Have you ever watched The Last Samurai and thought “I’d really like to see this as a TV show, and as Power Rangers”? Well, hiring Tom Cruise would have blown the budget, but Saban’s triumphant return to owning the franchise made that wish come true. If you’re one of those who made that wish, I hate you.
Now, this isn’t the first time East Asian cultural elements has appeared in the Power Rangers. Unsurprising considering that much of the footage is adapted from Super Sentai, a Japanese series where every year, you have a group of colourful heroes with different theme fighting monsters also with different themes. It’s only to be expected that it’ll have Japanese cultural elements. I did say East Asia up there though, because Dairanger and Gekiranger.
When I was little and I was watching Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, I noticed that the Red Dragon Zord was an East Asian dragon. Then when Tommy returned as the White Ranger and summoned the White Tiger Zord for the first time, and he gets into the cockpit and then it looks cool and stuff. I remembering going “Hey, those are Chinese words!”
This is because the second season of MMPR adapted footage from Gosei Sentai Dairanger, which has a Chinese theme, as opposed to being themed after mythology common between East Asian cultures. A few of the characters are from China and all.
Dairanger isn’t the only Chinese themed season. There’s also Jyuken Sentai Gekiranger, which is based on Chinese martial arts (except GekiChopper who uses karate and GekiViolet who uses muay thai). I got the same kick out of it as when I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, being able to identify the styles the characters are using. And it has the furry martial arts masters named after Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao, and apparently Toei got their permissions to use their names. Overall though, the feelings the show gave me are somewhat similar to what I get when Hollywood touches Chinese stuff. Still, it’s a combination of two of my favourite things: Transforming superheroes and wushu. Not exactly the stuff of my dreams, the show is, but close.
Gekiranger was adapted by Disney as Power Rangers Jungle Fury, with the same theme. Riddle me this: How badly do white people want to exclude us from our own things?
Before Jungle Fury, there was Power Rangers Ninja Storm, and you can pretty much guess what kind of show it’s adapted from. I have not watched Ninpuu Sentai Hurricanger, but from what I saw of it, it’s more liberal with its theme. Even so, the whole foreign ninja thing is kinda appropriative. At least Ninja Storm has a white people to PoC rangers ratio of 1:1, with a Maori Red Ranger and an East Asian playing the Green Samurai Ranger. He’s Chinese and playing a Japanese character though, because we’re all the same. Also, I always thought that the Green Samurai Ranger was not very samurai. Then I found out he’s also a ninja in Hurricanger.
But we’re not going to talk about Jungle Fury or Ninja Storm in depth, at least not today. We’re going to look at Power Rangers Samurai and why it’s gross shit. At the time of its release, I wasn’t a Super Sentai fan yet. The most I’ve seen is the crossover episode in Kamen Rider Decade where our heroes end up in the Shinkengers’ world. PR Samurai, by the way, is adapted from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. So people were all getting excited about Saban getting the franchise back and while I stopped being interested in Power Rangers then, I thought I’d check it out for old time’s sake.
Never went past the first episode.
If I recall correctly, it started out with a dojo scene and you have the Green Ranger getting some shit wrong, then his lord comes out and reprimands him. And behold, the lord of these samurai retainers, only one of whom is Japanese (don’t think she’s played by one though, because we’re all the same), is an ugly ass white guy! Jayden the
White Red Ranger even has the surname “Shiba”, the very same surname of ShinkenRed. I wonder if Jayden goes around talking about how he has a distant Japanese lord as an ancestor and so it’s okay for him to be an appropriative shit?
Anyway, Green Ranger gets pissed off and runs away to prove himself when he runs into a Nighlok! What the hell is that? It’s a monster from the Netherworld which must bathe in the waters of the Sanzu River to survive. Yes, the underworldly river from Japanese Buddhism. The monsters in Shinkenger are called Gedoushuu (Heretic Party). Don’t ask me why they felt the need to keep the name of the river when they’re going to change the names of everything else. Okay, they kept Dayu’s name too because… I don’t know. Except she doesn’t play a shamisen anymore! It’s totally a harmonium!
Right, so it suffers from Onigiri Is A Donut Syndrome.
So how do our heroes fight the Nighloks? They have Symbol Power! Which is that they write actual words of actual fucking languages and through understanding of the word, releases its power. They don’t draw symbols, despite the name. But then, if the letters of the alphabet are symbols, I guess the words are too. This post is entirely constructed of symbols.
And that’s all the stuff I can think of. There are other things like the music, the editing, and the kabuki elements of the original show which makes it something which is indisputably Japanese. Okay, maybe I’m thinking too much about a show aimed at kids, but it doesn’t change the fact that the adaptation is nothing short of appropriative. Shinkenger is full of cheese as things like that are wound to be, but you can definitely sense the effort of the writers. It feels genuine, even if it’s ultimately about people in rubber and spandex beating on each other. PR Samurai instead feels like “We’re adapting the samurai themed season. That’s really cool shit! Let’s get a white guy to be the voice of what it means to be samurai!” Yes, the casting call actually requested a white guy to be the Red Ranger.
Pasty ass has no business being the leader of the Samurai Rangers. We don’t need another white guy taking up the trappings of people of colour simply because it’s “cool” or some shit like that. If we really must have a white guy as a samurai in tights, he can be the Brown Samurai Ranger: