Welcome to Super Saturday, an ongoing weekly column that will pay tribute to the animated classics of yesterday, and will be offered on Saturday mornings, a period that many of us remember being the only time animated kids’ programming was offered. Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave any feedback or personal remembrances in the comments!
Like last week’s feature, ‘Rubik the Amazing Cube’, ‘Lazer Tag Academy’ was a network’s attempt to create a cartoon based on a popular toy brand. Unfortunately, all the cool toy cartoons went to syndication where they were less moderated and could be more violent. So unable to base a series on an action figure or doll line, the networks had to try and turn other types of toys into shows.
‘Lazer Tag’ was originally developed by the military, to help train soldiers in combat conditions, but it was then adapted as a plaything for kids. Using infrared technology (not actual lasers) with guns (called a “Starlyte”) and a sensor worn on the chest (“Starsensor”), ‘Lazer Tag’ was basically the precursor of Nerf guns. In fact, coincidentally, Nerf now owns the rights to the ‘Lazer Tag’ brand, after they were originally crafted by World of Wonder.
Unlike the Rubik’s Cube, which was a puzzle-type game, ‘Lazer Tag’ would seemingly lend itself easily to an action cartoon. Unfortunately, that isn’t the direction that NBC or creators Ruby-Spears Productions (who also created ‘Rubik the Amazing Cube’) went.
‘Lazer Tag Academy’ debuted on NBC on Saturday morning, September 13, 1986. In the year 2986, the kindly scientists at the Lazer Tag Academy unwittingly free the amazingly named evil genius Draxon Drear and his Gremlin-like Skuggs from suspended animation. Drear travels back in time to 1986, to locate Beth Jaren, who is a young girl at that time, but who, when she grows up, will invent the Starlyte and Starsensor. Beth is also, as it turns out, an ancestor of Jamie Jaron, the Lazer Tag champion of 2986, a young teenager that travels back in time to stop Drear.
She winds up staying with Beth and her brothers Tom (older) and Nicky (younger), who tell their parents, Andrew and Genna, that Jamie is a foreign exchange student. In addition to combating Draxon Drear, Jamie and her ancestors must deal with the other complications that come from being tweens in the 1980s, like bullies and school assignments.
So rather than making an action-based cartoon with adult heroes, like ‘GI Joe’ or ‘MASK’, this was another “kiddie” show with pre-teen protagonists
Like ‘Rubik’, there were only 13 episodes of ‘Lazer Tag Academy’ and all of them aired by the end of 1986, going into reruns airing after that. In 1989, episodes of the show were edited together into ‘Lazer Tag: The Movie’, followed by ‘Lazer Tag Academy: Champion’s Biggest Challenge’. Episodes were released on VHS, along with the two “movies.” The series was rebranded as ‘Lazer Patrol’ in syndication, most notably on The Sci Fi Channel’s ‘Sci Fi Cartoon Quest’ in the mid-’90s.
Unfortunately, the toys didn’t become a sensation as World of Wonder had hoped, and no further episodes of ‘Lazer Tag Academy’ were produced.
Despite the cartoon having two female leads, the ‘Lazer Tag’ brand was mainly aimed at boys. The figure dressed in red on the lunchbox below looks like Jamie Jaron redrawn as a male. Even with the alteration, the figure looks to be posed like a female character, with its legs together. It’s also labeled as simply “Lazer Tag” not “Lazer Tag Academy.”
As stated, Nerf now owns the ‘Lazer Tag’ brand, but the term “Lazer/Laser Tag” has become a generic label that is applied to any similar type of infrared “tag” game. Perhaps one reason why the original ‘Lazer Tag’ toys weren’t very successful is that it required a bunch of people to own the rather expensive devices in order to play with them together. That problem has been solved as nowadays groups of friends can go to businesses that not only provide the equipment but environments so that friends can wage war on one another.
(I remember hearing that a kid was killed by a police officer who mistook his Starlyte for a real gun, but that might just be an urban legend.)
‘Lazer Tag’s chief competitor was ‘Photon’, made by Entertech. A live-action ‘Photon’ series was produced by DIC and aired in syndication around the same time as ‘Lazer Tag Academy’ aired on NBC. That series was a mixture of American and Japanese footage and some of the folks working behind the scenes also worked on ‘Super Sentai’ and other tokusatsu shows, so in that sense, it was a precursor to the ‘Power Rangers’.
Neither ‘Lazer Tag Academy’ nor ‘Photon’ has been released on home video, beyond ‘Lazer Tag Academy’s VHS tapes.
Did you have a Starlyte or Starsensor? Do you remember ‘Lazer Tag Academy’ on Saturday mornings?