Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pre-emptive Answers to Your Questions About My Apparent Wheat Allergy

A fun fact about me that readers may not know is that for the last few years, I haven’t been consuming wheat. Shortly after I moved to Los Angeles, I developed a stubborn rash. Several months and several doctors later, the only method we found to make the rash go away was to not eat wheat — no bread, no pasta, no beer. This hasn’t been so difficult, since hippy-dippy Los Angeles is probably one of the easiest cities in the nation to find gluten-free food. However, my flagrantly anti-wheat lifestyle seems to be a matter of curiosity for everyone else. Here, then, I’d like to preemptively answer any of the questions you might have about it.

wheatless wednesday everyday (via)
Isn’t it very L.A. of you to go gluten-free right after you move there?

I suppose. This city does have a lot of people who avoid gluten for other reasons — they think it’s inherently unhealthy or that it will make them lose weigh to cut wheat out of their diet. I’m not doing it for those reasons. I’m doing it a cuz that rash I mentioned.

Wouldn’t you be kind of screwed if you had moved to, say, Omaha?

For this and so many other reasons, yes.

I’ve read about celiac disease. It affects a much smaller portion of the population than people think, and what you’re describing doesn’t sound like celiac disease. Why are you being such a stupid faker?

First off, you’re a terrible person. Second, I don’t have celiac disease, at least according to the way I have understood that disorder. I suppose you could say that I have a gluten sensitivity, but I think it’s more accurate and much clearer to simply explain that if I eat wheat products, I get a rash, and I’d rather not eat bread than be Scabbly the Rash Man. It’s that simple.

Could it be something else in those products that’s causing the rash?

Yes, totally. The process of going to doctor after doctor was an ordeal, and since not eating these products solves the problem, I’m just going to stick with it, regardless of whether it’s the wheat or something else that’s actually causing the rash.

What happens if you eat this piece of bread?

Jesus, get it out of my face. As near as I can tell, I will get a rash that’s more or less in proportion to how much wheatiness I eat.

What about gluten-free bread?

What about it?

Well, couldn’t you get by on gluten-free products?

Here’s the thing: In my opinion, gluten-free versions of typically gluten-full products suck, much in the same way that soy-based fake meats suck. These things aren’t meant to be sourdough or chorizo or whatever we’re trying to gussy them up as. You can kind of make it work, but the end product will always be an inferior substitute for the real thing. Essentially, I just don’t eat bread anymore. It’s not that hard.

Did you lose weight as a result of giving up all those wheat products?

Yes, but not for the reason you’re thinking. Essentially, I cut bread and pasta and pastries and beer out of my life. Those are things that make you fat. Because I just stopped consuming them altogether and didn’t replace them with gluten-free versions of them, I did lose weight. But people who simply switch to gluten-free foods probably would not. Gluten-free food is not inherently healthier, just more expensive. Also, in general, paying more attention to the composition of everything I eat has helped me make healthier food choices.

No beer, huh? Wait, didn’t you go to UCSB?

Yes, and I did consume a superhuman amount of beer there without any negative skin conditions resulting.

What about gluten-free beer?

As someone far pithier than I once put it, gluten-free beer tastes like someone came in a mud puddle.


Yes. I drink wine now.

Do you miss beer though?

Yes. A room-temperature glass of red wine doesn’t really quench your thirst after a long day of yard work the way a cold beer would. But whatever.

Do you miss bread?

Not really. Instead of carbo-bombing before dinner out, I just eat nothing.

Do you miss pizza?

I wouldn’t waste my own family for a real, high-quality pizza that I could eat all on my own without any negative consequences, but I would waste your family for one, if that explains it at all.

Wait, can you eat rice?

Yes. Rice is not wheat.

Wait, can you eat couscous?

No. Couscous is just pasta.

Wait, can you eat soba noodles?

Yes. Soba is made from buckwheat, which actually isn’t wheat at all, though you still have to check the package to make sure that wheat was not added in.

Wait, can you eat polenta?

Yes. Polenta is made from corn.

Wait, can you eat whole-wheat bread?

Are you fucking kidding me? Stop.

Wait, what about bread pudding?


Wait, can you eat pineapples?

I don’t think you know anything about food.

Can you eat fiberglass?


Can I eat fiberglass?

You know what? Only one way to find out.

Wait, if I cook this in a pan that I used to make Amish friendship bread in, will you die?

[gets up to leave]

Aren’t you just doing this for attention?

No. It’s a real pain in the ass — or wherever else the rash wants to be. And I fucking dread having to ask questions about wheat content at restaurants, because I know the server is thinking, “Oh, this guy probably isn’t actually allergic. He’s probably just a jerkhole.” I have to be picky about restaurants I eat at now, to the point that I don’t think I could ever date a vegetarian, just because our eatery options would be too few. But in the end, this is easier than, say, having to give up a food product I love more, such as fruits or vegetables, and it’s a little more elegant than walking around with the rash.

Hey, some of us were thinking about getting pizza and some beers after work.

Cool, I’ll just have one of those iceberg lettuce salads that pizzerias are so famous for. And a Fanta.

Here, I got you a muffin made out of almonds and tapioca and mashed up flax seeds.

You really shouldn’t have.

the wicked witch of the midwest, basically (via)

If you’d like to read more about wheat on my blog, for some reason, I have literally one other post that would be of interest, and it’s about a Greek grain goddess named Spermo. No, really.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

“Megan Is Fat.”

Why do people own birds as pets? Aren’t they annoying more often than not? And less so with the cuddly? I don’t even understand the appeal of the ones that can talk. It’s a neat parlor trick at first, but wouldn’t you get sick of having a not-so-fuzzy, peck-y, claw-y pet who can seize upon a single word and then repeat it endlessly?

At my new place, I have a neighbor who has birds. (It’s actually the same neighbor who told me the “She everywhere” story, in case you’re compiling my anecdotes into some sort of master timeline.) They don’t speak so much as make shrill, inhuman noises at each other all day, to the point that I have wondered if it’s actually an incapacitated relative that my neighbor has chained up in the back room. It may be, honestly. It may also be two incapacitated relatives or one incapacitated relative and one bird, having a “fwaaargh”-off. Really, that’s the story I should be writing.

But no. I write instead about something I remembered when I drove through my old neighborhood today. I passed a house where there is always a caged parrot on the front porch. It whistles. It makes cell phone ringtone noises. Sometimes it sounds like a truck backing up. That’s about it, and really, were I its owner, I’d also keep the damn thing outside.

One day, while walking by, I saw two young boys crouched outside the cage. They were repeating the same phrase over and over, and it was simply “Megan is fat.”

“Megan is fat. Megan is fat. Megan is fat. Megan is fat. Megan is fat.” In unison, the two of them.

That’s the story.

I laughed, but not for the reasons you might think. No, it’s more a laugh about how funny it is that some people think of children as these pure-souled little angel beings who represent the promise of a better tomorrow, when children are actually heartless little shit-monsters. I don’t know who Megan was or what Megan did, but can you imagine being Megan and trying to un-teach a parrot from calling you fat? All day? Constantly? Repeatedly?

Best case scenario: The parrot bit those kids, and Megan saw it happen.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Little Heartache Before the Weekend

You don’t have to thank me. I was happy to.

Twelve Alternatives to Murder, She Wrote

Murder, She Scrawled 

Murder, She Sighed 

Murder, She Slurred 

Murder, She Weaved 

Murder, She Painted 

Murder, She Guessed 

Murder, She Ignored 

Murder, She Fantasized 

Murder, She Requested 

Murder, She Committed 

Murder, She Gloated 

Murder, She Blamed on Someone Else in Cabot Cove, and Holy Shit, Have You Ever Thought Maybe Jessica Fletcher Is a Serial Killer and She’s Pinning All These Murders on Innocent Townspeople?

Fletcher-faces via here, here and here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Red Before Red Was Red

I sped through two seasons of Orange Is the New Black before I realized why Kate Mulgrew's performance as prison mamochka Galina “Red” Reznikov rang a bell somewhere at the back of my mind. The reason? Batman.

On Saturday, September 5, 1992, the first-ever episode of Batman: The Animated Series aired. Titled “The Cat and the Claw, Part 1,” it introduced Catwoman (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau) and pitted her and Batman against a villain created specifically for the series, Red Claw, a terrorist of unspecified eastern European origin. But come on — just barely post-’80s? Eastern European? Terrorist? Children’s show? Red? She was obviously supposed to be Russian. Mulgrew voiced the character, and she returned for two more episodes: the second part of “The Cat and the Claw” and then “The Lion and the Unicorn,” in which Red Claw kidnaps Alfred.

