The One Where Everyone Goes to Ireland
April Fools? I guess? This was a long way to go for a joke. I watched 50 dang episodes of this show, so I suppose that as always, the fool is me.
Let’s Talk About Mystic Knights
With the success of Power Rangers in Space cementing that brand in the eyes of the public, Saban Entertainment was looking for more properties to
make toys of create for the world. They had already tried a couple other Japanese adaptations in the same “repurposed footage” mold, but especially in Power Rangers in Space, they had also done a lot of original footage. Raising the question: ‘What if Saban made ALL of the footage?’
Well, what you get is the Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, a show based in Irish mythology and presented in a more medieval style rather than Power Rangers’ modern vibe. Many will tell you that Mystic Knights is a Power Rangers clone, which… it kind of is. In a sense. But it is also a lot more than that – it is a storytelling experiment that sprouts from Power Rangers’ success, grows with it, and eventually gives back to the series that birthed it.1
Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog
Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog was filmed in Ireland, with local actors, so nobody has to suffer through a fake Irish accent.2 Unlike Power Rangers, there were almost no physical monster suits used – instead there were a lot more CGI effects for both the monsters and some of the Mystic Weaponry.
Like Power Rangers in Space, Mystic Knights tells a full story over the course of a season, with growth and change and rivalry and escalation. It differs though, by taking its time getting to the actual Transforming Hero part, with each Mystic Knight facing their own evil counterparts, the Sentinels, one episode at a time. While maybe this isn’t a great way to build an audience of tweens and teens who just want to see the good guys fight bad guys in extremely toyetic suits, but it does let the characters each get a spotlight to solidify their roles before jumping straight into the more story-driven episode-to-episode format. From there, it goes into a more episodic mode, complete with some extremely CGI Monsters of the Episode showing up every day for them to come together and fight by shooting more CGI at them, but the show eventually breaks out and comes into its own, sometimes abandoning monsters entirely in favor of more human conflict. With CGI shootys.
Ah, medieval horns and strings. How else would we know that this all takes place in the vaguely3 anachronistic Swords and Sorcery, Knights and Witches fantasy setting. Even the theme tune does this, with somber chanting repeating the name of the show over and over rather than rock music repeating the name of the show over and over. Although there was a version of the intro that was only shown in Germany and it is wild.
The fights start out pretty lackluster, with a lot of shield-bumping and sword-hefting, and it doesn’t help that you can’t actually hit anybody with a sword or other pointy/sharp thing on a kids show because, blood. They do however get a lot better as the show goes on, even working in some flipping shots from stuntmen. Just like Power Rangers! It’s a different fighting style than Power Rangers though, and not just because it lacks a dedicated fight choreographer. None of the characters are gymnasts or martial artists, and the fighting itself is more European, with a lot of sword-fights and staff-fights that have more in common with Robin Hood than anything seen in Power Rangers. For the in-costume fights, particularly the ones where the foes are some extremely contemporary CGI, the fighting ends up being a lot off shooting/flinging of CGI rocks, fire, lightning and air, with everyone making very serious shooty faces and then cutting away to the CGI monster getting hit by even more CGI. Occasionally though, they manage to steal some monster suits from Beetleborgs and other defunct Saban adaptations and repurpose them here for more “tactile” fights, and that can be kind of fun.
The choice of Irish mythology is an interesting one. Even today, it’s not a mythology that gets a lot of play, though there are plenty of Mythology YouTubers who will give you a very fast-spoken rundown of a couple of the major players. More specifically, Mystic Knights is based4 on the Ulster Cycle, from which it takes the two rulers Conchobar and Medb,5 as well as the druid, Cathbad, and Princess Deirdre6 and… not a whole lot else, really. And it only barely takes those.
Also there is a lot of people getting bound and gagged, especially Deirdre, and I have to conclude that this is intentional and somebody involved is having fun with this. Look, I’ve been on DeviantArt. I’ve seen those YouTube compilations.7 I know what’s up.
The Good Guys
The Mystic Knights were all given their signature mystic weapons by King Fin Varra of Tir Na Nog.8 To earn their armors, each Knight faced a different Sentinel after which they could call upon its power at will, except when the plot says they can’t. For magic reasons.
