Ranger Station Episode 16: Switching Places
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, the classic body swap hits Billy and Kimberly --- and Bulk and Skull --- and Zyuranger gets its best episode ever!
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 16: Switching Places
Writers: Shuki Levy and Steve Kramer
Director: Jeff Reiner
Original Air Date: October 4, 1993
Given enough episodes, it seems like there are certain episodes that every kids' show has to get through eventually. There's the trapped-in-an-elevator episode, the Very Special Episode where they take on the real issues of the day and, my favorite, the Body Swap episode. It's inevitable and beautiful, and in this week's episode of Power Rangers, we get one of the all-time greats.
Okay, admittedly, it's not quite as good as the one in 2011's Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger where Luka and Doc switch bodies, but that's just because there's not a scene where Kimberly threatens to murder Billy if he does anything inappropriate before they switch back. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.
We open in the dead of night in Billy's laboratory, where Squatt is sabotaging Billy's latest invention, and also inadvertently bringing back that whole debate from the Ticklesneezer episode about why Rita doesn't just send the monsters down to murder the Power Rangers in their own homes. I mean, Billy's "laboratory" is actually just Billy's garage, so at this point, Squatt is already in Billy's house. And listen, folks, I'm not trying to tear down the fiction that we're building with the show here, but at the very least, you can't tell me that he could stab someone in their sleep if you don't want me bringing it up every week.
Fortunately for Billy, Squatt's intentions are only vaguely murderous. Rather than just dropping a good sized bundle of dynamite into his car, he rewires the power source for Billy's latest invention so that "his head will be scrambled like an omelette!"
Sure enough, Billy's latest invention lends itself pretty well to head-scrambling. Having conquered teleportation wristwatches and Volkswagen Beetles that can fly at Mach 7, the Rangers' resident scientist has turned his attention to a mind-reading machine, and is trying it out with Kimberly.
We'll leave the questions of whether or not it's ethical to test out an unproven machine specifically designed to affect the subject's brain out for now, but only because Billy's trying it out on himself, too.
Unfortunately for Billy and Kimberly, the experiment goes wrong immediately. Thanks to Squatt's tampering with the power source --- which literally involved switching two wires --- the machine goes haywire in a shower of sparks and ends up swapping their minds into the wrong bodies:
Also, Bulk and Skull are there being menaced by a very cool dog:
I think we can all agree that Power Rangers and Tokusatsu in general could use more cool dogs. If that thing had a bandana, he'd be my favorite character on the show.
I bring this up because --- aside from giving the show an an excuse to show a cool dog --- Bulk and Skull are there for a reason. It seems they want to try out the mind-reading machine, too. Which, for them, means that they literally want to share fantasies about their classmates.
Naturally, they're swapped as well.
The great thing about body-swap episodes is that it gives the actors a chance to play not just other characters, but other characters as played by their cast-mates. The single best example of this is probably that episode of Smallville where Tom Welling takes a genuinely virtuosic turn as Lionel Luthor and John Glover offers up a hilarious, almost insultingly whiny take on Clark Kent.
David Yost and Amy Jo Johnston never quite get to that level, but the brief shot of Jason Narvy grumpily snatching his pilot cap and Paul Schrier doing a pitch-perfect version of Skull's falsetto laugh gets pretty darn close.
The next day at school, things are going disastrously in some pretty remarkably gendered ways. "Billy's" tutoring session goes bad because Kimberly doesn't know anything about computers, and "Kimberly" becomes a laughingstock because Billy doesn't understand makeup or cooking!
Seriously, dude built a flying car in his garage, but could not figure out the mysteries of lipstick. That's a world before YouTube makeup tutorials for you, I suppose.
Also, Kimberly manages to hit a button that makes an early '90s desktop computer literally explode, and while that seems like a cartoonish exaggeration, it's honestly not hard to believe that Billy's weird enough to install a self-destruct button on all of his electronics.
Oh right, there's also a monster involved.
This is the imaginatively named Genie, and Rita's plot in this episode revolves around the Rangers being too busy trying to sort out the whole Bimberly mess to stop him. You might think this would mean that she'd want to strike fast, taking advantage of the confusion before it's inevitably sorted out. Instead, she packs Genie into a lamp and sends Squatt and Baboo down to hide it somewhere. Who knows anymore.
It is, however, worth noting that the lamp that Squatt and Baboo have when they get to Earth is noticeably different from the one that they leave the moon with. According to the Power Rangers wiki, that's because they're actually using a toy lamp from Aladdin as a prop in the American version.
At this point, you might expect the resolution to the fight with the Genie --- who is basically a non-entity --- to involve some kind of tension about whether Billy and Kimberly will be able to master each other's powers, or at the very least mention the differences between piloting a Triceratops and a Pterodcactyl. It does not. Theres one very vague line about teamwork --- not even specifically teamwork between Billy and Kim, just teamwork in general --- and that's that.
Eventually, Alpha figures out that they need to destroy the lamp to destroy the Genie, and despite his complaints...
... it turns out to be a pretty simple task.
Back at the lab, Billy and Kim hop back into the Apparatus to switch back, which similarly goes off without a hitch. And the same goes for Bulk and Skull when they show up asking to be put back into their own bodies --- which, incidentally, Billy is initially really grumpy about, with Trini supporting his plan to condemn them to a life in each other's bodies --- we find out that they've been wearing each other's jackets the whole time.
Look how tiny Bulk's is! Look how big Skull's is! It's delightful.
For the source material for this week's episode, we're going all the way back to Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger's 11th episode, "My Master," and to be honest, I'm not quite sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, nobody switches bodies, so that's a little bit of a letdown.
On the other hand, it has this...
... so it might be the best episode of television ever.
In support of that theory, we open on the Moon, where Totpat and Bookback are passing the time with a bit of fishing. As impressive as it is that they managed to find 239,000 miles of fishing line, it's even more impressive that they've got a magic rod that's capable of dredging up "all the mysterious treasures in the world." And that, of course, includes an oil lamp containing the mystical Gin, a being of unlimited magical power who is bound to grant the wishes of his masters.
Since Totpat and Bookback are the ones who found him, they order him to battle the Zyurangers --- and not only do they head to Earth, but they actually offer up a signed invitation to the fight, written on some truly amazing stationery.
If you've been wondering what to get Kate Kane, Terry McGinnis, or Dracula for Christmas, there you go.
Gin initially proves to be more than a match for the Rangers, but in the fight, the Lamp is knocked away from Totpat and Bookback, and since possession is nine tenths of the laws governing wish-granting spirits, Gin vanishes, leaving Bandora's two henchmen to return to the moon.
As for what happens to the Lamp, it ends up landing in a nearby schoolyard, where a bunch of kids find it, take it to a local abandoned warehouse, and immediately start wishing for... well, exactly what I'd wish for if I had a magic lamp, to be honest.
Seriously, #3 on that list would be "hang out with the Power Rangers," and that's coming in a second.
This is where we find out that Gin himself is not actually evil. He's actually a pretty cool guy --- he doesn't just whip up a Sega Genesis for the kids, he actually sticks around to play, compliments them when they win, and then calls for a disco dance break between rounds of Street Fighter. He's only bad when he's ordered to be, and generally prefers hanging out playing video games to anything else. I can relate.
The bad news is that Bandora's crew is out looking for him, but the good news is that the Zyurangers find him first, owing mostly to the sight of a kid flying around on a magic carpet, which isn't the sort of thing that happens every day even in the world of Super Sentai. When they do, they ask for the lamp back, but the kids are unwilling to give it up, and end up running right into a trap.
Gin helps out, of course, turning Totpat and Bookback into balloons and letting them drift off into the sky in what is unquestionably a pretty baller move...
...but then Bandora herself shows up and destroys Gin's lamp, shattering it to pieces so that Gin will have no choice but to come be her servant.
Gin, of course, doesn't want to turn his back on his new pals, but doesn't have much of a say in the matter. Unless, of course, all the children team up and go to look for each piece so they can re-assemble the lamp, which they all agree to do!
While they're busy looking, though, Bandora's cooking up a plan of her own, complete with a brand new teakettle for Jin to live in:
Without another lamp to call his home, Gin has no choice. He's sucked into the new lamp, and when he comes out again, he's 200 feet tall, armed with a drill-tipped staff and ready to stomp on the kids and tear Daizyujin's head off in the process.
The Zyurangers do their best to hold him off, but they're really only buying time while the kids --- along with Mei, Boi and Dan --- scramble to put the lamp back together. Which, eventually, they do, allowing Gin to bail on Bandora and join back up with the kids when Mei shatters the Evil Lamp with one of her Ptera Arrows.
Sadly, Gin is too powerful and too easily controlled to be left hanging around, so the Zyurangers decide that it's all for the best if they just chuck the lamp back into the ocean with Gin inside it. And honestly, that sucks pretty hard, especially since Gin himself is pretty bummed out about missing his new friends.
Seriously though, this is probably the best episode of Zyuranger that I've watched for this column yet, and it's well worth checking out for yourself. Fight on, Zyurangers!
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: Genie isn't actually that weird when compared to, say, Eye-Guy, but is it possible to be so normal that it loops back around to being super weird? 5/10
- Deviation From the Source: With some episodes, you can see how they got to the point that they did in the American adaptation --- having to write Trini out when Boi's not in the monster-fight footage or something, for example --- but this seems like a plot that would be super easy to just bolt onto Power Rangers. Why we didn't get a Bulk-and-Skull-find-a-Genie episode, I will never know. 6/10
- Bulk and Skull Friendship: They have been in each other's bodies. Experienced each other... the way no others have. 10/10
- Moral Lessons: I cannot imagine that "when you switch bodies with your friends, make sure you watch makeup tutorials and follow the soufflé recipe exactly" is something that applies to a whole lot of lives. 2/10
- '90s Fashions: Even a Kimbilly body swap cannot overshadow Jason experimenting with the sweater-tied-around-the-neck look. 7/10
Total For Episode 16: 30/50