Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 48: Plague of the Mantis


Giant Mantis Sports Erection During Discussion on Honor
Galactic Devil Magic Used to Deliver Mail









Remember Trini? That Ranger who they didn't bother to give characteristics to? The one that hasn't been the main player of an episode in 26 weeks? Well I hope you Trini fans are excited, because today's episode is finally going to give her some time in the spotlight. Will we come away learning absolutely anything about her, or will she remain the same blank canvas the show refuses to paint?

Our story begins with Trini practicing kung-fu inside the Youth Center (natch) with her Master Lee. The guy is essentially a diet Mr. Miyagi with black hair, but to be honest he does some pretty nice looking martial arts. Trini follows his movements while practicing her stance. It's in this scene she actually does something pretty nice, she appears unsure of herself. We don't need her to blurt it out in expository hacky dialogue, she simply looks uncomfortable while she's posing and we know that something is wrong.

This is exactly where Thuy Trang's strength lies. She's a martial artist first and foremost, but it must be a pretty common feeling in martial arts to feel like you're falling behind. You see her being uneasy, you see her try to keep up, and you see her try and adjust her movements accordingly but not quite hit the mark. I don't know kung-fu from karate from bare knuckle boxing, but I know what people look like when they're fucking up. I give the gal guff sometimes, but she absolutely sells her performance here.

I want him to karate chop that punching bad so badly.

Master Lee tells her that her kung-fu is goofin' the floof so she better switch up her moves if she wants to get a scholarship to Stone Canyon University. Lee tells Trini to take a break, but then immediately asks what the most honorable tradition of kung-fu is. Well clearly it's not letting someone cop a squat and towel off is it Master Lee? Trini informs the audience that kung-fu's most honorable principle is having a fair fight, and fighting your opponent with equal numbers. Clearly something the Power Rangers are well known for.

Master Lee tells Trini to observe the namesake of their style, and shows her a mantis he's jammed in a cage. For whatever reason he assumes that seeing a caged bug sit there without moving is the motivation Trini needs to become better at mantis style kung-fu, so he tells her to stop taking a 20 second break and get back to training. Are all martial arts masters huge peckers or is it only this guy?

Trini gets back to her practice, all while Bulk and Skull observe her from the counter and giggle like a couple of hillbillies. They find the fact that Trini is modeling her movements after a bug to be hilarious. Why isn't she following their lead in mirroring the most lethal of animals; the orca or the skunk? This whole scene you're sitting there just waiting for Bulk and Skull to say something racist, but shockingly it never comes. They just say that bugs are "dopey." Good to see the writers are able to maintain character voice for Bulk and Skull as mothers in their mid 40's.

Bulk suddenly comes up with the perfect plan to make he and his cohort rich. They're going to find a bug to mimic and convince people to pay money for it. Skull's going to have a difficult time picking just one of the many insects he lives with to emulate, but I'm sure he'll figure it out. Oh also, Skull has a milkshake in this scene and ends up throwing it in Bulk's face. Just in case you were worried.

This must be the cover page on Paul Schrier's resume.

Rita Repulsa takes notice of Trini's mantis kung-fu and realizes that she conveniently happens to have a Mantis monster of her own. What are the odds?! Shame for Trini she wasn't practicing crane style or Rita might have left the kids alone this week.

The rest of the Ranger Teens watch Trini train, with Jason noting that maybe they should all practice the mantis style if they want to keep up with her. Get stuffed Jason, let your friend have one single thing that's solely her own. You jerks are doing just fine with your magic dinosaur powers.

Trini becomes exasperated again and informs Lee this kung-fu shit is getting too complicated. Master Lee tells her she'll just need to work harder, because he's incapable of giving this girl actual advice. Not his fault though, he's just a wise master stereotype, comes with the territory. Instead, Lee gives Trini his caged mantis to study. The only stipulation is she must not bring up the fact his pet mantis is clearly dead and glued onto a stick inside the cage.

Trini sits with her friends and puts the mantis cage down in front of Zack. Zack's bug-phobia comes into play as he starts cringing at the little creepy crawly in front of him. Wait just a minute here, a Trini episode AND a moment that showcases continuity? You're giving me a treat here Power Rangers.

Jason asks Trini why it is she's studying this kung-fu stuff, and asks if his precious karate just wasn't good enough for her. This is when I start to bite my lip. Is Trini going to express some kind of emotion? Is she going to say something that leads me to believe she's a character? I need to know. Why is she doing this?

She's studying this kung-fu because it emphasizes honor, fair play, and never cheating. She then informs her friends that it's a difficult challenge to live up to.

