Ranger Station Episode 23: Itsy Bitsy Spider
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, one of the Rangers has to face their fears, and... wait, didn't we do this one before?
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 23: "Itsy Bitsy Spider"
Writer: Steve Kramer
Director: Robert Hughes
Original Air Date: October 12, 1993
With a show that's been around as long as Power Rangers has, you have to expect a little repetition. This is, after all, a show that's built on a formula, not just for each episode, but in the beats that every series has to hit before it ends to make way for next year's action figures. So with 23 years of Power Rangers --- and a full forty of Super Sentai --- you're going to see the same kinds of stories pop up more than a few times.
That said, getting the same premise twice in six weeks is pushing it just a little bit.
If you've been following along with Ranger Station, then you might recall that Episode 2, "High Five" --- which aired just over a month before "Itsy Bitsy Spider" --- involved Trini conquering her fear of heights about three minutes after that fear was introduced in the first place. Even with the pretty abrupt resolution, it's a pretty standard plot, but this week, we're going down that same road again. The only difference is that this time, it's Zack and a fear of spiders.
Okay, so maybe there's a little more to it than that. We open, for instance, with the kids campaigning to stop the city council from demolishing a statue in the park to make way for a barbecue pit. On the one hand, I imagine that with giant monsters tearing through downtown demolishing buildings on a weekly basis, Angel Grove's taxpayers probably have better things to worry about than getting rid of public art. On the other hand...
...you can't deny that Bulk and Skull make a pretty good point.
Either way, there's a little something extra about this statue. According to Trini and Billy, it's actually a magic statue, which was built in order to appease a forest spirit and keep harmful bugs away from the city. Sadly, this never leads to a time travel episode where the Rangers have to deal with a plague of locusts ravaging the crops back in Wild West times, but it is nice to see the show acknowledge that magic is a going concern in this universe. If we can accept that there's a moon witch who uses a magic wand to make monsters grow --- and that Santa Claus's Christmas Magic can interfere with the Morphin Grid --- then it makes sense that statues with legendary, mystical properties would actually have them. And, as a nice touch, it's Billy and Trini, the two most logical characters on the show, who are so concerned.
They're not the only ones worried about bad bugs, though. It turns out that Zack is afraid of spiders, something that we learn when Bulk and Skull's radical pro-barbecue-pit policies lead them to start throwing boxes of bugs onto the assembled AGHS students:
Why exactly did anyone think it was a good idea to have actual boxes of insects on display as part of the Save the Statue campaign? Who knows, friends. Who knows. If I had to guess, though, I'd suspect that it was probably someone who thought Zack just saying he was afraid of spiders wouldn't make things as clear to the actual babies this show was made for as having him lose his mind over one landing on his shoulder.
Needless to say, the Rangers being concerned about something inevitably leads to Rita trying to destroy it and/or use it for evil, and the statue is no exception. After watching all of this go down --- and after a brief aside where Billy introduces the gang to a mouse named Jack as his "research assistant" --- we find out her latest evil plan.
Step one: Have Finster make a fake version of the statue with one noticeably evil difference (snakes in its hair rather than flowers).
Step two: Make a giant tarantula monster named Spidercron and hide it inside the statue along with a bunch of poisonous spiders and moths that spread sleeping powder.
Step three: Send it all down to Earth and hope that no teenagers with attitude and dinosaur robots show up to destroy them.
To help that happen, Rita decides to send down a few Putty Patrollers to keep the Rangers busy, and we get a pretty solid fight scene. It's always worth mentioning that the actors playing the Rangers did the majority of their own stunts in these scenes, and while that certainly had its down side --- most notably Thuy Trang injuring her leg during one --- it's pretty awesome to see the cast very clearly beating up the Putties.
Seriously, check out this side kick:
One Ranger, however, is doing his stunts elsewhere. Zack was able to skip out on bug recovery duty thanks to his prior commitment to teach a class in his signature martial art, Hip-Hapkido. If you're not familiar with it, it's a combination of dance moves and martial arts that, according to Zack, should only be used for self-defense when you were in real danger.
When he leaves to go get a new tape from his car, though, his students find themselves in the kind of danger that simply cannot be defeated by hot beats and sweet body rolls. Moths, emerging from the forest spirit statue by the dozens, shower the class with sleeping powder. And when Zack finds them, he's worried --- not for the children who have pretty much just been rendered comatose by a moon witch, but for himself, because now he has to deal with bugs.
Zack tries to avoid the moths by heading to the statue, but when he notices that something's wrong (those snakes in its hair are a dead giveaway) he morphs just in time to see the statue explode and reveal Spidercron in all its super-gross glory.
Before long, the rest of the Rangers show up to lend a hand --- everyone, that is, except Tommy. Continuing the trend of keeping him away from the rest of the team to deal with the lack of footage from the source material --- and following up on last week's decision to just show him sick-yahhhh his way through a bo staff kata --- Tommy has just gone down to the beach with a katana:
This is, I think, why Tommy was immediately so many kids' favorite ranger. Everyone else is going around trying to catch bugs or doing some hip-hop dancing. Tommy has a sword and he's just screaming while he swings it around like he's practicing several murders.
Once Rita up-sizes the Spidercron, though, the time for screaming practice is over, and the time to summon the DragonZord has arrived. Despite some offense from Spidercron that includes webbing up the DragonZord Spider-Man style, the combined forces of the Power Rangers make pretty short work of the monster, and once it's taken care of, the curse of the sleeping powder is broken and the kids are saved.
But when Zack goes back to check on the kids from his Hip-Hapkido class, he immediateliy blames them for falling asleep, telling them that they need to take vitamins:
And look, I get that he needs to keep his identity secret or else risk Losing The Protection Of The Power™, but does he have to blame the kids for getting whacked with magic moth powder? Like, do you not think these kids have enough to worry about growing up in a town where a fifty-foot pile of eyeballs tried to kill everybody a few weeks ago without you gaslighting them? Yeesh.
It almost serves him right when Tommy pretends to put a spider on his shoulder.
Our source material for this week comes from the 25th episode of Kyoroyu Sentai Zyuranger, "The Park Where Demons Dwell," and as you might expect from what we've already discussed, it also features a statue full of bugs pretty heavily. For the Zyurangers, though, it's not a magic statue that's been in town for a long while, it's one that was made by the father of a local child, Daisaku, right before he died.
So, you know, we're starting on a bit of a down note.
One thing that's worth mentioning is that Goushi, the Black Zyuranger, is already friends with Daisaku before this whole thing even starts. Later in the episode, it'll be revealed that Goushi was friends with Daisaku's dad, but that marks two episodes in a row where the Zyurangers are already hanging out with the local kids before Bandora gets involved. While that is a little weird on the surface, it does make a certain kind of sense, when you consider that Bandora is, after all, pretty much always trying to murder children.
She's even taken to singing songs about it in every episode.
And this week is, of course, no exception. Even though Daisaku's father made the Forest Fairy statue in hopes that it would attract butterflies and other helpful insects to the park, Bandora's version, which comes complete with a monster called Dora Tarantula, only seems to attract a very specific kind of white butterfly --- one that gives all the children the Sleep Disease!
Clearly, Bandora Shennanigans are afoot, and when they notice that they seem to be emanating from the statue, they realize that they have to destroy it. There's just one problem: The statue represents the only thing that Daisaku and his sister Michiru have to remember their late father, and they're not really cool with the idea of blowing it up with laser beams.
Goushi, however, is very convincing.
With he statue destroyed, Dora Tarantula is revealed, and Bandora quickly calls upon the evil spirits to grant him power, and that is where things get amazing. See, when the Zyurangers get in trouble, Burai shows up and summons Dragon Caesar, who combines with the other Guardian Beasts to form Gouryuzin, and then they straight up impale Dora Tarantula with its giant drill spear:
And when I say "impale," this is not me exaggerating for humorous effect. There's a close-up of the drill coming out of Dora Tarantula's back, and when it falls over, we see the shot from behind through the gaping hole left in its monstrous flesh:
The Zyurangers do not mess around.
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: All things considered, a giant spider is actually pretty tame. 2/10
- Deviation From the Source: Once again, we're sticking pretty close to the source material, although this does make me wish that Goushi was more into forming hip-hop dance crews instead of just wandering around the woods looking for artists to befriend. 3/10
- Bulk and Skull Friendship: In the scene where they suggest that they'd be totally okay with the construction of a new barbecue pit, Kimberly refers to bulk and Skull as "bionic bean-brains," which is actually a better team name than, say, "Big Bad Beetleborgs." 6/10
- Moral Lessons: If you're afraid of spiders, there's a good chance that the Green Ranger will stop screaming while waving around a sword long enough to pretend to put one on your shoulder. Sleep well. 3/10
- '90s Fashions: While Zack tends to have a deeper wardrobe than any of the other characters, his hip-hapkido outfit is probably the closest he has to a signature look. It was even used in the MMPR Super NES game, in what could otherwise be charitably referred to as a rather insulting caricature. 7/10
Total For Episode 21: 21/50
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