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By Thomas Wheeler

As has been the custom for the past near-fifteen years, a new incarnation of one of the most "evergreen" toy lines and pop culture concepts in recent history has once again morphed onto the scene. Although the series from which the toys are based did not hit the airwaves until February 2008, the toys, not surprisingly, started showing up in the stores just after Thanksgiving 2007.

I am, of course, referring to the newest POWER RANGERS concept, which has been given the sub-title of JUNGLE FURY. Unfortunately, I can't report a lot about the concept for the show, because as of this writing, I haven't been able to track down a lot of information about it.

What I CAN report is that this concept has caused a fair amount of controversy in the fan community, and yes, there is one. When something's been around for as long as Power Rangers has, there are bound to be its adherents well beyond the target age group, which for Power Rangers is arguably somewhat younger than some other concepts which make their way to the toy aisle, such as G.I. Joe, Transformers, or certain super-heroes.

Here's the deal -- all Power Rangers concepts are, of course, brought over from Japan, generally one year after Japan airs them. They had "Jungle Fury" in 2007. Now it's our turn. Of course, they didn't call it Power Rangers Jungle Fury. The closest English counterpart to what they did call it is Super Sentai GekiRanger.

So, where's the controversy? In Japan, the concept featured three core Rangers -- Red, Yellow, and Blue -- with two more -- White and Violet (this second one representing the first-ever Purple Power Ranger) -- joining later on. It's certainly not uncommon for there to be additional Rangers at a later time. In fact it's practically tradition. That's not the controversy. The controversy is that in the United States, there are no less than SIX initial Rangers, a record right there for initial introductions -- and there is no sign yet that Purple and White are forthcoming. Granted, it's early. It's too soon to tell. But if we don't get those other two at some point, I can guarantee that the ruckus presently being raised will pale in comparison.

Why the massive change? Why the addition of three new Rangers that didn't exist in the Japanese version? Good question. Ultimately, it no doubt has to do with merchandising. And I am not saying that the three new Rangers are bad characters, or bad figures. I honestly don't have a problem with them at all, really. But the bottom line in the minds of many fans is that this level of change between the Japanese and American versions, apart from the character footage shot for the American audiences, is an extremely unusual move, one pretty much without precedent in the history of Power Rangers. And that sort of thing is going to cause a stir, especially when it also leaves a lingering concern about the remaining two Japanese-originated Rangers.

Bandai, as usual when introducing the newest concept, inundated the stores with an abundance and wide variety of merchandise to make sure that there was plenty to go around, and still maintain a presence after the holidays as this new line heads into 2008. Still, I saw a MASSIVE supply of hundreds of basic Power Rangers figures for the new Jungle Fury concept.

Generally speaking, the figures have some small gimmick in them for a little added play value. Fortunately, this is generally not something that interferes with the use of the figure. It's not likely to be some spring-action figure that hinders the articulation. For 2006's "Mystic Force" line, the figures came with light-up shields that had enough built-in reflectivity that I think you could've put them in a roadside emergency kit in your car and used them in place of road flares. 2007's "Operation Overdrive" figures featured a sort of built-in game. You pressed the button on the belt buckle, and the chest insignia started to flash. When the light in the helmet went off, you were supposed to press the button again to stop the sequence. Not exactly a Nintendo Wii, but it was random enough to be more challenging than it sounds.

For 2008's Jungle Fury line, most of the figures are equipped with what's being called "Shock Sensor Sound Feature". Only the female Ranger doesn't have this feature, but it's not the first time in the history of the line that the female Rangers have gotten short-changed with the main feature. Sometimes there just isn't the physical space to work it out. Generally, they get some other accommodation. How "Shock Sensor" works is you pick the figure up and jostle and shake it. It will then make a combination of animal and battle noises.

One other unusual feature is that the figures are not entirely broken down into colors as before. Although most of them DO have a distinctive color, it's not listed on the package. The Yellow Ranger is not listed as a Yellow Ranger, she's listed as the Cheetah Ranger, Obviously with a name like "Jungle Fury", this Power Rangers concept is animal-based, the first since 2004's Dino Thunder line. Or, if you prefer non-extinct animals, the first since 2002's Wild Force.

Let's consider the six Rangers individually, shall we?

TIGER RANGER - This is the Red Ranger, and if there's been one truth throughout the entire history of Power Rangers, and I'm talking 30-year history including all the Japanese stuff we never saw, it's that there's always a Red Ranger. And he's generally the team leader, which I assume he is this year.