I created the above supercut of Red Claw’s appearances on the show, chiefly to give people a chance to hear how much Mulgrew’s “vague, threatening east Euro” accent sounds like Red’s. (I actually have no idea how close Mulgrew gets to an actual Russian accent, but I’d nonetheless like to think of Red Claw as training for Red.) However, unlike many other great female characters who originated on the show but later transitioned to the comics — Harley Quinn, Renee Montoya, Roxy Rocket, Livewire and Mercy Graves — Red Claw has remained in the animated continuity only. So far, this is literally all we’ve seen of her, bad-ass tattoo, asymmetrical jump suit and fashion sash notwithstanding.

One quick thought, though: Are we past the point of naming Russian characters “Red” yet?

Another: I think the freckle-faced female henchwoman who shows up around the six-minute mark may be a rarity in Batman: The Animated Series. She may not have lines, but she’s one of a few female toughs to play B to a major villain’s A over the course of the series.

One last one: “And people wonder why no one takes Britain seriously anymore.”

Superheroes, previously:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Useless New Word and a Picture of a Duckling

I honestly love English. I love the breadth of its vocabulary. Dozens of synonyms exist alongside each other, but often one word can encapsulate the exact concept you have in your head. It’s messy, as far as languages go, but it’s rich — like a tangled jungle where all manner of wild things can grow. English doesn’t have the largest vocabulary of any language in the world. (As The Economist points out, that’s… just not a thing, when you think about it logically.) But it does offer some options to its speakers, and I’m proud to specialize in the language that affords speakers not just purple and violet but also indigo and magenta and mauve and lavender and freaking palatinate.

Still, sometimes it fails us. There are the autoantonyms. On the subject of color, there’s sinople, a word that basically no one ever uses but can refer to either red or green, depending on the context. There’s shelled, as in shelled pistachios, which you think would work in a straightforward fashion but I found does not, necessarily, when I asked a clerk at Trader Joe’s about them.
Him: Shelled pistachios? Like, pistachios with their shells on?

Me: No. Shelled pistachios as in pistachios that have their shells removed.

Him: So they’re shelled if they don’t have their shells on?

Me: Yes, they’ve been shelled.

Him: That’s confusing.
It’s not confusing to most people, but when you approach the expression shelled pistachio like you’d never heard it before and instead along the lines of a clothed person or a covered bridge, yeah, it seems counterintuitive. (And yes, the Trader Joe’s clerk must have been new.)

And then there’s the trouble with describing time. It’s maybe one of English’s greatest failings, simply because we need to describe yet-to-occur events quite often, and English sucks at it. Biannual is probably the biggest offender, simply because an event could just as likely occur every two years as it could twice a year. Because biannual can mean either, you can almost never be sure in the context of any sentence which meaning was intended. Bimonthly can mean either twice a month or every two months, and I suppose events could occur on either schedule. You’d think that biweekly wouldn’t post such a problem, since we can’t evenly divide our seven-day week and therefore events would be less likely to occur twice a week, but no. When I ran the opinion desk at the college paper and hire regular columnists, I had to ban the word biweekly from all the ad copy, just because every single applicant asked whether they’d need to write two columns a week or one column every two weeks. The modified copy read every two weeks, even thought that’s less succinct. (Fortnightly was rejected on grounds of sounding affected and quaint.)

This is the ambiguity that people are attempting to solve with oxt, an invented word that means “not this coming one but the next one,” as in “We’ll kill them this weekend and then bury the bodies oxt weekend.” Despite having its own promotional website, I’m guessing oxt will go the way of Esperanto and the interrobang, even if it does solve a longstanding problem has resulted in too many people being all dressed up with nowhere to go.

