Ranger Station Halloween Special: The Stranger Within
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, though, we're jumping ahead to 2006 for a spoooooky episode of Power Rangers Mystic Force, where the Pink Ranger becomes a vampire!
Power Rangers Mystic Force Episode 8 and 9: "The Stranger Within" Parts 1 and 2
Director: Mark Beesley
Writer: Bruce Kalish
Original Air Date: April 3, 2006 / April 17, 2006
It is Halloweek, that magical time of year when our attention turns inevitably to scares and haints, so naturally, I wanted to put the spotlight on an episode that was a little spookier than what we've been getting so far. There are, of course, plenty of episodes of Mighty Morphin that we could've jumped to --- the Pumpkin Rapper, for instance, or the genuinely infuriating episode where Kimberly goes on a vaguely Halloween-themed game show called Trick or Treat that makes me so mad --- but I didn't want to jump ahead within the same season and disrupt the complex narrative that we've been building.
So to that end --- and since, at one episode per week, we won't be getting to it in our regular timeline for another ten years or so --- I thought we'd jump ahead to the 8th episode of Power Rangers Mystic Force, also known as the 580th episode of the Power Rangers series as a whole: "Stranger Within."
If you've never seen it, Mystic Force was a magic-themed adaptation of Mahou Sentai Magiranger that was focused on a group of teenagers in the small town of Briarwood who split their time between working at a local record store called the Rockporium and protecting the world from the sorcerous threats of the Underworld. In addition to karate and giant robots, they cast spells and ride brooms, although their main ability seems to revolve around hiding their Australian and Kiwi accents, with varying degrees of success.
Here's who we're dealing with, in order of how well they can pass as American:
- Maddie (Melanie Vallejo) --- the straight-laced, perky Blue Ranger who is expert at flattening out her vowels.
- Nick (Firass Dirani) --- The motorcycle-riding bad boy with a heart of gold/new kid in town who became the Red Ranger and does a solid job by keeping his voice a little growly.
- Chip (Nic Sampson) --- The nerdy, pop-culture obsessed Yellow Ranger. Would outrank Nick in terms of the accent if not for this episode, where he pronounces "Halloween" as "Hyellawain."
- Vida (Angie Diaz) --- Maddie's wilder sister who is also an aspiring DJ. Flattens out her accent with such relentless brutality that every sentence should begin with, "I am an American and..."
- Xander (Richard Brancatisano) --- The cool, self-absorbed Green Ranger who is actually meant to have an Australian accent and is therefore disqualified from the rankings.
They're all pretty delightful, though.
There's also Udonna, the season's ersatz Zordon, who used to be the White Ranger before she was defeated by the bad guys, and Clare, her wide-eyed, bumbling, comic relief apprentice who was introduced to viewers with a gag where she turned herself into a sheep. With that, you're pretty much all caught up.
For this week's episode, we open at the close --- specifically, the end of the business day at the Rockporium, where Leelee, the Rangers' civilian pal, shows up looking for a date to see DJ Fly, who I think we can safely assume is Briarwood's flyest new DJ. She's trying to get Nick to go out with her, and she'll settle for Xander, but since both of them have plans, she ends up taking Vida instead.
Considering that Nick and Xander's plans involve Ranger Business, they initially try to get Vida to blow Leelee off and head back to Rootcore --- Mystic Force's forest equivalent of the Command Center --- but Vida's love of EDM cannot be contained by your flimsy "rules" and "prior commitments." Claiming that she has paperwork to finish, Vida heads off to catch up with Leelee and hear DJ Fly spin the wheels of steel.
Vida and Leelee head off to Briarwood's hottest new club, and this place has everything. Light-up dance-floors, a DJ who is secretly an evil demon monster named Flytrap, and hypnotic beats that literally turn teenagers into vampires.
Back at Rootcore, Vida eventually wanders in while the rest of the team is trying to puzzle their way through a treasure map that will lead them to an artifact called the Fireheart, only to find out that it's not later that night --- she's been missing for an entire day. No one, including her sister, who presumably lives in the same house, has seen her in 24 hours, and what's more, no one is especially bothered by this. Instead, they're more upset that she didn't show up to help them like she promised she would.
