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By Thomas Wheeler

It happens every year, around Thanksgiving. And no, I don't mean the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, although that is a cool event to watch. I'm talking about the changeover to the next Power Rangers concept. "Power Rangers Jungle Fury" has given way, as of this writing, at least in the toy stores, to "Power Rangers RPM."

And here I face a slight dilemma. Although the toys are out, the TV show isn't. And information about the new concept is incredibly limited right now. About all I got out of it was that the show started filming -- at least for its American aspects -- in New Zealand in September of 2008.

So about all I can to to provide some semblance of concept background here is to turn to the Japanese originator of Power Rangers RPM, which is a series entitled (or translated, anyway), as "Engine Sentai Go-onger".

According to the Toei Company's thirty-second Super Sentai series of Japanese tokusatsu television series. It premiered on February 17, 2008, a week following the finale of Juken Sentai Gekiranger, which we know as Power Rangers Jungle Fury. It airs as part of TV Asahi's 2008 Super Hero Time block. The motif of this series is animals, the motor industry, and environmentalism.

The basic storyline, the percentage of which will carry over to the American version I honestly cannot predict, is this: Machine World is one of the 11 Braneworlds other than our own, which is referred as the Human World, and it is home to giant vehicular beings called Engines who wage a war against the Gaiark who desire to pollute their world. Losing, Gaiark's three Pollution Ministers' escape leaves them on Earth, seeing the Human World as an easier location to create their ideal paradise. The six Engines manage to pursue them, selecting five humans to become their partners, the Go-ongers. The team are joined by Go-on Wings and their Wing Engines, as well as the Ancient Engines, as they all together battle the Gaiark as well as other evil villians from other Braneworlds.

Based in their RV, the Ginjiro, the Go-onger team is composed of the core three and two back-up members who support the main team. That honestly explains something about the figure designs...

The Go-ongers fight the Barbaric Machine Clan Gaiark, composed of the three Pollution Ministers who are last of their kind, escaping from being destroyed on the Machine World and desiring to pollute the Earth into their ideal paradise. The Gaiark base themselves in the Hellgaille Palace on an isolated island, sending their Barbaric Machine Beasts to pollute the Earth. Gaiark comes from the Japanese word for "harm".

A fairly wide range of toys started hitting stores right after Thanksgiving 2008. This included several figures packaged with motorcycles, higher-level armored figures, a couple of big Zords, and of course, the basic figures, which are the ones that I always collect.

There are five available at this time. Interestingly enough, there's no sign of any villains. Usually there's a semi-generic "Evil Space Alien" thrown in here, but there isn't one even listed on the package.

Power Rangers RPM, pretty much as its Japanese counterpart states, seems to take certain prominent aspects from previous Power Rangers motifs. It's not unusual to see Power Rangers whose appearances and powers are based on animals. The original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were based on dinosaurs. The most recent Jungle Fury Rangers were based on modern animals. Nor is it unusual for Power Rangers motifs to be based on technology and machines. 2007's Operation Overdrive is the most recent example of that.

What is unusual, in my opinion, is for a Power Rangers motif to be based on BOTH, but that clearly seems to be the case with RPM, and for that matter, they've even thrown in a small aspect of Power Rangers SPD, uniformwise, in that their costumes are numbered.

But let's stick with the vehicle/animal combination as the basis. Just taking the title of the series, "Power Rangers RPM", makes one think of vehicles, and for that matter, the logo for the series has a large tire in the background, and the package design has a checkered flag off to one side. Somebody needs to tell Bandai that the "Speed Racer" movie tanked to the point of costing Mattel some serious bucks, and they might not want to follow its themes quite this much.

Add to that the fact that these basic Ranger figures have the prefix "Full Throttle" And yet, each of the Rangers is denoted by an animal name. Eagle Ranger, Wolf Ranger, etc.

The vehicle designs as shown on the package border on the hysterical. The symbol on the front of the package where the character's name appears has a huge wheel off to the right, what looks like a car's body running across to the left, and ending in a stylized eagle's face -- at least I'm assuming it's supposed to be an eagle based on the Red Ranger's animal designation -- where the headlight is the eagle's eye and there's a visible beak.

The back of the package card at the top shows what looks like the four- wheeled vehicles for the figures. And basically you've got racing-styled vehicles with animal faces. Did someone at Toei see the movie "Cars" once too often? Now, if this is supposed to be some sort of environmentally-friendly racing-powered team of Rangers, they certainly found an interesting way to turn their vehicles into -- dare I say it -- "hybrids"?

