Twenty Years of Power Rangers by Jerry Whitworth
With the premier of Power Rangers Megaforce on Nickelodeon in February, the Power Rangers franchise turns twenty years old. First appearing on American television in the summer of 1993, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers featured several high school students given devices that transformed them into a team of super-powered heroes to battle alien invaders threatening to conquer the Earth. Adapted for America by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy of Saban Entertainment, MMPR was initially based on Toei’s Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger, the sixteenth installment of the studio’s Super Sentai series. Super Sentai (loosely translating to super squad) is a sub-genre of tokusatsu, a Japanese term referring to media employing special effects with science fiction elements, which includes the likes of Gojira (Godzilla), Gamera, Giant Hero (Ultraman, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad), Kamen Rider (Masked Rider, Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight), Giant Robo (Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot), Metal Hero (VR Troopers, Big Bad Beetleborgs), and Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. Super Sentai was born from a collaboration between Toei and mangaka, or comic artist, Shotaro Ishinomori (Kamen Rider, Cyborg 009) which generated two series before parting ways. The concept would evolve when Toei collaborated with Marvel Comics producing live action series loosely based on Spider-Man and Captain America in Supaidaman and Battle Fever J, respectively (considering Toei’s relationship with Ishinomori following how they parted ways, for many years Battle Fever J was considered the first official Super Sentai series). Super Sentai likely drew inspiration from Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (adapted in America as Battle of the Planets, G-Force: Guardians of Space, and Eagle Riders) and would inspire animated series like Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV (both series forming the basis of Voltron: Defender of the Universe). Super Sentai would prove to be a hit in Japan just as Power Rangers became a hit in the United States.
In Japan’s Super Sentai series, each season generally stood on its own as separate entities with some affiliation to each other. In the United States however, show runners for Power Rangers tried to connect each season to each other such as employing several of the same characters upgrading their equipment and facing new threats. Eventually, perhaps due to issues arising from adapting the Japanese product, the concept of a continued narrative was abandoned following Power Rangers in Space, the sixth installment of Power Rangers (though, that season’s rangers would emerge in the proceeding series Power Rangers Lost Galaxy in a two-part special which mirrored something the Japanese product, in teaming two seasons of teams, was frequent to do as well). Leading up to the tenth season of Power Rangers, the franchise was sold to Disney who produced Power Rangers Wild Force (based on Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger, the twenty-fifth Super Sentai series) which included the special episode “Forever Red” teaming all former red rangers together for a battle on the Earth’s moon (save the second red ranger Rocky DeSantos when actor Steve Cardenas ran into extenuating circumstances and Daniel Southworth, Time Force‘s Quantum Ranger, stepped in to make ten red rangers). The twelfth season, Power Rangers Dino Thunder, returned to a dinosaur theme as in the first season of Power Rangers which prompted show runners to bring back character Tommy Oliver (likely the most popular character in the franchise’s history and the single ranger with the most number of appearances in the franchise). For the fifteenth season Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, the two part special “Once a Ranger” teamed five former rangers from separate seasons together in order to face the threat of Thrax, the offspring of Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd (the primary antagonists of the first two seasons of Power Rangers). Saban would regain the series in its eighteenth season Power Rangers Samurai and move the show to Nickelodeon in 2011 (as the network made a push towards martial arts action content with series like Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Legend of Korra).
To commemorate twenty years of Power Rangers, Megaforce from its first episode pays tribute to the previous generations of heroes by briefly mentioning the history of rangers and whose headquarters is adorned with figurines representing every ranger in the series’ history. While details are tight lipped at this point, rumor has it Megaforce rangers will be able to transform into past rangers later in the series and past rangers will be featured in the second season of Megaforce (promotional images released prior to the start of the latest season have included shots of nineteen red rangers and the Tommy Oliver white ranger). Fan favorites like Tommy Oliver (Jason David Frank), Jason Lee Scott (Austin St. John), and Adam Park (Johnny Yong Bosch) are just some of the characters fans have rallied to see included (there are even some calling for Justin Stewart, portrayed by Blake Foster and at one time the most despised ranger by fans, to return after the actor built a strong connection with the audience from years on the convention circuit). In Japan, Super Sentai’s thirty-fifth anniversary was celebrated with the release of the film Gokaiger Goseiger Super Sentai 199 Hero Great Battle which starred the teams of Tensou Sentai Goseiger (which is the basis of Power Rangers Megaforce) and its proceeding series Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger who teamed with most former Super Sentai heroes for a massive force of 199 heroes to battle invading alien hordes. Only time will tell if elements of this film could form the basis of some two-part special in Megaforce‘s second season to commemorate twenty years of Power Rangers (though, the main character of Megaforce Troy Burrows has had visions on the show that seem to in part reflect this assumption). An element that could pose a problem for this scenario is that Power Rangers has at times employed original rangers such as the Lightspeed Rescue Titanium Ranger and Jungle Fury Spirit Rangers which were not present in their Japanese counterparts. There’s also, of course, the Phantom Ranger of Turbo and In Space who was not a main character in Gekisou Sentai Carranger where he originated from. Also absent from the film include the Japanese counterparts of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers‘ Ninjor, Zeo‘s Auric the Conqueror, and S.P.D.‘s Nova Ranger. Still, even if fans only receive a paltry one hundred or so rangers and allies, I’m sure they will not complain too much.
Power Rangers Megaforce airs on Nickelodeon on Saturdays in the afternoon and Monday, February 25th will be the start of a four day marathon called Power Rangers Colors of Courage featuring some of the best episodes from Power Rangers’ twenty seasons each night on Nickelodeon.