Sentai to Power Rangers: The Great Adaptation
For over 20 years, Power Rangers has taken footage from Japanese series Super Sentai wholesale. Here's a look back, season-by-season.
For any of you not in the know, Power Rangers is not a wholly original show. “NO WAY!” you may cry. Wait! Don’t go off into the Desert of Despair...let me explain. Power Rangers takes much of its battle footage from a Japanese program called Super Sentai. Every year since its inception they’ve used footage and even some plotlines from the Japanese program to varying degrees of success. Sometimes the adaptation works and sometimes…
Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 1
MMPR threw Zyuranger to the wind. It didn’t care what the plot was; it was just bending the footage any way they could to get 40 episodes.
MMPR would tell wacky stories of the day that just happened to have a ground battle and zord fight to take up a third of the episode. This was the whole premise behind adapting footage from Sentai. It was a cost cutting measure. Cut out anything too Japanese, remove any excessive violence or just plain weirdness. Get a third of the episode to use footage, no matter what Saved by The Bell plot would get you there. Even if you might see a Japanese kid in the background. It didn’t exactly stay that way…
Gosei Sentai Dairanger – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 2
Having exhausted all the footage from Zyuranger and having commissioned brand new fight sequences from Japan dubbed, “Zyu 2” by fans, Saban was finally faced with adapting another Sentai. However, they didn’t want to give up the distinctive MMPR suits so they instead decided to adapt the monsters and zord footage from Dairanger. This lead to the odd distinction of the Zyuranger suits piloting the Dairanger mecha. They also threw out the green Zyuranger suit and went with the Dairangers' sixth ranger. A little boy who could grow into a full sized white ranger. Who ended up being Tommy. Thanks to mostly original fight scenes they were able to remove the more child-like aspects from the footage and his suit luckily lined up with the Zyurangers closely.
Ninja Sentai Kakuranger – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 3
Still holding tight to the Zyuranger suits, Saban again decided to switch out the zords. Kakuranger in Japan was Ninja-based and this actually seeped into MMPR with the rangers receiving ninja powers. One interesting aspect was that this season they actually hacked the footage completely backward. The Ninja Zords were actually introduced in the second half of Kakuranger while what became the Shogun Zords were introduced earlier.
However, the biggest thing taken from the Sentai was they finally utilized a full new team. The use of the Alien Rangers in the final ten episodes of the season finally meant production didn’t have to shoot all their own original fights for the first time in two years. This was to become the standard.
Choriki Sentai Ohranger – Power Rangers Zeo
For the first time, Saban finally made the big switch. They completely ditched the Zyuranger outfits so they could finally take full advantage of the Sentai fights. Besides this, however, the adapting was still business as usual. Zeo is often noted for really upping the ante on world building in the Power Rangers universe and they wouldn’t let the footage hold them back from that. They even adapted a child ranger into an adult once again with the Gold Ranger. Credit needs to be given to the writers for not missing a beat with the transition between seasons. From dinosaurs, to ancient mystical animals, to ninjas, to a more military style theme, they really made it flow effortlessly.
Gekisou Sentai Carranger – Power Rangers Turbo
Turbo is the first case of Saban having to fight the Sentai footage. Carranger was a full on parody of Sentai but the first half of Turbo tried to play it all straight. This led to such unintentionally hilarious moments as Tommy pulling a manual out on the subject of, “How to shift this thing into Turbo.” This first half is one of the reasons Turbo is often hated by much of the fanbase. What most seem to forget is that the second half of the season, under new producer Judd Lynn, leaned much heavier into the silliness of Carranger and made for a much stronger show. If the footage had the Red Ranger defeating a baseball monster with his batting skills? Turbo would go right with it and have its own red ranger, TJ, be a skilled baseball player. Because they leaned into the footage as much as they did, they ended up coming out the other end and delivering some solid stories.
Denji Sentai Megaranger – Power Rangers In Space
This is where things get interesting. Saban was promised a space season by Toei, the production company behind Sentai. What they got was a video game season. Undeterred by this they pressed on with the space concept. Aided by a few zord fights set in space and by tinting footage, the production team was able to have the rangers travel to multiple planets on their small budget (it just so happens a lot of planets look like downtown LA). The budget did finally catch up with them, which is where the horrific Psycho Ranger arc came from. It slavishly adapts a whole arc from Sentai with little rhyme or reason for existing within the story In Space had presented before hand. This was the first real instance of burning through Sentai footage, and it would not be the last.
Seijuu Sentai Gingaman – Power Rangers Lost Galaxy.
