Top 10: Seasons of Power Rangers by Jerry Whitworth
With the announcement by Shout! Factory that the final seasons of Disney’s Power Rangers run is coming to DVD next year (not to mention the awesome upcoming legacy collection in a collectible red ranger helmet), fans will finally be able to own the entire Power Rangers series on DVD. In the twenty years Power Rangers has been on the air, the series has been through many transitions as powers and zords changed and cast members came and went leading to new rangers almost every season as the norm today. Even the people who brought the series to the masses has changed hands as the show was fostered by Saban’s brand before being scooped up by Disney where Saban bought it back some years ago. Perhaps the one force that has stayed with the show longer than most (if not the longest) is Koichi Sakamoto, who joined Power Rangers with its third season as stunt coordinator and whose growing presence has ushered in arguably the most action packed seasons of the series (Sakamoto directed the upcoming anniversary reunion and season finale episode “Legendary Battle” of Power Rangers Super Megaforce based on the film Gokaiger Goseiger Super Sentai 199 Hero Great Battle). Lets take a look now at the absolute best seasons of Power Rangers over its twenty years.
When Super Sentai was adapted in America as Power Rangers, the show started out with a dinosaur theme for the series. Eleven years later, the concept was revisited giving birth to Power Rangers: Dino Thunder. In paying tribute to the return to its roots, arguably the most popular and recognizable cast member Jason David Frank returned as his character Tommy Oliver. Originally the auxiliary Green Dragonzord Ranger, Tommy would become the group’s leader in the second season when he became the White Tiger Thunderzord Ranger. He remained on as the Red Zeo Ranger and Red Turbo Ranger before retiring, returning for the series’ tenth anniversary in the special “Forever Red.” For Dino Thunder, Tommy became a paleontologist who discovered Dino Gems that would be used for that season’s morphers, himself becoming the Black Dino Ranger. In addition to the nostalgia factor of Tommy’s return, the story had intriguing subplots that went above the cheese factor dominant in early seasons of the series. One of the main plots of the series was the relationship between Tommy and Anton Mercer and his son Trent. Tommy and Anton were partners in developing the technology that would be used by the rangers during the season when an accident transformed Anton into the series’ antagonist Mesogog. Anton’s son Trent would stumble into the conflict between Mesogog and the Rangers when he came into contact with the White Dino Gem, something his father hoped to turn into a weapon against his enemies instead giving Trent a split, evil personality as the White Dino Ranger. The subplot made for a lot of drama for the series especially when Tommy was met with essentially the face of his time as Rita Repulsa’s unwilling evil Green Ranger in Trent. In addition, Tommy’s friend Smitty would be left near dead by the accident that transformed Anton Mercer leaving Mesogog to rebuild him as the vengeful cyborg Zeltrax who blamed his former friend for his condition. Likely the most revered episode of Dino Thunder was “Fighting Spirit” which saw Tommy battle his former Ranger selves in order to regain his form.
The season when Disney acquired Power Rangers from Saban, Power Rangers Wild Force was the tenth season in the series with a feral beast theme. Like Dino Thunder, Wild Force featured a theme with a personal connection between the primary antagonist and protagonist. The villainous Master Org was once Doctor Viktor Adler who, along with Richard and Elizabeth Evans, went on expedition into the Amazon and discovered seeds of an ancient malevolent race called Orgs. Adler, who desired Elizabeth and grew jealous of her marriage with Richard which produced a son, consumed the seeds and transformed into the reborn Master Org slaying the couple and abandoning their child for dead. The boy, Cole Evans, was raised by the jungle’s natives, growing up to become the Red Wild Force Ranger and leader of the group of superheroes. The series would also feature a possessed evil ranger in Merrick Baliton the Lunar Wolf Ranger, an over 3,000 year old warrior who donned a legendary wolf mask of power to destroy Master Org centuries ago but came to be controlled by the power, which led to imprisonment by his friends. Freed by Master Org, he was used as a weapon against the Wild Force Rangers until the group managed to free him and added him among their number. By the time Wild Force premiered, crossovers with past rangers of the previous season was fairly common place and this season featured what is considered one of the better crossovers. The Time Force Rangers and their season’s primary villain Ransik (with daughter Nadira, both having reformed) return to the past to battle Mutant Orgs, a powerful amalgamation of both seasons’ monster types. However, the season is likely best remembered for the episode “Forever Red,” considered by many fans the best episode of the series. Celebrating ten years of Power Rangers, the special featured ten red rangers banded together to combat the re-emergent Machine Empire (composed of refurbished Beetleborg costumes) as they try to resurrect Lord Zedd’s Serpentera, the largest zord ever constructed. Popular former rangers like Tommy Oliver, Jason Lee Scott (original Red Ranger), Andros (Red Space Ranger), Wesley Collins (Red Time Force Ranger), and Eric Myers (Quantum Ranger) returned for the anniversary.
