Power Rangers: My Journey
Part 11: It’s Been Awhile.
By: Ben Taylor
My, my. It has been awhile since we were all here, no? Long story short listeners, a few things happened. 1) My writing caught up to my viewing, so as such, I had nothing to really write about; 2) I was hospitalised for a while (don’t worry I’m fine); 3) production on the podcast stepped up and I had to handle some business; and 4) the Holidays. All of that made for a long break from these columns, but now, with the looming removal of a lot of Power Rangers from Netflix (come to think of it, by the time you read this, it’ll probably be gone), I have decided to restart the columns, but at a much more measured, easy pace than before to allow myself time to breath. That being said, and all procrastination aside, it’s time to whip up an article about… NINJA STORM
Power Rangers: Ninja Storm (aka – A heck of a start to a new era)
Here we are with the 11th season of Power Rangers, Power Rangers: Ninja Storm. Taking it’s Sentai footage from Ninpu Sentai Hurricaneger (which, when translated into English reads as Shinobi Wind Squadron Hurricane Ranger) is, and make no mistake on this one, the start of a brand new era for the franchise in so many ways, not all of them good. Small note: if you are familiar with the behind the scenes of Power Rangers, you may know a lot of what I’m going to write about, but I feel the article would be incomplete without it.
First off, Ninja Storm was the first season to be produced entirely in New Zealand. After Wild Force, Disney had intended to cancel Power Rangers all together and just put the show into syndication as it did with many of the franchises it got from Saban. However, it was pointed out to the executives that production costs could be slashed if they moved the show, wholesale, to New Zealand. When combined with the next point, this originally caused a few teething issues for the season, which led to some excellent Power Rangers seasons.
Another cost cutting measure that Disney put into place was that they decided to make the show non-union. My personal opinions on this aside, this led to a majority of the crew who were working on the show before the move to leave the series, including longtime producer Jonathan Tzachor, who had been with the show since Mighty Morphin’ (and would return during Samurai). Doug Sloan and Ann Austen returned to the show as showrunners and brought back writer, Jackie Marchand, who was involved in the show in one way or another until the end of RPM.
However, the Ninja Storm we got could have been very different. Amit Bhuamik, who we discussed in the last column as the writer of “Forever Red” and his connections to the Scorpion Rain hoax, had proposed a series where the Hurricaneger footage would be adapted into a series called Power Rangers: Hexagon. Hexagon would have been focused on Tommy Oliver returning as the series’ mentor figure, and involved a kind of Ranger civil war and tying up a lot of loose ends from the first 10 years of the show. This idea would have been expensive, with the slew of returning classic Rangers, rebuilding a lot of the sets and props from previous seasons (many of which were destroyed or auctioned off when it was though the show was going into syndication) and on top of that, Hurricaneger’s footage really didn’t have a whole bunch of old Rangers in it. Bhuamik’s idea would have also added a third, Power Ranger exclusive, Thunder Ranger (Dark Yellow), which would have meant a whole lot of brand new footage. Suffice to say, it did not come to pass. If you want to read more about Power Rangers: Hexagon, Bhuamik has a very detailed blog post about it here: https://amitbhaumik.tumblr.com/post/38658236644/hexagon
The tone of Ninja Storm is much lighter compared to recent seasons like Wild Force and Time Force. The season has more humor in the presentation and content, which doesn’t detract from the show overall. Initially, when I was watching it and discussing parts of it with my VftG co-hosts, I described the show as “The Batman ‘66 of Power Rangers.” It’s a decent season with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.
Another thing that really marks this season as the start of a new era, is the fact that for the first time we are beginning a season with a Ranger team consisting of 3 Rangers; the Red, Blue, and Yellow Wind Rangers. Within 2 episodes, we are introduced to the Navy and Crimson Thunder Rangers (get it, because wind and thunder make a storm), and though they start out as antagonists to the group, by episode 13 they are part of the team. Then, just 5 episodes later, the Green Samurai Ranger is added to the mix for a total of 6 Rangers. Plus Sensei Watanabe. We’ll get to more details on all of these later, but as is tradition, first we must discuss the villains.
