Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s DVD releases of Power Rangers Samurai: The Team Unites (Vol. 1) and A New Enemy (Vol. 2) collect the first eight episodes of Power Rangers’ 18th season. Samurai, which aired in 2011 on Nickelodeon, introduces a brand new team of Rangers with all-new powers, Zords and enemies drawn from Japanese myth and culture. With the usual emphasis on fast-paced action spectacle, a healthy dose of fan service, and the infusion of Japanese elements beyond the mere incorporation of Super Sentai footage, it’s easy to see how Samurai became the #1 kids action series on television.
In Samurai, the responsibilities of the Power Rangers are passed down from parent to child with the season’s central group of Rangers uniting for the first time in the two-part opener, “Origins.” Since the current Rangers have trained all or most of their lives to become Power Rangers and are fully aware of their duties, the team comes together quickly and without excessive exposition, allowing Samurai to get right into the action. If there’s any downside to this, it’s that the characterization of the individual team members suffers as a result, and it takes the series considerable time thereafter to really flesh out the characters. The Rangers’ enemies this time around are the Nighlok, an army of often distinctly Japanese monsters led by Master Xandred, who seeks to flood the Sanzu River (the Buddhist river of the dead) with human tears in order to sail into our dimension and take over the world. This season also marks the return of comic relief character Bulk to the series, who, although not accompanied by long-time companion Skull, does take in Skull’s son Spike, and sets about training Spike in the way of the samurai.
With Samurai , the producers of Power Rangers have learned from many of their past mistakes, and have obviously taken fans’ complaints about previous installments into consideration. One of the biggest complaints about previous installments in the Power Rangers franchise surrounded the declining effectiveness of each season’s score following Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, after composer Ron Wasserman left the series (only to later return and then leave again (twice)). Samurai features the return of Wasserman’s “Go Go Power Rangers” theme and battle music, reworked for Samurai by composer Noam Kaniel. Moreover, each filler episode on these two volumes at least introduces some sort of new power, weapon or Folding Zord for the Rangers to utilize, so as not to prove completely worthless. These moves on the part of the producers show incredible foresight, especially considering much of the series’ viewership began watching back in 1993 with Mighty Morphin, and have since grown into discerning adults. Playing fan service here, then, insures the greatest audience possible and generates the widest interest in the Samurai license.
Unfortunately, Samurai’s producers haven’t learned from all the mistakes made by their predecessors, at least not as of the conclusion of A New Enemy. Bulk and Spike make absolutely no contribution to the series throughout these two volumes, unless you consider trivial comic relief to be a vital element of any narrative. Unlike previous installments, the comic duo doesn’t even know the Rangers, nor do they serve some function within the community at large. They don’t bully people, they don’t help people, and their actions in these eight episodes in no way effect anyone involved in the season’s central conflict whatsoever. In fact, they have no interaction with the Rangers at all until they try to walk through the same door as them at the conclusion of episode eight. Perhaps this changes in subsequent episodes, but looking at these DVDs, I find Bulk and Spike’s inclusion here far more superfluous here than Bulk and Skull ever were. Similarly, the series introduces characters in filler episodes who serve absolutely no purpose, such as the beach bum in “A Fish Out of Water,” who is positioned in such a way that we believe he will teach Blue Ranger Kevin a valuable lesson but instead does nothing at all. Finally, the monsters automatically grow into their giant Mega Monster forms after being defeated at normal size. This almost entirely prevents battles from concluding without a Megazord battle, thereby limiting the narrative possibilities of any given episode and further highlighting the series’ formulaic nature. Even when a battle concludes without the main monster going Mega, Xandred’s foot soldier drones, the Moogers, can grow giant, thereby allowing for the requisite Megazord battle.
Still, for all its faults, Samurai is a hell of a good time, one that benefits greatly from the infusion of Japanese culture into its mythos. Each DVD sells for around $10 a piece, and that isn’t terrible or unusual for DVD releases of a kids series, but with only four episodes per disc, you should really ponder whether or not the individual volumes are worth the investment to you. After all, filler episodes comprise the majority of the content herein with nothing but filler between the “Origins” two-parter and “There Goes the Bride,” the eighth and final episode collected here. (In “There Goes the Bride,” we finally meet the new enemy in question, a mysterious monster swordsman who sets his sight on a duel with Jayden, the Red Ranger.) However, Lionsgate does, to their credit, compensate for this overabundance of filler by including a number of special features. The bonus content on The Team Unites includes footage from the individual Rangers’ and Bulk and Spike’s auditions, a character gallery, “Train Like a Ranger” fitness promos, and a video of some weird Power Rangers dance routine held at some sort of conference. Bonus content of A New Enemy includes a bloopers reel, a weapons gallery, and an interview featurette in which the actors who play the Rangers answer mundane questions. Admittedly, the special features do make this a far more reasonable investment.