Contributed by Russell P.
I’ve noticed quite a bit of talking about laser weaponry being used in cartoons where it quite obviously isn’t apt. It’s already been pointed out that G.I. Joe used hand-held laser weaponry in a late 20th century setting. Yet the rest of the Cobra/G.I. Joe armory is more conventional Tanks, boats and jets! The ability to create hand-held laser weapons is more in keeping with a civilisation capable of short-range space travel, and hypersonic Ramjet craft, and even then they’d be specialist weapons and not frontline rifles.
So why are they used? I have a theory that it’s something to do with making shows a little less violent. The guns don’t sound like machine guns, but lasers, which is something much more acceptable (for whatever reason) to the censors. (Star Wars has a U rating, despite people getting killed through out, yet The A-Team (on video) I believe gets a PG, because there are fist fights and real guns)
A really good example of this, is in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Hero Turtles in the UK- “ninja” was deemed too violent. Yet the Samurai Pizza Cats escaped this rampant Political Correctness, perhaps owing to the honouristic nature of the Samurai in old Edo Dynasty Japan, whereas the Ninja was an Assassin for hire, a reprehensible character in Ancient Japan.) In the very first episode of TMNT, after Rocksteady and Bebop have been mutated into rhino and boar respectively (both traditional “brute” animals) they are given guns by Shredder and Krang and told to smash up the Town to lure the turtles out of hiding.
Aha, Krang is an advanced sentient from another dimension, you say? That would explain why they use laser weapons? Wrong! Rocksteady and Bebop quite clearly use contemporary automatic weapons, despite the fact that Krang could probably supply them with energy weapons! Aside from the sound the guns made, they left bullet holes in the sides of cars and walls, as opposed to “splashing” as cartoon lasers tend to (obviously it is easier to draw the blast evaporating and leaving no damage). A pretty rare thing in cartoons!
In all other episodes of TMNT everybody uses laser weapons (including those gangsters who pop up every now and again, although they may have obtained them via their deal with Shredder).
Machine guns are to closer to real life weapons, and real violence; lasers are a fantasy weapon, and one that can “stun” as opposed to kill. This part becomes clear in Transformers, where in the The Movie, one blast from Galvatron’s gun is enough to disintegrate Starscream at his coronation, yet in subsequent episodes of Transformers, Galvatron’s gun at best can knock someone over and make them a little dazed.
The exact power of the laser gun is flexible, where as if you have guns that correspond to conventional weapons it becomes harder to avoid violence.
All this said, I notice that G.I. Joe, Transformers and other similar cartoons are never hesitant to use missile technology. Many Transformers had missile launchers strapped to their sides (Tracks, Ultra Magnus, Hound, to name but three) and many tanks and planes in G.I Joe had missiles. What tended to happen would be that the missiles would miss, but the resultant explosion would be enough fling the target to safety, or collapse the entrance to a cave.
The usage of laser weapons fueled the techno-dreams of the 80’s youth and avoided over-violence. It also allowed for colour-coding of fire (orange for Autobot, purple for Decepticon, red for G.I. Joe blue for Cobra and so on) which made things clearer. Even Star Wars did this! (red Rebels, green Imperial, and blue for Ion cannon)
This still happens today in things like the revamped Marvel shows (X-Men, Spiderman, Ironman, etc.). I can’t think of many exceptions to the rule, I think maybe Batman the Animated Series may use conventional guns. The only one I know that did for sure is G-Force (AKA Battle of the Planets) where Galactor’s troopers had machines gun that were always easily dodged by the G-Force team.