The villain situation this season is…well, let’s be honest, it’s a complete mess. The more tongue-in-cheek nature of this season led to there being a lot of bumbling villains, which while eating up a considerable amount of screentime, had like, ZERO impact on the actual story. The RangerWiki article for this season lists the Big Bad and at least seven generals. SEVEN. And NONE OF THE GENERALS ARE WORTH DISCUSSING. NOT ONE. Seven damn characters, which are, in the grand scheme of the plot, COMPLETELY WORTHLESS. And no, I’m not discussing recurring monsters of the week. These are seven characters who had time invested in giving them large roles on the show that amount to NOTHING. Now here’s the weird part – this is where my coming to Power Rangers as an adult works in my favor, because I have context and experiences I wouldn’t have as a kid, and because of that, I’m totally fine with this. Why? Because it totally fits the feeling of the season. The generals, while given personalities and names, are just glorified henchmen. With the exception of Lothor’s nieces (who are aliens, remember that for in a paragraph or two), who get up to a few more shenanigans, each and every one of them might as well be wearing a pain black shirt with ‘HIRED GOON’ written on it. As I said before, many people who have an issue with the way Ninja Storm is presented, and the Generals particularly, probably don’t have the same outlook as I do. I’m guessing not many of them have seen enough, or any, TV like Batman ’66 to be able to apply that context. So yes, the Generals are not worth discussing, which leaves only Lothor.
Yup, this season’s Big Bad is LOTHOR, who rocks up to Earth at the beginning of the season in a spaceship. He kidnaps like 99% of all the students at the Ninja academies, totals the buildings, and throughout the season, calls on a series of alien monsters to terrorise Earth. However, despite such a badass introduction, for most of the season Lothor comes across as a bumbling idiot, seemingly getting outplayed by the Rangers at every turn. He has his sinister and imposing moments, usually when he is dealing with the Thunder Rangers, who early in the season he has manipulated into working for him. This alien warlord… What do you mean he’s not an alien?
You see, in a three part arc, “The Samurai’s Journey,” the soon to be Green Samurai Ranger and son of Sensei Watanabe, Cam, is sent back in time to locate a source of great power. In that arc it is revealed that Lothor’s real name is Kiya Watanabe. That’s right, the mighty alien space… ninja… overlord… Wizard… (yup, that about covers all his abilities) is infact a Human. He’s the brother of Sensei Watanabe and a disgraced member of the Wind Ninja academy, who takes the name Lothor and goes to space after losing a fight to his nephew, who wouldn’t be there if he hadn’t travelled back in time due to the actions of Lothor. Who, in turn, wouldn’t exist if Cam hadn’t gone back… in time. Cam wouldn’t have gone back in time if Lothor didn’t exist. Lortor wouldn’t have existed if Cam hadn’t gone back in time… Look, the causality doesn’t hold up, if you think about it too much.
But yes, Lothor is human, and if you remember earlier, I mention his nieces are aliens, which brings to bear the question, how? I am guessing he married into a family? Anyway, as I said, for most of the season, Lothor comes across as not the genius he makes himself out to be. That is until the two-part Season Finale, “Storm before the Clam,” in which it is revealed Lothor was letting his people get killed and destroyed in concordance with “The Scroll of Prophecy,” which foretold everything up to this point. I HATED this reveal. HATED IT. It really sours my opinion of the season, which had the potential to be ranked much higher than it will. It felt like they were trying to explain away the funny, give reasoning to it, and this suddenly turned the finale into the same old very serious two-part arc we got at the end of other Power Rangers seasons, with bases getting trashed, Zords getting destroyed, powers getting lost, and the same old tropes we’ve had since… IN SPACE.
That being said, Lothor really turns into a badass, showing how much of a fighting machine a Dark Ninja Wizard Overlord can be, deftly handling all six Rangers at one point. He’s finally brought down when our initial 3 Wind Ninja Rangers, now without their Ranger powers, stand united, unafraid, and still armed with mystical ninja powers that Lothar apparently forgot about.
Lothar has very little character development. He’s a loving uncle to his nieces, and a formidable opponent for his brother and his students. It’s just a shame that the writers couldn’t follow through and make the finale part of his previously established character without completely retconning it in the two-part Season Finale.
Oh yeah. He makes his monsters larger by using a button on a cell phone that sends a growth scroll to the monsters. Yup. A cell phone. They even go out of their way to point out that this means he can only ever grow one monster at a time, and there is a nice little moment when when the cell phone gets replaced he can’t work out how to use it anymore. Get it? It’s because old people don’t technology good.
When discussing this season’s Ranger team, I really want to start with the “Mentor” figure, Sensei Kanoi Watanabe, who spends most of the season as a guinea pig.
Yup. A smegging guinea pig. Now, what I’m about to say may be controversial, even in a season where you are trying to save money by using more sentai footage. Just because the Sentai did something, does not mean it is a good idea. Especially when you never use any Sentai footage of the Sensei (who admittedly is a hamster in the Sentai). Surely CG animating a guinea pig is more expensive than just taking some time in the writers room and coming up with a reason the Sensei can’t be involved in the fighting and writing it into a script or two. Small note here, a really nice touch is that the same actor, Grant McFarland, plays both Sensei Watanabe and his brother Lothor.
As for his Mentor status, once again outside of existing to get captured by the bad guys once or twice, Sensei Watanabe offers nothing of value. Being a guinea pig, he can offer no physical training to the Rangers and 99% of the wisdom he bestows upon them are things like “There is no sense longing for that which is long destroyed,” and frankly, as with Princess Shayla before him, you could replace Sensei Watanabe with a chair, and the show would be the same.
This season’s Red Wind Ranger is Shane Clarke, who, along with his teammates, is a student at the Wind Ninja academy at the season’s start, and is shown to be an affable, confident person. A running theme throughout the season is each of the Wind and Thunder Rangers is into some form of “Extreme” sport. Shane is a skateboarder, and from what we are told/shown, a pretty good one. In an episode late in the season called “Eye of the Storm,” the Rangers are exposed to their deepest fears, where it is revealed his deepest fear is that of his family judging him, embodied by his brother yelling at him. This is probably the most development any of the non-Cam Rangers get in terms of motivations and things, and is definitely way darker than the fears of his fellow Wind Rangers. It should be noted that Pua Magasiva, who played Shane, committed suicide in 2019, under not the greatest circumstances. If you want to know more, the internet is at your fingertips.
Tori Hanson is the Blue Wind Ranger. Tori is the peacemaker of the group, often finding ways to resolve intergroup conflicts by talking it down rather than resorting to violence. Tori is like her element of water, adaptable and fluid, but when harnessed correctly, can be used with devastating force. Tori’s “extreme” sport of choice is surfing. Honestly, even though I enjoy Dustin’s character a little more, Tori is probably my favorite character from Ninja Storm. Her calm, rational approach to things and her self-doubt at times, really does speak to a person coming into their own. Oh, and it should be noted that According to “Eye of the Storm,” Tori’s greatest fear is getting a haircut. Yeah. Remember when I said Shane’s was way darker than his teammates? Cool note: Tori is the first female Blue Ranger.
