoric days we call the mid-nineties, it was everywhere. There were even two major motion pictures based on it. Saban’s Power Rangers ruled the lives of every kid who had basic cable, to say nothing of the parents who felt their wallets attacked with every new gadget the Rangers received.
And brother, I was right there in the storm. My seventh birthday was Power Rangers-themed and I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me see the movie, which I wasn’t allowed to because it was rated PG-13. Eventually I ‘got too old for’ or ‘grew out of’ Power Rangers around the same time that I was getting into anime. It was also the golden era of internet forums and on there, while discussing Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing, was when I first discovered the true secret origin of the Power Rangers.
You see, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was based on a long-running superhero television franchise in Japan called Super Sentai. Each season followed a new team of spandex-clad superheroes with different powers fighting a new villain. The particular series that the first Might Morphin’ Power Rangers was based on was Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger and I was assured that it was dark and mature and serious and way cooler than that baby show I watched. Unfortunately, the internet was not the bastion of free information it is now back in the early 2000s. I couldn’t find a way to watch this show, so I merely fantasized about how much better the original was than the dumb American version I saw.
These days, we truly live in an enchanted era of globalized entertainment. The series is now available in America with all fifty episodes available on a DVD set for only forty dollars. It meant that I could live out twelve-year-old Jerry’s fantasy and finally watch the series and I could do it completely legally. It also means that if you’re reading this column that you’re pretty much honor-bound to get the DVDs yourself. Capitalism rules our lives folks, and if you want more Japanese dudes in spandex on the shelves of Best Buy, then you better sacrifice some green pieces of paper to that golden calf.
If you are expecting a more serious and mature story than Mighty Morphin’ then you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. While there are seasons of Super Sentai that go to dark and serious places, Zyuranger is light affair. While the ‘dinosaur’ theme is still intact for the heroes, the villains’ theme takes more of a mythology/fairy tale theme. The villain you knew as Rita Repulsa is actually Bandora, though she’s still an ancient witch. While she is still rather goofy, she’s far less histrionic than her American counterpart. In fact, she seems to even take losing with a particular amount of glee, which ends up making her seem far more threatening and competent than her American companion. The other villains get name changes as well, and most of them to sound more ‘cool’ to American kids. Goldar is Griffozor, the Putties are Golems, and so on.
There are a lot of superficial similarities to Power Rangers, perhaps due to the Saban team’s inexperience with making the frankenstein-esque combinations of footage from Zyuranger spliced with their original footage. As a result, many of the problems that the Zyurangers face bare a lot of similarities to the problems the Rangers face. The famous episode of Power Rangers where Billy and Kimberly become punks is based on an episode of Zyuranger with the same premise. Being this early in the editing process for the franchise, the writers no doubt didn’t want to stray too far, for fear of the episodes becoming incomprehensible. With time, they would get writers that are better at retooling the footage into wholly new series, though a lot of the series that saw the height was when Disney took over, such as in shows like Power Rangers RPM.
The odd thing is how different our main cast is compared to the original. In Power Rangers we have red ranger Jason, the serious leader, the cheerful black ranger Zack, the reserved and bookish blue ranger Billy, the contemplative yellow ranger Trini, and the friendly valley girl pink ranger Kimberly. Later, they would be joined by the green ranger Tommy, whose personality consisted of being better than you and being ambushed on his way to karate tournaments. They’re led by the ancient wizard Zordon, who is trapped in a giant tube and a total asshole.
Things play out a little different in Zyuranger. Instead of being well-adjusted teenagers with attitude, the Zyurangers are the Five Holy Warriors of Justice who have been in hibernation for millions of years since the evil within Bandora was cast out. Instead of being led by a face in a tube, they’re helped by the more proactive ancient wizard Barza, who coincidentally looks like a middle-aged Japanese man who really needed a steady gig. Our team consists of the serious leader and Tyrannoranger (Red) Geki, the serious and stoic Mammothranger (black) Goushi — who had sworn vengeance on Bandora for killing his sister — the playful and impatient Triceraranger (blue) Dan — who at least is interested enough in modern technology for there to be at least one parallel to Billy — the incredibly young Tigerranger (yellow) Boi — who, as his name suggests, is actually a guy — the only female Pteraranger (Pink) Mei — whose personality consisted primarily of being a girl — and finally the Dragonranger (green) Burai — who was actually Geki’s older brother. Burai was also barely in the show, which is why Tommy was always getting ambushed in Power Rangers. They simply didn’t have much footage of the green ranger and needed to find ways to write around it.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the shows is the genres they occupy. Obviously they’re both superhero shows but that itself can occupy a wide array of genres. In Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, we’re focused more on a group of teenagers who volunteer at their community center with attitude dealing with social teenage issues. Saban was going with the more safe genre of “teenagers in high school” that people have been repeating ever since Spider-man made it the success it is. Zyuranger, on the other hand, is more of a quest-based fantasy. In episode four, for example, the Zyurangers have to go through a dungeon to attain their legendary items. No word on how much XP or gold they received from the quest, though.
Is Zyuranger better than Power Rangers? I don’t see any way you could argue it isn’t. Zyuranger has problems, but it is a far more coherent show with characters that have things like arcs and personalities. The plots aren’t haphazard attempts to disassemble one show and cobble it into another. Also it doesn’t try to be hip to the nineties, so it’s aged better. It’s not the best of the long-running Super Sentai series, but if you’re looking for an entry point and grew up with the Power Rangers, this would be a good way to dip your toes in.
As this column goes on, we’ll be covering more Super Sentai shows, many of which you’ll recognize as also having been adapted into different series. While this show is one of many for Super Sentai fans, it’ll be recognized in the west as the show that introduced tons of Americans to the tokusatsu genre.
Power RangersSabanSuper SentaitokuTokusatsuZyuranger