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Power Rangers: A Morphenomenal History

Since 1993, Power Rangers has been the primary form of hero Toku most people in the West have access to. This legacy has spanned 24 tv series, 3 theatrical films, and multiple comic book series from multiple publishers. Changing hands at various times during this 25 year period, Power Rangers has gone through distinct phases, tonal shifts, and reinventions as the brand has evolved. Let’s take a look back at where we have been, and where we are going as fans of this long-running series.

 

Power Rangers as a franchise began in 1986, when Israeli-American television producers Haim Saban and Shuki Levy attempted to adapt the eighth Super Sentai series, Choudenshi Bioman, for American audiences. This project failed in the pilot stage, but laid the groundwork for everything that would come later. A second attempt would be made in 1993, after Fox finally picked up the rights to the series. By then, the Bioman pilot had been lost, and the cast of that series was considered too old to play Rangers. Thus, the whole cast was swapped out for the pilot of Power Rangers as we know it, and many of those cast members were replaced again for the series proper.

 

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Choudenshi Bioman

 

The pilot for Saban and Levy’s Bioman concept has been lost to time, with very few consistent details even from those who claim to have seen it. Shuki Levy once remarked that the special effects used made the notoriously low-budget look and feel of some Power Rangers scenes look like a hollywood blockbuster by comparison. A proper pilot for the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was pitched to Fox in early 1993, before the series was picked up and began the legacy we all know. For the pilot episode, some names were different, as were some casting choices. Audri Dubois stood in for Trini, prior to the casting of Vietnamese actress Thuy Trang for the series, and Zordon was originally called Zoltar. Most of the other elements, as we know them, remained unchanged in the transition to series, and the original pilot was eventually shown on TV in the US in May of 1999.

 

 

Believe it or not, though, Power Rangers as we know it was almost a very different series. Had things gone differently, the original Power Rangers series would have premiered in 1985, and been headed up by Marvel (yes, that Marvel). In the end, though, Marvel’s adaptation of an unknown Super Sentai series, presumed to be either Gorenjer or JAKQ, was rejected by every network it was pitched to at the time. Since the beginning, Power Rangers continuity has been split into three phases, the Saban era, Disney era, and Neo-Saban/Nickelodeon era, respectively. Here, we will take a look at each.

 

The Saban Era (1986-2001)

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The original Saban era of Power Rangers shows all exist in a single timeline, beginning with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and ending with Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. While Rangers from this era, most notably Tommy Oliver, continued to be recurring characters throughout the full span of Power Rangers, this series was meant to have a definitive conclusion at the end of Power Rangers in Space, with the death of Zordon of Eltar and the erasure of evil energy from the galaxy.

Power Rangers in Space turned out to be such a hit, though, that Fox renewed the series and ordered three more seasons, which became Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, Lightspeed Rescue, and Time Force, respectively. After buying the rights to the franchise from Saban in 2001, Disney allowed Fox to broadcast one more season, Power Rangers Wild Force, before moving the broadcast to their own network, now called Disney XD, for the Disney era.

 

During the Saban era, two films were released in theatres. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie served as a cinematic setup to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 3, which featured the introduction of the ninja forms and mecha used in Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, as well as new mentor Ninjor. The second film, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, acts directly as the transition between Power Rangers Zeo and Power Rangers Turbo, featuring the introduction of blue Turbo Ranger Justin, played by Blake Foster, and new villain Divatox.

 

 

In the Saban era, the show found its footing, but not without production trouble behind the scenes. Various accusations have been thrown around over the years, ranging from pay disputes to outright homophobia directed toward original blue ranger David Yost. Through all the trials and tribulations, though, the show remained consistently entertaining, and the quality did not decline noticeably. The end of the Saban era series was meant to tie up loose plot threads, but left the door open for additional seasons, which now followed the Super Sentai model of year-long, self-contained stories that existed largely in their own continuity. However, up to the current day, each Power Rangers show can be tied together, if only loosely.

 

The Disney Era (2002-2009)

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Beginning in 2002 with the end of Power Rangers Wild Force, production of the series under Disney moved from Los Angeles, California, USA, to Auckland, New Zealand. Each subsequent series from Ninja Storm all the way up to Super Ninja Steel has been produced in New Zealand, using a mixture of original actor footage and Super Sentai action scenes. This time period nearly saw the death of Power Rangers as a whole, as Disney had elected to cease production on Power Rangers series after 2009’s phenomenal series Power Rangers RPM. For the 2010 season, Disney elected to re-broadcast the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, rather than trying to adapt Samurai Sentai Shinkenger for a Western audience, presumably because of the series’ heavy roots in Japanese culture and Shinto mythology.