Likely an attempt to cash in on the incredible global success of the Harry Potter franchise, Power Rangers Mystic Force took the largely Science Fiction-based Power Rangers series and combined it with magic and wizardry. However, what makes the season remarkable is the message it has about destiny, reclamation, and family (which were also strong themes in Harry Potter). The main plot of the season follows a rather common formula for several Power Rangers seasons in that a team of heroes were unable to vanquish evil in the past but managed to contain it until later generations can finish the mission (elements of which present in Wild Force). For Mystic Force, the evil Morticon and his army of the undead threatened the world but was sealed away due to the sacrifice of wizards like Leanbow (Earth’s greatest wizard) and Niella (Leanbow’s sister-in-law and Gatekeeper of the Underworld). When the forces of darkness arose, Leanbow’s long lost son Bowen (or Nick Russell) appeared by the thread of fate to lead a new generation of heroes as the Red Mystic Force Ranger. Through the season, Nick discovers his mother to be his mentor Udonna (White Mystic Force Ranger) and his rival Koragg the Knight Wolf to be his father Leanbow the Wolf Warrior (his memory erased and mind twisted by evil). Further, enemies like Necrolai and her daughter Leelee, Itassis, and Matoombo renounced their evil ways becoming allies to the Rangers (as the fate of Rita Repulsa was revealed having reformed to become the powerful ally Mystic Mother). Though, not all changes were for the better when former champion of good Calindor was uncovered to be a traitor and a powerful enemy in Imperious. In one of the more remarkable season finales, the Rangers must face the embodiment of evil itself in the demonic Octomus the Master (some impressive amalgamation of Satan and Cthulhu) as the Mystic Force Rangers drew strength from the reformed villains and supporting characters like Niella’s daughter Clare, Phineas (a troblin who saved the infant Bowen), and Snow Prince (Leanbow’s mentor).
The fifteenth season of Power Rangers, Operation Overdrive was the treasure hunter (in the vein of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) season unique in that instead of there being one or two evil forces in play, there were four factions competing against each other and the Rangers. The story features two brothers (Flurious and Moltor) seeking the ancient, powerful artifact the jeweled crown Corona Aurora only for its guardian the Sentinel Knight to dismantle the item and scatter its pieces across the Earth (imprisoning the siblings within the stripped crown). When wealthy explorer Andrew Hartford discovers the crown, the two villains are released and seek the jewels to gain its power. Hartford assembles a team of specialists to become the Power Rangers to track down the jewels first as other villains like Kamdor and the Fear Cats arrive to also seek the prize. Of all the seasons of Power Rangers, Operation Overdrive was undoubtedly one of the more action-packed as heroes fought villains and villains fought villains with no shortage of accompanying explosions and special effects. As another milestone in Power Rangers history, the season celebrated its anniversary with the special “Once A Ranger.” Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd’s son Thrax (seemingly unaffected by the wave of good that reformed his parents) comes to Earth seeking the destruction of Sentinel Knight (who imprisoned Thrax on Earth’s moon in a space dumpster like the one that jailed his mother) and the Power Rangers, uniting the four enemy factions and severing the Rangers’ link to the morphing grid (robbing them of their powers). In response, the Sentinel Knight formed a team of past Rangers led by Adam Park (second Black Lion Thunderzord Ranger) and reconnected them to their past Ranger identities. Inevitably, a reconstructed Alpha 6 restores the Operation Overdrive Power Rangers and the two teams of Rangers topple Thrax’s union of evil.
