As I started to get more into Super Sentai, it was inevitable that I would want to try watching Power Rangers again. And as luck would have it, around the same time my interest in the sentai series started to grow, there was a new Power Rangers series coming out in the US: Power Rangers Samurai. So needless to say I did check it out. I hadn’t watched Power Rangers for years before this but even so I felt that the show really didn’t change much (well aside from better filming equipment) from when I was little. Same corny action sequences, same cheesy dialogue and terrible voice over work, and same cheesy acting. But otherwise it’s still a fun and enjoyable show. And of course, it got me interested in it’s sentai counterpart, Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. It wasn’t until this week that I took a peek at Shinkenger (mostly due to watching other sentai series). The curiosity was further sparked when I read a review of Power Rangers Samurai that said its first episode was derived from the third episode of Shinkenger. To me, that doesn’t make sense. That’s two missed episodes that could’ve given back story for each of the characters, shown how they came together, shown the dynamic of the team, and so on and so forth. So without anymore hesitation, let’s do a bit of compare and contrast on these series.
First up, Shinkenger. The series starts off with the lord of the Shiba clan, Takeru as he fights off a few demonic creatures. His guardian, Hikoma Kusakabe (usually called “Jii” by the Shinkengers) senses that the seal the past samurai put on the Gedoushuu will be broken soon and warns Takeru that they should start searching for the other 4 samurai. Not wanting to rely on the help of others, Takeru refuses but eventually agrees. Hikoma fires an arrow that acts as a beacon and relays a message to Takeru’s 4 vassals that the time has come to gather.
The first two episodes take time to establish each character, their personalities, and how they work together. Anything after these two episodes just gets into specifics about the characters, though technically episode 2 is specific to Kotoha (we learn why it is she’s fighting and what she hopes to gain). Episode 3 is specific about Chiaki. Episode 4 is specifically about Mako and Ryunosuke. And episode 5 is specific to Takeru. For this, I’m going to stick to episodes 1-3 of Shinkenger.
Here’s the basic breakdown. Episode 1 dealt with the awakening of the Gedoushuu and the gathering of Takeru’s vassals. We’re shown why they had to come together, why it is they come together, and how they work together in battle. It’s a basic introduction. Episode 2 gets more into the team dynamic. Everyone works hard to improve their skills as a Shinkenger, except Chiaki who continuously has trouble. And we also learn Kotoha’s reasons for being Takeru’s vassal. Episode 3 deals with Chiaki’s skills as a samurai. He’s tired of being the weak link on the team so he leaves for a while in order to hang out with his friends. Unfortunately doing this results in his friends being injured by a Gedoushuu and he finally realizes the price he has to pay in order to fight these creatures.
And episode 3 is where Power Rangers Samurai starts off. Even watching this episode the first time, I realized it was an awkward way to start a series. The rangers are all together training and Mike just leaves because he feels like he doesn’t measure up to the rest of them. He goes to the arcade to meet up with his friends and talk things over with them (without mentioning that he’s a Samurai ranger) when a Nighlok attacks. The friends try to run away and get Mike to go with them but he runs towards the Nighlok. Looking like they’re going to go after him, the friends take a step forward but are thrown back by the Nighlok’s attack. Thus allowing for Mike to transform without his friends seeing him (even though he didn’t know they were injured). The Nighlok overpowers Mike and even overpowers the other rangers when they show up, but has to leave in mid-battle because he’s been away from the Sanzu River for too long and his body’s running out of water. Mike is taken back and has his injuries treated. The rest of the rangers tell him it was brave of him to attempt to battle the creature by himself but he has to stay away from his friends and family unless they’ll get involved with the battle. Now understanding the ramifications of his actions, Mike works hard to create a plan to defeat the Nighlok.
I really didn’t expect the Power Rangers version to be a near shot for shot remake of the original episode, but it was. But the key word is “near” because there are plenty of story differences that make the Shinkenger version of this episode a stronger story. Let’s forget that you know what you know about the characters from episodes 1 and 2. Just starting with episode 3, you can see that Takeru is some sort of important figure. The leader of this group. And the rest are his subordinates as well as teammates. We understand that Chiaki never asked to be thrust into this position and tends to be rebellious as well as the weakest link on the Shinkengers. Upon being scolded and treated worse than the rest of the team, he immediately shirks his duties for the calmer environment of hanging out with his friends at an arcade (mostly to have a way to vent his feelings about Takeru). Chiaki’s character leaves a much better impression than Mike. You feel for him. He’s the odd man out on a team where everyone seems to accept this drastic change in their life so quickly. He isn’t okay with it. Mike on the other hand is surrounded by people who completely support and try to help him. Instead he just runs away from that. No one’s making fun of him or humiliating him. No one’s ordering him around. Jayden isn’t the cold and strict type like Takeru is. Mike just ran away because he was embarrassed when he was given no reason to feel that way. He ran away because they needed him to run away to keep the story rolling.
Skip ahead a little further in the episode and we get the scene where Chikai/Mike is hanging out with his friends and they’re attacked by a Gedoushuu/Nighlok. The scenes themselves are nearly identical, but as similar as these two scenes are, the one that leaves a stronger impact is still the Shinkenger version. While talking through his problems, a Gedoushuu begins attacking the area. Chiaki’s friends want to run, but Chiaki wants to prove that he’s still worthy of being a Shinkenger. His friends try to stop him when they see him transform in to ShinkenGreen and are shocked. They keep watching on but only see their friend keep getting more and more injured. In order to try to see if he’s okay, they make themselves known to the Gedoushuu (accidentally) and open themselves up for attack. We find out later that they were injured so badly that they’ll be in the hospital for 2-3 weeks. Similarly in Power Rangers Samurai, a Nighlok attacks while Mike is talking with his friends. The friends want to run away but Mike goes into battle the Nighlok. The Nighlok attacks right as Mike’s friends try to stop him so they don’t see him change into the Green Samurai ranger. They get injured as well but instead of staying in the hospital, they’re back playing video games that same day.
Here’s why the Shinken version is much stronger. This moment where the friends are put in danger is suppose to be the moment where the audience realizes that it’s absolutely necessary that these rangers don’t hang around their loved ones anymore because they can’t risk putting them in danger. Chiaki’s friends are injured enough that they’re hospitalized for a few weeks. He’s even scolded by the rest of the Shinkengers for his actions. This is his fault that they’re in the hospital. He knows it’s his fault. Seeing the cost they had to pay for him being around them, Chiaki realizes that he has to stay away from them for the time being because he doesn’t want it happening again. Chiaki acted selfishly and the people he cared for paid a price for it. We see that. We feel that. And we sympathize with him because of that. In Power Rangers Samurai, this issue is just whisked over rather nicely. The rest of the team call Mike “brave”. They try to cheer him up like there was nothing he could’ve done in this situation. Clearly he knew the ramifications beforehand because when Jayden tells him not to see his friends or family again because they could be in danger, Mike says he knows that. Which means he knew that this situation was his fault. And to top it all off, his friends (though still injured and bandaged up) are back at the arcade smiling and playing games like nothing ever happened. Am I supposed to believe that his friends were really in that much danger? They clearly weren’t phased by the incident. Aside from some scraps and scratches (and maybe an injured arm since one of them had a sling), they’re back to their regular selves. And if they can recover so quickly from a traumatizing incident like that, then what danger are they really in if they know their friend is a samurai ranger?
Now let’s touch base on the team dynamic a little bit. In Shinkenger it’s set up with Takeru as the leader and the rest of them are his subordinates. Sure they can be friendly with him, but for the most part he’s always addressed as “lord” and even when they do their roll call, the others do not address themselves as “Shinken”. Rather they say “The same” plus their color and their name (unless Takeru isn’t there when they do their respective roll calls). When in his presence, they must kneel before him and not place themselves higher than him. Is it a written rule that they do so? Not really, but they respect him and so they show their respect for him by doing this. In Power Rangers, the team dynamic is less clear. The fact that we don’t know their back story creates this lack of clarity. Are they friends? Did they know each other before having to fight together? What were the circumstances when they first met? Is Jayden a “lord” like Takeru? All we can see from their team is that they’re friends or at the least they’re friendly with each other. I understand the desire to make a team behave as a cohesive group, but even groups suffer from problems. They’re not perfect right off the bat.
Before I get into nitpicking details, I have one last bit to address when it comes to story and what makes it stronger. This comes from Shinkenger episode 4 and Power Rangers Samurai episode 2. In these episodes, we have a scenario where a Gedoushuu/Nighlok makes a deal with a child. If the child gives up his dream of playing baseball, he’ll bring the child’s loved on back to life. With the Nighlok, the child was just told to give up the dream so he just threw his baseball equipment away and when he finds out he’s been lied to, it’s too late because the garbage truck takes it away. While it’s sad to see a child cry because he thought he was going to get back something that’s been lost, he could’ve easily asked his mother to buy him new equipment or gone to his game and borrowed something from the coach. Throwing away a bat and mitt isn’t exactly giving up a dream. In Shinkenger however, the child throws away his bat and mitt and begins climbing high on scaffolding. He won’t tell the Shinkengers why he’s doing it but the Gedoushuu promised that he would bring his grandfather back if he made it so he couldn’t play baseball in their game. So the child jumps. Deliberately jumps from high up on scaffolding down to the rough ground where he injures his legs. Once he finds out he’s been lied to, that makes this scene much more depressing. He sacrificed his safety just to see his grandfather one more time. Not only is that not coming true, but there’s no possibility of him playing baseball for quite some time. He literally was willing to give up his dream in order to see his grandfather again.
And as much as I promised myself that I wouldn’t nitpick details, there’s just some concepts that can’t be overlooked. For example, the usage of kanji by everyday high school students. Americans knowing Japanese isn’t a far fetched concept. I know a little myself. But when I say a little, I do mean a little. Whatever I’ve learned in two semesters of Japanese classes and taught myself is what I know. It’s not a common occurrence to just find kids that know Japanese. So not only is it awkward to see this “symbol power” be used in the series, it’s made even more awkward that it’s rarely explained what these “symbols” mean. In Shinkenger that’s understandable. The show was made for a Japanese audience so of course they know the language. What American child watching Power Rangers Samurai knows that the helmet designs are the specific characters that they write when they transform? That Jayden’s is “fire”? Or Kevin’s is “water”? Of course we understand their abilities and we can figure out what it is they write by what happens afterward. But what about when Jayden used his power to show the kid playing baseball a memory of his father? Without that explanation, we would’ve never known that was a memory. As an audience, I suppose we’re supposed to pick up on what the symbols mean based on what’s going on in the series but I know that being the curious person that I am, I just sit there wondering what the symbols mean. Until I started watching a subtitled version of Shinkenger, I was left to guess what they mean. They don’t have to work it into the episodes. But perhaps they could do a little lesson after the episode where a new kanji is taught each time.
So which series is stronger? Shinkenger. Putting aside all the nitpicking, Shinkenger’s story’s just better developed, the character’s personalities and back stories are better developed, and the team dynamic is more realistic. Granted Shinkenger had two episodes that built up back story while Power Rangers Samurai plunged head first into the issues. But those two beginning episodes were key in learning about the characters and getting familiar and attached to them. Regardless, I still like Power Rangers Samurai. You could say it’s one of my many guilty pleasure series. But put it up against it’s sentai counterpart and it’s no contest. Shinkenger is the stronger series.