Power Rangers: Ranking the Other American Tokusatsu TV Shows
The explosion of Ameri-Toku in the wake of Power Rangers' success met with mixed results. We rank 'em all.
When Power Rangers exploded onto the scene in 1993 it became a global phenomenon. Sold out toy shelves, live appearances, and merchandising galore. It was the hottest property since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the '80s. It’s no surprise Saban wanted to ride the bandwagon they created and in turn they (and others) developed several shows to ride the coattails of Power Rangers, referred to by fans as “Ameri-Toku” series.
We’ll be examining each of these in depth in an upcoming series of articles, why they worked, why they didn’t, and why none of them seemed to catch on and stick around like Power Rangers has for over twenty years. For now though, we’ll be ranking all of them, including Power Rangers, from worst to best!
8. Kamen Rider Dragon Knight
That tagline is the biggest lie in the history of ever. The second adaption of the popular Japanese franchise on our native soil had a ton of ambition. Too bad that ambition was to try and be “cool and sunglasses” for it’s intended audience of thirteen year old boys. There’s no other explanation for the show's obsession with fights and lingering shots of girls asses. The story telling was weak and with endless recaps and three clip shows, the show barely has any actual content to digest. The story of Kit trying to find his father and then trying to save the world from General Xaviax was paper-thin at best.
I’ll give it a few points for trying to aim it’s intended audience higher than kids but the story telling ended up being more like a fan fic. Oh also, the characters consist of such wonderful personalities as an asthmatic solider who can’t stop shouting, “MARNIES!!!!!!” and Brad Barret. Who always wins. He repeats that about five hundred times.
7. Super Human Samurai Syber Squad
Would you believe a show with that silly of a name actually had the most star power out of any Ameri-Toku series? Not only did Matthew Lawrence of Mrs. Doubtfire/Boy Meets World fame star, the main villain was voiced by Nigel Thornberry himself, Tim Curry. While he was easily the best part of the show, the series itself doesn’t hold up. The footage from Japanese series Gridman is beautiful but the rest of the show just looks cheap.
With only four standing sets, plots didn’t really have any room to develop past goofy Saved by the Bell style antics. Couple that with fights being reused several times (Super Human Samurai was 53 episodes, Gridman was 39) the show is a slog to get through, especially if you try to marathon it all at once. Also, dig those '90s fashions! Blossom style hats will be in style forever right?!?
6. Big Bad Beetleborgs/ Beetleborgs Metallix
Have you rewatched this show recently? No? Well when you do, you’ll understand why the title really should have been, “Wacky Time with the House Monsters.” Halfway through the show's first season it quickly shifts focus from the titular Beetleborgs and instead focuses on the antics of the horror movie influenced House Monsters. While this is what the show did best, it certainly isn’t what I’m looking for in an Ameri-Toku, that being a sitcom guest starring some super heroes and villains.
When the show did focus on its main characters and gave them plots that didn’t revolve around the monsters they were pretty decent, but they’re so few and far between it just can’t hold up. It’s a show that was at odds with itself the entire run. It needed to pick what it wanted to be, although I will say it had sort of found the right balance by the time Metallix rolled around.
5. Masked Rider
With an appearance in Power Rangers third season premiere, you’d think Masked Rider would have been a slam-dunk. Well by the time the show premiered it had wiped that story from its own continuity and went for a situation comedy featuring a multi-cultural family, an evil insect force, a fish out of water alien, and a TOTALLY NOT THE INSPIRATION FOR FERBYS alien pet named Ferbus. It…well, the show happened. But despite the situation comedy aspects, the show isn’t as bad as some fans like to complain (since most haven’t seen past the first episode).
Dex’s alien nature does make for some fun gags and when we actually see him missing his home world it does play very emotional with the audience. It’s also hilarious to see them try and match Dex actor TJ Roberts with stock footage from Kamen Rider Black RX, to the point where he sometimes mysteriously turns Japanese in a few shots. It’s a sight to behold.
4. Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills
If Masked Rider is mocked within the Ameri-Toku fandom Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills is the punching bag. Which is a shame, because I’d actually put its story telling on par with season 1 of Power Rangers. It doesn’t have any budget to work with thanks to being the first wholly original Ameri-Toku production that didn’t utilize a Japanese series for stock footage, but unlike Super Human Samurai it actually manages some world building.
We get a picture of the universe they inhabit, and even get the plot of Power Rangers Super Megaforce recent two parter, “Silver Lining” twenty years early with the series best entry, “Universal Hitchhiker” which features a hero from a destroyed world. It’s surprisingly deep stuff for a show with such a stupid name. The show’s main characters are more fleshed out and well defined than most recent Power Rangers characters, and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see them in more situations than the five standing sets allowed.
3. Mystic Knights of Tir na Nog
Out of all the series, this is the one that least tried to copy Power Rangers and it benefited. Featuring strong storytelling, gorgeous visuals, and inspiring music, the only thing holding Mystic Knights back from success was many of its Ameri-Toku aspects. That being the transforming/toyetic aspect of the series. While most of these series lived and breathed by toy sales, Mystic Knights always seemed to have the toys as secondary to the epic story it was conveying. The mystic armor our heroes donned for fights was never as important as their personal quests and was the least memorable part of the series. It didn’t help that even with such formidable weapons as swords, bows, maces, and tridents all they ever did was shoot lasers out of them.
What the series got right, and why it ranks high on this Ameri-Toku list, is the world building. This was a series rich with fleshing out its own people on both sides and the mythology. Sure, it dubiously adapts Celtic myths but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. It also gets bonus points for being completely original without adapting a Japanese series.
2. VR Troopers
A show clearly of its time (although with Oculus Rift on the way, maybe its time for a revial?) VR Troopers still stands head and shoulders above its competition for just being so damn fun. It’s ridiculous, our main hero is a guy who opens and closes every episode whining about how much he misses his dad. He hangs out with a computer genius, a struggling reporter, and a talking dog that sounds like Jack Nicholson. Oh yeah, they also transform into super heroes powered by Virtual Reality. Yet, all three barely fight together because the stock footage for battles was taken from three separate Japanese series. Whenever a fight would begin, the heroes would just nod to each other and head off in different directions.
That fact doesn’t take away from the enjoyment when we get such classic lines as, “Are you thirsty? Here, have some punch!” Classic.
1. Power Rangers
Here’s a question for all of you, why is Power Rangers celebrating over twenty years on air while none of these shows could crack a third season? Well, besides the ever so obvious toy sales, Power Rangers was the first. It had the lightning in a bottle. It became a pop culture phenomenon. Even if some of these shows were beating it in ratings, like Beetleborgs, they aren’t really remembered. Power Rangers has stayed on air constantly since it’s inception, surviving two production changeovers and shifting networks. It’s a concept that works, the original “teenagers with attitude” is a beautifully simple idea that the other shows either overly complicated or just didn’t understand.
Power Rangers is also flexible as hell, the show changing around every year to be something different and yet incredibly similar. Whether it be in high school, space, traveling around the world, or from the year three thousand, it’s a show that can constantly reinvent itself, something none of the other series really had the capability to do.
Keep up with all our Power Rangers coverage here.