Our third Wind Ranger is theYellow Wind Ranger, Dustin Brooks (or as it is revealed during the series, his real name is Waldo Brooks). He is often described by people as the “comic book nerd” of the group, which is not a great description. Dustin’s not the smartest person, but what he lacks in smarts, he makes up for in heart and has a refreshing habit of speaking his mind, even to Sensei Watanabe, who at one point, when the Sensei is preventing Cam from becoming a Ranger, tells the Sensei “that’s just weak.” He just flat out tells the Sensei he is wrong. Dustin’s over-trusting nature and lack of smarts is often used to drive the plot, getting him or others into trouble and the Rangers have to get them out of it. Dustin is a Motocross rider for his sport of choice, and holds down a job at a place called Storm Chargers, run by a minor character, Kelly. Storm Chargers sometimes becomes a plot point, but mostly it serves as an off-duty hang out for the Rangers and a sponsor for Dustin to ride their bike in the races. In “Eye of the Storm,” it is revealed his greatest fear is falling from great heights. It’s at this point that the fact that Dustin has fallen out of the Megazord from great heights, has never come up. Dustin is also firm friends with Blake and Hunter, the Thunder Academy Rangers, as all three share a love of Motocross. Dustin is the first human Yellow Ranger in the franchise (Tideus of the Alien Rangers was also a Yellow Ranger)
Dustin is the source of a little controversy when it comes to Ninja Storm. In the first episode, when the team is presented with their morphers, he says “I Knew Power Rangers were real!” following on from a conversation he, Shane, and Tori had been having earlier. Many fans saw this as an opportunity to say that the previous continuity didn’t exist, referencing the fact that ALIENS LANDED ON EARTH IN, …IN SPACE. It didn’t bother me much, but I figured it was worth pointing out.
Hunter Bradley, the Crimson Thunder Ranger and his brother, Blake Bradley, the Navy Thunder Ranger, don’t fare much better when it comes to character development. They have a very brief arc at the beginning of the season, where they start out working for Lothor, but after discovering he was lying to them, they join the side of the Rangers and fight against the intergalactic threat. Other than that, the only real development they get is that Blake and Tori are flirting and beginning a budding romance over the course of the season, but it’s down-played a little due to the season appealing a bit more to a younger audience.
This brings us to Cameron “Cam” Watanabe. The Green Samurai Ranger. Cam is a polarizing character. While I generally enjoy Cam and I know he’s my VftG co-host Sasha’s favorite of the season, he runs into a few of my least favorite tropes. Even before he becomes a Ranger, he is the man who makes the Morphers and the Zords, a top tier martial artist, and generally better at literally everything than the other Rangers. He’s not even technically a student at the academy, but is better at every discipline that the Sensei teaches during the course of the show. He’s also a complete tool about it. Yes, this is explained away because he has some tension with his father over him not being allowed to become a Ranger and is jealous of the Rangers. His father promised Cam’s mother he wouldn’t let Cam become a Ranger, which makes no smegging sense. At the time of making that promise, they only knew of The Wind Powers (three Rangers worth), which the prophecy the whole damn season is based on, and Sensei Watanabe was aware of at the time, indicated were destined for Tori, Dustin, and Shane. Bearing in mind the Sensei had no idea about the Thunder Powers or the Samurai Powers, why make a promise like that.
Then, when Cam does become a Ranger, they fall into the trap that many “6th Rangers” bring to the table, in that once he’s a member of the team, the other 5 can’t seem to win a fight without him.
Personality wise, for the first half of the season, Cam is acerbic, abrasive, confrontational, condescending, and just kinda bitchy. He mellows out a bit once he gains the Green Samurai Powers. With the arc in the past with his mother and the creation of Lothor that we discussed before, plus his journey from tech support asshat douchebag to member of the team, it could be argued that out of all the Rangers, Cam, on top of being the best at everything, also gets all the character development for the season.
It’s at this point in any other season’s column that I would be decrying how little the characters change from the first episode to the last; however, with Ninja Storm this is not the case. Why? It’s because this season is written to be incredibly different. It is, at heart, a comedy season and as such, needs to be evaluated differently. Rather than the characters going on long personal journeys as we saw in Time Force or will see again in SPD or Jungle Fury, this isn’t that kind of season. As I said before when talking about the Villains, this is a season with it’s tongue planted firmly in its cheek and it knows it. It’s part of the reason Cam’s early season douchebaggery stands out, because he’s being written as if he’s in a different season and it just grates on me.
