(Warning: This blog post features spoilers from the new Power Rangers movie as well as several Magical Girls series. Reader Discretion is advised.)
Yes, you read that correctly.
No, I am not joking. Just hear me out, okay? Let’s take it back to the beginning.
Today (or I guess Yesterday since I’m guaranteed to sleep for several hours before pushing the “Publish” button), I look Lucky K (my son) to see the new Power Rangers movie. I wasn’t thrilled with his choice but I wasn’t going to say “no” either. Instead, I was prepared to tune out the movie and let my son enjoy himself.
Don’t get me wrong – any series that featured my Freshman year crush (and probably a little more after that) Jason David Frank (aka Tommy Oliver) can’t be all bad. I still remember crying buckets of tears when that green candle extinguished and the Green Ranger – once an evil soldier controlled by a wicked witch who found his path to redemption – lost his powers.
I also remember seething with hormonal teenage jealous when he and Kimberly kissed, but that’s for another post…maybe.
But let’s be honest – the original series and the countless series that have come after that are the epitome of corny, campy, and melodramatic. The formulas has remained the same for over twenty years – a rag tag group of scrappy teenagers work together to fight monsters week after week because of a weird looking villain who is petty af and has nothing better to do than to want to destroy Earth, yadda yadda yadda.
That’s how it goes, isn’t it?
So when my son insisted that he wanted to see the new Power Rangers movie, which is a retread (reboot? retread? do over?) of the original series, I was seriously not feeling it. But considering that I didn’t want to watch the Live-Action Beauty and the Beast movie either, I didn’t have much choice. Power Rangers was it.
I was about to eat my words big time.
Power Rangers, at least to me, was a pretty damn fun movie! It definitely touched my nostalgic awkward teenage heart with nods to the original series! Please refrain from confusion, though – it was its own movie that was thankful, a more serious and realistic vision compared to it’s campy TV counterpart. I could relate to all the characters, I could relate to the setting, and the whole movie was one fantastic ride. And as my son and I marvelled over the film as we headed back home, I could only think of one thing.
This was basically a magical girl narrative packaged as a Power Rangers movie!
This is one of the best renditions of a magical girl narrative the West has ever created.
I know what you’re thinking. I bet some of you are like “Okay, Misu, we know that Takeuchi-sensei was inspired by Himitsu Sentai Gorenger, you’re stretching it now!” But trust me – as someone who has immersed herself in magical girl narratives going on three years now, I could appreciate this movie as a magical girl researcher AND as nostalgic awkward teenager. Power Rangers shared so many thematic elements with Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, and other battle-oriented magical girl series that I had to take a moment during the movie and catch my breath.
Do you still insist on me explaining myself? That’s fair. I will totally argue my point. But allow me to warn you that from here on out, there are SPOILERS ABOUND. If you haven’t watched the new Power Rangers movie, get out now. I repeat GET OUT NOW! I’m about to SPOIL IT ALL FOR YOU!!!
…are they gone? Okay…let’s start with the most basic similarity.
It’s Always Teenagers. Always.
Ah, Adolescence. That glorious period where you are no longer a child but not yet an adult. It is an emotional period where you deal with hormonal changes that expand and contract various parts of your body, navigate complex interpersonal relationships, and try not to lose your sh*t. OF COURSE it’s always teenagers. After all, transforming into a magical avatar or an armored superhero is a brilliant mechanism for personal growth, right. Just ask Jason and Usagi.
Not Madoka, though – I think turning into a concept doesn’t really count as growth.
Color-Coded Personalities = Pieces to the Teammate Puzzle
The most basic similarity between Power Rangers and Sailor Moon et. al is that both series use color-coded teams. There’s that one character that represents one color, and with that color a set of traits or a certain personality. In Sailor Moon, it hit you upside the head. Rei/Sailor Mars was fiesty and fiery (well, more so in the 90s anime than the manga), Minako/Sailor Venus hair was golden and shiny like a goddess, and Ami/Sailor Mercury was cool and calm like standing waters. In the movie, though, it was a little more subtle. Clearly, Jason was drawn to the red coin because he was meant to be the leader, but beyond the colors that characters wore, I didn’t see any correlations between the color and their personality. Yes, Kimberly was pink, but you could tell she was tired of being the prim and proper cheerleader when she cut her long hair. Jason received the red coin, but he wasn’t too thrilled about his “leader” status, at least when it came to being a star quarterback.
But then again, that’s why I liked the movie – it eschewed stereotypes for genuine character development. You would have never seen this sort of character depth in the original series, and I really loved how the movie changed that. Billy isn’t just a nerd – he’s a teenager who is gifted but is also on the autism spectrum. One if his running gags is that he literally cannot take a joke – it goes right over his head. Jason is the star quarterback that everyone admires but he is angry, and he is aware of his failings. Trini broke my heart – her family is trying to fit her square peg into a round hole and it kills her inside.
Sailor Moon is the same way – from the get-go, Usagi admits she’s a klutz and a crybaby. She is aware of her failings but she tries her best to overcome them anyway. Ami has a genius intellect but is alienated by her classmates because she thinks too highly of herself – or that’s what they tell themselves. Which brings me to my second point…
The Outcasts Shall Save the Earth
Did you ever notice how the clean-cut, goody-two shoes are never the ones who end up being the heroes? Superman, as Clark Kent, looked like a total nerd in those glasses of his. Before Steve Rogers became Captain America, he was a frail and scrawny who wanted a chance to prove himself. Even though they looked like nothing special, once they go their individual powers (okay, Kal-el was born with his powers, but bare with me), they fought the good fight. But they had to go through some ish to get there (don’t believe me? Go watch Smallville – that was a good show).
It’s no different for Power Rangers and Sailor Moon. I don’t think I’ve ever read a series where the heroine is outright popular and beloved, or at least is visible enough to be given recognition. Same with Power Rangers – the characters might have a niche following, or be really good at something, but you would never call them the most popular kids at school. In fact, I’d venture say that their strengths are their weaknesses. The one thing that they are good at is the one thing that alienates them from others or even makes them a target for bullying and harassment (see Sailor Moon’s Ami and Power Rangers Jason above).
Power Rangers really plays this up. I mean, three of the characters meet in detention hall – and in the cinematic universe, detention is where outcasts seek sanctuary. Billy has a brilliant mind, but because his mind works different, he is targeted by bullies. This also happens with Rei/Sailor Mars. Yes, she is a shrine priestess who mystical psychic powers, but when young girls start disappearing from the nearby bus stop, it’s only a matter of time before suspicion is cast on her.
For all their beauty and coolness, these characters are all outcasts in a way – they are definitely not normal or typical and that’s what makes them stand out – that’s what makes them worthy enough to receive the power to face the challenges that lie ahead. For me, I feel it makes them appreciate life more – they have dealt with the bad of being an outcast, but they experience the good as they get to know one another. Because they know what the pain of being cast off feels like, it makes them want to work that much harder to save those closest to them – so they don’t feel that pain.
And while we’re on the subject of interpersonal relationships…
The Power of Friendship – Corny, BUT TRUE!
Reviewers might complain about how there could have been more armored fights in this movie (our fearless heroes don’t really morph until the third act of the movie), but I appreciate that it was done that way. Zordon makes it very clear – you gain the power to morph once you are true with yourself and your teammates. And let’s face it, that’s a pretty big concern with Power Rangers and magical girl series alike. They just transform into their other form and pretty much get thrown to the wolves.
The only deviation that I know of magical girl wise is CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth, which I guess is more similar to the Power Rangers franchise than even Sailor Moon is (it has color-coded characters, too!). Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu had to look into themselves and learn to trust each other before they could gain full access to their Mashin, which is basically the magical girl version of Zords. Just like Power Rangers, there may be been fights with minions of the big bad, but the all out battle didn’t come to the very end (for Rayearth, oddly enough, it was the third volume).
Power Rangers and Magic Knight Rayearth both argue for the idea that since the power to stop an unfathomable evil to save the world is rooted in the power of self and the ones who fight along side you, it makes sense that you have to earn your power by proving that you’ve done just that. I mean, isn’t that how military training goes? Not only are you trained to be a soldier, but also fight alongside and back up other soldiers? I really appreciated this aspect of the plot. It’s one thing to just get in there in fight, it’s another when you take the time and really be mindful of what you are fighting for. And on that note…
You Done Crossed the Line! This Fight’s Personal.