 

The early years of the Disney era of Power Rangers produced quality shows, with the best of these easily being 2004’s Dino Thunder, which featured the return of series veteran Tommy Oliver, played here as previously by actor Jason David Frank, and 2005’s SPD. Each of these series leaned heavily on their Super Sentai roots, but were still able to create lively, vibrant characters and stories that were uniquely their own, with Dino Thunder channeling much of the nostalgia that came with a returning original cast member. In addition, in recent years, Dino Thunder has begun to raise some speculation about new possible plots, and fan theories, based on later viewing.

 

SPD, for its part, crafted a believable, encouraging near-future scenario in which Earth has become a member of something akin to the United Federation of Planets from Star Trek, and joined a galactic society. The Rangers in this future, now acting openly as police, become a symbol of hope for those in need while protecting ordinary citizens, and as such inspire their society in a different way, slightly less traditional. Additionally, the first three series in the Disney era have a definitive timeline, and the plots of these shows bleed over into one another seamlessly, similarly to the series in the Saban era. Beginning with Ninja Storm, the plot carries through all the way to the end of SPD, before Mystic ForceOperation Overdrive, Jungle Fury, and RPM all become their own continuities in their own universes.

 

The only major carry-over here is the crossover special, Once A Ranger, that aired toward the midpoint of Operation Overdrive and featured a team made up entirely of veteran Rangers.

 

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The team featured in Once a Ranger, comprised of (left to right) Dino Thunder Yellow, Mystic Force Green, Mighty Morphin Black II, SPD Red, and Ninja Storm Blue

 

This era and the franchise as a whole, however, did end on a very high note, with 2009’s Power Rangers RPM originally meant to serve as a swan song for the franchise.

 

Set in a pocket dimension separate from the rest of the Power Rangers canon, RPM follows a team of survivors living in a domed city, around which is a Mad Max-inspired hellscape of scorched earth, sand, and desperation. In this world, which is decidedly much bleaker than other Ranger series before it, an AI has taken over the technology of humanity and begun to conquer the world, committing unspeakable atrocities in its wake. The AI, called Venjix, has already wiped out all but this last city worth of humanity, the population of which appears to be under one million.

 

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Power Rangers RPM

 

RPM is also notable for bringing three famed actors into the spotlight in the US for the first time, by way of Eka Darville, who plays red ranger Scott, Rose McIver, who plays yellow ranger Summer, and lastly Adelaide Kane, who plays villainess Tenaya 7. Darville is now best known for his role as Malcolm Ducasse in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series Jessica Jones and Marvel’s Defenders. McIver, on the other hand, has been in numerous series and films, but is perhaps best known for her role as Olivia Moore on the CW series iZombie. Kane has been in a few tv series outside of her native Australia, as well, but is perhaps best known for her lead role in the CW Series Reign, as well as a brief reunion with Rose McIver on the ABC/Disney series Once Upon a Time, where McIver played Tinkerbell.

The Disney era ended in 2010, when Haim Saban bought the rights to Power Rangers back from Disney, and began to pitch new ideas to networks. The series was ultimately picked up by Nickelodeon, and the Neo-Saban/Nickelodeon Era began in 2011.

 

The Neo-Saban/Nickelodeon Era (2010-2018)

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After Disney had completed their re-broadcast of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in 2010, Saban and Nickelodeon began work on the first of the Neo-Saban series, Power Rangers Samurai. With this series, Nickelodeon took over a large portion of production and distribution, and the series moved to a two-year adaptation format, which holds to this day. Samurai began broadcasting on Nickelodeon in 2011, with Super Samurai following the next year. This was followed by Megaforce, and Super Megaforce, which are looked at by many fans as the lowest point in the series history.

 

Megaforce and Super Megaforce adapted Tensou Sentai Goseiger and Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, respectively, with a concurrent plot and cast running between both seasons. These two series relied heavily on nostalgia that many of the Nickelodeon audience members would not understand, as well as what is widely considered to be lazy writing, poor characterization, and paint-by-numbers plot developments, including Zordon having a mentor called Gosei, who had somehow never come up in the series even as a throwaway line before.

