Becoming a parent makes you look at lots of things in a slightly different way. It turns out that for me one of the things I look at differently is parental figures (or lack thereof) in children’s programming.
After watching 10 or so full seasons of Power Rangers (and parts of all the rest) plus 11 seasons of its Japanese predecessor (and footage source) Super Sentai, I found myself thinking about the various parents we meet along the way.
In many cases we never meet the heroes’ parents. There are various reasons for that, of course, of which the most obvious is lack of time. In each 20-minute episode, the writers have to
» introduce the monster of the week,
» show the monster of the week doing something bad,
» have the heroes fight the monster,
» show a giant robot fight, and
» wrap up the moral of the episode.
Given those constraints, there’s a limit to how much characterization we’re going to get anyway, and not all of that characterization needs to be about parents and children. I don’t know how interesting kids find that dynamic anyway!
Another fairly logical reason to not include much in the way of parents is the seasons where some or all of the heroes are grownups, such as the police-themed Dekaranger (although we do briefly encounter Hoji’s parents and sister) and its American counterpart SPD (where the parents are mentioned only because it’s important plotwise that they worked together years previously). In shows like Kyoryuger, where the ages are mixed, I can understand why we never meet, say, Nobu’s parents, since he’s 32, but we do meet Souji’s, since he’s 16.
Since the writers often haven’t prioritized characterization at all…well, that adds up to a lot of parents who don’t seem to have noticed that their teenagers or grown children are off fighting monsters every week in shiny spandex!
But when we do meet the parents, those cases are frequently very interesting and there are some definite common themes.
I started writing this while watching Abaranger, which has a variety of parental figures. In fact, it has the most parents in any series I’ve seen so far and is a pretty good introduction to how parents are viewed in these two long-running children’s shows.
Abaranger parents include the good-natured but wacky mother and father who plan to move to Thailand, taking Emiri away from her friends; the not-met-but-mentioned Nakadais, who were so afraid of their son Mikoto they gave him away; and the attentive and wonderful Ryoga, who cares for his niece as his own daughter.
Let’s not forget Mahoro, forced to give birth by the main monster (yes, this is a kids’ show!), who risks her own life over and over to save the resulting child. How about her husband Asuka, who is handed the baby girl in the middle of a battle and immediately begins to act as her father, even before discovering it’s actually his child?
This season also included what felt like more episodes than usual featuring parents being torn away from their children or vice versa and having to rediscover each other. I loved that. A lot.
I especially adored the depiction of loving fathers who will do anything to care for and protect their child. Ryoga’s love for Mai was truly beautiful and I would love to see more depictions of fathers like this. Not just as protectors, but caregivers as well, who tuck their kids into bed and read them stories and go to their recital because they made a pinky promise.
Alas, the American version of Abaranger, Dino Thunder, didn’t do anything nearly as wonderful with parents. The only parent we meet is Trent’s jerk of an adoptive dad, who also happens to be the alter ego of the season’s main antagonist. There could have been some amazing character stuff done with that, but other than a few scenes where Trent’s dad sort of kind of tries to save him, the ball was mostly dropped. They do get a happy ending, though, in which Trent’s dad finally supports him in going off to college to study art, so there’s that.
Another of my favorite fathers is Professor Amachi of Goseiger. The absent-minded but loving professor and his adoring but long-suffering pre-teen son Nozomu are the most adorable thing in a show filled with adorable moments. Nozomu already takes care of his astronomer dad and an entire observatory, so adding five angels, a robot, and a talking computer to his menagerie doesn’t seem like a bad idea at a time. (Hint: It’s a pretty bad idea, even if it turns out okay in the end.)
Then there’s Nozomu’s mother who is tragically and terribly…not dead.
What? Not dead? No, she’s not dead. She’s just…not there. She’s working somewhere else and, well, forgets to come for a visit. No, I can’t explain it either.
Goseiger footage was used to make Megaforce and Super Megaforce in the United States, but unfortunately none of the Japanese storyline was kept.
