SENTAI vs. POWER RANGERS - WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
I've received some recent messages that prompted this topic. I asked this on the heropower twitter, but thought I'd also bring it up here as well. Since the early 90's, more and more kids who grew up with Power Rangers have become aware of its original japanese roots in Super Sentai, and the many other shows within the same niche created by Ultraman, Kamen Rider and the like. From this group of english-speaking fans there are a few divisions. People who gave up on the american Rangers a long time ago in favor of Super Sentai, who believe that it is the superior brand. People who have never seen enough Sentai to really care, and prefer to stick with what they grew up with. And people such as myself, who can enjoy both as their own separate entities, but enjoy a good compare-and-contrast for funsies every now and again. I'm generalizing, yes, but those are some of the basic divisions that I see.
Maybe it's just because we're in the longest off-season Power Rangers has ever had, but there's been a lot of debate lately about whether or not Super Sentai is really superior, or if Power Rangers should even be acknowledged in the same breath as the japanese shows it is inspired by. And I wanted to ask. How true do we think this is, exactly?
In my opinion, Power Rangers is its own show, with its own characters, and its own massive universe. It's the way it should always remain. However, that doesn't mean that it has to pathalogically be kept apart from the franchise that came before it. Super Sentai is the progenitor, and no one can take that away from it. But just being the first doesn't necessarily make it the best either. Even if it were to be better, it would have little to do with which one came first. It would be because the writing is more creative, the characters are more likable, the theme is utilized in a fun and interesting way, and so on.
Either way, I have to honestly say that I don't understand when some fans feel the desire to distance themselves from the US franchise as though it's a dirty secret compared to the amazingness of the japanese brand. Even if we were to prefer one to the other, I can't see why it would be difficult to acknowledge both shows as valid forms of entertainment.
Keith Justice is fond of mentioning that part of the reason he founded the toku hero site Henshin Justice is because he felt a strong division between the japanese shows and the american adaptations. As though Power Rangers was being hidden away, disallowed from standing alongside japanese Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. The man had to make a brand new site to feel as though the two halves of the equation were given equal chance of exposure and praise.
On the flipside, we have english-speaking fans whose main interest in tokusatsu comes specifically from Power Rangers, and there's really nothing else they're interested in. Fair enough. Though I have to say, I've enjoyed the off-season last year for one reason. There was no new Power Rangers, and so a few hardcore PR fans decided to check out Super Sentai and Kamen Rider for the first time. Granted, some of them watched a certain series and didn't end up caring for it, but I've always loved it when people expanded their horizons, even if they decided that it wasn't for them. At the very least, one could give it a shot so they know for certain they're not missing anything. There's no rule that says one can't enjoy both.
On a sidenote, this goes for PR-only fans as well. Too often have I seen comments on Facebook or Youtube from people who watched "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and then lost touch with the franchise entirely. People who then will comment on how terrible all other seasons were, even though they have never seen them and thus are only "hating" them on principle rather than what they've actually watched.
If I could make a plea to the ever-growing, greater fandom as a whole, I think I would ask for a little bit more respect. This is not a request for people to like one show or another, because I know we all are individuals and we have our own personal tastes, which we should be free to express. But respect in the sense of simply acknowledging that Super Sentai and Power Rangers both exist, and are each their own shows, separate but connected. And they like it that way. And obviously, so do their die hard fans.
I can fully understand the impulse to remain faithful to one specific show, or stick with familiar territory. But when one actively denegrates others on either side for enjoying what they watch, then as much of a cliche as it sounds, it hurts us all.
I've heard many arguments about why Sentai is universally better. Things like the fact that they show blood, or use colorful language, or the characters and stories are more sexualized. Honestly, none of these things actually make a show good for me. Perhaps it frees up the writers to tell a more diverse range of stories, but it's up to the individual shows to actually tell it well. And having blood and bikinis doesn't exactly guarantee that they will. Alternatively, I've heard arguments for Power Rangers being superior because it's more light-hearted and goofy, "the way it should be." Which is interesting, because I seem to recall a certain episode of "Tenso Sentai Goseiger" that fits that description perfectly. And don't even get me started on Richard Brown, the unofficial Brown Ranger of Shinkenger.
I'm suddenly reminded of the episode of "Power Rangers Dino Thunder" in which the Rangers watched a television program that used footage from Super Sentai in a unique way, creating a show within the show, that was based more directly on the japanese version of Dino Thunder- Abaranger. In this episode, the american Rangers watch the japanese show, and one member of the team is insulted by the overt silliness of the show on the surface, dismissing the show as completely without value. Of course, by the end of the episode, he loves it. He then goes off to write a school essay about the differences between their two cultures. The title was something like "Closer Than We Think."
I feel like, for those that haven't been exposed to very much of one or the other, the two franchises really are closer than they think. Obviously, there are some differences, both tonally and culturally, particularly when compared season-by-season. But as a whole, they're not all that different. They both have extra-wacky seasons, and extra-serious ones. Rookies in Red, and loners in Black. High school heroes, and fatherly team members. With moments of tragedy, and moments of unabashed silliness.
It's not necessary to like both. But the next time someone speaks about Power Rangers in the same conversation with Super Sentai or Kamen Rider, maybe we could... you know, not react like someone just kicked your puppy. It's not the most encouraging thing to do, when in the end, we're all just fans of the same thing.
(pics via: henshingrid)