REVIEW: POWER RANGERS SAMURAI - YELLOW AND PINK MEGA RANGERS
The long-running Power Rangers concept underwent a significant 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, and Disney, perhaps especially with the acquisition of Marvel Comics, decided it had had enough of the Rangers. 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.
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 considerable 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 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. 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.
The one thing I honestly did not expect to see as soon as I did, 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 -- 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.
So you can well imagine my surprise when, just before 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!
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 nowhere as easy as it sounds, 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. But we'll simply have to 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. 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.
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 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.
I recently found the three male Rangers -- Red, Blue, and Green -- on that aforementioned stop at Walmart. There was no sign at that point in time of the two female Rangers -- Pink and Yellow -- but not too long after I found the three male Rangers, I finally came across the two female Rangers, as well as a bad guy, whom I decided not to get. Credit to Bandai here -- at least the villain was nicely articulated. Some of the figures from past Power Rangers lines, even to fairly recent ones, have tended to have more limited articulation. Some early ones were little more than statues.
They say in the action figure world that female figures don't sell well. Boys don't want to play with girl "dolls", and so they tend to be few and far between when they do happen. Scarlett, Baroness, Lady Jaye and several others in G.I. Joe, Teela and She-Ra in Masters of the Universe, Princess Leia and Padme Amidala in Star Wars -- there really aren't a lot.
Power Rangers is somewhat different. There's always at least one, and more often than not two, female Rangers on any given Rangers team. I'm not entirely sure how reflective this is of Japanese culture, nor am I going to attempt a dissertation of it here. The point is that from a toy aspect, there's likely a higher percentage of female figures in the Power Rangers toy lines, at least in the basic figures, than there is in just about any other action figure line you could readily name, simply because of their presence on the team in the TV shows.
Now, the counterpoint to that is that the female Rangers tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to toys outside of the basic figures, which is where my emphasis is. You start getting into transforming Rangers, Rangers with small vehicles like motorcycles or whatever, larger scale Ranger figures with special capabilities -- you're not going to see a lot of female Rangers in these special selections. But in the basic figure line -- yep, they pretty much HAVE to be there.
Generally speaking, in any given Power Rangers concept, the female Rangers are Yellow and Pink. There have been a few teams where there's only been one female Ranger, and that Ranger has generally been yellow. Jungle Fury and the basic RPM team are good examples here. On occasion, the color yellow has been assigned to a male Ranger, and when that happens, one of the female Rangers on that particular team is generally blue, but it'll be a light blue, not the usual dark blue associated with male Rangers. There was a silver female Ranger in RPM. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a male Pink Ranger -- which is probably just as well. Power Rangers has enough trouble being taken seriously in the toy world as it is.
So, how are the figures? Really outstanding. The level of costume detail on these new Power Rangers Samurai figures is remarkable. Generally speaking, the Power Rangers have tended more often than not to dress like super-heroes, in tight-fitting spandex-like uniforms that bring out their musculature, certainly, and are generally quite colorful with interesting designs. But the Power Rangers Samurai figures, while reflecting this to a substantial degree, go a few steps further.
The costumes almost seem to be armored. There is a sculpted criss-cross pattern that is evident on the arms, legs, and mid-torso region. The shoulders are flared and distinctly ridged. There is what looks like armored plating on the fronts of the upper legs. There is raised silver detail on the elbows and knees. The boots are heavy with sculpted detail.
Let us remember that in a traditional sense, samurai warriors in ancient times were armored warriors. This definitely seems to be reflected in the costume designs for the Power Rangers Samurai.
The uniforms are largely identical except for two distinct aspects -- the fronts of the helmets, and, obviously, the colors. I have sometimes wondered how the stunt actors that are wearing the Power Rangers costumes can even see what they're doing out of those helmets. Some moreso than others. With some Power Rangers concepts, it's obvious that there's a wide enough visor across the front of the helmet to allow for a reasonable range of vision, although I wouldn't bet on much peripheral vision. With other concepts, you tend to wonder how they can see. The Power Rangers Samurai helmet designs lean more towards the latter than the former.
The visors on their helmets are worked in as part of Japanese symbols that represent their specific traits or powers. To what degree these symbols may have been slightly modified in order to accommodate a reasonable field of vision, and to what degree they've been left alone with the hope that the actor wearing the costume doesn't run headlong into a wall, I really can't say. (Or, for that matter, the degree to which Japanese symbols were chosen in the first place that could make reasonably workable helmet designs...) The two female Rangers come away fairly fortunate. Their respective symbols, which while distinctly different from each other, the Yellow Ranger's looking a bit like an inverted "T" and the Pink Ranger's vaguely resembling a multi-winged butterfly, for lack of a better description, have sufficiently wide center sections that I suspect they're decently able to see where they're going.
