Thursday, 1 March 2018

A Look Inside the Morphing Grid - Jungle Fury / RPM

There are two strong seasons I'm about to cover, and as an ending for the Disney era of Rangers, there could be no better seasons to do so. Jungle Fury takes the theme of teaching and learning and applies that theme to a whole season. RPM looks to the past to fix the present, all while being based in a parallel world.

Pai Zhuq – The Order of the Claw – trains students to unleash their animal spirits. Three students are chosen above the others. Three who will become the Jungle Fury Power Rangers. However, one of the students has darkness in his heart, and is dismissed. A new recruit takes his place, having proven himself by standing up to him. The story of Jarrod and Casey is told throughout the season in several parts. As Casey takes on the mantle of Red Ranger, Dai Shi takes over Jarrod’s spirit as a thank you for helping him be released. Casey, Lily, and Theo need to leave the academy and find their new master, since Dai Shi had destroyed the external form of their previous one in front of them. They arrive at a pizza restaurant – which becomes both civilian and Ranger base – to wait for their new master, who is revealed to be the owner. RJ is more lax as a teacher, but he makes the team understand what it means to be a team. Rangers always has lessons to be learned, but never has an entire season been themed on such.
Megazord fights are introduced in the opening episode, and are sometimes commentated on like a sporting match by a fly called Flit. At first, not much is revealed about him, but later on we get his story. He lives within Camille, a servant of Dai Shi who wants nothing more than to please him. But with Dai Shi having taken the spirit of Jarrod, she also seems to have taken a fancy to him as well.
The third episode has RJ teach Casey in a Karate Kid manner some tricks of martial arts, and when the Five Fingers of Poison are recruited, even more lessons happen. And there’s also a bit more love in the air as it seems Theo has a secret crush, and seeing Casey and Lily together without him seems to cause some hard feelings.
The Rangers work out their problems over the next few episodes, and the Five Fingers of Poison get defeated one by one. Naja feels Dai Shi isn’t up to the task of taking control of the city, and in an episode where Casey learns to take responsibility for his actions, Camille is taking care of the traitorous cobra. She also has a hard truth placed on her. Dai Shi doesn’t seem to care about her.
The introduction of new Masters of the Order of the Claw starts with Master Phant, who had retired from the Order and moved to a quiet life in the forest. At first, he is reluctant to join in with anything, but Lily gets through to him that more help in fighting Dai Shi will bring results in finishing him for good. And just as the side of good are finding new Masters, so too are the villains. Dai Shi is in search of Carnisoar – the Sky Overlord – and using the life talons claimed from Naja resurrects the overlord. Carnisoar unlocks the restraint of Jarrod holding Dai Shi back, which makes him not even give Camille a chance. Theo gets training from Master Swoop, with Camille resurrecting Jellica – the Water Overlord – to become her new master. Throughout these few episodes, there’s a great sense of character, but nowhere is that more apparent than when Jellica rises. Camille disguised herself and found her way to the Jungle Karma Pizza, where Lily helped her with a problem. Near the end of the episode, Camille reveals herself and makes Lily doubt herself on her sense of character. And the exploration of character goes to RJ for the next episode.
Casey is wanting a new master like the other two have, and RJ sees that as a failing on his own part. When struggling in battle, Casey gets help in the form of Master Finn – who is revealed to be RJ’s dad. Master Finn is part of a family who favours the shark, but when RJ wanted to find his own animal spirit, it caused a rift between the two. The episode shows the two fixing that rift and admitting their own faults to each other.

