When Power Rangers exploded onto the scene in 1993 it became a global phenomenon. Sold out toy shelves, live appearances, and merchandising galore. It was the hottest property since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the ’80s. It’s no surprise Saban, the creators of the series, wanted to ride the bandwagon they created and in turn they (and others) developed several shows to ride the coattails of Power Rangers, referred to by fans as “Ameri-Toku” series. That’s short for American Tokusatsu, Tokusatsu being the Japanese word for these subgenre of superhero shows.
There was a lot of these shows so we decided to rank them all from worst to best!
7. Kamen Rider Dragon Knight
The second adaption of the popular Japanese franchise on our native soil had a ton of ambition. Too bad that ambition was to try and be edgy and cool for its intended audience of thirteen year old boys. There’s no other explanation for the show’s obsession with fights and lingering shots of girls asses. The storytelling was weak, with endless recaps and three clip shows the show barely has any actual content to digest. The story of Kit trying to find his father and then trying to save the world from General Xaviax was paper-thin at best.
We’ll give it a few points for trying to aim it’s intended audience higher than kids but the story telling ended up being more surface level maturity than anything actually indepth. Read more about the series here.
6. Super Human Samurai Syber Squad
Would you believe a show with that silly of a name actually had the most star power out of any Ameri-Toku series? Not only did Matthew Lawrence of Mrs. Doubtfire/Boy Meets World fame star, the main villain was voiced by Nigel Thornberry himself, Tim Curry. While he was easily the best part of the show, the series itself doesn’t hold up. The footage from Japanese series Gridman is beautiful but the rest of the show just looks cheap.
With only four standing sets, plots didn’t really have any room to develop past goofy Saved by the Bell style antics. Couple that with fights being reused several times (Super Human Samurai was 53 episodes, Gridman was 39) the show is a slog to get through, especially if you try to marathon it all at once. Also, dig those ’90s fashions! Blossom style hats will be in style forever right?!? Read more about the series here. Oh yeah, there was also that time the people who made Power Rangers threatened them with legal action!
Listen to our Ultraman interview on The Fourth Wall podcast:
5. Big Bad Beetleborgs/ Beetleborgs Metallix
Have you rewatched this show recently? No? Well when you do, you’ll understand why the title really should have been, “Wacky Time with the House Monsters.” Halfway through the show’s first season it quickly shifts focus from the titular Beetleborgs and instead focuses on the antics of the horror movie influenced House Monsters. While this is what the show did best, it certainly isn’t what we’re looking for in an Ameri-Toku, that being a sitcom guest starring some super heroes and villains.
When the show did focus on its main characters and gave them plots that didn’t revolve around the monsters they were pretty decent, but they’re so few and far between it just can’t hold up. It’s a show that was at odds with itself the entire run. It needed to pick what it wanted to be, although we will say it had sort of found the right balance by the time Metallix rolled around. Read more about the series here.
4. Masked Rider
With an appearance in Power Rangers third season premiere, you’d think Masked Rider would have been a slam-dunk. Well by the time the show premiered it had wiped that story from its own continuity and went for a situation comedy featuring a multi-cultural family, an evil insect force, a fish out of water alien, and a TOTALLY NOT THE INSPIRATION FOR FERBYS alien pet named Ferbus. It… well, the show happened. But despite the situation comedy aspects, the show isn’t as bad as some fans like to complain (since most haven’t seen past the first episode).
Dex’s alien nature does make for some fun gags and when we actually see him missing his home world it does actually hit the right emotional beats. It’s also hilarious to see them try and match Dex actor TJ Roberts with stock footage from Kamen Rider Black RX, to the point where he sometimes mysteriously turns Japanese in a few shots. It’s a sight to behold. Read more about the series here.
3. Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills
If Masked Rider is mocked within the Ameri-Toku fandom, Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills is the punching bag. Which is a shame, because we’d actually put its story telling on par with season 1 of Power Rangers. It doesn’t have any budget to work with thanks to being the first wholly original Ameri-Toku production that didn’t utilize a Japanese series for stock footage, but unlike Super Human Samurai it actually manages some world building.
We get a picture of the universe they inhabit, and even get the plot of the Power Rangers Super Megaforce two parter, “Silver Lining” twenty years early with the series best entry, “Universal Hitchhiker” which features a hero from a destroyed world. It’s surprisingly deep stuff for a show with such a stupid name. The show’s main characters are more fleshed out and well defined than most recent Power Rangers characters, and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see them in more situations than the five standing sets allowed. Read more about the series here.
2. Mystic Knights of Tir na Nog
Out of all the series, this is the one that least tried to copy Power Rangers and it benefited. Featuring strong storytelling, gorgeous visuals, and inspiring music, the only thing holding Mystic Knights back from success was many of its Ameri-Toku aspects. That being the transforming/toyetic aspect of the series. While most of these series lived and breathed by toy sales, Mystic Knights always seemed to have the toys as secondary to the epic story it was conveying. The mystic armor our heroes donned for fights was never as important as their personal quests and was the least memorable part of the series. It didn’t help that even with such formidable weapons as swords, bows, maces, and tridents all they ever did was shoot lasers out of them.
What the series got right, and why it ranks high on this Ameri-Toku list, is the world building. This was a series rich with fleshing out its own people on both sides and the mythology. Sure, it dubiously adapts Celtic myths but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. It also gets bonus points for being completely original without adapting a Japanese series. Read more about the series here.
1. VR Troopers
A show clearly of its time (although with VR gaming maybe its time for a revial?) VR Troopers still stands head and shoulders above its competition for just being so damn fun. It’s ridiculous, our main hero is a guy who opens and closes every episode whining about how much he misses his dad. He hangs out with a computer genius, a struggling reporter, and a talking dog that sounds like Jack Nicholson. Oh yeah, they also transform into super heroes powered by Virtual Reality. Yet, all three barely fight together because the stock footage for battles was taken from three separate Japanese series. Whenever a fight would begin, the heroes would just nod to each other and head off in different directions.
That fact doesn’t take away from the enjoyment when we get such classic lines as, “Are you thirsty? Here, have some punch!” Classic. It’s silly and repetitive, but so was Power Rangers. Throughout the series’ two season run it was still a ton of fun. Read more about the series here.
Despite some of these series matching or even besting Power Rangers’ earliest seasons, why didn’t they stick around for longer? Why did none of them crack a third season?
Well, besides the ever so obvious toy sales, Power Rangers was the first. It had the lightning in a bottle. It became a pop culture phenomenon. Even if some of these shows were beating it in ratings, like Beetleborgs, they aren’t really remembered. Power Rangers has stayed on air constantly since it’s inception, surviving three production changeovers and shifting networks. It’s a concept that works, the original “teenagers with attitude” is a beautifully simple idea that the other shows made either overly complicated or just didn’t understand.
Power Rangers is also flexible as hell, the show changing around every year to be something different and yet incredibly similar. Whether it be in high school, space, traveling around the world, or from the year three thousand, it’s a show that can constantly reinvent itself, something none of the other series really had the capability to do.