Other interesting notes about the team make-up before we move on – This is the first Power Rangers team to feature neither a Pink or White Ranger. It’s the first season since Turbo to feature the Rangers forcibly losing their powers at the end of the season (though they regain them for next season’s crossover and then Tori regains hers later in Operation Overdrive and the team appears in the Legendary Battle). Ninja Storm is the first time we get to see Rangers piloting Zords unmorphed (which required specially built sets). Finally, this is the first season in which all the Rangers had powers in unmorphed form, commonly known in the fandom as “Civilian Powers.” Civilian Powers are a polarizing part of the show. Some people like them, some don’t. Regardless, the powers make sense here, where they are framed as the subject of the team’s ninja training.
I REALLY like the costume design in this series. From the Rangers morphed forms in the Sentai to the black gi-like outfits they wear when in the dojo and fighting before morphing, to what each of the Rangers wears in their civilian life. Very well done to the costuming department. Ninja Storm was the start of a trend of the Rangers having a non-morphed uniform. Wild Force and Lightspeed had the Jackets, but the Rangers still had their own clothes on beneath those. With Ninja Storm, they get these cool black martial art outfits. This is something we will see repeated at least though the end of Jungle Fury with Dino Thunder being an exception.
The Morphers and Morphing Sequence/Call is nothing too special. The call of “Ninja Storm, Ranger Form,” with a simple gesture and spinning a wheel on the wrist mounted Morpher is simple and effective. The morphing animations are smooth and clean.
The Zords are mixed batch. The basic Storm Megazord has a very lopsided design, being much heavier on one side than the other. As such, I can understand why some people find it weird to watch, especially when later it gains it’s lightning mode and loses all the lopsidedness when transformed. The two Zords, and subsequent Megazord for the Thunder Rangers, is pretty cool. This brings me to something that is clearly a carry over from the Sentai that the producers of Power Rangers really couldn’t avoid. The power ups/weapons for these Zords come from spheres that eject from the Megazord’s chest, and are summoned by putting coins in a slot.
That’s right, the Megazords are giant Gacha machines. Gacha is still most familiar to western audiences as a system of acquiring things in a game app on your phone, but Gacha is a big thing in Japan and this whole Zord System is dripping with Gacha. Honestly, you are either gonna love it or hate it. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan but it did make for some fun moments when coins were intercepted or the like.
We have Dolphin, Lion, and Hawk Zords for the Wind Rangers, a Beetle and “Insectizord” for the Thunder Rangers. When The Green Samurai Ranger shows up in a Freaking Helicopter (that he pilots with his microphone) it kinda throws the theme off. Later, when Cam goes on an adventure and discovers an Ancient Weapon that is actually an Electric Guitar (take a minute to process that… A SAMURAI Ranger whose main weapons are a Microphone Sword and an Electric Guitar), he gains this season’s Carrier Zord, the Mammoth Zord. So yeah, the Zord theming is all over the place. Don’t expect any sort of consistency here. Frankly, the Zords aren’t the greatest this season.
This season’s Battlizer is… Kinda cool. It looks like Shane gets strapped into an armature that gives him increased strength and speed and is probably the best looking Battlizer by far. It’s also the first time since …IN SPACE that it’s been referred to as a Battlizer, with Lost Galaxy Lightspeed Rescue, Time Force, and Wild Force all having their own individual names for the mode. HOW Shane acquires the Battlizer is quite neat too. In the “Shane’s Karma” two-part episode, Shane runs across Skyla, who Shane many years ago as a little boy, helped. It turns out that when he helped her, she was escaping from a bounty hunter, who, surprise-surprise, is still hunting her. Turns out she’s an alien and when she dies she passes her life spirit on to Shane to grant him the new mode. Vexacus, the bounty hunter, goes on to become one of Lothors legions of pointless generals. “Shane’s Karma” is often pointed to by fans of the season as Ninja Storm at its peak, as it really is one of the season’s highlights on all fronts.
