What’s Wrong (and Right?) with Power Rangers Samurai?

With Power Rangers Samurai finally returning with new episodes (for better or worse) this weekend, let’s take a look at the series highlights (and plenty of lowlights) so far, and why the season has drawn plenty of comments from both ends of the spectrum.

High Expectations?
Did many Power Rangers fans have high expectations? I know I certainly did. I expected another RPM. Not so much a post-apocalyptic epic, but a season with ambitious and well executed writing and a very talented cast.

But instead, we get transported back to 1993 when children and youth programming were completely different. Apparently, Saban had issued the directive saying Power Rangers needed to go back to being Mighty Morphin in every way possible. (Not in those words exactly… maybe.)

And while Mighty Morphin was awesome in the early 90s, it might not be all that awesome in 2011. It is actually almost like 14 or 15 steps back. All these years of creative forward progress set aside for nostalgia. But nostalgia doesn’t automatically equal good. Especially when…

The Shinkenger Factor
Power Rangers Samurai is basically a word-for-word translation of Samurai Sentai Shinkenger scripts.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Shinkenger was an exciting, successful, well-written series.

But that is a bad thing when Power Rangers doesn’t adapt the scripts to have them fit an American audience and more importantly, fit Power Rangers.

While the episodes, the stories and the plot are direct translations, the characters actually are not. Jayden and Takeru may share a last name, but the comparisons end there. Ryunnosuke is an animated, sometimes over the top, by the book Kabuki performer. Kevin is a boring stiff. Kotoha is a naïve country bumpkin. Emily is 5 years old.

So when you have the Power Ranger actors reading scripts written for the Sentai characters, you’re going to run into some bumps. And forget continuity, you’re getting character quirks and Sentai-isms nonsensically thrown into Power Rangers Samurai only because they were already in the script and not because, “Mike is so much like Chiaki that there is no need to change this line or direction.”

Again, there’s no problem directly translating the Sentai material, but when you keep the wrong things and leave out the right things, it’s not going to come out well. (And then throw in a barrage of puns? Ouch!)

Now Power Rangers Samurai may be word for word and frame for frame, but it certainly is not talent for talent with Shinkenger.

Acting?
They may be a very likeable cast, but as actors trying to bring these characters to life, it isn’t working. And it isn’t even all their fault really since the writing certainly doesn’t help. Even the best actors would have a hard time making this writing work.

But everything feels forced and lifeless, like they are basically reciting lines, reading from a book. Throw in lines here and there that were written for completely different characters from their own and you’re bound to see them stumble. It’s not like Power Rangers needs Oscar worthy actors. But at the very least, the show needs actors who can put some life into these characters. Otherwise, why have them be unmorphed at all when you could find voice actors eh?

And criticize Disney’s non-American casting, but we’ve had plenty of talented and some of the best Power Rangers actors ever come from down under. Sooo… there’s that.

Even 5 Year Olds Don’t Like Getting Talked Down To
On its own, Samurai has its flaws. The scripts are almost word for word from across the Pacific. And whether it’s the direct translations or the Americanization of the lines, the dialogue has become overly simple and expositional.

While this kind of writing may have worked in 1993, it is not going to fly in 2011. Entertainment for kids today is far different from entertainment for kids in the 90s and kids don’t need to be spoon fed anymore.

Five year olds these days are much more… what’s the word, savvy I guess. Samurai‘s simplicity can be a turn off for audiences of all ages. Children’s programming doesn’t have to only be for children anymore.

Comedy’s Hard
And that couldn’t be any more evident than on Samurai. The puns! The puns!!

Puns =/= Funny

And when you’re dropping them every other second, they’re going to get old fast. It’s hard to think anyone of any age would find these characters tripping over puns funny.

Then there’s Bulk and Spike, the “comic” relief who are most of time, anything but. It’s part of that “We’re in 1993” directive from Saban, trying to recapture everything Mighty Morphin, but Bulk and Spike come off as forced and shoehorned into each episode.

Plus, Paul Schrier totally deserves better than a Bulk that makes first season Bulk seem mature by comparison.

Nickelodeon’s Erratic Scheduling
Nickelodeon is notorious for its erratic scheduling. Even its most popular shows like iCarly and Spongebob take anywhere from a week to a few months break between episodes.

While that may be fine for those shows, for a highly serialized show like Power Rangers, not so much.

This four month hiatus has been annoying. For some, it’s because they want to just get Samurai over with and it’s just prolonging the agony.

For others, they’re not used to these long breaks between new episodes. It also pretty much halts the strong momentum Samurai has shown ratings-wise in spite of itself.

But probably the biggest downside to the erratic scheduling is that Samurai may bleed well into 2012 (or worse), delaying the next season of Power Rangers, its adaptation of Tensou Sentai Goseiger.

That pushes everything back after the once-a-year schedule for Power Rangers we’ve all been used to, including the very much anticipated 20th anniversary season.

It’ll also cause Power Rangers to be years behind the Sentai seasons they’ll adapt.

Is There ANYTHING Positive?
Definitely. Power Rangers is still alive. Maybe not on life support so much as in rehab. So that means Power Rangers can still change and improve.

The High Definition has also been a long time coming too. The show, visually, looks nice and fresh which definitely helps when everything else isn’t up to snuff.

And… well… Nickelodeon’s done a good job of promoting the show, despite the scheduling which could be Saban’s own fault as much as Nickelodoen’s.

Now, I actually do think this is all nitpicking. And thanks to Power Rangers Samurai, I’ve now become one of those “Sentai is superior to Power Rangers, period, end of the story” fans.
But why not just enjoy the show? The “target audience” doesn’t care about any of this. The “target audience” doesn’t care about Sentai. Power Rangers is a kid’s show! But a “kid’s show” doesn’t have to lack effort and intelligence. (Though that is a discussion saved for a whole other post.)


Power Rangers is on DVD!
Want to own Power Rangers Samurai? The entire season available at
.

And you can finally own the first seven seasons of Power Rangers, from Mighty Morphin to Lost Galaxy by ordering now:

0 thoughts on “What’s Wrong (and Right?) with Power Rangers Samurai?

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your post. It’s like you read my mind and took the thoughts I’ve been having about this season and the show as a whole. I, too, expected something just as good, if not better, than RPM (one of the best PR seasons, if not the best, in my opinion). Samurai has been disappointing for me as well.

    I understand Saban Brands’s reasons for executing the show in this way. It’s working for them in terms of finances and ratings, but quality suffers as a result.

    I also understand the whole “it’s just a kids’ show” mentality, but it doesn’t mean that PR should be dumbed down to that kind of mentality. Even if I didn’t know that I’m watching a show directly translated from another source like Shinkenger, I still feel that Samurai lacks something essential to the story just by watching it.

    And who says children’s programming can’t be smart? Let’s take RPM as an example: brilliant writing, strong story arcs, amazing characters, balanced humor, and a very talented cast. I’d rather much have the occasional NZ accent slippage from a strong actor like Olivia Tennet, who was otherwise spot-on as Dr. K, than the cringeworthy delivery of someone like, say, Najee De-Tiege, who makes Kevin come across as whiny.

    I will still watch the show to see if the quality improves, and also because I’m looking forward to how they will handle the upcoming RPM/Samurai crossover. I have my concerns about that as well, but that’s another post for another time.

    By the way, I love your blog and commentary on the PR episodes.

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