Ranger Station Episode 10: Happy Birthday, Zack
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 Power Rangers plan a surprise birthday party and the Zyurangers try to stop Bandora from crafting the most powerful sword in Hell, thus proving that we have completely different ideas of what the stakes on a children's show should be in America and Japan.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 10: Happy Birthday, Zack
Director: Jeff Reiner
Writer: Stewart St. John
Original Air Date: September 16, 1993
On the list of clichés from television that I'm not sure have ever actually happened in real life, making your friend think you forgot their birthday so that you can surprise them with a party later ranks just under two roommates dividing up an apartment with a line down the middle. Don't get me wrong, I know that surprise parties exist --- although I don't think I know anyone who actually enjoys them --- I just don't know that anyone goes to the lengths that you always see on TV to make their friends miserable before they jump out and try to cure disappointment with unexpected cake.
At the very least, I have to think that most people wouldn't be able to keep up once they saw how sad the people they care about got when you pretended not to know why they kept dropping hints about calendars and balloons. In real life, I'm pretty sure it's just the party that you pretend to not know about, right? Same effect, less sobbing alone in the stairwell.
This week's episode of Power Rangers, on the other hand, goes in the exact opposite direction. Not only do the Rangers plan the party, lie to their friend, and pretend that they don't know what's going on, but they even go as far as having a conversation about how much they're hurting him, and then decide that it's all going to be worth it later, because his suffering now will only increase his enjoyment later. And the thing is, that's somehow not the weirdest part of the episode.
The birthday boy this time around is Zack, and we open on the other four Rangers decorating the Youth Center for the next day's party. Two interesting Billy-related elements of this scene. First, we get another example of Trini being smart enough to understand what Billy's saying, but socially aware enough to translate into the vernacular for the rest of her friends. In this case, it's Billy telling Kimberly that "the performers assembled to create this harmonious tune transcend all predecessors to this genre of music," which, admittedly, is a ridiculously awkward bit of phrasing, but let's be real here. There's nothing in that sentence that a bunch of high schoolers shouldn't be able to translate, meaning that Kimberly and Jason are in dire need of an SAT Word of the Day calendar.
Second, the Cake-O-Matic. Like most of Billy's inventions, this thing just exists to dump sludge onto the show's two overweight characters, Bulk (and Skull) and Ernie, but at this point in the show, that's starting to stretch credibility. I mean, yes, engineers have their specialties, but Billy also built a flying car by hand and tapped into remote teleportation technology in his garage. If he can do that, then rigging up an automatic oven should probably not be a problem.
While Rita plans to ruin Zack's birthday by attacking Angel Grove with a monster --- the same way she ruins literally every other day regardless of personal significance --- Bulk and Skull show up and do their best to ruin the party, something that they could do at any time by just, you know, telling Zack about it. But that's beside the point.
What really matters is that this is where the weirdest moment of the episode happens, when Ernie strikes up a conversation about the Power Rangers with the color-coded teens that he sees every day who always have to mysteriously leave right when a monster shows up to terrorize the town.
Ernie is understandably a pretty big fan of the Rangers, going as far as saying that "they're going to do for Angel Grove what Batman has done for Gotham City," and the more I think about that sentence, the more it makes me wonder: Is Ernie, who is talking about real-life superheroes who have literally saved his life nine times, just making a metaphor, or does Batman actually exist in the world of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?! Is his effect on Gotham just limited to saving the city from villains, or has it also driven up superhero-related tourism, as we'll see from the Rangers in later seasons?! Why isn't Batman fighting Rita Repulsa on the moon?!
I don't know, but I am definitely willing to read and/or write the comic that explores this idea in excruciating detail.
Anyway, the next day, Zack shows up at school, walking past a guy skateboarding through the halls while he high-fives another student, who is clearly the teenager with the most attitude on this entire show:
He drops some extremely unsubtle hints about his birthday to Kimberly, who responds by telling him that she just realized that she forgot her dog's birthday, which might be the cruelest possible response. So cruel, in fact, that as the rest of the Rangers assure Kimberly that it'll all work out when Zack shows up at the party, Zack himself has literally gone to wander around the desert reconsidering his entire life up to this point.
It's at this point that Rita decides to make her move.
Now, as is usually the case, Rita enlisted Finster to make a monster, going as far as leafing through a big book that contains sketches --- and possibly recipes? --- for monsters that we've seen before, like Bones and the Chunky Chicken. She settles on the Knasty Knight, and in the second continuity-bending bit of the episode, we flash back to the last time Rita employed this particular monster, when she attacked the planet Tarnac 3.
If that blurry figure on the left looks familiar, that's because it's Goushi, the Black Zyuranger, meaning that this episode not only implies that Batman is in continuity, but that Japan is on another planet. This one's weird.
The point is, while the Knight is one of Finster's monsters, he doesn't just come out of the oven like all the rest of them. Instead, they do something that they've never done before: They go to a cave and literally forge a sword with hammers and an anvil, and then Rita casts a spell that causes lightning to strike a rock and summon the Knight that way instead.
As Zack sits contemplatively in the desert, Rita sends the Knight to attack him, with Squatt and Baboo filming it for good measure. And not only that, but Zack is thrashed, with the Knight not only defeating him in combat, but also nearly destroying his weapons as well. When the other rangers show up, it's the same for them, and even once they summon the Megazord, the same effect happens again, with the Power Sword reduced to a smoking, pockmarked shard of metal.
