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A Quick History of Power Rangers (And the Strange Japanese Show It’s Based On)

A Quick History of Power Rangers (And the Strange Japanese Show It’s Based On)

Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger is the 16th iteration of Toei and Bandai’s Super Sentai TV show. It aired weekly from 1992 to 1993, and starred five young royals who’d evolved from dinosaurs. They’re revived by the Sage Barza after millennia in hibernation when their greatest foe, Witch Bandora, escapes imprisonment on Planet Nemesis. After summoning a pantheon of robot gods known as Guardian Beasts, these “dino rangers” do battle with a legion of Golems and other monsters serving Bandora.

Wait wait wait–aren’t we supposed to be talking about Power Rangers here?

As many children of the 90s might’ve suspected (noticing that action scenes were clearly shot on different film stock than scenes set at Angel Grove High), Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was actually Saban Entertainment’s artful re-packaging of a Japanese adventure serial. With new footage and careful editing, the ancient Zyurangers became stereotypical American teenagers who transformed into Power Rangers. Their master Saga Barza became the floating head Zordon, and their Guardian Beasts became Zords. Witch Bandora and her Golems became Rita Repulsa and the Putty Patrol, with evil schemes hewing a bit sillier and much less dangerous.

Really, “danger” is the aspect to stress when contrasting these two shows. For while, Power Rangers had to tone down its action after American parent groups protested the level of violence in its first season, the show was already softening a lot of Zyuranger‘s rough edges. Japanese TV networks are far more permissive about what’s acceptable for younger viewers. As such, the Zyurangers actually kill their enemies on screen–stabbing them in the eyes, dropping them down fiery chasms, etc., and most of their villains’ murderous plots directly target children.

Oh, and Witch Bandora worships Satan.

The subsequent Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers seasons cherry picked outfits and Zords from parts of Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, with its shogun-esque bots, and the mythology-based Gosei Sentai Dairanger. Saban’s M.O. was more-or-less akin to the localization process for anime shows like Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball Z, only with much, much more content to work with. After MMPR, most seasons of Power Rangers directly correspond to specific iterations of Super Sentai. For instance, Seijuu Sentai Gingaman became Power Rangers: Lost Galaxy, while Mirai Sentai Timeranger became Power Rangers: Time Force. Still though, the stranger stuff has to be cut out in the translation.

While there are definitely tropes that appear constantly in Super Sentai, each iteration has its own cast, world, and theme. The latter will frequently riff on what’s big in pop culture at the time, too. 2005’s Mahou Sentai Magiranger (or Mystic Force) has spells and flying brooms in the style of Harry Potter, while the commando combat of Dengeki Sentai Changeman arose around the height Rambo’s popularity in the 80s.

And if the notion of paramilitary Power Rangers sound strange, please believe that it was indeed a thing.

Now, where did these tropes get started, though?

Well, “tokusatsu” (essentially “special effects shows”) like Ultraman and Kamen Rider have been bringing the aesthetic of Godzilla films to Japanese TV since the 60s. And interestingly enough, the timing of Lionsgate’s forthcoming Power Rangers reboot amid Marvel’s box office dominance actually loops back to Super Sentai‘s origins. After a couple of “unofficial” starts in the late 70s, the proper Sentai lineage began with a show called Battle Fever J, which was going to be a co-production between Toei and Marvel. Before we get to that, though…

Remember the wacky Japanese Spider-Man show where Spidey comes from another planet?

This was the companies’ first collaboration.

Battle Fever J was to take a similar angle on Captain America, grouping him with a Captain Japan and heroes from Kenya, France, and the Soviet Union. The concept… evolved, but it’s easy to see the crisscross of influences. The Rangers’ signature gesticulations might be influenced by Spidey’s web-throwing gestures, and Toei’s Spider-Man show was actually their first production to feature a “Zord.” Also, since Battle Japan naturally commanded Battle Fever J, this is also where the tradition of Red Rangers leading Super Sentai teams started.

Battle Fever J

And there you have it; the long and zig-zagging history of these colorful, masked adventurers at a quick glance. There are nearly 20 iterations of Power Rangers, and around 40 Super Sentai iterations, so any deep dive into this franchise would take a real, long time. Still, when that big, new movie with Elizabeth Banks rolls around next spring, maybe you can still impress any friends who claim to be Power Rangers experts by dropping some of these tidbits on ’em.

And hey, given the trend of cinematic superhero crossovers, maybe we aren’t too from closing this circle of influence even tighter with a big screen showdown between the rebooted Rangers and Captain America or Spider-Man, post-Homecoming?

Has this information shocked any life-long Power Rangers fans in our audience? If you’re a Super Sentai maven, what iteration of the show is your favorite? Please, hit the talkback!

Photo Credits: Saban Ent. 

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