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By Thomas Wheeler

Every year, the popular POWER RANGERS concept undergoes an overhaul. Generally speaking, a small trickle of new merchandise will work its way into the stores just prior to Christmas. Well, this year, somebody at Bandai let loose a whole lot more than a trickle, and most of it flooded the action figure section at Wal-Mart, although a fair amount turned up at Toys "R" Us and Target, as well.

The newest Power Rangers concept is called "POWER RANGERS NINJA STORM". The name makes sense if you consider the fact that those who follow the Power Rangers world more directly from its Japanese origin have been translating the name as "HurriRangers" or "Hurricane Rangers" for the past year. Japan is always one year ahead of the United States in Power Rangers.

There's an interesting twist in this year's concept, though. Two of the Rangers start out as bad guys, although I suspect they reform relatively quickly. The three basic Rangers bear the colors of Red, Yellow, and Blue. The two "bad guys" are officially listed as "Crimson" and "Navy", although they have been called "Dark Red" and "Dark Blue" by the same people who have been calling the concept "HurriRangers".

As always, there's a sixth Ranger who comes along later. This year, he's dressed in Green, and is called the Green Samurai Ranger. The three heroic Rangers are designated Red Wind, Yellow Wind, and Blue Wind. This, I'll admit, could make for some really bad jokes, but I try to keep this a family-friendly column. The three temporarily-villainous Rangers are officially designated Crimson Thunder and Navy Thunder.

The amount of merchandise already available is truly staggering. The five basic Rangers are already available on card, in nicely detailed, well-articulated figures that have a light-up feature in their chests and helmets. How effective are these? Set one off in a dark room and you could practically read by it. I may sell some of my flashlights.

All six Rangers are available with their basic vehicles, which are called Tsunami Cycles. The cycles are fancy and sleek, but the Rangers that come with these are a little bulkier and not as evenly proportioned as the basic carded figures. I wasn't quite as impressed with them. But the bikes are very cool, no question there whatsoever.

Add to this a host of assorted Zords, transforming Power Rangers, and a variety of actual villains (the only names I have offhand are Zurgane, Kelzak, and Kelzak Fury -- these latter two having faces that look like somebody stuffed Darth Maul's mug in a mix-master), and it looks like Bandai's popular POWER RANGERS have an excellent chance of capturing kids' hearts and their parents' dollars well into 2003.

And, overall, although I am not especially into the Power Rangers concept, I have to give Bandai credit for once again turning out a large line of really good quality, well-designed, nicely-articulated action figures. And isn't that really what it's all about in the toy world?