And it’s with all this that I present a strange and wonderful word — the first new one in about a year.
hebdomadal (heb-DOM-uh-dul) — adjective: 1. taking place once every seven days. 2. a weekly magazine, newspaper or other publication.
Like I described it in the post title, it’s useless. Most people won’t know what hebdomadal means, and besides we already have the word weekly, which may be one of the English words that doesn’t benefit from a synonym. In fact, the Etymonline entry for hebdomadally calls it “pedantic humor.” But in its favor is the fact that this word — which comes from the Greek hebdomas, “the number seven; a period of seven days” — is perfectly exact. It will only ever refer to something that happens every seven days.

As useless as hebdomadal may be, a related word could actually solve the biweekly ambiguity. If oxt is being dangled out there, then hell, why not dekatesseral?

“We’d need columns from you on a dekatesseral basis, and if you can’t figure out what that means, we don’t want you.”

I suppose that might discriminate against the non-Greek applicants. So it goes.

And here, as promised, is that picture of the duck.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Strangest SNL Sketch You’ve Never Seen

People don’t know about Yvonne Hudson, generally. She’s the first black female performer in the history of Saturday Night Live, but she has become hard to remember, probably because she had mostly low-profile roles on the show during her tenure (between 1978 and 1984) and because she seems to have retired from acting since. I actually often make the mistake of saying that Danitra Vance was the first black female performer on the show, but it’s not true: Vance was only the first main player, while Hudson was a featured performer.

The latest installment of Splitsider’s “Saturday Night’s Children” reminded me about Yvonne Hudson and also picked out one sketch in particular where she got to play a significant role: “Bad Clams,” from a Buck Henry-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live that originally aired on November 10, 1979.

I’d never seen it, but I hunted the episode down. And it’s weird as hell.

It’s not exactly hilarious, but to me there’s something compellingly bizarre about it. Really, what was the pitch for this? “Let’s have Gilda do Lucy and then we’ll force her to eat rancid clams on morning TV”? At a time when a lot of alternative comedy skews dark — from “Wait, what’s going on?” to “Oh, this is more strange than funny” to “Wait, this is just a low-budget nightmare sketch” — there’s something about this sketch that seems ahead of its time.

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just funny watching a national treasure being force-fed spoiled shellfish by the most disturbingly pleasant TV hosts in history.

But hey — Breaking Away!

Weird SNL sketches, previously:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Weird Walk Through the Mushroom Kingdom

Hi. Here’s the third and final part of my little series on that obscure Super Mario anime from 1986. (Or, as the non-video game-giving-a-shit-about portion of my readers consider it, a last deep dive into geekdom before I resume writing about funny old people I meet at the grocery store.)

In the first post, I wrote about how The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! probably caused the rumor that Toad used to be a girl. In the second post, I wrote about all the other elements from the movie that later appeared in Super Mario Bros. video games. In this one, I’m just posting all the spare images and videos that I didn’t reason to post anywhere else.

Looking without reading! Fun!

As if the movie didn’t feature enough musical sequences, there’s also one where Mario fantasizes about wearing a tuxedo and waltzing with the princess. You know — for the dreamy-eyed romantics in the audience.

I have Mario dressed like a Mexican bandito. See, because he felt angry, so he just transformed into this costume. See?

And here is Bowser attempting to woo Peach by dressing in drag.

Screenwriting at its best! I actually don't get why these would be the subtitles here, honestly. Jugem is Lakitu’s Japanese name, but I have no idea why these subtitles would be in English when most of the rest are not, at least per the video from which I got this still.

You can tell by Mario’s eyes that he’s overwhelmed by the prince’s flagrant disregard for gender norms.

“Don’t come back!”

And finally... GIFs! You love gifs, apparently. I made these and they maybe don’t completely suck. Here is Mario allowing a sprouting beantsalk to tickle his bottom, to the dismay of everyone watching. “No, Mario, that is neither a sanitary nor an appropriate use of a beanstalk.”

Here is Mario making the “video game zombie” that he’d make a generation of kids make.

Here is a gif of Mario shattering that you can use to illustrate your next horrifically traumatic moment.

Here are mushrooms raining down from the heavens.

Here are suggestively pulsating mushrooms.

Here is Peach, kicking some major ass in a video game.

And here she is weeping in isolation. The two sides to Princess Peach!

