My love affair with the Power Rangers began when the show debuted in the US in 1993. The first and arguably still the most popular iteration, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, began airing when I was a freshman in college. Despite being aimed at adolescents, my friends and I found a lot to love about this goofy kids show. In the pre-everything-is-available-on-the-internet days of the 90s, it was hard to get a fix of kaiju or tokusatsu culture. I had a few reliable hookups for bootleg Godzilla and Gamera VHS dubs, but they were prohibitively expensive and few and far between. Anime was just beginning to surge and to become available Stateside, but was also extremely pricey and hard to pin down in small town USA. So the Power Rangers became for us a candy-colored life preserver tossed into an ocean of cultural despair. Sure, the storylines were less sophisticated than even the dumbest episode of Saved By The Bell and the acting was more wooden than grandma’s coffee table, but there were giant robots fighting giant monsters so we were willing to overlook a few glaring flaws. And it probably didn’t hurt that we were often stoned out of our minds. We even went to see Power Rangers: The Movie in the theater: A half-dozen half-baked wannabe otaku giggling and clapping and cheering our way through a 9:45pm showing at the mall Cineplex. It felt like the closest I would ever come to seeing a live-action Battle of the Planets/Gatchaman (which, holy shit, that’s actually a thing we get to see this year!) and I loved every over-the-top minute of it. While it wasn’t quite Kamen Rider or Ultraman or even Super Sentai, (the Japanese series from which Power Rangers was born) it was enough. I remember reading an interview with Haim Saban at the time in which he claimed to have a large enough surplus of Super Sentai footage to keep Power Rangers going for a decade. The thought wowed me. I couldn’t even imagine my life that far into the future, much less what would become of the Power Rangers. And here we are, now celebrating not 10 but 20 years of the franchise in the US. In conjunction with the anniversary, Shout! Factory and Saban Brands have answered fan’s prayers with DVD box-set releases of the consecutive seasons, culminating here in the most recent release; Seasons 13-17. These five iterations of the Power Rangers were new to me, I lost the thread a couple seasons after Mighty Morphin’ became Alien Rangers, and it was with a certain nostalgic glee that I ripped into them. What I found was both comforting in its familiarity and radically altered from my early fandom. For those that don’t know or who may only have been acquainted with the show’s first few seasons, each season typically reboots the entire franchise with a new cast, setting, premise and characters. Sometimes these threads are connected to an ongoing continuity, sometimes they seem to exist largely on their own with only loose connection to previous or upcoming seasons. This has the advantage of keeping the show fresh and allowing the creators to explore multiple genres within the same basic premise. I imagine it also does wonders for the marketing and merchandising push to be able to hock brand new products every year. Over the five seasons contained in this set, I found some of the concepts worked better than others. I’ll lay them out for you in order, then offer some overview as well as a discussion of the special features included in the set. Fans who already know the drill are welcome to skip ahead. Season 13 – Power Rangers S.P.D. S.P.D. stands for “Space Patrol Delta.” Set in 2025, the Earth has become a haven for hundreds of alien races. Peace is kept by the S.P.D. — essentially space cops — and the story here focuses on B-Squad, the rung of law enforcement just below A-Squad/Power Ranger level. B-Squad consists of three cadets who all possess strange superhuman powers which they regularly employ in their duties as police. It’s a nice superhero-esque twist that plays into a larger ongoing story element developed throughout the season. It’s not long before the three cadets meet their match in the form of two super-powered thieves pulling a Robin Hood routine to help feed the poor. Since this is a kid’s show and not The Wire, the two groups eventually learn to work together, and the two thieves are promoted to cadet status. Meanwhile, the season’s Big Bad has revealed himself and the Chief has dispatched the A-Squad/Power Rangers through a wormhole to duke it out with him somewhere out in space. I should mention at this point that the space cop Chief is an anthropomorphic reptilian dog creature from the Sirius system (home of the Dog Star, wink wink) named Anubis “Doggie” Cruger. His assistant and the team’s technology specialist is a female mostly human cat hybrid named Dr. Katherine “Kat” Manx. So yeah, cats and dogs, working together, running shit. Anyway, they lose touch with A-Squad and it’s necessary for B-Squad to step up and take the Power Ranger mantle. The Ranger costumes are easily identified as such, with their bright primary colors and full-helmeted visages. Instead of being assigned a corresponding animal spirit, the S.P.D. Rangers are simply given numbers 1-5, and primarily rely on their weaponry, Zords and innate powers to distinguish themselves from one another. Further extending the cop theme, they whip out their badge-encrusted morphers to suit up, and when they are in the midst of defeating a threat they employ their badge device to determine whether the culprit is guilty or innocent before delivering (or not delivering) the knockout blow. Bad guys are then “contained” in an easily stored cartridge for transport. These cartridges look suspiciously like trading cards, which I’m sure had some corresponding merchandise. The Zords are all futuristic emergency vehicles, replete with flashing red lights, that combine into a very cop-looking Megazord. The Megazord has a Robocop-inspired thigh-deployed blaster pistol that it puts away with a very Robocop-inspired spinning flourish. There is also the expected giant honking sword to be deployed as needed, and the Megazord also does its own version of the guilty/innocent badge-read before shutting down the giant rampaging monster it has been fighting. The action is well above average, combining solid fight choreography with a kind of poor-man’s-John Woo gunplay-staging for some seriously impressive action sequences. The acting is also above expectation; they really lucked out with this particular cast. Typically, you’re fortunate to have one or two actors at the most who can carry a scene or who seem to have any spark of life whatsoever, but this cast manages 3-4 solid performers. Granted, the material isn’t incredibly dramatically demanding but when you’re hiring your actors based on their ability to believably deliver a round kick, personality is often an afterthought. Of particular note is Brandon Jay McLaren, who plays Jack Landors, the SPD Red Ranger. It’s always refreshing to see a person of color in the leadership role and McLaren brings the right mix of brash, confident and cool to the character. Oh, and the Green Ranger is Jewish. This isn’t a huge story element, but I thought it was kind of cool. Season 14 – Power Rangers Mystic Force One of the wackiest iterations to come down the pipe, Mystic Force jettisons the usual sci-fi roots of the Power Rangers to offer up a, well, mystic explanation for their skills, weapons and powers. It involves bad guys from another dimension breaking into our own to wreak havoc, and the corresponding powers of good from that dimension recruiting teenagers from our dimension to fight back. It all has a very Harry Potter meets Hercules/Xena feel, with cheap fantasy elements filling in for the expected cheap science fiction vibe. The team consists of four friends who all work in a record store together and one dark and mysterious stranger who shows up on his motorcycle just in time to get drawn into the shenanigans. They are all granted magic wands and informed of the need to simply “believe in magic” to activate their powers. In order to hide the wands, which must be kept on them at all times, they are disguised as cell phones to blend in with the “real world.” Spells are activated by inputting a code on the keypad. They even have Mystic Racers they ride around on that convert from brooms into weird rocket-looking speeders. Their outfits have cloaks or capes and are cast in an unusual pastel hue, but otherwise look like you expect them to. Their mentor is basically a witch, accompanied by her bumbling student. The witch has the ability to become a Power Ranger as well and seems to possess most of the powers and abilities associated with being a Ranger. Instead of having vehicle-based Zords, the team transforms into Mystic Titans, creatures drawn from mythology: Minotaur, Phoenix, Mermaid, Pixie and Garuda. The Zords still retain the somewhat monolithic style common to previous iterations, but are less techno-robotic than statuesque. Their Megazord iterations involve combinations of these creatures into gigantic amalgamations of said creatures. There is a particularly dense lore woven into this season of the Power Rangers, and it is one that certain fans appear to be particularly drawn to. The magical parallel dimension offers up a never-ending fountain of backstory and history that belie its mere 32 episode run. The flood of magical whozits and fantasy whatsits can be a bit overwhelming, and when action takes a backseat to exposition of these details, it can become a bit of a drag. The cast and storylines seem a bit overly spunky at times, clashing with the grim darkness so embedded in the “it’s the end of the realm!” fantasy tropes employed. Mystic Force also triples-down on the comic relief, offering one of the Rangers, the witch-mentor’s student and a third character, a “Troblin” (the byproduct of a troll and goblin) up for laughs. It’s really a bit much, and that’s saying something given the discussion we are engaged in here. Season 15 – Power Rangers Operation Overdrive This particular reboot offers up something completely new, a global adventure spin unlike previous iterations. It all starts with a less-than-subtle Indiana Jones homage in which a billionaire adventurer absconds with an ancient crown. Unbeknownst to him, the removal of the crown from its hiding spot awakens two brothers, an evil Ice dude and an evil Fire dude who are bent on stealing the crown back. And there are also jewels that fit in the crown, which have been scattered to the far corners of the Earth. And they need to get those back, so that they can’t be placed into the crown or something really, really bad will happen. To keep things in check, the billionaire adventurer, Andrew Hartford, recruits four highly skilled young people: a cat burglar, a race car driver, a stunt man and a computer hacker to join his team to protect the artifact and help to secure the jewels. Hartford has access to some pretty incredible technology. In addition to the Power Rangers gear, he genetically upgrades each of the members of the team with superhuman abilities. His intention of acting as the fifth Ranger is derailed when his daydreaming goof of a son, Mack, happens to activate the morpher first, bonding it to him irrevocably. Thankfully, after a genetic upgrade, the kid can hold his own amongst the assortment of specialists that make up the rest of the team. His concerns about his ability to lead the team and his desire to please his father remain an undercurrent throughout the season, leading up to a flat-out bizarre revelation about who and what Mack is. The team is ultimately shepherded by Andrew Hartford and his trusty manservant Spencer. Spencer is somehow not only a tech specialist, but a master of disguise, despite his chubby stodginess. He delights in showing up in disguise to assist the Rangers, then offering up a dramatic reveal. It can be a little Mrs. Doubtfire at times. The Rangers are distinguished by their weaponry and Zords, and we find a certain sad desperation here in some of the decisions that have been made to keep things new. The poor Yellow Ranger, a lovely lady race car driver who you would think would have some sleek super-fast Zord or weapon is instead saddled with a Tonka-esque bulldozer as her Zord and weird bulldozer-claw weapons as her accessory in Ranger form. The other Rangers fare slightly better, though the Red Ranger drives a giant dump truck and many of their weapons seem similarly ludicrous to the “Drive Claws” used by the Yellow Ranger. When their rugged adventure/construction vehicles combine into Megazord form, the resulting robot is fairly impressive. Yet, the Megazord’s primary weapons are a shovel and a pickaxe. I’m all for indulging your theme, but the shovel, used to toss giant piles of dirt onto the giant enemy, is just a bit too silly to even be fun. Thankfully, the shovel and pickaxe are easily and quickly combined into a giant sword that proves a more effective weapon all the way around. The main villains are actually quite a bit of fun visually, and I think the evil ice guy, Flurious, has one of my favorite villain designs I’ve yet seen. But I may just be partial to his ice-encrusted handlebar mustache. This season having been filmed in 2006-2007 there is an emphasis on parkour in some of the action scenes. It’s capably handled, as are the fight scenes in general which tend to favor a more wide-angle cinematic take on the action. Also of note, the Black Ranger in this season is actually a black guy, I think the first time that has been the case since the Mighty Morphin’ days. Season 16 – Power Rangers Jungle Fury Jungle Fury is one of the leanest and meanest reboots, centering primarily on only three Rangers through most of its run and placing the focus squarely on martial arts. This season is positively dripping with references to classic kung-fu films and archetypes. The three Rangers and their primary adversary all begin as students of kung-fu at a temple/dojo. It’s not long before we experience the sudden yet inevitable betrayal of the school’s master by his most ambitious and selfish student, which in turn unleashes an ancient evil called Dai-Shi that delivers a killing blow to the master. Dai-Shi inhabits the body of the evil student and runs away to gather his forces, leaving the remaining three students to take one last dying directive from their master, to go and seek a new master and to fight Dai-Shi. That new master turns out to be RJ, the owner and operator of a pizza shop at which the three students now find themselves employed. RJ invokes a kind of stoner zen in his mentoring. Imagine Jeff Spicoli and The Dude meet Mr. Miyagi and the Ninja Turtle’s Michelangelo and you’ve got a pretty good read on him. In addition to being a kung-fu master, RJ is also a bit of a tinkerer. Whether that means he’s whipping up a new weapon to add to the Ranger’s arsenal or adding marshmallows to a pepperoni and sausage pizza, he always seems to be up to something. And this is all before he transforms into a werewolf mid-season. There are many different animal-based kung-fu styles on display, the core characters all initially practice forms based on jungle cats: tiger, cheetah and jaguar. The first group of enemies they encounter are even modeled after The Five Deadly Venoms, dubbed The Five Fingers of Poison, each exhibiting the styles of centipede, gecko, scorpion, toad and cobra. The fight scenes are dramatic and extremely well-executed, some of the best in Power Rangers history. There is a lot of solid wirework involved, the fight choreographer is obviously a huge Yuen Woo-ping fan, and it really serves to elevate the physical side of the show. Classic weapons are also deployed: tonfa, bo staff, nunchaku, spear, three-section-staff and more. I was struck with incredible nostalgia for the old Shaw Brothers kung-fu films that focused on weapon-based combat. Many of the episodes also follow the classic kung-fu formula of first encountering defeat and then training and learning a new technique or weapon to counter one’s opponent. There are training scenes that call to mind The 36 Chambers of Shaolin and others that