The publication date of this post is August 28th, 2011, the day the final episode of Kamen Rider OOO aired. To mark the occasion, let’s look at something I’ve sunk more money into this year than I care to think about: OOO’s henshin gear!

OOO Driver

OOO Driver

OOO’s henshin belt is the OOO Driver. “Driver” seems to be the new standard term for henshin belts, a bit of a shame they don’t come up with more unique names anymore. Names aside, the OOO Driver itself is pretty nice. The buckle is glossy black and silver with metallic blue “circuit” detailing. When wearing the belt, on your left hip is a small holder for easy access to up to six OOO Medals. This holder is amusingly styled after the type of belt mounted change holders a vendor on the street might use. On your right hip is the OOO Scanner, where all the electronics and magic really reside. I’ll discuss that more in a bit, but on the belt it has its own holster clip, keeping it securely in place when not in use. The straps for the belt also feature release buttons, allowing them to be easily detached from the buckle for display if you prefer.

OOO Medals

OOO Medals

The central theme of Kamen Rider OOO is OOO Medals. Each medal bears the crest of a particular animal, and grants OOO a unique power. Medals are primarily classified as Core Medals or Cell Medals, shown above the translucent Condor Core next to the dull gray Condor Cell. Core Medals are the “core” of the beings called Greeeds. Each Greeed has nine cores: 3 head cores, 3 body cores, and three leg cores. Which part of the body the core corresponds to is indicated by bars on the back of the medal: 1 for head, 2 for body, 3 for legs. You can see the back of the Kamakiri Core on the right has two bars, indicating it is a body core. Cell Medals “stick” to core medals to form the remainder of a Greeed’s body mass, and can be created by having a creature called a Yummy feed off human desire. In the context of the toys, Core Medals are made of translucent plastic with a gold painted metal ring. These medals feel very substantial when held, and are very nicely made.

Cell Medals are made from simple, unpainted gray plastic. This indicates their relatively lower value, and are not functionally interchangeable with the Core Medals. On the back of Cell Medals is a large “X”, since they do not activate any power for OOO (though they are utilized by Kamen Rider Birth).

Inside each medal is an RFID chip, which is activated and read when the OOO Scanner passes over it. This is the same technology being applied to credit cards and passports, allowing you to wave them near a pad for them to be read. IMO, this technology is better applied to toys, since the security implications make me cringe.

OOO Driver loaded

To use the OOO Driver, load three medals into it. They should be, in order, one head core, one body core, and one leg core. Above we see the three medals that make up OOO’s “default” form: Taka (head), Tora (body) and Batta (legs). In practice, the toy doesn’t really care. Put them out of order, use three head cores, use cell medals, it’ll still work in a basic sense. Once the medals are loaded, the front part of the buckle can be tilted to prepare for scanning.

OOO Scanner

OOO Scanner

Take the OOO Scanner, and squeeze the large button hidden inside its grip area. This will cause the scanner to light up and begin making a pulsing standby sound. Starting from your right with the head medal, run the scanner through the track along the bottom edge of the buckle so it passes over each medal in turn. As you pass the medals, the red lights along the front edge will illuminate one by one. If you go slowly, the scanner will announce the name of each medal as you pass. If you go quickly, it will announce them all at the end. Make sure to catch the hidden sensor at the end of the buckle to signal the scanner you’re done. The OOO Scanner will announce the names of the medals, then play a sound effect. The effect you get will either be generic, or a unique “jingle” if you scanned a special combo. The above set is OOO’s default TaToBa Combo. The scanner will play the special jingle for the combo: “Ta-To-Ba TaToBa Ta-To-Ba!” All the other combos are made up by using all three medals of the same color. These single color combos also get a sound effect related to the animal group they represent (screeching bird, buzzing insects, etc.) Here is the list:

TaToBaTakaToraBatta, OOO default combo
RaToraTahLionToraCheetah, cat combo
GataKiriBaKuwagataKamakiriBatta, insect combo
SaGouZouSaiGorillaZou, large mammal combo
TaJaDoruTakaKujakuCondor, bird combo
ShaUTaShachiUnagiTako, aquatic combo
PuToTyraPteraTriceraTyranno, dinosaur combo (in the show, these medals cannot mix with other medals)
BuraKaWaniCobraKameWani, reptile combo (movie exclusive)

To use OOO’s hissastsu techniques, scan the same set of medals you just scanned a second time, and the OOO Scanner will announce “Scanning Charge!” It will then play the combo’s animal noise if applicable, followed by a hissastsu sound effect.

