Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Power Rangers Samurai Episode Commentary #1

Episode 1: Origins Part 1
Alex Heartman as Jayden/Red Samurai Ranger
Najee De-Tiege as Kevin/Blue Samurai Ranger
Erika Fong as Mia/Pink Samurai Ranger
Hector David Jr. as Mike/Green Samurai Ranger
Brittany Anne Pirtle as Emily/Yellow Samurai Ranger
Rene Naufahu as Mentor Ji
Written by David Schneider and James W. Bates
Japanese episode written by Yasuko Kobayashi
Directed by Peter Salmon

I’ll kick off with a warning. These reviews will be fairly in depth and will include a great many spoilers for those that have yet to see it, so if you want to watch Power Rangers Samurai and don’t want the storylines spoiled leave right now. I am also writing these reviews after the first year of Samurai has aired, meaning I’m in a position where I can actually watch the first episode first rather than nineteenth, so I’ll be reviewing episodes in their intended order rather than the order they originally aired in America.

“Centuries ago in Japan, Nighlok monsters invaded our world, but samurai warriors defeated them with power symbols, passed down from parent to child. Today the evil Nighlok have risen once again and plan to flood the earth. Luckily, a new generation of heroes stand in their way. They are the Power Rangers Samurai.”

And so the opening narration sets the scene for the latest incarnation of the spandex wearing superstars: the Power Rangers! The most striking thing about the Power Rangers Samurai concept is just how Japanese it is. Samurai follows the not always successful path of adapting the storyline of its Super Sentai counterpart rather than using the footage to create an original story. This is a pretty brave move when the Sentai is so entrenched in Japanese culture, but surely the newly returned Saban can put together a series that is equal to the original? Well the Red Samurai Ranger is descended from the man who defeated those pesky Nighloks centuries ago, so he must be Japanese right? Nope he sure ain’t Japanese. Well the Rangers must have traditional Japanese names like, erm . . . Mike and Kevin. Then the team’s mentor must be Japanese surely? Nope that dude’s quite clearly from New Zealand. There is little consideration of the show’s context when it’s come down to casting, with the Rangers themselves looking more like underwear models than dedicated martial artists.

Now that we’ve established the basic concept of the latest entry into the Power Rangers franchise it’s time to look at the first episode. For some reason this opening episode was not shown at the start of the season, but watching the series much later means this is my first encounter with the Samurai Rangers, which is pretty much the way I imagine Saban intended it. Origins Part One is a classic first episode. It introduces the characters, sets out the basic template for future adventures and even gives us a glimpse at the zords. After the cancellation of Power Rangers under Disney it’s important that Saban sets out to reassure fans the show is back in business. Luckily this first episode does just that. It opens with a nod to the classic series by finding the most abysmally awful child actor- the type that can’t be found outside of the Power Rangers universe. Yes it may have been running for the best part of two decades, but things haven’t changed at all in this particular franchise. This particular child actor runs into this season’s army of henchmen, the Moogers, and leads to the arrival of the first of our spandex clad heroes, the Red Samurai Ranger- Jayden- as played by chiselled jawed Alex Heartman. Now Jayden is pretty badass and is quick to tell Mentor Ji that he doesn’t want the Moogers to leave because he’d rather “take them for a spin.” It’s a lot of fun seeing the Power Rangers back in action when not too long ago it seemed like we’d seen the last of them. The Red Samurai Ranger’s battle against the Moogers is a good way to kick things off, and the return of that classic theme song is more than welcome to an old fan like me.

The rest of Origins Part One is dedicated to introducing the rest of the players in this production, kicking off with the series villain Master Xandred and his various hangers on. Samurai’s villains are a monstrous bunch that, in true Power Rangers tradition, come out with the most cringe-worthy dialogue. Especially the tentacle faced Octoroo. The villains are fairly cool looking, if likely to be as ineffective as ever, but at least they have good motivation this time. Flooding the Sanzu River with the tears of humans to allow Master Xandred and co. to take over the mortal world is as good a reason as any offered by previous villains. The monster of the week is the freaky looking Nighlok Tooya who wears his face on his skirt. Master Xandred and Octoroo send skirt head off to “freak out some humans” and we’re whisked off to meet the rest of the Rangers.

First up we meet the soon to be Blue Samurai Ranger, Kevin, as portrayed by Najee De-Tiege who is perhaps the worst actor to don spandex this series. Kevin is a swimmer who’s going to have to give up his dream of getting wet professionally to join Jayden as a Samurai Ranger. Kevin appears with his father; it’s very hard casting actors that are believable as a family unit but Power Rangers has done a spot-on job with Kevin and his dad. The actor playing Kevin’s dad is so wooden he probably goes home at night and wishes he was a real boy. Aside from Kevin, Ji and Jayden, there's food junkie Mike, CRB checked Mia and flute playing chicken lover Emily. The best of these recruitment scenes is, of course, Kevin’s, as his rather really gets to stretch his acting abilities by pulling a face that will make you lose all faith in humanity. Just what is going on behind those dead eyes? This section sees perhaps the best acting performance in Power Rangers history; Jayden summons a horse to carry him to meet his new team mates, and my god what a horse it is! There isn’t a second where it appears on screen that I don’t believe it’s a horse! It is a sterling performance that puts its co-stars to shame.

What an actor! (the horse obviously)

So the team unites and we get to see our five heroes bounce off each other. This group of actors are largely well matched in ability. They’re basically all terrible, but they show a hell of a lot of enthusiasm so it’s hard to hold it against them. To be fair, if you’re watching Power Rangers expecting good acting you should probably consider getting a brain scan. The likes of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen will not be squeezing into spandex in my lifetime. We have to make do with what we’ve got, and on this occasion it’s a cast so wooden we could build a log cabin. They sure do seem pleased to be here though and for that I salute them. This all leads up to what we’ve been waiting for; seeing our heroes suit up and kick some monster bottom. I enjoyed the transformation sequence and personally I’m a big fan of the design of the Samurai Rangers. There are plenty of cheesy lines in the battle against the Moogers, and the classic theme of team work is promoted as subtly as ever. But when it comes to Power Rangers there’s only one thing we want to see and that’s giant monsters and awesome zords, and we aren’t left waiting too long to see these, as the Rangers promptly defeat the “first form” of the monster of the week and lead to him taking on his mega monster mode (he turns into a big ass version of his normal form).

The folding zords are pretty cool, but I can’t say I’m massively keen on the “Mega Mode” that the Rangers apparently need to use to use them. If I want to see ridiculous shoulder pads I’ll watch Dynasty. I think it’s safe to say Mega Mode is all about selling another line of action figures, but they sure as heck won’t be ones I’ll be tracking down. Unfortunately the monster of the week isn’t much cop and he’s easily defeated without the Rangers having to resort to using the Megazord, but they do manage to use some of the most cringe worthy insults to wound their foe, with "skirt breath" in particular managing to match the Draco Malfoy classic “scar head” in the worst insults ever of all time. It is nice to see the individual zords in action, it’s something I always wanted to see more of as a kid. The action-packed episode ends with the new team of Rangers meeting Mentor Ji and I was surprised that not a single one of them didn’t say “hey shouldn’t you be Japanese?”

You've probably noticed he's not Japanese.

So how does Origins Part One stand up as an opening episode? Well it’s pretty much all you could hope for in an opener. It serves as a perfect introduction to the series, so why Nickelodeon opted to show this episode so late in the run I’ll never understand. There’s a lot of hate out there for Power Rangers Samurai, but I don’t consider myself a hardcore fan so I found nothing to hate here. It was a mildly entertaining half hour and if I was still in the target audience I’m sure I’d have loved it as much as the kid me loved Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers back in the day. The new Rangers are endearing enough; yes, they’re all a bit wooden and Mike is the only one that comes across as being an actual human being and not a poorly programmed acting machine, but the concept is an intriguing one and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series will develop. I’m no expert on Super Sentai, but as I’ve been watching Power Rangers Samurai I’ve also started watching its Japanese counterpart and I’ll admit I prefer Shinkenger. But Samurai is a fun show and I’m looking forward to reviewing the rest of the run- hopefully in a slightly more interesting way than this review has turned out. If you took the time to read this mess then I am very, very sorry.

Next time: Origins Part Two (obviously)

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