Ranger Station: ComicsAlliance’s Guide To ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,’ Episode 1
With almost 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 show begins with "Day of the Dumpster," marking the only time that a twenty-year television legacy has started off with a brand name trash bin.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 1: Day of the Dumpster
Director: Adrian Carr
Writer: Tony Oliver and Shuki Levy
Original Air Date: August 28, 1993
If you ever sit down to watch every episode of Power Rangers, the first thing you're going to notice is that it's quite possibly the easiest television show in history to binge-watch. It's not just that it's not hard to find, although it's worth noting for those of you who want to watch along that the whole series is on Netflix, all 22 years of it complete with everything except the second movie, but that it's one of the easiest shows to watch without really watching it.
For one thing, the first-season episodes are short. They're frequently under twenty minutes, and there are a couple in there that dip all the way down to about 18:30, and that's with the theme song. Combine that with the repetitive nature of the monster battles, and you've got something that's weirdly soothing. It's a show that is entirely built around karate teens and giant robots destroying monsters with lightning swords that fall from the heavens that is somehow the television equivalent of a warm blanket and the sound of rainfall.
But that's probably just because I'm looking at it with 22 years of nostalgia. For now, we're seeing everything for the very first time, starting with a pair of astronauts exploring the moon and accidentally opening up the "space dumpster" that has contained Rita Repulsa (played by Machiko Sago and voiced in English by Barbara Goodson) for the past ten thousand years.
And that, my friends, is a pretty weird way to start the show. I mean, just the fact that they consistently refer to Rita's prison as a "dumpster" means that this is a show where a villain with the power to constantly blow up sections of a city with an endless army of monsters starts her campaign of terror by literally crawling out of the trash --- the space trash --- and deciding to conquer Earth. There have been stranger supervillain origins, but I'm not sure I can think of one right now.
As Rita and her henchmen plot the destruction of the Earth, we cut to the Angel Grove Youth Center to meet our heroes, who are already color-coded for our convenience. Having the characters wear their signature colors even in their civilian identities is, incidentally, a tradition that goes back to at least JAKQ Dengekitai, the second Super Sentai series, meaning that it's been part of the franchise longer than giant robots. Those didn't come in until after Spider-Man's Leopardon showed up in 1978.
Anyway, it's here that we see our five heroes hanging out at the Angel Grove Youth Center Gym And Juice Bar, and despite the fact that they're referred to in the opening sequence as "teenagers with attitudes," they're all just pretty much hanging out doing exercise and being positive in their communities. You'd think that "attitude" would refer to, like, listening to grunge music and playing Super Nintendo at the very least, but no. It's mainly just friendly sparring and gymnastics.
The first two that we see are Jason (Austin St. John) and Zack (Walter Jones), and there are two things to really take note of here. The first is that they're actually really good at martial arts. St. John was the most experienced of the original cast in that field (and the least experienced with acting), and if I had to guess, I'd say Jones was probably the second. They're going to be seen sparring a lot over the course of the series, and already, Zack is throwing in some dance moves that will form the basis of his signature "Hip-Hopkido" fighting style. Second, something like 90% of their screen time together is spent high fiving or shaking hands like Arnold and Carl Weathers at the beginning of Predator, making them the show's second-best representation of ultimate friendship.
We also see Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) doing some gymnastics on a balance beam, Trini (Thuy Trang) practicing Kung Fu on her own, and Billy (David Yost) gearing up for his first karate session with Jason and Zack. And then, we are introduced to the greatest characters on the show and, quite possibly, in television history: Farkas "Bulk" Bulkmeier (Paul Schrier) and Eugene "Skull" Skullovich (Jason Narvy).
Bulk and Skull will be the connective tissue that holds the show together for the entirety of the original run, before each season is spun into its own continuity with Power Rangers In Space. As a result, they appear on the show more than anyone else, even returning for a cameo in the famous "Forever Red" episode of Wild Force and, in Bulk's case, a regular role on Power Rangers Samurai. They are also best friends in real life, and some days, knowing that is the only thing that keeps me going.
In these early episodes, though, they're a lot more aggressive than they eventually become in their years as Junior Cops or chimpanzees (it's a long/amazing story), especially towards Kimberlly. It's weird to see looking back, but even so, their constant and occasionally violent humiliation at the hands of the good guys gets a little uncomfortable if you're watching the episodes back-to-back. This time, though, it's a Hell of their own making, as they get flipped onto some safety mats after charging full-throttle at Kim and Trini.
Bulk will also faceplant later in the episode while trying to learn Karate in what I believe is an officially sanctioned traditional uniform...
...and then take a tray full of milkshakes to the face in the first of many, many examples of food-based public humiliation that I'm going to go ahead and guess set a whole lot of young people on the path to becoming "wet-and-messy" fetishists.
On the Moon, Rita decides to launch her attack on Angel Grove, and while that's been the source of one of the show's most enduring questions --- why doesn't she just attack somewhere else so that there aren't teenagers with robots there to immediately stop her? --- the show actually does a pretty good job of establishing a reason. In addition to just general world conquering, Rita is pretty hell-bent on revenge against Zordon and, well, Zordon's in Angel Grove, so I hope y'all's giant monster insurance is paid up.
As for why she never just sends Squatt and Baboo down to garrote Jason in his sleep, that one will remain a mystery.
As Rita launches her attack we meet Zordon, who has presumably been spending the past ten thousand years building the Command Center (actually, as alert reader Rami Raff pointed out, the House of the Book on the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of American Jewish University in Simi Valley, California), adapting to life as a giant interdimensional floating head, and having what I can only assume were endlessly interminable conversations with Alphas 1-4 before destroying them for their annoyance and replacing them with the fifth in the line. That last bit might just be headcanon, though.
