So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, March is once again “Mario Month” and I am spending every Thursday of this month celebrating everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber.
Released: 20 July 1986
Director: Masami Hata
Distributor: Shochiku-Fuji Company VAP Video
Stars: Toru Furuya, Yū Mizushima, Mami Yamase, Akiko Wada, and Kōhei Miyauchi
When Princess Peach (Yamase) suddenly emerges from Mario’s (Furuya) games console in a desperate bid to escape the clutches of King Bowser of the Koopas (Wada), Mario and his brother, Luigi (Mizushima), venture into the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom and are tasked with retrieving three powerful artefacts in order to defeat Bowser and rescue the princess.
By 1986, Nintendo’s portly plumber mascot was fast becoming one of the most successful and recognisable videogame character in the world; Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo R&D4, 1985) sold about three million copies within three months of its Japanese release and was regarded as the hottest videogame on the market and, though it wouldn’t be released worldwide until 1993, Super Mario Bros. 2 (ibid, 1986) was an equally popular release in its native Japan. To capitalise on Mario’s growing success, which would eventually see him eclipse Mickey Mouse in popularity, Nintendo allowed Japanese studio Grouper Productions to create and advertise an anime adaptation of their fast-growing franchise. Never released outside of Japan, Sūpā Mario Burazāzu: Piichi-hime Kyūshutsu Dai Sakusen! (or “Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!”) has been both dubbed and subtitled by fans but remains one of the Mario’s most obscure pieces of media (though its fidelity to the source material has drawn praise).
Unlike, say, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie (Ikegami, 1999), there really was no way for me to experience the Super Mario Bros. anime except to use online resources. The animated feature never released outside of Japan and I have no idea how accessible it even is out there; indeed, I only became aware of it when studying videogame adaptations for my PhD and found next to no writing or background on it.
Still, despite how obscure and unknown the anime is, it has a lot of elements to its narrative and presentation that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who is a fan of the videogames and Mario’s various other adaptations into other media. For example, although Mario and Luigi work in a grocery store rather than as plumbers in a loose approximation of the real world, they own a Nintendo Family Computer (FAMICOM) on which Mario plays a game that is startlingly similar to Super Mario Bros. And yet, Mario is surprisingly nonplussed when Princess Peach (closely followed by a whole slew of Mario’s videogame enemies) comes flying out of his television set; instead, he is immediately besotted by her beauty and wishes to protect her based purely on his attraction to her. Mario, however, is no match for Bowser, despite Peach’s immediate and unwavering belief in his ability to save her. Quite why Peach has such faith in Mario isn’t really made clear (maybe she watched him as he played videogames? But he seemed to be struggling with his Super Mario Bros. clone so I’m not sure that’s a fair indication of his heroic prowess). Luigi laughs the whole experience off as a crazy daydream until he sees the precious gem Peach left behind when Bowser kidnapped her; consulting a book, he tells Mario that the jewel is a treasure of the Mushroom Kingdom, which you might assume exists in the real world as well as a result but, when the two chase after Kibidango (Shigeru Chiba) when it steals the gem, they are magically transported to the “Treasure Kingdom” via a warp pipe so…who really knows?
There, they meet the wizard-like Mushroom Hermit (Miyauchi), who reveals that he summoned them there to help defeat Bowser, who has not only kidnapped Princess Peach but, like in the original videogame, transformed the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom into bricks. The Mushroom Hermit discloses that Mario and Luigi are part of an ancient prophecy regarding two brothers who would be able to acquire the power necessary to rescue the princess, in this case the “Mushroom of Strength”, “Flower of Courage”, and the “Yellow star of Invincibility” that have been hidden across the kingdom. Thus, accompanied by Kibidango, the duo set off across the vast land in search of their objectives (accompanied by one of many cringe-worthy, jaunty little songs). Despite the efforts of a couple of Goombas (Hiroko Maruyama and Kazue Komiya) and an overly-maternal Paratroopa (Reiko Nakano), Mario retrieves the Mushroom of Strength from atop a mountain. The Mushroom appears to give Mario superhuman strength to take out Bullet Bills and even grow to gigantic proportions but it’s hard to tell if this is really happening or just part of the anime’s weird fantasy presentation. The Goombas then try to lead the duo into a field of Petey Piranha plants and, when they destroy it with their escape, they incur the wrath of Lakitu (Junko Hori). However, a convenient beanstalk helps save Mario from Lakitu’s Spinies and, though he struggles a bit with operating Lakitu’s cloud, they’re rewarded with the Flower of Courage for their efforts.
The entire time that the brothers are out looking for the three treasures, Princess Peach laments her fate and awaits her rescue. However, she does angrily rebuke Bowser’s advances and desire to marry her despite the fact that the Koopa King is nothing but polite, attentive, and eager to please her by using his shape-shifting powers to cheer her up (you know…those shape-changing powers that Bowser is well known for…) Her one attempt to try and escape from him by locking him in a box when he takes the form of a small teddy bear backfires completely and, when she learns that Mario and Luigi have been trapped in a gold mine (despite Mario now being able to toss fireballs), she is left despondent. The duo escape, however, after Luigi digs a tunnel; they even stumble upon the Yellow Star of Invincibility, which Mario retrieves from deep beneath the ocean despite a slew of aggressive sea creatures (interestingly, Luigi complains that he can’t swim and yet Mario and Kibidango are perfectly capable of breathing underwater…) Armed with all three weapons, the two brothers and their oddly canine companion journey on a flying ship they raised from the bottom of the sea (using little more than their breath…somehow…) to Koopa’s Castle and a confrontation with the King of the Koopas.