Ghost of a Chance continues the exploration of character by focusing on overconfidence. The Rangers are completely sure that they are unstoppable with nothing to fear, and the same goes for Dai Shi. The first part shows the Rangers getting a major shock as they get beaten by Dai Shi – only being saved by RJ surrendering himself. The second part has the Rangers go to the spirit world and learn to face their fears – then return powered-up with new animal spirits to inflict some fear into Dai Shi. During the Rangers facing their fears, RJ and Dai Shi do battle in the temple arena, but RJ won’t fight. However, Dai Shi has injured RJ’s animal spirit, which becomes a focus of the next few episodes. Fran – who had been working at the Jungle Karma Pizza since the beginning, but never had she been up to the loft where the Rangers live. Thinking that RJ had left the TV on, she heads up there and sees the Rangers morph on the monitors, and the reason they keep rushing off is explained to her. She’s pretty accepting of their secret identities, and with the knowledge of the Order, she is now able to help – though indirectly. That also comes into play with these next few episodes.
The last of the Overlords is to be restored, and when Grizzaka enters the picture, he takes over the running of the temple and unseats Dai Shi from his throne. RJ’s animal form is getting out of control, and instead of seeking help, he tries to run away. Fran is the one to help, and he then helps the Rangers – with a little Ranger power of his own. Channelling his animal spirit, he becomes the purple wolf Ranger.
As mentor becomes Ranger, Casey feels he’s being pushed aside from leader. RJ gives him a reminder that he is still the leader, even if another member calls the shots at present. And RJ helps some more by rescuing Flit the fly. He was once a human who Camille had cursed long ago, and is now unable to be outside her stomach for long periods of time. Since RJ had helped Flit, Flit repays the favour when Grizzaka unleashes a spirit that causes RJ’s wolf spirit to go haywire.
Another new Ranger is set to appear, as Dominic appears on the scene. His introduction has just enough fun and serious moments to make it work, which fits into his character. As Casey puts it, he’s a goofball, he lacks focus, but he has the Ranger spirit. Again, it is Fran that makes the right moves, where the others hadn’t really given him a chance. Dominic and RJ are close friends from the academy, but even RJ isn’t convincing the others to give him a chance. Meanwhile, Dai Shi has found the Rhino Nexus, but cannot gain access. The next two episodes deal with that. With some mighty fight scenes making up most of the next two episodes, there isn’t much to talk about them, except those fights are well crafted. And Dominic gets control of the rhino zord from the Nexus, using it to destroy Carnisoar.

The Phantom War – as I dub the last eleven episodes – start with the destruction of Grizzaka and a fight over the crystal eyes. Jellica has three, and the Rangers end up with the other five. With Dai Shi now back in control of the temple, he proceeds with his plan of using the crystal eyes to summon the Phantom Beasts. Their first task – take the three masters. Adding a bit of personal in things with Gabby – Master Phant’s niece – is a nice touch to forge a connection between civilian and Ranger worlds with Lily. The three Phantom Beast generals use their Rinzin power to control the masters and bring forth the Spirit Rangers. However, the connections the Rangers have to these masters are the key, rather than the jamming device RJ intended to use. And it is the ultimate risk of destroying those we love that RJ has to take. There’s some great fights within these episodes as well, and when the Spirit Rangers are rescued and join the team, the showcase fight of all eight is as action-packed as you’d expect.
After a recap of the season which takes the form of a game show hosted by Camille, the real end can begin. One of the generals manages to steal Casey’s tiger spirit, and for that Dai Shi accepts their offer to become the Phantom Beast King. However, despite his weakened spirit, Casey is still strong. Dai Shi banishes that general and takes his Rinzin power. At first Whiger is only after revenge for his shaming, but comes to realise that Dai Shi is his real enemy, and helps Casey rescue the other Rangers and restores his spirit. The connections forged is another theme within this season, and nowhere is that more apparent than the finale.
The three Rangers are ready for their Masters test. Lily and Theo pass. Casey doesn’t. Dai Shi’s hold over Jarrod is fading, and Casey is witness to that. Not that anyone else believes him. There are many interactions within these final three episodes that are the central point of the entire plot, and Camille being the one who starts the path of Jarrod breaking fully from Dai Shi is the connection of the first episode. Casey is so sure about the good in Jarrod that everyone else cannot, that the second episode is entirely based upon Casey and Jarrod’s connection with each other. The connection forged right from the start. Casey is successful, and Jarrod is split from Dai Shi, but while Jarrod helps in the battle against the Phantom Beast generals, he doesn’t want to face what he has done while being controlled. Hiding away, Camille is ready to prove she can be good, but for Jarrod, it takes a bit longer to realise he should be making the effort to change. With Casey having proven he is Master material, and Dai Shi defeated, he is now a teacher at the academy. Theo finally works up to asking out Lily, Dominic is heading out on a tour of Europe and asks Fran to go with him. Jarrod and Camille are now students at the academy, proving to themselves they are good people, and Flit is now reverted to human form and has taken Casey's place at Jungle Karma Pizza.

