Power Rangers Beast Morphers returns to finish its run this weekend (though it’s already aired abroad). And the cast for the upcoming Power Rangers Dino Fury has already been spoiled and will be formally announced soon.
And yet, I find myself not caring about either bit of Power Ranger happenings.
I’ve downloaded the Beast Morphers episodes that have already aired, yet I’m in no rush to watch them. Unlike certain other series, I have no problem being spoiled about Power Rangers and have already read what happens and what “surprises” are in store for the final episodes. The supposed cast of Dino Fury was spoiled and I responded with a shrug.
So what’s up? It feels like the days where I’d be anxiously awaiting the next season’s title or being excited about a Sudarso brother getting cast as a Ranger are long gone.
To be honest, I’ve arrived at the point where I thank Disney for not only producing some of my favorite seasons of the franchise, but for nearly killing it. I thank Disney for the horrific experiment that was the reversion of Mighty Morphin. Because if that never happened, I probably would have never given Sentai a try.
David J. Fielding (MMPR’s Zordon) recently tweeted this:
Power Rangers is a gateway to (dare I say it) other/better Sentai https://t.co/JKl1UEhHAI
— DJFielding (Zordon) (@DavidJFielding) August 9, 2020
“Power Rangers is a gateway to (dare I say it) other/better Sentai”
And indeed, Disney’s apathy to Power Rangers ten years ago is what led me to finally leaping into the world of Super Sentai. And in turn, Super Sentai ended up being my gateway to the even crazier world of Kamen Rider.
Perhaps that’s what it is. I am now apathetic to the Power Rangers franchise.
I am upfront in admitting that I have grown to prefer Super Sentai to Power Rangers. And I sometimes joke that I am now a “Sentai Snob” after having been a “Power Rangers Snob” in a past life. But this isn’t really a Sentai vs Power Rangers debate. When originally, I would be overly concerned with how a Sentai season would be adapted to Power Rangers, now I could care less. When in the past I would be so annoyed that a Sentai season wouldn’t get adapted to Power Rangers, now I might even be relieved.
Or when there once was a time that I’d be upset that a horrible Power Rangers season poorly adapted its Sentai counterpart, I now just choose to pretend the Power Rangers season doesn’t exist and return to enjoying the original instead.
Now in reality, those changes in attitude are actually bits of reasonable thought. (Something that may or may not always be present in the Power Rangers or any toku fandom, to be honest.) But for me, I find that lack of passion (however baseless or unreasonable those impassioned opinions may have been) as a sign of my growing apathy.
And I think what’s led to my Power Rangers apathy is more a bit of frustration. Frustration that such a rich and vibrant intellectual property like Power Rangers, which has a lot of untapped potential, is languishing with seemingly no one currently in charge (or previously in charge) knowing what the hell to do with it. Or understanding what long-time fans may have problems with.
In a fascinating interview by Den of Geek with new Power Rangers showrunner Simon Bennett recently, a few of the challenges the franchise has were excellently highlighted.
The Target Audience
Naturally, Power Rangers should adapt the Sentai source material rather than directly translate it. (See: Power Rangers Samurai.) And there’s been criticism of how that is done, especially since Saban Brands regained control of the franchise.
But something that has become vividly clear over the years (and as Simon Bennett points out in the interview), there are clear, distinct differences between the United States and Japan. That is, what works and is acceptable for Japanese Sunday morning television likely would not fly here in the United States. What people of all ages in Japan can like and enjoy in a simple tokusatsu show may not be as appealing to similarly aged people in the United States or any western country that Power Rangers may air in.
Some point to Sentai being “darker” or “more mature” than Power Rangers. And in some ways that is true. But that doesn’t mean that it’s doom and gloom every week. Sentai absolutely features lowbrow jokes and yes, a fart joke once in a while. But what Sentai has always been able to do is to balance simple laughs with actual plot. Stories that, when followed from Episode 1 to the end, can be engaging, meaningful and resonant.
While Super Sentai (or Kamen Rider) can prominently feature such themes as death, war and even suicide alongside the colorful rubber monsters or talking robots, Power Rangers wouldn’t be able to do such things. That said, most fans aren’t looking for Power Rangers to tackle such heavy topics like that. While some fans talk about wanting some sort of grim!dark version of Power Rangers, most fans understand the limitations of the franchise and the oft-mentioned “target audience.” RPM, perhaps, offered a blueprint for a child friendly post-apocalyptic wasteland, for example.