The Rangers this year all have very distinctive helmets. While comparing them specifically to the animals each Ranger represents is a bit of a stretch, it's not impossible. In the case of the Tiger Ranger, one can clearly see evidence of upswept ears, side whiskers, and stripes running up the top of the head. The eyes of the visor have a certain upswept and sort of feline look to them, within the design parameters.

The bulk of the costume is red, and it's worth noting that there aren't the unusual "divisions" on any of the costumes that one might normally expect. Arguably, the Power Rangers are super-heroes. They have unusual powers and abilities, and they dress in colorful costumes. I'd say they fit the super-hero category as such. But there's no real division on the costume of a belt, and barely boots or gloves, that one might expect. Instead, the costume is given over to as much of the individual design as possible. For the Red Tiger Ranger, most of that design is on the back.

Now, in recent years, Bandai has skimped a little by not completely painting the backs of their Power Rangers figures. They couldn't really do that to the same degree this year. They did eliminate the white outline trim on the back of the figures that does appear on the front, but they couldn't so away with the black trim, since it's such an essential part of the design.

Obviously, since this is a Tiger Ranger, the design is a series of thick stripes, tapering to points that come around to the front of the figure and appear on the torso and upper legs. There are also black stripes on the sleeves, and an insignia that all of the Rangers have on their chests, which looks like a claw slash mark. This was also a very clever place for Bandai to design two small holes that allow for a "speaker" of sorts for the sound effect, so it doesn't sound overly muffled. No worries there, since in the case of the Red Tiger Ranger, his sound effect is a snarling growl that merges into what sounds like laser fire.

JAGUAR RANGER - this is technically the Blue Ranger. Obviously, as another feline species, he shares a lot in common with the red Tiger Ranger. The pointed "ears" on the helmet are about the same size. The side whiskers are somewhat different in appearance, and the eye visor is somewhat wider and not as distinctly "two-eyed" as the red one. Interestingly, it is the Red and Blue Ranger that are pictured at the top of all of the packages.

Of course, there are also differences, apart from the basic color. Rather than stripes on the helmet, the Jaguar Ranger has spots. He also has a series of spots on his back, and a series of geometric patterns on his side that I think were in some way intended to look like stylized spots, and yet also resemble to some degree the stripes of the Tiger Ranger. Of note is the fact that these patterns are highlighted by a double white line.

As for his sound effect, he has a somewhat more throaty growl than the Tiger Ranger, which tapers into what sounds like blades in the midst of battle.

CHEETAH RANGER - This is the Yellow Ranger, the lone female of the group, and the third of the figures that is based specifically on the Japanese GekiRanger concept. Interesting that we have yet another feline, especially considering the fact that the other three Rangers created for the Jungle Fury concept are distinctly NOT feline.

The Cheetah Ranger's helmet has somewhat lower ears, but more prominent side "whiskers" than the Tiger or Jaguar Ranger. The eye visor is almost identical to the Tiger Ranger, but not quite as broad. She has a series of oval spirs on her helmet and back, and a black stripe on her sides, with oval spots highlighted in white.

Since this is the female figure, she is an entirely different mold. She does not have the Shock Sensor Sound Fury feature of the five male figures. However, she does come with a small robot that can morph into a weapon. The robot, a small, squat, rather cat-like-looking thing, looks a lot like what you'd get if you asked the ThunderCats to completely redesign R2-D2.

While I've never had cause to complain about the female figures in any given Power Rangers line being made from a different set of molds, which usually also includes a Pink Ranger, a color conspicuous by its absense in either the Japanese or American version of this concept, I have to say that this year's female Ranger comes up a little short, and not just in height. There are certain matters which mostly pertain to articulation that cannot be overlooked. Although the figure has an upper swivel arm that the males lack, she is not articulated at the wrist. And although the legs have the same range of motion as the male figures, they are SEVERELY curtailed by the presence of a plastic skirt that is not particularly flexible. It is impossible for this figure to sit or even assume much in the way of an action stance.

The final fault is a structural one. The feet are distinctly shorter than the males. Okay, that's not too bad. But the feet of the male figures have a very slightly upturned toe. I'll get into a description of the rather unusual feet of all of these figures a little later. Unfortunately, they also upturned the toes of the Cheetah Ranger, and given the small size of her feet to begin with, the end result are that the bottoms of her feet are essentially curled, and since the figure's legs are pressed rather closely together as a result of the non-flexible skirt, the end result is a figure with an unstable base and a limited scope of stance that really doesn't hold her balance very well. In short, trying to get the Cheetah Ranger to stand up is waayyy too difficult.

