Shout! Factory // 1994 // 540 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 1st, 2012
"Force of darkness empower me. Take me back to my virtual reality."
In the heyday of Haim-Saban-powered Japanese import kid shows, VR Troopers dropped onto the scene adding something fans of the Power Rangers hadn't seen before: a talking dog that sounds like Jack Nicholson.
The evil Grimlord reigns in a virtual world, looking to infiltrate Earth and spread his diabolical rule into our lives. The only ones standing in his way? Three teens -- Ryan Steele, Kaitlin Star, and J.B. Reese -- who are granted incredible powers. Surprisingly not porn stars, our heroes are tapped to be the Earth's defenders. Ryan's father, a brilliant scientist, learns of Grimlord's plot and suffers a mysterious fate, but not before he's able to outfit Ryan and his friends with awesome technology, turning them into VR Troopers; which means they dress in plastic suits and share screen time with Japanese TV stock footage.
Are your kids sick of taking their karate cues from Yu-Gi-Oh? Are they looking for new inspiration to throttle their younger siblings? Enter VR Troopers, three heroes who are as corny as anything you'll find on TV, but enjoy using their martial arts, which translates into welts galore for your kindergartners!
I've often give slack to these types of shows. Though airing just outside my adolescent wheelhouse, these Saban outings so penetrated pop culture it was impossible to avoid their effects. Garish Halloween costumes, small boys attacking each other in the mall with spin kicks, gigantic plastic toys that were likely coated with lead paint...good times. VR Troopers rode that trend right into the ground. Though I may have a soft spot for dubbed Japanese kids show lunacy, this one blows.
Like any Saban franchise, there are two realities at work here: the original American programming, and the imported over-the-top Japanese action featuring explosions, costumes, robots, and what-not. The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers blueprint applies. By day, Ryan, J.B. and Kaitlin hang out at the local dojo. Ryan and J.B. practice their dope karate moves, while Kaitlin sits and watches, thinking about her job as a writer for the local newspaper covering enthralling news stories like "Next Week's Self-Defense Class Schedule."
The bad guy here is the evil industrialist (is there any other kind?) Karl Ziktor, Grimlord's Earth-bound façade. His plans for global domination tend to be hazy, but episode-to-episode they're all dick moves; clear-cutting an old forest, demolishing a building, and other various sundry deeds evil industrialists undertook in the mid-'90s.
When push comes to shove -- and it does -- Ziktor transports back into virtual reality and the second phase of the show begins: murky, scratchy Japanese footage of henchmen in capes, masks, and tights doing battle with guys in VR Trooper costumes. The karate then gives way to laser blasts, bazooka fire, and the occasional tank battle.
It's all noisy and difficult to watch, but that's not what makes VR Troopers: Season One, Volume 1 lame; it's everything else. The stories are terrible, even for a kid's show (real title: "My Dog's Girlfriend"); our heroes have the charisma of hydrogen molecules; their affable guide -- Professor Horatio Hart -- often doesn't realize he's acting on a television show; and that damn talking dog never shuts up!
Shout! Factory offers up a low-impact DVD release: 26 episodes on three discs, standard def 1.33:1 full frame, Dolby 2.0 Stereo, English closed captioning subtitles, and nothing else.
There's kids, karate, and hamfisted object lessons about recycling, but VR Troopers is a shoddy also-ran to its more iconic brethren.
Guilty. Pass me the Virtual Boy so I can forget about this dumb show.
Review content copyright © 2012 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 540 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated