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Super Mario Manga Mania | Review

Super Mario Manga Mania
Writer/artist: Yukio Sawada
Viz Media; $9.99

Despite the name of this blog and the all-ages rating that Viz has assigned Super Mario Manga Mania, I’m not entirely convinced that this new translated collection of Yuko Sawada’s comics is a good one for kids—or, at least, perhaps not all kids. Indeed, Viz seems to hedge a bit themselves, including a special note for parents in the table of contents stating that the last comic contains “some sad material that may upset sensitive kids,” and another, longer note on the page before that story, explaining their decision to move it to the back of the book and highlight its nature, given that it deals with the death of a parent.

Entitled “Super Mari-old,” it features Luigi seeking out his missing brother to inform him that the princess is in need of saving yet again. Luigi finds Mario hospitalized for depression, and rather than leaping into action with bad puns as in the nine preceding stories, Mario is unmoved—indeed, h seems unable to move. Sawada pulls back from the characters a bit and begins to narrate here, telling a story of how his father died and he himself was hospitalized with depression, and just how difficult it seemed to be telling silly, gag-filled Mario stories for children during such a time.

The story ends on a happy note, or at least a welcome return to form, as the Mario from an entirely different type of Nintendo game—Dr. Mario—shows up claiming to be the Mario from the future, after “our” Mario has gotten better. He then shoves a comically large pill about the size of Mario himself down his patient’s throat, and said medicine instantly cures him.

The story, like all of those in this volume, was chosen by Sawada himself, as this book was originally created as a special 2017 greatest hits collection, compiling stories from Super Mario-kun, the gag manga Sawada had been creating for Japan’s Coro Coro magazine since 1990. The 15-page stories are all exceedingly silly affairs, with almost every panel crowded with characters as well as jokes, many of these purposely dumb, loud, violent, scatological, or some combination of each. An opening note from Sawada says that when he appeared on a TV show he was told the word “poop” appeared 119 times in the first 686 chapters of the comic, and the number actually seemed a little low to him.

“But don’t worry,”  he writes. “I tried to choose somewhat more…decent selections” for the best-of collection. And while it’s true there doesn’t seem to be a lot of talk of poop in the 10 strips in the collection, Mario and Luigi do tend to get hit in the crotch or butt a lot, and there’s definitely some behavior modeled by various characters that some kids will likely find hilarious, and some parents might be aghast at (I’m thinking of the fish Sushie telling Mario water “comes out the other end too” while seemingly peeing on him, for example, or a brainwashed Luigi dropping his pants to rub a desired item on his butt to dissuade Mario from collecting it).

In that regard, the Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and other characters who readers will be most familiar with are here all presented as quite different in their personalities than in the video games, lacking the dignity, heroic nature and, well, purity players might associate with their often blank game selves. These versions are relatively lazy, selfish and venal, with suspect motivations.

On the other hand, they are relentlessly committed to completing tasks regardless of danger or death—as naturally befits the heroes of video games—and they’re up for repetition of all kinds, even if it’s telling the same types of jokes over and over. Indeed, different games are represented in these stories—Mario-kun taking the premise of whatever the latest Mario game is, and there’s always a latest Mario game—but Mario and company seem more-or-less unchanged in design or characterization whether the strip is set in the world of Paper Mario, Super Mario Sunshine, Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time or so on.

There’s something admirable about that commitment, both of the characters to their assigned roles and bits, and to Sawada for making this comic for so long and sometimes doing so while suffering, as the “Super Mario-Old” story reveals. That story hinges on a joke about longevity; originally produced on the 25th anniversary of the strip, when Dr. Mario says he’s from 25 years in the future, Luigi is shocked—”Wait, so this series will go on for another 25 years?” Sawada himself appears in the panel, hard at work on a comic, also shocked: “I’ll be 88 years old!”

Sensitive children might not be ready for talk of the death of a parent, and some might also not be ready to see the heroic video game sprites acting like this. But then, that’s also the essential virtue of the book—It’s Mario as you’ve never seen him. Unless you’re Japanese. In which case you’ve been seeing him like this for at least a generation, and maybe you’ll continue seeing him like this for the next generation, too.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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