REVIEW: MASKED RIDER

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MAIN CAST

Ted Jan Roberts (Magic Kid 1 & 2)
Rheannon Slover (The Stooge)
Ashton McArn (VR Troopers)
David Stenstrom (Power Rangers Zeo)
Candace Kita (Two and a Half Men)
Ken Merckx (Power Rangers Time Force)
Jennifer Tung (What Lies Beneath)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUESTSTARS

Ralph Voltrian (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)
Libby Letlow (The Bedtime Story)
Matthew Bates (V for Vendetta)
Peter Shinkoda (Daredevil TV)
Winston Story (That 70s Show)
Traci Beluishi (Power Rangers Zeo)
Wendee Lee (Ninja Scroll)
Michael Sorich (VR Troopers)
Steve Kramer (Chronicle)
Michael McConnohie (Akira)
Julie Maddalena (Children of The Corn)
Jason Narvy (Mighty Moprhin Power Rangers)
Bob Papenbrook (Jeepers Creepers 2)
Paul Schrier (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)
Ali Afshar (Power Rangers Turbo)
Verne Troyer (Austin Powers)

When Power Rangers was at its peak, children’s television saw a massive influx of Japanese-adapted tokusatsu series. Other studios such as DIC tried their own shows, but Saban truly led the way with no less than four shows of this type. Power Rangers had Super Sentai covered, and the Metal Heroes franchise was channeled into VR Troopers and Big Bad Beetleborgs. Meanwhile the Kamen Rider franchise saw a single Western release in the form of Masked Rider. The character himself appeared in Power Rangers season 3 for a 3-part story before appearing in his own 40-episode show between 1996 and 1997.

On the distant planet of Edenoi (where Power Rangers’ Alpha-5 was created), Prince Dex has been given the powers of the Masked Rider by his grandfather King Lexion to battle his evil uncle, Count Dregon, who is intent on ruling the planet and taking the Masked Rider powers for himself. When Dregon sets his sights on planet Earth, Dex pursues and is taken in by a Hal and Barbara Stewart and their adopted children, Molly and Albee. Following Dex is Ferbus, a small furry creature with a mischievous personality. Using the Masked Rider powers, Dex fights Count Dregon and his army of Insectivores while trying to learn more about human life and keeping his identity a secret. He is aided by two superpowered talking vehicles – a car named Magno and a bike named Battle Chopper (or just Chopper).


Masked Rider is a pretty awful series riddled with flaws. The best place to start with is the beginning, and that’s with the lead characters – Dex and the Stewart family. Much like the original Power Rangers cast, far too greater lengths have been gone to to make these characters “perfect”. An idealised happy family isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t make for particularly interesting viewing. Dex is your run-of-the-mill alien on Earth, spouting out TV nonsense and misunderstanding Earth phrases. He also seems to pull a lot of powers out of nowhere when untransformed (such as telekinesis and super speed), which begs the (in-story) question of why the hell he never uses these when fighting as Masked Rider? The series even has its own Bulk and Skull-esque duo in the form of nosey neighbour Patsy Carbunkle and her stereotypical geek friend Herbie, but the less said about these two the better. Masked Rider later gets two extra modes to call on, the originally named “Super Gold” and “Super Blue” modes.While their introductions are among the better episodes Masked Rider has to offer, the real potential of these abilities isn’t really explained and its left to the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Both forms also have the power to upgrade Chopper, but nothing is actually ever done with these upgrades outside their first appearances.

Count Dregon and his band of villains aren’t much better on the character front either. While the (ridiculously awesome looking) Spiderbase is manned by Count Dregon and his generals Nefaria, Double Face, Cyclopter and Gork, Dregon and Nefaria are the ones hogging the majority of the screentime (and also the only ones who actually appear in original footage). Since the show has no real conclusion, Dregon is an “all-talk, no action” villain and we never see him actually do anything than rant. It’s a shame really, because Double Face and Cyclopter are great looking villains and actually engage Masked Rider when they have the opportunity to do something. And even though he doesn’t get the spotlight very often, there’s still too much of the rhyming Gork in this show. The use of source footage was always ropey back in the 90s but Masked Rider has to be one of the worst examples out there. While mainly drawing from the aforementioned Kamen Rider Black RX, the series also uses footage from two other Kamen Rider movies – ZO and J. With both of these film featuring riders with VERY different suits to Black RX you might think that careful editing is involved to make to footafe work, but the fact is most of the times it doesn’t even feel like they tried. Masked Rider’s suit changes every 30 seconds, with tiny bits of new footage added inbetween to (badly) make it seem like everything fits. Blink and you’ll miss it moments they are not. The chopping and changing between American and Japanese out-of-suit footage is equally bad, to the point where you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking the show starred both Prince Dex and Kotaro Minami.


And of course what Masked Rider review would be complete without discussing Ferbus, the furry little creature which many hold as the worst aspect of the series. Ferbus’ antics do indeed ruin a lot of what could be considered the more “serious” episodes of the show, but his inclusion isn’t the biggest misstep this series makes by any means. Had he been toned down a lot more, maybe the series could have struck a better balance between comedy and drama. Masked Rider was a pretty big part of my childhood, and so when I set about rewatching it deep down I hoped it would still hold some charm for me despite knowing how universally disliked it is. But all hope was lost after the first few episodes, as the terrible characters, minimal fight footage and horrific editing became more and more apparent. The lack of a proper ending is just the icing on a rather horrible tasting cake. If you are by any way curious about this series, my advice is to simply watch episodes 1, 2 7, 8, 21 and 37 because they are only ones that are anyway decent (and funnily enough, the only ones that have any real bearing on the overall plot).

 

REVIEW: VR TROOPERS – SEASON 1 & 2

VR Troopers: Season 1, Vol.1

MAIN CAST

Brad Hawkins (Power Rangers Zeo
Michael Bacon
Sarah Brown (Birds of Prey)
Gardner Baldwin (Masked Rider)
Julian Combs (Jellyscream!)
Richard Rabago ( Magic Kid 2)
Aron Pruner (The Divine Tragedies)
Kerrigan Mahan (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Michael Sorich (Bad Reception)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Farrand Thompson (Twin Sitters)
Randy Swerdlick (Poweer Rangers Lost Galaxy)
Brandon Gaines (Superfights)
Davild Milburn (The Unsaid)
Sonja Ecker (Scarecrow)
Don Yanan (The Muppets)
Wendee Lee (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)
Ashton McArn (Masked Rider)
Glen McDougal (Water for Elephants)
T.J. Storm (Punisher: Warzone)
Kristin Norton (Monkeybone)
Tyffany Hayes (Sweet Valley High)
Carla Perez (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)

As a child, I always looked forward to catching VR Troopers after school. I was always excited to see how Ryan, Kaitlin, and JB would foil Grimlord’s latest evil scheme. This was a show that I loved so much, and for many years I have been praying for a DVD release. Thanks to Shout Factory, that dream has finally come true, and for VR Trooper fans such as myself, the long wait was definitely worth it.

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The show is still as wonderful as I remember it, with its action-packed battles providing a lot of excitement and story lines regarding friendship, teamwork, etc. that still hold up well today. Ryan was and still is my favorite Trooper, though Kaitlin and JB are also pretty cool. Grimlord, and his human alter-ego Karl Ziktor, are effectively creepy, and his many mutant minions are equally menacing. Jeb, the talking dog, provides the best comic relief on the show. Many of the other characters such as Tao and Professor Hart are also as appealing now as they were all those years ago. The only regular character I could never stand was Percy, who I felt was quite an annoyance, but just about all the other characters are awesome to some extent.

The episodes on this set (26 in all) provide plenty of entertainment. The two-part story The Battle Begins sets up the story quite nicely, as it shows how the Troopers became the defenders of our reality, their first Skug battle, how Jeb gained the ability to speak, and the beginning of the ongoing plot point of Ryan’s search for his long-lost father. Other episodes on this set have the Troopers rescuing Jeb from Grimlord’s minions (The Dognapping), trying to help Ryan when he’s suffering from amnesia (Lost Memories), dealing with a magician who steals Kaitlin and JB’s virtualizers (A Dirty Trick), investigating some earthquakes that hit Crossworld City (Digging for Fire), and much more. Fans who grew up with the series, as well as people who never saw the show before, are sure to find at least a few great episode on the set that are worth checking out.

A mere three months after Shout Factory released the first 26 episodes of VR Troopers comes this DVD set covering the second half of Season 0ne (or at least most of the second half…more on that in a bit). The saga of Ryan, Kaitlin, and JB continues as they deal with more of Grimlord’s menacing mutants. Many of the episodes on the set are a joy to see, but the standout ones are the four episodes that comprise the Defending Darkheart story arc. This saga, in which Ryan finally learns the fate of his long-lost father, is dramatic and emotional, and is a must see for every VR Trooper fans. Other episodes feature the Troopers being turned into children, encountering the Ghost Biker, and fighting Grimlord’s own VR Trooper. There’s even an episode in which Ryan and his talking dog, Jeb, switch bodies! As you can probably guess, hilarity ensues.

This set also contains a pretty cool five-minute clip that was made to introduce the series. Originally included on various Power Ranger tapes released in the 1990s, the promo includes a few differences from the final show, such as having Professor Hart look more like Albert Einstein and different voices for Grimlord and Jeb. It’s fascinating to watch, and I hope that Shout will include the Cybertron promo (the original concept for what would become VR Trooper, with Jason David Frank A.K.A. the Green Ranger as the main character) in a future set, as well.

Season Two is where the major changes happened, Ryan got a new suit, Grimlord decimated most of his villains. Kaitlin gets a double.

One of the best things about this volume is Ryan finally finds his father and the new look Grimlord is amazing.  most of the major events happen in the second volume.

VR Troopers fans like myself were undoubtedly disappointed when this fourth, and final, DVD set, which was meant to be released in September 2013, was canceled by Shout Factory due to low sales for the other sets. However, these fans may now rejoice as the set has been uncanceled and is available now, but only on Shout’s website as part of their Shout Select series. At any rate, this set is another must have for VR Troopers fans, though those hoping to see a proper conclusion to the series will likely be disappointed.

The second half of Season Two continues the saga of Ryan. Kaitlin, and JB, a.k.a the VR Troopers; and their never ending fight against Grimlord and his army of mutants. In the twenty episodes contained on this disc, our heroes deal with a computer that can duplicate anything (including Grimlord’s mutants), a pet that eats everything until it becomes a deadly monster, a new recurring villain called Knighttime who possesses the power to send the Troopers back in time and have time come to a complete halt, and much more. Some of my favorite episodes on this set includes Santa’s Little Trooper, a Christmas episode with some cute and touching moments, and Get Me to the Lab on Time, in which some love potion causes Kaitlin and the obnoxious Percy to fall in love with each other, leading to much hilarity!hqdefaultThere’s plenty to love about this set, and VR Troopers is as awesome now as it was when it debuted nearly twenty years ago, but one little disappointing aspect about the set is that the series was never given a proper conclusion of any sort. The Troopers would never defeat Grimlord for good, nor would they even find out what his true identity is. As I understand it, the show’s cancellation was on account of Saban having run out of Japanese footage for the show, and instead of either creating more American footage or using more Japanese footage from other shows, they canceled it in favor of Big Bad Beetleborgs. I know I’d give anything to see the show wrap up in a proper manner, but alas, the chances of that happening in this or any other lifetime are likely slim to none.

With that said, this is a solid set and a great way for fans to finish their collection. Having the entire series, or even just a handful of episodes, on DVD was a pipe dream for me not too long ago, but Shout Factory has gone above and beyond to release all 92 episodes on DVD, and for this, I am very happy. Those of you who have been wanting this set, run, don’t walk, to Shout’s website and order it today. Aside from the lack of a proper series conclusion, you most certainly won’t be disappointed!