Eventually, Zack figures out that the Knight is reflecting their energy back at them, and so he decides that they should just reflect his energy back with more added. There is no further discussion of how they should do this, because we're already 17 minutes into a show that only has about 18 minutes to fill, but it works, and the Knight is defeated.
With the city saved, the Rangers return to the Youth Center and surprise Zack with a party.
All is forgiven, and Ernie gets a second batch of icing dumped on his head.
So you know how it's kind of a running gag that Mighty Morphin's teenage hijinx tends to be vastly different from the epic fantasy of Zyuranger? Well, while our American heroes were worried about Zack's birthday party and a machine that makes cake, "Destroy! The Dark Super Sword!" finds the Zyurangers were dealing with Bandora's plot to corrupt an innocent child into crafting the most powerful sword in Hell.
The child in question is Shigeru, a youngster being raised by his sister after both of his parents died. While tragic, that's not a relationship that's entirely out of the question, but the thing is, Shigeru's like nine, and his sister is like... ten.
You cannot leave a ten year-old in charge of a nine year-old indefinitely. That is a terrible idea, especially if, like Ritsuko, the older one is always trying to get the younger one to fight people all the time.
Goushi, the Black Zyuranger, takes an interest in the kids after meeting him at a park, because, like Shigeru, he was also raised by his sister back in Dinosaur Times. Unfortunately, she was killed by Bandora, who is not messing around --- and she's looking to add yet another kid to her list of victims. When Goushi and the Zyurangers go to Shigeru's 10th birthday party the next day, she sends Totpat and Bookback, disguised as humans, to kidnap Shigeru:
I don't know if the guys playing Totpat-and-Bookback-As-Humans are the suit actors, but if they're not, they do a pretty fantastic job of capturing the physicality of the two characters.
As for why Bandora wants Shigeru, it's not just because she wants to ruin a child's birthday party, although I imagine that's a nice side benefit. What she really wants is to complete a ritual that, according to the Great Sage Barza, requires "a ten year-old birthday boy" to craft a sword so that it can become Durandal, The Most Powerful Sword In Hell.
To wield the sword, Bandora has Finster cook up a monster named Dora Knight, and if you're a sharp-eyed viewer who pays attention to details, you may notice that Dora Knight's shield bears heraldry based on the Royal Arms of England (Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or), as adopted by King Richard the Lionheart in 1198, but with the red field swapped out for black. This in itself is interesting, as Durandal itself --- despite appearing in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night --- is neither English nor demonic. It is, in fact, French, having been legendarily handed down to the paladin Roland by Charlemagne, and is also quite holy, since Charlemagne got it from an angel and its hilt was said to contain four holy relics, including St. Peter's tooth and a piece of clothing once worn by the Virgin Mary.
Y'know, just in case you were wondering.
As you might expect from a sword with a golden hilt that contains the blood of St. Basil, Durandal is quickly turned against the Zyurangers, specifically Goushi. Bandora sees him as the "shadow leader" of the team (and the brains of the operation, since Geki is too hot-blooded to think things through before acting), so she ties Shigeru and Ritsuko to stakes out in the quarry and broadcasts the battle directly to his teammates. Within seconds, Goushi's on the ropes, with Dora Knight and Durandal making short work of not just Goushi, but also his Legendary Weapon.
Must be St. Denis's hair in the hilt giving it that extra punch. That guy was decapitated and just cold stood up, picked up his own severed head and walked six miles while preaching a sermon, so I imagine that withstanding the Mammoth Breaker wasn't a huge problem.
Eventually, the other Zyurangers show up by literally teleporting through the television and out of Bookback's camera (rad as hell) but when their weapons get trashed too, they decide that it's time to get Daizyujin involved. It seems like this is a pointless endeavor, too, but when Shigeru tries to get involved, it's revealed that Durandal cannot strike the person who created it. The Zyurangers teleport Shigeru into the cockpit of Daizyujin (not quite as cool as tearing up the city and fighting outside the giant robot like last week, but still pretty darn cool), and commence to beating the living heck out of the knight with the Super Legend Lightning Cut.
With that, Shigeru and Ritsuko are reunited and head back to live with their aunt and uncle, having showed the courage necessary to get his sister off his back for once.
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 Monsters: Heraldry notwithstanding, an evil knight with a super-strong sword is probably the least bizarre monster that we've seen, or will see, in the entire show. 1/10
- Deviation From the Source: The only thing keeping this from full points is that the Zyuranger episode does technically involve a birthday party. 9/10
- Bulk and Skull Friendship: We're still in the early parts of the show, so this is one of those episodes where Bulk and Skull are really aggressive towards Kimberly and Trini in a very off-putting way. Spoiler warning, but we're not going to get to full friendship levels until they switch bodies with each other. 3/10
- Moral Lessons: Hey kids! Lie to your friends, but then be nice to them. This is not a weird thing that every show teaches you to do on someone's birthday at all. 2/10
- '90s Fashions: Zack usually gets stuck in purple, but the Malcolm X baseball jersey and black jeans that he rocks in this episode are a seriously rad combination. 8/10
Final Score: 23/50