Changing identities from one season to the next has become so ingrained in Power Rangers‘ identity that the recent announcement of the 26th season of the seemingly never-ending franchise, Power Rangers Beast Morphers, would be forgiven for being met with casual indifference. I myself, a keen wannabe Red Ranger in my youth when watching the then-current Power Rangers Dino Thunder and Power Rangers SPD, along with the barrage reruns of past seasons, have failed to keep track of the series since it returned to Saban Brands. However, the announcement of the 21st Power Rangers series has resulted in proclamations of euphoria from many corners of the fandom, suggesting that Power Rangers Beast Morphers could usher in a new era for the franchise.
The reveal of Beast Morphers, set to air throughout 2019, came swiftly after the double-punch announcement that Saban Brands, the company that produces Power Rangers, had parted company with toy maker Bandai America. This was swiftly followed up with Hasbro taking its place. Bandai’s long-running partnership with both Saban and Disney, who produced Power Rangers from 2002 to 2009, is something of a watershed moment for fans. Why then, should we take note of this changing of partners? One toy manufacturer being replaced by another may seem inconsequential for almost any other property. Power Rangers is a franchise that lives and dies by its merchandise sales, much like its source material, Super Sentai. Bandai is responsible for the merchandise of both TV franchises, which implies that a breakaway from the toy maker would, until now, have been relegated to the realms of fantasy. The reason for their departure could be rooted in the lacklustre toy sales for the 2017 cinematic endeavour, who’s initial purpose was surely to shift Power Rangers from the confines of the small screen and leap into the big screen. One can’t blame them for abandoning them given the under-performance of that movie.
What then does this signal for the Power Rangers franchise? As the upcoming series would suggest, a sense of creative and commercial freedom could arise. Rather than adapt a Super Sentai series that’s already ahead of the current Power Rangers series, Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters aired back in 2012. Reaching into a Super Sentai from the past that lacks a toy-friendly gimmick that dominated Megaforce, Dino Charge and Ninja Steel suggests that Hasbro are keen to make a robust statement with their upcoming take on Power Rangers, which in turn could lend more creative flexibility for Beast Morphers as a story-telling property as well as a merchandise shifting machine.
Long-time fans of Power Rangers watch this not because of the amount of toys to buy, but by the richness of their respective story and characters. The two would appear to be entwined, as the official press release for Hasbro’s partnership with Saban states:
“We’re particularly excited to introduce the brand to the youngest Power Rangers fans, but we’ve also talked for many years about the growth and development of the fan economy. We do believe that [older] fans today have more interest in, and more access to, fan-oriented products.”
The same creative team, involving executive producers Chip Lynn and Brian Casentini, remains the same, something of an urk for Power Rangers fans. Power Rangers Dino Charge and Power Rangers Ninja Steel have been produced under this trio, whilst Dino Charge has received a warm welcome amongst fans, Ninja Steel fails to hold that grip. Particularly troubling given that Super Ninja Steel celebrates 25 years of Power Rangers, with many past actors set to reprise their Ranger roles. Creatively, Power Rangers Beast Morphers has the opportunity to usher in a fresh burst of creativity for Ranger fans. Dinosaurs and ninjas are well-tread themes amongst Power Rangers, but Beast Morphers sounds like a different beast all together, as the premise teases at:
“Set in the future, a secret agency combines a newly discovered substance called “Morph-X” with animal DNA to create the Power Rangers Beast Morphers team. The Rangers must fight off an evil sentient computer virus bent on taking over the source of all Ranger power, the Morphin Grid itself. Featuring never-before-seen leather suits and an all-new beast-themed arsenal (including dynamic new Zords), fans should get ready for a season full of secret ops and morphinominal fun.”
What’s bound to encourage fans in this premise is the reference to the Morphin Grid. Essentially Power Rangers‘ answer to The Force or the Matrix of Leadership, it’s the source of the Rangers’ power and was last seen back in 2009’s Operation Overdrive. Yes, Power Rangers Megaforce, the 20th anniversary series, failed to give any mention to what is perhaps the most unifying element of the Power Rangers world. The fact that the premise itself makes direct references to the Morphin Grid suggests that Beast Morphers is keen to correct the missed opportunities of the past.
Another recent announcement reveals that Nickelodeon, the broadcaster of Power Rangers, has recently extended its contract into 2021. When Power Rangers returned from Disney to Saban, each entry has so far been split into two seasons that carries them across two years’ worth of screen time. Given that Beast Morphers will be broadcast in 2019, a two-year run would leave just one year remaining in Nickelodean’s run. Might this point towards a discarding of the two-season motif and return to the old days of one season per entry? That remains to be unveiled. For all we know, Power Rangers Beast Morphers may simply be a one-season kickstart for Hasbro before returning to a two-season motif. However Beast Morphers may evolve, its encouraging to see Hasbro ready to inject some enthusiasm into a franchise who’s subservient nature to its merchandise partner has resulted in a dip in quality. A possible factor for Saban not adapting Go-Busters initially might be the toy’s lack of gimmicks. Consider that Megaforce, Dino charge and Ninja Steel all bear some kind of gimmick to unify them, which may make sense from a toy perspective, but limits the show’s creative stance. Each of those three series’ stories were somewhat dictated by the need to unlock such gimmicks to gain new powers and Zords, a ‘gotta catch them all’ logic. Beast Morphers abandoning of that reliance on a gimmick opens new possibilities in story-telling.
That point in itself, the story, is what makes fans return to a specific Power Rangers series time and time again, The few little clues we have already suggests Power Rangers Beast Morphers is ready to take the dilapidated franchise by the scruff of its neck and shake it back to life. Beyond the premise, little is known, despite the premise bearing a strong resemblance to its source material, which itself has distinct reflections of Power Rangers RPM. As mentioned, a Power Rangers series can live or die by its merchandise reception, but a Power Rangers series is remembered for its quality. Or to be more specific, remembered fondly. It’s surely no coincidence that some of the most well-loved seasons of Power Rangers are the ones who’s story boasts some grand ambitions. In Space, Lost Galaxy, Time Force, S.P.D. and the aforementioned RPM stretch beyond the monster-of-the-week motifs of those earlier Mighty Morphin days, making the uninspired rehash of dinosaurs and ninjas for the most recent series’ feel all the more stale. The continued interest in Power Rangers, old and new, is evident in the abundance of blogs and YouTube channels dedicated to analysing and reviewing various seasons. Beast Morpher‘s distinctive fusion of organic and future-tech themes can be interpreted as an extension of the thematic trappings of recent seasons.
In a nutshell, Power Rangers is being rebooted, which I’m decidedly excited for. It could be seen as an odd objective to persue, given that Power Rangers technically reboots itself with every series. However, Power Rangers Beast Morphers looks set to give the franchise a rejuvenating boot up the spandex-clad backside. As if to add to that rejuvenation, that booting would be tricky to accomplish, since Go-Busters is noted for being the first Super Sentai to disbanded with spandex outfits and go for leather. Clearly, a concentrated effort is afoot to bring interest in Power Rangers back to fans old and new, but such a move would indicate that the buzz of recent times as fallen flat. The 2017 movie’s poor performance, with no sequel greenlit yet, and the 25th anniversary not having much buzz about it stands at odds with the course Hasbro seems to want to push Power Rangers in. Whatever the results of Power Rangers Beast Morphers may be, a reinvention such as this is as unforeseen as it is welcome.
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