Faced with all this information, I guess the lesson we're supposed to get is that deep down inside, Trini just really wants to cheat in all of her fights but has to suppress the urge to fight dirty. Maybe she feels willing to fight with the Rangers on her side but has some inner guilt about not fighting fair? You know what, let's just say Trini wants to fight with some vague sense of honor and that's her defining characteristic. Now I'll bet they do plenty with that throughout the rest of Trini's appearances!

Trini's speech on how she's going to live a path of honor from here on out is short-lived, because Bulk and Skull showcase their new business plan. Cockroach kung-fu!

That is so Kafkaesque

What follows is a scene of Skull holding a jar of roaches while doing a bunch of unbelievably shitty kung-fu. This sounds like a pretty standard gag but the show takes a couple steps to make it work well.

First off, Skull is doing this in front of Kimberly. We know he has a big crush on her and it's amusing to think this stupid roachy dicking around is how he intends to show off to her. The other thing I enjoy is that we don't get some blasé joke with the girly girl being grossed out by his roach jar. She knows he's some harmless loser and laughs at his humiliating, almost racist kung-fu noises. It's great.

Alpha 5 informs Zordon that as fun as it is to watch a couple dumbfucks dance around like roaches, there's a surge of energy in the park. Zordon tells Trini go check it out since she's already there, and he doesn't feel like calling his other servants to deal with it. Hopefully it's just a lost dog who ate a black hole, and not a big spooky M-M-MANTIS!

Pay no attention to the monster's apparent hard-on.

Trini spots the monster and immediately morphs. Once we transition to Japanese footage, Yellow Ranger inexplicably starts doing a bunch of backflips through the woods and showing off her martial arts skills. Despite the fact that Trini had the monster right in front of her before morphing. I'll talk about this more at the end, but in the meantime just know they fucked it up.

Mantis walks in on Trini's arbitrary kung-fu display and challenges her to a match. The Mantis showcases her might by cutting down a tree that's clearly already been cut. Watch out Trini! This Mantis looks like bad news. Such bad news that its name is just Mantis. Real creative work there guys. This week we got Mantis, last week we had Jellyfish, don't you guys strain yourselves thinking so hard about those monster names!

The Mantis hacks at Trini with its blade arms and slashes down a few more pre-cut trees in the process. While Trini is on the ropes, the rest of the Power Rangers jump in to defend her from the monster. Mantis screams out "VAT IZ ZIS!?" in her hilarious bug voice upon seeing the other Rangers. The monster soon leaps away while chastising the Yellow Ranger for not letting this be a fair fight. It might have also not been a fair fight when you're fighting against someone who doesn't have sickles for hands.

Rita beams that her monster has shaken Trini's honor and her henchmen sing the monster's praises. Squatt makes a point to say Baboo called her idea stupid, and Baboo stammers out an honest to goodness "homina homina homina." I'm starting to wonder if Squatt isn't quite as stupid as he lets on and is subtly trying to throw his comrades under the bus so he can get promoted over them. Or he really is that stupid and Baboo is just a stammering nervous Nellie. He's like the space simian version of Hugh Grant.  

B-B-B-BUT OFFICER SHE WAS DEAD WHEN I GOT HERE

At the Command Center, the Ranger Teens try and cheer up Trini for bitching out of a fight against one of Rita's lamest monsters yet, but she's still quite upset. How can she live with herself after not fighting a giant devil Mantis fair and square? Alpha pulls up some information on the monster to find that it's an expert in preying mantis kung-fu. In case you couldn't gather that from all the blabbering it did about honor.

Trini plans to put in some extra practice with her kung-fu in preparation for the Mantis' next appearance so that, as Jason puts it, they can "nail him." Looks like Jase caught a view of that sweet Mantis dong too!

Rita begins phase two of her brilliant plan by magically teleporting a letter down to the countertop in Ernie's Juice Bar. Ernie ignores the incredibly suspicious magical letter and opens it, a federal offense if I've ever seen one. Though Ernie's confident that he's above the law as his shady business practices have failed to land him in prison yet.

The letter says it's from Master Lee, and tells Trini to come to the quarry for some special training. Trini finds nothing suspicious about this and heads out to look for her sensei. If you want to teach your kids about stranger danger, show them this episode and tell them to not do anything Trini does.

While Trini leaves to never be seen again, Bulk and Skull hone their skills acting like cockroaches. They practice their cockroach kung-fu too. Bulk tells Skull to look at the bugs and do what they do. What follows is a scene of the two acting out what they see the bugs doing, which could be absolutely insufferable, but it provides a genuinely funny gag. Bulk tries acting like a roach by chattering his teeth when we shift focus to Skull posed as such.

Skull expresses his innermost desire

That's a genuinely funny joke. It's also a little more morbid than Power Rangers usually goes for which adds to the surprise of it. Even better is a funeral dirge is played in the soundtrack over the shot of Skull laying dead on the ground. It's a shockingly solid gag for a show as cornball as this.

Trini wanders out into the quarry looking for Master Lee, but is soon greeted by the Mantis instead. The monster challenges her to one on one combat to prove the Yellow Ranger truly has honor, but Trini refuses to believe the monster can be trusted. Immediately after questioning the monster's honor, Mantis weirdly growls and roars at Trini. You want to prove you're a noble warrior? Try not snarling and sputtering at people you big creep.

Mantis gives Trini her word as a kung-fu master that their fight will be an honorable one, and not one where she'll prove to be a lowlife bug piece of shit. Trini chooses to accept this mission and morphs to combat the monster one on one. This leaves the Mantis shocked!


The rest of the Ranger Teens ask Ernie where their new friend Trini went, and he shows them the letter that magically appeared in front of him that led her into a shallow grave. The other Rangers become incredibly dubious, because they actually took two seconds to think about how suspicious this sounded. They head to the quarry to find Trini in the hopes this episode's moral isn't about the buddy system saving lives.

While the Ranger Teens are en route to find Trini, Rita sends a few Putties down to keep them occupied. The Rangers manage to beat some Putty ass without saying a word. I'm astonished they don't inform the audience that the Putties showing up confirms their suspicions that Rita has something evil planned. Instead Zack just shouts and punches one in the gut. Not that I'm complaining, because the latter is hilarious.

Back at the Trini and Mantis match, Trini's been knocked to the ground. The monster is ready to close in on her and hack her to shreds with her mighty claws. Trini refuses to give up and busts out some new moves.

This is some Level 10 kung-fu.

Mantis is irritated at how badly she's losing and calls in a Putty battalion. Trini calls bullshit on the Mantis and her sense of honor, and Mantis tells her in a nice smug tone, "I have no honor." I don't know why but that line really works for me. It gives this monster just a little bit of extra pizzazz that she was sorely lacking. She's just so proud of being a lying little shit that it's great.

The Putties surround Trini and start knocking her around as the Mantis cackles at her prey. All of a sudden Trini leaps into the air and kicks the Mantis in the back. When this happens the Putties are no longer there because somebody fucked up editing the Zyu2 stuff and cut the scenes of the Putties getting beaten. Trini pulls out a Power Dagger and slashes Mantis, knocking the monster to the ground. Shocking both the monster, and the audience who were looking for competently produced television. 

While the other Ranger Teens take on the Putties, Zordon alerts them to Trini's predicament. She's surrounded by Putties, wait no they disappeared all of a sudden. Oh but she's also in trouble against the monster. Wait she looks like she already beat the monster with her weapon. So nevermind, she's okay.

The Ranger Teens morph to help out Trini, and when they join her side she informs the monster that it's now a fair fight. What? No it's not. You're going against all that shit your kung-fu is teaching you. What are you on about Trini? That honor shit must not be all that important if you abandon it the second you're losing except not really.

Kimberly tries attacking the monster with her Power Bow but the Mantis slashes her out of the air. The male Rangers then come to her aid and try fending off the monster but get knocked the fuck out by its massive claws. Rita takes this opportunity to make the Mantis grow before the monster has a chance to lose.

The Rangers bring out the big guns and summon the Megazord. Mantis and Megazord square off against each other while gauging their opponents movements. It's paced nice and slow as we wait for the monster to finally leap up and strike the Megazord. Mantis has the upper hand pretty immediately so Jason summons the Power Sword to even things out.

The monster manages to keep the Rangers on their toes until they catch her claws with the Power Sword and knock her to the ground. After a bit of slashing her around, the Rangers charge up the Power Sword and use it to finish the kung-fu master off. Before concluding, we get a recycled scene of Rita clobbering  Squatt, Baboo, and Goldar with her wand. Usually I'm not a fan of scenes being used multiple times, but I'll make an exception when it's the Moon Crew getting the shit beat out of 'em.

