Ranger Station Episode 37: Clean-Up Club
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 get one of the best fight scenes in the entire series, and discover that littering... is bad?
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 37: Clean-Up Club
Writer: Mark Hoffmeier
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Original Air Date: November 23, 1993
If you just go by the lessons you were supposed to learn from television in the '90s, you would think that littering was second only to drugs as the single biggest problem facing America's youth. I mean, don't get me wrong here, I would agree that littering is terrible and that on an individual level, it's one of the biggest jerk moves you can make in terms of making things unpleasant for society as a whole, but honestly. It's like as soon as the Berlin Wall went down, we replaced the fear of global nuclear annihilation with wondering who left that damn Snickers wrapper on the sidewalk.
Shockingly, I don't think the Power Rangers ever got around to telling kids not to do drugs --- I guess they figured that after Garfield, Slimer, and Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle all teamed up, that issue was pretty much taken care of --- but when it comes time to talk about litter, they go hard.
So hard, in fact, that Trini's video project for Ms. Appleby's class, brought to you on beautiful, high-quality VHS, is all about pollution.
Before long, the compelling exposé that is Trini's Pollution Problems in Angel Grove has convinced the other Rangers that they should prove that they give a hoot and form a Clean-Up Club. This, I imagine, is something that Angel Grove desperately needs. This is a city that is attacked by a giant monster that are exploded by a collection of robot dinosaurs every single day for about three months. Even if the Megazord's attacks reduce the monsters to ashes rather than exploding them into biohazardous chunks, blowing up that much magic moon clay has to have done something to upset the delicate balance of the environment.
But rather than going around gathering up pieces of Eye Guy or the Samurai Fan Man so that they can be disposed of properly, the kids put on their custom-made t-shirts and set their sights on tidying up a local park:
Okay. I want to be 100% serious here for a moment. If you don't watch the episodes along with these recaps every week, that's fine, but if you only watch one scene from the entire twenty-three year run of the show, it should be this one. There's so much going on here that's genuinely, inexplicably amazing, to the point where you should watch it if only so you know that I'm not making any of this up.
First of all, the entire clean-up sequence is done as an extended Breakin'-style dance number that involves all of the characters doing slow-motion flips off an off-screen mini-trampoline while they drop garbage into trash bags:
Second, while Billy tests a "soil sample" and determines that the area is "completely polluted," the visible litter is composed entirely of the contents of a couple of newspapers, a handful of 2-liter soda bottles, and one (1) gently used automobile tire. Later, Billy tests the soil again, and discovers that by picking up newspapers, they have completely purified the very Earth itself.
Third, since this is still Power Rangers, their efforts are interrupted by an attack by Rita's Putty Patrollers, leading to what might actually be the best fight scene we've seen on the show so far. If you pay attention to the credits at the top of the column each week, you'll know that Terence Winkless was responsible for directing a few great episodes, along with "Island of Illusion" (and, according to IMDB, a movie called Bloodfist and a TV series called 18 Wheels of Justice, about a crime-fighting trucker) (really), but he really goes a step beyond what we've seen before in this episode.
The fighting is incredibly dynamic, with the camera moving through multiple pieces of action in a single shot in a way that you don't really see on the American version of the show, and it's punctuated by some truly inexplicable posing:
It really seems like he's trying to capture the feel of Super Sentai and all of its weirdness, but seeing it done with our cast of all-American teens makes it somehow even weirder. It's great.
The Putties, however, are only the first part of Rita's plan. The real idea here is to unleash a monster called the Polluticorn, or as Zack calls him in yet another high point of the show, "Monster Horse."
As you can probably guess from the name, the Polluticorn is here to cover the entire world in pollution, which it somehow emits through its horn. Just imagine! Newspaper and 2-liters everywhere! A single tire in every park in the country! Truly, a nightmare scenario of the highest order. Fortunately, the Polluticorn has a weak point, and in true House of the Dead fashion, it's his horn.
Unfortunately, chopping off his horn with a sword turns out to be a little more difficult than you might expect. When the Polluticorn attacks the Angel Grove Recycling Plant, it manages to avoid every attack that's thrown at it --- right up until Jason remembers that he can summon up the Dragon Shield and just basically lightsaber everything to death. Which, of course, he does.