Bennett points out that the series is targeted toward “two-to-six year olds.” For anyone watching the show in the last decade, that might be painfully obvious.
When someone may point out the show’s overly childish plots, a common reply is “Remember, this is a kids show!” But there’s no reason a show targeted toward pre-schoolers can’t appeal to an audience beyond that demographic. Especially in a day and age when both children and adults can get excited over properties as opposite as My Little Pony or the next Marvel blockbuster. Or an animated Star Wars series and a Michael Bay-directed Transformers extravaganza.
(First of all, it’s a wonder how much money Transformers toys bring in when the movies are certainly not too suitable for the young kids those toys are being marketed to. But that’s a whole other discussion.)
You do see other children’s programs engaging in topical discussions, in many different ways. But let’s just set that aside and take it even more simply.
Bennett says “there’s always been a directive that episodes of Power Rangers have to work on a standalone basis.” And that “there’s not a huge appetite for serial threads.” He adds that writers try to sneak in “Easter eggs” for people who watch the episodes “in sequence.”
I believe that’s a problem.
Other than a basic single thread that runs through a season, there has been no sense of a solid, well-planned out story or vision in the most recent seasons. Something that was the norm over a decade ago. And interestingly enough, those seasons were crafted while the Sentai season they would be using footage from hadn’t even completed filming yet. Thus, the Power Rangers team would actually have to develop a story without knowing what would be ahead. They’d just have to adjust to whatever Sentai footage would appear later in the season. And yet, those seasons were still able to craft full, complete stories that build up to truly climactic finishes and fulfilling viewing experiences.
I assume the argument against that is pre-school children don’t have the attention span or mental capacity to consume serialized stories on television. That is even though we are in a time when streaming services have become so common in households with children that they consume and binge watch a wide array of children’s programs, serialized or not, every day.
This perhaps partly explains the increasing number of standalone episodes that end up relying more on condescending lectures rather than relatable moral lessons using well-developed and well-rounded characters. But it appears that Power Rangers seems to stubbornly misunderstand today’s children. And it’s a criticism that’s been talked about in the fandom for years.
You’d think in 2020, Hasbro would understand what kids are looking for and can enjoy. And yet despite the shift from Saban Brands who wanted to keep living in 1993, Hasbro appears to still adhere to an antiquated view of what Power Rangers can be. It really is fascinating to wonder how the franchise took steps backward instead of forward.
Children consume so much content these days. And it appears people in charge of Power Rangers do not understand that kids these days are the not the same as the kids from 1993. Kids are looking for more than just fart jokes.
And I do acknowledge, repeatedly harping on whole episodes surrounding bowel movements is as annoying as Ressha Sentai ToQger antis repeatedly pointing to that ONE scene of a protruding train. But with ToQger, that one scene is not representative of the entire season. Whereas fart jokes, contrived slapstick, condescendingly dumbed down dialogue and pretentious moral lessons are absolutely representative of every season since Power Rangers Samurai. And increasingly so.
When comparing to other shows that are geared toward the same apparent demographic, it’s a wonder how Power Rangers, an action-adventure television show that markets action figures and plastic weapons, puts the least amount of effort in its action and adventure. I think you’ve got a problem when shows feature a ten-year-old girl with more dangerous adventures accompanied by her monkey friend or canine emergency personnel facing bigger threats than a team of superheroes trying to save the world.
Selling toys and merchandise is the main money maker for the Power Rangers franchise. It’s not like they’re drawing in huge ad revenue with their meager ratings on television, after all. But a good TV show vis-à-vis 30-minute commercial helps drive those sales of toys. And a good TV show that can drive discussion from kids young and old raises awareness of the show, thus upping the potential for more moneys coming from the plastic action figures and toy weapons.
The television series really is treated as the half-hour toy commercial that it’s always been. The difference is in the past, the toy commercials actually had a good story you could follow for 30 to 40 episodes. Now, they really do just exist to sell action figures. Though I’m not sure how a slow, boring fight scene could really excite a little boy or girl enough to ask their parents to buy them one of those toys.