RPM’s first episode feels bleak and desperate for the start, as a battle strikes throughout the outside perimeter of Corinth’s barrier. Civilians are all fleeing inside as an army protects against the invasion. Cue one year later, where a lone traveller drives throughout the dusty, deserted wilderness. That traveller has a run-in with Ziggy, and with Ziggy by his side, makes it to his destination. That being Corinth. Though not without a fight. The Venjix army have camps of their own outside Corinth, waiting for any opportunity to strike. The barrier is raised to get Dillon and Ziggy through, but that allows for some of the robots to get through as well. Enter the Rangers. The second episode continues the battle between Rangers and robots and keeps with the more serious tone. Imprisoned after the fight, Dillon sees that Ziggy isn’t popular with the criminal world, and some of what those criminals say gets to him. Dealing them a massive beat-down, the Rangers come to visit him to recruit him.
RPM is on a slow burn of telling its story, pacing things right down to fit with the more serious tone. Dillon accepts being Ranger Black, but only on the condition that Ziggy is set free as well. Dillon’s past is also haunting him, and he wants nothing more than to set back out on his journey to find that someone close to him. Ziggy brings the lightness to the serious, and while it can get a bit over the top at times, it hardly detracts from the overall tone, which itself has started to lighten up a bit. When Tenaya-7 comes into the fight, Ziggy must do anything to protect the Series Green morpher – and is pushed to bond with it. Doctor K also gets revealed when questioned by Dillon as to who she really is.
The deeper heart of the Rangers gets explored now the slow burn opening is over with, with Ziggy’s past being handled great as a focus episode. It also starts off the on-going relationship struggle between Ziggy and Doctor K. Ranger Red gets into that which we received a hint of in the opening episode, dealing out a bit more history of the Truman family – in particular the current relationship of Scott and his dad. Ranger Yellow comes in two parts, with the first seeing Summer’s parents come back. We see Summer as she was before becoming a Ranger, which follows into the second part. That second part also deals with the promise Summer had given her parents – that being an agreement of marriage. Ranger Blue has Flynn reflect on his own journey to becoming a Ranger. Doctor K gets her own focus episode, reflecting on a mistake she once made. And it is a big one. Having been taken at a young age and kept indoors for most her life, she was forced to create many things – including the Ranger technology. After realising she has been lied to, she created Venjix to strike back at her captives. But before she could contain it, she was foiled and the virus grew. As a focus, this is one of the best. The reactions sell it, and the way she has acted before make sense.
All of these focus episodes have something in common, and that is looking back on the past. In a series based upon fighting back and trying to reclaim the world from evil, that’s a good theme to have. Not only are past and present relevant to the story, but what happened in the past is still referred to in the present. It has to be so for the story as a whole to come together, and there’s still one major factor of the past that was ever so slightly hinted at back in the opening that hasn’t even been brought up yet.

Dillon has a past, that much is clear. We know someone close to him had been taken and he was looking for them. As we dive deeper into that story, we know both were prisoner in Venjix’s labs. Dillon escaped, but his memories were pretty much all but taken. Now a virus has been planted within him that will complete the process he was meant to have done to him before his escape. Dillon is saved as Doctor K reveals to the Rangers that she was the one who wrote the Venjix code and had used that to slow the virus within Dillon.
Remembering a place from his past, the Rangers travel outside the dome of Corinth to try and piece together some of Dillon’s past. However, they run into Venjix, who had transferred his being into a robot and attacked them himself. Stopped only by the presence of Gold and Silver, Venjix tries again. Gold and Silver again come to the rescue of the Rangers. And the people behind Gold and Silver are Gem and Gemma – the only friends Doctor K ever knew. The two are excitable and child-like, always wanting to go on the attack and blow the enemy up. And when they start humming the tune Dillon has within his pocket watch, he questions where they heard it which leads to a factory of Venjix. Dillon has a sister still around somewhere, and the Rangers have to return to the factory anyway. A doomsday weapon is being made there and it needs to be stopped. The operation is a success, but they are no nearer finding Dillon’s sister.
Heroes Among Us shows some great character with Scott. When he and Gem save his dad from an ambush, it is Gem who gets the medal. Struggling with the fact he’s been overlooked by his dad yet again, he decides to take action. Driving off into the wastelands, he’s going on the attack. Gem finds him and the two find some prisoners. While the plan changes, he manages to rescue the prisoners, but realises he shouldn’t have acted out of spite. The prisoners that were rescued didn’t include Dillon’s sister, but one of the prisoners revealed some crucial info. Venjix has been creating hybrids of robot and human. And that there is the first hint at who it could be.
And a bit of fun in And Action, as the Rangers go behind-the-scenes to give a look at some of the things that happen to make the show work. Stunts, fights, special effects and more are looked at, and all of this is in-character which makes it that bit funnier.

