The Power Rangers have been around for 29 years now, giving generations of superhero fans nearly three decades of giant robot fighting, evil moon witch cackling, and the inherent joy of colour-coded superhero transformation sequences. But they’d be in a very different place without, of course, the series that helped make them visual icons: Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger.
First airing in Japan on February 21, 1992, Zyuranger was, and in some ways influentially still is, in the shadow of its predecessor in the long running Super Sentai series, Chōjin Sentai Jetman. The 16th entry in a superhero universe that is still running to this very day, there was a time where Zyuranger may never have happened all if not for Jetman’s radical overhaul of the Super Sentai formula — injecting more intra-team drama, more nuanced villains, and character work beyond the spectacle of the giant robots and super-suited martial arts action — hadn’t revitalized the series, saving it from impending cancellation. While Zyuranger extrapolated and built on some of those elements itself, it also veered off in more fantastical directions.
Unlike many Sentai series up to that point, which saw contemporary people empowered to become costumed superheroes, fighting off villainous and occasionally alien forces of evil, Zyuranger’s heroes were ancient humans from a long-lost pre-history — five young men and women called Boi, Mei, Dan, Goushi, and Geki — who were placed into suspended animation after battling the sinister witch Bandora millions of years ago. When Bandora was accidentally awoken from her asteroid prison by astronauts in the early ‘90s, the five young warriors were risen in turn, using the power of their guardian beasts to transform into the Zyurangers and protect the world from Bandora’s monstrous hordes.
Although still set in then-contemporary Japan, Zyuranger hewed further away from Super Sentai’s sci-fi roots, incorporating fantasy elements into its backstory around the ancient humans, their magical weapons and tools that allowed them to transform into heroes, and Bandora’s armies. It was the first to theme its mecha and hero designs after pre-historic animals, a motif that would return multiple times in years since, in part due to the massive success of Power Rangers beyond Japan’s borders. It was also the very first Sentai to introduce the regular concept of the bonus ranger, a more-often-than-not sixth addition to the team added partway through a series: in Zyuranger’s case Burai, the vengeful brother of the Red TyrannoRanger, Geki. Unlike his Power Rangers counterpart Tommy Oliver, Burai perished eight episodes before Zyuranger’s end, but was so popular that the concept of an additional ranger joining a show after the initial team’s debut has endured in Sentai to this very day.
But of course, Zyuranger’s real defining legacy persists beyond the borders of its home nation. As the show, after several attempts beforehand (even including Jetman) that finally brought Sentai to the west as the heavily adapted series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Zyuranger’s status as the source of the visual iconography of the very first Power Ranger team has let it live on in popular culture well beyond its influence on Super Sentai itself. Power Rangers may have ejected much of Zyuranger’s story save for a few physical performances like the human villains Bandora and Lamie — where Machiko Soga and Ami Kawai’s voices were dubbed over by Barbara Goodson and Wendee Lee respectively, to become the villainesses Rita Repulsa and Scorpina — but the imagery of the series is burned into the minds of Power Rangers fans forever.
From its glistening, brightly coloured supersuits, to the designs of the massive mecha DaiZyujin and Dragon Caesar — which became the first Megazord and Dragonzord — Saban’s decision to keep Zyuranger’s action footage as-is in Power Rangers gave the series a peculiar place in history, not quite so revered in its home land as its transformed self is beyond those borders. Power Rangers has arguably never been able to truly escape Zyuranger, its designs for the Mighty Morphin’ team becoming the defining image of what the series is, even three decades later — the standard that every new Power Rangers team and adaptation is judged by. 30 years on, Zyuranger might not be quite so beloved as other classic Sentai series, but its legacy as the blueprint for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers has secured its place in the history of superheroes forever.