In any event, he responds to the impending Rita-related crisis by requesting that Alpha 5, his robot assistant, summon not "teenagers with attitudes" but a group of humans described in a slightly different way:
ZORDON: Bring us five overbearing and overemotional humans.
ALPHA 5: NO! NOT THAT! NOT TEENAGERS!
The logic of this decision is never explained or questioned.
With that, Alpha teleports Jason, Zack, Trini, Kimberly and Billy to the command center, where Zordon informs them that they've just been drafted into an after-school battle against evil. But what's interesting is that, in true Joseph Campbell fashion, they initially refuse the job in one of the few examples of what actually might be considered "attitude." And that's after he tells them that the job comes with giant robots.
Jason's the only one who pauses before leaving, but it's only once they try to walk home from the Command Center and get attacked by the Putty Patrollers, Rita's seemingly endless army of soldiers molded by Finster out of animated clay, that they realize they don't have much of a choice in the matter.
Using the Power Morphers that they were given by Zordon, the five teens "morph" into their ranger forms, which have the power to immediately make things look like they were shot on much worse film. The actual morphing is going to be used as stock footage for the rest of the series, at least until the cast shakes up in Season 2, and once you notice that Billy blinks four or five times in the time that it takes to say the word "Triceratops," it's hard to see anything else. It's the second-most distracting piece of stock footage on the show, to the point where you won't even notice that Walter Jones is missing a finger.
With that, the Rangers start slugging it out with Goldar and a handful of Putties, prompting Rita to play her trump card and hurl her "magic wand" to the Earth, causing the ground to shatter and Goldar to grow to giant size. Fortunately, the rangers have a trump card of their own: The Zords, giant machines that can combine to form the massive Megazord, the element that literally puts the"super" in "super sentai."
The actual footage of the Zords emerging is awesome, particularly the Tyrannosaurus Zord clawing its way out of a fiery chasm in the Earth. The Pterodactyl, however, bursts out of an erupting volcano, and then immediately flies directly into the nearest tree.
Sometimes they forget to cut that part out, which is the most distracting piece of stock footage on the show.
With that, the Zords combine, the Power Sword descends from the heavens, and Goldar is pummeled into a hasty retreat back to the moon. With that, the Rangers return to the command center, where Zordon lays down the three rules that they have to follow so that they won't lose the extremely nebulous "protection of the power."
- Never use your power for personal gain.
- Never escalate a battle unless Rita forces you.
- Keep your identity a secret.
That first one is pretty self-explanatory, but those other two seem like a whole lot of unnecessary hassle. The teens all agree, although Kimberly refuses, claiming that the helmets will ruin her hair.
The first episode of Power Rangers is Frankensteined together from multiple episodes of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, but seeing as this is the beginning, we might as well start with their two-part debut, "The Birth" and "The Revival."
In the original, it's not the moon that's being explored by the astronauts in the opening, but the planet Nemesis, whose orbit brings it close to Earth every 230 million years. Unfortunately, the astronauts didn't know that Nemesis was serving as the prison for the evil Witch Bandora, sealed away by the mysterious sage Barza, and end up opening her crypt and unleashing her on the world.
Unlike the American version, the plot in these episodes mostly concerns the fate of two children who were brought along on the journey as Junior Astronauts, stranded in the shuttle after Rita blows the adult crew out into space:
She ends up shrinking them down to the size of a toy, terrorizing them for a while before setting about magically tearing skyscrapers out of the ground to build her palace on the moon.
Barza, who has been living in the guise of a groundskeeper for a local condominium, quickly runs to his underground lair to resurrect the five descendants of tribes that lived alongside dinosaurs: Goushi, the Black Ranger of the Sharma tribe; Boi, the Yellow Ranger of the Dime tribe; Mei, the Pink Ranger of the Lithia tribe (who he makes sure to tell that "there's no time to put on makeup!"); Dan, the Blue Ranger of the Etoffe tribe; and, eventually, Geki, the Red Ranger of the Yamato tribe. And despite the fact that they've been sleeping for millions of years awaiting Bandora's resurrection, they immediately have sweet-ass motorcycles to ride around on:
They also have weapons, and they do not mess around. While the American Rangers have some trouble dealing with putties, Mei, who is armed with a bow, just straight shoots them in the face with arrows. And later? Boi pulls out a gun. I mean, admittedly, it's the big plastic laser gun that they use in both versions of the show, but still.
Alas, shooting monsters in the face doesn't solve all of their problems, though, so they use the power of their Dino Bucklers to transform into their Ranger forms. They scrap a bit with Grifforzar (who you may know as Goldar), but there's another monster involved, too, the gigantic Dora Titan that requires them to resurrect their robotic guardian beasts, although in an uncharacteristic show of restraint, they don't form Daizyujin (their version of the Megazord) until later in the series.
Thus, the junior astronauts are saved, and the Zyurangers begin their battle against evil.
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: Goldar, while he is in fact a talking winged dog from space wearing gold armor, is actually pretty tame by the standards of the show. 2/10
- Deviation From the Source: No twelve year-old astronauts, no dinosaur tribes, far fewer wanton murders for Rita and Barza is not, as you may notice, a floating head in a tube. 7/10
- Bulk And Skull Friendship: They're barely even formed at this point, but just wait for that body swap episode. 3/10
- '90s Fashions: Jason's sleeveless flannel hoodie and shorts could probably pass for something an extremely cool karate student could wear today. 2/10
- Moral Lessons: Today, we learned that the best way to solve your problems is with karate, or, in extreme circumstances, by karate mixed with dancing. 8/10
Total For Episode 1: 22/50
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