Chapter Three
It's Time to Conquer Earth!
Sailor Moon and The Power Rangers

In 1993, Fox badly needed programming for its new Fox Kids block of weekend and weekday programming for kids and teens. So an entrepreneurial media and television producer named Haim Saban combined footage from a Japanese tokusatsu series called Super Sentai and original scenes featuring American actors and actresses into a violent, rock-music-infused, ultra-camp superhero show called the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

The Japanese scenes in Power Rangers were reminiscent of the daikaiju films of the 1960s like Godzilla and War of the Gargantuas. They relied on models and miniature shots, acrobatic fight choreography, plenty of posturing and exaggerated movements, plastic weapons, low-budget special effects and over-acting. Throw in a few really bad one-liners and it was about as silly as television could get.

In its first year, Power Rangers had nearly five million daily viewers. In its second, nearly seven million. By 1995, it was generating over $1 billion in merchandise sales.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers relied on an important and powerful formula. The first element was to present characters the audience could identify with. In this show, those characters were everyday American teenagers with everyday teenage problems. Each had a different personality, which gave the team a multi-faceted appeal and many ways to connect with an audience emotionally.

The second element was to provide the audience with a way to project their identity with one or more of those characters into heroic, action-packed battle sequences with a never-ending string of monsters, villains, perilous situations and plot twists. This formula had been used before with shows like the Transformers and Justice League, but never before had it been quite so focused or efficiently presented.

Power Rangers also had one of the first “endless powerup” models in popular kids entertainment. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, if a superhero transformed from a regular person into their heroic persona, that was simply a “power-up.” The character was either one or the other: civilian or superhero.

But in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the characters could go from regular teenagers to Power Rangers, then to Power Rangers with weapons, then to Power Rangers piloting huge battling robots called “Zords,” then to a combination of all five robots into an even bigger robot called a “Megazord.” Each of these power-ups depended on the one that came before it, and each was the subject of an extensive and highly stylized animation sequence, a series of hand and arm gestures and a shouted invocation (with the rock music playing, of course. There was never a moment when the pounding rock music wasn’t playing).

Each of these new forms came with sixty-eight toy licenses, nine hundred and three new powers and a sharp nod and thumbs-up from all five of the title characters before they launched a special-effects and light show that blasted their opponent back to their diabolical drawing board.

The combination of all of these different forms for the hero represents an “endless power up sequence” common to a number of other anime series including Dragonball, Magic Knight Rayearth and Sailor Moon. In fact, Dragonball Z’s power-ups often consumed entire episodes, yet were still entertaining enough to galvanize enormous audiences over the years.

One of the reasons this is so powerful and so appealing is because it gives the audience a frame of reference. When one of the Power Rangers shouts their invocation phrase, the audience knows what to expect. They also know this is how each of the heroes taps into their supernatural/technological/magical powers. The familiar transformation sequences not only thrilled viewers, but saved on production costs and became signature elements of the show that could be reworked and “powered-up” so to speak over ensuing seasons.

All Saban had to do was dub English-language character voices over the footage and he had everything he needed to inspire his audience. Even parents watching these tokusatsu sequences had to admit they were pretty cool in a Godzilla-stepping-on-model-houses sort of way.

In the process of perfecting the endless power-up, Power Rangers did one other very important thing. It established the sentai monster-of-the-day plot. This was just as important as the stylized and familiar transformations because it provided audiences with an episode-scope frame of reference. The more familiar elements a speculative series can provide, the easier it is for audiences to follow the story. Power Rangers is strange enough for the uninitiated without making audiences follow a complex plot.

The monster-of-the-day model breaks each day’s story into a common schedule. The first half of each episode is concerned with everyday teenage problems. Then the villains threaten someone or something. All seems lost until one of the heroes shouts “It’s Morphin Time!” The villains try to keep pace with the twelve-minute sequence of power-ups, challenging shouts, poses and sharp nods/thumbs-up gestures but eventually fall behind. Then a robot the size of the Chrysler Building fires multi-colored lightning at something evil-looking, there’s a big explosion during the guitar solo and the day is saved just before the freeze-frame group high-five and the end credits.

By the second week of this, audiences knew exactly what to expect and were never disappointed. Placed in front of the average ten-year-old boy, the Power Rangers likely became an inspiration on the order of the loudest war drums and the clearest silver trumpets heralding the arrival of the mightiest legends a child’s mind could possibly fathom.

This is not to say that the Power Rangers was a boys-only show. Almost half of the original team was female. Not a few girls got their introduction to participation in this action-packed world because right there on the screen were two female fighters who had every power the boys did.

The results speak for themselves. The Power Rangers were a gigantic hit, became a cultural icon and turned Haim Saban into a multi-billionaire. When he wasn’t building billion-dollar companies, he was pitching ideas about anime to other executives.

As it turned out, one of those executives was a children’s television producer named Andy Heyward.

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