Ranger Station Episode 61: The Mutiny, Part I
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 from Gosei Sentai Dairanger in ComicsAlliance's Ranger Station!
This week, five stars shine in the heavens as we begin Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season 2!
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 61: The Mutiny, Part I
Writer: Shell Danielson and Shuki Levy
Director: Shuki Levy
Original Air Date: July 21, 1994
So here's where Power Rangers gets weird.
Actually, no, that's a lie. Power Rangers has been weird ever since it started in virtually every possible way, but at the start of its second season, it somehow manages to get weird for an entirely new and bizarre reason. To be fair, though, this one has a lot to do with the different ways America and Japan approach children's television.
See, the Super Sentai franchise (and its motorcycle-riding cousin, Kamen Rider) are built around a tradition of doing a different series every single year. That actually ends up being more episodes per series than it might sound like at first. Rather than the standard 13 to 24 episodes that most American TV shows get --- or shooting for the 65-episode series that'll make a show eligible to run in syndication --- the major tokusatsu shows run almost every week for a single year, racking up around 45 to 50 installments, plus three movies that are essentially just longer episodes. Every February (for Super Sentai) or October (for Kamen Rider), a whole new show begins that's essentially its own new self-contained thing.
In America, however, we have a much simpler philosophy for entertainment: If something works, you just keep doing that thing.
There's probably a lot here to unpack with those different approaches that even gets to why American superhero comics are all built on perpetual shared universes and continuity, while manga is almost always self-contained, but for our purposes this mainly just means that since Power Rangers was a pretty massive hit, it had to keep going. And since plenty of kids were already invested in the five Rangers that we already had, and since there were plenty of action figures still lining store shelves based on the Mighty Morphin (read: Zyuranger) designs, our cast wasn't going to be going anywhere for a good long while.
It's worth noting that eventually, after Power Rangers In Space, the American model would shift to something more like its Japanese counterpart, with a new team and a new series every year --- or sometimes two years, since they decided to stretch the otherwise great Dino Charge out over two seasons. Still, they've attempted to keep the same actors and the same bizarre shift as recently as the last series, Super Megaforce, resulting in one of the worst Power Rangers shows in years --- which is a real shame, because the show its second half is based on, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, is genuinely fantastic.
For our purposes, this basically means that MMPR Season 2 is going to be put together in an extremely odd way. It's ostensibly going to be based on Japan's Gosei Sentai Dairanger, but only in that it brings in the enemies and the Zords from that show and absolutely nothing else. The plots and characters, even the Rangers' costumes, which are vastly different in Dairanger, aren't going to be seen at all, with one very notable exception that we'll get to later.
Instead, there's going to be a truly bizarre mix of footage, including original American footage complete with new suit actors in the MMPR costumes, giant monster fights from Dairanger, and even some leftover Zyu2 footage that they never got around to using before the show came back for its full second season.
And the weirdest part might just be Lord Zedd.
Getting a new villain for your second season isn't exactly a new idea --- just ask Serpentor and Hordak --- but you'd think that, given the nature of the show, they would've had two pretty easy choices here:
a) Stick with Rita Repulsa and just find a way to upgrade her powers so that she's more threatening, or
b) Do exactly what they did with Rita in the first season and replace her with the Gorma, the bad guys from Dairanger.
Instead, the producers decided to go with an even more complex solution: Creating an entirely new villain cast as an even more powerful foe than Rita, who would show up and take over her operation while keeping the others around.
That's pretty much in line with those other two examples I mentioned above --- Serpentor does the exact same thing on GI Joe --- but in this case, it's way more complicated than just adding a new character. The nature of the show means that they had to film new scenes with an entirely new set and different actors in the roles of Rita's gang --- and eventually, they even had to come up with a reason why Rita is suddenly being played by a completely different person.
But of slightly more concern is the design they went with.
Zedd is terrifying.
Owing to the fact that this is, at heart, a show for tiny babies, Rita and her gang are pretty comedic --- and even at her most threatening, Bandora tends to go the same way. The scariest among them is Goldar, and he's essentially just a big dog crammed into a suit of armor.
Zedd, on the other hand, is a monster. He looks like his skin has been flayed off, leaving only the raw red muscle beneath, with a metal mask bolted onto his face, his body reinforced with steel and tubes, and --- perhaps most disturbing of all --- his brain is exposed to the air, held in place with a steel circlet. He looks like someone who should constantly be in pain, and the metal rictus of his mask makes him seem like he wouldn't mind inflicting that level of pain onto everyone else.
