Japanese pop culture has never been as hot as it is right now. Manga and anime although still a bit niche continue to gain further fan recognition (It was even recently pointed out by us that there was a large focus on anime at the recent MCM Comic Con: Scotland) but what is overlooked from Japan at times is the Tokusatsu genre which has recently gained momentum with western fans in a big with movies like Pacific Rim and the Godzilla remake getting greenlit, But for a great deal of folks the first time of experiencing this vast genre was through Power Rangers which is now in it’s 20th Year and is confirmed to have season one badass Tommy Oliver returning complete with his Dragon Shield and Dagger for the anniversary show.
At this point you may be asking, But what does that have to do with comics?, Now aside from the tenuous link that Power Rangers has been adapted as comics there is a more stronger link. In fact Marvel comics added a significant amount of DNA to the franchise, Which I am going to recap for you.
Week 15: Mighty Marvelous Power Rangers, Marvel’s role in the creation of the Power Rangers
Huh… What?: Well to understand this, one has to look back to the late seventies when Marvel built up a working relationship with Toei a Japanese production company that materialized in the form of a 1979 Japanese TV adaptation (in the loosest possible sense) of Spider-Man or as the show was known ‘Supaidāman’. In this version Spider-man is gifted his powers by an alien as well as a giant mecha which transforms from a ship called the Marveller with a leopards head into a robot called Leopardon which he used to battle the ‘Iron Cross Army’. So yeah pretty different take on the source material and since then it has almost gained meme status with the amount of times it has been referenced in jokes and parodied due to how of the wall it is. If you are brave enough you may or may not find full episodes on Youtube with English subtitles.
Before that Toei had made two unrelated shows the first being ‘Himitsu Sentai Gorenger’ and the second ‘J.A.K.Q. Dengekitai’ which would later be be included in what would be known as the Super Sentai series. But originally they weren’t connected other than having a similar premise of a team of themed heroes and looking back at them it is fairly obvious that they are what we know as Super Sentai as both had teams of themed and color co-ordinated superheroes fighting monsters but one vital piece was missing.
Then after the Toei had produced the Supaidāman show they set about making ‘Battle Fever J’ which depending on your perspective is either the first or the third in the super sentai series. This show also very loosely adopted Marvel characters with the team of superheroes having patriotic Captain America like themes in fact one was even called Miss America using the name of an actual Marvel character as well as the rough likeness. This also introduced the staple of the Super Sentai series Transforming robotic mechas which Toei had lifted directly from Supaidāman. To credit Marvel with its co-creation is very generous but they were given credits on the show, And finally all the components were set on what would become the Super Sentai series.
This paved the way for wave after wave of proceeding series of Super Sentai which to date is still going with Battle Fever J being followed by ‘Denshi Sentai Denziman’. Now this yet again borrowed liberally one last time from Marvel featuring the villain of Queen Hedrian who was cosmetically based on Thor’s Hela, Considering how easily identifiable the costume is well you can see for yourself’;
And that role was played by Machiko Soga who would go on to star in later series’s as the iconic ‘Witch Bandora’ and before she passed away as ‘Heavenly Arch Saint Magiel’, Who english speaking fans would know as Rita Repulsa as she was later dubbed in Power Rangers.
What Happened after this relationship wound up?: Well Toei were very appreciative of Marvel allowing them to borrow elements from them so much so that the head of the studio Mr.Watanabe gave Stan Lee footage from one of the Super Sentai series on the understanding that Marvel would be able to dub and distribute outside of Japan as they saw fit and pay back money once the show had got onto TV.
Stan Lee being the canny business man liked what he saw so gave the footage and $25,000 to Marvel’s TV production arm ran by Margaret Loesch to dub and try to sell to US TV networks. But according to Loesch in the source article “I was literally thrown out of the room at NBC since we had gotten kudos from doing things like Muppet Babies and now they saw this and thought it was horrible. So we pitched it to all of the networks and nobody would buy it. Then we went back to Mr. Watanabe, told him we tried to sell it but couldn’t, and relinquished the rights to the show. “. With no clear details on which series of the shows run it is hard to say which one Stan wanted to get on US TV but going on the fact Loesch said the mid 80’s it is likely to be either ‘Kagaku Sentai Dynaman’, ‘Choudenshi Bioman’ or ‘Dengeki Sentai Changeman’ (Pictured below, respectively). Regardless of which one it is there is no way of knowing if it would have hit in the same way the Power Rangers later would since the tone and theme changes from season to season as well as the fact there was no new footage added on as would later be added to allow western audiences to relate more to it. However it is interesting to think that Marvel and indeed Stan Lee very nearly got to the post first.
Was that the end of the story?: Well No because eventually Margeret Loesch left Marvel to work for the fledgling Fox Kids as president and one of her earliest success stories was the X-Men animated TV series produced by Saban Entertainment, Which Loesch herself very much wanted to see hit the network due to the previous attempt by Marvel during her tenure to launch the ‘Pryde of the X-Men’ cartoon which lets just say wasn’t met with a positive response. This then led Fox Kids to ask Saban what else he had to pitch and almost a year later Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers hit screens as Saban proved to have more luck with the Sentai rights they had aqcuired from Toei than Marvel had, producing the series initially based on ‘Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger’. Which followed the set pattern of Loesch giving the go ahead to properties she had her own hands on at some point and Saban delivering them.
After that do I really have to tell you the rest?, Saban became a media titan after that with the show exploding during the 90’s and producing more than a billion at it’s peak through international distribution, the movie, CD, Spin offs and derivative adaptations based on other Teoi shows, the live stage show and merchandise sales as well as gaining the rights to produce further Marvel cartoon series’s like Iron Man, Avengers, Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk and in the process merging with Fox Kids where as Marvel on the other hand infamously almost went bust after the end of the 90’s speculator boom, which led to the selling anything not nailed down like say lucrative film rights to their characters. But eventually Power Rangers went through peaks and troughs never quite gaining and maintaining the same audience numbers and fanbase in the way it once had as the show went on and casts changed, Kids seemed less interested. It did however remain valuable when Disney presumably decided to make moves on the boys market which it didn’t have that great of a foothold in by purchasing Saban Entertainment / Fox Family Worldwide in 2001.
The story still doesn’t end there for obvious reasons since Disney never quite managed to do anything with the Power Rangers as a property other than keeping it ticking along with decreasing viewership as time progressed. Since Disney never quite got a foothold on boys market it is safe to say that it did so in 2009 when… you guessed it!, it bought Marvel. For a brief time bringing both Marvel and Power Rangers under the one roof as it were even if Disney had already ceased production of the show by that time.
Then in 2010, Power Rangers (as well as the rights to a few other shows such as BCP’s most
despised favorite show ever Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation… I made a funny) were reacquired by Saban Brands for no less the $42 million. New episodes were produced pretty quickly and the show has had it’s second season since the relaunch with Power Ranger Megaforce and now in it’s 20th year will celebrate that and hope to recoup some of those 42 million bones by having the anniversary show which as I already stated will feature the return of the original Green Ranger played by Jason David Frank as well as a number of Rangers from other seasons and a tonne of body doubles in every suit.
So to sum all this up Marvel were there in some capacity during the formative years of the original Japanese Super Sentai series, They were then the first company to try and market the franchise in any meaningful way, Off the back of one of their properties a media giant was made which produced the English language analogue to Super Sentai and then both were bought out by an even bigger media giant. Pretty messy and complicated but no less interesting looking at how both Marvel and Super Sentai/Power Rangers time and time again crossed each others paths, It is at least enough to make you consider the road less traveled and It may be a bit of a stretch but the argument could be made that without Marvel or Stan Lee there would be no Power Rangers.
So yeah less in relation to a character per se and more the dub of a Japanese show which doesn’t appear to have gotten out. But stay tuned or read up even as next week I will be back to the standard profile a semi obscure comic character and if there are any you want to see then just drop me a line.
EDIT 1/5/14: I can confirm that the show was much earlier (1982) and that the series was in fact Denshi Sentai Denziman.