In my opinion, the Japanese have always been ahead of the rest of the world in the science-fiction and fantasy genres. While we Americans were still using costly and time-consuming stop-motion animation in our films, the Japanese were using suit-mation (i.e. an actor in a rubber suit) which was much cheaper and overall a lot more effective. During the dawn of the Japanese Daikaiju (giant monster) films, the military forces in each movie used the traditional array of jet fighters, tanks, rocket launchers, etc. But as the years progressed, newer and far more advanced weapons began to arise. The most recognizable of the bunch was the maser cannon, a giant laser mounted on an armored vehicle.
Actually, the maser didn’t even start out as that, so let’s take a look at the maser cannon’s humble beginnings shall we? We’ll start with the year 1957, with the release of Toho’s alien invader epic, “The Mysterians.” In the film, alien beings come to Earth to take our women for breeding purposes. This of course leads to some hard feelings and the Japanese military strikes back ineffectively with their tanks and jets. Thankfully scientists create a new weapon called the “Markalite Cannon” (the grand-daddy of the Maser). This massive satellite dish on tank treads absorbs the aliens’ laser attacks, amplifies the energy, and shoots it back. Though one of the them is taken out by a clunky robotic kaiju called Mogera, the two “Markalite Cannons” in the film manage to help bring about the downfall of the Mysterians!
The next step in the maser’s evolution came in 1961 with the film “Mothra.” In this kaiju flick, two tiny twin girls, the Shobijin, are kidnapped from their home on Infant Island. Unfortunately for their captors, the two miniature girls are the guardians of Mothra’s egg, which soon hatches. The offspring, a giant caterpillar, makes its way recklessly to Japan as it searches for the two girls. As the usual assortment of weapons are used against Mothra, the massive caterpillar climbs Tokyo Tower and begins spinning a cocoon. This is where the newly designed “Atomic Heat Ray” is brought into play. This particular special weapon proves to be effective against Mothra’s cocoon but not effective against Mothra herself. The “Atomic Heat Ray” featured in this film is sort of the evolutionary link between the “Markalite Cannon” and the later maser models, because it shares a few traits from both. It has a rather large satellite dish from which the heat ray is amplified (like the Markalite) and the entire apparatus is mounted on a vehicle to give it greater mobility.
1965’s “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero” was the first Godzilla film to feature a maser-like vehicle. In this flick, Godzilla and Rodan are borrowed by visitors from Planet X in order to fend off the mighty King Ghidorah (aka Monster Zero). This of course proves to be a fatal mistake and the aliens soon invade the Earth, using Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah to attack Japan. Scientists discover that the monsters are being controlled with magnetic waves and develop the “A-Cycle Light–Ray Gun” which will be able to block said magnetic waves. After a hard-fought battle, the monsters are all freed from the aliens’ control, and once they regain their senses, Godzilla and Rodan combine their strength to send King Ghidorah packing with both tails between his legs. The design of the “A-Cycle Light-Ray Gun” is by far the most unique of the maser units used in a Godzilla film and is one of the last models to actually work effectively.
A year later, the maser cannon had reached its zenith in “War of the Gargantuas,” a somewhat sequel to Toho’s “Frankenstein vs. Baragon.” (Better known by most people as “Frankenstein Conquers the World.”) In this film, the most recognizable member of the maser family, the “Type 66 Maser Cannon,” is deployed to battle Gaira (the Green Gargantua). For the first (and last) time in Daikaiju film history, the maser cannon proves to be nearly a hundred percent effective. After one major maser attack, the green beast is almost fatally wounded. Before the military can finish off Gaira, he is rescued by his “brother” Sanda (the Brown Gargantua). However, once Sanda realizes that his green twin has a penchant for eating people, the two titans duke it out. The final battle is quite fun to watch, as the maser cannons and Sanda put the smackdown on Gaira. The film ends with both mighty beasts wrestling in the ocean just as an undersea volcano conveniently erupts and engulfs them.
From 1966 to 1973, the “Type 66 Maser Cannon” saw action in “Godzilla vs. Gigan” and “Godzilla vs. Megalon,” which was the last film to truly feature this particular model. Two movies later, the Showa series of Godzilla films had ended and we wouldn’t see any maser action for another nine years. But in 1984, the Heisei series of Godzilla movies began, starting with “The Return of Godzilla” (better known as “Godzilla 1985”). This movie is actually a followup to the original “Gojira” and ignores the other fourteen Godzilla movies that were made in between. The maser cannons in this flick don’t see much screen-time and resemble the “Type 66” model used back in the seventies. As we’ll see in future Godzilla films, the masers here are fairly ineffective and only manage to enrage the King of the Monsters, but they sure do create a magnificent display of pyrotechnics!
The remainder of the Heisei series of Godzilla films saw three different variations of the maser cannon and a similar looking freezer cannon. The first type of maser cannon is the “MBT-92” which was first used in “Godzilla vs. Biollante.” The design of this maser resembles the old “Type 66,” but looks much more advanced and powerful. The other two types of masers are the “MBAW-93” and the “Type 93 Maser Attack Plane,” both of which are armed with dual cannons that fire simultaneously. These were first seen in “Godzilla vs. Mothra II,” and despite the doubled firepower, Godzilla still manages to make short work of them. The last model of maser I want to briefly mention here isn’t actually a maser at all. The “DAG-MB96” though very similar to a maser cannon this weapon actually freezes it’s target to an unbelievable -183 degrees Celsius! This weapon is first and last used in “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” and effectively aided in halting a complete global meltdown. So as you can see, over the last forty-seven years, the maser cannon has evolved quite a bit.
But is the maser cannon only a fictitious piece of technology created from someone’s vivid imagination? Yes and no. In reality, the maser was the precursor to the Laser. The first MASER (Microwave Amplification by the Stimulated Emition of Radiation), was created in 1954 by Charles H. Townes, with help from his colleagues, James Gordon and Herbert Zeiger. Apparently they are still used today as amplifiers for radio telescopes and are used in atomic clocks to keep the timing precise, but sadly that’s as far as my knowledge extends. If you have any other questions, contact your old high school physics teacher or visit your local library. In the real world, the maser is a rather boring and somewhat unimportant piece of technology (by today’s standards), but in a fantasy world of giant monsters and alien invaders, it’s truly a powerful and well-respected weapon. The Maser Cannon may not stop most giant monsters in their tracks, but it sure makes them think twice.