Megaforce was supposed to be the biggest season of Power Rangers ever. It was the 20th anniversary, celebrating two decades of Power Rangers heroes. It started off with a battle featuring every Power Ranger ever. While Power Rangers Samurai had been rushed into production, this time the season would be planned out with an experienced story editor.
What could go wrong?
Well, the Sentai, for starters. At this point Saban had fallen two years behind the currently running Sentai and had a choice between two different seasons for use in Megaforce. Tensou Sentai Goseiger and Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. The former was a bland season about guardian angels that has long since been forgotten by fans. The latter was the 35th anniversary for Sentai. Filled to the brim with fanservice and returning cast members, it seemed tailor made for Power Rangers own anniversary.
Instead of adapting one of these seasons over two years as had been done with Power Rangers Samurai, or outright skipping Goseiger, it was decided both Goseiger and Gokaiger would be used. Each fifty episode Sentai would be adapted into a twenty episode season for Power Rangers but would maintain the same cast for both of those seasons.
Power Rangers Megaforce would adapt Goseiger and Power Rangers Super Megaforce would adapt Gokaiger.
Story editor James W. Bates was not a fan of this approach.
“Goseiger wasn’t something we wanted to stick with but they were assets that existed,” he told us. “We had marching orders to combine the two shows. We couldn’t completely do Gokaiger which I think everyone in the world likes better as a source series. Gokaiger is a love letter to the fans. I wanted the same thing for our anniversary season.”
The one upside was that using Goseiger first with eyes toward adapting Gokaiger meant Bates could tell more original stories then he had been allowed to on Samurai. There, nearly every plot was lifted directly from its Japanese counterpart.
“We arced out Megaforce first,” Bates says. “Gokaiger was the more interesting series and that actually helped the idea of telling teenage stories because they weren’t going to be guardian angels.”
As writing got underway, Bates’ hands were immediately tied. Tzachor had no interest in exploring the characters back-stories or letting them have fun outside of being Rangers. Parts of the creative team still wanted to stick to the Japanese seasons plot instead of creating something brand new. Even though Bates had been brought in to execute (series creator) Haim Saban’s sensibilities for the show, he was still blocked at many turns.
The first of several examples of this is, Troy, the Red Ranger. In the show as aired all we know about him is that he’s the new kid and a generic leader. That’s it. Bates outlines what the original idea for the character was.
“Troy is special. He was almost like a chosen one. Troy was almost the magnet that brought Gosei to choose these kids. Him being there was almost like why the others got chosen because they were at the same school. Was he plugged into the morphin’ grid? All these things were talked about. Troy actually has a father he moved to town with.”
This special power was going to be seeded throughout the season and finally pay off with Troy’s sudden spirit powers in the Super Megaforce two parter, “Vrak is Back.” It was also closely tied into the season’s sixth Ranger, Robo Knight. “They both come from the same spark of power,” Bates explains. “The genesis of Robo Knight and the power that formed him is the same power that, for whatever reason, gives Troy his special powers.”
Robo Knight is without question the fan favorite from Megaforce. Bates had created him as a contrast to the high school aged Rangers. “He doesn’t have to do homework. He doesn’t have to worry about who he wants to take to the prom. So he comes off as RoboCop, obviously, he’s a robot on a mission. Throughout (the season) his character reacts to situations in a very straight forward way which is fascinating if you play him against teenagers responding.”
Sadly, the other teen characters didn’t get much to work with for Robo Knight to play off. Jake, known in the show solely for stalking Gia, also had more to do in the original concept. He was going to try and exploit his position as a Ranger for personal gain, something that had been hinted at in the bios posted on the Nickelodeon website before the series had premiered.
“Imagine that, a character who goes ‘I’m a superhero. I should be on lunch boxes. I should be interviewed!’ That’s not what Rangers do and just having that one character have that little desire would have added so much depth.”
The Rangers were aided by Gosei, a talking tiki head and former student of Zordon, and Tensou, his robotic aide. Fans instantly complained the names for these characters had been ripped directly from the Japanese series they were adapting from. While fans might be quick to blame Tzachor, who has been known for using as much from the Sentai as possible, that wasn’t the case.
“It wasn’t just because it was easy. I think it was inspired,” Bates admits. “We need to have exotic names rather than naming him after this prescription medicine, which was something people did on the show. You notice how a lot of the character sound like ‘side effects of Xandred may include rising red water?’”
