Ranger Station, Episode 15: Dark Warrior
With 800 episodes over the course of 22 years, the Power Rangers television show is arguably the single most successful live-action superhero franchise of all time, and certainly one of the strangest. Adapted from Japan's long-running Super Sentai series, created by manga legend Shotaro Ishinomori, the Power Rangers combined the giant robots and monsters of their Japanese counterpart with a completely different set of secret identities and problems, and became a pop cultural phenomenon. That's why we're looking back with an in-depth guide to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, including its source material, Kyuoryu Sentai Zyuranger, in ComicsAlliance's Ranger Station!
This week, MMPR introduces us to the phrase "karate scientist," and why any of us chose careers other than that is mystifying.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 15: Dark Warrior
Writers: Ronnie Sperling, Jeff Decker and Mark Hoffmeier
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Original Air Date: September 28, 1993
If there are two things Mighty Morphin Power Rangers loves to throw against the wall as source material for its plots, it's the rangers' relatives and science experiments. We got the former last week when Pilot Steve took Kimberly up for an ill-fated plane trip, and we're going to get the single best example of the latter next week when Billy finally unveils his body-swapping machine, and this week? This week, we're getting them both.
Meet Trini's Uncle Howard, a brilliant and inexplicably dubbed scientist who has been laboring away in what appears to be Billy's garage --- there are only about five sets in this entire show and it's not like the Youth Center or the AGHS hallway are really equipped for chemistry --- and has finally perfected his invisibility formula. And, of course, the first thing he tests it out on is a small potted cactus, because why wouldn't you want to make that something you could only detect by touch?
Either way, he's finished up just in time to go visit Trini at --- where else? --- the Youth Center, where she's busy consoling Billy:
As for why Billy needs consolation, it seems he's been having some trouble being picked on by Bulk and Skull, who literally turned him upside down and shook him until a bunch of loose change came out of his pockets.
If this seems a little hard to swallow, given that Billy is a solid fifteen episodes into his career doing karate at monsters, well, there's actually a reason for that. Some of the footage used in this episode was actually shot for "Day of the Dumpster," presumably because using out-of-order footage from a show shot in another language with completely different characters just wasn't confusing enough already. That's why Billy mentions offscreen that he's re-joining Jason's karate class, setting up the scene back in that episode where he shows up for his first lesson.
In practice, though, it seems more than a little weird that he's having this much trouble with Bulk and Skull. I mean, he's an actual superhero, and it seems like the people behind the show quickly realized that when you'e fighting 50-story monsters every week, a couple of high school toughs aren't really going to present a problem. I assume this realization was what prompted Bulk and Skull's movement from civilian antagonists to comic relief characters who are constantly going face-first into sheet cakes, and then on into the more lovable forms that we'll see later in the series. Here, though, we're stepping backwards.
A couple of other things to note about Bulk and Skull in this scene:
First, Bulk is literally saying "phooey." You know, like most juvenile delinquents.
Second, there is some amazing hat usage on display here. I've already talked about how much I love Skull's signature question-mark beret, but Bulk is rocking a leather pilot's cap. I remember wanting one of these so bad when I was a kid, but I don't know if that was from just seeing it on this show, or if there was a brief moment in 1993 when that was back in fashion.
Third, Bulk is wearing a tight leather hat that covers his entire head and a leather jacket zipped completely up to his neck. In California. Never doubt Paul Schrier's commitment to his craft.
Anyway, as Billy re-enrolls in class, Uncle Howard arrives at the Youth Center, and for some reason, he has brought the formula with him. It's here where we find out, courtesy of Jason, that he's not just a brilliant scientist specializing in "secret formulas," he's also "a world champion martial artist."
That's right, everyone.
He's a Karate Scientist.
Sadly, Uncle Howard will be doing very little of either. Instead, he absentmindedly leaves his invisibility formula laying around the Youth Center while he wanders off to talk to his niece's friends. There is, however, someone else keeping an eye on the formula: Rita Repulsa, who dispatches Squatt, Baboo, Goldar and a new monster called Dark Warrior to steal it.
The three usual henchmen head down to the garag-boratory and promptly start guzzling everything in sight, giving us a nice miniature moral where Rita berates them for drinking from an unlabeled bottle while beating them over the head with her magic wand. Dark Warrior, on the other hand, decides to go straight to the source, sending a gang of Putty Patrollers down to attack Billy and Uncle Howard while they're doing karate in the woods.
Billy, being outmatched, isn't able to prevent the kidnapping, and before long, Dark Warrior has Uncle Howard in a cave, tied up with six crates of TNT.
Let it be known that Dark Warrior is not in the business of messing around.
With Uncle Howard in danger of being scattered over most of Southern California, Billy goes to the rest of the Rangers for help. As he arrives, and keep in mind that I realize this sounds like a fever dream, Trini gets a delivery of black balloons that explode into a shower of glitter and a beautifully handwritten ransom note from Dark Warrior. He wants the formula, and they have one hour to get it to him.
After a brief stop at the Command Center, the Rangers head off for a fight scene with the putties that adds a drum beat and record scratches to the background music every time they cut to Zack. Seriously. But after a quick battle, the head into the cave and instantly disconnect the bomb, leaving Uncle Howard to wander off while they get ready for the real fight.
Well, I say it's the real fight, but there's not actually a whole lot to it. They fight for a little bit, then he gets big, then the Megazord shows up --- you know how it goes by now. What's most interesting about it is that after a few weeks of the Rangers beating the monster with a shot from the Power Blaster at regular size, Rita doesn't even wait for Dark Warrior to be in trouble when she makes him grow. He's winning the fight pretty handily when she steps with the Magic Wand, and sure enough, once the Megazord's involved, it's about forty seconds before Dark Warrior is exploded into oblivion.
Back at the Youth Center, Billy manages to be promoted to Yellow Belt after only one day of studying Karate (which is actually kind of impressive), and while Bulk and Skull immediately get back to hassling him, Uncle Howard finds his formula and turns invisbile so that he can beat up a couple of teenagers.
You know what's weird about Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger? I mean, everything about Zyuranger is pretty weird, but I'm mainly concerned with the fact that the last survivors of the dinosaur tribes who awoke after millions of years to battle the evil of Witch Bandora just pretty much open every episode wandering around getting snacks or looking for odd jobs.
Maybe it's a thing that's common in older sentai shows --- aside from Zyuranger, I've only ever watched newer ones that usually have some kind of underlying plot or structure going throughout the whole series - but with this one, they don't seem to have much going on between monster attacks. Take, for example, episode 35, "Ninja Warrior, Boi," which gave us this week's source material, where we open on the Yellow Zyuranger literally looking at Help Wanted ads on a billboard.
Yes, the local ninja school is looking for a bodyguard, and since he has nothing else to do, Boi decides that he might as well make a little extra money as a part-time shinobi, I guess. When he gets to the school, though, he triggers a series of deadly traps and gets into a fight with a young lady who has the ability to split herself into two people using a "Shadow Clone Technique."
But as you might've guessed, that's just his audition. The girl is Chisato Kameda, and she's the one in the market for a bodyguard, although it's not for her. It's for her father, and if you liked Karate Science Uncle, get ready for Ninja Science Dad!
This is Chisato's dad, and he's been working on the Elixir of Life, a formula based on gorilla research (seriously) that can grant eternal life. Obviously, this is something that Bandora wants, and while it seems a little unnecessary given that she spent a couple million years sealed away on Planet Nemesis, she has a perfectly logical reason for wanting to steal it:
In order to steal it, she's been sending the thematically appropriate Dora Ninja down to try to break in and get the Elixir, but now that Boi's involved, it's going to take a little more to get the job done. To that end, she sends Totpat, Bookback and Grifforzar down, and just like their American counterparts, they end up falling for a decoy and making themselves sick.
Boi and Chisato do some pretty thorough mocking of the Bandora Clan, but once the rest of the Zyurangers show up --- also in ninja outfits, complete with color-coded scarves --- to reveal that they've been involved with this whole scheme from the start, a bunch of ninja-themed Golem Soldiers show up for a pretty great (and pretty goofy) fight scene:
The whole time, Dora Ninja has been holding back, but after the usual gang of idiots falls for the obvious decoy, Bandora runs out of patience and sends him in just as Chisato's dad completes his experiments in identifying the mystical Herb of Life --- which, I want to stress, is once again done through gorilla research.
Despite his earlier bragging, Dora Ninja falls for a second trap, finding himself dealing with the Zyurangers, who surround him and offer up the most cutting remark that it's possible to say:
From there, it's a time for the fight scene, with the Zyurangers using their Dino-Bucklers to transform. They take an early advantage, but before long, Dora Ninja reveals that he's holding Chisato hostage, threatening to chop off her head if they approach. Chisato, however, encourages them to attack, telling Boi to use the one piece of ninja magic that we haven't seen from the Zyuangers yet: The Shadow Clone Technique.
Boi can't make one clone of himself, though. He makes five.
With that much opposition, Dora Ninja is at a loss until Bandora calls upon the evil spirits to make him grow and sends the Zyurangers scrambling for their Guardian Beasts. Even those aren't a match for the revived Dora Ninja, though, so things look grim until they get a helping hand from this guy:
And who's that? Oh, nobody special, you know, just BEAST KNIGHT GOD KING BRACHION! Unfortunately for us, we'll have to wait to explain his deal until later, but trust me: That is his name, and it is awesome.
With BKGKB softening him up, Daizyujin is able to defeat Dora Ninja with the power of the God Horn, putting an end to Bandora's attempt to steal the Elixir of Life and freeing the Zyurangers up to go back to worrying about all the other stuff they have to deal with, like how Chisato is now convinced that Boi has to marry her to keep their ninja style going. Fight on, Zyurangers! Or... odd job on, I guess?
In Ranger Station, each episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers will be graded on a scale of one to ten in five categories, with a final score awarded with a maximum of fifty points.
- Weirdness of the Monster: If you ask me, Rita would've had a better time if she'd been the one to make the invisible cactus. 2/10
- Deviation From the Source: The way they adapt this show has never been quite as bizarre to me as it was when they took a ninja dad looking for an immortality potion and changed it to a karate uncle looking for invisibility juice. 3/10
- Bulk and Skull Friendship: Like I said, it's a bit of a step backwards, but you can really tell that Skull appreciated the physical comedy of Bulk opening up the weird ear-flaps on his cap when he was pretending to not hear something. 4/10
- Moral Lessons: Learn karate and you will also learn confidence! Also, if you already know karate, go ahead and let your friends deal with bullies themselves, an invisible old man will probably show up to help if they need it. 3/10
- '90s Fashions: If anyone knows where I can find Zack's sweatpants with KARATE written on them, hit me up. 6/10
Total For Episode 15: 18/50