But what is a 30-year-old guy like me who still watches Power Rangers actually looking for?
And I’d like to point out, I am a Power Rangers fan (well, maybe not of recent seasons) that has watched almost nonstop since 2002. I know that Power Rangers is far more than just Mighty Morphin. I’m not one of those “MMPRONLY!!!11!!!!” fans who refuse to acknowledge anything that came after. Or some hipster that merely regards Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as some antique relic that gives them quirky points.
I still watch Power Rangers (for how much longer?) because I just want a simple, good entertainment experience from a brand that I’ve grown up with and have invested a lot of time in. It doesn’t matter who it’s geared towards. If it’s enjoyable and entertaining, then what’s the harm. But there’s also no harm in seeking more out of it. There’s no harm in wishing that Power Rangers did better. And that is with everything from better characters to better actors to better writing to better production. Power Rangers doesn’t have to only be quick laughs and gags. Or heavy-handed lectures. Or lack actual action and excitement.
Perhaps the most eye-opening section of the Den of Geek interview with Simon Bennett is where he is asked about balancing the show between the two audiences: the two to six-year-olds and the adult fans. And if the show just focuses more on the kids. Bennett’s response is most frustrating. Here it is quoted to fully understand what he says:
It’s tricky. It really is a challenge because you don’t want to neglect the adult fans either because they are an important and loyal part of the audience for the show. They’re also a very vocal audience because they make their opinions known loudly and clearly online, particularly. I’ve worked on other long running TV shows and I think it’s true to say that the fandom always holds the earlier episodes with a huge amount of fondness and nostalgia because it was when they first fell in love with the show and they were watching it as a kid. It’s a bit like a relationship. You look back on the honeymoon phase with a huge amount of affection and with rose-tinted spectacles, and I think that’s the case with any long-running TV show. And you do learn to accept that, however inventive you might be, whatever great ideas you think up and how modern and exciting you are? You’re unlikely to be able to measure up to the golden memories that a lot of the super fans actually have.
That’s just a given. Having said that, we always try and reward the loyal, long-standing audience members with some things that are only going to mean anything to them. They won’t mean much to the younger audience who are only watching the show for the first time but it’s a juggling act. It always is. The writers here in New Zealand, they are probably of a similar age to a lot of the long running fans and they are fans of the show themselves and they loved the canon lore. We’re always trying to throw in rewards for people who have been long running fans of the show.
-Simon Bennett to Den of Geek
Let’s unpack that. Now remember, the question asked how do they balance the show for the two audiences, the target two to six-year-old demo and the adult fans.
He is essentially implying that adult fans are merely looking to relive the nostalgia of their childhoods. That, in comparison to a relationship, adult fans have such a huge amount of affection for the “earlier episodes” (we assume referring to Mighty Morphin). That because those fans look at those “earlier episodes” through “rose-tinted spectacles,” nothing they do now will ever “measure up to the golden memories that a lot of the super fans actually have.”
We must point out that he says “a lot of” and not “all” fans. But I would argue that it’s not even “a lot.” I again would wager that as fond as people are for Mighty Morphin, there are just as many who are fond of other seasons. Or people (like myself) who could actually care less about Mighty Morphin and even some who are just annoyed by it now because of the incessant focus on those “earlier episodes.”
I’m starting to realize perhaps the people in charge from Saban Brands and now Hasbro believe catering to those people who see the “earlier episodes” through those rose-tinted glasses is the way to maximize profit. When I would guess there are far more dedicated fans who spend much more money on Power Rangers that don’t set the “earlier episodes” on some high pedestal.
Aside from the target demo, they seem to be chasing the casual Power Rangers fan who watched only back in the early 1990s when they were two to six-years-old instead of the loyal Power Rangers fan who has been watching since they were two to six-years-old. And the latter being far greater in number and with far larger financial investment in the franchise over the years.
Bennett goes on to say that they reward that aforementioned “loyal” audience with “things that are only going to mean anything to them,” but would mean nothing to “the younger audience who are only watching the show for the first time.” I think some will agree that that is not what “super fans” are looking for at all when watching Power Rangers. There is absolutely a section of the adult audience of Power Rangers that want callbacks to previous seasons or the “canon lore” as much as possible.