To better support the cast, two human side characters were introduced into the mix. Mr. Burley, a teacher at the Rangers high school, and Ernie, who worked at a local yogurt shop. As the season went on, fans noticed that both characters weren’t adding much to the stories.
“Ernie just went with that set,” admits Bates. “That sounds lame but Mr. Saban was interested in having the kids eat something healthy. So we had some choices where it could be a gym, which has been done, or Ernie’s shop. I was happy with that because it gave us a chance, which I was never able to do on Samurai, to have kids out at the mall. A kid at the mall or a kid using a cellphone? Heaven forbid!”
As for his name being shared with a classic Mighty Morphin Power Rangers character? “It was, like the premiere, an homage.”
Bates regrets that Mr. Burley, a crypto zoologist, was underutilized. He had originally pitched that the character would be played by original Power Rangers actor David Yost but this would prove impossible thanks to Yost’s troubled past with the series.
Burley had been envisioned as Noah’s mentor and would have helped him and Jake set up a website to discuss everything that would be happening in the city. It wasn’t to be. It seems no matter what Bates had planned it barely ended up in the show. “If you look at how we developed the characters and how we set up some of that in the first episode it never comes back again.”
Throughout the writing of Megaforce,Bates would pitch out ideas for storylines that would be completely rejected by Tzachor. “I went, ‘Hey, here’s a great opportunity to have a story about the Rangers wanting to go to a concert but not being able to because a monster attacks’ That kind of storyline Jonathan didn’t think we had time for ever.”
In a more specific example, Bates recalls the original idea for the episode “Robo Knight”.
“We had a pollution monster. We had a character who was developed to be an environmental activist (Emma). Jonathan thought the idea of having three extras and her holding signs for a protest was the most boring thing of all time.”
Tzachor was also partially responsible for one of Megaforce’s most beloved yet baffling moments. In the premiere, Troy is training and kicks a water bottle off a roof. Not a big deal, right? Well, in “Stranger Ranger” Troy sets up an elaborate obstacle course that involves hundreds of water bottles that he has to avoid. This odd sequence of events lead to a fan theory that water bottles killed Troy’s parents.
“You can blame me for writing but you can’t blame for directing and producing and acting,” Bates laughs. “I’m not putting down any of those people with how it was played. Jonathan is very visual, he’s very good at that, and he imagined what a teenager could create to have that Rocky type scene. He just really loved a Rube Goldberg slash homemade training thing. I think it might have been cans in the script because those would sway better but I’ll have to take the fifth on that one a bit.”
As much as Bates points to Jonathan when mentioning why so many of his ideas didn’t happen, he also points out he got to do a lot of the things he wanted.
“It makes it sound like I’m making Jonathan the villain, but he had different priorities.”
When Power Rangers Megaforce debuted, the early episodes featured glimmers of potential. Unlike in Samurai, the Rangers got into unmoprhed fights that displayed a lot of personality. Little seeds were planted that hinted at elements to later be introduced in Super Megaforce. They were in high school again! The characters had subtlety! Things seemed to be going alright.
Then Megaforce Pacing happened.
As early as the second episode, Megaforce developed a problem with the length of its fight scenes. While a typical Power Rangers episode might feature a five to seven minute battle, Megaforce fights could easily take up to fifteen minutes. With little time to establish any character drama, the fights were an endless stampede of power ups and new zords.
Instead of selectivly cherry picking footage from Goseiger to enhance the American plot, Megaforce just crammed in as much of the footage as it could. By the end of the season the characters had barely changed from where they began in epiosde one. It felt like the show was running in place.
The season also lacked any elements of a twentieth anniversary celebration. Outside of Troy’s premonition and the “Day of the Dumpster” homages in the first episode, it was just a generic season.
Much like when Samurai was floundering, fans looked ahead to the next season. Super Megaforce would be adapting Gokaiger, by now a fan favorite. To many, Megaforce, like Samurai, became just another season killing time until the big event.
Looking back on Megaforce, Bates has strong feelings for the show that could have been,
“I wish I could have done more with the kids. I wish we could have used a little less footage and more with the character types we had planned out. Things we had spent a lot of time on. like Troy’s father. just didn’t happen. Things like the kids having their own website. Jake and Gia. Jake’s soccer. They just didn’t happen so that’s kind of a frustration but that’s part of the process of limitations where I can’t get everything I want.”
This process is what would eventually lead to Bates leaving just after the start of Power Rangers Super Megaforce.
Shamus Kelley still wonders why Gia was flirting with Robo Knight. Follow him on Twitter!