Known as the season that saved Power Rangers, Power Rangers in Space is viewed as the end of the Zordon era of the series. Following one of the bleakest season finales in the series’ history wherein Turbo primary antagonist Divatox stripped the Turbo Rangers of their powers and zords and demolished their headquarters in the Power Chamber, Power Rangers in Space saw the powerless heroes rocket into unknown space seeking their former mentor Zordon. Doing so, they happen upon Andros, the Red Space Ranger also seeking Zordon who awards the fallen Rangers new morphers. In Space was in a very big way the Power Rangers war as all the former main antagonists of the series banded together as the United Alliance of Evil under the gargantuan Dark Specter. The season would also bring back the Phantom Ranger from the previous season who in a manner is the first American original Ranger (the character he was based upon a minor supporting character in the base material). A major subplot of the season was Andros looking for his long lost sister Karone, in reality the Space Rangers’ nemesis Astronema raised since a small child by the evil Ecliptor. Believing the season to be Power Rangers’ last, In Space was arguably more story driven than any other season as writers tried to wrap up essentially everything from the beginning to come full circle for the end. As such, it was completely serialized where every episode built on the narrative meaning it was important to watch every episode and in order. Perhaps it was this change in writing or the feeling of finality but the ratings grew significantly during this season, seeing the unrelated Saban original tokusatsu series Mystic Knights: Battle Thunder canceled to divert those funds to another season of Power Rangers. Of the season, two storylines are arguably remembered best. The first was the arc involving the Psycho Rangers, homicidal counterparts of the Space Rangers empowered by the very essence of the supreme villain Dark Specter. The second is “Countdown to Destruction,” the season finale. In the finale, the United Alliance of Evil go to war with the various worlds from all the seasons of Power Rangers to that point: Divatox battling the Alien Rangers on Aquitar, Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd fighting the Gold Zeo Ranger in the Vica Galaxy, and the Machine Empire and General Havoc combat the Phantom Ranger on his homeworld with the Blue Senturion by his side. The season ends where the series began as the Space Rangers go against Astronema in Angel Grove and Andros is forced to slay Zordon so that his essence purifies the universe of evil, destroying most monsters but reform Rita Repulsa, Lord Zedd, and Divatox from their malevolent ways.
The last full season of Power Rangers produced by Saban before selling the franchise to Disney, Power Rangers Time Force, as the title alludes, is a time travel based series. In this season, in the year 3000 the future is policed by Time Force who cryogenically freeze criminals (similar yet differently than in the film Demolition Man). Ransik, the only remaining criminal in the world, hijacks the prison for these criminals and journeys to the past in hopes of conquering a world without Time Force. A small band of Time Force agents risk following the criminals to the past (despite the mortal danger to them) and become Power Rangers. Prior to his trip to the past, Ransik killed Alex the Red Time Force Ranger leading the fallen hero’s morpher to be given to his ancestor Wesley Collins (as morphers are linked to its owner’s DNA). Just as with Mystic Force, Time Force is identified by its strong themes of destiny, reclamation, and family. In terms of Ransik, he was a mutant born from a chemical accident shunned by humanity (deeming themselves genetically perfect and Ransik an abomination to society) leading the wretched soul to form a criminal empire of mutants. However, despite the cold heart Ransik developed from his mistreatment, he has a strong love of his daughter Nadira, prizing her over anything else. When Nadira’s heart changed and abandoned her hatred for humanity, she tried to bring her father to her line of thinking to no avail. It wouldn’t be until Ransik accidentally harmed his daughter when she was trying to protect an infant that he finally saw what he became and conceded to his daughter, turning himself over to the Rangers despite having defeated them. As mentioned, Ransik and Nadira would team with the Rangers in the subsequent season Wild Force. Another important subplot of the series was the relationship between Wesley Collins, his father, and the Silver Guardians.