Rohan (Lochlann Ó Mearáin)
Orphan. Courageous. Impulsive.
- Color: Red
- Element: Fire
- Signature Weapon: Sword of Kells
- Strength: 20
- Smarts: 1
- Coolness factor: 5
Rohan is an orphan with a weird birthmark, so obviously there ends up being a prophecy and destiny and whatever, and it turns out that Rohan is the warrior Draganta, who is foretold to bring peace and happiness and whatever.
Deirdre (Lisa Dwan)
Princess.9 Noble. Scrappy
- Color: White
- Element: Air
- Signature Weapon: Whirlwind Crossbow
- Strength: 15
- Smarts: 50
- Coolness factor: 75
Deirdre is the Princess of Kells, occasionally acting as Queen when King Conchobar is indisposed. Because magic reasons. For a while, she’s the most capable fighter, possibly because her crossbow doesn’t need to be used in melee, so she gets to actually hit people instead of avoiding actually hitting with a pointy/heavy bit.
Ivar (Justin Pierre)
Prince10 Loyal. Perceptive.
- Color: Blue
- Element: Water
- Signature Weapon: Barbed Trident
- Strength: 15
- Smarts: 50
- Coolness factor: 65
You know, they never actually specify where Ivar is from. Like this one time a messenger from his homeland came11 but it never actually came up in conversation or anything. He’s in Kells searching for his kingdom’s silver chalice, which turns out to be the main Artifact of Power for the forces of Evil, so he isn’t really allowed to succeed or there wouldn’t be much of a show.
Angus (Vincent Walsh)
Thief. Reliable. Snarky.
- Color: Grey-ish? Or also white maybe?
- Element: Earth
- Signature Weapon: Terra Sling Mace
- Strength: 5
- Smarts: 0
- Coolness factor: 5
Angus is a thief, with a heart of gold. Sorry, I meant “heart that craves gold”. He’s also Rohan’s best/only friend and somehow is allowed to be a magical protector of the realm. Every time anyone doubts his honor or loyalty though, it somehow ends up all being a misunderstanding and you were mean and silly for doubting in the first place.
Garrett (Ben Palmer)
Prince Also.12 Jerk. Jerky.
- Color: Green
- Element: Forest
- Signature Weapon: Twin Timber Axes
- Strength: 20
- Smarts: 20
- Coolness factor: 0
Yet another Prince from a Foreign Land, but at least this one gets a name. Garrett shows up as Deirdre’s partner in political marriage, but everyone except Garrett is too woke and into female empowerment or whatever, so it gets dropped pretty quickly. Also Garrett gets dropped fairly quickly, disappearing for no reason midseason and just showing back up for the finale.13 He also starts off as an evil knight under magical control of the villain. Just like Tommy! We all loved Tommy, right? Only in this case everyone is a jerk to Garrett/Tommy and they drive him off into the hands of the villain and kind of deserve his turnaround. Although he’s at least smart enough not to just start a war because people were mean to him, which Maeve somehow thought he would do.
The magical armor is honestly a bit much, with a lot more going on than the sleek, chromatic Ranger suits. They have distinct designs and decorations, which means that they have to make toys that aren’t just 5 recolors of the same figure. I will note that only Deirdre’s armor doesn’t cover her legs. Princesses don’t need legs, right? Just put them right out there in danger. The magical weapons are…. fine. Angus kind of gets the short stick with the chained mace14 that not only is extremely awkward in battle, but also needs to be swung around in a huge circle instead of the other point-and-shoot weapons.
Ranger Ranker Knight Knumerator:
- Deirdre – The one good thing about being the Token Girl in a 90s show is that you get to be the only competent one in the group with disquieting frequency.
- Ivar – He starts off by besting Angus and Rohan simultaneously in a swordfight, so that’s cool. He’s also a Master Tracker, which means he always knows where the plot is.
- Rohan – Destiny’s Child, but not that one, the other one. I guess technically he’s Spoiler’s child, but my way is more fun to say.
- Angus – Is the cause of the problem about as much as he’s the solution.
