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By Thomas Wheeler

The Power Rangers underwent a radical shift in 2010. And by that I don't mean the usual conceptual overhaul that generally takes place, as the latest Japanese "Super Sentai" concept, the series upon which the Power Rangers are based, is imported and Americanized for Western audiences.

For quite a number of years now, the owner of Power Rangers outside of Japan has been Disney. Unfortunately, the Power Rangers were not faring especially well for them for whatever reason, and Disney began to turn their back on the Rangers, perhaps especially with the acquisition of Marvel Comics. Disney closed the studio that was shooting the American footage for the Power Rangers series, and in 2010, decided instead to rerun the original Power Rangers series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

To its credit, Bandai, the toymaker who has always produced Power Rangers figures, accommodated this with an all-new line of these classic characters. But as Disney distinctly de-prioritized the Rangers, not even the toys fared especially well. I honestly started to wonder if we were seeing the last of the Rangers, even though "Super Sentai" series continued to be produced in Japan.

Then there was a surprise! Saban, the company which had originally brought the Rangers to American audiences, reacquired the rights to the Rangers from Disney. It was a good deal all around. Saban needed the boost, Disney didn't really want the Rangers anymore (and you should've seen how fast Rangers merchandise was cleared out of Disney Stores), and Saban made a deal with Nickelodeon and Nicktoons to air new and classic Ranger series. And yes, I did say "new".

Saban announced that it would begin production of a new Power Rangers series. Initially, no one entirely knew what to expect, but Saban announced that starting in February 2011, the new POWER RANGERS SAMURAI would take to the air.

Basically, Power Rangers Samurai picks up the pattern where the various Ranger series left off, after Disney gave us a year of re-runs of Mighty Morphin. Prior to that, the Rangers series was known as Power Rangers RPM, and was the series whose Japanese counterpart, Engine Sentai Go-Onger, was followed by the Japanese counterpart to the forthcoming Power Rangers Samurai, whose Japanese name most closely translates as Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. I'll have more to say about that -- driving the spell-check of my computer crazy in the process -- over the course of this review.

The one thing I honestly did not expect to see this soon, were toys. If you ask the average toy company what the lead time is to take a toy from concept stage to final production, what we see on the shelves, they'll tell you that it can be anywhere from a year to eighteen months. Given the deal-making that doubtless took place between Disney and Saban, which I am certain was time-consuming in and of itself, but which I would not have expected was definitive enough for Saban to give Bandai the go-ahead to start producing toys -- and keep in mind that Super Sentai toys in Japan usually take a very different form than their American counterparts -- they're more into vinyl figure statues than action figures -- the absolute earliest I would have expected to have seen a new line of action figures for a new Power Rangers concept would have been mid-2011.

Add to the fact that two major retailers, Target and Toys "R" Us, have all but dropped Power Rangers given the mediocre performance of Mighty Morphin Redux. Hopefully, they can be persuaded to carry the new line.

So you can well imagine my surprise when, in the week between Christmas 2010 and New Year 2011, I walked into Walmart and, amidst the chaos, clearances, and general confusion of a post-Christmas toy department -- here were brand new Power Rangers figures based on the brand new Power Rangers Samurai!

Either that deal between Disney and Saban was pretty well cinched long before it was made public, or the turnaround time on these toys from Bandai must have set a new speed record for production. I'm not complaining, I'm glad to have them, but -- WOW!

Let's consider some of what we know about the forthcoming Power Rangers Samurai concept and program -- which admittedly isn't all that much right now. Perhaps the most startling piece of news that I turned up about it was that, unlike the usual annual overhaul of Power Rangers, which has been in place since all the way back to Power Rangers Zeo, Saban has said that Power Rangers Samurai will be in place for at least two years!

Personally, I think that's going to be a good trick, and Saban might end up altering their plans. The series, in its Japanese incarnation, has fewer than fifty episodes. If the show airs daily, that's good for a little over two months, not two years. It's conceivable that they might try to work in some of the other, more recent Sentai series. The original run of Mighty Morphin did this and actually got away with it. However, the Sentai series, despite having the common point of five or six young people in colorful, somewhat color coded costumes, tend to have rather more radically different background concepts than they used to.

Consider the successors to Super Sentai Skinkenger, which aired in Japan throughout 2009. It has been followed by Tensou Sentai Goseiger, a radically different concept aired during 2010 where the characters use cards in various fashion to transform and access various weapons, and the forthcoming Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, which actually has some sort of pirate motif (the word "kaizoku" being most closely translated as "pirate") and, celebrating the 35th anniversary of Super Sentai in Japan, the characters will have access to the powers of all 34 previous Super Sentai teams. I pity the writers...

There's also the fact that stretching out Power Rangers Samurai, if Saban is actually successful with this, will delay the introduction of Americanized versions of these two Super Sentai shows, and respective action figure lines. I've seen the costume designs for these lines, and they're really very impressive. I'd like to think that one day we'll get them in action figure form, although I wonder if Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger can be effectively transitioned. If those characters can utilize the powers of all of the previous Super Sentai teams, then that includes a lot of teams that we NEVER got in America. That could get strange real quick. On the other hand, if the characters of Tensou Sentai Goseiger utilize cards -- heck, take a look at all the card-based games in the average toy store. That shouldn't have a bit of trouble fitting in. Saban might want not want to wait two years to do so, lest the fad fade...

It's a shame that the Super Sentai's really don't have major action figure lines in Japan. The closest I've encountered here and there have been small figures of the type that are usually sold out of vending machines. That's not an insult. The quality of merchandise to be found in Japanese vending machines is a thousand times more impressive than the cheap junk that rattles out of them in the United States. There's actually some pretty cool stuff. But action figures are not a priority for Super Sentais.

Ultimately, we'll simply have to wait and see what happens. It is certainly my sincere hope that Saban can breathe some much needed new life into the Power Rangers. Certainly I think they'll give it more attention and regard than Disney has for the past several years. Nothing against Disney -- but they're a massive company that has its own priorities, and clearly, the Power Rangers haven't been a significant one for some time. On the other hand, Saban, certainly an effective company, but at the same time, no Disney, is far more likely to give the Rangers the attention and promotion they need and warrant.

Certainly Saban has this in mind. According to the online data I researched, Saban has announced that they would be enacting an "aggressive multimedia focus", with planned apps, games, streaming content, and social media content -- for those of you into that sort of thing. They're also planning live shows, and a feature film. A Power Rangers page on Facebook is in the works, and probably in place by the time you read this. Additionally, the Samurai Rangers made their debut during the 2010 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I happened to catch that segment. It was cool to see them.

Saban Brands has also stated that the new show will have a "brighter tone and gets an infusion of fun and comedy that wasn't present in Jungle Fury and RPM."

That particular announcement has been met with a mixed reaction among Power Rangers fans. They're not really sure what to expect. Here's the thing -- in Japan, the Super Sentai series tend to play out fairly seriously. They're not done for camp or comedy. When Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was brought over, the stories were camped up a fair bit. While this doubtless appealed to young kids, viewers expecting a straightforward adventure series found it difficult to watch. The degree to which any given Power Rangers series has been camped or comedied (for lack of a better word that you'd actually find in the dictionary) over the years has varied, but I don't believe there's ever been a Power Rangers series that's played things in an entirely straightforward manner. One has to surmise that Jungle Fury and RPM did so to some degree, and that there is concern about how "over the top" Saban intends to take Samurai. Hopefully, it won't be to the detriment of the Power Rangers' future entire. Like I said, someday I'd like to see those current Japanese Super Sentai concepts brought over to the States.

The original concept behind Power Rangers Samurai, Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, was thought by some to have been too difficult to bring over to the United States, as it is regarded as more firmly rooted in Japanese culture than most Sentai/Rangers concepts have tended to be, and the thought was that it probably wouldn't transition well. Here is the basic premise behind Samurai Sentai Shinkenger:

For eighteen generations, samurai of the Shiba House have suppressed the evil intentions of the Gedoushu, malevolent spirits that enter the world of the living from gaps between buildings and other structures. Sounds like a weird alley mugging, if you ask me.

Now, Takeru Shiba, the youngest head of the Shiba House, must gather his four vassals in order to battle the Gedoushu as the Shinkengers. However, as they are joined by his childhood friend, who becomes the sixth Shinkenger, the vassals slowly learn that there's a reason for Takeru's behavior that sets him apart from his predecessors.

Using the mystical power known as "Modikara", translated as "character power", these six teenagers can transform into the Shinkengers. Or, as one person in an online discussion board put it -- they're using the power of calligraphy. The series even went so far as to use a historic household in Japan as the setting for the Shiba House.

How much of this is going to translate into Power Rangers Samurai is anyone's guess. We certainly don't tend to have "vassals" over here, and I doubt that a historic Japanese house is going to work out all that well, either. Here's the basic set-up for Power Rangers Samurai in the United States:

The story features Jayden, the Red Ranger, and team leader (like that's a shock); Kevin, the Blue Ranger, described as a "serious samurai"'; Mike, the Green Ranger, described as a "creative rebel", whatever that's supposed to mean; Emily, the Yellow Ranger, and the youngest on the team; and Mia, the Pink Ranger, acting as the "big sister". They fight the evil Master Xandred -- pretty good name, there -- and the forces of the Netherworld, referred to as the Underworld on the toy packages, so who knows what it's going to be called when the show starts. They do this by mastering the "Samurai Symbols of Power", which empower them with the elements of fire, water, sky, forest, and earth. So there's the "calligraphy" based aspect of it. The sixth Gold Ranger is also mentioned, but with no specifics as yet. There's always one or two additional Rangers that come along later.

Of course, there are Zords. There's already a MegaZord available, and the five Rangers all have animal-based Zords. The Red Ranger has a Lion Zord, the Blue Ranger has a Dragon Zord, the Green Ranger has a Bear Zord, the Yellow Ranger has an Ape Zord, and the Pink Ranger has -- of all things -- a Turtle Zord. Seriously!?

I found the three male Rangers -- Red, Blue, and Green -- at Walmart. There was no sign at that point in time of the two female Rangers -- Pink and Yellow -- but I'm sure they'll turn up soon enough, along with an unnamed bad guy pictured on the back of the package, who I'm assuming is probably this Xandred fellow, although I'm really not sure. Scary-looking dude, and a little hard to describe. Best I can say is he looks something like B'wana Beast crossed with a Predator.

In any given Power Rangers concept, I usually try to round up the most basic figures of the Rangers. Alas, I don't have a lot of space for Zords, or larger Rangers with tons of equipment or special features. But I do try to get the basic Rangers in any given concept, and that would be these.

They're called "Mega Rangers", and they come packaged on a card. Each one is known more by his elemental specialty than his or her color. The Red Ranger, for example, is known as "Mega Ranger Fire", the Blue Ranger by "Mega Ranger Water", and the Green Ranger by "Mega Ranger Forest". However, for the purposes of this review, I'll be calling them by their colors.

The main color of the package card is red. I mention this because the main color of packaging always changes from year to year. For the Mighty Morphin Rangers, it was mostly green. For Samurai, it's red. That along with the logo makes them hard to miss.

I have to say once again that I'm impressed by what had to be a pretty quick turnaround time given the reacquisition of the Rangers by Saban. The figures have "(C) SGC P.R." sculpted, not just stamped, but sculpted on their backs, which stands for "SGC Power Rangers" -- the "S" undoubtedly standing for "Saban". And the back of the package cards have the Bandai logo, of course, but also a second logo which reads "Saban Brands".

In exceedingly fine print -- in three languages, no less, is something of a backstory on the package. Doesn't really provide much more illumination than the data I discovered online, but it reads as follows: A new generation of Power Rangers must master the Samurai Sword and mystical Symbols of Power which give them control over the elements of fire, water, sky, forest, and earth. Under the guidance of their all-knowing mentor and the aid of their devoted animal Zords, they battle the dark forces of the Underworld and a mysterious Warrior bent on destruction.

So, how are the figures? Exceptionally well-made, especially with regard to detail. There have been complex Power Rangers figures before, but let's keep in mind that, being based on a live-action TV series, these are still representations of people wearing actual costumes, that are of a type of super-hero, and so there's going to be spandex involved, and detail can sometimes be a tricky thing.

The uniform designs for the three male Rangers are more or less identical, except, of course, for primary color, and helmet design. The helmets are particularly interesting, and border on the weird in one significant aspect. The visors for each helmet is a three-dimensional rendition of the Japanese symbol for whatever element they happen to represent. Now, I have to assume that in a few instances, these symbols were either somewhat stylized for the sake of visibility for the wearer, and even then, some of these must've been a real pain to see out of. The Green Forest Ranger (did I just say "Forest Ranger"?! Ohh, brother -- watch this space for a cameo by Yogi Bear) has a symbol on his helmet that allows him a decent amount of peripheral vision, but the same can't really be said for the Red Fire Ranger or the Blue Water Ranger.

Visors aside, the helmets have a certain futuristic samurai look to them. The Blue Ranger's helmet comes to a slight crest on the top, and all three flare out in the back and on the sides somewhat. Fairly typical for a number of Power Rangers concepts over the years, there is a silver area around the mouth, which actually shows a sort of mouth construct, although this isn't the actual mouth of the wearer, of course. The symbols for the Blue and Green Rangers block this area somewhat, but the Red Ranger's is readily on display. The necks of their costumes are silver.

The three Rangers are wearing colored shirts -- Red, Blue, or Green, of course -- that have a black band that runs around the neck and then diagonally across the right side of the torso. This black band is outlined in silver. The shirts appear to be somewhat armored, with chestplates, flared shoulders., and a sort of grid pattern across the rest of the shirt that would appear to be protective in design. There are multiple narrow ridges cut into the flared shoulders. It's really a much higher level of sculpted detail than I've seen on basic Power Rangers figures in years, and I am most impressed.