Wesley, the son of a millionaire, turns his back on his fortune when he saw the ruthlessness in which his father fosters his wealth. In fact, when the Power Rangers emerge, the elder Collins forms a security agency in the Silver Guardians who will guard businesses from Ransik’s forces for the right price. Eric Myers, born into poverty who went to school with Wesley (jealous of his classmate), would join the Silver Guardians in hopes of leading them (going so far as to hijack the Quantum Ranger powers towards this end). Eric would become an anti-hero in the series, using his powers to benefit himself and only aiding the Rangers when the situation was dire enough. Through events in the series, Mr. Collins and Myers would both change, realizing their cynical view of the world robbed them of their humanity. Wesley would forgive both of them, taking over the Silver Guardians alongside Myers as the organization no longer charged for its services. Finally, when the season started, Ransik slew Alex leaving the Ranger’s fiancee Jen Scotts (Pink Time Force Ranger) to take over the team. When the members of Time Force came to the past and recruited Wesley (who looked exactly like Alex), Jen would fall in love with him. However, messing around with the past, time was rewritten and Alex survived his battle with Ransik. When Alex came to the past to reclaim his spot as the group’s leader, the team came to realize Wesley was the better leader and Jen chose Wesley over Alex. In essence, Alex was destined to die so that Wesley would become the Red Time Force Ranger and Jen would find him across the divide of time. Time Force would prove to be popular with fans, so much so it almost returned for a second season or follow-up film (which by then hadn’t been done since Mighty Morphin Power Rangers).
While the final season of Power Rangers produced by Disney, Power Rangers RPM was a dynamic shift in the franchise even before being sold back to Saban. Disney, notorious for canceling its children’s television programming (recently of note in its acquisition of Marvel), wanted to squash Power Rangers reportedly because it grew tired of producing the series (its ratings and toy sales seemingly having little to do with its end at the company as even popular kids series at Disney rarely surpass four seasons with Power Rangers lasting eight under the corporation). Jungle Fury was intended to be the show’s final season but continued for another season, rumor has it either because of a licensing agreement with toy manufacturer Bandai or it was agreed that the season would be produced with significantly less funding. However, again according to rumors, the agreed budget was expired somewhere around halfway into the season (reportedly the main reasoning behind the firing of executive producer Eddie Guzelian). Likely in a cost cutting measure, many producers and writers of previous seasons were let go making way for Guzelian and fellow Disney television writers Matthew Negrete and Madellaine Paxson (reportedly, both quitting the show when Guzelian was axed while returning producer Jackie Marchand was let go a few months into the season’s production). Regardless, RPM was Guzelian’s first live action series and a largely fresh writing team meant a significant change in the story’s direction (many seasons under the Disney brand followed closely to the original Super Sentai material where RPM was completely different). RPM, designed as a season about racing animal-like vehicles in Japan, was turned into a post-apocalyptic future in an alternate timeline than all other seasons of Power Rangers (elements reminiscent of Power Rangers Ninja Storm, Disney’s first full season producing the series that moved production to New Zealand firing almost everyone involved in the show up to that point and claiming all past seasons of Power Rangers as void). The childlike elements of the base material were generally ignored for a very dark, adult season of the show that involved the attempted genocide of mankind which included various character deaths in the show (notably Marcus Truman, older brother of Scott Truman who later became the Red RPM Ranger, and Andrews the butler who sacrificed his life to save Summer Landsdown, the future Yellow RPM Ranger).
For Power Rangers RPM, the computer Venjix attempted to conquer Earth by wiping out humanity. However, some humans managed to survive and formed the domed city of Corinth, the last stronghold of resistance against the machines (elements reminiscent of the Terminator series). A new form of enhanced soldier was developed in the Power Rangers, donning suits and weapons that would put humanity on par with the robot hordes of Venjix. However, even then Venjix adapted around this advent, including inventing the so-called Human Infiltration Attack Bot which could pass for being human (specifically, because they were cyborgs programmed to believe they were robots). Two of these cyborgs would largely be the focus of the series, namely siblings Dillon and Tenaya. The former seemingly cast in the same mold as Mad Max, Dillon was a man without a past or a name (simply coming up with Dillon when pressed to give himself something to be called by) that happened upon Corinth and quickly became a hero, chosen to be the Black RPM Ranger. Through his superhuman strength and reflexes, it was discovered he was a cyborg that somehow escaped Venjix while maintaining his independence. Tenaya would be less successful, reprogrammed as Venjix’s chief operative able to slip into the domed city with relative ease. Their memories erased, Dillon and Tenaya would repeatedly battle each other before Dillon finally pieced together hints to his past and revealed the truth to her. RPM would hold several parallels to Power Rangers in Space, comparing Dillon and Tenaya to Andros and Karone, the defeat of the Turbo Rangers to the near annihilation of humanity, and similarities between ambitious villains Kilobyte and Darkonda.