 

 

Many fans felt that the adaptation of Gokaiger was handled very poorly, especially the Legendary Battle sequence, which promised to unite every season of Rangers up to that point in a single encounter, but ultimately ended up being a lackluster affair. One good thing Super Megaforce did for the franchise, though, was introduce Sentai series that had not been adapted previously to the West, as the Super Megaforce Rangers often used powers from teams like Gosei Sentai Dairanger, Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan, and Dengeki Changeman, on the premise of these teams being non-human or alien rangers, like the Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers, who had used Ninja Sentai Kakuranger as a base for their powers.

 

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A battle scene in Super Megaforce, showing the Rangers using the powers of Flashman, Turboranger, Zyuranger, Maskman, and Fiveman

 

For every weak season, though, there come two strong ones, this time in the form of Dino Charge, Dino Supercharge. These two series featured immensely likeable characters and actors, well thought-out plot elements and stories, and just the right amount of nostalgia, while being distant enough from previous Power Rangers series to stand on their own. Dino Charge and Dino Supercharge did not have a crossover episode, though the ending of Supercharge is believed to have reset the entire Power Rangers timeline, in some way, altering at least that tangent of it irrevocably.

 

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In addition, 2017 saw the release of the rebooted Power Rangers film, featuring a much darker take on the series, with more nuanced and modernised characters. The film is completely separate from the TV series. However, it stands on its own as a new continuity, featuring Rita Repulsa as a former green ranger, and changing or adding to the personalities of the Rangers themselves. Some of these changes include making Trini a Latina LGBT character, making Zack and Billy different races, and emphasising that this version of Billy is severly autistic. The most faithful recreation of the bunch is easily Kimberly, who retains much of her popular, Mean Girls-esque personality traits, which soften over time. The setting of the film is changed from Angel Grove, California, which is seen as a small subset of Los Angeles, to a small fishing town in the Pacific Northwest region of America, and the Rangers’ families are given more of a backstory as well.

 

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The next season, Power Rangers Ninja Steel, elected to ignore much of the previous canon, like many others existing in its own timeline. This series made history for featuring the first set of siblings to become Rangers, with Peter Sudarso stepping into the role of Ninja Steel blue, taking over for his older brother Yoshi Sudarso, who played Dino Charge Blue in the previous two seasons.

 

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Peter Sudarso (Left) and Yoshi Sudarso (Right)

 

Ninja Steel had many of the same flaws as Samurai and Megaforce before it, yet retained much of the nuanced character writing of Dino Charge for some of its protagonists.

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The second season of this series, Super Ninja Steel, is currently airing as of this writing, and will be followed up in 2019 by Power Rangers Beast Morphers.

 

Beast Morphers and Beyond (2019-???)

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Beast Morphers marks a turning point for the series, as it will be the first series in the new Hasbro Era of Power Rangers, while retaining much of the creative staff of previous seasons. Beast Morphers is also the first Power Rangers series to adapt Super Sentai out of order, by backtracking to 2012’s Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters for inspiration. In a turn of good news for the series as a whole, Power Rangers Global Franchise Creative Director Jason Bischoff has officially made the jump from Saban Brands to Hasbro after Saban Brands was purchased in full by Hasbro in early 2018.

 

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As something of a jack of all trades, Bischoff has been responsible for overseeing many of the creative decisions surrounding the Power Rangers license, including events, digital media, series writing, and products such as figures, toys, and cosplay props, which will all now be made by Hasbro. Bischoff has previously worked on TMNT, Ben 10, and Blues Clues, as well as the hit video game Overwatch and DC Comics Wonder Woman brand, as well as his own original series Shadowpiper. Hasbro has committed to continue making Power Rangers series and films, and with Bischoff at the helm, the future is bright.

 

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Jason Bischoff

 

Under his supervision, the brand has flourished in recent years, including a new film reboot, and a very lucrative partnership with Boom! Comics that has led to some of the best Power Rangers media to date. This publication deal includes a more adult-oriented, slightly more Marvel or DC-esque depiction of the Rangers across three series published by Boom!, and even led to the creation of fan favourite character Lord Drakkon, an alternate universe version of Tommy Oliver who did not reject Rita Repulsa’s gifts.

 

The first comics crossover event, Shattered Grid, began in April of 2018 and has played out largely akin to DC Comics’ storyline Crisis on Infinite Earths, including all of the time travel, multiverse hopping, and dramatic character death a comparison like that entails.

 

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New Power Rangers villain Lord Drakkon

 

As of July 2018, the future looks very bright for Power Rangers as a brand, and as a series that many of us have grown up with and loved for most of our lives, I know I am not alone when I say that this can only mean good things are in store for the future.

 

What does Power Rangers mean to you? Has it affected your life in some way? Leave a comment and let’s discuss!

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