For her part, Vida is supremely unconcerned, and has become the most apathetic Power Ranger in the history of the franchise. "So I missed a night of saving the world," she says...
Now that is a teenager with attitude.
As Vida apologizes, Koragg, one of the season's major villains, sends a telepathic message challenging the Rangers to a fight, and they head out to the woods to find a gang of Hidiacs, Mystic Force's equivalent of the Putty Patrollers. Usually, this would lead to a big fight scene with the whole team, but here, Vida takes them all on herself while the rest of the Rangers look on, shocked at her sudden ability to thrash a dozen enemies.
Even Koragg is impressed, skipping straight to going giant-size and prompting the Mystic Force rangers to transform themselves, first into their Ranger forms and then into their Zords. That, incidentally, is one of the cooler things about this season, that the Rangers actually become their giant robots rather than piloting them. It's only when they form the Mystic Megazord that we see them in any kind of cockpit, which in their case is a downright Potterian life-sized chess board.
They quickly get the upper hand in the fight, but just as they're about to take out Koragg once and for all, dawn breaks over Briarwood and Vida is caught in sunlight --- which affects her even in the form of a giant robot fairy:
Vida collapses and returns to human form, and after sneering at the Rangers' weakness, Koragg makes a strategic retreat.
The next day, the Rangers grill Leelee about what happened to Vida at the club, but since Leelee had to leave early, she doesn't have any information to provide --- and when Vida shows up for work, she's bundled up in a hoodie with truly gigantic sunglasses, claiming that she's just a little sensitive to sunlight.
At this point, I think we'd all be able to see where this was going even if I hadn't blown the surprise three times already in this very column. The Rangers, however, remain clueless --- all except for Chip, who's been reading up on the subject.
He is, of course, 100% correct. Before long, Vida's running around with full-on fangs and blood-red eyes, but since nobody else notices --- and since it's bad form to just show up with a stake and try to pound it into your friend's heart --- Chip decides that he has to test her to be sure, even going as far as offering her a goblet full of tomato juice, hoping she'll mistake it for blood.
For her part, Vida is cheerful and peppy despite her sudden allergy to sunlight, even going so far as to demonstrate, and I quote, "a new pose that came to me in a dream."
Believe it or not, this will actually be important later.
Vida initially laughs off Chip's suggestion that she's become one of the undead, but after the other Rangers leave, she reveals that it's all true. She is a vampire, and while Chip manages to hold off her attack with a clove of garlic, that's only a temporary solution. The thing is, Vida doesn't want to attack her pals, she just can't help herself, so Chip agrees to help her suss out the problem in secret until they have more information.
To find answers, they head back to the club, but when DJ Fly's music starts to hypnotize them again, we meet the true villain of the episode: Necrolai, Queen of the Vampires, one of the Big Bads of the season:
But what's this?! It turns out that Chip was only playing possum, having armed himself with earplugs! Necrolai and Flytrap may have turned the rest of the club into vampires, but he remains solidly among the living.
What follows is a pretty fantastic, Jackie Chan-esque fight scene with Chip trying to avoid Necrolai's attacks while a sleepwalking Vida is used as a prop. Eventually, though, he's overwhelmed, and Necrolai sends the rest of the club's patrons out to wreak havoc on Briarwood, with the promise that at dawn, they'll all be turned to ashes. There's a very emotional moment between Chip and Vida about how he'll always be there for her because they've been friends since their school days, but the main point is this: Vida's a vampire, and now there's a ticking clock involved.
At Rootcore, the Rangers are finally starting to get worried about Chip and Vida not showing up for work, and after sheepishly telling Udonna --- a witch who lives in a magic tree fort in a mystical forest populated by trolls and demons --- that Chip thinks Vida's become a vampire, they're all shocked, shocked to learn that vampires are real and that this is a very distinct possibility.
Fortunately, there's a pretty simple solution to the whole mess: Kill the monster, and all the vampires will go back to normal. Or so it seems!