Rita wants to kill the Rangers, but she does it by attacking them with baseball monsters and evil pumpkins. Zedd looks like he wants to tear off their faces and wear them as a mask.
As for the plot of the episode, it involves the Rangers embarking on what appears to be an all-terrain vehicle road rally/scavenger hunt. Honestly, I was hoping for something along the lines of Fear and Loathing In Angel Grove, but, do-gooders that they are, the Rangers are doing it to benefit a local hospital. On the bright side, though, Bulk and Skull have descended into full-on Mad Max times:
While the Rangers are riding around in the desert and definitely not wallowing in the depths of an ether binge, Lord Zedd arrives on the moon, where he is immediately hailed by Goldar as "The True Emperor." It seems that Rita's mission to conquer the Earth was assigned to her by Zedd, and after her string of failures, he has shown up to take control himself.
Please note that he did not deign to intervene at any point when she and her gang were trapped in a space dumpster for ten thousand years.
After restoring Goldar's wings as a reward for Goldar's immediate sniveling, Zedd launches his plan to take out the Rangers. He starts by upgrading the Putty Patrollers into a new form that --- again, counterintuitively --- bear no resemblance at all to Dairanger's Cotpotros:
They're much stronger than regular Putties, but they have a secret weakness! I wonder what it could be, and if it relates to the truly gigantic targets on their chest.
With that done, Zedd strips Rita of her power, shrinks her down to seal her into the space dumpster again, and casts her out into space. Now, there's no one left to complicate his plans with their incompetence, leaving the way paved for an attack by Zedd's new Z-Putties that proves to be devastating and --- wait, no, the Rangers figure out the weak point within 90 seconds.
Probably could've built the suspense on that one a little longer.
They were, however, only the appetizer. As the episode comes to an end, Zedd unleashes a new monster on the Rangers: The Pirahntis Head, mutated from a piranha that lived in a nearby river.
Yeah. A piranha that lived in a river in suburban California. If that's what we're dealing with, I think we need to ask ourselves whether Angel Grove is really worth saving after all.
The Pirahntis Head attacks the city, causing widespread destruction, but when the Rangers call their Dinozords to battle, the monster also freezes them solid, leaving them useless, and setting us up for our next exciting installment.
When I said that MMPR Season 2 was stitched together in a really weird way, I wasn't kidding. The three episodes that make up "The Mutiny" are a tokusatsu Frankenstein made up of American footage, Zyu2 monster fights, an episode of Zyuranger that was already used in Season 1, and not one, not two, but three separate, non-consecutive episodes of Gosei Sentai Dairanger: 1, 6, and 8.
If it sounds confusing, that's because it is, but don't worry. We're just going to start at the beginning with episode 1, "Transform!" and go from there.
So the thing you need to know about Dairanger going in is that the theme of the show is Chinese mythology and kung fu, just filtered through the same kind of lens that made Zyuranger's theme, dinosaurs, manifest itself with moon witches, fantasy kingdoms, and literal God in the form of a robot.
I don't think it's worth getting into too many specifics just yet, but one of the fun things is that each of the Dairangers is going to have a specific fighting style informed by a different kind of kung fu. I'm not familiar enough to identify all of it just from their introductory poses, but I do know that the Yellow Ranger uses drunken boxing, which is pretty awesome.
So here's our cast:
- Ryo, the Red Dairanger known as the Heavenly Fire Star.
- Daigo, the Green Dairanger, known as the Heavenly Phantom Star.
- Shoji, the Blue Dairanger, the Heavenly Gravity Star. He is also known as "Bullet Shoji, the Warrior of Love," and he is your new favorite Ranger.
- Kazu, the Yellow Dairanger, aka the Heavenly Time Star.
- Rin, the Pink Dairanger, the Heavenly Wind Star.
There's also their mentor, Kaku, and, following in the tradition kicked off by Burai in Zyuranger, a sixth team member named Kou, the White Dairanger. As you might imagine, we'll be getting to him.
We open on Ryo, working as a delivery boy for a restaurant. He's also palling around with the local kids --- something Super Sentai folks tend to do a lot, for obvious reasons --- when one of them is attacked by a mysterious tentacle and pulled underground. Ryo, being the heroic type, goes to look for him, but ends up being attacked himself, having to run from an an extremely phallic, fanged monster. But while Ryo displays some pretty impressive parkour skills, he can't seem to get away, largely because there's also a weird kid with a yo-yo singing a pop song who seems to be following him.