Of course, the splendid Ryoga and Professor Amachi are far from the only single fathers in Super Sentai and Power Rangers. Missing mothers abound, most likely due to some odd belief among writers or producers that the little boys who are the target audience care more about fathers than mothers. Or perhaps they believe that little boys will just identify better with the fathers, I’m not sure.
Whatever the reason, other single fathers on the Japanese side include two in Kyoryuger and two in Boukenger, while in American versions, I can think of one each in Dino Thunder, Operation Overdrive, Turbo, Lightspeed Rescue, Jungle Fury, and Ninja Storm. (I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten or in seasons I haven’t seen.)
In some cases (Samurai and Shinkenger, for example) we only see one parent, but we’re not explicitly told the fate of the other parent.
Probably my favorite single parent in the American shows is Cam’s dad in Ninja Storm, who is turned into a talking guinea pig in the first episode and remains a guinea pig through the entire season. Sensei Guinea Pig is the best.
There are only two single mothers I could think of, both on the Japanese side: Yoko’s mother from Go-Busters (and I’ll get to that show in a bit) and the Ozu matriarch in Magiranger.
Magiranger and its American counterpart Mystic Force both feature some lovely parent/child interactions and they are two of the very few times we meet both the mother and father of the heroes.
Magiranger begins with a father who has been missing for many years and a mother who disappears after revealing to her five children that they are all magicians. (Just go with it, okay?) Much of the season is the heroes trying to find their mother and save their father, but over the course of those episodes, we learn quite a bit about how much they love their parents and things their parents did for them.
There’s a lovely episode in which Magi Pink drags the only member of the team who isn’t her sibling off on a wild run through a city, which he thinks is her being irresponsible. However, we learn that she’s trying to find a shrine that her mother took her to some years before, a shrine that had special family memories attached.
Both mother and father do return and much of the season is about family and love and the power of both of those things. We often see the children looking at photo albums, for example, or eating special foods their mother made them.
Mystic Force went a somewhat different route for much of the plot, but it kept the parental aspects, albeit with some changes. In this case, it’s the father and child who have disappeared and we gradually learn that the Red Ranger is the missing child, now grown up. Much of the mother’s and father’s arc are similar to the Japanese plot and we also end with a family together again. However, it’s a secondary plot line in Mystic Force, unlike its Japanese counterpart.
As a side note, I should add that Mystic Force introduces a sister who died years before, leaving infant Claire behind to be raised by the Red Ranger’s mother. Which means that the Red Ranger has a cousin. Claire is a recurring character in the show, even, and yet the fact that she’s his cousin is never mentioned or (as far as I can tell) noticed by anyone! Apparently family only goes so far?
Go-busters (which has no American counterpart) has a twist on the importance of family and love, in which two of the three main heroes lost their parents at a young age. And by lost, I mean misplaced into another dimension. So…yeah, the first half of Go-busters is very much driven by these two young adults fighting to save their parents from hyperspace.
We very briefly hear the voices of the parents during the mid-season climax (and a tiny bit in flashbacks), but in most ways they can be considered missing parents.
We’re also never told anything about the parents of the third hero, who was older when his friends’ parents were lost. A gigantic fuss is made over the fact that Red Buster lived with his sister, rather than with the other members of the team, and yet nobody ever explains what Blue Buster’s parents thought of him spending the rest of his teenage years living in a scientific facility training to be a superhero!
The G0-busters, with their missing—>dead parents, are in good company, along with Boukenger‘s Natsuki, who learns from a recording made by her parents just before they put her in suspended animation that they’ve been dead for a few thousand years. And Hunter and Blake of Ninja Storm, whose dead adoptive parents (they’re not biological brothers, so that’s a total of three sets of parents lost!) appear as ghosts in order to break a spell on them.
We can’t forget Jayden and Takeru of Samurai and Shinkenger, whose closely matched neuroses relate to the dead fathers we see in flashbacks urging them to be a good Red and fix everything and generally be perfect. (Don’t ask. It’s a Red thing.)
