Power Rangers Lost Property

It's been a crazy week, huh?

This post was initially going to be dedicated to Go-onger. I hate the series, but I really *really* tried to enjoy it. While it never clicked with me, I enjoyed a lot of the design elements like vanilla Engine-oh, the Henshin Items, and even the Engine Souls were a neat idea back in the gimmick-lite days. The most interesting thing from the series, however, is how Toei pulled off some expert level trolling by making Disney adapt ripoffs of their own property. Bravo, really. I was truly impressed. Disney-Pixar (or "Dixar" for short) released the film Cars in 2006...and two years later we have...Go-onger.

Talking animated cars you say??

Nope. Totally different. Nothing to see here.

While I could go on all day about how Toei has become a reactionary studio rather than a visionary one, I think mentioning my abandoned topic is actually pertinent to, ummm, current events. Go-onger, and it's adaptation Power Rangers RPM, was the first major step to bring us where we are today. It was the last time I felt a true sense of normalcy in the Power Rangers franchise.

For those who may have missed the news, Bandai America will no longer be the license-holder for Power Rangers toys starting in 2019. Hasbro will be picking up the toy license and possibly even control of the entire franchise further down the line. How the hell did this happen? Does it even matter?

Bandai America has been in the adaptation business longer than most people give them credit for. Remember the Godaikin line? Bandai America was releasing toys under the Bandai name even before Bandai Japan was (they were still using the Popy name until 1983). Weird, right? That line brought all kinds of earlier goodies to the United States before any kind of franchises were established. Go Lion before Voltron, Super Sentai before Power Rangers...hell, even Spider-man's Leopardon. 

Bandai America really wasn't much more than an importer in the 1980s, however. Did you know that Bandai sold repackaged toys stateside from the 1988 Toei Metal Hero series Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya? Yep, I have a ziploc baggie full of those figures in my desk drawer (They were called Tacky Stretchoid Warriors...heh). The launch of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers was a perfect storm for a lot of reasons. After several tries, Saban Entertainment was launching it's American adaptation of arguably the best possible series they could adapt. Not to mention, they had a packed toyline specifically tailored for the US market from Bandai America. You can tell that Bandai America had put a TON of thought into the Power Rangers toyline--adapting only the essentials from Japan and creating a wide range of action figures to stock up on at a reasonable price point.

From the beginning there were some trifling decisions, however. The Power Morpher in particular was the biggest fumble and yet the best mistake they could hope for. It was upside-down, had lousy decals, lacked a holster and most importantly.....never had the Green Ranger's coin. It certainly did a wonderful job of driving up the price of the Zyuranger version until the Legacy Power Morpher cleaned up a 20-year old mess.

While the differences between Super Sentai/Power Rangers toylines tended to fluctuate annually, things didn't really seem to make a major turn until Boukenger's adaptation--Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive. Granted, I am only an outside observer of Power Rangers toys...but I seem to recall someone posting a scathing review of the Drivemax Megazord in the form of several unflattering photos and the simple caption ".......what a piece of shit.......".

When the Power Rangers franchise ended up back at the newly formed Saban Brands, things didn't really seem right. The first order of business was to adapt the next chronological Super Sentai series, Shinkenger. That's great...but from there every new series was spread over two years.

While the series proper was entering a phase of disconnection with Japan, the toyline had been there for years. Bandai America was producing shit. I'm sorry if you happen to be one of the very few fans of Power Rangers toys from the mid 2000s to today, but...everything produced for the current shows was just disposable crap in collector-unfriendly packaging. I covered the Legacy toyline at good length last year (Part 1, Part 2), but while it was enough to appease some collectors it suffered something of an identity crisis of it's own. 

While plenty of people were more than happy with Legacy toys, there were also quite a number of fans who were quick to point out the flaws. "Will they EVER get out of MMPR??" was the battle cry. The Legacy line has been around for five years and is now *just* getting out of MMPR. Five years to kiiiinda cover toys that come from a toyline that lasted three years. Then there was the group of fans who noticed something even stranger...the Imaginext toys by Fisher-Price were absolutely crushing it.


Yeah, so those kids who enjoyed Power Rangers in 1993? They have kids of their own now. It's diabolical. The toys are absolutely friggin' adorable, have the built-in brand recognition, and have some really cool features and favorite characters that aren't even Tommy-related. The audience may be skewed younger, but a lot of fans seem to agree that they're some of the most interesting Power Rangers toys in a VERY long time. 

Bandai America really dropped the ball there. It wasn't that long ago that I went to Bandai America's site out of curiosity to see what licenses they have these days. The site is a graveyard of years-old movies, Power Rangers, a PAC-MAN plug and play (Namco-Bandai, so duh) and Dragonball Super. I've actually been thinking a lot about Dragonball toys in light of the current Power Ranger toy situation. It sounds familiar...

The brief history of Dragonball toys in America goes something like this. Dragonball had a small line of toys in 1995 based on a Funimation/Ocean license and a brief thirteen-episode dub. In 1996 Funimation and Ocean entered a partnership with Saban and skipped ahead to Dragonball Z. Bandai America followed suit and copied the MMPR formula. Several toys from Japan and Asia were adapted for the US along with a set of new action figures. Bandai quickly and inexplicably dropped the line with Canada's Irwin Toy swooping in and seemlessly resuming the toyline through reissues of the previous Bandai America line as well as more imports from Bandai Asia and France's AB Toys.

Things kinda took on a life of their own once Irwin began producing toys in-house. While I'm not much of a fan of the Irwin developed DBZ toys, these continue to be fan favorites for the wide-range of characters (Leisure Suit Yamcha anyone?), decent quality and details, and low price point. Everything was going swimmingly until, well, Irwin shit the bed. Having the hottest anime intellectual property in North America somehow resulted in the company filing for bankruptcy in 2001. The license went to Jakks Pacific whose toys I have zero recollection of. The 2002 deal for the license was pretty short-lived and Bandai America ended up with Dragonball toys once again by 2007.