I hate to write a negative review about a Power Ranger, and ultimately, the figure does look cool and is part of the team. But there's some serious structural problems here that Bandai should've known better than to commit.

Now, let's consider the three "newcomers" to the group:

ELEPHANT RANGER - This is the Green Ranger, and from an American marketing standpoint, has been given a prominence equal to that of the Red Tiger Ranger and the Blue Jaguar Ranger. Example -- there's a series of motorcycle-like vehicles out there, with limited poseability figures. The versions available are Red Tiger, Blue Jaguar, and Green Elephant.

I suppose we should be grateful that Bandai didn't decide to make this a female Pink Ranger. Apart from not really wanting a second female figure given the structural problems.

The figure's helmet, amazingly enough, does manage to get away with some elephantine features without looking anything like, shall we say, Snout Spout from Masters of the Universe. It has somewhat prominent ears, two tiny tusks emerging from the front, and ridges down the center that could represent a trunk.

The color detailing on the uniform is some of the most extensive of any of the Rangers, with a pattern of green outlined in white over black that, much like the helmet pattern, seems designed to mimic the appearance of an elephant's trunk.

His sound effect is one of the louder ones, as one might expect. Jostle this guy and you get the sound of an elephant blaring, followed by what sounds like two swords clashing.

SHARK RANGER - Here's where the colors start to get a little strange. Technically, he's blue, but he's a different blue than the Jaguar Ranger. It's sort of a blue green. I'm inclined to call it a dark turquoise. So, he's the Turquoise Ranger if we want to go with colors.

This Ranger has a fin going over the trop of his helmet, and there's actually a second sort of fin on the back of his helmet, and two more on the side. He's also the only Ranger to have fins on his wristbands. He has markings that look something like gills on the sides of the top of his helmet, and his visor is narrow and very wide.

The patterning on his uniform -- well, it doesn't exactly look like a shark. Your average shark, at least from a "Jaws" standpoint, doesn't really have much in the way of markings. So they had to improvide a bit. He has these jagged stripes that end in points that obviously are intended to be a very stylized version of a shark's jaw.

I suspect that coming up with a sound effect for this figure wasn't easy. Sharks don't make a lot of noise. And using the theme from the movie probably would've gotten them in trouble. So what we have is a combination sound that starts out sounding like rushing water, finished by a clang of swords.

BAT RANGER - Yeah. I said Bat Ranger. I have no idea if the producers of the Power Rangers intended to try to jump on the Dark Knight's bandwagon with this one, but come on. You do a Bat Ranger and there's NOT going to be comparisons?

Colorwise, this guy should probably be designated the Black Ranger, since that is the primary color of his uniform, but at the same time, there's so much silver trim on him, and black was technically the trim color on the other five, that it's a tough call.

He doesn't look that much like Batman. He's probably closer to Batman Beyond, although even that's a stretch. Let me say this -- if DC Comics decided they wanted an entirely new Batman, a fairly futuristic looking one, and left the design up to some Japanese artists, something like this could have well been the result.

The helmet is distinctly the most ornate of the entire group. There's what looks like the stylized head of a bat above the visor, which itself is very ornate in its design. Flaring out to either side of the helmet are two upswept bat wings.

As for the design on the uniform, I'm sure there had to be some consideration about sailing too close to a certain Caped Crusader, so what we have on a mostly black uniform is a fairly stylized silver design that emphasis jagged lines and sharp edges. Overall, it's a rather cool design.

The sound effect is -- interesting. Bats don't make much noise in real life, so the sound effect given to this figure is what I think is intended as a styled sound of wings flapping, a sort of whish-whish sound, followed by what sounds like a laser shot and a minor explosion.

Now, let me address a few common points about these figures -- some of which I will have to say the female Ranger is an exception.

The five males all use the same basic body mold. This is not a surprise, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it. What IS unusual is the relatively minor level of sculpted musculature on the figures, an attribute that is shared by the female Ranger. But it's a lot more noticeable on the males.

Let's face it, most super-hero figures, including Power Rangers from other concepts, tend to present a figure wearing a uniform so tight that it would be physically impossible in real life. I once heard a comics artist comment, rightly so, that when you're drawing a super-hero character that wears tights, you're essentially drawing a human form, and adding a few lines and changing the colors.

