Ranger Station Episode 28: Island Of Illusion, Part One
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, we start in on the worst episode of Power Rangers ever --- and maybe the best episode of Zyuranger!
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 28: Island of Illusion, Part One
Writer: Chris Schoon & Shuki Levy
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Original Air Date: November 2, 1993
Okay, so maybe it's not entirely fair to refer to this as the worst episode of Power Rangers, since things aren't really going to get bad until next week. That said, since it's a two parter, it's all one big episode, and I can tell you right now that things are about to get pretty rough for us here at Ranger Station. But I guess I'll cross that rhyming, flute-toting, green-screened clip-show bridge when I come to it.
For now, we open at the Youth Center, where Zack is practicing his moves in preparation for a dance contest. You'd think this would be no-brainer for Zack --- the dude invented an entire new martial art based around hip-hop dancing (or at least what passed for "hip hop dancing" on FOX Kids in 1993), so for him, entering a dance contest is like Billy entering a Using Needlessly Polysyllabic Words competition, or Tommy signing up for a Terrifying Shouts While Doing Martial Arts-Off.
He has his doubters, though, in the form of Bulk and Skull --- who are almost immediately "accidentally" doused with a milkshake --- but more importantly, he has begun to doubt himself.
While Zack tries to build up his confidence with an impromptu dance contest, Rita --- watching, as always, from the moon --- decides that now is the time to strike, destroying Angel Grove and breaking the Power Rangers' spirits at the same time. And to that end, she summons two monsters: Mutitis and Lokar.
And when I say "summon," that's exactly what I mean. Later, Rita will tell Finster that Mutitis is a monster she made by herself, but Lokar... Lokar is different. Unlike the usual monsters, which are cooked up from clay models in Finster's oven, Lokar is summoned, and there's a definite implication that we're dealing with something different this time. Baboo and Squatt, for example, are terrified of the idea that Rita's calling on Lokar --- according to Baboo, the last time he was summoned "he almost wiped us out!" --- to the point where Squatt physically attempts to stop Rita from performing her magic before she throws him off and finishes her incantation.
Even Zordon refers to them as being composed of "energy more massive than I have ever sensed before," and when you consider that he not only banished Rita 10,000 years ago, but that most of her monsters have been characterized as having been used before her dumpster exile, that's saying something.
The monsters' arrival on Earth is heralded by a downright apocalyptic combination of thunderstorm and earthquake, and that, in turn, gives us one of the strangest excuses for Tommy to not hang out with the other Rangers that I think we've seen yet. As everyone runs outside --- which I'm not sure is proper thunderquake safety --- Tommy notices that two of his karate students have huddled under a table in the Youth Center, and he tells the others that he can't abandon his students and that he'll have to catch up later. Why he doesn't just, y'know, scoop them up and carry them outside, is never explained.
The rest of the Rangers end up battling in a (suspiciously non-quaking) park against Goldar, Scorpina, and a gang of Putty Patrollers, but that proves to be a distraction while Rita gears up for the real main event: Mutitis, who shows up giant sized and immediately starts smashing up the city.
Huh, those chains look awfully familiar.
The Rangers summon the Megazord, but Mutitis wastes no time in handing the Rangers their collective robot dinosaur ass. But even that is mere prelude to the real threat: Lokar.
I'll tell you right now that this is not the last time we're going to be seeing Lokar --- and in fact, much like Scorpina, he's one of the few monsters on the series that's never properly defeated. He was even planned to be a major adversary in Hexagon, the season that would find Rangers from across the first ten years of the franchise uniting under a government organization led by Tommy, in a Nick Fury-esque role, but alas, that never happened.
For now, he'll just have to settle for being a giant screaming head that floats in the sky breathing smoke that gives Mutitis an even more demonic second form:
Jeepers creepers. There have been some great designs for monsters over the years --- pretty much every villain in Ressha Sentai ToQGer is amazing, for example --- but I don't know if there has been anything as shockingly grotesque as Mutitis/Zombie Franke. The way that its head splits open to reveal the new horned devil head --- yeesh.
Between the two monsters, the Megazord is taken down hard, and even the timely arrival of Tommy and the Dragonzord can't save them. Before long, both robots are sprayed down with what... uh... with... well... you know it definitely looks like
Yes, Toxic Foam! That's exactly what I was going to say! Toxic foam.
Even worse, though, they're subjected to Lokar's devastating Breath of Doom, which encompasses the Megazord and condemns the Rangers to... a tropical island.
And this, my friends, is where things go off the rails. Up to now, we've seen a pretty great episode: Mutitis is terrifying, Lokar's mysterious and obviously a pretty huge threat, and seeing the Megazord and Dragonzord taken down is pretty shocking. But now, it's time for the eponymous Island of Illusion.
After noticing that they've been stripped of their communicators and Power Morphers, the Rangers start to explore the island itself, all the while being watched by a mysterious figure from the underbrush that eventually reveals itself to be...
This friggin' guy.
His name is Quagmire, he speaks in rhyme, and while he has no love for Rita --- or "that wicked witchy," as he refers to her --- he's not inclined to help the Power Rangers either, as he believes they're her minions. And to make matters worse, since he vanishes as soon as he sees them, the Rangers are left alone without their powers to face down an entire army of previously defeated villains!
Except that they don't. Instead, the monsters vanish as soon as they get close, leaving only a spectral image of Goldar's head to tell them that they're on the Island of Illusion, "where nothing is real, except the danger!"
Given that they are being flat-out told this, and that the word "Illusion" is right there in the name of the place, you'd think our attitudinal teens might twig to what's really going on here. They do not, and will spend the next 20 minutes or so believing that literally everything they see is 100% real, even when the rest of the Rangers are telling them it's not.
We start with Zack, who, in a nice little callback, is menaced by an illusory snake, until he finally cracks and begins to fade away like Marty McFly.
Quagmire pops in with a pithy couplet about losing confidence, but it doesn't seem to help, and we end with the promise of the Rangers fading away... forever!
"Island of Illusion" draws on a couple of different Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger episodes, but the most important by far for our purposes is Episode 30: "SATAN COMES!!"
Yes, that is the title.
Yes, it includes the exclamation points.
Yes, the episode is as awesome as you think it's going to be.
It actually picks up right where we left off a few weeks ago from our discussion of "Life's a Masquerade." As you might recall, that episode ended with Dora Franke transforming into a hideous new zombie form, and the sudden appearance of a mysterious tower, adorned with a pale, red-eyed face and etched with arcane symbols. That's where we pick up here, with the Zyurangers and the Great Sage Barza trying to figure out just what the hell is happening.
Obviously, their first plan of action is to just summon Daizyuzin and let Him chuck this thing right into the sun, but, well, that doesn't really work out.
Instead, He gets zapped, and the Zyurangers are forced to retreat so that they can do some research to figure out what exactly is gong on.
And what's going on is metal as hell.
In her palace on the Moon, Bandora has been chanting for two straight days as she tries to cast what is consistently referred to by everyone in the cast --- including the Zyurangers themselves --- as "the hardest black magic spell of all!" It's so intense that if it fails, it will literally kill her, and even a successful casting causes her to start BLEEDING FROM HER EYES from the sheer level of evil that she's channeling into the world:
Bandora: Not Messing Around.
But it's not just intense chanting and witch blood that are powering this spell. The Tower's a part of it, but more than that, she requires the sacrifice of 13 children, so to that end, she sends out Lamy and the Golem Soldiers to mark the houses surrounding the tower with this, the single most Satanic image ever committed to film:
Seriously, Bandora makes Lord Voldemort look like Gargamel from the Smurfs.
Eventually, the Zyurangers figure out what's going on --- mostly because there have been a lot of reports that children have been sucked through mirrors by the power of evil witchcraft, so thanks for helping me revisit that childhood terror --- and when they cross-reference the symbol with their Big Book of Plot Exposition, they discover what Bandora's really after.
That's right, y'all: Even though Daizyuzin cast Satan down into the pit of hell and exiled him from His sight, Bandora is bringing him back. If she succeeds, as Barza says, the Earth will become a war zone and pretty much everyone will perish upon the plain of Armageddon.
Honestly, I was not expecting the show that gave us Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to be this heavily based on the Revelation of St. John, but, well, here we are.
Despite the Zyurangers' attempt to save the last child from being abducted --- including walking through a park with her while forming a human shield, something that's actually pretty cool --- Lamy, Grifforzar and the indestructible Zombie Franke prove to be too much for them. Yuka is taken, and then, it gets real.
The children's bodies (still alive) are embedded into the tower, and Great Satan is summoned from Hell, along with the reveal that Bandora sold her soul for power. His first act is breathing his hellish fog onto Zombie Franke, twisting him into a demonic monstrosity - and this time, you actually see his head tear open as the new one emerges.
And worse than that, when the Zyurangers make a last-ditch effort to stop him by throwing the God Horn, Great Satan vaporizes it with lightning from his eyes, leaving Daizyuzin unarmed against its most fearsome enemy of all time!
Fight on, Zyurangers --- If you can!
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: Mutitis and Lokar are great, but a lot of that greatness comes from how weird they are. I mean, Mutitis is just disgusting, but if you don't know that Lokar is meant to be Satan, the fact that Bandora has a planet-sized floating head breathing on everything to make it worse is just bonkers. Of course, if you do know that it's supposed to be Satan, it might actually be even weirder. 10/10
- Deviation From the Source: I can't imagine why Fox Kids wouldn't have wanted to just do a direct translation of the episode where a witch bleeds from her eyes while invoking the name of Satan and then resurrects the Devil to destroy the world. 9/10
- Bulk and Skull Friendship: Surprisingly, we don't get much Bulk and Skull interaction in this episode, even though Bulk literally has a dance-off with Zack. You'd think that would be prime hypeman duty time for Skull. 4/10
- Moral Lessons: Does "in the event of a thunderstorm/earthquake, hide under a table and wait for Tommy the Green Ranger to help you" count as a moral? Does it work for stuff like anxiety, or having to pay taxes? 4/10
- '90s Fashions: I have to admit that I was a little distracted by Mutitis showing up as the grossest thing I've ever seen to keep track of what the Rangers were wearing this week. Let's just agree that they were definitely pretty '90s, but not quite as much as that time Billy and Kim were "punks." 5/10
Total For Episode 21: 32/50