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REVIEW: (THE RETURN OF) MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS
By Thomas Wheeler

I have to say, I have rather mixed feelings about the "newest" series of Power Rangers to arrive in the toy stores. On the heels of POWER RANGERS RPM, the newest group of Power Rangers to arrive in the toy stores are -- the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers!?

That's right, the originals are back, the Rangers that started it all in the United States, nearly eighteen years ago. While this may seem interesting from a nostalgia standpoint, I find myself wondering if we're looking at the eventual end of the Power Rangers as such.

The sole argument against this notion is the fact that the Japanese-produced "Super Sentai" series, from which the various Americanized Power Rangers series have been derived over the years, that followed what became RPM, was so culturally-centric to the Japanese culture, something that had not happened before to this degree, that many observers of both the Rangers and the Sentais questioned whether it would even be possible to transition the concept sufficiently for Western audiences. A new Sentai series to follow this one in Japan is already in the works.

A word of clarification. What most of the world calls "Power Rangers" are known as "Super Sentai" in Japan, and the basic concept has been running for far longer. Several years ago, as the 15th Anniversary of Power Rangers was being commemorated, the Super Sentai concept was celebrating its 30th Anniversary. There's an awful lot that has never really gotten out of Japan. Look online sometime and see the books and certain toys, including an amazing collection of Red Ranger figure statues from their 30th.

Unfortunately, this isn't the only factor that may herald the end of the Power Rangers. Disney, who owns the Rangers concept outside of Japan, has shut down the New Zealand studios where the American footage was filmed. They have converted their Toon Disney network, where a number of Power Rangers series played in reruns, to Disney XD, and the Rangers are gone from the schedule, as is the "Jetix" programming on which the current Rangers aired.

It's been reported that Disney has been losing money on the Rangers for years, and that had it not been for successful toy sales from Bandai, the Rangers would've ended a long time ago. Now, apparently, even the toy sales are somewhat off. The new Mighty Morphins may well be a last hurrah for the long-running concept.

Honestly, I think this is a terrible shame. Now, in fairness, I'll readily acknowledge that most of the various Power Ranger television series over the years have been campy to an almost excessive point, and sometimes rather hard to watch. But I've never had any significant argument with the toys, and I have found the practice of "rebooting" the story concept each year, while keeping the core concept of five color-coded-costumed teenage heroes intact, to be a fascinating one. And Bandai has turned out some impressive toys.

Other fans have also enjoyed the complex Zord vehicles and such that have accompanied the lines. Unfortunately, Japan hasn't really done "action figures" of their "Sentais" for years. The best they turn out are these largely unposeable vinyl statue figures. I have no intention of collecting those.

I think there was a real high point during the 15th Anniversary year, when Bandai produced a series of Red Ranger figures, representing nearly every Power Rangers concept that had existed to date, from Mighty Morphin through Operation Overdrive. They left out the Alien Rangers, darn it. But here, for the first time, was a series of Power Rangers from multiple concepts that were entirely compatible with each other. I guess I was looking forward to seeing that line return for the Rangers' 20th, with some new additions.

I would like to think that I'm getting ahead of myself. Clearly, Bandai and Disney are putting some effort into the return of the Mighty Morphins. They've developed a new logo -- and it's an improvement -- and they'll be airing the original show in 2010 on ABC Kids.

And to be honest, the toys, which I surprisingly discovered BEFORE Thanksgiving, which has usually been the transition point between one concept and the next, in one very important regard, don't make me feel a whole lot better.

Most Power Rangers figures, regardless of their construction parameters, have been in the 5-1/2" - 6" range, for quite a few years now. The tallest most recent ones were Jungle Fury, being rather long-legged sorts. The shortest, albeit not by too much, were this year's RPM Rangers.

The new Mighty Morphins are a decidedly meager 4-1/4" in height. Now, there have been smaller Rangers before. The earliest years of the line saw Rangers that were about 4-3/4" in height. But that's still a half-inch variance, which is pretty considerable at this size, and they've NEVER been this short. And you can make all the arguments you want about being in tough economic times and smaller figures being more reasonable or practical or whatever. Personally, I'm sick and tired of hearing that excuse, and I don't think it's nearly as valid as some people would like to think it is.