An admitted cheat on my part, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were the first three seasons of Power Rangers which adapted elements of three seasons of Super Sentai (the ones involving dinosaurs, Chinese mythology, and ninjutsu, dinosaurs and ninjutsu a source for material for two more seasons of Power Rangers later on). The success of Power Rangers was surprising to many, especially those that created it, as the series featured combining footage from Toei’s Super Sentai shows with segments with American actors (which made the show fairly cheap to produce, Toei doing most of the heavy lifting). What made the original seasons so magical was how unique the show was to Americans. It had elements of Battle of the Planets, Voltron, and superhero shows rolled up together in live action half-hour programs. The concept almost forgave the show for its cheesy plotlines/dialogue and non-existent budget for footage shot in the states (for all the money the first season made, it seems like any extra funds were sank into the awesome costume of Lord Zedd the following season). Undoubtedly what fans remember most about those three seasons is its star Jason David Frank who largely carried the show (not to say the rest of the cast didn’t contribute strong work and great scenes, but it seems Frank was given the ball and he took it in for a touchdown every time). Frank added a level of legitimacy to the show involving its martial art elements (which was the strongest part of the American footage), willing to go above and beyond to give quality action on a budget and improved every season in this regard. Of course the rest of the cast like fellow rangers Austin St. John, Walter Jones, Thuy Trang, David Yost, Amy Jo Johnson, Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Cardenas, Karan Ashley, and Catherine Sutherland brought it in every episode despite what we learned today was rather despicable issues backstage (anti-gay hate speech and tactics, anti-union practices, and money made from the show going to the higher-ups as cast were treated as dispensable props). Power Rangers is what it is today having grown from the original series as it found its footing and began investing in the show instead of simply riding out the wave. Likely the most memorable aspect of the first three seasons was the “Green with Evil” mini-series which introduced Tommy Oliver and his alter ego the Green Ranger.
Power Rangers S.P.D. is another one of those seasons with a major shake-up internally behind the scenes. Doug Sloan and Ann Austen, who largely pioneered Disney’s reinvention of Power Rangers during Ninja Storm, departed as Greg Aronowitz and Bruce Kalish (who brought in seasoned talent from Hollywood) took the show’s helm. The result, at least in the beginning, was widely raved by fans (referred as the start of the Kalish era of Power Rangers). Its been said S.P.D. had more character development during its season that any other in the series, with episodes focusing on individual rangers giving the show a level of depth no other season has had (in fact, the series was dubbed and aired in Japan, which hadn’t happened since Lost Galaxy to that point). Likely those that benefited the most from this development were characters Jack Landors and Anubis “Doggie” Cruger. Landors, portrayed by Brandon Jay McLaren who has since developed an impressive career in Hollywood following his time on Power Rangers (comparable to Amy Jo Johnson who likely had the best follow-up success story for a series regular), was a reformed thief dragged into the season’s conflict when the show’s Power Rangers were captured by enemy forces leaving Earth virtually defenseless. For S.P.D., the season is set in the year 2025 where Earth has welcomed other alien races and is protected by the S.P.D., or Space Patrol Delta, an intergalactic police agency. The season picks up when the Troobian Empire has conquered several planets protected by S.P.D. setting sights on Earth (as survivors, like Cruger, consolidate forces on the planet). Landors, who has a notable bravado in his behavior, is wracked by self doubt over the course of the season transitioning from a street urchin who did what he had to in order to survive to becoming the field leader of Earth’s first and last defense against an intergalactic empire that defeated stronger worlds. As the season progressed, Landors developed into a strong leader and fighter who, following the defeat of the Troobians, retired to perform civil service to help those that were like him before the war. However, the series would develop a surprising star in “Doggie” Cruger.