- Garrett – Ugh this guy and his haircut.
Ultimately it’s your standard four humours – Rohan is Sanguine, Deirdre is Phlegmatic, Angus is Choleric, Ivar is Melancholic, and Garrett is Extraneous. It’s omnipresent because it works. The split of the two nobles and the two non-nobles is interesting, with Ivar and Deirdre having a fuller perspective on the politics of the world they are in. The knights are in conflict with each-other A Lot, much more than on the teamwork-centered Power Rangers where people only don’t get along for Very Special Episodes. Everyone kind of has their own thing going on, although Ivar’s thing with the chalice is a kind of weak justification for a foreign prince to suddenly just become the knight protector of some other land.
Dragon’s Breath Dagger
The Dragon’s Breath Dagger is used to summon Pyre, the Dragon of Dare, and as far as daggers that summon dragons go, this one is a solid 2nd place.
It never really gets explained, but at one point they suddenly have Battle Gauntlets that shoot colored lasers from their wrists, which is neat I guess, but did we really need even more shooty CGI?
Pyre, Dragon of Dare
Pyre! Is a dragon! There really isn’t all that much more to him. He lives in a cave and comes out whenever Rohan calls him with his magic dagger. Sometimes they go to the cave and Pyre makes CGI claw wobbles at them with a generic roar sound effect. This one time he takes care of an egg and hatches a baby dragon15 for like 5 minutes before that whole plot line gets thrown out the window.
The Defender was originally intended for Lugad – a gift from Maeve. Instead Lugad runs off on his own for reasons and Torc instead takes control of the Defender. And then almost immediately loses it to the good guys. Whoops. It’s okay though because the baddies get it back during the climax in an unnecessary hostage situation. Whoops again.
The Dragon Bow is a gift to Kells from a foreign land, delivered by Garrett at a suitably dramatic moment. Like the Defender, the Dragon Bow is a rideable vehicle with powerful armament – in this case, it’s launching tree trunks out of the dragon’s mouth. You know, like dragons do.
Also like the Defender, it ends up getting taken by the forces of evil in the climax.
I like the extendy neck. It’s very toyetic. Which of course is the only reason that the vehicles exist. I mean, in theory it’s the primary reason why the show exists, but I think the writers forgot about that part until production swooped in to ask if they could give Garrett a cool car or something.
Coolness of Whatever
- Pyre, Dragon of Dare – An actual for real Dragon’
- Dragon Bow – Silly looking, but it’s at least dragon-adjacent
- Defender – It’s like… a weird car?
King Fin Varra
Fin Varra is the king of the little people, for whatever that is worth. He doesn’t do so much ruling as he does partying and giving out cryptic hints about the current episode’s plot.
Aideen is the only fairy person in the entire show that has wings, which never really is commented on. She harbors a fierce crush on Rohan that never gets reciprocated, probably due to more than a little Peter Pan influence. Also this one time she gets turned human but doesn’t know she’s supposed to eat, so that’s fun.
Conchobar is the pure, infallible king of Kells. He finds himself in distress pretty often, but fortunately he is a warrior-king and quite handy with a sword. He’s noble and honorable and just and caring and can do no wrong. Which is to say that he’s boooooooooring.
Random Citizens Lightning Round!
haha cranky beardy
So apparently Maeve and Torc have been keeping this child-prince locked up in a cave because he has some kind of ill-defined claim to the throne of Temra? Anyway that all goes predictably south and Gann gets to be the king of some other land that no one cares about due to more ill-defined treaty nonsense..
Temra is the other kingdom16 on whatever nameless island this takes place on. It’s pretty unclear whether they have anything going for them other than an army that doesn’t seem to be doing too well most of the time. Sometimes there is a truce, but it’s not totally clear and the out-of-order airing probably doesn’t help with that.
