The Power Rangers of my Past and of my Present

The Power Rangers of my Past and of my Present

I don't possess a great memory. It could be fairly described as inconsistent, or even weak. Not because I remember things inaccurately, but because I hardly remember them at all. I'm often settled back into my consciousness further than would allow me to perceive and subsequently recall details. But somehow I precisely remember watching the television premiere of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. It was August 28, 1993 (so the internet tells me), and I would have fallen right into the correct demographic age range for the show. I was lucky to be a young viewer at the time, because in addition to the usual proliferation of kid's programming from the major networks on Saturdays, FOX aired an entire lineup on weekdays for those getting home from school. But Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (or MMPR, for the sake of brevity) stood out from this cartoon group, being a live action addition full of fighting and special effects. The show was a daring, if thrifty, experiment to combine footage from the Japanese tokusatsu (special filming/special effects) TV series Super Sentai with scenes featuring American actors and locations. I was already an enthusiastic Godzilla fan at this point, so the Super Sentai sections, featuring battles between giant robots and monsters, were very enticing to me.

Sadly, when the first episode concluded, I was left very disappointed. I sort of hated it, in fact. I can still remember being angry over the exact moment wherein the Pink Ranger first found herself in the cockpit of her ''zord'', or giant mechanical pterodactyl. Surrounded by the vehicle's highly advanced array of controls, she exclaimed ''Hey, nice stereo!''. That this was the reaction of a character to being entrusted with this enormous power, for the purpose of saving the world, felt false and absurd even to my childhood self. Beyond such seemingly desperate attempts at hip dialogue, the show consistently fell into many instances of weak, broader than broad humor surrounding a duo of school bullies named Bulk and Skull. The loud, fast paced show lacked the nuance of its cartoon peers. I was also turned off by the cheap look of the American footage, and the teenage heroes, for all their wholesomeness, were distant from me in a way similar to that of the older students at school - a weirdly separate species. Finally, any appeal that was meant to come from the show being a live action production, instead of an animated one, was certainly lost on me. I'd always preferred animation to live action, and usually the opening titles of the latter signaled the end of a Saturday morning lineup of cartoons - the start of the prime time block. Soul Train was the harbinger of weekend boredom. Even to this day, I'm more easily enticed by animation than just about anything else. I grew up in a golden age of cartoon TV series, and MMPR didn't exceed them. Despite all of this, it was still a kid's show, and I still continued watching it intermittently, as it was still closer to my tastes than anything else showing in its time slot. But never was I won over.

A large contingent of nineties kids were very much won over, however. Their support helped MMPR become for its era what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT)  had been to the 1980's. And just as that show gave rise to countless imitators, so to did the Power Rangers beget such progeny as Big Bad Beetleborgs, VR Troopers, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, and even, ironically, a live action revival of the Ninja Turtles themselves called The Next Mutation. These Turtles even shared a crossover with an incarnation of the Power Rangers in an episode called ''Shell Shocked''. But all of these shows were variously short-lived, and none left the lasting pop cultural impact of their common antecedent. ''Mighty Morphin'' would be removed from the franchise's title after a handful of seasons with more directly connected story continuity. Thereafter Power Rangers would essentially fall into the pattern of its Japanese counterpart, this being a progression of seasons related only by basic visual and structural concept, eschewing the returning characters and plot points exclusive to the American adaptations. The series is going strong even now, with the western franchise recently airing its twenty third season (Power Rangers Dino Super Charge), while the Japanese Super Sentai just began its fortieth (Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger). 

The years after its 1993 premier saw Power Rangers establish its permanent place in pop culture and on television, but I was only peripherally cognizant of the show's presence. As I entered my teenage years and became myself that weird, separate species, I was increasingly preoccupied with the medium of film. It slowly absorbed my interest, thoughts, and time. My gradual journey to understand who I was, and who I aimed to be - so typical of this period in our lives - was inextricably conjoined to my growing understanding of movies. The more I learned about myself, the greater my capability and desire to grasp of the art of filmmaking became. Art can be thought of as the point of interaction between the work and the observer. We bring ourselves into the exchange, and it can tell us something new about art itself, the world, about us. The process can infect you. Because if you are open and willing, art can put pressure on your preconceptions, make you question your beliefs. It can impact your identity, force you to confront an unfounded idea, and, if your not too precious about such things, discard it. It certainly did this for me. It still does.

Any form of art can be a map to a wiser self. Even the Godzilla films of my youth took on a changed significance when I returned to them, the less obvious concepts within suddenly apparent. I read more about their creators, and found deeper purpose behind their distinct style of production. Eventually this fascination led me to further into the filmography of effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, including his most famous creation, Ultraman. Fairly recently I learned the word tokusatsu, which describes Ultraman, Godzilla, and all such similar works. The term sums up my favorite kind of entertainment, referring to live action Japanese productions, usually of the fantasy variety, with a heavy reliance on practical effects. I finally had a single word with which to name my passion. This avenue of interest, of course, led inexorably back to the most successful American iteration of the genre ever: Power Rangers.

It was only months ago, while still delving further into the tokusatsu genre, when I discovered that the sixteenth season of Super Sentai (Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger), the show from which our own Mighty Morphin Power Rangers originated, was streaming for free on shoutfactorytv. I only needed to watch a single episode to know that it was something I would love. Thus enthused, I decided to give MMPR itself another shot, some twenty plus years later. Thankfully, Netflix has an impressive, possibly complete selection of the franchise available. I pressed play on that very same premier episode from my unusually accurate childhood memory. A dive into an earlier point in the time stream of my life. This time, when the Pink Ranger uttered the line of dialogue about a stereo, I wasn't angered; I was amused. I could see the harmless, hackneyed silliness of it, along with all of the show's other shortcomings, in a new light. Here was the charm of a low budget production, struggling to make a whole out of awkwardly matched halves from two different countries. Then I pressed play on episode two. As I write this, I'm still pressing play, some one hundred and twenty odd episodes later. Everything that once bothered me about the show now amuses me on some level. The show was always somewhat absurd, but I now fully appreciate the joy in that absurdity. Its attempts to be hip ring with a kind of naive innocence. The utter failure of its slapstick humor has become funny in itself.

And my appreciation for the young actors has skyrocketed, given how much of the physical combat they perform themselves, and the commitment they exhibit in delivering the many strange lines they are given. They are frequently asked to shout the names of weapons - ''Power Daggers!'' - and, in order to transform into their Ranger form, they exclaim the name of their individual dinosaur power totems - ''Tyrannosaurus!'' It is this transformation into their colorful superhero alter egos that is known as ''Morphin''. In the twenty three years since I first saw it, I went through my own transformation. Assisted by continued exposure to various art forms, I was able to let go of erroneous childish notions, and to think more openly and compassionately about the entertainment I enjoy. My circuitous route took a while, but I finally caught up to those other kids in the nineties, who knew all along that it was Morphin time.           

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