It will not surprise you to learn that they beat up the monster for a little while, it gets really big, and then they get really big and form a giant robot that makes the monster explode. Thus, everyone is saved and life in Briarwood goes back to normal. Until, that is, the next day, when Chip jokingly draws a magic circle around Vida with his "vampire chalk" and everyone discovers that she's still very much enfanged.
As the next episode opens, the Rangers have taken Vida back to Rootcore, where they trap her in a circle and try to figure out why she didn't turn human again when Flytrap was destroyed. The reason, of course, is that she's the product of another vampire --- Necrolai. If they're going to fix Vida, they've got to find her, and to do that, they've got to go through Koragg again.
Udonna heads off to get the ingredients for a vampire cure --- presumably using her magical powers to travel through time to the set of Blade II --- which means that the Rangers have to leave the well-meaning but simpleminded Clare in charge of watching their vampire friend:
While the Rangers are busy with Koragg, Necrolai sends out a telepathic summons for Vida, who promptly tries to trick Clare with the ol' Sick Prisoner bit. And by the time the Rangers return, they find Clare locked in the circle instead of Vida.
The Rangers, being a bunch of a-hole teens, are completely unsurprised by this turn of events, even going as far as to talk about how "anyone with half a brain wouldn't have been tricked" once they break the circle and let her out. The thing is, Clare wasn't tricked. It just turns out that Vida is now a shape-shifter, and waited until the real Clare was out of the room to take her form and trick her friends. Serves you right, jerks.
As the Rangers comb through their spellbook to figure out how to destroy the Queen of the Vampires and discover the existence of a weapon called the Dawn Stone, Vida continues her transformation into Necrolai's thrall, taking a bag full of poisoned apples back to Rootcore to poison her friends. She returns to Rootcore claiming to have defeated Necrolai herself, and really, if the thing with Clare didn't prove that we were dealing with the most gullible Power Rangers in the history of the franchise, then the part where they just straight up accept their vampire friend's offer of celebratory apples should probably do it.
Fortunately, Chip realizes that there's something hinky going on when Vida doesn't recognize her New Pose --- y'know, that Half-Batusi that came to her in a dream? --- and knocks the apples out of the Rangers' hands just in time to keep them from dissolving their insides.
With Vida revealed as a vampire, the Rangers chase her, and Necrolai, down for a climactic fight scene, and fortunately, Chip has a ready-made Dawn Crystal for just such an occasion. The problem, of course, is that Necrolai is using Vida as a human (or at least recently human) shield, and Chip won't shoot through his friend. Eventually, though, the Power of Friendship triumphs over the subtext of Necrolai caressing the Pink Ranger's helmet, and Vida flashes her New Pose to Chip as a signal that she's back in her right mind.
Chip blasts Necrolai with the Dawn Crystal, the other rangers join in with a full-power finisher, and Vida is finally freed of Necrolai's Curse. With that --- and with one more inconclusive Megazord fight with Koragg --- the Rangers win. But while they won today, it turns out that Necrolai is a little harder to destroy... and that Leelee is secretly her daughter!
Since Mahou Sentai Magiranger has never had an official release in America, I'm significantly less familiar with it than I am with Zyuranger. From what I can tell, though, these two episodes are a pretty strict adaptation of a two parter from that show, "Night of the Vampires" and "The Mark of Determination." They even do the same gag with the tomato juice:
The setup's a little different, but that's mainly because the setup for the entire series is a little different. In Magiranger, the team is made up of a single family rather than just being coworkers at a record store, for instance. For our purposes, the biggest change is probably the absence of the Sensational Character Find of 2006, DJ Fly. Rather than dropping those sick beats, Vancuria --- Necrolai's Japanese name --- decides to go with a different genre.
Instead of house music being a tool of the vampires --- something that, again, the Blade franchise has always been trying to warn us about --- the hypnotic sounds come from a duo of Gothic Lolita guitarists, Nai and Mare, who make up Vancuria's human form:
That, however, is pretty much it, and with the absence of '90s Fashions and Bulk and Skull's friendship, that brings this week's spoooooky diversion to a close. But let us never forget the lessons we have learned from the Power Rangers this week: Don't accept apples from your friends and never, ever listen to EDM --- if you value your eternal soul!