Maybe all of this will make more sense once the series starts airing in the United States. I'm just making suppositions here based on available information, which granted isn't all that much.

There's certainly no denying the popularity of the Power Rangers, now entering their seventeenth year in the United States, and heck, I've even seen one picture of what the 2010 Rangers are supposed to look like, and have a fair idea as to their background theme, so it doesn't look like the Rangers are going anywhere for a while, which is fine with me.

For now, let's consider the basic Ranger figures. I'm sure that as the year progresses, more information will be available, and there are bound to be additional Rangers.

The five current Rangers include four males and one female. The uniform colors are Red, Black, Green, Blue, and Yellow. A friend of mine has pointed out that it is NOT coincidence that those are the same colors as the Olympic rings, with the Olympics being in China this past summer. Yes, I know, Power Rangers is a Japanese concept, not Chinese, but apparently someone still wanted to take advantage of that.

It's worth mentioning in conjunction with this that the sixth and seventh Rangers, at least in the Japanese concept, and I certainly hope we get them here at some point on the year (if nothing else, they'll give me another review by which time I should be able to provide more concept information), are a Silver Ranger and a Gold Ranger.

As ever, the leader of the team is the Red Ranger. There's ALWAYS a Red Ranger. He is specified as the Eagle Ranger. The basic uniform design for the RPM Rangers is a god one. The uniform is a solid red, with white gloves, silver straps forming a "V" across the front, a black belt, and black cuffs at the tops of the gloves and boots. There is a pentagon-shaped belt buckle, silver in color, with a stylized letter "G" on it. This same letter also appears on the helmet. While this may confuse some people unaware of the Japanese concept, this obviously refers to "Go-onger".

Amusingly, the black boot and glove cuffs are treaded, like vehicle tires. There's also a little device which clips into a hold on the side of the belt, and doesn't like to stay put all that well. Parents be advised - this looks like something that could be lost really easily. I recommend a bit of good glue here.

The Eagle Ranger's helmet design, like all of the Rangers' helmets, is an almost eerie but nevertheless effective combination of the vehicular and the animal. The sides of the helmet look like they hand small wheels and tires designed into them. The visor is a sharp triangle, black in color, with a white outline. Above this is a yellow triangular shape, obviously representing a beak. There are upswept areas to the side of this beak, intended to represent the eagle's eyes, but at the same time, they're also stylized headlights. Whether or not they actually function as such on the show I have no idea, but it wouldn't surprise me.

I also mentioned that the uniforms are numbered, something which hasn't happened since Power Rangers SPD several years ago. There is a gold "1" on the Red Ranger's chest. The top of this "1" has an eye and a beak, and there are two silver wings coming out of its sides. So it's supposed to be an animalized number, as well. But it's a cool design, and a nice touch.

The Red Ranger, like the other male Rangers, is very well articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, legs, and knees. There is also a swivel at the top of the gloves and boots, to allow additional movement of the hands and feet.

I would like to offer at this time a comparison between the RPM Rangers and their immediate predecessors, the Jungle Fury Rangers. The Jungle Fury Rangers also had ankle articulation. This was decent, but it also worked well into the design of the uniform. The Jungle Fury Rangers didn't wear boots so much as something that looked like they'd made a deal with Nike and spray painted their sneakers a uniform color. There was also an upper leg swivel, right below the hip joint, which while a nice idea, was so loosely assembled on most of the figures that it was actually detrimental to the overall stability of the figure. While I don't like to say that I am in favor of reducing the articulation of a figure series, I was not sorry to see that particular point disappear.

A few other observational notes. Most Power Rangers figures over the past several years have a series of screws in their backs, part of the assembly procedure. The RPM Rangers do not. This is neither a compliment nor a criticism. The Rangers are not G.I. Joe figures. They do not easily disassemble by removing their screws (I tried this once and the result was not good). It's simply an observation.

The RPM Rangers follow the Jungle Fury Rangers in not having quite as pronounced a musculature as previous generations. Many of the Power Rangers from recent years, up until Jungle Fury, were given superheroic proportions that the actors on the show would have found impossible to achieve, as would the costuming. I'll admit the lowered musculature makes the Jungle Fury and RPM Rangers seem a little less detailed, but they're also likely more accurate to their TV counterparts.