A native of the planet Sirius (where the S.P.D. arose), Anubis “Doggie” Cruger (nicknamed from his canine humanoid appearance) was a swordsman without equal, happily married, and a founder of the S.P.D. His life would be turned upside down when the Troobian Empire attacked his homeworld, Cruger dueling the Troobian Emperor Gruumm (drawing parallels to He-Man and Skeletor) cutting off his right horn before falling in battle. Left for dead, Cruger awoke to virtually his entire race wiped out and his wife believed dead. Cruger would transfer to Earth, taking point on that world’s S.P.D. forces as he prepared for his rematch against the Empire and Gruumm. The situation appeared grim when Earth’s Power Rangers seemingly fell to enemy forces but Cruger was instrumental in leading the planet’s counter-attack, seeing potential in Jack Landors and mentoring the young man (giving him leadership of the B-Squad S.P.D. Power Rangers and teaching him the art of the sword). Eventually, Cruger would take up the mantle of the incredible Shadow Ranger, taking out one hundred enemy combatants within roughly two minutes after his first morph. Cruger would go on to defeat his swordsman rival Icthior following his ascension as the Shadow Ranger. In the season finale, Cruger would save his wife (captured by Gruumm) and finally defeat the Troobian Emperor.
S.P.D. would have many several notable episodes. Already mentioned, the two-part “Shadow” introduced Cruger as the Shadow Ranger, “Badge” featured Cruger take on his rival Icthior, and the two-part season finale “Endings” which included the A-Squad Power Rangers’ betrayal of the S.P.D. (having sold out to Gruumm) and the introduction of the Nova Ranger from the year 2040. S.P.D. would also feature two separate team-up episodes with the previous season’s Power Rangers in “History” and “Wormhole” (though, Jason David Frank would not return to his iconic role of Tommy when producers didn’t want to pay to fly the actor back to New Zealand for the role, a fact that drew the ire of fans). Other memorable episodes include the two-part “Sam,” introducing a young boy with teleportation powers named Sam who would return later in the season as an adult from the future in the Omega Ranger (for the two-part “Messenger”), “Samurai” would see Landors take on the legendary swordsman Katana (Earth’s greatest swordsman taken from the past to destroy the Rangers), “Dismissed” introduced Supreme Commander Fowler “Birdie” (with an epic motorcycle vs ATV duel between Cruger and Gruumm), “S.W.A.T.” introduces the Rangers’ S.W.A.T. power-up and Drill Sergeant Silverback, and “Katastrophe” has supporting character Kat Manx suit up as the Kat Ranger. A special note, S.P.D. shared a few similarities and connections with Time Force and In Space. For the former, both involving police forces in the future and character Sky’s father was depicted wearing the Red Time Force Ranger’s uniform. For the latter, S.P.D. saw the return of Ron Wasserman (The Mighty RAW) produce the opening song (which he hadn’t done since In Space), featured a duel between two characters in the finale (Andros/Astronema and Cruger/Gruumm), and the A-Squad’s helmets were refurbished In Space helmets. Matt Austin Sadowski, who played Bridge Carson the S.P.D. Green Ranger, recently revealed plans to produce an unofficial sequel fan film to the series in Power Rangers S.P.D.: The Last Patrol.
Power Rangers Jungle Fury would be the final series of controversial figure in the world of Power Rangers Bruce Kalish. For those who enjoyed his run with the franchise, Jungle Fury was considered by many his best season (though, his first season S.P.D. has also been called his best by many). Kalish’s main criticism has been often times sticking to the original story of the base Super Sentai material (albeit as an alleged watered down version), called lazy by fans of Super Sentai (or boring since those fans watched both Power Rangers and Super Sentai). However, those unfamiliar with the base material rather enjoyed the Americanization of the shows, blissfully unaware as American footage tended to get bigger every season with more explosions and special effects (another criticism, however, by Super Sentai purists). And yet, not only was American footage dynamic and epic, it impressed Toei who produced the original works and who brought on board Koichi Sakamoto for work on Kamen Rider and Super Sentai. Sakamoto headed up in one fashion or another a lot of the American action footage (known for his use of explosions, he use to head up the stunt choreography before passing it on to his team as his role grew at Power Rangers as an executive producer during the Disney years, becoming a director when Saban bought back the franchise).