Colonel Truman finds out that Doctor K released Venjix, and sets the entire of his military force to finding her. He is the one to do so, and an understanding happens between the two of them that focuses on the theme of learning from past mistakes to make the present a better place. Kilobyte has returned to the ranks of the villains, and has started to turn the others against Tenaya-7. And he knows about her past as well.
Dillon works out the keys, and unlocks a second song within the pocket watch. One he’s heard before. Heading into the wastelands, he is correct in his assumption. Tenaya-7 is his sister. And at first she wants nothing to do with him – even after having it confirmed from Venjix’s databanks. In fact, she tries to hold on to her robot side by trying to rid herself of Dillon. After being saved by him though, she seems to have a change of heart. Tenaya and Dillon head into Venjix’s main base to steal coding, and it looks as though Dillon has been betrayed – except its all part of the plan. Having beat up the latest Venjix creation using those codes, Kilobyte captures Tenaya and takes her away. Next time we see her, she’s back to fully controlled robotic form. Dillon tries to get through to the Tenaya-15 modifications, but with little success.
The recap episode of this season has Ziggy and Doctor K trapped in a cave after Ziggy teleported them out of trouble. With her computer password locked, the other Rangers have to think what that password could be, all while the two trapped in the cave work on surviving and the bond between them softens. And what should that password be but the one person she's currently trapped with.
Kilobyte has been feeling Venjix has been ignoring him for Tenaya-15, and uses a small magnetic pulse which alerts the Rangers to the master plan of Venjix. One large magnetic pulse would activate many hybrids placed within the city – including those within the military. That plan gets accelerated, and Colonel Truman gets captured. Ziggy and Doctor K are captured from the Ranger base, Dillon manages to use a formula that deletes the programming within him and also does the same with his sister when he finds her. Kilobyte gets destroyed by the Rangers, but they are at a loss for how to win against Venjix. Tenaya gets another chance to help by uploading a new virus into the Venjix system that weakens the Venjix and its army.
When they finally win, it’s a bittersweet moment as the Rangers give up their morphers. Scott is now leader of Eagle Squadron with Gem and Gemma being new recruits. Flynn is setting up shop with his dad to replace the computer systems of the world. Ziggy and Doctor K have got together and are forming a kids school. Dillon, Tenaya, and Summer are off out into the wilderness, exploring the new world that’s growing.

Both seasons have a lot of character, but RPM has a problem that leaves it just slightly below Jungle Fury. That problem comes from something said within the behind-the-scenes episode. Always keep the camera moving to create excitement. For me - that didn't work. Not all the time, anyway. There are places that it does work, but then other times it goes over the top and can make you lose track of what's happening. It's not so bad that it knocks the season as a whole down a load of places on my list - not when it has such strong story and character - but it is something to note. Jungle Fury keeps things more lax, but knows when to get serious. RPM takes a more serious approach but lightens things up on occasion - though can get a bit over the top with that as well. Jungle Fury does well to get the fifth spot on my list, but it is a bit difficult to place RPM - more specifically whether to place it above or below Lightspeed Rescue. I think I can say that the placing reflects my thoughts on the characters as I see them.

Dino Thunder
Time Force
In Space
Jungle Fury
Lightspeed Rescue
Ninja Storm
Wild Force
Mystic Force
Lost Galaxy
Mighty Morphin'
Operation Overdrive

And with RPM comes Saban to take the franchise back, and while I can't say the three series in the next post are bad, I'm saying that they could do with some serious work - work that thankfully has slowly been building up from what little I've seen of Ninja Steel.

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