Finally there is the issue of height. The RPM Rangers stand about 5-1/2" in height. That struck me as a little short, and indeed, they are noticeably shorter than their most recent predecessors, the Jungle Fury Rangers, who average about 6" in height. Despite the Jungle Fury Rangers looking like a rather long-legged bunch, this concerned me a bit, until I made some further comparisons. The Jungle Fury Rangers are actually rather tall. Operation Overdrive averages 5-3/4", Mystic Force about 5-5/8", and SPD about 5-5/8". So while technically, RPM is the shortest of the group, and they seem a little less muscular than some, the difference isn't really that major.

Besides, go back far enough to the earliest days of the Rangers, and they were more like 4-3/4", had less body detail than anybody, and they used the same body molds for the males and the females. Cross-concept compatibility has never been a concern in the Rangers. Probably why I appreciated that 15th Anniversary Red Ranger line in 2007.

The only other comparative observation I'd like to make is that the RPM Rangers felt a little light in weight. Then I realized -- there's no internal battery-operated gimmick on these. Not that I miss it. I certainly do not. But if you take out the batteries and whatever gizmos let them light up or talk or whatever, it's going to reduce the weight.

Okay, let's consider more of the RPM Rangers, and we might as well do them in numerical order. Next up is the Blue Ranger, who is designated as the Lion Ranger. His uniform is a very dark blue, as one would expect from a Ranger, and he has the same basic uniform details as the Red Ranger. Black belt, silver straps, tire-treaded boot cuffs and glove cuffs. The helmet -- getting a lion out of this is a bit of a stretch. It's a pretty stylized lion design. There are angled outlines painted on the top and sides of the helmet, painted in yellow, and it's surprisingly intricate work for a basic Power Ranger, that I believe are supposed to represent a lion's make. The headlights on the front are fairly small, and there's a small protrusion just above the more or less rectangular visor that could be a nose. I suppose someone might see a lion here, but it takes some effort.

A far more apparent lion image can be seen in the uniform number, which for the Blue Lion Ranger is "2". The Lion's head and mouth comprise the curve of the number, while the base of the number almost flows back into the stylized mane. It looks like a 2. It also looks a fair bit like a lion's mane.

Now lets' consider number "3" in the series, which is the Yellow Bear Ranger, the lone female in this basic five. And here I have to discuss figure assembly. As one might expect, the female Ranger is made from an entirely different set of body molds from the others. And for the most part, it's not a problem. The articulation is a little different in one important aspect -- rather than a swivel at the glove top, there's a swivel above the elbow, not unlike the "Swivel Arm Battle Grip" of original Real American Hero G.I. Joes. Additionally, the head is on a ball-and-socket assembly, and as such is capable of a greater range of motion than just the side-to-side turn of the male Rangers.

HOWEVER -- there is one matter that I need to address. It happened in Jungle Fury, it's happened here, and it needs to stop. The figure has been given a plastic skirt which basically prevents any measurable leg articulation, even though the legs are articulated. Now, female Rangers have worn skirts as part of their uniforms for years. But up until Jungle Fury, the way the figures were designed, those skirts were split across the legs themselves, and didn't hinder articulation.

Frankly, I think Bandai needs to get a better attitude towards the female Rangers -- and a better way to do these skirts. Especially since one of the Gold and Silver Rangers in RPM is a female, and next year's concept goes back to the tradition of two female Rangers in the basic lineup.

Anyway, as to this particular Ranger. The basics of the costume are the same. Primary color, black treaded cuffs around the gloves and boots, black belt, silver straps. Hysterically, in my opinion, the boots are high-heeled (and she's still pretty short). Now, we know that the Power Rangers are martial artists. Am I supposed to believe that the actress who played this role was able to jump and kick wearing these things!? That's pretty impressive, if so. I'm going to have to tape a few episodes of this when it starts up and hit the freeze-frame...

The Yellow Ranger is supposed to represent a Bear, but again the helmet is a bit of a stretch. The visor is an oval, and there's evidence of a nose, and the headlight-eyes taper back into what could be ears, but it's pretty stylized. The number on the uniform works a bit better. The entirety of the number "3" is supposed to be the bear's head, and looks like it for the most part, although the middle extension of the number throws it off just a little bit.

I don't want anyone to have the impression that this is a bad figure. She's not, and I'm glad to have her. But there are some design and practices here that Bandai needs to consider revising.