Back at the Command Center, Zordon congratulates the Rangers for killing a giant bug, and tells Trini she did the honorable thing in trying to be fair. Kim supports her friend by telling her that it's not Trini's fault Rita cheats. So the moral of the story today is try to do things fair, but if someone starts bullshitting you and tries to flip the script, beat em at their own game. That or Trini was unable to suppress her desire to cheat and used the Putties showing up as an excuse to outnumber the Mantis before murdering her. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Later at the Juice Bar, Trini practices her kung-fu with Master Lee once again. This time her movements are much more measured and you can tell she feels more comfortable with it. Slapping a Mantis in the eyeballs will do that for you. Lee compliments Trini's stride at becoming one with the mantis. Now if only we could sic a hoard of mantis monsters on all our karate students they would become unparalleled.

Bulk and Skull continue trying to sell their cockroach kung-fu lessons at the reasonable rate of 50 dollars an hour. Which means that today Bulk and Skull would be asking for 387 thousand dollars an hour. All to learn how to lay on the ground and chatter like roaches. Pretty reasonable investment. The two bullies dumbshit their way around the Youth Center before inevitably falling into the jar of roaches, breaking it open, and spilling the bugs all over Bulk's leg. Lucky for Ernie the health inspector has just stopped coming by the Juice Bar or he'd be shut down for sure!

So to conclude, did we learn something about Trini's character today? Did she move forward in the slightest? Were her lofty morals and sense of honor able to help vanquish Rita's evil plans?

Not really.


Your Weekly 90's Nostalgia: Honor


Personal Thoughts


Well this was a pleasant surprise. I remembered not liking this episode as a kid at all, but going over it again it's a lot more enjoyable. You get some nice 90's kung-fu, good Bulk and Skull gags, and a plot that focuses on everyone's favorite non-entity Trini.

There was one thing that likely held the episode back for me as a kid and that's the Mantis herself. She's one of the most generic monsters you could ask for, and easily my least favorite Zyu2 design. She just looks so basic to me. I couldn't get past that as a kid so I'm glad it only took me twenty years to enjoy this episode of Power Rangers. I'm really coming up in the world.

Master Lee was portrayed by a real life martial artist named Richard Rabago who also did some acting in the Power Rangers sister show VR Troopers. I only bring that up to mention his name on that show was Tao Chong. Ew.

The material I mentioned earlier of the Yellow Ranger doing martial arts out in the woods is a byproduct of the editors not knowing what to do with Zyu2 footage. Since Zyu2 material has to establish without dialogue or unmorphed Rangers what it's trying to do, this was their method of showing us that the Yellow Ranger is proficient in martial arts. This sets up her fight with the Mantis being one of kung-fu superiority and to try and explain to the audience, as well as the show's producers, what the fuck is going on.

Whoever was cutting together this episode must have wanted to use that brief scene regardless and kept it in. The problem is you can't really make that scene work when Trini was just looking at the Mantis 10 feet in front of her. Either have Zordon tell her to morph and be on her guard, or cut this scene from your episode.

Oh right, speaking of the Mantis meeting Trini, we get a few scenes of the Mantis in U.S. footage antagonizing her. By no means is it necessary, but it helps build a little bit of tension with the monster. That's one of the things that makes Zyu2 so much fun, seeing the staff finally have everything at their fingertips to make an enjoyable episode regardless of what the Sentai footage may dictate.

I imagine itching your eye in that body would prove challenging.

For all you other Zyu2 freaks out there, the Mantis monster is the only Zyu2 monster who's shown growing without being somehow incapacitated. Either via the Power Blaster or being struck by one of the Rangers weapons.

After going over the footage again I've come up with a theory that the scene of Trini slashing Mantis with her Power Dagger was supposed to be the end of the fight. They simply cut whatever fight the other Rangers had with the Putties, and put the scene of Trini slashing Mantis in earlier for some reason. As it stands now, the Putties show up, antagonize Yellow Ranger, and disappear when the other four show up.

Something is definitely missing and the best part about Zyu2 is that you get to try and fill in these blanks yourself. Maybe the Mantis footage will get released and we'll know for sure! In the meantime please just assume I'm right. My fragile ego needs that.

One final thing to note before wrapping up. I went back to get a screengrab from this episode and noticed the Mantis wasn't looking so hot.

Mantis Zyu2

Mantis Power Rangers

Oops! Man I love monster suits on camera clearly ripping and tearing. If you fans out there have any shots like that please send them to me. They're one of my favorite things. Now I just wonder if the Zyu2 production team sent Mantis' costume over like that. Might explain why we only see her one more time.



1 comment:

  1. I was hoping we'd get more ABOUT Trini in a Trini episode. Too bad. :(

    ReplyDelete