One of the most amazing scenes in Power Rangers is when Jason rescues his father. It had me freaking out. Goldar, Rita Repulsa massive monster is wrecking havoc in Angel Grove. Jason’s father is frantically calling his son to see if he’s okay. The two have a strained relationship at best – his dad believes he’s throwing his life away and Jason can’t seem to connect to him. Just as his dad finishing leaving a voice mail, he gets caught up in the carnage and his car turns over. Jason, who has seen this go down in his Zord, rushes through fire, insanity, and Puddies to rescue his dad. His dad is mistrustful for a minute (and understandably so), but Jason convinces him to let him help. And somehow two finally connect, even though Jason must keep his identity a secret. But parent’s know – they always know. So at the end when I saw Jason’s Dad posting a picture of the Red Ranger on the fridge door, I beamed with pride along with him.
You would never see such an emotional exchange in the TV series (its Japanese counterpart is different, from what I hear. I’ve been reading about the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Japanese counterpart – Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. I think I’m gonna need some tissues. How they swapped that emotional stuff for campy monster-of-the-week stuff is beyond me.) Then again, are families and extended friends ever introduced? I mean, Japanese anime and manga is notorious for the disappearing parents trope and if parents were introduced in Power Rangers, then they were introduced enough for me to remember them. But with magical girl series and the new Power Rangers film, it’s different. Each character is situated within a dynamic family structure. The film is two hours long, but the time they spend with each character is enough to get a feel for them. My heart really went out to Zack, who took care of his sick mother. You could tell that he really adores her, but seeing her fade before his eyes…I have no words.
That being said – it made the fight all that more imperative and all that more personal. In the TV series, you get the feeling that the chosen ones do what they do because it’s their duty. Despite a period of disbelief, they never fully question their power. They just go in, morph, and fight because their city is in danger and the people need saving. That’s now how it works in Power Rangers, nor does it work like that in Sailor Moon or even Magic Knight Rayearth. Their time in Angel Grove may not be as ideal as they’d like it to be, but their loved ones live there. You got this sense that as soon as they morphed, they moved to catch Goldar because they didn’t want those cherished people to get hurt. The very act of morphing was personal – they had to connect to themselves and each other to do so.
It wasn’t that much different for Usagi/Sailor Moon. After she transformed, she was moved to act not because of duty, but because she heard her friend Naru crying out for her. She acted not to save Tokyo for an evil monster, but to save her friend who needed her help. Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu may have been transported to Cephiro to save the land, but it was their desire to find a way home and eventually to help Princess Esmeraulde that moved the story.
The “selfish” motivations to fight and save the world added depth to a story that I really appreciated. It’s one thing to have to fight the good fight, but to want to do it, to really want to do it, even though it can mean certain death – that’s where the good stuff is and Power Rangers provided that. I’m sure Magical Girls would be proud.
I know that fans of the actual Super Sentai series are going to come at me by saying something like “But it’s always been this way!”, et cetera. And from what I’ve read on the Power Rangers wiki, I’m inclined to agree. It boggles my mind how emotionally-heavy storylines are present in tv shows marketed to kids in Japan – I mean, Sailor Moon was first serialized in Nakayoshi magazine where the readers are between 6-12 years old! Yet it’s advertised to be for readers 12 and up here in the Canada. Which is why I’ve mainly used comparisons from the North American franchise – the one I grew up with. It’s odd because here where I live in Canada, the movie is rated PG, but in the United States, it’s rated PG-13. I admit, it’s very edgy, and has its moments, but characters don’t use profanity, and many of the situations are true to life – really good teachable moments for young children. I took my son to see the movie and I never felt compelled to take him out of the theatre because it was too much. In fact, he had a harder time watching the henshin sequences in Sailor Moon R than he did watching Power Rangers.
I’d like to think that I’m a somewhat progressive parent, but that’s another post. I will say that we’ve had some interesting conversations lately. But I am glad we watched the movie. I really enjoyed it and it gave me a renewed sense of purpose for my magical girl research. If the franchise continues and builds on these aspects without veering to deep into “Camp” territory (though that seen with the black Zord and the nuns was hilarious), I’d gladly go to them.
As for the similarities, I’m mentally preparing myself for the pushback. I’ve already received it from my son, who insists that his beloved Rangers are nothing like Mommy’s magical girls. But I’ve seen the similarities and I’m not afraid to say so! So let’s Go, Go, Go!