Dinosaur Fantasy: Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger Series Review
Team TokuNet staff writer Brody Salzman travels back to Toei’s original age of dinosaurs to see what made Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger special.
Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers. Please be advised.
Abaranger… Kyoryuger… And now Ryusoulger… Toei has a well known history of creating Super Sentai teams that tap into the power of dinosaurs, and it all goes back to the Zyurangers. I’ve long been curious about Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger thanks to its American counterpart which kickstarted the entire Power Rangers franchise, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Power Rangers came to define the American understanding of tokusatsu, even overshadowing the famous Godzilla franchise. As the show that led many international tokusatsu fans to discover the rest of the genre, what could the original source have been like?
Luckily, Shout! Factory’s subbed release is accessible through VRV. So, grab your Dino Bucklers, and let’s jump into this dinosaur fantasy!
From Zords to Guardian Beasts
I’m well aware that Zyuranger came before Power Rangers. Still, I find it incredibly difficult not to compare the two shows’ approaches to using the same footage since Zyuranger would become massively influential for its use in the first ever Power Rangers show. Let’s take a brief look at the plot of each and how they differ. If you’re already familiar with both, feel free to skip this section.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers uses science fiction to explain the morphers, advanced weaponry, giant robots, and the villains on the moon. On the other hand, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger focuses on a more fantastical plot based in the fantasy genre. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, for those who haven’t seen it, is about a battle between the ancient being known as Zordon and the evil sorceress, Rita Repulsa. Zordon managed to seal Rita in a space dumpster ten thousand years prior to the start of the show, only to be freed on the moon by two unsuspecting astronauts.
In Zyuranger, Witch Bandora is Rita’s counterpart who was sealed away by the Guardian Beasts 170 million years ago on Planet Nemesis after causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. The Guardian Beasts, Zyuranger’s counterpart to the Zords, are deities modeled after prehistoric beasts, and each one is worshiped by one of five ancient tribes. When Nemesis gets near Earth in 1992, two astronauts release Bandora from her prison.
Power Rangers’s Zordon, trapped in a time warp and only able to appear as a giant head in a tube, has his robot assistant, Alpha 5, summon five random “teenagers with attitude” to become the Power Rangers. The Power Rangers are able to summon giant robotic dinosaurs which can combine to form the Megazord.
In Zyuranger, a sage named Barza responds to Bandora’s appearance by awakening three knights, a princess, and a prince from their 170 million-year suspended sleep. Each representing one of the aforementioned tribes, they awaken so they can once again become the holy warriors, the Zyurangers, and fight Bandora’s Dora Monsters with the power of the Guardian Beasts and the Guardian Beasts’ combined form, Daizyuzin.
During the events of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Rita gives a teenager named Tommy Oliver a stolen Power Coin which enables him to become the evil Green Ranger and summon the Dragonzord with his weapon, the Dragon Dagger. Eventually, Tommy is freed from Rita’s control, though he soon has his Green Ranger powers drained by Rita’s superior, Lord Zedd. After this, he leaves the show only to return with new White Ranger powers which were lifted from Gosei Sentai Dairanger. This plot arc is especially interesting to compare to Zyuranger’s equivalent because of its deeper importance to the characters and its dark conclusion.
Tommy’s Zyuranger counterpart, DragonRanger Burai, is TyrannoRanger Geki’s long lost brother with a hatred of him and the Zyurangers. Bandora becomes his ally when he awakens, leading him to obtain the Devil Sword Hellfriede which makes him go crazy. He still fights the Zyurangers of his own free will, unlike Tommy. During this time, it is revealed that he hadn’t survived being put to sleep but was revived by the Guardian Beasts to aid the Zyurangers. Because of this, Burai only has 38 hours to live outside of a “timeless room” where he is given the Zyusouken with the power to summon his own Guardian Beast, Dragon Caesar. When Geki defeats him in a duel, Hellfriede is destroyed, and Burai joins the Zyurangers. When his time is used up, Burai dies, entrusting the Dragon Armor, Zyusouken, and the power of Dragon Caesar to Geki. In Power Rangers, the Green Ranger’s “death” was censored, and the character returns as previously explained.
The differences between Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger are fascinating. I hadn’t realized that three of the Zyurangers were knights. I thought to myself, “The Ryusoulgers aren’t the first dinosaur knights?” Perhaps Toei looked to Zyuranger for inspiration in 2019. Beyond that, I couldn’t get past the portrayal of the Guardian Beasts as literal gods. It was strange for me when the spirits that give such a wholesome Sentai their powers punished a whole tribe for being tricked into eating the fruits they were supposed to guard. What was stranger to me was how the Zyurangers regard the Guardian Beasts as such powerful deities when they are clearly designed to look and work like mecha. To me, it felt like the Zyurangers’ arsenal was largely more fitting for a science fiction context than a mystical fantasy one.
Personally, I think there’s always a difference in the way a Sentai show feels versus the way a Power Rangers show feels, and I was surprised with just how much like a modern Super Sentai show this one felt to watch even with the strange mythos it tried to build. Maybe that was to be expected as the show that standardized the “sixth ranger” and armor upgrade tropes. I suppose I was expecting something cheesier that doesn’t feel as natural since this was my first experience with watching a pre-2000’s Super Sentai.
There are a few plot lines I’d like to describe my feelings about, in particular.
Plot, Filler, Kids, and Eggs
During the first sixteen episodes, I was sure this wasn’t a show with any major continuous plot despite a slow lead-up to getting the legendary weapons, forming Daizyuzin, and introducing dinosaur eggs as a plot device. Maybe I was primed by Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger vs Keisatsu Sentai Patranger‘s recently wrapped up, de-emphasized story which I also reviewed, but the collection of episodes which didn’t impact the overall story gave me the feeling that there wouldn’t be much in the way of continuous plot.
Even after the introduction of Burai, Zyuranger’s episodes continue to emphasize the relationship between the Zyurangers and the many kids who live nearby. Almost every mini plot arc features a new kid or group of kids the Zyurangers somehow know by name. This reminded me of my experience with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as that show also puts a lot of focus on random kids. In fact, this seems to be the biggest aspect of the original show that got carried over into the adaptation without much difference, second only to the suit footage. This didn’t really hurt my enjoyment of the show until the very end when Bandora makes her final play to resurrect Great Satan.
Throughout Zyuranger, the show goes out of its way to remind the audience that there are two dinosaur eggs waiting to hatch. Almost every time they come back, the Zyurangers and Bandora lose the eggs. I was personally looking forward to the eggs being important to the plot, but they never really culminate in much. In the end, they are used as motivation for a hospitalized kid to get better.
During the final arc of the show, Bandora is set to destroy the world with her resurrected son, Kai, and Geki is just worried that the kid in the hospital might not pull through if he doesn’t have the dinosaur eggs to look forward to. As the viewer, I had no real connection to this kid. I felt like the weight of Bandora’s plot or even the fact that the fate of all dinosaurs (which we are primed by the Guardian Beasts to care about) resting on the eggs should be of far more importance. Yet Geki and Mei continue to lose focus.
In the end, the Zyurangers defeat Bandora and save the Earth, but they entrust the dinosaur eggs to the random group of kids from this final arc. This decision doesn’t carry any weight, leaving me disappointed in the payoff of the dinosaur eggs hatching. Still, I’d be lying to say I didn’t have my heart warmed by the baby dinosaurs finally hatching after waiting since episode 9.
I know I’m giving all these complaints up front, but I promise I did really enjoy this show. Let’s get into the parts that really drew me in.
The Tragedy of Burai, Warrior of Power
Burai dies in Zyuranger. That’s why Tommy loses his Green Ranger powers in Mighy Morphin Power Rangers. This is a common fact about the adaptation of Zyuranger which tokusatsu fans like to pass around. Even if you didn’t know from watching or from another fan telling you, perhaps you knew because DragonRanger is one of the three warriors in Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger who gave power to Gai Ikari/Gokai Silver, all of whom died in their respective series. I knew going into this show that Burai would arrive to oppose the Zyurangers and die in the end. What I didn’t expect was how his arc would draw me further into the show.
When I saw Burai first appear, I was incredibly confused much like the Zyurangers. Not only are Barza and a fairy called Gnome willing to shoot the Zyurangers with machine guns to prevent Burai’s awakening, but Burai calls himself the prince of the Yamato Tribe. I thought that was Geki’s label. Although, I did second guess myself since there were a lot of tribe names to remember. The next episode reveals Burai’s past, and I was blown away by the drama. Nothing in Zyuranger had that level of depth up until this point. It all made sense, and I felt like I understood Burai. The conflict felt far more real than the generic “ranger turned evil” plot Power Rangers went with.
A lot of this arc frustrated me, but in a good way. I was supposed to be frustrated. Geki is confused by the sudden revelation of his older brother, and he wants to make peace with Burai. Yet, the Guardian Beasts push him to fight with all his might for the good of everyone. Geki doesn’t want to kill Burai, and it takes a long time for him to want to defeat Burai in battle at all. I was frustrated because I knew Geki would get the team hurt by hesitating, but I sympathized with his desire to make peace. This culminates in a low point where Burai helps bring about the supposed death of the Guardian Beasts. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I was led to believe the Guardian Beasts were deities. How could they be destroyed? How would they be revived? After all, there were still thirty episodes left. This is when Burai hits an important point in his arc that forever affects how I would feel about him: He obtains the Zyusouken and, with it, the power to summon Dragon Caesar. Dragon Caesar rampages through the city, undoubtedly causing many deaths. It can be seen how many innocent people are being hurt. This is what pushes Geki to confront Burai, finally deciding to settle things.
After the Guardian Beasts emerge from underground, (turns out they were actually being healed) Tyrannosaurus fights Dragon Caesar as Geki and Burai duel in one of the most influential battles of Super Sentai– and maybe even tokusatsu- history. In the end, Burai regrets his behavior after seeing that Geki really cares about him. He joins the Zyurangers, calming Dragon Caesar and uniting it with ZyuMammoth, Triceratops and SaberTiger to form Gouryuujin.
From here on, the audience is supposed to sympathize with Burai who may have just reunited with his brother but is still living on borrowed time. I couldn’t though. After the way he destroys the city and kills so many people? I couldn’t forgive him for that so easily, and I was frustrated the Zyurangers could. I was angry over this, and that is a powerful reaction for a show to cause.
I was pretty determined never to forgive Burai. There didn’t seem to be much he could do to make up for his misdeeds since his time was so limited. Imagine my surprise when I could no longer deny that he won me over. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but it was a result of some combination of the way he helps awaken King Brachion, teams up with Geki to obtain the Thunder Slingers, rescues a girl Bandora kidnaps, and finally seeks out a boy he dreams is also fated to die at the same time as him. That boy seems healthy until a Dora Monster fatally wounds him. The Zyurangers try obtaining an elixir to save Burai, but Burai insists they give it to the kid, instead. He sacrifices himself to save some random child.
Burai dies in Zyuranger. I knew this going in, but Burai’s death still hurts to witness even after he hurts all those people. What made it worse was the following episode. The Guardian Beasts celebrate a victory with the Zyurangers, but Dragon Caesar has no one to celebrate with as it mourns the death of Burai. It comes to bond with Geki, who also mourns his brother’s death, in a heartfelt episode.
Witch Bandora – The Reason The Kids Make Sense
I know I just complained hard about all the random children in this show, but there is some payoff to it. There’s a reason for it, and it’s all about Bandora and her son.
In episode 48, we learn that Bandora was once the Dahl Tribe Queen. When her son, Kai, destroyed tyrannosaurus eggs, he was killed by the parent. Devastated, Bandora sold her soul to Great Satan in exchange for magic that would allow her to wage war against the dinosaurs and the other tribes. We already know what came next. Bandora was exiled to Nemesis, and the Zyurangers were put to sleep.
All through the show, we see Bandora targeting children, declaring her hatred of them. Meanwhile, the Zyurangers always connect with children. In time for the final battle, Great Satan revives Kai to use as a pawn in the destruction of the world. Bandora is overjoyed, but Kai refuses to call her his mother because Great Satan is the one who gave him life. It’s honestly heartbreaking. When the Zyurangers defeat Great Satan, Bandora cries for her son who has died once again. This causes her to lose her magic, and the entire Bandora gang is left to drift through space. When it’s revealed that two of her minions, Grifforzer and Lamy, have a baby, she decides she loves children.
The kids who are always getting involved in the story are sometimes annoying and don’t make much sense to include, but it’s tied into Bandora’s overarching story. She hates kids because her son died so she always targets them while the Zyurangers protect them. In the end, she’s reminded of her love for her child which takes away Great Satan’s magic and lets her learn to love children again. It’s a really nice story.
I also want to take a second to appreciate the motifs at play and how Bandora plays into the fantasy theme. Her name is clearly a play on “Pandora” who, in Greek mythology, opened a jar containing all the world’s evils, releasing them into the world. This is very similar to the idea of the astronauts releasing Bandora from her prison on Nemesis. Plus, all of her Dora Monsters are based on creatures from mythology.
Come to think of it, it seems like Zyuranger’s attempts at being a fantasy show mostly just involve characters being lifted from fantasy settings and mixed into the modern era. It’s always strange when the show tries to blend a fantasy plot into the main story. It usually just involves the Guardian Beasts acting like deities, and I already explained how that felt strange.
Great Characters, Underwhelming Ending
A Super Sentai show is typically only as good as its core cast, and the Zyurangers are no exception.
Geki/TyrannoRanger – The Warrior of Justice
Geki is a really strong leader. From the beginning, he seems very commanding, confident and mature, only questioning himself when Burai comes into the picture to show him not everything has been as it seems. When interacting with Burai, Geki turns into an adorable little kid. The Zyurangers could be in a heated battle when they end up in a pinch. Realizing they need help, Geki’s voice will go high as he calls “Nii-san! Nii-san!” It’s a bit strange but also quite endearing. Geki isn’t just a one-dimensional, perfect leader by any stretch of the imagination.
Goushi/MammothRanger – The Warrior of Knowledge
My personal favorite of the Zyurangers, Goushi gets the most meaningful character focus episodes after Geki and Burai who have a bit of an unfair advantage being the leader and the sixth ranger. Goushi pushes Geki when he needs it, and he’s truly shown to be the most chivalrous of the knights when saving others like Sayaka the swordswoman in episode 44. Goushi’s episodes show what a powerful, determined hero he is. Dan, Boi and Mei just don’t stack up to me.
Dan/TriceraRanger – The Warrior of Courage
Hilariously flirty and rebellious, Dan is the first to push Barza into letting him get a job. He’s the immature free spirit of the team. Early on, Dan is shown hitting on women, seemingly not taking his role as seriously. This is the era where Super Sentai would often use suggestive gags like skirts flying up, which actually happens in episode 2. That said, there is a part right at the end of an episode where Mei starts chasing Dan for making an immature boob joke. This sums up Dan pretty well, though he is also a very dedicated warrior. We see this when he fights hard for the restaurant he gets a job at after Bandora begins mining underground for Dokiita clay.
Boi/TigerRanger – The Warrior of Hope
He’s a ninja, and I have to say that is extremely unexpected for a 170 million-and-15-year-old dinosaur knight. I really enjoyed Boi’s character and he is very mature, but I can’t recall much else about him at this point. I promise he’s great. He just doesn’t get to do a whole lot.
Mei/PteraRanger – The Warrior of Love
As the princess of her tribe, Mei gets a really interesting focus episode where the other Zyurangers think she’s going to sacrifice herself to defeat the Dora monster. When she outsmarts them all with a more clever plan, it’s really satisfying. There’s also an episode where she chases Lamy around in various disguises which reminded me of a similar focus episode for Ahim/Gokai Pink. I love learning more about connections between shows as I go further and further back through Sentai history! Anyway, Mei can seem pretty static and even boring at times, but there’s clearly more to her character below the surface. I love getting to see that side of her.
My favorite episode in all of Zyuranger is episode 46, “Presenting! The Vicious Squadron.” This episode is a chance to get the most insightful look into the Zyurangers’ characters out of, in my opinion, any other episode. We see DoraMirage creating Zyuranger impostors that fool the citizens into thinking our heroes are the enemy. Feeling hopeless and defeated, abandoned by those they swore to protect, the Zyurangers retreat into the care of an older woman.
Here, we see what happens when these young adults (in Boi’s case, still a child) are allowed to release themselves from their duties. They work together to prepare a modest birthday celebration for the woman and keep her spirits high even when theirs are low. Perhaps they’re trying to forget their troubles, altogether, to have some fun.
When the woman reveals she knows who the Zyurangers are, her faith in them revives their determination to protect people. Even if the public doesn’t believe in them, nobody else can save the day. It’s the Zyurangers’ responsibility. This isn’t a lesson I’ve never seen before, but it contrasts with the entire rest of this show and results in a really powerful moment for the Zyurangers going into the final few episodes.
It’s unfortunate that the ending doesn’t live up to episode 46. After defeating Great Satan, I was thrown off by the decision not to destroy Bandora. Granted, the ending the writers chose works well within the context of what’s happening, and I already praised the conclusion of Bandora’s personal arc. So, what’s the problem? Well, consider this: the Zyurangers end up pretty much right where they are at the beginning of the show- with Bandora sealed away in space.
There are some obvious differences in circumstance like Bandora losing her magic, Lamy also being imprisoned with the Bandora gang, the dinosaur eggs having hatched, and two additional Guardian Beasts (Dragon Caesar and King Brachion) being awakened. Still, it’s like the Zyurangers only ever showed up to redo what their ancestors had done. Didn’t they learn what could happen? Bandora even threatens to find a way back. We may know she never makes it back, but to me this conclusion doesn’t feel final even if Bandora’s character arc makes total sense. Although, what confused me more was the departure of the Zyurangers.
After sealing away Bandora and banishing her into space, the Zyurangers hatch the dinosaur eggs. They leave the eggs in the hands of the kids we just met right before the Great Satan attack and then they depart with Barza on a cloud to go to the land of the gods where the Guardian Beasts are waiting for them. Again, leaving the eggs with random kids is confusing enough because it just seems cheap since we never really get to know these kids in a meaningful way. They’re insignificant to the overall plot.
On top of that, why would the Zyurangers go to the land of the gods? Haven’t they earned a chance to live normally? What does it mean to go to that land? Are their mortal lives over? We never hear once that they must complete their mission to go to this land. Is their entire purpose to complete a holy mission and earn their place in heaven?
I have some suggestions for what I would have liked to see done with the ending.
A more significant place to put the dinosaur babies at the end of the show would be in the care of the fairy, Gnome, and his grandson who are allies to the Zyurangers. We would know that the babies will be protected. A way to add significance to going to the land of the gods would be if we saw Burai was there, waiting to reunite with Geki. It would provide closure for a sad character arc and give Geki and the Zyurangers a clear reason for wanting to go, while also explaining how Burai could communicate with the Zyurangers when Bandora imprisoned the Guardian Beasts.
No matter how I think about it, I just can’t justify why those final plot details are put together the way they are. It feels like there’s no reason for any of the final events of the series after defeating Bandora to happen the way they do, and it just disappoints me that the show has to end on such a strange note after such a powerful final arc. I suppose you could say it left me feeling conflicted, and really that’s how the entire show made me feel.
The Legendary Warriors, The Eternal Warriors, The Zyurangers…
My goal in writing this review has been to deliver a cohesive explanation of my impression of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. In the end, I jumped from complaining about the show’s direction to praising its story to complaining about how it conflicts. I love the characters. I love how Bandora’s arc develops over the course of the show. I love how Burai’s arc progresses. I love how the Zyurangers themselves develop. I even love how the dinosaur eggs become a main recurring plot device, but there’s a lot I don’t like.
I don’t like the focus on random kids we can’t really get to know. At least in a show like Tensou Sentai Goseiger, we spend the whole show getting to know and care about the introduced kid. I don’t like the portrayal of the Guardian Beasts as rather harsh gods. I don’t like that the Zyurangers give the eggs to seemingly random kids in the end and vanish into the heavens with no explanation for why they have to or why it’s significant. Some of these complaints conflict with the things I said I like about the series, but at the end of the day, that’s Zyuranger.
I used to hear that Zyuranger is sometimes seen as overrated because of its nostalgic connection to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and I will say that both are very different shows. If your love of the original Power Rangers leads you to love Zyuranger, more power to you. For me, Zyuranger is an improvement in some ways and a downgrade in others. The Guardian Beasts are too mechanical for me to read them as gods, and treating other advanced weaponry as holy seems like a stretch. To me, these elements fit better with Power Rangers’s science fiction setting. However, the characters and the plot progression all seem to fit better in Zyuranger than Power Rangers’s characters fit within that show.
Zyuranger is full of conflicting plot lines, characters, and themes. It tries to be a fantasy show without developing a fully believable fantasy world, instead trying to cram as many fantasy tropes into a modern setting as possible. Still, it has real heart a lot of the time. Burai’s character arc and the development of his relationship with Geki nearly left me in tears when I saw Burai finally die, and I felt my heart sink in episode 39 when the Zyurangers have to destroy a rampaging monster that just wants to protect its eggs. This show is a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes, I was laughing uncontrollably at how ridiculous a scenario or computer effect is, and sometimes I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would come next.
It’s clear that Zyuranger, while perhaps not the most sophisticated in its storytelling, has been massively influential for Super Sentai. For instance, Daizyuzin would serve as part of the inspiration for Gokai Silver’s GoZyuZin with the Zyurangers’ Greater Power turning it into GoZyuRex, similar to the Guardian Beast Tyrannosaurus. Even just a couple months ago, a villain named Rita (who shares the name with Rita Repulsa, Witch Bandora’s counterpart) appeared in the four-part Super Sentai Strongest Battle special with the goal of summoning Great Satan on Planet Nemesis – a direct reference to the plot of Zyuranger in a special meant to honor the legacy of the HeIsei Super Sentai series. Now, here we are with a brand new team of dinosaur knights, similar in some ways to the Zyurangers.
I can’t say I didn’t love Zyuranger, but I also can’t say it’s one of the best Sentai shows I’ve seen. It was massively influential both in Japan for its own series and internationally as it was the source material for the original Power Rangers. It’s frustrating and exciting. It’s ridiculous and heartfelt. It’s confusing and satisfying. If you’ve never seen it, try going in with an open mind. Just don’t expect the most tightly-woven story. It’s certainly a really enjoyable show and absolutely worth a watch.
May 24, 2019 at 3:46 am
To me Zyuranger is……an okay show, it’s not a masterpiece but still a fun show. The only thing I like about it is Burai and Machiko Soga great performance as Bandora
Still highly recommend to Power Rangers fans who want to know where MMPR came from