The Big Bad: Maive – Queen of Temra
Maive claims to have a bloodright to the throne of Kells, but she never really expands on that. She does go after it tenaciously though. Solid dedication. Maive is a warrior-queen, comfortable with a sword and magic, and ultimately is willing to bet the fate of the entire war and her life on a swordfight with Rohan. Of course, halfway through the fight, she cheats and turns into a big CGI monster that everyone has to fight. Like evil do. In comparison to a lot of Power Rangers villains, she actually has a personal stake in the conflict other than “Destroy Earth/Power Rangers.” It actually makes sense for her to want to do all the evil she does, rather than it just being for evil’s sake. And the scale of the conflict is realistic – it extends only to the island that they are on, instead of The Entire World hinging on some town in California.
Mider is a dark fae, who travels to and from his dark realm via a silver chalice that definitely isn’t part of anybody’s backstory. He has a deal with Maive that she will aid him against Tir Na Nog in exchange for Mider’s dark magic to destroy Kells. He’s got his own good thing going on and Maive isn’t really a part of it, she just kind of ends up deeper and deeper in debt to Mider, which I’m sure will work out just fine. I kind of love this little guy. He’s apathetic most of the time, happy to have his own fun. On the few occasions that he actually does do some active villainy, it’s more humorous than dramatic. He’s just so cute and tiny and disheveled.
Maive’s second-in-command and chief knight, Torc used to be a soldier of Kells, but betrayed them for no good reason to side with Maive. He’s a skilled fighter, but also he’s evil so he’s doomed to fail miserably about 90% of the time. His bravado remains unmatched though, so it’s nice to see him keep trying to best four teenagers with attitude.
A strong half-demon warrior, presented to Maive by her mysterious ex-mentor Nemain.17 He’s a fierce warrior who turns the tide of the conflict between Kells and Temra, able to beat all of the Knights at once. To fight him, Rohan needs to get his Special Red Powerup Toy on, culminating in a 1-on-1 match in some kind of magic arena, where they learn that he and Rohan are brothers, and brothers shouldn’t fight, according to somebody who never had a brother before.
They have these horned helmets with eyeholes and every time I see them I think that the shaped helmet just makes them look like they are sad and pathetic all the time. Which they are, but I don’t think it was intended to be communicated so visually. They spend a lot of time fighting with Kells’s soldiers, which is fun because the good guys get fodder in this one and that’s nice for them.
The monsters ostensibly come from myth and legend, but kind of pull from every culture and genericizes them to an unrecognizable degree. Mostly they end up being CGI fantasy monsters that probably were fine in 1997, but today look…. like they were made in 1997.
Monsters that are Good (according to me)
Just look at that thing. Glorious.
Tyrune is a three-headed evil dragon that Maeve tricks Rohan into summoning. It honestly wasn’t even a very good trick, Rohan’s just an idiot who does whatever anyone tells him to do and reads any random magic scroll somebody thrusts into his hands. Tyrune is Pyre’s evil counterpart and usually they end up fighting each other in a separate standalone CGI scene, thereby eliminating the need for either of them to exist.
This Unnamed Plesiosaurus Thing
This one eats Ivar and they have to feed it Ivar’s trident so that he can fight his way out from the inside.
Lookit this cute rock thing. So cute.
This show actually gets really compelling somewhere around the middle, but kind of dives off a cliff around when Garrett leaves.18 You get the sense that the production must have been troubled, as it seems like episodes were aired out of order, with Garrett’s in-story departure being the most blatant example of this. That said, it’s better than its reputation would imply and probably doesn’t deserve its status as a “forgotten sentai ripoff”. I watched it on YouTube via the Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog Preservation Project, which splices German footage19 with the original English dialog,20 but I would love to see it get “un-forgotten” with a real release on some streaming service or another.21
I’m actually pretty delighted by the timing of this column. It had always been in the back of my mind to do an April Fools installment on Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, but I didn’t realize until starting my research that it actually chronologically fell between In Space and Lost Galaxy. With the streaming rights to Power Rangers being a little up-in-the-air,22 the Power Rangers Official YouTube channel has been uploading full seasons of Power Rangers free to watch,23 so my officially not-official recommendation is to watch there, even though I will probably still be paying Amazon to get closed-captions and no ads.24 But you should never do what I do.
That is, never do what I do, except for coming back for my next Ranger Ranker feature – The One That Is Also In Space But Swords!