The Rangers have a small gold emblem on the left side of the chest, pretty much where the average Starfleet personnel would wear his comm badge, for comparison sake. They have metallic gold belts, with large round buckles and a couple of small accessories attached to the sides - one gold, one black. They have silvery gloves, the backs of which have appropriately colored patches on them.

The Rangers are wearing black trousers, which, like the colored shirts, appear to be somewhat armored. There is protective armor on the upper legs, also black, and they have silver armor at the knees. They are wearing colored boots, with fancy ridges across the top, and a black section on the front near where the foot would bend. There is silver armor at the ankles. Honestly, it would've been a good place for an articulation point, but Rangers are generally not quite that articulated.

The figures are, however, very well articulated. Their heads are on ball-and-socket joints, so they move very well. They are also fully poseable at the arms, elbows, wrists, legs, knees, and boot tops. I do have to say that there is a slight problem, common to all three figures to one degree or another. The forward and back movement of the legs at the hops is quite loose. In fact, it's bad enough so that they have a little trouble staying standing, because the upper body weight is not stable, and the figure tips over. If anything makes me think that getting these figures into the stores might have been something of a rush job, it is this. The Red Ranger -- of course, it would be the team leader -- is the most seriously afflicted, but all three of them show signs of this problem. Granted, except for the helmets, they're also all made from the same molds. I'll be interested to see if this problem persists with the female Rangers. At the moment, I don't have a ready solution. The figures cannot be disassembled.

Heightwise, these Rangers are about the same size as the recent Mighty Morphins, which took me -- and I imagine other fans and collectors -- by substantial surprise by how small they were relative to other recent years of Rangers. Now, there's never really been a totally consistent size or design for Power Rangers figures from one year to another. The only time there was ever a consistent multi-concept series of Rangers, was with the special edition Red Rangers from the 15th Anniversary -- a concept I wouldn't mind seeing revisited with updates. But from one concept to another, there generally hasn't been a lot of consistency. However, the figures for a good number of years tended to be in the 6" range, give or take a bit depending on the concept.

The Mighty Morphins took the size down to 4-1/2" -- positively diminutive relative to many of the previous concepts. The Samurai Rangers maintain this height, but in my opinion, they have a better design. They're better proportioned, for one thing. The bodies are slightly more slender, and the heads are not so small. Several of the Mighty Morphins had exceptionally small heads relative to their bodies. The overall proportions and builds of these Samurai Rangers are excellent.

Paintwork is superb. About the only thing that's lacking is that the backs of the belts are not painted. But then, Bandai has been in the unfortunate habit of not painting certain portions of the backs of their figures for some time. It's obviously a cost-saving move, but it's a bit of a cheap one if you ask me. However, in the case of the Samurai Rangers, it's also a relatively minimal one, and the paint jobs on these three figures are otherwise truly excellent, especially with some of the finer areas, such as the silver and black straps on their shirts, and certainly the silver outlined black symbol visors.

For accessories, each Ranger comes with a silver sword. These swords are incredibly intricately detailed, with many futuristic ridges and other details on them. They're really impressive pieces. There is an odd little something or other at the base of each one where the blade meets the hilt, that is vaguely cylindrical and has what looks like a handle on it. I am certain that the purpose for these will be explained in the series, but for the moment, it has the rather unfortunate effect of making the swords look like they're part fishing rods! "So, you wanna fight the bad guys, or you wanna catch some fresh sushi?"

Each Ranger comes with an individual accessory, as well. The Red Ranger comes with a second sword, a massive thing in red and silver that, loose legs or not, I doubt the figure would be able to stand up with very effectively, and which makes one hope that, if something this big was used in the show, somebody knew a good hernia specialist. The Blue Ranger comes with a bow, itself entirely blue in color, and the Green Ranger comes with a long fighting staff, nicely detailed and looking like it's supposed to be bamboo, despite the fact that it's silver in color. It has the Green Ranger's symbol on it, in green.

So, what's my final word here? Well, I'm still trying to get over the surprise of seeing these new Power Rangers as soon as I did. I look forward to finding, and subsequently reviewing, the Yellow and Pink Rangers. I'm very impressed with the design and detail of these figures. I wish leg assembly were a little tighter, but I don't think there's any way around that, and that's a relatively minor point on a trio of otherwise truly excellent action figures.

I'm pleased to see the newest Power Rangers concept finally arrive in the stores, and I certainly want to wish Saban well in promoting the future of the Power Rangers!

The POWER RANGERS SAMURAI - MEGA RANGER figures of RED FIRE RANGER, BLUE WATER RANGER, and GREEN FOREST RANGER definitely have my highest recommendation!