This is where things get insane. With the success of In Space the writers were given an edict. “We’re going to space again!” The only problem? Gingaman was a nature Sentai. Where one of the main characters was a tree. The whole season was an uphill battle, fighting the footage left and right with the rangers running on all fours and riding on horses. Early production difficulties lead to the "Lights of Orion" arc, the worst part of Lost Galaxy. Exactly like the Psycho Ranger arc before it, it mindlessly translates Sentai episodes, such as the one where they spend a whole episode wondering if their new power up is hidden in sunflower statues. Yeah, whatever.
After that arc the season did finally figure out how to make the footage work and featured a much better balance of Sentai footage to American plots.
Kyuukyuu Sentai GoGoV – Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue
This is where PR started a trend of being more a translation of Sentai than an adaption. While Lightspeed didn’t wholly copy GoGoV, it certainly used a lot of its aesthetics. Thankfully we were spared the kind of footage burning arcs that In Space and Lost Galaxy gave us, but there was a steady increase in the amount of Sentai footage used throughout the season.
They did have good reason for it though, as this was the first season to introduce a wholly American original ranger. The Titanium Ranger was given one of the auxiliary zords from GoGoV and although his introduction arc was strong, the amount of American shot footage meant he would be shoved to the sidelines in favor of using more footage.
Mirai Sentai Timeranger – Power Rangers Time Force
If Lightspeed copied a lot of GoGoV’s aesthetics; Time Force ripped Timeranger's plot whole cloth. The main arc of the show was nearly directly translated in most cases. Thankfully, the more Japanese-like elements and downright silly elements (like the main villain being propelled by farting) were removed or heavily downplayed. In their place we were given Ransik, a formidable opponent played by Mad Max veteran Vernon Wells. That was what Time Force did best with the Sentai. When it did copy, it at least knew what to leave out and would then add something else back in. It helped the story move much smoother and even made the Sentai footage-heavy fights (including one where only the close ups on an unmorphed characters face are reshot) work.
Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger – Power Rangers Wild Force
If Time Force was a copy of Timeranger, then Wild Force is a find and replace on Gaoranger. It’s just translating the Sentai with barely any original thought in it. When it does decide to care, it’s actually some of the best Power Rangers out there. “Reinforcements from the Future” and “Forever Red” are fan favorites and “The Master's Last Stand” features a superb performance by Ilia Volok as the US exclusive villain, Master Org. The season still falls apart because, while they must have saved a ton of money with the over abundance of Sentai footage, nothing is added to it. It’s just watered down Gaoranger, and that wasn’t a fan-favorite Sentai to begin with.
Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger – Power Rangers Ninja Storm
The first season under the new Disney regime had a clear objective: Rekindle the magic of MMPR. The only problem? They were saddled with a Sentai season about ninjas. A season that featured a lot of ninja-like imagery wasn’t going to be as easy to get around as Zyuranger. Rather than reshoot it, the crew behind Ninja Storm just went with it. The main characters were students at a ninja academy.
It wasn’t the same story as Hurricaneger by any means (I’m fairly certain the Japanese characters were not adrenalin-juiced sports junkies) but it just couldn’t escape the footage. As much as they were trying to capture the lightning in a bottle that MMPR had? The ninja aesthetic meant they couldn’t quite get to that level.
Bakuryu Sentai Abaranger – Power Rangers Dino Thunder
This is where they finally got it right. With input from fans in mind, executive producer Doug Sloan took the series back to its roots. Dino Thunder totally disregarded the story of Abaranger, preferring to set the series back in high school. It totally changed the white ranger’s story (considering in Abaranger his name was Abarekiller this isn’t a huge surprise) and threw out the talking dinosaurs.
One casualty of the season was the Triassic Ranger. At this time Power Rangers wasn’t that far behind Sentai and they didn’t have the benefit of knowing where the Japanese footage was going. Early reports made it look like what became the Triassic Ranger would be its own unique ranger and the producers planned accordingly. However when it was revealed to just be a power up for the red ranger? Well, those plans were scrapped.
Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger – Power Rangers S.P.D.
Doug Sloan left the show and under Bruce Kalish a new style was adopted for dealing with Sentai. Create a US-exclusive overall plot for the season but mostly adapt the individual Sentai episodes. This caused a lot of problems when rangers would start acting way out of character. S.P.D. suffered from this greatly. To accommodate the Sentai plots, the characters would often be reset episode-by-episode, leaving little forward movement in the plot until the final story arc.
Thankfully, veteran producer Greg Aronowitz saved the season. With his multitude of years in the industry (including designing monsters for MMPR: The Movie) he was able to inject most of the originality into the storyline. Sadly he was only present for this season.
Mahou Sentai Magiranger – Power Rangers Mystic Force
Oh, Mystic Force. With the episode count cut to thirty-two, the strategy of directly translating episodes ran into a huge problem. The writers would sometimes adapt episodes one for one but other times they’d squash two or more Sentai plots into one episode of Power Rangers. The pacing was all over the place and the stories suffered.
None worse than the "Ten Terrors" arc. Magiranger had ten monster generals. So Mystic Force decided to use all of them, despite the fact they just didn’t have enough time to give them all proper story arcs. Sure, it burned a lot of footage, but is it worth saving all that money if it negatively affects the plots?
GoGo Sentai Boukenger – Power Rangers Operation Overdrive
Overdrive's premise promised trekking around the world on an epic search for treasure. Not exactly different from Boukenger which dealt with a relic recovery team, but it was a fun play on the footage. The problem? Again, they didn’t know how to work the footage. So once more we were stuck with a decent American over plot saddled with Sentai plots sloppily translated.
The show also started to look horrific. Boukenger was the first Sentai to film in widescreen but Disney kept the show filmed in full screen to save money. The awkward cropping and squishing of the footage made some of the fights borderline unwatchable.
Juken Sentai Gekiranger – Power Rangers Jungle Fury
Jungle Fury had less an original American over plot than some scattered original ideas here and there. It took out anything too Japanese and just kept going. The 2007-2008 writers strike didn’t impact the story quality and the season just shuffled through the major beats of Gekiranger.
The one bright spot of the season (besides RJ) was a trio of American rangers, the Spirit Rangers. Even being the highlight of the season, the middle of their three-episode arc had a random Sentai plot thrown in. Thanks, scab writers! By this point PR fandom had fallen into a rut. It was the same thing every year. However…
Engine Sentai Go-onger – Power Rangers RPM
Go-onger had wacky talking zords and were tasked with stopping pollution. RPM was set in a post-apocalyptic world where the last remnants of civilization were trapped in a domed city. The most original use of Sentai footage in years perhaps took it a bit too far. They went so far out of left field away from the footage it ended up nearly bankrupting the season (forcing them to bring in veteran producer Judd Lynn).
When you’re trying to do a “darker” season of Power Rangers, having wacky anime looking zords isn’t exactly the best course of action. They did lampshade all of the wackier aspects of Go-onger fairly well, but it was still an uphill battle. The end result more or less worked and it’s still regarded as one of the series' best.
Samurai Sentai Shinkenger – Power Rangers Samurai/Super Samurai
Samurai and Super Samurai are like Wild Force without the caring. They are Shinkenger, through and through. Not only would they copy the story but they’d downright copy whole sequences right down to how they were shot (and even taking footage of the moon in one case).
According to Tony Oliver, who did a small amount of writing for the season, they thought directly translating it would make the production easier. It didn’t. It lead to awkward Hong Kong translated style dialogue such as, “We became impatient!” The show was watered down Shinkenger. Not the most triumphant return to the franchise for Saban.
Tensou Sentai Goseiger – Power Rangers Megaforce
The Goseigers were angels. Clearly this would be gone from Megaforce. Instead the rangers are back in high school and we thankfully got some originality back into the show. The only problem? Instead of adapting a 50 episode season into two, twenty episodes seasons like Samurai/Super Samurai did...Megaforce compressed 50 episodes of Goseiger into 20 episodes. The pacing was horrific. Battles would last for 85% of the episode. We barely got any time with the rangers out of suit and when we did it was just loose set up for the fights.
Villains are introduced and quickly disposed of. The lack of time and care put into the overall production was baffling, especially since it was the 20th anniversary season. “Gosei Ultimate” is one the worst episodes of Power Rangers by far because it squashes too many episodes together and is just one long, boring fight.
Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger – Power Rangers Super Megaforce
While this season has just debuted at the time of this article, we already know they’re using the Gokai suits simply as a power up for the Megaforce suits. It’s an interesting idea, but if we’re stuck with adapting another 50 sentai episodes into 20? Well… we’ll see. And the Dairanger suits seem to have finally made it to America… With… Well you can read that review.
Now I want to hear from you readers. How do you think Power Rangers has handled adapting Sentai? Should they be as original as possible? Or should PR just be translating Sentai? Let me know in the comments below! Read more of our Power Rangers coverage here!