As far as I'm concerned, the only real reason for making the new Mighty Morphins this small, is because Bandai wanted to put as little effort as possible into the line because they know it's on the way out anyway.

I don't have any real problem with 4" (give or take a bit) action figures. There's certainly no shortage (no pun intended) of that scale around these days. Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Ben 10, WWE, Marvel Universe, DC Infinite Heroes -- even those horribly non-poseable Kamen Rider figures, another Bandai product, all pretty much fit into this scale. And most of them were there before anyone started waving the "bad economy" excuse around. There's also plenty of other popular action figure lines that AREN'T in that scale -- which is pretty much my point.

But, enough grousing. I'm just upset and saddened at what I sincerely believe to be the last round of a concept that I had sincerely hoped would keep going -- and in fact is in its home country of Japan, which only adds to the frustration. The Power Rangers are sort of over-the-top fun, and it seems to me there's few things around that can be placed in that category anymore, and we're poorer for it. Few toy lines manage a run like the Rangers, and if it is coming to an end, then I am sincerely sorry about that.

Now, let's consider these new figures. For those who need a bit of background into the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, I offer the following excerpts from WikiPedia:

The series takes place in the fictional town of Angel Grove, California. On an exploratory mission, two unwitting astronauts discover an extraterrestrial container (referred to as a dumpster as a result of its stench) and breach the unit, inadvertently releasing the evil alien witch Rita Repulsa from 10,000 years of confinement. Upon her release, she and her army of evil Space Aliens set their sights on conquering the nearest planet: Earth.

When the wise sage Zordon becomes aware of the release of the evil witch he was responsible for capturing so long ago, he orders his robotic assistant Alpha 5 to find five "teenagers with attitude" to defend the Earth from Rita's attacks. The five socially diverse teens chosen are Jason Lee Scott, Kimberly Hart, Zack Taylor, Trini Kwan and Billy Cranston. Zordon gives the five teens the ability to morph into Power Rangers, including an arsenal of weapons at their disposal as well as large robotic machines called Zords, which can combine into the mighty Megazord.

The series begins with five teenagers combating Rita Repulsa and her seemingly endless array of monsters. However, consecutive failures lead Rita to adopt a new method for conquering Earth and destroying the Power Rangers: by attacking them with one of their own. In possession of a special Green Ranger power, Rita kidnaps and brainwashes a local teen whose fighting skills prove to equal that of Jason's in a martial arts contest held in Angel Grove.

The new teen, Tommy Oliver, passes Rita's tests, becoming the Green Ranger during the five-part story arc "Green with Evil." Eventually, the Green Ranger is overcome, and the Sword of Darkness, the new source for the continuance of the evil spell he has fallen victim to, is destroyed by Jason. As a result, Tommy uses the powers he's left with to defeat the evil that gave them to him in the first place. His Zord, the Dragonzord, retains the power to join with the other Ranger's Dinozords to form more powerful Zord combinations, including the Mega Dragonzord.

The five original Rangers, plus Tommy, are outlined as follows:

Jason Lee Scott: The original Red Power Ranger and the first leader of the team. Jason was a martial arts master and even taught a karate class for teenagers, which Billy was a part of. He was armed with the Power Sword. In the middle of season two, he was sent to be a representative at a peace conference in Switzerland. He was portrayed by Austin St. John.

Zack Taylor: The original Black Power Ranger and second-in-command. A practical joker, he used dance moves and martial arts to fight. He wielded the Power Axe which could convert to an energy cannon. In the middle of season two, he was sent to be a representative at a peace conference in Switzerland. He was portrayed by Walter Emanuel Jones

Billy Cranston: The Blue Power Ranger and later the Blue Ninja Ranger. He held his position for the longest, and was the smartest member of the team as well as the inventor. He possessed the Power Lance. He was portrayed by David Yost.

Trini Kwan: The original Yellow Power Ranger. She tried to set a good example and was able to translate Billy's technobabble. She was afraid of heights as seen in the episode "High Five" of season one, however she had conquered this fear by the end of the episode. She was armed with the Power Daggers. In the middle of season two, she was sent to be a representative at a peace conference in Switzerland. She was portrayed by Thuy Trang.

Kimberly Hart: The original Pink Power Ranger and later the Pink Ninja Ranger. She was a gymnast with a valley girl attitude, as well as Tommy's girlfriend. Her weapon was the Power Bow. In the middle of season three, she went to be on the Olympic Gymnastics team. She was portrayed by Amy Jo Johnson.

Tommy Oliver: The Green Power Ranger and later the White Power Ranger and White Ninja Ranger. Originally a villain because of an evil spell. Once the spell was broken, he joined the Power Rangers until he lost his Green Ranger powers. He returned as the White Ranger in season two, and became the team's leader. As the Green Ranger his weapon was the Dragon Dagger which doubled as a remote control input for the Dragonzord. As the White Ranger he possessed Saba, a talking saber which also assisted him in the Tigerzord. Tommy was also Kimberly's boyfriend. He was portrayed by Jason David Frank.

The figures currently available include the six Rangers, including the Green Ranger, as well as figures of Alpha 5 (with Zordon), Goldar, and the Evil Putty Aliens. I opted not to pick these up, as I generally stick to the basic Rangers, and besides, Bandai pulled a "Ben 10" -- a line based on the animated series in which they make all of the figures the same height regardless of what scale they are in the series, which admittedly would be impossible to duplicate reasonably in the toy line -- and they made the diminutive Alpha 5 robot the same height as everyone else. Which, somehow, made him more ridiculous-looking than he already was.

So, how are the figures? They may be short, but Bandai's actually done a very nice job with them. They're well-designed and well-painted. If I've had one gripe about Power Rangers figures from the past several years, it's that Bandai has had the astoundingly annoying habit of not painting the backs of the figures entirely. You know, people DO take these out of their packages!

And, it's nice to be able to tell the males from the females. Now that remark needs a little explanation. The earliest Power Rangers figures, themselves derived from Japanese designs, I suspect, pretty much used the same somewhat generic body molds -- helmet notwithstanding -- for everybody. This resulted in some Yellow and Pink Power Rangers figures in the early years that -- well -- the string of rude jokes that could be made about that particular effect...

This time around, there's no question. Additionally, the male Rangers have decently heroic physiques. The last two Rangers incarnations, Jungle Fury and RPM, seemed to be trying a little too hard to make the figures look like their TV counterparts. And admittedly, not many real-life persons are going to have the physique of a cartoon super-hero. Even if they do, you're not going to find a uniform that's going to fit them so well that it looks like it was sprayed on and shows off every muscle.

Nevertheless, that sort of left the last two Rangers lines looking a little -- less-endowed relative to their more muscular predecessors from previous concepts. Technically speaking, the Power Rangers ARE super-heroes. I believe they should look the part, at least in their action figures, which can get away with some things that might be harder to accomplish in real life.

The new Mighty Morphins succeed. The male figures are suitably muscular, and even the female figures have a decent amount of sculpted detail on their bodies.

The uniform design follows a fairly consistent pattern, at least on the core five. I'll discuss the Green Ranger separately. The uniforms have a primary color -- Red, Blue, and Black for the males, and Yellow and Pink for the females. There is a white diamond in the center of the chest of the uniform, and two additional, wider diamonds, that touch points with the center diamond, go over the arms, and then meet in the back.

Each uniform has a white belt, and white gloves and boots. The gloved and boots have diamond shapes running along their cuffs, in the color of the respective Ranger.

The helmets are the main difference. Each one is designed to reflect the Ranger's Zord, each of which is based on a different prehistoric creature. The Red Rangers helmet is intended to resemble a Tyrannosaurus, the Black Ranger's helmet resembled a Mastodon, the Blue Ranger's helmet resembles a Triceratops, the Yellow Ranger's resembles a Sabre-Toothed Tiger, and the Pink Ranger's resembles a Pterodactyl.

The Pink Ranger's uniform differs from the other four main Rangers' uniforms in two respects. For one thing, it's the only one with a skirt added on. Now, one might expect the Yellow Ranger to also have one, but the "dirty little secret" of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is that in its Japanese counterpart, the Yellow Ranger was actually male, with the Pink Ranger being the only female! Thus, although the American version has two female Rangers, Yellow and Pink, and certainly the figure designs reflect this particular gender selection, only the Pink Ranger figure has a skirt.

The helmet is also somewhat different than the others, in that, in having to reflect a Pterodactyl, no easy feat, the design does not take up the entire helmet. Rather, there is a head and a beak forming a raised crest on the helmet, and wings encompassing the visor and sweeping out to the sides, tapering and meeting in the back. This image is, of course, pink, but the rest of the helmet is actually white.

Now, let's consider the Green Ranger. Since he didn't start out with the rest of the team, his uniform is somewhat different in a number of respects. Obviously, it's green. The helmet, like the others, reflects its Zord, which in this case is a dragon. The gloves and boots are white, but at this point, the similarities end. Rather than diamond images on the gloves and boots, there are jagged green points. The Green Ranger has gold armbands around both upper arms, and the cuffs of the boots and gloves are also gold.

Most prominently, the Green Ranger is wearing a large gold chest-and-back-piece, which also features flared shoulders. It has several ridges, and a diamond shape in the center.

I was especially impressed by this figure, as I rather expected it to be a repaint of the others, with a clip-on chest and back plate -- which is pretty much how they did it last time around. But that's not the case. About the only parts the figure has in common with any of the other male Rangers are the legs, down to the boots. The gloves and boots are distinctive, and the jagged markings are even sculpted on, more than just painted on. The armbands are also sculpted onto the upper arms, and the chest and back piece are actually part of the torso. Impressive!

The figures all have excellent paint detailing, some of which is quite small, especially on the helmets. And please note the ornate belt buckles.

Each figure comes with an assortment of accessories. They all come with these large, gold-colored claw-like weapons that they can hold in their hands, or wear on their feet. Beyond that, there's an assorted of blades and a couple of guns -- martial arts equipment with ammunition, apparently.

Each figure also comes with a "DinoFlyer" accessory. This is a robotic bird-like device which the Ranger can stand on, or clip to his or her back (versatile equipment here, isn't it?), and presumably fly. Nothing I ever recall seeing in the series. Each DinoFlyer has a button which activates a little red LED near the head of the bird. According to the instructions, the batteries in these are not replaceable, and indeed, I don't see any means to open the item. But, unless they get excessive "testing" in the store displays, I'd think they'd last a good long while.

And just so there's no confusion, each DinoFlyer has a colored stripe painted on it, matching its respective owner.

The figures are all nicely articulated. Each one is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, legs, knees, and has a swivel at the gloves and boots. The Pink Ranger's legs are somewhat hindered by the skirt, but that's been a problem with female Rangers since Jungle Fury. It should be noted, however, that movement is nowhere near as restricted by this as it was on the Yellow Ranger from Jungle Fury, and the Yellow and Silver Rangers from RPM. And to me, the Red Ranger's head looks just a little small compared to some of the others. It's negligible, and I may be imagining it, but -- anyway...

There's an interesting bit of assembly variance between the male and female Rangers in this series. The male Rangers use metal rivets in their arms, elbows, and knees. The female Rangers have plastic rivets. Not a big deal one way or the other, just an interesting observation. Additionally, the Yellow and Pink Rangers, again, the two females, have ball-and-socket neck assemblies, rather than side-to-side as with the male Rangers, giving them somewhat greater head movement. This has also been a common feature with female Ranger figures for a couple of years.

So what's my final word here? Okay, I know I started out this review addressing my concerns about the future of Power Rangers, and what the return of the Mighty Morphins, as well as the comparatively diminutive size of these figures, as well as other factors, might portend. I still have those concerns.

However, there's also no telling yet what might be involved in the return of the Mighty Morphins. On its first run-through, there were several sizes of figures, and some of the Zords were truly spectacular. If some of those return, I know of any number of collectors that will be truly delighted. As far as these 4-1/4" figures are concerned, I'd like to think we'll at least get the White Ranger at some point, since we got the Green right out of the gate.

The future of the Power Rangers may be debatable at this point. But for now, the Mighty Morphins are back, and although they may be small, these figures are nevertheless impressive. And enough time has passed since the Mighty Morphins were last seen, that I think there's a legitimate bit of nostalgia here as well. And Bandai has sincerely done a good job with these figures, in and of themselves.

As such, while my concerns about the concept remain, these MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS definitely have my highest recommendation!