But just when it looks like it might be the end for Ryo, a giant robot dragon shows up, breathing fire and freeing him from the monster's grip, then snatching Ryo up and carrying him off.
It is, to say the least, a pretty weird day.
Now, I have never seen Dairanger before watching it for this column, but I have listened to the entire first season of the Super Sentai Bros. podcast (Live And Let Dairanger), where they've gone through every episode. I say this because hearing that before I watched it is going to probably inform my take on the series, and while I'm going to do my best to not steal any of their jokes, there's one that's pretty unavoidable. For the entire duration of the series, they refer to the Dairangers' headquarters as "Murder Basement," and while I always assumed they were exaggerating the creepiness for comedic effect, I now know that they were not.
Here's where Ryo wakes up:
Not pictured: The television that is only playing static, and an inexplicable pile of sand. I am not joking.
As Ryo tries to escape from Murder Basement (sorry Matt and Dave, it's too handy to not steal), he's taken back underground by Daigo, Shoji, Kazu, and Kaku, who all stand around like they're on the back cover to a rap album from 1994 so that we can get the basic premise of the series:
The monster who attacked Ryo was sent by the Gorma Tribe, a gang of villains who came to Earth 6,000 years ago to destroy humanity with their "fearsome Yo power." The only thing that can stop them is Ch'i Power, which is wielded by the heirs of the Dai tribe. No prizes for guessing who those heirs might be.
Ryo is, of course, a little skeptical of all this at first, so Kaku throws a machete at him. Amazingly, this is very effective at getting Ryo on his side.
But just who are these Gorma? I'm glad you asked!
Gara, Shadam, and Zydos will be our villains for the duration, and they show up here to stop the fifth Dairanger from joining the team. This is Rin, of course, who just landed in Tokyo after flying in from China, and is immediately beset by a gang of Cotpotros who try to run her down with BMX tricks.
Naturally, the Dairangers have to fight them off using their own BMX tricks. So yeah, this is basically the best first episode of anything, ever. Sorry, The Prisoner. Shoulda had more BMX.
The Cotpotros are just the first wave, though. After Rin is rescued, we get a proper introduction to this week's monster, Baron String:
He attacks, and before long, he's got the Dairangers all tied up. But what he doesn't know is that Kaku has already given them the Aura Changers, the devices that will allow them to transform into their new Super Sentai forms. Shining in the heavens, there are five stars! Gosei Sentai... Dairanger!
It is also worth noting that when they are being menaced by Baron String, the soundtrack is just literally just a cover version of the Imperial March from Star Wars. This will not be the first time that Super Sentai goes to that particular well, but it is one of the most blatant.
Anyway, this show has already been pretty exciting, but after the Dairangers transform, it goes next level. After their roll call poses, Ryo goes one-on-one with Baron String, and we get out first look at his truly brutal finisher: Heavenly Fire Star Lightning Blaze Destruction!
But while that knocks all the kids that Baron String kidnapped out of his body and back to the safety of an alleyway in Tokyo, it doesn't take him out of the fight entirely. He drops an Enlarging Bomb and grows to giant size, leaving the Rangers with no way to attack him. Until, that is, Kaku unlocks the power of Mythical Summoning by meditating so hard that he goes to the Tall Man's home dimension...
... which in turn allows Ryo to summon Ryuuseioh, that giant robot dragon that we saw earlier:
As for whether this will allow them to win (yes), tune in next time!
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: On the one hand, Baron String is probably the best possible monster based around the concept of string. On the other hand, who put piranhas in a river in Angel Grove?! 6/10
Deviation From The Source: Pretty much every episode of MMPR season 2 should be an automatic ten out of ten for this, as Dairanger is a completely different show in virtually every way. That said, even adjusted for the adaptation, these are going pretty far afield from each other. 10/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: This episode starts the season-long plot of Bulk and Skull trying to discover the Power Rangers' identities (and never quite getting to the part where it's the six kids they go to school with who wear those colors and are really good at karate), which is something you only do with the truest of bros. 8/10
Moral Lessons: Do the right thing and fight for good, and you too will be hunted by a skinless blood monster who wants to eat your soul. 0/10
'90s Fashions: Who knew those ATV outfits would be back in fashion here in our modern world? 6/10
Total For Episode 46: 30/50