reference The Karate Kid. Whereas other iterations of Power Rangers often feel like they are appropriating genre, here it feels much more like homage. Maybe I’m just a sucker for martial arts in general, but it feels like a brilliant love letter to all things kung-fu. Even the generic foot soldiers hop around like jiangshi, the Chinese hopping vampires. Instead of the usual Zords, the Rangers activate Spirits, which let them tap into their animal side. The Spirits appear as CGI energy manifestations of their totem animals to attack their enemies. This is not to say that the inherent Power Ranger-ness of the show is any less. The Spirits; tiger, cheetah and leopard, combine into a Megazord for a very Voltron look and the giant robot vs. giant monster match-ups are as impressive and exciting as ever. Maybe even more so, as the emphasis on kung-fu makes for a much more athletic and vigorous Megazord whose arsenal includes a variety of awesome melee weapons. Season 17 – Power Rangers RPM This season takes us to the so-hot-right-now Post-Apocalypse. In a very grim move, we pick up with the story as a malicious computer virus called Venjix has become sentient, produced an army of robot warriors and essentially decimated the human race. The last vestiges of humanity have holed up in the city of Corinth, protected by a force-field dome and the presence of three Power Rangers. Lifting wholesale from Mad Max, we encounter mysterious bad boy Dillon making his way through the wastelands towards Corinth in his badass jet-black muscle car. He encounters the Muppet-tastically-monikered Ziggy Grover, who is also headed to Corinth, and the two run the Venjix blockade surrounding the domed city in a display of fast and furious bravado. It’s not too long after their arrival in Corinth that they are recruited into the ranks of the Power Rangers. If it weren’t apparent from the title, this iteration is focused on vehicles and speed. In addition to their super-vehicle Zords, the Rangers all also have access to an array of muscle cars and super bikes to tool around in. When they are powered up into Ranger form, car sound effects (tires screeching, engines revving) accompany all of their moves, their suits involve seat-belt-like harnesses and even their helmets are shaped like cars with strange headlights and molded wheel details. The Zords themselves are slightly anthropomorphized and all have large cartoonish eyes. The Megazord incorporates them in a way that showcases the eyes, and it’s all rather terribly goofy looking. This seems to be RPM’s biggest misstep. Apparently the Super Sentai season from which all the props and costumes were culled is a much more lighthearted affair. The cartoon-eyed vehicle Zords and subsequent Megazord may make sense in that world, but here it all strongly clashes with the post-apocalyptic theme. It’s a shame, because aside from this the setting really works. It hits all the right sci-fi notes and allows for a much darker story to unfold. People die in RPM, something almost unheard of in Power Rangers history. There is a real sense of impending doom in the claustrophobic domed city and when the bad guys infiltrate and attack, the stakes seem higher than ever because this is all that’s left of humankind. This season also includes a fantastic story arc concerning one of the main villains, Tenaya, a female cyborg created by Venjix. She is the consummate badass and her story weaves a Terminator 2-esque tale of redemption. It’s one of many bleak yet effective storylines executed throughout RPM. The cast helps make this something above average as well. Though the Ranger crew is decidedly male-heavy (four guys to one lady), the supporting cast does a decent job of rounding that out. Particularly in the form of Dr. K, the teenage scientist who is in charge of tech and strategy for the team. She is an amalgamation of the logic-heavy/Asperger’s/socially awkward/nerd archetype we have seen in other media and frankly it’s odd that it took the series this long to utilize this. Maybe there have been others, but it’s refreshing to see a plain old fashioned nerd in place of the usual robots, aliens, disembodied heads, tiki idols, witches and other oddball mentors. The series also hits a home run in the casting of Ari Boyland as Flynn McAllistair, the Blue Ranger. Boyland is an affable New Zealander whose bright personality and puckish sense of humor are a perpetual delight. As Ranger Operator Series Blue, he is saddled with a comically large gun as his primary weapon and it’s only the fact that he’s having so much fun with the role that keeps things from derailing into absurdity at these moments. There are a few things to note about these particular seasons: The Power Rangers franchise was acquired by Disney from Haim Saban in 2003 and held through 2009 before Saban re-acquired the rights. That means that these five seasons were the last of the Disney run, with RPM being the final hurrah. Within that era, seasons 13-16 were all executive-produced and co-written by Bruce Kalish. Fans refer to these four seasons as the “Kalish Era” and they are known for their spectacular (by comparison) budgets, effects and set pieces. RPM was a bit of a holdover, and though Kalish left, many of the hallmarks of his run remained. Fans seem to be divided about the Disney epoch and Kalish’s run in particular. You’ll find many purists who recognize the Saban