Jungle Fury was intended to be Disney’s final season of Power Rangers, where rumor had it RPM came about when producers promised to run the season with a significant cut in the budget. As Saban, who bought back the series following RPM, is notoriously cheap with American footage, Jungle Fury was in a very big way the last big hurrah of Power Rangers to this day making ample use of explosions, wire work, CG effects, and action choreography. To some, the use of such extravagance in Jungle Fury was considered a crutch because a writer’s strike had a major impact on the latter half of the series (scabs hired to finish the season, the only non-soap opera live action series to do so at the time), while many felt the direction got the franchise back on track over a perceived lack of direction in the previous two seasons. Power Rangers has generally been marked by three elements: Science Fiction, superhero, and martial arts. However, it’s likely martial arts is what marks the series most strongly and Jungle Fury was undoubtedly the martial arts season of Power Rangers. Mostly kung fu oriented, the series paid homage to different fighting styles (like Muay Thai and karate), action stars (like Bruce Lee), and martial films (like Five Deadly Venoms). In the series, the Pai Zhuq, the “Order of the Claw,” locked away the embodiment of evil Dai Shi ten thousand years ago and has guarded his imprisonment ever since. A new generation of Pai Zhuq students was to be selected to continue the order’s guardianship but when elder pupil Jarrod was passed over in favor of a beginner, he accidentally released Dai Shi who possessed his body. Now, two of Jarrod’s fellow elites and the new recruit must become Power Rangers and prevent Dai Shi from enveloping the world in darkness.
As with Mystic Force and Time Force, the season has a strong theme of destiny, reclamation, and family. In Jungle Fury, it was foretold Dai Shi would escape and three Pai Zhuq masters would finally destroy him. While elite students Jarrod, Lily, and Theo appeared to be those who would bring down the monster, Jarrod’s pride prevented him from attaining the status of a master. That same pride would be the catalyst for Dai Shi reentering the world and was the ordeal Jarrod must overcome to get back on the right track. Casey, a recruit to the Order, had only an elementary understanding of the martial arts but would prove to be a prodigy and whose tiger spirit was incredibly powerful (comparable to Jarrod’s lion spirit). Just as it was Jarrod’s pride that prevented him from becoming a master and that unleashed a great evil, it would be overcoming that pride (and placing friendship over safety) that freed him and helped return the world to balance (just as it was destiny that brought Casey to the Pai Zhuq when it did to bring the prophecy full circle in the destruction of Dai Shi). It was also destiny that Dai Shi would possess Jarrod leading his top field operative Camille to fall in love with Jarrod, betray her master, and give Jarrod the courage to fight (redeeming both of them towards finding a new life together in the service of good). While the reclamation of Jarrod and Camille was a powerful ongoing subplot of the series, another element of note was around the character Whiger.
Often the case in Super Sentai and Power Rangers, in the mid-season new more powerful enemies are introduced generally necessitating the heroes to gain some power-up in order to keep up. Such was the case with the Phantom Beasts, of which Whiger was a general. With the spirit of the white tiger, Whiger defeated Casey and took his tiger spirit. Still, the Power Rangers managed to defeat Whiger who was stripped of his rank and his Phantom Beast power. To regain his honor, he again fought Casey only for the ranger to save his life in the midst of their duel. With that, Whiger became an ally returning Casey’s tiger spirit and sacrificing himself in order to help the ranger save his friends. As for family, that element revolved around one of the Pai Zhuq masters. R.J. was the fourth ranger to join the group (as the Wolf Ranger), acting as an interim master for the Pai Zhuq students following the death of their teacher Mao (though, his attention was largely on Casey). As mentioned, the Phantom Beast Generals would be the mid-season upgraded threat, but before them was the Overlords, powerful followers of Dai Shi. To counteract this circumstance, the rangers seek out Pai Zhuq masters to join them in their cause. Enter Finn, R.J.’s father, master of the shark sabers and wielder of the shark spirit. Finn never approved of his son declining to accept the shark spirit as his ancestors before him, the son choosing to go his own path and instead follow the way of the wolf. Finn’s appearance drives a wedge between Casey and R.J., as Casey was eager to have Finn as his teacher over R.J. and Finn took Casey as a surrogate son who wanted to learn his fighting style. Ultimately, the three would put aside their issues as Finn and R.J. became father and son again despite their differences.