Or Cole of Wild Force, who carries around a picture of his parents, who were killed while in a jungle, leaving him to be raised by animals and a ridiculously depicted native tribe. (Sorry, former anthropologist moment there.)
Or Eiji of Boukenger, whose dead dad left him with a mission to kill demons and whose dead mother turns out to be a demon. (Yeah, Eiji’s life kinda sucks.)
Parents don’t just abandon their kids by dying, though. There’s a small group of kids who are left via other means. As I mentioned above, Natsuki’s parents put her in suspended animation, because…reasons.
In Kyoryuger, Daigo’s father abruptly leaves him for reasons that are…yes, definitely reasons of some kind. (Daigo is dropped off in the middle of a desert with an amber stone, some money, and a note. Y’know, as we’ve all been tempted to do with our kids now and then. He’s clearly living the dream.)
On the more serious side, we have the single dad of Lightspeed Rescue who is forced by a demon to choose between saving his daughter and saving his son. When the son returns, he believes his father deliberately abandoned him to the demon.
Parents who haven’t abandoned their kids sometimes show up in order to cause trouble for their children. In Time Force, Wes’ dad is the main non-monster antagonist throughout the season, but he’s redeemed at the end.
RJ’s dad in Jungle Fury is one of the good guys, but their relationship is less than stellar, so his appearance doesn’t exactly cause joy and good tidings. To say the least. They do sort things out eventually and it’s very heartwarming, especially when RJ thinks his father is dead.
And as I mentioned above, in Abaranger Emiri’s parents appear on-screen only when they’re planning to move out of the country.
Summer of RPM has been more or less hiding from her parents, who are plutocrats horrified to find their daughter hanging out with plebeians and doing actual work (as a superhero, no less). In the Japanese version, Go-onger, it’s Hiroto and Miu whose parents are plutocrats determined to drag them out of the fighting, but we never actually see the parents, just hear their message through a butler type. Mako of Shinkenger is in the middle of killing demons when her father shows up to try and take her away to her mother in Hawaii (who she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl).
Many parents in the Power Rangers and Super Sentai universes appear to be oblivious to their children, failing to notice that their kids have started to wear only one color (or even the same clothing) day after day for a year or more. I gave the reasons for these oblivious parents way back at the beginning and I understand as a viewer why they’re non-existent in canon, but as a mother, I still find it highly amusing to wonder what they’re thinking.
Single parents and dead parents are very common in both the Japanese and American versions; more common, it seems to me, than in the real world. There are very few nuclear families seen on-screen or even mentioned in passing.
I’m not surprised, I suppose, that dead or missing parents as an impetus for the heroes are so common. It’s sort of the kids’ version of women in refrigerators and it’s common in just about any adventure/fantasy genre. (See: Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, etc.) Killing off or disappearing parents is an easy way to create drama and tension without having to do too much work.
Parents in Power Rangers and Super Sentai play the comic foil (Goseiger, RPM), antagonist (Dino Thunder, Time Force), support structure (Ninja Storm), and just about any role you can imagine. We see parents who are wonderful, parents who are not wonderful, parents who are doing the best they can, and parents who have no idea what they’re doing.
All in all, for a show about giant robots and strange powers, Power Rangers and Super Sentai do a surprisingly good job of representing parenthood in all its non-glory.
In conclusion, no discussion of parents in Power Rangers and Super Sentai would be complete without mention of a truly unique example: Andrew Hartford of Operation Overdrive, who is too busy being a bazillionaire adventurer to have kids and thus decides to build himself an android son. (As you do.)
It was a surprisingly sweet storyline, if a bit odd, and a nice affirmation of parenting and love. Andrew loves his son as deeply as any parent and doesn’t care how Mack came into his life or what he’s made of, even if he sometimes doesn’t know how to show it.
And that’s not a bad lesson for a kids’ show. Or for a parent who might happen to be watching.
Barak and Yael, I love you. No matter what. But if you do become Power Rangers, I’d really like it if you let me know, okay? It seems like that would be a lot less trouble all around.