This is the section where I would usually talk about this season’s crossover episode, but there isn’t one. Probably another victim of cost cutting by the Mouse. Don’t get me wrong, Sentai footage of a crossover exists, I guess it was just a case of not wanting to pay the actors of the previous series. When discussing this with my co-hosts, we joked that this is probably for the best as Taylor would likely stab Dustin rather than work with him. Jokes aside, I’m very disappointed by the lack of crossover this season, with how good “Reinforcements from the Future,” was and how good “Thunder Storm,” the crossover between Dino Thunder and Ninja Storm was, it would have been nice to see them get some time with the Wild Force team.
The theme of the season is simple; self-belief. You’re going to be hearing me say that a lot in the next few columns. In most Disney seasons there is a recurring motif where one or more of the team members aren’t the “first choice for the team.” With Ninja Storm, it’s all three members of the initial team who, at seasons start, aren’t exactly excelling in their classes. It’s not until the Finale that we learn they were destined to be the Rangers all along due to the scroll (with a very nice fake out at the very end of the last episode, where three students show up at the academy that look just like them). This motif makes it so that self-belief is the core theme in many of the Mouse’s seasons. Another thing that I don’t really see fitting elsewhere in the article and is KIND of a theme, is that Ninja Storm, while being about self-belief, leans into predetermination and prophecy (at least it does in the disappointing Finale). Most of the other times we’ve seen predetermination come up in the show, the season usually argues about how things can’t be predetermined.
Overall, Ninja Storm is a season I really enjoy. I like most of the characters, I like the overall Ninja theme. I think I’ve made it clear I’m very okay with the more lighthearted nature of the season. One thing about this season that I didn’t really have a space to discuss anywhere else, was that it was clear the fight scenes are ramping up in complexity. This is worth noting, because I’ll be talking about this a lot in the next couple of seasons’ articles. However, it is also easy to see why Ninja Storm is a polarizing season.
While this is the end of the part of the article where we discuss details about the season, PLEASE read the paragraphs in the Power Rankings section as it involves something that is quite important to the future of the column and my thoughts on it. That being said, please join me next time as an old Ranger returns with a Peal of… DINO THUNDER.
SEASON POWER RANKINGS
Okay, so there isn’t usually a segment of writing here, but we’ve reached a weird spot in the course of the show and I have to examine what this list means now. Is this list a ranking of how much I enjoyed seasons, or which one I think is better? For example …IN SPACE is technically the better season, with a better overall story, better highlight episodes, more character development, better Villain and more, but the fact is, I enjoyed watching Ninja Storm more.
I think it has to be a Ranking of my ENJOYMENT of seasons. Until now, thankfully those things had lined up so none of the previous 10 seasons are going to move, but now and going forward, at least as far as I have seen, there are seasons I’m going to enjoy more than seasons that are more impressive on a technical level. Sorry for having to go over that. I just thought it best to set up where we stand going forward. So, our standings are now:
- Lightspeed Rescue
- Ninja Storm
- …IN SPACE
- Time Force
- Wild Force
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 3
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 2
- Lost Galaxy
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 1
If you want to discuss things more or follow me, you can find me on Twitter @BobTGoldfish, or tune in to hear me co-hosting Voices from the Grid (or VftG)’s sister show, Awesome Mania, where Mike and I talk about things in the world of professional wrestling. I also do Twitch streams over at twitch.tv/321_tv, which we announce on Twitter beforehand. Of course, you can find Episodes of VftG at txhthockey.com/vftg and you can find us on Twitter @VFTG_PR
Until Then –
Guys, Gals, and Non-aligned Pals, in the words of the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, “Be Excellent to each other and Party On Non-gender specific honorifics!”