seasons as superior, though many (seemingly more objective) sources consistently rank these amongst the best. Though I haven’t seen the full run of the franchise, I was very impressed by these five, particularly in their ability to appropriate genre and to add fresh blood to the Power Rangers formula. These seasons also do a good job of embodying the themes inherent to the series as a whole in new and interesting ways; friendship, family, responsibility, self-confidence, what it means to be different, each iteration offers new spins on these concepts within the framework of their respective mythos. For my money, SPD and Jungle Fury are the most fun and engaging. The space cop element works extremely well to justify the premise of fighting evil and there is an incredible range and depth to the world created here. It’s ample enough to make me wonder if a spin-off series devoted specifically to SPD would have worked. As for Jungle Fury, the kung-fu element clearly won me over, but its appeal doesn’t end there. The character of RJ is a huge win for the series, as is the decision to focus on three Rangers instead of the usual five. It gives you a chance to get to know them a little better and for them to develop throughout the season. It may not be the right move for every iteration but it works here and is a refreshing break. Special Features Each season is packed separately in its own DVD hard case, with no additional features by season. They are uniformly packaged, color-coordinated, and fit into an attractive slipcase along with an additional disc of special features and a booklet listing episodes and character bios across the five season run. In a move that insures hardcore fans will want to pick up every box set, they have dispersed features spanning all seasons across each box set release. Here’s a rundown of the extras included in the Season 13-17 set: Mad Props! – Runtime: 18:46 This segment focuses specifically on the props used throughout the series, via interviews with the producers and propmasters as well as the cast. It spans multiple seasons, from the Mighty Morphin’ era up to the present day. We see the early days of swap meet junk, spray paint and blinking lights evolving into the current New Zealand-based prop houses handcrafting custom gear. The anecdotes from the cast and crew are fun, particularly recalling how in the Mighty Morphin’ days they would often hit up a Wal-Mart to buy toy replica morphers to replace broken props. Rangers on Set! – Runtime: 17:11 A discussion of the often elaborate sets used throughout the series, focusing specifically on Lightspeed, Time Force, Wild Force, Ninja Force, Dino Thunder, SPD, Jungle Fury, RPM, Samurai and Megaforce. These seasons were all primarily filmed in New Zealand, and as production moved there from the US there was a dramatic shift in the quality of both the interior sets and the exterior environments. Cast members discuss their favorites and the crew discusses some of the challenges inherent in bringing these locations to the screen. Ranger Tales SPD – Runtime: 45:52 Jungle Fury – Runtime: 15:26 RPM – Runtime: 15:50 I’m not sure why Mystic Force and Operation Overdrive were snubbed, but you get a positively meaty look at SPD and a decent overview of Jungle Fury and RPM from some of the cast and crew involved in each season. It’s the kind of behind-the-scenes look that fans will salivate over, full of anecdotes and recollections. Collect ‘Em All – Runtime: 15:51 This feature is composed entirely of submitted footage of fans showing off their collections. It’s hard not to smile at this level of passion. From the more modest collections of international fans (who struggle to find merch and usually have to import everything piecemeal) to the staggering mega-collections of US and Japanese-based fans, you get a real cross-section of collector’s mania for Rangers merchandise. In addition to toys, some fans have stepped up to purchasing show-used props and replicas of everything from weapons to costumes. The SPD Rangers Want You Five five-minute propaganda-ish features in which characters from this season give you some insight into the life of an SPD cadet. Each focuses on a different Ranger, with Cruger on intro/outro and Manx delivering various tidbits about the gear used by the Rangers. Special Messages From the Mystic Force Rangers Three quick PSA spots, encouraging kids to eat right, stay active and to volunteer. Ranger Secrets This feels like maybe some web-content or commercial buffers, there’s about 8-10 super quick (like, 10 seconds long) Q&A bits set up to look like the Yellow Ranger’s secret weblog. Mystic Force: Forces of Nature! Five segments, roughly two and-a-half minutes long each, explaining the elements associated with each Ranger and their powers and offering up some educational facts about each element. Operation Overdrive Files Five segments of varying length (no longer than five minutes) breaking down the bios, weapons, vehicles and powers of the Rangers, hosted by Spencer Spencer, the Alfred Pennyworth of Operation Overdrive. Original Promos One quick commercial spot for SPD, another for Operation Overdrive and several for Mystic Force. See larger image Power Rangers: Seasons 13 -17 New From: $70.50 USD In Stock Power Rangers: Seasons 13-17 DVD Box Set4.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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