From here on out, it's pretty perfunctory: The monster gets big, the Dinozords get involved, and the Megazord lands its usual one-hit KO to win the fight. We do, however, get one pretty amazing twist, in that the Megazord actually launches its attack by jumping into the air:
Even if the results are the same, that adds a little something extra to the fight.
With that done, the Rangers are free to go back to saving the Earth by recycling. Which, in the world of Power Rangers, basically means stacking bottles, cans, and newspapers --- the only three types of garbage that exist --- into elaborate pyramids that Bulk and Skull can crash through.
Maybe try a bin next time, kids.
The source material for this week's installment of Power Rangers comes from the 45th episode of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, "The Foolish Boy," and if you were hoping that it would involve a bunch of teenage royals from dinosaur times wearing matching "Clean-Up Club" t-shirts, I'm afraid I've got some bad news. That does not happen. The good news, though, is that it does have a strong environmental message, delivered through the medium of a small child who wants to destroy humanity for its sins against trees.
The boy in question is named Kouichi, and the Zyurangers meet him when they're checking out a river that has been poisoned with what Goushi literally describes as "a cyanide." This, for the record, isn't one of Bandora's plots. It's just regular industrial pollution, but needless to say, the Zyurangers are pretty upset by the whole thing.
They're not as upset as young Kouichi, though. While the Zyurangers are just sort of standing around talking about how much pollution sucks, he's doing something about it. And by that, I mean he's found the guy who's dumping industrial waste into a public river and he's slashing his tires with an icepick.
Kouichi is raw.
He even goes as far as threatening the Zyurangers if they get in his way and try to stop him from his acts of eco-terrorism (or at least eco-petty-vandalism). This might seem like an idle threat, but Kouichi has more than just the icepick to back him up. It turns out that he's also in command of his own monster, Dora Unicorn, and that he's commanding it to destroy everyone who's polluting up his hometown:
And to add to the problem, Dora Unicorn and Kouichi are "synchronized" --- whatever the Zyurangers do to the monster, the boy feels.
As for how a small child came to have his own pet monster horse, that's easy. Dora Unicorn was actually created by the soul of Kouichi's dead father.
Or was it?! No, of course not. The whole thing is, of course, one of Bandora's plots, and this time, it's playing on Koiuichi's grief. See, his father was an environmental scientist, and after he died, Kouichi became obsessed with the idea of carrying on his work and ending the scourge of pollution. He blames all humans for the destruction of the environment, particularly the extinction of animals, and when Dora Unicorn approached him, he decided to take his obsession to the next level.
After the Zyurangers tell him that he's being used, Kouichi decides to help them, but there's still a problem. Daizyuzin can't exactly slash up Dora Unicorn with His God Horn Super Legend Lightning Cut if it's just going to bisect a tween. Fortunately, Geki's able to realize that their bond is maintained through Dora Unicorn's horn. One quick slash of his sword and dagger, and that is no longer an issue.
Thus, Daizyuzin shows up, makes the cut, and once the polluted river is cleaned up (completely off-screen), Kouichi's faith in humanity is restored.
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: Over the past few weeks, I've had a real difficult time trying to figure out where the line is between "weirdness" and just not making sense. I'm starting to think that a unicorn who apparently shoots newspapers and 2-liters out of his horn might be the exact line. 5/10
Deviation From the Source: I was legitimately surprised when it turned out that there was actually a plot about pollution in the original episode, but lack of matching t-shirts is going to be an important factor here. 3/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: I didn't mention it above, but the B-plot of this episode is that Bulk and Skull's video project is a video called "Bulk: The Greatest Guy," directed by Skull. Unless you have made a video about your friend about why they are the greatest guy, then you can't tell me anything. 9/10
Moral Lessons: Give a hoot! Pitch in! Please put your newspapers, 2-liters and tires in the appropriate stacks for your comic relief friends to crash into. 7/10
'90s Fashions: The t-shirts alone set a pretty high bar, but consider also that Trini is wearing canary yellow bell-bottom jeans for the hip-hop cleanup party. 7/10
Total For Episode 36: 31/50