Commentary: On Amit Bhaumik's Power Rangers Samurai – What Could Have Been

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Back when Power Rangers was on its deathbed, fans were thinking that maybe part of the reason was Disney just didn’t want to go through the trouble of adapting the very-Japanese Samurai Sentai Shinkenger for American and international audiences.

It’d be an impossible task, they said. It’d be too hard, they said. Why bother? they said.

But really, anything is possible, even adapting a heavily Japanese story as long as you have creative and willing people to do it. They’d find a way.

Little did anyone know, turning Shinkenger into Power Rangers Samurai was as easy as plugging the original Japanese scripts into Google Translate and filming them.

Now there’s no need to reiterate how disappointed I was with Samurai, since I already wrote about it here and in pretty much every episode recap of the season(s).

But looking back, I will say Samurai was such a wasted opportunity. Being a direct translation wasn’t the problem, it was being a bad direct translation. It all could’ve been just fine with some tweaks here and there, but instead, it turned into a horribly dumbed down version of the original.

At the same time, I’m starting to look at Samurai in a more positive light compared to the current Megaforce. You could pass off Samurai being inadequate as a result of translating episode-for-episode. So what’s Megaforce‘s excuse?

But that’s a topic for another day.

What brings me back to Samurai though almost a year after it ended is my just reading of Amit Bhaumik’s original proposal/plan for the season he had posted in August. (Thanks for the heads up @FalconFlyer1!)

Amit Bhaumik is a writer who has worked on Power Rangers and maybe most notably, the writer of the Wild Force episode “Forever Red.” I’m sure you’ve heard of it. You might have also heard of “Hexagon.”

Anyway, Bhaumik was approached to possibly help adapt Shinkenger. So he watched the Sentai series and drafted a rough draft of how a Samurai-themed season of Power Rangers based on Shinkenger could play out.

Overall, Bhaumik’s idea is interesting. An original and fresh, though darker, take on the Shinkenger story. On paper, it definitely feels a lot more exciting than what we actually got. But also, it shows how a little effort and creativity can bring about something even a little more worthwhile.

Of course, everything looks good on paper. And who knows if any of this would’ve been brought to life with any success. But let’s pick at some parts of Bhaumik’s outline to see why, at the very least, some fans would’ve preferred this vision over what Samurai eventually became.

Now, when fans were talking about how hard it’d be to adapt Shinkenger, I thought of a simple and very basic idea to at least start with. How about this?

A group of high school students are in a Japanese language class or in the Japanese club. Maybe they’re all part of a dojo together. When the Gedoushu attack their city, their teacher or sensei recruits them to become the Samurai Rangers.

You could throw in the Red Ranger actually being the descendent of ancient warriors and all the samurai history and as much providence authorization you want too.

Pretty simple, yes?

But definitely not as intriguing as Amit Bhaumik’s ideas.

First, keeping Takeru/Mark (and Keiji) Japanese. There was really no reason not to cast an Asian actor as the Red Ranger. That they kept the bloodline aspect of Takeru’s character when writing Jayden, it simply came off as lazy and unbelievable.

Amit Bhaumik writing a brand new backstory for Takeru/Mark and Juzo/Keiji and using the truly Japanese elements of the story add depth and importance to the eventual duels both would have.

Now Samurai did try some original-to-Power Rangers touches. Not all successful, of course. But one of the few that actually worked (mostly) was the tweaking and meshing of Juzo and Dayu’s backstory for Deker and American Dayu. It may have been a soapy cliche, but it worked and was better than anything else they gave us. While they absolutely botched the ending to their story, overall, it was one of the few bright spots of Samurai and one I can’t really knock or wish was different.

But the Keiji story definitely presents more possibilities, both for the Rangers’ story as well as the Gedoushu’s development as villains.

When it comes to characters, Bhaumik’s Samurai Rangers keep a lot of the Shinkenger traits without being direct translations. One of the biggest problems with Samurai was that they kept picking and choosing which character traits to transfer over from Shinkenger which ultimately made them inconsistently confusing.

Bhaumik’s villains, the Ashura Clan, are definitely on the darker and more ruthless side of the spectrum. Instead of Octoroo the buffoon, there’s Octomancer, the wise elder statesman. Instead of duel-hungry and aloof Deker, we have vengeful and prideful Keiji.

The Gedoushu in Shinkenger were similarly evil and therefore great antagonists. The Nighloks, however, were bumbling idiots who loved to swim in puns. No question I prefer the Ashura Clan over the Nighloks. The more serious mission and the Mark/Keiji rivalry and secret past alone would have made for an excitingly dramatic season.

Throw in making Allison (Kaoru/Lauren) the permanent Red Samurai Ranger and you’ve got an exciting and fresh jolt into what many have said has been a formulaic franchise.

Now other than the Deker and Dayu romance, the only other major Samurai-only story was the introduction of Bulk and Spike. And to be honest, they were a complete waste of time. It was part of the Saban mandate for 1993-style slaptick and comedy to get rid of the bad taste of the doom and gloom of Disney as well as to use nostalgia to bring now-adult fans back to the franchise.

The only problem is they weren’t funny. And nothing they did was ever diurectly related to the Rangers save for two random episodes.

In Bhaumik’s alternate Samurai universe, Bulk and Spike (or Junior here) were very much integrated into the story. Bulk being a pseudo mentor and his son (!) Junior eventually becoming a Ranger is a much better nod to, not only Power Rangers history, but Bulk’s own history and place in the Power Rangers franchise. And it would have made for a better and more enjoyable display of nostalgia. Even myself, who doesn’t put Mighty Morphin on a high pedastal would have loved the nice little bit of nostalgia. And story-wise, it would have been more enjoyable. Even if they kept the comedy and slapstick of the eventual Bulk and Spike characters.

Like some fans put MMPR on a pedestal, I put RPM on a pedestal. And I would take Bhaumik’s story and give it the RPM treatment; a season that balances the darker elements with more lighthearted comedy. The feeling that there is an evil force out there, but that hope is not lost. That the Rangers’ mission was a serious one and for some, even personal.

This treatment of the story actually feels a lot like the Disney Era seasons with a few similarities. And despite what Saban Brands says, the Disney seasons were not doom and gloom and dark [/paraphrasing]. You’ve got a little bit of Jungle Fury with Jarrod being comrades of the Rangers before becoming Dai Shi’s host and turning to the dark side. You’ve got a little bit of Operation Overdrive‘s global Rangers with the team coming together from all parts of the world.

But overall, you’ve got a balance of childish comedy and action and adventure that the franchise had worked to develop the last, at least, 15 years. A balance that didn’t ignore the franchise’s target audience, but also didn’t ignore basic storytelling conventions like character development and, well, plot.

The biggest thing about Amit Bhaumik’s treatment for Samurai was that it was modern and caters to the contemporary audience. Again, the youngins today are much more sophisticated than when we were youngins in the early 90s. Kids don’t have to be talked down to. And just because it’s a “kids” program, doesn’t mean it has to be a chore for kids of all ages to watch and enjoy as well.

While it doesn’t seem Saban Brands is going to change their way any time soon, reading something like Bhaumik’s idea and the ideas of many a Power Rangers fan from around the world (as well as Super Sentai chugging along as well) just make the experience that was Samurai and Super Samurai all the more disappointing. Megaforce is quickly following in its footsteps too. There’s nothing wrong with asking “What could have been?” Just as there’s nothing wrong with dreaming about “What can be…”. But what is definitely certain is that with just a little more effort, Power Rangers can truly be something good. (Let’s aim for “good” first.) Something you can call “morphenomenal” and actually mean it.

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