The most current Bandai America Dragonball toys aren't too dissimilar from the current Power Rangers toys with an extra layer of "Who the hell are these toys made for?". They're too cheap and kiddy for the fan who actually watches Dragonball Super. I mean...that's what we have Figuarts for, right? The series airs on Adult Swim for god's sake...


I guess the best way to end this post is to say this...

I wish Bandai America all the best. Jobs will be lost over this, but the reality is that years of poor decisions have brought us to where we are now. Hasbro is definitely a force to be reckoned with and while the degree of dignity in which they handle the franchise toys remains to be seen, it certainly isn't the worst thing possible. I say this as someone who only casually observes Power Rangers toys, though. Cautious optimism is probably the best approach.

Go-Busters being adapted next on the other hand...wasn't Kyuranger developed with input from America? I think Toei may have finally been out-trolled after all these years...


P.S. I highly recommend visiting grnrngr.com for incredible database on not only Power Rangers and other Saban-related Bandai toys, but several guides based on the series itself. My personal favorites are the Zyu1.5 and Zyu2 guides as well the episode guide, which lists goofs and the Sentai episodes used for every episode.

UPDATE: Ehhh whoops. I erroneously stated that the US release of Jiraiya toys were released by Mattel for some bizarre reason. Nope. Bandai America in 1990. A trial-run perhaps? Get this...Jiraiya was actually a bad guy called "Fringe" according to the story and bios on the card. Not only a bad guy...but a sidekick who is also a parking lot enthusiast. O...K...?


Ultraman vs Kamen Rider: 25 Years Later

Sometimes I have these moments where I really have to stop and wonder why I like Tokusatsu. It's been a part of my life as far back as I can remember, but these days I find myself wondering just how I can like the genre versus just selecting a handful of shows that I really like. Some people live by angsty stories, some people like the absurd nature of the genre, and then there is the third set who likes anything shiny and new no matter how soulless it looks. The one common thread we all have is the action and effects. Every series starts out as a giant block of action and effects. The goal of the writer is to chip away anything that isn't a kickass series.

Writers today seem to chip away to the point of nothingness. Bandai wants a gimmick? *chipchipchip* Wait, they want a SECOND gimmick? *chipchipchip* Why don't we give the series some impossible setting to limit us to an awful set, bad CG and lazy trickshots? *chipchipchip*. By the end of the sculpture we're left with just a hollow series that is 1/25th the size of the block we started with.

I recently sprung for a copy of Ultraman vs Kamen Rider on DVD. It was cheap and an otherwise uneventful purchase. I'd seen the special in the past, so I didn't immediately watch it when I got home. It was one of those "It's nice to have again... I'll get to it someday.". I'm so glad I did just that...

For those who haven't seen it, Tsuburaya and Toei teamed up in 1993 to produce a 90 minute TV special which was broken into various segments such as "Henshin vs Henshin" and "Kaiju vs Kaijin" and interspersed with interviews and a glooooorius battle featuring Ultraman and Kamen Rider side by side.

Revisiting this special twenty five years later really put me in a better space. It may be 70% clip show, but it really is the perfect reminder of why I started liking these silly shows in the first place. When was the last time I watched an episode of, I don't know, Ultraman Leo (best Henshin, by the way...maybe not so much in the clip they used in the special though. LEOOOOOO!)?

The centerpiece of the special has to be the awesome battle featuring Ultraman and Kamen Rider. Ultraman is battling a Kaiju in the background while Kamen Rider fights a Kaijin on ground. Both battles end in simultaneous victory causing the Kaiju and Kaijin to merge. Kamen Rider grows to aid Ultraman in the fight ending in a overall victory. I know those are only words, but it's a damn exciting fight.

The big grain of salt with these specials is that, yes, of course it's good. That's because the clips are good. They cut out two plus decades of filler. Even then, though, the stories were never too much to get in the way of the action and effects. Ultraman had a limited time on Earth, but that's where the Science Patrol came in.

I kinda feel like rediscovered a lost love. It turns out that if you do as little chipping as possible to that block of action and effects, you turn out with a much more engaging show and memorable show.

In my first post of 2018 I sung the praises of 1993. It really was a milestone year for the genre. So much was right about it (and YES, I know Power Rangers debuted that year...it wasn't part of the narrative I was going for) and it seemed like the possibilities were endless. Tsuburaya and Toei working together to remind you just what an awesome run they've had.

From there it kinda just...went away. The next year Toei decided to make Kamen Rider J. If I worked for Tsuburaya I would have been like "What the hell, man?". That's alright though because Noboru Tsuburaya was busy doing weird things like recording vanity CD single with a little foreign girl until his untimely death in 1995 (so untimely, in fact, that the aforementioned CD was released posthumously). Ultraman Tiga debuted in 1996 and lead to a string of successes for the small studio since. Kamen Rider went away arguably forever after J. This special is the perfect celebration of not just Ultraman and Kamen Rider, but the genre as a whole. There was still the worlds of Toho and P-Pro to explore. Imagine if Godzilla and Sprectreman got in on the action too!

I know this post was very rambly, but I actually got really excited watching this special. This is why I got into the genre versus just being a fan of a handful of series. This is why Bandai continues to make several new toys of fifty-year shows every year. Am I sad that I feel it peaked far too soon? Honestly, not really. Today's shows are the future 30-something's memories. They definitely aren't for me...but one day that kid will look back and remember the good old days.

Catch you next time!