But I think some would agree that older, adult fans just want a good show. Period. I would bet if you ask any one of those fans to choose between a really bad season that has as much nostalgia and Easter eggs as possible or a really good PR season with no mention of past seasons at all, the majority of them would choose the latter. It’s obviously not an either/or choice. But the basic implication in Bennett’s answer is that the adult “super fans” and “long running fans of the show” only care about so-called “nostalgia,” when in reality that is not the case. At all.
My understanding of the question, which comes a few questions after one about all the fart jokes, is basically asking how they balance a show geared towards pre-school kids while still being enjoyable and entertaining to the adult fans who continue to watch and support the show. Can Power Rangers be accessible to both preschoolers and long-time adult fans? Absolutely! Do the people in charge of Power Rangers understand that or even acknowledge that possibility? I don’t think so.
Now I don’t want this to seem like some kind of attack on Simon Bennett who has only just been put in charge of the franchise. Indeed, you can get a sense that he, like many creatives in charge of the franchise before him, have their hands tied with what they can do with the series, for whatever reason.
But this is more about the state of the franchise and what’s led up to this point. It’s not as if anything Simon Bennett says in this interview, including that eye-opening section about supposedly nostalgic super-fans and their rose-colored glasses, is new or surprising. In fact, anyone really looking at the trajectory of the franchise over the last decade could see the writing on the wall. The sentiments expressed by Simon Bennett in the interview have been obvious.
But there was some hope that the new owners of the franchise could somehow right the ship and get it back on course. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear they see any need for course correction in the slightest.
What exactly is a “good show” anyway? For starters, it’s one that doesn’t devote whole episodes to farts and bowel movements. But really, it’s very simple. A good, compelling story. Well-developed characters who don’t just read off scripts from 1990s after school specials. Actual, exciting action. And dialogue that doesn’t make even two to six-year-olds feel dumb.
I’ll close with what’s next for me as a “fan” of Power Rangers.
But first, what’s next for the franchise itself?
As someone who actually didn’t care for the 2017 film, the news of a possible reboot of the reboot was interesting. Especially when it appeared the new film would essentially have a clean slate and ignore the polarizing 2017 film. But until there’s anything definite about it in terms of story and characters, we can only hope that they do things better. There’s some positive things to take away from the 2017 film. But there’s more to learn from and change for the better as well.
There was also recent talk of Hasbro ending its partnership with Toei. Does that mean no more live-action TV show? Will Hasbro go the animated-route, thus not need Toei any longer? Could they just focus on other media, including the film instead? Maybe they’ll continue the live-action series with all-original Rangers. (Unlikely considering the cost.)
Again, this whole essay is about my growing apathy to Power Rangers. Though I certainly cared enough to write it. But a film reboot of the film reboot? Okay, sure. No more Toei for Power Rangers meaning the show could possibly end in 2021? Meh.
Obviously, there’s still plenty of fans. And that includes fans who are still sincerely excited about all the new content that’s being produced. As well as fans who hold on to the memories of past favorites.
In a hyper-connected world, it’s great that we are able to enjoy entertainment from around the globe. Needless to say, I’ve been far more enamored, excited and happily shocked by both Super Sentai and Kamen Rider the last ten years than I’ve been from anything churned out by Saban Brands and now Hasbro’s version of Power Rangers.
Sentai and Kamen Rider are essentially the same product, but better. Better stories. Better action. Better actors. And maybe more importantly, I don’t feel dumber after watching an episode. Yet, they can both still be fun and silly as well. I just don’t feel like laboring through a Power Rangers episode in 2020. While on the contrary, I absolutely can’t wait for the next Sentai or Kamen Rider episode.
And despite Power Rangers being one of the most consistently diverse series on American television, as an Asian-American, there’s the extra connection of seeing people who look like me and share a similar culture as heroes in the two Japanese series. So that’s just another plus on the list.
I’ve longed hoped for a Power Rangers (series or theatrical release) that stays true to the basic premise of a team of heroes in spandex saving the world while also being interesting, exciting and appealing and accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
Even if that were to actually, finally happen, I’m not sure I’d be all that interested. I don’t know that I will ever be as excited and as invested in the franchise as I once was. A few years ago, I might think that was a sad prospect to consider.