Let's move on to number "4", which is the Green Shark Ranger. I found it interesting to read of the Japanese concept where there are three core Rangers and two back-up Rangers. This explains a lot with regard to the differences in the uniforms of these last two Rangers compared to the other three. The black belt, and treaded boot and glove cuffs are not present. Rather, they are painted in metallic gold, and while the cuffs are heavily ridged, it's a different pattern entirely than the other three. Also, the little device on the belt is missing, but there's some sort of device molded to the left glove, painted in gold.

Apart from this, the figure is identical in basic structure, including the silver straps and the pentagon-shaped belt-buckle with the "G" in it. The Shark Ranger's helmet probably comes across more effectively than most. The visor is a wide, downward-facing triangle, that goes all the way back to the tire-like earpieces. There are angular shapes on the top of the helmet, including the headlights, and a fin on the top.

The number on the chest is another matter. Granted, I wouldn't want to try to turn a number "4" into a shark. It's not a number with a shape that lends itself well to animal alteration. There's nothing there to turn into a shark's mouth. To the designer's credit, they at least managed to make it look fairly fish-like. Unfortunately, it doesn't so much resemble a shark as it does a really mean angelfish.

Let's turn to the final Ranger in the series, the Black Wolf Ranger, number "5". Like the Shark Ranger, this Ranger has a gold belt, boot and glove cuffs, and the device on his wrist. But really, black trim would've looked pretty bad on a black Ranger. He has the silver straps and other details, and really, his helmet works out the best of all five. There's a near muzzle-like look to the front of it, and two wolf ears towards the back. The "nose" protrudes more than it does on the other Rangers, and the end result is surprisingly effective.

So, too, is the number "5" on his uniform. Now, a number like "5" is going to lend itself fairly well to conversion into an animal profile. You have perfect placement for a "mouth", and the rest of the number can represent the backswept look of an animal's head. And that's precisely what the designers did. In fact, it barely looks like a number. It looks more like a wolf's profile, but once you're on to the design pattern, you can see the number, as well.

A general note about the figures. For the most part, paint detailing is excellent. There's a few instances where aim needs to be improved, especially on the helmets to keep the details as symmetrical as possible. Regarding assembly, it's overall very good, but I encountered a few loose legs here and there. Regarding molding, there's one or two lower legs on these figures that are bent inwards more than they should be.

As to accessories, these Rangers are surprisingly well-equipped, although some of their stuff is a bit on the strange side. Each one comes with a large bladed weapon, in most cases a sword, although one has an axe. Each one also comes with a small pistol. Most of the equipment is a greyish silver, but each Ranger also tomes with a tiny replica of his or her main vehicle. A couple of the Rangers come with accessories that can apparently launch these vehicles.

Weirdest of all, each Ranger comes with a weird little object which I can best describe as some sort of tiki-like figure. Huge head, tiny body, about an inch in height. Three of these have an identical face, that looks like a cybernetic Jason Voorhees as much as anything. The other two aren't especially pleasant-looking, either. Precisely what the heck these things are supposed to be I think we'll have to wait for the series to debut to determine.

As to the RPM concept, I think it will have an easier transition over to American audiences than Jungle Fury did. Jungle Fury had three basic Rangers, only adding the Wolf and Rhino Ranger later on. That basic three wasn't a big enough population for the American toy market, apparently, so three additional Rangers, initially the mentors of the established three, were added, which ultimately gave is the single largest number of prominent Rangers in any Power Rangers concept, but probably created some serious headaches for those trying to transition the series over.

While technically two of the RPM Rangers are denoted as "backups" to the core team of three, they do exist in the Japanese concept, and I have little doubt that they're regarded as valued members of the team, and there are two additional Rangers later on, the Gold and Silver Rangers, which I sincerely hope we will receive figures of sometime in 2009.

So what's my final word here? Power Rangers continues, and I'm pleased. It's a cool toy line that maintains its strength even in difficult times. The shows may be on the hokey side, but they're entertaining to the younger crowd, and there's a growing fan base of adults that remember the show as the kid, and still think Power Rangers is cool.

And one of Power Rangers' greatest strengths is its ability to reinvent itself each year with a new storyline and concept that manages to maintain the core idea of a group of young people costumed for action and adventure. POWER RANGERS RPM is the newest version, and I think it's going to do well. The toys are cool, and the POWER RANGERS RPM "FULL THROTTLE" FIGURES definitely have my highest recommendation!