Friday, September 11, 2020

Power Rangers Reflections #24 - Ninja Quest (MMPR Season 3 - Four Parter)

So, here we are... after what seemed like a long, agonizing wait, it is the return of the Reflections... for a couple months, at least.

In any event, what better way to relaunch this new batch of Reflections than to look at a four-part epic meant to serve as the stand-in for what you just saw in movie theaters. Long story short; MMPR: The Movie was a thing, introduced new Ninja suits and Ninja Zords, but also didn't fit into the overall style of the TV show... and hence we got Ninja Quest, which featured the same overall premise but moved things forward and used stuff from the Sentai that Saban could rip off... simple enough.

We'll be blowing through this one fairly quickly since the arc is four episodes long and, really, outside of some introductions and some occasional hazards, a whole lot of nothing happens in these episodes.

MMPR Season 3 opened not with a new status-quo building season premiere, but with a three-part crossover event that served as a prelude to the then-upcoming and ultimately short-lived Masked Rider spin-off show that Saban was doing. We've previously touched on this in a prior posting.

Today's saga opens with another chapter in the long-standing high school athletic rivalry between Angel Grove (played by our heroes) and Stone Canyon (played by another group of teenagers we're likely to never see again.) This time, it's beach volleyball, where the winners get free lunch at Ernie's new outdoor eatery... guess who wins?

The outdoor setting is the place where we see a shift in direction for Bulk & Skull, as they declare their intentions to join the Angel Grove Junior Police Patrol... mostly so that they can have uniforms to impress the girls. This sets up the B-plot where the boys sign up, get their manes shaved off to conform with regulation, see them struggle through basic training, and eventually get their junior police badges... all for the sake of getting uniforms to impress the girls.

It's a very Bulk & Skull motivation behind a move that ends up being a major shift in the evolution of their characters. Sure, the original intent was less than noble, but seeing these guys eventually evolve in to well-meaning goofs is probably the closest thing to true character development we'd get in the early PR seasons. Also helps that they'd be the longest tenured characters out of the bunch, which is astounding.

Not much else to add to the B-plot of the show, so let's get back to the main meat.

Meanwhile, over at the moon, Lord Zedd gets Rita a new telescope as a one-year wedding anniversary. And then something hits the moon, which causes everything to shake... ooh, must be a bad, bad mother... you know. Unfortunately, it's Rita's brother Rito Revolto, a recycled monster from the Kakuranger sentai who is charged with leading a barrage of old stock footage against the Rangers and, with the help of some original Zord footage and less than creative editing, they ultimately succeed in defeating and destroying the Rangers' zords, featuring the Rangers crying over their Zords literally falling apart in comical fashion.

Full disclosure: back in the day, I'd only get new episodes on MMPR on a CBS channel every Sunday morning. Unfortunately, episodes weren't shown in sequence, so one week you'd get a random standalone episode and the next week, you'd get part 2 of some arc you missed out on. First time being witnessed to Rito Revolto was Part 3, where he was pretty much a bumbler and an idiot, screwing up names and providing "comic relief" for the kids. While I didn't appreciate this as a kid, looking back, I don't mind a bungler among the team, especially if he did the most damage. Not every new villain has to be bigger than the last and quite honestly, given what eventually happened to Lord Zedd, I wouldn't want a similar fate suffered to any other big bad.

So the Command Center is totaled and without power because Tommy is a bad leader who keeps fighting despite the odds rather than go for a tactical retreat and regroup. With all options exhausted, the Rangers inquire about the origins of their Power Coins. Zordon responds with more exposition; the coins were created by a dude named Ninjor who resides in a temple. The kids decide to find this guy so he can give them new coins, despite Zordon's warnings that it'd be dangerous.

So our heroes end up in the Desert Of Something, which is the same desert they always use. They travel around the same rocks, they lose a map, one of them get sucked in a sandhole but eventually escapes, and eventually they run into the Tengas, who get the better of them before they somehow manage to stumble across a secret passage that leads them straight to the Temple. So far, so good.

Eventually, the kids find Ninjor's lair, where the master sleeps in his bottle. Ninjor is dismissive of these kids who want them powers and shoes them away, but some corny words of good-hearted natureness convinces him otherwise. We then have the kids form a circle while Ninjor recites some words and eventually, we have them ninja suits. All the while I'm wondering if Ninjor is voiced by the same guy who did Dudley Do-Right back in the day because he has the exact same voice.

Like I said, this whole bit with the Rangers going through the desert, barely fending off the Tengas, and eventually getting their spiffy ninja suits is the televised retread of the MMPR movie. At the time, this confounded me because I thought (foolishly) that the movie was part of the tv show and that ended up not being the case. Mind you, it's not a total remake; Zordon isn't dying, the Tengas last longer than a couple scenes, Rito is no Ivan Ooze nor is Ninjor any Dulcea, but you get the same kind of story beats.

There's not much else of consequence afterwards. The Rangers gain their new Kakuranger-derived Ninja Zords and hand Rito his ass in a rematch, then disposing of our monster of the week before the show ends with Bulk and Skull graduating from Junior Police Academy.

Yeah, sorry if anyone was expecting a play-by-play of the episodes' events, but there's not much to add to the individual bits.

Ninja Quest is the status quo establishing season that doubled as a retelling of the movie to fit in with the canon (and budget) of the TV show. Naturally, the television adventure is a far cry from the movie in terms of scope and tension, but does a passable enough job of getting all the pieces together and probably tells a better overall story than the movie does. If it weren't for the 3-part Masked Rider crossover that came before, this would've been a fine season opener that might not have been up to the level of "The Mutiny", but certainly would've held its own.

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