If there’s one thing that you can’t fault The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! on, it’s its unwavering fidelity to the source material. While the live-action movie was more a weird mish-mash of science-fiction and fantasy, its anime counterpart faithfully recreates many of the wackier and fantastical elements from the videogames. This means that many of the game’s most recognisable enemies appear, even if just in small, cameo roles, and the anime makes frequent use of the music and sound effects form the videogames as well. This is best seen near the end of the feature when, while navigating past the hazards in Koopa’s Castle, the anime’s presentation switches to a side-scrolling style that emulates the look of the videogames. Yet, despite being far more faithful to the source material than the live-action movie, the anime still takes many liberties. Commonplace power-ups become rare treasures necessary to defeat Bowser, for example, and the two Goombas that feature are portrayed as King Koopa’s trusted lieutenants.
Mario is characterised as a love-sick gamer who readily rises to the challenge of rescuing the princess. His initial fear and trepidation gives way to a bold courage the moment he learns that he and Luigi are prophesied to save the Mushroom Kingdom and he ventures into the unknown without fear, with the only thing stopping him from succeeding being his tendency to lose himself in daydreams of him and Peach getting married. While Mario is motivated simply to rescue Peach and keep her from being forcibly married to King Koopa, Luigi is convinced to go along when the Mushroom Hermit permits him to take as many Golden Coins as he can find. This is a continual sub-plot and character trait of his throughout the anime as his search for riches constantly leads the two into danger or backfires against him; his cache of Coins transform into child-like Toads, for example, they are trapped in the gold mine when the Goombas prey upon Luigi’s greed and, while his mining does uncover the final treasure, he’s left with a bag full of rocks rather than priceless gold. Indeed, while he’s generally the practical voice of reason and thinks about concerns such as food and water while Mario daydreams about Princess Peach, Luigi is easily tricked on numerous occasions, such as when the Goombas lead him into a field of mushrooms that cause his behaviour to wildly fluctuate between happiness, sadness, and anger.
Bowser’s characterisation is a far cry from the bombastic overlord seen in the comics and other cartoons; to be fair, though, Bowser didn’t have much of a personality at this time and it is amusing to see how polite and attentive he is towards Peach…it just would have been nice if he’d appeared to be a credible threat for longer than a couple of minutes. In the end, the two brothers arrive right as the wedding between King Koopa and Princess Peach is about the take place; Bowser’s excitement at finally getting his wish turns to anger when they crash the party and he forces the two to overcome both his minions and a series of deadly traps while he continues the ceremony in private. Regardless, they are able to best these hazards and face Bowser head-on; although King Koopa cuts an intimidating figure and boasts flame breath, Mario consumes all three treasures and becomes super-powered (I guess you’d call him “Super Mario”) as a result. Exhibiting superhuman strength, Mario easily defeats King Koopa by putting a beating on him and tossing him away by his tail, thus restoring the Mushroom Kingdom to its former glory. However, Mario is distraught when Peach chooses to marry Kibidango, who turns out to have been her betrothed, Prince Haru (Masami Kikuchi), all along. Still, the two vow to return to aid the Princess and the Mushroom Kingdom should they ever be threatened again.
Sūpā Mario Burazāzu: Piichi-hime Kyūshutsu Dai Sakusen! is quite the head-trip. When I first saw it, I marvelled at how similar many of its elements are to other Super Mario cartoons, especially considering how obscure it is. This, however, is largely down to a lot of the lore detailed in the videogame manuals from the time but it’s always a blast to see iconic characters such as Mario and Luigi come to life in a traditional anime. I feel it’s unfair to judge the quality of the voice acting as I was watching a dubbed version but this definitely has a lot of rough edges; the music not taken from the videogames is grating and embarrassing, the animation is quite jerky and low quality, and a lot of the colours are off (especially on Luigi). It also looks quite cheaply made and is bogged down by some odd original concepts and adaptations of Super Mario Bros.’ gameplay mechanics. Still, it’s a charming enough little obscurity and well worth seeking out if you can find it, and a wider release, though it can’t be denied that there are better anime and Super Mario adaptations out there.
Could Be Better
Have you ever seen Sūpā Mario Burazāzu: Piichi-hime Kyūshutsu Dai Sakusen!, especially out in the wild? If so, what did you think of it and how do you feel it compares to other adaptations of the videogames? What did you think to the anime’s animation and portrayal of the videogame characters? Did you find King Koopa’s attentive personality and Luigi’s focus on riches amusing or do you think they were a bit far-fetched? Would you like to see another anime version of Super Mario Bros.? Share your thoughts on Mario’s obscure anime adventure, and your favourite Super Mario memories, in the comments below and check back in next Thursday for the last week of Mario Month.
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