Ranger Station Episode 9: For Whom The Bell Trolls
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, Trini collects creepy dolls and the Zyurangers beat up an actual, literal child, so yes, it's going to be a good one.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 9: For Whom The Bell Trolls
Director: Robert Hughes
Writers: Jeff Deckman, Ronnie Sperling and Stewart St. John
Original Air Date: September 15, 1993
If there's one thing that I think we've learned about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers by going in-depth with it over the past few weeks, it's that this is a show that raises a lot more questions than it answers. Like, say, what happened to Alphas 1 through 4? Is Zordon trapped in another dimension or is he literally in a giant tube somewhere in California? And was there nothing in the past ten thousand years that he thought might benefit from the help of some giant robot dinosaurs that fight for justice? Nothing? Nothing at all?
This, then, is one of the rarest treats in the entire series: An episode that raises a question and then actually answers it by the time the credits roll, even if that answer comes in the form of a pretty massive cop-out.
We open in Ms. Applebee's classroom as Angel Grove High celebrates Hobby Week, and right away, we know it's going to be an amazing episode. Someone, some truly brilliant set dresser, decided that the blackboard should tell us that the Rangers were learning a lesson on Question Marks: Why do we need them?
No joke, if anyone out there knows of a book on this subject, I definitely want to read it. Heck, I'd even go to a museum exhibit on the history of the question mark, if I wasn't 100% sure that it would be robbed by the Riddler while I was there.
Anyway, Hobby Week is basically Show and Tell super-sized to five days, which seems a little odd when you consider that the Rangers are in high school, but if we're going to start picking at those threads, we're going to be here all day. The point is, Trini's hobby is doll collecting, and to show that off, she's brought a handful of her best. Her absolute favorite, though, is a terrifying little goblin named Mr. Ticklesneezer, which is definitely the kind of name a grown person would think a child would give to a toy.
Not only that, but Ticklesneezer comes with his own backstory in the form of a giant tome about how he can shrink things down and put them in little bottles. We also get to see a few of the other students' hobbies --- Jason's into karate, of course, Kim can do a handstand, Billy brings the kind of model volcano that you'd see at a third-grade science fair rather than telling everyone about how he built a flying car by himself, Zack likes surfing --- but of more importance is Rita's reaction.
You know, it occurs to me that she'd probably have an easier time of conquering Earth if she wasn't spending so much time spying on a high school show-and-tell week, but I suppose hindsight's 20/20. What matters is that once again, Rita is infuriated by even the smallest aspects of her opponents' lives. This time, she's upset because, and I quote, "I never got to play with dolls when I was a little girl! Who had the time?!"
Rita Repulsa is the best character in the history of television.
That night, we get a rare look at one of the Rangers' houses, as Trini prepares for bed in a room full of shelf after shelf of creepy, staring, dead-eyed dolls --- and this is an important moment, so remember it for later. No sooner has she gone to sleep, however, than Rita decides to turn her favorite doll against her, and sends Squatt down with a creepy machine that'll bring Mr. Ticklesneezer to life. Squatt materializes in Trini's bedroom, zaps the doll, and beats feet back to the moon for a job interview.
Now that Ticklesneezer is alive, it seems that he has all the powers that he had in Trini's Big Book Of Creepy Dolls, including the "Goody Bottle" that can shrink anything down. This gives him a pretty serious ability to cause widespread destruction, which is exactly what Rita sends him to do the following morning.
Trini, meanwhile, spends the next day with Billy, retracing her steps because she's worried that she might've lost her favorite doll --- or, as Billy hesitantly suggests, that Bulk and Skull have stolen him. The truth, however, is that Ticklesneezer is walking around wreaking havoc on the city's most notable landmarks, like the famous Angel Grove Tokyo Tower:
He even manages to snag Billy and Trini themselves while they're driving around looking for him, shrinking them down into a bottle and cheerfully informing them that they're part of his collection.
