Disappointing Power Ranger nostalgia

Nostalgia is difficult to understand. It frequently brings back films or series in our collective memory. For good or bad, they are everywhere. Partly because we live in a period where a lot is possible by technological developments. So companies see value in doing remakes. It is a chance to bring back a beloved franchise into our collective memory and rekindle the passion for the old one. Not to mention the potential to earn a decent income on the new product and related merchandise. It’s no wonder we live in a time of remakes. Remakes seek our feeling of nostalgia. We fondly remember that amazing Lion King opening and long to see it again. Only this time we bring our kids to the theater so that they hopefully have the same experience.

Another way to invoke nostalgia is to celebrate an anniversary. Like the 25th anniversary of Friends or today’s subject: 30 years of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

GoGo Power Rangers!

I grew up watching the first season of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR). The colorful suits, zords, monsters and explosions really spoke to my imagination. So I really didn’t care that the show was an adaptation of the Japanese Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger and that some things looked strange. Like many other kids I was sold on the idea that if you were a teenager with attitude; you could become a Power Ranger. An idea that was reinforced for the better part of of the ten years1 that I initially watched the series.

I cannot really remember why I stopped watching in the early 2000s. Most likely because of school and I couldn’t see it on tv. Since then I sometimes watched a bit when I encountered an episode; only to find that I’ve outgrown the series. To see now that a lot of the Power Ranger series are rated mediocre at best does not surprise, even though that hasn’t stopped the franchise from doing the same trick over and over again. 

As a returning viewer I was skeptical when the initial trailer dropped. It seemed really strange that the Rangers could use all their powers after the destruction at the end of MMPR2.

Aiai, there are issues with this one

The issue with the connected Power Rangers world is that it looks like they’re only sometimes trying to tie it together. Which causes worldbuilding issues. The concept for the Forever Red episode is nice, but raises the question about the status of some powers. Based on the ending of a series, a viewer can assume the ranger powers were destroyed and their connection to the Morphin Grid lost. If you’re a Power Ranger enthusiast you might know everything about it. But if you’re returning now to Once & Always after an absence for some 25 years, you’ll need a lot of your suspension of disbelief to make it work in your head. 

I think that as an anniversary show Once & Always (O&A) should be a celebration, or an homage to the original show. With a fun story and perhaps some nice cameos. You don’t need the original cast to act in their suits. They aren’t superheroes who can still fight buff aliens in their fifties. They are humans whom are enhanced by some mystical power (suits). Wouldn’t it be easy to make an extended episode about passing the torch or reminiscing on the old adventures? With the message that you can outgrow something, yet it will always be a part of you. 

Unfortunately, this is not what we got. To be short: the plot has heart, the dialogue and action are mediocre and the CGI looks like it was stolen from a 21 years old fan project. I jest a little, but the CGI is easily the worst part. Luckily it’s also the shortest.

Target audience

This leads me neatly to the big question I have regarding O&A: Whom is this for? Is it for returning viewers of the original show? Like I said before, they need to suspend a lot of disbelief. Turn off the thinking mind to enjoy the easter eggs and callbacks. With 3 of the original cast members missing, I’m not sure what’s there for them besides seeing Billy, Zack Rocky and Kat in action. 

Or is O&A for die-hard fans of the Power Rangers series? Maybe. There is something to say for the tried and true format of defeating a villain. But as an extended episode O&A drags on unnecessarily.

In regards to new viewers: I’m not expecting them to come in without someone who watched the original. I don’t consider it a good entry to the franchise. New viewers are better off watching the original on the official Youtube channel.

It feels like O&A is a rushed show, created with the same mindset as the original, yet actually being a creative original work. Which doesn’t help the show, but probably also doesn’t hinder it either. Most people who, like myself, were mildly interested watched it regardless of what people say about it on the internet. All the power to people who liked it, but I found myself wanting more.

How to correctly do Sentai nostalgia

If we take a step back from O&A and list the things that would, on paper, make this a great 30th anniversary I would say we need the following:

  1. A contemporary story;
  2. with the original cast and cameos of replacement rangers;
  3. easter eggs;
  4. grounded themes;
  5. a look at the future.

Because MMPR is a sentai adaptation it’s easy to look towards Japan to find out how they did this in the past. And there is that one season which celebrated being the 35th Super Sentai in a most successful way: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger3.

Gokaiger did a number of things pretty good. First of: each character had a clear backstory and goals. Then there was the team goal. It which united them and made them a force to be reckoned with. That goal was to collect the ranger keys which would lead them to “The Greatest Treasure in the Universe”. Each (set of) Ranger Keys of the previous 34 Super Sentai Teams would grant the ability to morph into the chosen sentai/ranger to fight the enemy. 

Gokaiger is obviously created for a contemporary audience; the tributes to the original series are very present. Yet it is also aware that old fans might be watching, so it feels very mature in its writing. 

To provide structure, each episode does the following:
1. progress the main story of the fight against the enemy; 
2. provide background information on one of the main characters; 
3. have the team encounter a character of one of the previous teams 
4. Any combination of the above.

If option 3 happened, the themes of that specific Sentai Team would also be present in that episode. Which would result in the Gokaigers learning about that team before receiving the Ranger Keys and/or the Great Power of that team4.

To top this off the show has a fun ending credits which lists each Super Sentai show and what they’re about. And that ending is in my opinion the cherry on the cake. It makes me curious about shows that I haven’t seen before. The endings and the updated, full versions of it, made me watch episodes of some of the Older Sentai series on Youtube. That’s the goal. To get old and new eyes on the franchise. Which Gokaiger did very well.

What can we learn from this

If the big question is what we can learn from a successful nostalgia show like Gokaiger; then it would be (1) to treat your audience fair, (2) insert the correct themes and be smart about what you use as plot. (3) Let it be its own, contemporary thing. 

As research for this blog I read a lot of Power Rangers lore to have questions answered. Questions I had after watching the O&A special.  Because of that, I have ideas in my head. And I do not want that to be spend unnecessarily. So I’m taking a bold move to write a basic plot for my version of the 30th anniversary special. One which aims to do the things I mentioned earlier. I hope would’ve interesting enough to get all actors on board if we were in the same timeframe as when O&A was shot. 

I respect the actors’ choices to not participate in O&A but I can safely say that I missed them dearly. Not seeing them lessened the experience of watching the O&A special. I do not mean to discredit the other actors, but it is something that I believe O&A needed. Besides the fact that this positive spin gives me an extra layer of closure. Thank you for reading. May the Power Protect you!

Read my basic plot here

  1. The chronological list of the series.
  2. That’s how I remembered it ending. Powers destroyed so they sought new ones. I figured that there must’ve been some retconning and worldbuilding choices made to facilitate the starting point of this special. Things that I wasn’t aware of. That starting point wasn’t good. Assuming retcons certainly did not help either. I was confused. Watching the Once and Always special did not improve this, so I can’t imagine how it must be for someone who only watched MMPR until Zeo.
  3. Gokaiger ratings: IMDB: 8,6; Mydramalist: 8,4
  4. As mentioned, the subject theme of an episode can be a callback to one of the previous Super Sentai series. As an example: there is an episode about traffic safety which relates to carranger. The Great Power they receive is a Megazord addon the Gokaiger can summon.