According to the package, the Yellow Ranger's symbol represents "Earth", and the Pink Ranger's symbol represents "Sky".
Beneath each insignia is a small silver area representing a mouth region, a fairly common design element for a number of Power Rangers concepts. The helmets are otherwise identical in design, except for color, of course, and are more or less spherical in shape with a flared-out section at the base along the sides and back.
Of course, one would expect the primary color of the costume to be different. The basic costume design for the Power Rangers Samurai team is as follows: Colored helmet and shirt, with black visor outlined in silver, a black stripe wraparound the neck running diagonal down the right front of the costume to the belt level, also outlined in silver, a gold belt with a large circular buckle, black trousers with silver armored knee-pads, colored armored-looking boots with a certain amount of black and silver detail around the ankles, and silver gloves with a bit of color on the back of the glove. There's also an emblem of some sort on the upper left chest -- right about where most Starfleet personnel wear their communicator badges on Star Trek.
Overall, it's a cool costume design, and of course the "color" is Yellow on the Yellow Ranger, and Pink on the Pink Ranger, a fairly intense pink at that. The black trousers is an unusual feature, not something I recall seeing before.
The two Rangers stand about 4-1/4" in height. As of the Mighty Morphin Redux, Bandai shrank the Power Rangers line to be somewhat more in keeping with a lot of other similar-height action figure lines out there. I've been a little disappointed by this, since I'd certainly gotten used to taller Rangers, even if they were seldom to scale with other Ranger concepts. It was like Bandai reinvented them every time a new concept came along. Honestly, these are a little different in design than the most recent Mighty Morphins, with somewhat more agreeable body proportions, but they're about the same height.
Painted detail is excellent, but Bandai does have an unfortunate habit of not always painting the backs of their figures entirely. In my opinion, this has always been the world's cheapest cost-saving move of all time. The Samurai Rangers fare better than some in this regard, as only the backs of their belts are unpainted.
Articulation is superb. The Yellow and Pink Rangers are fully poseable at the heads, arms, elbows, wrists, legs, knees, and boot tops. The heads particularly are on a ball-and-socket design that gives them a considerable range of motion. Also, the arms move outwards as well as back and forth. Sometimes, for whatever reason, female Power Rangers come up short in that regard.
Now, there is one unusual thing to mention. The three male Rangers -- Red, Blue, and Green -- for whatever inexplicable reason have distinctly loose legs. I would have considered this an assembly fluke with one, but not with all three. Whether it's a problem that Bandai will address I have no idea. But here's the interesting thing -- the legs on the Pink and Yellow Rangers are nice and tight. They stand up well -- something that is not as easily achieved on their male counterparts -- and aren't the least bit loose. Obviously, they use entirely different sets of molds, but it does sort of make one wonder what happened.
The copyright note on the back of the figures reads (C) SGC/PR. The "PR" stands for Power Rangers. The "SGC" stands for Saban -- something or other. That it reads this way at all shows how quickly these figures must have been put into production. I remain impressed.
As for accessories, both the Yellow and Pink Rangers come with fancy silver swords, that are identical in design. But they also have more individual accessories, as well. The Yellow Ranger comes with what looks like an absolutely immense throwing star, with a yellow center and three black blades. This thing is over 2 inches across. This for a 4-1/4" action figure. I would not care to be on the receiving end. The Pink Ranger comes with a fancy pink and silver fan. And if you think a fan can't be a weapon, then check out some of the female fighters in the Mortal Kombat video games...
So, what's my final word? There's no shortage of new Power Rangers toys cropping up. For me, I can't collect them all. But I do like to welcome the basic figures from any given Power Rangers incarnation into my collection, and for Power Rangers Samurai, that's these figures, officially dubbed "Mega Rangers" on their package. I remain surprised that I found them as soon as I did. I was very pleased to find the three male Rangers a while back, and now I have the two female Rangers, Yellow and Pink, to round things off -- at least until the Gold Ranger turns up. And I believe that any longtime Power Rangers fan will welcome this new team into their collection, grateful that the Power Rangers continue to endure.
The YELLOW RANGER and PINK RANGER from POWER RANGERS SAMURAI both definitely have my most enthusiastic recommendation!