Back at the Youth Center, Jason is breaking boards with his fist (awesome), as Bulk and Skull look on. The main gist of the scene is that Bulk, for reasons unknown, attempts to karate chop a chocolate cake and ends up hurting his hand, which I think says less about Bulk and more about how terrible Ernie is at baking. For our purposes, though, the best thing here is by far Skull's increasingly amazing wardrobe.
This, I think, is the first appearance of Skull's neckerchief, and while the outfit won't be complete until he gets his red beret in a few episodes, the combination here with that jacket is genuinely amazing.
Alas, our sartorial lesson is interrupted when Zordon calls to let the Rangers know that their pals are currently trapped (along with their car) inside a tiny little bottle, and that they're probably going to punch out Mr. Ticklesneezer to get them back. They morph and head out to a train yard, home of California's famous public transit system, to do just that, but in the process, the bottle containing Trini and Billy ends up falling onto a set of train tracks. Kimberly rescues them at the last second, and they join the fight just in time for Ticklesneezer to grow large and require them to summon the Megazord.
From there, the victory is a foregone conclusion, although there is a nice bit where the Megazord itself is shrunk down into Ticklesneezer's bottle. In the end, though, the Power Sword (called the Mega Sword in this episode) descends from the heavens and frees them, and they end up threatening Rita with the bottle until she releases Ticklesneezer from her spell.
Hey, wait. Is that a giant child standing there behind the Megazord? That's weird.
Anyway, if you're like me, then you probably already know what the obvious question raised by this episode is. We already know that Rita knows who the Rangers are and that she watches them all the time, and while you have to make a few suspension-of-disbelief allowances for the sake of the show's formula, having Squatt actually go into Trini's room at night with a weapon really makes it difficult not to wonder: Why doesn't Rita just kill them in their sleep?!
But like I said, it actually answers it: Because none of this actually happened. It was all just a dream!
OR WAS IT?!
Yes. Yes it was. I mean, to be honest, I would've preferred it if the show had set this up using a little more dream logic, like having the Youth Center be a completely different building that still felt like the Youth Center, or if some of the characters' faces were different, but, well, if nothing else, that would explain why a weird gigantic child showed up in the fight scene.
As weird as "For Whom The Bell Trolls" might be, its source material might just be weirder. It's the 14th episode of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, and it has the rather abrupt title of "Become Small!," exclamation point included.
So here's the good news if you're out there looking for a job: Witch Bandora's hiring! I mean, yes, she's still operating out of a palace on the moon so the commute is a bit of a bear, but there are definitely benefits that go along with the job, like Maybe Finding Out What The Heck Grifforzar Is Actually Supposed To Be.
As for why there's a position open, it seems that Pleprechaun needs an assistant to help him keep up with the demand for monsters, and so Bandora literally put an ad out in the Fairy Woods, bringing in an applicant named Fairy Dondon:
Dondon, according to the subtitles, is both a fairy and a dwarf, and he has a special talent for sculpting that'll come in handy when he's trying to help Pleprechaun cook up a pumpkin rapper or whatever. The thing is, he needs inspiration in the form of samples to work from, which he collects with the help of a magic bottle that... well, if you're this far into the column, you probably know exactly how it works.
If you've been paying attention, you may also have already noticed that Zyuranger episodes tend to focus on a kid rather than the Zyurangers themselves, and this time it's a young boy named Toshio who is constantly in trouble with his parents and teachers on account of being a slacker:
Also, he is Somewhat Sporty.
His mom yells at him constantly, which is really upsetting. Even Boi, the Yellow Ranger, thinks that she's being too harsh, although his blue comrade Dan seems to think that this is a great way to terrify the children of Japan into showing some respect. Either way, he feels pretty bad about himself, which is why he's sulking outside school when Dondon shows up in search of inspirado.
Since Dondon is also pretty used to getting yelled at, he and Toshio actually become fast friends, and Tohshio helps him gather up samples, including the Tokyo Tower, a train, a jet, and even an office building full of workers, all shrunk down into tiny bottles for model-making reference. And the fun/terrifying thing is, they're actually being physically sucked into the bottles along with being shrunk down, so when he snags that office building, it literally lurches across the street and into the bottle.
And when buildings start vanishing, it doesn't take long for the Zyurangers to catch on.
Please note that I did not intend to screencap the best possible facial expressions, but it happened anyway. I'm not sure whether my favorite is Goushi being mildly surprised, or Mei, who is clearly just not into it.
The Zyurangers head out to find the culprit, and Dan and Boi are the first ones to find Dondon and Toshio just hanging out in the park with a cart full of magic bottles --- and the great thing is, Toshio instantly thinks that they're after him because he's cutting school. They decide to run for it, hopping into the back of a truck and leading Dan and Boi to commandeer a car from a civilian, something that I did not know Super Sentai teams were allowed to do.
Unfortunately for Dan, Boi and the poor guy who owns the car, they end up getting shrunk down and stuffed into a bottle themselves:
They do get the chance to talk to their captors, though, and it turns out that neither Dondon nor Toshio realized that there were actually people in the stuff they were shrinking. Once they know, they quickly let all the stuff back out, returning the jet, train, building and Tokyo Tower back to their rightful places.
Unfortunately, Dan is losing his sugar at what they've done, and even as they're trying to make things right, he keeps on yelling at them until Toshio finally has enough.
The threat of a spanking from a Power Ranger is the last straw, and Toshio chucks the bottle containing the Zyurangers into the gravel of the train yard without letting them out.
On the Moon, Bandora is beyond stoked about this new development, since she just wanted an office assistant and ended up with two fun-size Zyurangers trapped in a bottle. She sends Grifforzar and a gang of Golem Soldiers (the Japanese name for the Putty Patrollers) to stomp them out once and for all. At the nick of time, though, the other three Zyurangers arrive, kicking off a massive fight scene that includes Dan and Boi almost being run over by a train before Mei saves them and frees them from the bottle.
And this is where things get amazing. Dondon and Toshio flee the scene and end up hiding from Toshio's parents, which is when Bandora shows up on a nearby staircase to tell them that there's really only one way out: They're going to have to destroy all adults! Toshio initially begs off because he's only a kid, but Bandora has a way of giving him an edge: She giant-sizes him along with Dondon and sets them loose on the city.
This is one of the best things I've seen on the show, and I have watched a lot of Power Rangers and Super Sentai over the years. I have to imagine that the kid who played Toshio had to be pretty excited about going to the set where they film the monster fights, although it might've ruined a little of the magic, too. Still, any chance to smash up that miniature Tokyo has to be fun. I mean, at one point he picks up the God Horn and literally fights the giant robot!
Through it all, Toshio's mom and his teacher are still yelling at him, which only makes things worse. When Mom shows up to encourage Daizyujin to punish him, though --- and again, that's a giant robot that destroys monsters with the power of a lightning sword --- Boi decides that she's gone too far and starts to lecture her about how just yelling all the damn time doesn't do anything but make your kids feel bad.
Having been sufficiently lectured by a giant robot, she apologizes for being so mean, and Toshio agrees to go back to normal. Bandora flees to the moon rather than being trapped in Dondon's bottle, and Dondon heads back to the Fairy Woods, leaving Toshio with a sculpture of Daizyujin as a memento.
Fight on, Dinosaur Squadron Zyuranger!
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: Ticklesneezer is an abomination in the sight of Zordon and must be destroyed, but to be honest, he was creepier as a doll than he ever was as a full-sized kaiju. 6/10
- Deviation From the Source: They dropped the ball pretty hard on this one, if only because Hobby Week is boring even as a fictional concept, while Rita actually having job interviews at her evil palace on the moon is gold. 6/10
- Bulk and Skull Friendship: Since nothing counts in Trini's dream, the real gem here is when you find out that they've spent so much time together that they're actually starting a flea circus with each other. It's adorable. 7/10
- Moral Lessons: "Rita didn't kill you in your sleep tonight, but I guess she probably could, and also your dolls can come to life and fight the Power Rangers" is terrifying. 8/10
- '90s Fashions: The only outfit of note in this episode is Kimberly's belted romper, which has somehow actually come back into fashion. 1/10
Total For Episode 9: 21/50