Power Rangers is now a 20-year old franchise. Created by sourcing fight footage and costumes from the Japanese Super Sentai franchise (which has been running even longer), the series focus on a usually five member team of teenagers who are granted the power to become an elite colour-coded team of warriors to help a wise mentor in their fight to protect Earth from alien overlords. Both Power Rangers and Super Sentai have survived by operating in yearly cycles, exploring the same general formula of heroes using giant robots but changing the motif every rotation. Initially led by Saban, the show was eventually sold to Disney who seemed to have lost interest in the Rangers a few short years ago. Japanese partner Toei’s response was to create an exceptionally Japan flavoured series: Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. Saban, believing Disney were squandering a great brand, bought back the rights to his creation and soon after unveiled the Ranger incarnation- Power Rangers Samurai.
Super Samurai marks a half-series rebrand of the show with the basic plot being explained at the start of each episode. During the age of the samurai, the evil Nighlok race flooded the toxic Sanzu River they called home, intending to breach the boundaries between realities to conquer Earth. They were beaten by a team of noble Samurai Rangers, who ensured their powers and arts were passed down their bloodlines to keep the world safe for when the Nighlok tried again. The series focuses on the current team of Samurai Rangers in our modern day as they practice the ancient samurai code.
I want to address the elephant in the room. While past Ranger series have been loose adaptations of the Japanese shows, they were never shy of doing their own thing and were all the better for it. In contrast, Samurai sticks far too close to its Shinkenger parent and it really isn’t for the best. The obvious issue is one of heritage- why does a team descended from Japanese samurai only have a single Asian person in its ranks? It only gets weirder when an episode on the disc involves a local family in what is apparently America having been given the centuries old task of keeping a wild living Zord locked away. Surely there was a way to use the rich heritage of Japan’s samurai without creating such an awkward plothole?
I won’t focus too much on that issue, however, as the episodes on this disc are actually a lot of fun. The Super title comes from the Rangers gaining the Black Box, a new tool which grants the Ranger who uses it a new powered up form and the ability to control the various Zord robots with less restrictions. The Samurai Ranger costume is a personal favourite and the Super Samurai look makes it even cooler, adding a white coat inspired by ancient Japanese military garb.
If you’re like me, the moments you remember most about Power Rangers are when the formula was subverted and the usual sure-win of the heroes was snatched away by a dastardly new villain. To keep the Black Box from becoming predictable, this series gives us Serrator, a new Nighlok lieutenant who proves to be a match for the Super Samurai power and who is plotting his own secret agenda. Half the fun of the villains of the franchise has been the soap opera style scheming going on in their own camp, so it’s great that kids today still have that to enjoy.
The Rangers themselves are okay but a bit too safe. Neither script nor actor does them much credit. Maybe this is just unfair criticism coming from myself (the original Mighty Morphin’ team weren’t brilliant in either regard either) but they feel very uninspiring compared to earlier teams or individual Rangers where the writers dug deeper. A few episodes on the disc give spotlight focus to members of the team but this doesn’t amount to much and even the samurai theme is only really used to have the non-morphed actors spar with bamboo blades. Possibly the best occasion is a pair of episodes involving a herald of Serrator with a legitimately creepy plan which causes Gold Ranger Antonio to struggle with his duties as a Ranger.
The fight scenes have improved season after season, and by this point it’s actually tricky to tell where Sentai sourced footage ends and new footage begins. This creates a much more consistent and enjoyable spectacle and even if you don’t think much of the rangers as fleshed out characters it’s hard not to enjoy the action be they normal, morphed or piloting their giant Zord mechas into battle. Much like the costumes the samurai theme allows for some very cool looking robots, with the central Megazord revisiting the alternate weapon helmet gimmick older fans will remember from Zeo. Younger fans are sure to enjoy the action and seeing just which way the Zords will combine next.
Aside from the theme song being a play on the iconic Ron Wasserman theme, the other clear nostalgia card is Saban bringing back Paul Schrier in his role of Bulk. Bulk and Skull were there from the start, beginning as stereotype bullies before the writers had fun deepening their characters and ultimately giving them a bold heroic moment. Bulk returns here to mentor Skull’s son, Spike (played by Felix Ryan) in the ways of the samurai. Although Schrier is as amusing as ever and Ryan does a brilliant job of passing as Skull’s son, the nature of the show means that their appearances are often unconnected tangents rather than overlapping subplots with the main plot of the Rangers. It really feels like both the A and B plots could be enriched by making them entwine.
Video and audio quality are really strong, matching my praise for The Aquabats Super Show. It seems Fremantle know how to produce high quality releases that don’t lose out in the increasingly Blu-ray led market. The disc contains a single static menu which loops the instrumental version of the main theme heard in the end credits, from which one can choose to play all the episodes or pick an individually titled one. No extras are present.
There’s a lot of nitpicking across this review but you know what? I enjoyed each of these episodes as they glided past and kept my attention. That’s the thing with Power Rangers. You can try to dissect it but it’s not designed for it. It’s a fun and campy show for kids (and big kids) who keep justice in their heart and believe the day will always be saved if you have a courageous spirit and a sweet arsenal. When the show makes it’s so easy to appreciate and be entertained by that fact, is that really so bad?
The first volume of Super Samurai is great fun and reminds me how this show has lasted for over two decades. As a great (Wasser)man once sang, ‘No one will ever take them down’.
Power Rangers Super Samurai Volume 1 is available to order at Amazon UK.
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