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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the things that I always tend to say when reviewing any given year's crop of Power Rangers action figures is -- there's always a sixth Ranger. But there's something else that's always true as well...there's always a Red Ranger.

Whatever other colors the core group of Power Rangers may adopt for their uniforms, which have generally tended to be four of the following: Blue, Black, Green, White, Yellow, and Pink, there's always a Red Ranger. And he's also generally the team's leader.

Does it surprise anyone that we're commemorating the 15th Anniversary of the Power Rangers? It's not often that a pop culture concept manages to have this sort of endurance. Although often considered rather campy and silly compared to pop culture/toy concepts of similar longevity, such as G.I. Joe or Transformers, there is simply no denying the fact that the Power Rangers has found a place in pop culture, and doesn't look to be going anywhere anytime soon. It's also found a pretty steadfast place in the toy aisles.

One of the secrets, if it can even be called that, to the longevity of the Power Rangers, has been the fact that after the original concept, "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers", had run for several years, the producers of the show started overhauling the concept every year. Although the basic character premise -- five young people dressed in colorful costumes, each costume reflecting a predominant color with a pattern shared by the entire group -- remained the same, as did the martial-arts- ish stunt work, the background stories tended to change rather dramatically.

This allowed Bandai, the toymaker, to essentially create an entirely new line of toys every year, and yet that entirely new line of toys was nevertheless based, at its core, on a proven name and basic theme.

The main part, toywise, of this 15th Anniversary celebration of Power Rangers, has been the release of a special series of 15th Anniversary Red Rangers. Larger than the approximate 5" scale common to most Power Rangers lines over the years, although size has varied somewhat, these 15th Anniversary Red Rangers are over 6-1/2" in height. And there's one for every major Power Rangers concept that has ever existed, right up to 2007's "Operation Overdrive".

It is my intention, as I am able to acquire these excellent action figures, to review each one, as well as provide a background into the Power Rangers concept from which he is a part of. For this review, I'd like to review the Red Ranger from POWER RANGERS WILD FORCE!

Power Rangers Wild Force was the 2002 Power Rangers series, falling between "Time Force" and "Ninja Storm". It was also the first Power Rangers concept since the original "Mighty Morphins" to use animal-based designs for the Rangers and their Zords.

Wild Force's production history is a fairly complicated one. It's one of those cases where what was going on behind the scenes at the corporate level was just about as interesting as the show itself. The first part of the series was originally broadcast from February to September 2002 on the Fox Kids children's television block, following the sale of Fox Family Worldwide (now ABC Family Worldwide), including Saban Entertainment (now BVS Entertainment) and its Power Rangers franchise, to Disney by News Corporation, Fox's parent company, and Haim Saban, but was later moved in fall 2002 to what ABC's Saturday morning block was once called -- Disney's One Saturday Morning -- and which became known as ABC Kids.

Power Rangers airs these days on the "Jetix" programming block on ABC Family. Wild Force was the first and only season to be under Disney copyright; Disney had bought Power Rangers (along with other Saban properties) partway through the run of Power Rangers: Time Force. It's also the first season, however, to be under the copyright of BVS Entertainment, Inc. and BVS International N.V., since the first four episodes had the Disney copyright at the end. It was the last season to be produced in the United States by MMPR Productions, and because of this is often mistaken as the last series Saban produced. Following this season, production of the Power Rangers franchise moved to New Zealand. And if you understood all of that, you probably deserve a degree in corporate law.

As for where things stand these days -- well, the toys say "BVS" on them, but you can walk into any Disney Store and find a host of Power Rangers merchandise. Disney knows a hot property when they see one. A fair amount of that merchandise is exclusive to the Disney Store, and it's not all toys by Bandai, either. Disney recently started producing a series of apparel that is imprinted with "sketches" of popular Disney characters, including Mickey, Donald, Tinker Bell, Winnie the Pooh, Mowgli and Baloo, and sure enough, right in there with all the rest of the T-shirts is one in the exact same style -- for the current Operation Overdrive Power Rangers.

Whether you can actually see costumed Power Rangers walking the Disney theme parks I have no idea.

As for the synopsis of the Wild Force concept: The series follows the adventure of Cole Evans, who had been staying with a tribe in a jungle for many years, as he tries to find his destiny in the fictitious town of Turtle Cove. He encounters the Animarium, a place that many believed to be a fairy tale. He joins four others who had a common path to become the new leader of the Wild Force Power Rangers.

The Animarium is an island that floats in the sky. It is shaped like a turtle and is the home of the Wild Zords and the Princess Shayla, the Rangers' mentor. (It is unclear how the Rangers travel between the Animarium and the Earth surface, but in one of the last episodes Merrick and Kite are teleported onto the Animarium, so presumably they used the same teleportation throughout the rest of the series.)

The Power Rangers use their powers to defeat the forces of the Orgs, led by one Master Org. As Cole was fond of other animals, he was shocked to discover that the Orgs were heartless monsters. As the series continues, he finds the truth about his real parents: his parents, Richard and Elizabeth Evans, were professors at Turtle Cove University, along with a family friend, Viktor Adler. When they were sent to the jungle for research, they discover the remains of Master Org, in which a jealous Adler consumes in order to exact revenge on Richard, who had proposed to Elizabeth before he could. However, Adler goes insane, and kills both Richard and Elizabeth. For a while, their newborn son, Cole, was also presumed dead.

The annual team-up episodes saw the Wild Force Rangers team up with their predecessors, the Time Force Rangers, in order to stop three mutant Orgs (the Mut-Orgs) from polluting the Earth. It also featured the first time (and to date only time) when a former villain teamed up with the Rangers to face the enemy. These episodes are special as it contained numerous references to various longtime fans of Power Rangers. Fans generally consider this team-up one of the best, due to the fact that the episode was written by a member of the fandom who was later hired to write for Wild Force, and the fact that the team-up brought closure to several plotholes in Time Force.

In addition to the annual team-up episodes, Power Rangers: Wild Force also had a special episode commemorating it as the tenth incarnation, "Forever Red", by having Cole team up with the nine Red Rangers before him, (in order of incarnations, Jason Lee Scott, Aurico, Tommy Oliver, Theodore J. Jarvis Johnson, Andros, Leo Corbett, Carter Grayson, Wesley Collins and Eric Myers), in order to defeat the Machine Empire one final time.

Anybody want to bet how much THAT particular episode inspired Bandai to come out with this series of figures?

As to the Red Ranger from this series, his name was Cole Evans, played by actor Ricardo Medina, Jr. His official name is the Red Lion Ranger; and he was the son of two scientists lost in the jungle. He was raised by a local tribe until being called on by the Red Lion Wild Zord to become a Power Ranger. Interestingly, the initial leader of the Wild Force Power Rangers was Taylor Earhardt, the Yellow Eagle Ranger, until Cole showed up.

The figure is excellent. What Bandai has done for this special series of 15th Anniversary Red Rangers is they have created a basic body type, and an excellent one, that can reasonably accommodate any of the intricate uniform decoration patterns of any of the Power Rangers concept. Of course, a unique head -- or perhaps the correct term should be helmet -- sculpt is created for each Red Ranger.

The articulation is excellent. The Power Ranger is poseable at the head, arms, glove tops, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. Additionally, there is a mid-torso articulation point that is so well designed you almost don't see it until you have the figure out of its package. This can be a particularly tricky articulation point to add to an action figure. Sometimes it can be worked very well into the basic design of the figure. The best example I can think of here is Star Wars Clone Troopers, where it can blend with the armor. It works fairly well on figures like Marvel Legends, where there is no great effort to conceal the articulation points. But I've seen it on some figures where it doesn't look very good at all.

On the Red Ranger here, it works and looks a lot better than it has any business, really, and kudos to Bandai for the design work.

There is one articulation aspect that should have been included, but wasn't. That would have been an upper-arm swivel. This does have the unfortunate effect of rather considerably curtailing the poseability of the arms on an otherwise supremely well-articulated action figure.

The costume design is excellent. Fairly straightforward, but there are some elements that are reminiscent of the original Mighty Morphins, especially with regard to the helmet design looking like a stylized version of the head of an animal. Precisely how much the Red Ranger's helmet looks like a lion is open to some debate, but there is certainly a feline look to it. The helmet is, of course, primarily red, with two narrow feline-like eyes painted in yellow above the visor. Gold and black stripes run from the eyes along the sides of the helmet. As with the Mighty Morphins, the visor of the helmet is where the animal-design's mouth is. The visor is black, outlined in white, with four silver teeth.

There are five broad gold stripes which run from the left shoulder, diagonally under the right arm, and up the back. The gold stripes are separated by thin black stripes. If memory series, the five Rangers each had a different number of stripes. The gloves are white with gold cuffs, and the boots are red with gold cuffs. The figure also has a gold belt with an ornate buckle.

Perhaps the most "Japanese" looking part of the uniform is the lion-head insignia imprinted on the left upper chest. I'm not sure why, but there is something distintively Japanese-looking about it.

I do need to address one matter of quality control here, and urge all readers who might be collecting any of the figures in this line to give your Rangers a VERY thorough visual inspection in the stores. Fortunately this is not too difficult, as the figure is readily and completely visible from the front, and somewhat on the sides. Now, Bandai makes excellent action figures, and certainly these Rangers qualify. But -- nobody's perfect. The heads -- helmets -- are actually molded from a non-rigid plastic, and it's been my experience in other lines from other companies where this type of plastic is used that if it is not very thoroughly liquiefied and injected into the mold very completely, mishaps can happen. Such as the case here, where there is clearly an area missing on the right side of the helmet right at the base where the plastic simply didn't fill in properly. Granted these are toys and i'm a nit-picker. I believe there needs to be a higher level of quality control on this sort of thing. Meanwhile, buyers be vigilant.

And overall, this is really a spectacular figure, helmet glitch notwithstanding, and part of a truly fascinating series. Despite a relatively common scale over the years, not all Power Rangers figures are really compatible across different concepts. This 15th Anniversary Red Ranger series is truly the first time that the main characters from all of the different Power Rangers concepts have been produced in a compatible format.

Honestly, I hope that Bandai finds some way to continue this particular series, as the Power Rangers concepts continue in the years ahead. Doubtless there will be more Red Rangers. And I'd like to think we wouldn't have to wait until the 20th Anniversary to get them in this format. Heck, I wouldn't mind seeing them backtrack a bit and give us the Red Psycho Ranger -- just to make it a little more interesting -- although given the heavily armored look of the characters, it probably wouldn't be possible to fit him into the existing body mold format. A shame.

Meanwhile, the 15th Anniversary WILD FORCE RED RANGER, as well as all of his counterparts, definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!