Returning to the homages and themes of Jungle Fury, the suits of the three main rangers (significantly less adorned than other rangers of past seasons, such as lacking wearing belts) herald back to the iconic yellow jumpsuit of Bruce Lee which was unencumbered, providing speed and versatility. Further, Casey as the Red Jungle Fury Ranger initially wields Nunchaku, a weapon Lee was famous for popularizing. The season also makes ample use of folklore tropes of the martial art genre, such as a monastery where a former student returns as an enemy and its students must defend against this foe (namely Jarrod and the rangers) and vagabond/hermit masters who bestow advanced fighting knowledge (namely, Finn and Phant). As mentioned, R.J. chose to go his own way in fighting, choosing not to employ weapons and though not said explicitly, his Wolf Ranger suit strongly suggests his style as Muay Thai (bandaged hands, ceremonial ties on his upper arms, the suit design giving the impression of wearing shorts) as the ranger employs elbow and knee strikes that are hallmarks of the combat system. Dominic, the fifth ranger and wielder of the power of the rhino spirit, was sent away by Mao to find his own fighting style where, when he morphs, his suit is reminiscent of a karate gi as it is predominantly white with hand guards and a knotted black belt. Further, his style employs many chopping techniques which is notable for certain styles of karate. Intriguingly enough, R.J. employed training techniques for Casey in the style of Mister Miyagi from The Karate Kid series. As for kung fu, which the series focuses mainly upon, the fighting form has many several versions based upon animals. Animal spirits like tiger (Casey, Whiger), mantis (Mantor), eagle (Carnisoar), crane (Carden), bear (Grizzaka), monkey (Monkeywi, Master Rilla, Grinder), and dragon (Scorch) have kung fu based upon them that are featured in the series. A notable mention is the Five Fingers of Poison, a malevolent group of characters based on the famous kung fu film Five Deadly Venoms. As an aside, there’s also Grinder who pays homage to the Hindu ape-like deity Hanuman and Sun Wukong/Son Goku the Monkey King of Journey to the West (while his name references an organ-grinder’s monkey). Also, the Phantom Beast Generals pay homage to the Four Gods of Chinese folklore (Dai Shi anointed as the Phantom Beast King with the spirit of the griffin, an amalgamation of a lion and eagle, for the Vermilion bird).
There are so many high quality episodes of Jungle Fury, it’s challenging trying to narrow down a few notable entries. Just four episodes into the season, the Five Fingers of Poison are introduced for a four episode arc as the newfound team of Power Rangers are put to the limit (while Dai Shi’s elite foot soldiers plot to overthrow their master). The episodes following this arc involve the introduction of the Pai Zhuq masters to individually train the rangers and add the power of the elephant, bat, and shark to the team (as Dai Shi resurrects the Overlords). And just as this arc comes to an end, the rangers must venture to the Spirit World to train with dead Pai Zhuq masters for a power-up against the rising power of Dai Shi’s forces (while R.J. and Jarrod/Dai Shi fight a duel against each other). In the aftermath, a two-episode arc begins where R.J. turns into a wolf monster before eventually becoming the Wolf Ranger. Dominic arrives soon after and ventures against Dai Shi in trying to obtain the Rhino Steel Zord (while the Overlords betray Dai Shi toward their own ends). This then leads to the emergence of the Phantom Beasts and America-original Spirit Rangers (spiritual projections of masters Swoop, Phant, and Finn). Two episodes later begins the arc involving Whiger who steals Casey’s tiger spirit before returning it and becoming an ally. Two episodes after this arc, Jarrod begins to break free of Dai Shi as the Phantom Beasts turn on Camille (blaming her for the development), Jarrod coming to her rescue inspiring Casey to risk his life to force the former elder student to separate from the evil entity. This leads into the season finale, which may very well be the most action packed of any Power Rangers season, as Dai Shi manifests as an eight-headed dragon and resurrects the Five Fingers of Poison, Overlords, and the Phantom Beasts (including generals Scorch and Snapper) leading to a massive brawl against the Power Rangers, Spirit Rangers, and Pai Zhuq masters (living and dead as the latter escape the Spirit World along with Dai Shi’s monsters). Some two-thirds of the episode is an action sequence using explosions, wire work, CG effects, and remarkable choreography. In all, I can’t help but recommend at least twenty episodes of the thirty-two episode season (and even then I feel I’m not doing the season justice).
Honorable mentions: Power Rangers Lost Galaxy and Power Rangers Ninja Storm.