OOO Medal Holder

OOO Medal Holder

It’s not long before the number of medals OOO and his partner Ankh are using becomes a bit difficult to manage. They begin to use a special OOO Medal Holder, which of course Bandai produced and sold. For what it is, it’s actually pretty nice. It’s made of the same glossy black plastic with metallic blue detailing as the OOO Driver. It has a really solid hinge, and two slide locks to keep it from spilling open. Inside, it’s lined with a sort of stiff foam rubber with cutouts for 24 medals. The medals fit snugly into the cutouts and do not tend to fall out. For what it is, it’s a pretty nice little piece, and a stylish way to house and protect the investment you made in all those medals. Shown here is my collection, featuring all 18 Core Medals from the TV series, and the Condor Cell which comes with the case itself. These are all the “deluxe” versions of the medals, rather than the gashapon or candy toy versions which are slightly lower quality. Here’s the breakdown of where the deluxe cores come from:

OOO Driver: Taka, Tora, Batta, Kamakiri
Medal Set o1: Lion, Cheetah, Kuwagata
Medal Set 02: Sai, Gorilla, Zou
TaJa Spinner: Kujaku, Condor
Medal Set 03: Shachi, Unagi, Tako
Medal Set 04: Ptera, Tricera, Tyranno

The Cobra, Kame and Wani cores come in Medal Set SP, which I haven’t been able to get ahold of yet. There’s also Medal Set EX, featuring the Cores from Kamen Rider OOO & W feat. Skull: Movie War Core, but their names aren’t actually spoken by the OOO Scanner. A few promotional medals like a kangaroo have also been released as magazine premiums in Japan, and they actually do work, though they aren’t part of any combo.

TaJa Spinner

TaJa Spinner

Though each body medal features a “weapon”, like the Tora Claws or the Kamakiri Blades, only two were released as actual toys: the TaJa Spinner and MedaGabuRyu. TaJa Spinner appears on the left arm whenever the Kujaku Core is used. In form, it’s sort of a small shield, looking like a giant Core Medal featuring the crest of the TaJaDoru combo. Detailing as expected of Bandai’s DX role play toys, is nice, but I feel like its design could use more variation of color. Its overall effect is rather bland. Functionality is also not all that great. There’s a trigger on the hand grip (which may be too small for adult hands). Pushing the trigger plays a sound of a fireball being launched, but a light on the front would have sold this much better.

TaJa Spinner action

TaJa Spinner is able to activate its own hissastu attack separate from Scanning Charge. To do this, open the TaJa Spinner and fill it with seven medals of any kind. Close the cover, and pull back the handle. When the OOO Scanner is set in the track at the front, it’ll press a button causing the medals inside to rapidly spin past. After they’ve all passed, push the scanner the rest of the way through to catch another sensor. It will announce the names of the first six medals that passed it, then say “Giga Scan!” After this, the trigger on the TaJa Spinner will play a bigger attack sound effect. Why they include space for seven medals when only six matter is curious. It seems they could’ve spaced them out and adjusted the timing so everything would just work with six, if that’s all the memory in the scanner can handle.

The OOO Driver is great. The medal system allows for a lot of variation, and they’re neat little collectibles. The belt itself is a blast, though the cost to get all the medals can be daunting. Try not to get scalped on the price of the medal sets, they’re not worth more than 1500 yen at most. The TaJa Spinner is a little more lacklustre. I just somehow expected… more. Even just the addition of a light on the front would have been a big improvement. If all you want is the Kujaku and Condor Cores, you may want to consider getting the gashapon or candy toy versions.

DX GouJyuujin

August 21, 2011

The sixth member of the Gokaiger team is GokaiSilver, able to access the powers of 15 “sixth” Rangers from previous teams (further additional members’ keys are still held by a privateer called Basco). Given to him by DragonRanger, TimeFire and AbareKiller are the Grand Powers of TimeRanger, ZyuRanger and AbaRanger. These three together allow GokaiSilver access to his personal mecha in three different forms. As in the show, let’s start with GouJyuuDrill

GouJyuuDrill

GouJyuuDrill and TimeJet Gamma

Using the Grand Power of Mirai Sentai Timeranger, GokaiSilver can summon GouJyuuDrill through a time portal. Though he uses TimeFire’s key to activate the power, the idea of a ship seems to relate more to TimeJet Gamma than to TimeFire’s V-Rex. Also, I don’t own V-Rex as it’s huge and expensive. There’s not a whole lot to directly compare to TimeJet Gamma besides GouJyuuDrill’s vaguely triangular shape. For the most part, this mode is a concession to the other two, so it’s a bit of a mess. I find this mode somewhat unstable as well, since the front drill part comes off very easily. The main gimmick of the toy is that the drill features a wind up motor, and that is functional in this mode.

GouJyuuRex

GouJyuuRex

Using the DragonRanger key activates the Grand Power of Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger, famous in the US as the basis for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. GouJyuuDrill transforms into GouJyuuRex! GouJyuuRex is an obvious tribute to Dragon Caesar, given the drill tail and the now paleontologically incorrect posture. GouJyuuRex features good articulation at the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, and fingers. He can also open his mouth, but this is really part of a later transformation. The wind-up drill also still works on his tail, a cool feature sadly missing from Dragon Caesar.

GouJyuuJin

GouJyuuJin

AbareKiller gives activates Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger’s Grand Power, and GouJyuuJin finally appears! Again, though GokaiSilver accesses it through AbareKiller’s key, GouJyuuJin is obviously referencing AbarenOh rather than KillerOh. Though they keep their drills on opposite arms, that’s the most striking common feature, along with the large T-Rex feet. GouJyuuJin has excellent posability, a feature that also hails back to AbarenOh. GouJyuuJin can actually outdo AbarenOh by coming to a full kneeling position, as a consequence of how the legs must be for GouJyuuRex. As GouJyuuJin, both the drill arm and T-Rex head arm can wind up and spin. Unique to this form is how they’re activated, a small dial on the back that functions similarly to GokaiOh’s GokaiDial. Turning the dial to the right activates the left arm, then the right. Turning the dial to the left activates both simultaneously.

GouJyuuJin weapons

GouJyuuJin also features two alternate weapon modes for the drill arm. The first is referred to as “shield mode” and it mostly used to spin and block attacks. This mode is extremely reminiscent of the spinning tail weapon used by Dinobot in Transformers: Beast Wars, to the extent that I wouldn’t believe the designer wasn’t inspired by Dinobot. The other alternate mode is a trident, similar to the trident that GokaiSilver himself uses.

GouJyuuGokaiOh

GouJyuuGokaiOh

One last thing is the interaction with GokaiOh. GouJyuuJin once again uses the standard Super Sentai arm joint, so swapping arms with many mecha of recent years is possible. More to the point though, GouJyuuJin’s motorized features are compatible with GokaiOh’s Open Gimmick, by way of the same pins that push out through the arm joint when the dial is turned. GouJyuuJin’s instructions demonstrate GouJyuuGokaiOh by swapping GouJyuuJin’s arms onto GokaiOh. Spinning GokaiOh’s GokaiDial will activate the spinning motors in place of opening the doors on GokaiJet and GokaiRacer. This combo has not been used on the show, and I’m not sure it ever will, but there it is. Likewise, you can put GokaiOh’s arms onto GouJyuuJin and they will pop open when the dial is turned.

GouJyuuJin is awesome. Unlike GokaiOh, it’s got a lot of play value all by itself thanks to being a triple changer, and the outstanding posability (by DX Sentai mecha standards). The wind up feature is surprisingly fun, and much less expensive than an electronic version. I’d recommend it to anybody who likes the DX Sentai mecha toys, even if you don’t have GokaiOh.

As discussed in the GokaiOh review, the 2011 Super Sentai is Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, a team of pirates who can take the form of all 34 previous Sentai teams. This leads to some pretty wild and varied action scenes as the Gokaigers change forms, powers and therefore fighting styles at will. The method for doing this, of course, is their henshin device: a phone changer called Mobirates.

Mobirates closed

Mobirates is big. Really big. Sentai phone changers are already much bigger than real-life cell phones. I wouldn’t want to have something the size of the Magirangers’ MagiPhone in my pocket all the time. Even then, as you can see in the photo above Mobirates (left) completely dwarfs MagiPhone (right). Wow. The size is good and bad. Role play toys are typically made under scale to suit children, so it’s nice to have something with some bulk. On the other hand, holding this thing up to your head like a phone demonstrates how ridiculously out of scale it is with real phones. Especially given the part extending out of the back, I would’ve liked to see some sort of holster or method for attaching it to a belt included, as it’s impossible to pocket. Aside from size, Mobirates shows some nice texture detailing in the red areas, contrasting with the smooth glossy parts. The leather-like texture with the gold fittings also helps sell visually the idea that maybe it does come from the high seas of the 17th century.

