Ranger Station Episode 48: Plague Of The Mantis
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 steps into the spotlight for a one-on-one battle of honor... against a giant praying mantis.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 48: Plague of the Mantis
Writer: Mark Hoffmeier
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Original Air Date: February 17, 1994
Considering that it involves teenagers and an evil moon witch --- historically speaking, the two most untrustworthy demographics --- the fights that make up a good third of every episode of Power Rangers tend to be pretty formalized affairs. It's even stated in the first episode that the Rangers aren't allowed to escalate things until Rita does first, and even though she's characterized as a schemer, she tends to stick to the pretty recognizable pattern. Even though Finster seems to be working overtime to cook up new monsters, it seems like the Rangers usually only have to deal with one at a time.
There are, of course, exceptions. Lokar and Mutitis are probably the most notable tag team, and Goldar and Scorpina have pitched in as a duo every now and then, but generally speaking, it almost always comes down to one monster against five Rangers.
What I'm getting at here is that since the monsters are always, always outnumbered, it seems like a pretty weird idea to do an episode that's all about how much one of them believes in fighting one-on-one duels of honor. And yet, here we are.
We open, of course, in the Angel Grove Youth Center's Gym and Juice Bar, where Trini is taking lessons in a new style: Praying Mantis Kung Fu, as taught by Master Lee. She's having a little trouble getting it, but there's an aspect of her training that goes well beyond just the physical. Master Lee wants to use these lessons to emphasize Kung Fu's proud traditions of honor, which always means fighting fair.
Like, say, not teaming up with four of your friends who are all armed with swords and axes that can turn into a giant laser cannon. But, y'know, what Master Lee doesn't know won't hurt him.
Either way, Trini's training is very inspirational for everyone watching. The Rangers, for instance, are so impressed that Jason says they might all have to learn the new style. Bulk and Skull, on the other hand, decide that if Praying Mantis Kung Fu is good, then their own bug-themed fighting style should be even better:
Perhaps more important, though, is Rita Repulsa, who has commissioned a new monster, the mighty Mantis. It's clearly inspired by Trini's recent lessons, fighting as a kung fu master, and also speaking with an accent that could charitably be referred to as "ill-advised."
He also calls out Trini for being a coward and a bully who hides behind her friends, which, to be fair, happens shortly after Jason shows up and threatens to "mangle" the Mantis. Even for a monster made of super-putty on the moon, that seems a little harsh.
Having shamed Trini --- and if you were looking for the episode where Rita literally says "The Mantis has shamed Trini!," this is the one --- the Mantis makes a hasty retreat, leaving Trini to stew about accusations of dishonor. Even though she doubts the sincerity of a monster, she agrees to fight one-on-one. And, since this is Power Rangers, the showdown happens at the local quarry.
There's only one problem: Trini was right. As soon as Trini starts to get the upper hand in their fight, the Mantis summons up a whole squadron of Putty Patrollers to attack her:
Why exactly he went with the disposable enemies that are usually mowed down by the dozen even when the Rangers aren't morphed instead of getting another full-fledged monster to blindside Trini and leave the Rangers permanently shorthanded, though, I don't know. At the very least, you'd think Goldar would show up, right? But no. Apparently a lack of honor does not directly translate to the presence of cunning.
Fortunately for Trini, honor is a nebulous and fleeting concept, and before long, the rest of the Rangers show up, armed to the teeth. The Mantis, having already been slashed, stabbed, shot, and kicked --- the best order of hash browns at Waffle House --- is up-sized by Rita's magic wand, and then it's time for this week's Megazord Fight.
And that in itself raises a pretty interesting question: Is it still a one-on-one fight when your opponent is a gestalt made up of five separate robots and directed in unison by five pilots, or is it five-on-one?
Sadly, the show never gets around to explaining, or even acknowledging this question. We do, however, get a pretty cool scene of monster and Megazord staring each other down as each side prepares to concentrate all of their power into a single blow. It's a really neat idea, but considering that we've already established that Power Rangers goes on for at least another 22 years, you can probably guess who winds up winning.
With the Mantis destroyed, Trini returns to her lessons with Master Lee, and finds that she's doing a much better job with her new styles. But alas, her rivals in kung fu don't seem to have that much luck.
Although I suspect that might be because they refer to their ultimate technique as "the top secret Roach Rendezvous." That sounds like a lot of things, but a fighting style is not one of them.
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: This is not a good episode of Power Rangers by pretty much any standard you want to apply, and a lot of that comes down to how basic the monster is. I mean, they didn't even bother to name him, and while he claims to be a kung fu master, he fights more like... well, like some poor guy who's zipped into a rubber mantis suit doing his best to not fall over. 3/10
Radness of the Music: We're in a weird sort of limbo with The Mighty Raw, one episode before we get what might be the best musical cue on the entire show. 5/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: "The top-secret roach rendezvous." 9/10
Moral Lessons: Always fight fair, except when you don't, but don't think too hard about all the times that you don't fight fair, because that was probably someone else's fault anyway. 2/10
'90s Fashions: Have we talked about how Kim will wear a full-on wrestling singlet underneath her sundresses? I mean, it's practical for sure (especially since the show had the actors doing their own fight scenes in the early seasons), but it does seem like the kind of look that screams "1994" louder than anything else we've seen on the show, with the possible exception of Zack's entire wardrobe. 8/10
Total For Episode 46: 27/50