Additionally, your average super-hero, including the Power Rangers figures, at least, have tended to have rather muscle-bound body proportions that one would not be likely to see outside of some extreme bodybuilding competition or some such.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a few liberties taken in the name of fantasy heroism in an action figure. However, it's also worth pointing out that Power Rangers is a LIVE-ACTION show, and the Rangers are generally young people, reasonably trained athletes who are proficient enough in certain martial-arts disciplines to look good on a kids' action series. They're not going to be all that muscle-bound however. Especially not dressed in the Ranger costumes. Spandex has its limits, and the tight fit of a super-hero costume in a comic book is just as unlikely as some of the physical builds encountered there.

To that end, the Jungle Fury Power Rangers, at least these basic figures, are a little less muscular than many of their predecessors, but this arguably makes them more realistic. Or as realistic as people dressed like this in the first place can expect to get away with. Comparing one to a Ranger from the previous concept, Operation Overdrive
-- the figures are about the same height, between 5-1/2" - 6". But the Jungle Fury Ranger's arms are more slender, the hands are a bit smaller, the legs a little longer, and the body a little more slender in the chest and a bit broader at the waist, and there's less muscle definition overall.

That doesn't make the Jungle Fury Ranger look less powerful. But it IS unusual to see, especially when we're used to super-hero action figures of all types having these both stylized and idealized physical builds of massive muscle.

Articulation on the whole is good, although one of these years I really do wish Bandai would add an upper-arm or elbow swivel to these figures. It would help them assume some of their martial arts poses better. But the figures (the males, at least -- I've already discussed the female, who interestingly enough DOES have an upper-arm swivel) are articulated at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, legs, knees, and ankles. The ankle articulation, which the female Ranger also has, is something that hasn't come up before in this line. Nice addition. I should mention that the female Ranger is not articulated at the wrists.

The articulation is generally good, but it is possible to get a Ranger with a loose upper leg swivel. My Blue Cheetah Ranger is extremely loose in this area. I don't know if it's an attribute common to all of the figures of this character, or just this one. Since they're all based on the same set of molds, I don't see why the entire run of one Ranger would have this problem, and obviously "tightness of articulation" is not something easily discerned from within the package.

Each Ranger is wearing some sort of device on his or her wrists. These devices are mostly black. Some have silver trim around the knuckles. All have some measure of orange -- interesting color choice. One more strike on the Yellow Ranger is that the black on her wrist bands appears to have been hand-painted, a practice I really wish all toy companies would drop. While at this time I don't know the purpose of these devices, I am assuming that they're some sort of morpher or Zord summoner or something.

A review of these Rangers figures would not be complete without a look at their feet. Most Power Rangers wear boots. These look to be wearing - painted Nikes or something. It makes me wonder if the production budget for this series took a nosedive somewhere along the way and all the company could afford to complete the series were six pairs of sneakers. I'm not saying it's bad, but it's a little peculiar-looking. Their footwear is easily on a par, and possibly even surpasses, their helmets as far as the level of detailing is concerned. And it's hardly an American thing, either. I actually have an otherwise differently- designed Purple Ranger from Japan, and his footwear is highly ornate as well. I'd love the behind the scenes explanation for this one.

I'd like to take one more paragraph before I conclude the review to address character emphasis in the merchandising. Although the three core members of the Japanese concept were the Red, Yellow, and Blue (or Tiger, Cheetah, and Jaguar) Rangers, that's clearly not the case in the States. Here, the emphasis is on the Red Tiger and Blue Jaguar Ranger, with almost as much emphasis being given to the Green Elephant Ranger. Seems the axiom that "female figures don't do well" is still in effect. As to the others, I'm really not sure yet, although I did see a 12" Mega Ranger of the Shark Ranger, with two additional snap on helmet designs, just prior to Christmas, so I don't really know what to think.

And if the Purple and White Rangers show up -- WHICH I SINCERELY HOPE THEY DO -- then things could get really interesting.

But in any case, I suspect it will be a good year for Power Rangers. These designs are interesting and distinctive, perhaps more so than we've seen for a while -- not to put down any previous concept's designs. Certainly they seem to be well-received, even if the show hasn't started on the air yet. There's a bit of controversy, but most kids won't know about it, and won't likely care, since it's based on a comparison that they're not likely even aware of.

And certainly, they're well made. Bandai makes excellent action figure. I have a few problems with the Cheetah Ranger, and I do believe they should've been addressed before the figure reached production, but on the whole, I am very impressed with POWER RANGERS JUNGLE FURY, and these basic SOUND FURY figures definitely have my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation!