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The greatest superhero franchise you’ve never heard of

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What if I told you that for 38 consecutive years, there has been a superhero franchise that has appeared on television sets protecting the world every single week? Pretty hard to fathom a superhero show surviving that many seasons right?

Well let me introduce you to TV Asahi’s Super Hero time block which features a show that has been on the air for almost four decades.

Welcome to the world of Super Sentai, the greatest superhero franchise you’ve never heard of.

What is Super Sentai?
What is Super Sentai? Toei

What is Super Sentai?

But wait, those pictures are of the Power Rangers!  What is this madness calling them Super whatever you said Alex?  The Power Rangers are silly and for kids.

Well yes and no.  Power Rangers isn’t an original concept.  In fact, the first season of Saban’s show, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was loosely based on season 16 of the Super Sentai team Zyuranger.  Haim Saban made a deal with Toei and Bandai to dub over Japanese footage of scenes with the costumes and shot his own story with teenagers for American audiences.

In reality, every single Power Rangers team you’ve ever known is simply a redefined property of their Japanese counterparts.

Differences from Power Rangers
Differences from Power Rangers Toei

Differences from Power Rangers

Does that mean Power Rangers is inferior to Super Sentai? 

Not at all.  Power Rangers long ago determined its demographic was for children and caters towards it while Super Sentai takes itself more seriously and views itself as an action drama for families to watch together.

If we’re doing comparisons to the tone of the shows, then this analogy perfectly symbolizes the differences between the two series: Power Rangers is “Super Friends” while Super Sentai is “Justice League Unlimited.”  Both were beloved shows consisting of the same characters that were just adapted differently.

How I came to be a Super Sentai fan
How I came to be a Super Sentai fan Toei

How I came to be a Super Sentai fan

Really now Alex, it’s hard to believe a Japanese show about adults wearing colorful spandex fighting funky suited villains using catch phrases can be as awesome as “Justice League Unlimited.”  How can you even mention the two in the same sentence?  Besides “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” will always be the best!

Yup, I used to think the same thing.  Let me tell you about how I came to be a fan of Super Sentai, which was actually not too long ago.  I had known Power Rangers dubbed footage from their Japanese counterparts but never once thought of watching it.  Like a majority of American children in the 1990’s I was a huge fan of Power Rangers from its initial debut.  I owned all the Power Ranger toys as a kid, had VHS tapes of episodes, and dressed as the White Ranger during Halloween.  As I grew up into my teen years, I had developed other interests but still lightly kept up with the Power Rangers franchise up until Dino Thunder.  High school soon hit and by then I was completely out of the game.

Years later in 2011, now as a member of the American workforce and in the television industry, I came across a screenshot of what looked like hundreds of different Power Rangers teams gathered together.  This greatly peaked my interest and through my friend Google, I had discovered the identity of this nostalgic image.  Only it wasn’t what I had thought it was.

Yes, this was the story of how I came to be a fan of Super Sentai, 35 years into its run by the way of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger.

The screenshot that hooked me in
The screenshot that hooked me in Toei

The screenshot that hooked me in

Celebrating the 35th anniversary of the show, Toei and Bandai tribute past seasons of the series by incorporating them into that season’s story.  Super Sentai had always been about respecting its predecessors and honoring tradition, but this took it to a whole new level. 

Gokaiger told the story of a band of anti-hero space pirates who stumble onto Earth as they had just successfully repelled an Alien invasion at the cost of the powers of all their heroes.  The previous 34 Super Sentai teams (18 of which American audience recognize) no longer had the power to stop a second invasion as they had sacrificed their “greater power” in what became known as the 199 Hero Legendary War. 

Seeking the greater power, the pirates gather the legendary treasures of the previous heroes and gain the ability to morph into those previous teams.  Harnessing the powers of the previous generations, the pirates learn what it means to be a Super Sentai team.

While I had no idea who any of those previous actors were in the suits I recognized, (since Super Sentai and Power Rangers are so different story-wise) I found myself having goosebumps when a former Japanese Sentai actor would appear in an episode and mentor the new team in his or her own way.

Prided tradition
Prided tradition Toei

Prided tradition

Those 51 episodes of Gokaiger perfectly epitomized what the franchise had stood for.

TeamworkFriendshipFamilyOvercoming adversity.  And above all, tradition.

Being a Super Sentai evoked a tremendous sense of pride.  You could see it on the faces of the actors and actresses as they proudly announced their names in iconic roll calls.  Super Sentai is where you can see a 70 year old actor who once represented the franchise as a young man, stand next to a current teenager proudly calling him family.  This fraternity of heroes is something I had never seen before in any superhero content and I have had extensive years of knowledge in the field of comics.  Trust me when I say the Jay Garrick, Barry Allen and Wally West relationships have nothing on the relationships between current and former Super Sentai teams.


Shinkenger and Power Rangers Samurai
Shinkenger and Power Rangers Samurai Toei

Shinkenger and Power Rangers Samurai

After Gokaiger, I was absolutely hooked into the franchise.  I watched previous seasons like the 33rd team Shinkenger, which was coincidentally the current Power Rangers counterpart, “Power Rangers Samurai.”  Power Rangers was never the same to me again.  That season of Power Rangers in essence adapted the same exact storyline as Shinkenger, and while I applaud the attempt since the franchise had rarely done that, you really can’t compare the qualities of the two franchises.

Shinkenger had so much heart and character to the show that it was impossible to replicate.  Power Rangers also needed to water down the content to accommodate FCC laws for children’s programs.  My eyes were finally open and there was no going back.

A rich history of heroes
A rich history of heroes Toei

A rich history of heroes

After going on a rampant viewing spree, I had checked off Dekaranger, Shinkenger, Kyoryuger, Go-Busters, Magiranger, Goseiger and Gokaiger from the list.  I still have a ways to go to catch up to all 38 seasons, but I look forward to each series both new and old.  There is something magical and distinctive about each team.  Every character is memorable and not easily forgotten.  This is similar to why many fans fell in love with "Justice League Unlimited."  As fans of the content, seeing the vast array and variety of characters make you gleefully excited.

Super Sentai often utilized deep emotional storylines involving death and coping with defeat.  The show never backed away from its roots and history but consistently plunged forward with newer and bolder material.

Once a Ranger always a Ranger
Once a Ranger always a Ranger Toei

Once a Ranger always a Ranger

Although the formula was essentially the same, it never got old.  The charm and nostalgia amazingly continued through each season and each new team.  Even when a team would be ridiculously and idiotically themed, by the end of their run I would miss their presence.

It was a strange feeling, but the void would be lifted as the previous season’s heroes would always guest star in a movie the following season.  This was procedure for Super Sentai.  While the procedure was also adapted by the Power Rangers, it was nowhere near as satisfying as it was when done by their Japanese counterparts.

Forever changed
Forever changed Photo courtesy of Alexander Kwok, used with permission

Forever changed

My geek culture had been forever changed.  I recently cosplayed as Captain Marvelous aka Gokaired at Wondercon and to my amazement I was mobbed by fans of the Gokaiger.  They were calling me Captain Marvelous and Gokaired instead of the Power Rangers counterpart Super Megaforce Red.  I wasn’t the only fan of this historic franchise and it was time more people in the world were exposed to it. 

So take it from one geek to another.  Channel those days when you were five years old pretending to morph into the Green Mighty Morphin Ranger.  Power Rangers channeled some of the things that make Super Sentai so spectacular.  It was unable to emulate the rest.  If Power Rangers made us love them so much as kids, you owe it to yourself to check out the Super Sentai series to experience the full product.  I guarantee you will fall back into that blissful frame of mind you felt when you were a kid obsessed with superheroes.  After all, one thing is true for both fans of Power Rangers and Super Sentai…

Once a Ranger, always a Ranger.