Saturday, January 28, 2017
Power Rangers Ninja Steel Early Thoughts
This season has a lot to prove, for both new fans and longtime viewers. New audiences may be kids finally getting around to watching the series for the first time, or it's kids that saw the Power Rangers movie trailer and heard there's a TV series on air for them to see. Longtime viewers need to be shown that the new Saban era can indeed holds on it's own, since while Dino Charge was a pretty great series, Dino Super Charge dropped the ball hard and fast.Like any new Ranger season, I'm always excited for the beginnings. They're usually pretty fun. We get to meet a new team of heroes while also meeting an array of new villains. The costume reveals and first morphs are some of the more exciting elements of Power Rangers.
We're not off to a great start, though, with the theme song. It starts off well, with some nice bits in the first few seconds, but when the vocals kick in is when it loses me. It's just too tough and gruff for the new approach Power Rangers has taken. Samurai had it's darker elements as Jaden fought Dekker, but everything else has been pretty light-hearted. I don't see this series as being as intense as something like In Space or Time Force. Plus it seems to go on like ten seconds too long. We get it, the team is called "Ninja Steel," you don't have to remind us.
The premise of the series is rather interesting, although we don't actually get it until the second episode...where it then falls apart.
Unlike most seasons, where the main villains have either recruited members of their army or create the monsters to fight the Rangers, our main villain Galvanax puts a bounty on the Power Rangers. He is the champion of the universe's #1 TV show (not kidding) "Galaxy Warriors," and as such he has become, I guess, their GM, kinda like how Mick Foley is the current GM of Monday Night RAW. He can fight, yeah, but doesn't want to...for some reason...so instead he has various other contenders that are aiming to be "champions" like him to go out and kill the Rangers.
This is all in his quest to attain the "Ninja Nexus," a giant shuriken looking item that once held the Ninja Power Stars (which were obviously the conduits for the Rangers). The Nexus held six and by the end of episode two, "Forged in Steel," we see where all six end up, with a bit of a twist at the end I didn't see coming.
For the Rangers, the story goes like this: the Red Ranger, Brody, is the son of the "greatest ninja of all time," Dane Romero. I'll get into that and how it may impact the rest of the Power Rangers universe in a second. Basically, the Ninja Nexus shuriken appeared to him one day covered in "ninja steel," a material that gave the Ninja Power Star it's strength. He carved the ninja steel off and kept it somewhere safe, and has become the new target for the villains, since it contains "great ninja power."
Our Rangers have, I guess, taken on the task of protecting the ninja steel from Galvanax and his champions until they can find Brody's father, who went missing ten years prior (Brody was then captured and became one of Galvanax's servants). Mick and Redbot, two allies of Brody, will also help the Rangers, serving as the tech gurus for the team.
So, what's the problem with the premise? Well, it's interesting that there is a bounty on the Rangers. It's unique, though the obvious plot hole of "send out a bunch of monsters to kill them" is still relevant. It could be that Galvanax is playing by the rules of the show, but what's to stop another monster from going down on their own to kill the Rangers? Unlike some previous villains, they don't live by any sort of code. Many of these warriors are vicious gladiators that just want power.
Not to mention that I'm actually only speculating that their mission is to protect the ninja steel. By the end of Episode 2, it's still unclear what their mission is besides saving the world. But the world isn't really in danger.
Galvanax and his crew aren't conquerors, from what I can remember. They just host the show and look for willing participants. The entire planet is only in danger because of the Ninja Nexus, and Galvanax should only target the city. It's not like Operation Overdrive where there's a global search going on, it's limited once again to a single area.
The villains themselves aren't all that interesting anyway. They have standard growly villain voices and their appearances, while clearly based in the East, are a bit much, especially Galvanax. I think we'll see more promise out of his subordinates, since they appear to have wavering loyalty to Galvanax.
Speaking of characters, let's get into the Rangers themselves. So far, only Sarah (Pink), Hayley (White), and Calvin (Yellow) are standouts with personalities. Like the previous few Pink Rangers, Sarah is the charmer of the group, easy to like and is willing to help. She's a bit too perfect, but she was the best of the bunch in Episode 1. Hayley and Calvin feel like not only real teenagers, but have the potential to be real heroes. When they're attacked in Episode 2 by the enemy, they hesitate at first and pick up whatever weapons they can. They're not martial artists, but they are effective.
Plus, they're dating, opening up several potential character threads down the road. Hopefully this isn't something that just gets dropped. Power Rangers has, in the past, used romance as a plausible subplot. Theo would often get frustrated with himself as he attempted to woo Lily in Jungle Fury, and Jen's being engaged to Alex in Time Force was a HUGE plot thread throughout the series.
Besides the Rangers, there are a few other characters of note. Mick, played by Power Rangers veteran Kelson Henderson (whom you may recall as Boom from SPD) is the best character in the show so far. He's a bit dimwitted but is well-meaning. He runs from a fight but that's because he's been pushed into feared for so long by Galvanax. He gets assigned as the new shop class teacher for the high school (Power Rangers treats school as an after thought) and will probably serve the "mentor" role, since he seems to actually know what Power Rangers are. Redbot is Mick's best friend and will serve as Alpha for the season.
Then there's Victor and Monty, our comic relief for the season. They are boring and unfunny and have bad slapstick.
Speaking of boring and unfunny, we have Brody, the Red Ranger. He has little personality and feels rather stale. It doesn't help that the acting is mixed at best. He should be a bit more like Mick in a fight, but is instead your typical "adventurer," who is willing to take on any task. Like many in that archetype, he is boring and gets easily excited in a fight. He does miss his family, though, and that will probably serve as the driving force for the season.