Mobirates open

Open, we see the top “screen” featuring a pair of cutlasses and a small red LED in the center. On the bottom we have a keyhole which serves the phone’s main gimmick, and the keypad in a font reminiscent of the time period of pirates. There’s more of the nice red texture around the keypad, along with some gold detailing around the key hole. Only the white keys work, the star burst in the top center functions as “enter”. There are numerous codes that can be keyed in to make Mobirates call out something, I’ll list a few here.

0001–0035 — Says the name of the appropriate Sentai team, Goranger through Gokaiger
1992, 2001–2005, 2008–2011 — Says “Gattai!”, then the name of the mecha corresponding to that year’s team, followed by one of “Iku ze!”, “Hasshin!” or “Ganbare!” (Odd that Daizyujin is specifically included while DaiBouken and GekiTouja are skipped)
5091 — Hasshin! Go~kaiMachine!
5501 — Hasshin! Go~kaiGalleon!

There are numerous others, including a few somewhat silly holiday greetings, various cheers for the Gokaigers, etc. A full list can be found here. You’ll need to be able to read Japanese to see what each code is, but at least you can see which numbers will in fact do something.

Ranger Key

In order to henshin with Mobirates, you don’t actually use the keypad. Instead, you use an item called a Ranger Key. When the 34 previous Sentai teams lost their powers defending Earth from the Zangyack Empire, the powers were sealed in Ranger Keys and scattered throughout the universe. AkaRed was able to gather all the keys aside from the additional (6th, 7th, etc) Rangers and passed them onto Marvelous who became GokaiRed. To begin, they must transform using their respective Gokaiger key. Ranger Keys begin as a little figurine of the Ranger they embody. To turn them into a key, just flip their arms up, then the legs to reveal the actual key part. The Ranger Keys have a decent amount of detail for their size. It should be noted though the ones that come from gashapon or candy toys have stickers instead of painted details.

Mobirates activated

To activate Mobirates’ henshin mode, insert a Ranger Key, turn it, and of course call out the henshin phrase “Gokai Change!” The cutlasses on top will rearrange to form a crossed image, and reveal the skull/Ranger Key to complete the Gokaigers’ logo. The red LED will flash, and Mobirates will call out the name of the appropriate team followed by a henshin sound. Gokaiger keys have a unique henshin sound, all others use a generic one.

GokaiBuckle

I actually bought my Mobirates as part of the “Narikiri Set” (Roleplay Set) which includes the Gokaigers’ belt GokaiBuckle, and the first additional Ranger Key set. In the show, the Gokaigers are able to think of the key they want, and it will appear from the GokaiBuckle when the big button on top is pressed. Then, they’re able to “Gokai Change” at will into any previous Sentai member (even if it doesn’t match their color or gender). Obviously the toy can’t make things appear from nowhere, but you can put one in beforehand, then take it back out. That’s… all it does. As a belt, it’s large and rather garish. It looks like a championship belt. As part of the set, it’s not a bad inclusion, but I wouldn’t buy it on its own.

Ranger Keys

Finally, here are the 10 keys that come with the Narikiri Set. For those keeping score, here’s which keys come with what if you buy them separately:

Mobirates: GokaiRed, ShinkenRed, Go-OnRed
GokaiBuckle: GokaiPink, GokaiGreen
Ranger Key Set 01: VulEagle, GaoRed, DekaRed, MagiRed, GekiRed

GokaiBlue and GokaiYellow come with the GokaiGun and GokaiSaber respectively. I have a few more keys on the way, but really you get the idea. As I said before, the keys themselves are kind of nice little collectibles all on their own, but don’t spend more than retail on them. They’re not worth it. Coming in October, Bandai is actually releasing the treasure chest the Gokaigers use to hold the keys. Whether it will be full size and able to contain all 199 keys (should you be insane enough to collect them all), we’ll have to see.

Overall, Mobirates is a pretty fun changer. It is on the expensive side, likely due to its size and the complexity of the Ranger Key system. Hopefully this trend of expensive and elaborate changers won’t continue beyond Goseiger and Gokaiger, but for this special occasion Mobirates has a lot of play value. In addition to the main Ranger Key function, it says all kinds of stuff, and is very well sculpted so it looks great on display.

2011 is a big year for Super Sentai. It marks the 35th series in the franchise, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. Rather than the method used for Gaoranger (25) and Boukenger (30) where they just got a slightly bigger team-up special. The Gokaigers can take on the form and powers of all 34 previous Sentai teams, in a manner similar to Kamen Rider Decade. That we’ll cover in more detail in the review of their henshin device, Mobirates. For now, let’s look at the mecha — the GokaiMachines.

GokaiMachines

GokaiMachines

Here we have the mecha for the five main Gokaigers. GokaiGalleon, GokaiJet, GokaiRacer, GokaiTrailer, and GokaiMarine. Individually, they don’t do much on their own, even in the show. In the series, GokaiGalleon is the Gokaigers’ home and main method of transportation. The other GokaiMachines nest inside each other, and eventually into GokaiGalleon, but this is not possible with the toys. Their stylings are all pretty boxy, but there’s a good reason for that.

GokaiOh

GokaiOh

The combined form of the five GokaiMachines is GokaiOh! Heavily reinforcing the pirate theme of the Gokaigers, GokaiOh sports a stylish pirate hat and dual cutlasses (GokaiKen). As a combined robot, GokaiOh is very nice looking, with lots of detail all over. The GokaiKen can be attached to holders at his waist in appropriately swashbuckling fashion. The standard Sentai arm joint is employed for the arms and legs, leading to potential for some amusing unintended combinations with older toys. GokaiOh’s main feature is what Bandai refers to as the “Open Gimmick”. By rotating the GokaiDial on GokaiOh’s back, doors on each mecha open like a treasure chest. By default, this only reveals the GokaiHo cannon inside GokaiGalleon, able to perform the Gokai Star Burst attack. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as by meeting other previous Sentai teams, GokaiOh can gain new abilities, referred to as Grand Powers (大いなる力 ooi naru chikara).

PatStriker

Some of these Grand Powers simply deploy an attack or weapon for GokaiOh. Examples would be the Gekirangers causing the spiritual forms of their Geki Beasts to deploy from GokaiOh and attack, or the Boukengers allowing GokaiOh to use DaiBouken’s GoGo Ken. The most significant Grand Powers cause one of a previous team’s mecha to physically appear. The first of these was MagiDragon from MagiRanger, which I deliberately skipped because I found it somewhat silly looking in this incarnation (though I love the original). The second to appear was DekaRed’s PatStriker, from Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger.

PatStriker

PatStriker is shown here with the original Dekaranger version on the left, and the Gokaiger version on the right. For Gokaiger, PatStriker’s details have been reworked slightly, but nothing near the level of MagiDragon. It’s actually substantially slimmed down and looks a lot sleeker. Some Gokaiger specific adornments, like their cross cutlass logo and a somewhat silly rainbow decoration were also added. Armaments are upgraded with twin beam cannons on the front, and gatling guns in each wheel. The fold out grabber arms on the back are no longer present. Like the original, the new PatStriker features electronic lights and sounds. Powering it on causes the same chirp to play as when the SP Licenses are powered on, a nice touch. Pressing the button on top will play either the same siren effect as the original, or the Gokai Change system’s voice saying “PatStriker, hasshin!” followed by the siren again. Both effects also cause the roof lights to flash. Like MagiDragon, PatStriker is able to break apart into five pieces and nest inside the GokaiMachines, preparing to unleash the Open Gimmick.

DekaGokaiOh

DekaGokaiOh

When the GokaiDial is turned using the DekaRangers’ Grand Power, PatStriker is revealed and DekaGokaiOh is formed! A new sound effect is played to mark this new formation. The presence of PatStriker, and especially its lights, on the chests evokes the image of DekaRanger Robo. It should also be noted that for combinations such as this, GokaiGalleon’s door is removable, so it doesn’t hang awkwardly off the front. Pressing PatStriker’s button again will cause it to play a sound effect for the Gokai Full Burst attack, where GokaiOh cuts loose with all of PatStriker’s gatling guns at once.

DekaGokaiOh with pistols

DekaGokaiOh has a variant mode where the doors on the limbs close, and the two front end pieces of PatStriker become twin pistols. In this mode, DekaGokaiOh is able to perform acrobatic gunfighting moves similar to Dekaranger Robo, or DekaRed himself. Dekaranger Robo is also included in this photo for comparison, which also gives an idea of how big GokaiOh is.

GaoLion

GaoLion

A while after PatStriker, the Gekirangers are able to summon GaoLion from Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger. GaoLion is much larger than MagiDragon and PatStriker, forming an imposing presence all on its own. Unfortunately (very much so), I don’t have GaoKing, so I can’t show a comparison to the original GaoLion. The styling, as with PatStriker has been changed a bit, most notable the addition of a “handle” between his jet boosters that will come into play later. Powering on GaoLion plays the flute tune used when the Gao Animals were summoned. Pressing the button on top of GaoLion’s head causes four pieces of his mane to stand up, his eyes to light, and one of three growling/slashing effects to play.

GaoGokaiOh

GaoGokaiOh

GokaiOh can separate from its legs and join atop GaoLion’s shoulders to form GaoGokaiOh. This combination is similar to GaoIcarus separating from its legs and combining with an (even more) gigantic GaoLion to form GaoCentaurus. GokaiOh is still able to use its GokaiKen in this form. Turning the GokaiDial will open the arms and chest (though the legs do nothing for now). Though nothing is inside, in the show this would cause the Gokai Animal Heart attack to be fired from the openings.

GaoLion isn’t finished yet. When the Gokaigers gain the Grand Power from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, GaoLion once again appears. This time though, it separates into pieces and recombines fully with GokaiOh. GaoLion’s pieces can’t be enclosed fully within the GokaiMachines, but that’s OK because they each feature their own Open Gimmick.

ShinkenGokaiOh

ShinkenGokaiOh

When the combination is complete and the GokaiDial turns, panels on each of GaoLion’s parts open and reveal one of the Shinkengers’ respective kanji. At the same time, GaoLion will play an effect of kabuki-style drums often associated with the Shinkengers. GokaiOh’s GokaiKen are combined with the handle from GaoLion’s back to form a large naginata, which is ShinkenGokaiOh’s primary fighting weapon. Pressing GaoLion’s head button will play one of two slashing attack sounds.

ShinkenGokaiOh and ShinkenOh

Like Deka- and Gao- GokaiOh, ShinkenGokaiOh uses some visual cues to evoke the image of the original mecha it’s based upon. The presence of the lion head on the chest (though much larger), and the samurai helmet are the biggest ones. I actually sort of like GokaiOh’s helmet better. One interesting point is that the actual kanji on ShinkenOh were all broken up, and are therefore much more apparent on GokaiOh. ShinkenGokaiOh can also use a scaled up version of ShinkenRed’s Rekka Daizanto to perform Gokai Samurai Giri. The actual size of this weapon on the toy is a little disappointing, and rather too thick, so I tend to display with the naginata instead. ShinkenOh’s DaiShinken is a much nicer weapon.

Overall, I’m pleased with these two additional GokaiMachines. GokaiOh is a bit lacking by itself, but with these two the investment pays of with a lot of fun to be had. The inclusion of electronics even on the smaller PatStriker is really nice. Though GaoGokaiOh is a bit silly, both GaoLion itself and ShinkenGokaiOh are fittingly impressive in person. I recommend GokaiOh in combination with one or both of the other two very highly.

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers title card

Recently there has been much buzz online about Bandai and Disney relaunching the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The show will be re-aired on ABC Family, and Bandai has a whole line of freshly tooled toys ready to hit the market (including a new version of the MegaZord). With all this going on, I decided to seek out and finally rewatch the show after I hadn’t seen it in at least a decade. I have a fair amount of Super Sentai under my belt now, including Zyuranger, and wanted to really see how it stacked up. I was going to mention here that the episodes were available on iTunes, but they aren’t anymore. Not sure if that has to do with the relaunch or what. If that’s how they’re going to be though, and not have the episodes for sale or streaming anywhere, well… you know what I had to do. The versions that were on iTunes were the post-9/11 cuts which had some shots of building destruction removed anyway. I’d rather see the original cuts released. Methods of content acquisition aside though, on with the review.

Adapting Zyuranger

Saban’s concept for Power Rangers, one that they pitched many times before it was picked up, was to take footage from a Japanese tokusatsu series and splice it with new footage of American actors to make a new, English-language series. This must’ve sounded insane to the network execs, and who could really blame them. The result would be disjointed and silly as hell. However, circumstances aligned in the correct way, and Fox Kids was in need of a throwaway mid-season series. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was greenlighted, creating 40 episodes based on the 50-episode series Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger.

Teenagers with attitude + 1 annoying robot

Compared to Zyuranger, the premise was substantially altered. Instead of five ancient warriors waiting in suspended animation until they are needed to fight off the witch Bandora who has a personal grudge with them, Power Rangers has five freshly recruited “teenagers with attitude” battling Rita Repulsa who wants little more than to destroy the Earth. Why does she want to do that? Who knows, maybe it’s blocking her view of Venus. Instead of a wise old elf watching over them, the Power Rangers are supported by an interdimensional being called Zordon and his perpetually annoying robot assistant Alpha-5. In addition, they control giant battle machines called Zords, a more traditional idea than Zyuranger’s sentient dinosaur gods.

During this initial batch of 40 episodes, the fact that it’s written around existing footage is painfully obvious. The Power Rangers were granted the ability to teleport into battle, which conveniently explains away the sudden shifts in setting. However, this also causes the plot to leap all over the place just as suddenly. Some episodes it’s almost like there are two shows going on, one a bad Saved by the Bell clone, the other a superhero series, and never the twain shall meet. “Civilian” scenes would have the Rangers doing some bullcrap to promote peace, or help the environment, or whatever soapbox it is they’re on today. Then, suddenly, Rita will attack them, they’ll fight some putties, then transform and teleport to a totally different place to slug it out with a monster. When that’s done, it’s back to the good old Youth Center to resolve the story from before and drill in today’s moral.

This first part of the series would be almost unbearable at times, aside from two saving graces — Farkus Bulkmeier and Eugene Skullovich, aka Bulk & Skull. Played by Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy, these two bumbling wannabe bullies are always good for a chuckle. Often, I found whatever antics they were up to more interesting than what the Rangers were doing. You can hardly blame Bulk & Skull for wanting to pick on the Rangers either. I mean, they really were a bunch of dweebs.

Contrary to all expecations, Power Rangers was a smash hit. Kids all over the country were running around karate kicking each other and singing “Go Go Power Rangers!”, myself included. Problem: Saban didn’t have much Zyuranger left to work with. Almost all the usable footage had been exhausted making the initial 40 episodes. A couple more were created with what was left, plus an episode featuring an encore of the Pudgy Pig consisting of almost all American footage. Meanwhile, Saban prepared a nice little surprise.

All six Power Rangers

Zyu2 — The Zyuranger episodes that never were

Saban went back to Toei with a request: Shoot another half season (25 episodes) worth of Ranger fights and corresponding Zord battles. Toei agreed, and designed 25 new Zyuranger-styled monster costumes as well as dragging the Zyurangers’ suits out of mothballs. Saban even got them to include elements tailored to Power Rangers, such as a relationship between the Green and Pink Rangers which didn’t exist in Zyuranger. This footage is often referred to by Power Rangers and Sentai fans as “Zyu2”. Since these were not full Zyuranger episodes, just costume and Zord fights, the only place to see them is in Power Rangers.

Since Saban was now working with footage that was made specifically for Power Rangers, they had a much easier time creating cohesive stories. The last 20 episodes of the season contain some of its best and most memorable. The stories are better, it’s less jumpy, the actors are improving, even Bulk and Skull are funnier. There was even new combination footage for MegaZord and UltraZord. The new MegaZord sequence is interesting since it has them going directly to MegaZord without going through the tank mode first, but it’s also pretty obvious that Toei shot these new sequences using the toys. This isn’t new, all the original footage of Kyuukyoku Daizyujin (UltraZord) was the toys, but these new sequences make it more apparent so I don’t like them as much.

MegaZord combining without becoming a tank first

In Zyu2, the Green Ranger was even revived, something that never happened in Zyuranger. Ironically he was more active after his revival with his temporary powers than he had been before. In his previous stint, Saban had to work around the fact that Burai (Zyuranger’s Dragon Ranger) had a very limited amount of time to live from the very start. Whenever he would leave his special “lapseless room”, his remaining life would decrease. For this reason, Burai would only come out to fight when his Dragon Caesar was needed. Thanks to that, MMPR’s Green Ranger never participated in a ground fight while transformed, they would always have to find a way to write him out until it was time to call out the Zords. In the Zyu2 footage though, Green Ranger is frequently right there with the others kicking ass and taking names. This is great for fans of the Dragon Ranger/Green Ranger (and who isn’t his fan, honestly).

The Zyu2 episodes are also where they started using the show’s famous battle themes. Songs like “Fight”, “We Need a Hero”, “Combat” and “5-4-1” help to really up the excitement level of the fights. They are also genuinely pretty damn good songs. Ron Wasserman, under the pseudonyms Aaron Waters and The Mighty RAW, was called in to create the new themes. Wasserman had previously performed the series’ infectious opening theme “Go Go Power Rangers”. Though I think the drums were done with a drum machine, Wasserman’s vocals and guitar created some truly memorable stuff not befitting a mere childrens’ TV series.

All that combined to bring the series its own identity during the Zyu2 era. No longer was it merely a hacked up Zyuranger, it was its own entity with its own style and appeal. This trend would continue into the second and third seasons as they relied less and less on the Japanese footage. It does beg the question though, what would this have been if Saban had just made their own show? Could they have come up with a concept that would have worked as well? I’m not sure, but at the very least it has introduced a lot of young Americans to tokusatsu and Super Sentai in particular. Though I still think the Super Sentai shows are overall better, MMPR is pretty enjoyable once it hits its stride and shouldn’t be totally written off.

I recently got one of my personal holy grails. This is a toy that I had thought I’d missed the opportunity to own, which would’ve been unfortunate since it’s the best damn Kamen Rider toy ever. Of course, if you know Kamen Rider, you know I must be talking about the DX Faiz Driver.

In the series, Kamen Rider 555, the Rider Gears were belts and weapons originally designed by the Smart Brain organization to protect the Orphnoch King. Instead, the former CEO of Smart Brain decided to repurpose them a bit. They were sent to members of a group of kids the former CEO had raised years before, with the purpose of using them to defeat Orphnochs. The only catch — they only work for people with Orphnoch DNA.

The center of the Faiz Gear is the Faiz Phone, its power source and control device. Outwardly, it looks like a normal cell phone. On the toy, pressing any random combination of numbers followed by the Call button will make the phone say “Connectioning…” and make a ringing noise and light pattern.

The really fun stuff starts from here. There are a series of codes printed on the screen. Let’s start with the ones that let you use the phone as a gun. Where’s that iPhone app at, huh? On the Faiz Phone, key in 1-0-3-Enter, and the phone will say “Single Mode”, indicating you are in single shot mode. Key in 1-0-6-Enter and it will say “Burst Mode”, indicating that it will now fire in 3-shot bursts. In either case, fold the screen straight back and cock it to the left to turn the phone into the nifty Faiz Phone Blaster. There’s a firing sound and lights moving along the “barrel” when the trigger is pulled. After 12 shots in either mode, it will make an empty sound. Key 2-7-9-Enter and the phone will say “Charge” followed by an effect indicating it has reloaded.

Of course, the main attraction with any Kamen Rider belt is “How do I henshin?” On the Faiz Phone, key 5-5-5-Enter, and the phone will say “Standing By…” and begin making loud, pulsing standby sound effect. Set it into the cradle on the Faiz Driver belt and lock it down, and the phone will say “Complete” and play the henshin sound effect. Dramatic posing is optional, but encouraged. In this mode, you can remove the Mission Memory (the Faiz face logo on the front) and insert it into one of Faiz’s weapons to ready it for battle. Open the phone and press Enter to trigger your “Exceed Charge” finishing moves!

One concern for old fans, especially those of us who are American where everything (especially guts) is bigger, is that the belts are made for kids. There’s very little chance a full grown adult is going to fit into one as-is, unless they are very petite. Luckily, it’s not that hard to work around. For my Faiz Driver, I attached a nylon strap I cut off an old backpack. This strap had one of those plastic clips in the middle as you can see in the previous photo. This was critical for the Faiz Driver as it closed in the back and has no other separation. I simply took a good old fashioned needle and thread, and stitched through some of the pre-existing holes in the belt. On the back side, the thread forms an X pattern. This was extremely simple to do, and holds very well. Also, since it’s just thread, it’s completely reversible if I decide to undo the mod later. I even preserved the adjustment piece in the strap so I can resize the belt at will.

Also on the recent acquisitions list was the Faiz Axel. This item was given to Faiz about halfway through the series, and allows him to access his Axel Form, gaining super speed for 10 seconds. The toy is styled somewhat after a sports watch, but mated to a typical Sentai type wrist changer. Like the belt, it’s made for kids and the watch strap absolutely does not fit around my wrist. The second velcro strap, meant to be farther up the arm, will fit around my wrist. This makes the Axel awkwardly overlap my hand, but it does stay on.

To use, you remove the special “Axel Memory” and insert it into the Faiz Phone in place of the standard Mission Memory. The Axel will say “Reformation” when it’s removed, though this is somewhat inaccurate. In the show, it would say “Reformation” when the Axel Memory was put back, after the Axel’s time was expended. Anyway, press the red start button to begin your 10 second countdown along with a powerful pulsing sound effect. A voice will count down at the very end “3…2…1…Time Out.” You can also use the black button to switch the behavior of the “screen saver” while the Axel is idle, or to play a simple game.

Overall, the Faiz Driver just kicks ass. Yeah, role play toys are pretty high on the geek-o-meter, but this is just one of the most fun toys in my whole collection. It does a number of things, and has fun voice feedback, sound effects and lights. It also was the personal equipment of my favorite Rider, which helps. The Faiz Driver is a worthy buy for any Kamen Rider fan, though it’s heavily sought after and finding a good price on one is tough. I had to buy mine used to avoid selling a kidney for it. Still, I regret nothing.