Preston, the Blue Ranger, is a bit of a weird character. He's charming but doesn't have great luck in social circles so far. He wants to be a magician, and many of his lines are something like "just like magic!" and it got old fast (and it's only been TWO episodes). However, a fun thing to note is that he is Yoshi Sundaro's brother, who played the Blue Dino Charge Ranger.
Before we get into the finer points of the season (story structure and the continuity of it all) I should note that I rather like the suits. The helmets are a bit weird, since the symbol takes up most of their face, but the overall aesthetic of the torso is cool. The morphers are strange, since they come out of nowhere, but you could see it as their powers manifesting from the morphing grid itself. What's weird, though, is that the suits make the Ranger seem smaller. It could be because of the Sentai footage, and the Japanese actors are just smaller in stature, but it also could be just the designs of the suits. It's not something I count against the show, but it is a bit weird to see our tall actors suddenly in smaller suits when they use the Sentai footage (not to mention that in the second episode, they're clearly using the wrong Sentai footage in the background for the villains, showing the Rangers at a power plant when they're really fighting in front of the high school).
I think if I were to recommend the season, I'd say start with Episode 2. Hayley and Calvin have a strong first impression with Mick that leads to good humor and backstory. You get Brody's backstory in a much smaller time than in Episode 1, where it seems to take up like half the entire episode. Not to mention that it's better paced and the acting is overall better. They should have had both episodes comprise a single episode, but I think they wanted to stick to the Dino Charge formula of keeping the team separate until Episode 2, which is something I don't really agree with.
I'm okay with having the team unite but not morph until the second episode. But having half the team morph first? It takes away the impact of the first full-team morph. That's a glorious outing that really makes you feel the power going on here. Now, some of you may say that I should reprimand Wild Force, since we first see the Rangers in morphed form. That's true, but we don't see the morphing sequence until the end, with Cole.
An interesting note is that the Rangers have not yet formed the Megazord, which I'm okay with. They need to learn more about the Zords before piloting them, since they're all unaware of how the Zords operate. What's nice is that they all give the Zords personal names, a fun touch.
However, this brings me to my final point, and one that will send most fans into a tizzy: the continuity.
Now look, there have been seasons where it could be implied that this is the first that the team is hearing of Power Rangers. Ninja Storm showed Dustin celebrating the fact that Power Rangers are "real." While it is baffling that news of alien invasions, giant time holes, and humongous monsters attacking cities isn't normal news, I suppose if you keep your head in the sand it makes sense for you to disbelief Power Rangers exist.
BUT. What doesn't make any sense is for Brody to exclaim, "We become Ninja Power Rangers!" and Hayley responds with "Power what?"
There are a few of possible explanations for this, a couple of which revolve around the finale of Dino Super Charge. Recall that the finale ripped the space-time continuum a new one, as the asteroids that were meant to wipe out the dinosaurs never actually hit the Earth. This eliminates both the Dino Thunder team...as well as the original Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers team, as their powers were based on some dinosaurs. Of course, it is possible that they could still exist, but it's been stated throughout Power Rangers that it was indeed asteroids that wiped out the dinosaurs.
If we're to believe that, then Ninja Steel could be taking place in a rebooted universe where there never were Power Rangers on Earth. Remember: Ninjor and Zordon are not of Earth. Any conflicts they may have requiring Power Rangers could take place on another planet, like KO-35. Andros was a Red Space Ranger and we never saw him get his powers. It's entirely possible, in this new continuity, since the Power Coins could not harness powers from the dinosaurs, that Zordon recruited Rangers on other worlds, thus the Ninja Steel team is the first team of Rangers the Earth has seen in over a decade (we can assume that Time Force probably happened eventually, but these kids weren't around for that, or at least weren't old enough).
Another popular theory, given how there was no team up for Dino Super Charge, is that that series took place in it's own alternate universe. It would've been easy for them to cross over or make mention of the previous dinosaur based teams, but never did. In fact, all the planets they mentioned were brand new ones, never established prior in Ranger history. So, why not? After all, the morphing grid is mentioned once or twice in FORTY episodes (it hasn't been mentioned in Ninja Steel yet, but that's besides the point).
This new team can also be taking place several years in the future. Some will argue that it can't, since SPD would be around, but I'm not so sure. The SPD Rangers did travel back in time twice, along with the entire Time Force team, for the Legendary Battle. These temporal fluctuations could have affected when the events of SPD take place. Plus, the first we see of Sarah is on a hoverboard, something nobody else has and that we've never seen before. It's explained that she wants to perfect this invention and that she's rather intelligent, but it's interesting that she could make this so well. Add on the fact that Mick even says Earth is "behind the times," and you've got possible foreshadowing that something has happened to the space-time continuum (that could also be a wink that the series has not yet caught up to SPD's projected date).
If it does take place some years into the future, it would excuse (poorly) how these kids haven't heard of Power Rangers. For Brody it makes sense--he's been away. Sarah's from out of town and maybe somewhere remote, where there aren't any Power Rangers. Hayley and Calvin might've been told stories of the Rangers as kids, but those are just stories in the end. Mick knows about Power Rangers, though, since when the Ninja Nexus appears, he immediately knows it's a sign that the two are meant to be Rangers. It's entirely possible he's heard of the Space or Galaxy Rangers in their travels. Perhaps even the Megaforce Rangers for defeating an entire army some time ago. Power Rangers could've faded into myth until their return here.
Ninja Steel is a mixed bag for me, still. Episode 2 gave me a lot more hope for the series, as the acting improved and the overall story was shown some more light, only to be cast in some shadow again. Characters became more likable and while I'm not on board with all the team, I like the majority of them. I'm looking forward to where they take the show, and what they to do build up to the 25th anniversary next year.
And if they can stop saying "ninja" in front of EVERY SINGLE noun, that'd be great too!