Super Mario, previously:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Why the Super Mario Bros. Anime Matters, Even If You’ve Never Seen It

Yesterday, I got to explore a weird little Super Mario Bros.-related rumor that led me to The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!, a 1986 movie that received a theatrical release in Japan only. As far as obscure Mario lore goes, it’s a strange one in that it’s something that would have been extremely familiar to Japanese kids growing up around the time, yet it’s something few of their Western counterparts would have even heard of, despite the Mario mania of the late 1980s and early 1990s. We simply never got the movie here, and that’s a shame, since it’s a beautiful rendering of these games back before Nintendo had really solidified what Mario’s world looked like.

First up, we might as well fix that lack of international exposure right now. It’s fairly simple to find it online, and you even watch it right here.

It’s only an hour long. According to the Mario Wiki, it was paired in theaters with a video guide to playing the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2, the game we know in the U.S. as The Lost Levels. The game came out just a few weeks before the movie.

Watching the movie for the first time this week, I thought it was interesting how many details from the movie ended up working their way into the games. Some of it’s coincidence, I’m sure; the movie-makers were just exploring ideas that the game designers eventually would have had regardless. But some of them seem pretty spot-on. Today, I’m listing these off, as well as a handful of concepts that Nintendo maybe should have thought about incorporating.

For example, that same Mario Wiki article points out that the movie has a sequence where Luigi has a bad trip after eating the wrong kind of mushrooms. The scene could be a reference to the fact that The Lost Levels introduced nasty, trick mushrooms that hurt you instead of powering you up.

It seems plausible, even if it just makes me wonder how an eight-bit, pixelated psychedelic freak out might look.

The movie also features a scene where Mario and Luigi escape on a flying ship, years before the Super Mario Bros. 3 came out made airships a staple of the series.

When Mario and Luigi meet Lakitu, Mario ends up stealing Lakitu’s cloud and buzzing around the sky in it. That’s something that Nintendo eventually implemented in Super Mario World — and again now that Lakitu is a playable character in the Mario Kart games and you can stick anyone you want in his little cloudmobile.

In the movie’s climatic fight, Mario beats Bowser by grabbing him by the tail and then spinning-tossing him into the horizon in the style of an Olympic discus-thrower.

That’s remarkably similar to how Mario dispatches Bowser in Super Mario 64.

Again, that might just be an obvious way to excuse a giant turtle monster from your presence, but to me, this one in particular seems one of the most likely to be intentional among all the similarities between the movie and later games.

The game even has gargantuan versions of the typical Mario baddies — the very kind that got their own series of levels in Super Mario Bros. 3.

Super Mario Land of GIants

An odder coincidence, perhaps? These Goombas standing in this oversized boot. It could be nothing, of course, but the Nintendo fan in me really wants to connect them to the “Kuribo’s Shoe” Goombas from Super Mario Bros. 3.

Kuribo's Shoe

Super Mario Bros. 3 Kuribo's Shoe Goomba's Shoe

The Mario Wiki even points out how Luigi’s off-model color scheme — dark blue with yellow, as opposed to the traditional dark blue with green he has in official art or the white and green his original Super Mario Bros. sprite has — gets a nod in the new Smash Bros. game as one of Luigi’s palette swaps.

Luigi Smash Bros. alternate outfits

There’s even an odd scene where Bowser, in an effort to calm the captive Princess Peach, transforms into a scarecrow. That may mean something more in Japan than it does in the U.S., but to me that seems like an awfully specifically thing to turn into… especially since it was something Bowser and the other playable characters in Super Mario RPG could get transformed into.

Super Mario Bros. Bowser scarecrow

Super Mario RPG scarecrows

I’ve never seen scarecrow transformation as a negative status effect in any other video game. Is that, like, a problem in Japan? An epidemic of people turning into scarecrows?

Perhaps the one aspect to The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! that most gets my attention is Peach herself. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s this movie that made the princess look the way she looks today. Check out how she is drawn on box art for the Japanese release of Super Mario Bros.

The feline eyes are there, but everything else looks different — darker hair, a dress that looks like jammies and altogether a cruder look then she’d eventually get. In promotional art for The Lost Levels, Peach looked a lot closer to how she looks today, save for those dimples on her cheeks, which read as pimples in both the Super Mario Bros. and Lost Levels art. The dress is about right, the Farrah flips are in place, she’s a banana blonde, and she’s even sporting her trademark brooch.

Super Mario Bros Lost Levels artwork

She looks much more like this Lost Levels version in the movie.

Bowser Peach wedding

Well, she’s not wearing a butt on her head in the games, but you can see the resemblance, literal asshat notwithstanding. “But Drew, surely then it was the Nintendo artwork that finalized Peach’s appearance and not this non-canon movie. You are dumb!” But no! And also shut up! I’d suggest it might actually be the other way around. Do you know how long it takes to make an animated feature? Even an hour-long one? If the movie hit theaters juts a few weeks after The Lost Levels started selling in Japan, I’d say that someone had to decide beforehand how Peach was going to look. Maybe it was the animators at Toei. Maybe it was Nintendo giving notes to the animators. But either way, I think it was the movie that determined her appearance in a way that’s stuck for nearly thirty years.

Of course, some of the film’s original bits didn’t carry haven’t yet found a place in the Marioverse proper.

First up, them backgrounds. Back before Nintendo decided that every bush, rock and cloud needed an eerily grinning face on it, Super Mario Bros. skewed more surreal than saccharine. The game includes a few montages where you see vast expanses of the Mushroom Kingdom as it’s navigated by Mario, Luigi and Kibidango, their little canine friend with the weirdly ant-like body.

(Yes, it’s weird that the same song plays so often in a movie that’s only an hour long. Certain creative decisions were made, clearly.)

Maybe it’s the quality of the transfer, but the colors in these backgrounds look less saturated that the bright greens and cyans that defined Super Mario Bros. for a long time, and in an unexpected way, it lends the film a slightly less child-like feel. Eventually, Nintendo would come around to a degree, but it’s notable to see the Mushroom Kingdom look large, alien, and a little imposing instead of just Candyland-esque.

Speaking of Mario’s dog-like companion, Kibidango, who’s apparently named after a type of Japanese dumpling, failed to affect the series mythos in any direct way. It took until Super Mario World for Mario to get an animal buddy (Yoshi), and until Yoshi’s Island for Mario to meet a canine friend (the peculiarly nose-less Poochy). At the end of the movie, however, Kibidango transforms into Peach’s true love, dandy Prince Haru of Flower Kingdom, who was in search of the owner of the other half of his magical brooch when he was turned into a dog… ant… thing.

Prince Haru Haru-ōji ハル王子

Prince Haru Haru-ōji ハル王子

Prince Haru Super Mario

Haru may seem foppish, but at the end of the movie, everyone seems to agree that he’s a better match for Peach than the portly plumber is, and Mario sets off with only a kiss on the nose for his troubles. It’s probably a stretch, but you could say that there’s an echo of Prince Haru in Yoshi’s Safari, a Super NES shooting game that had Peach asking Mario to rescue the monarchs of a neighboring kingdom. The younger of the two — Prince Pine, whose Japanese name is a reference to pineapples and not pine trees, I'm just learning — has some vague similarities to Prince Haru, but the greatest of them is the fact that he’s a male monarch needing Mario’s help.

Prince Pine King Fret King Pot Yoshi's Safari

There’s also a debatable similarity in Princess Shokora, the damsel Wario rescues in Wario Land Advance. Her appearance varies according to how much money Wario earns over the course of the game, and her “most expensive” form is rather boyish — and not unlike Haru, who maybe looks a little girlish.

Princess Shokora all forms

And sort of similar to the way that Haru spends most of the movie as a dog, Shokora spends much of Wario Land Advance trailing Wario in the form of a little black cat.

In the “Lady Toad” post, I mentioned how Toad became a playable character in the American Super Mario Bros. 2 almost by default. He wasn’t named in the first game, and Nintendo simply needed a fourth character to round out the roster. Hypothetically speaking, had Nintendo brought The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach out in the U.S. and had Americans been familiar with the characters, it wouldn’t have been unthinkable that ol’ Haru might have gotten that fourth slot. You’d have had the two brothers and the two royal lovebirds, and today this dandy prince would be a staple of the series.

Just conjecturing, but it wouldn’t be unthinkable.

The game’s other original character is a kooky pile of beard hairs simply called the Mushroom Mystic. There’s nothing close to him in any of the games, by why shouldn’t there be? Perhaps we’d all like playing as a white pushbroom of an old man.

Mushroom Mystic

I have one final creative choice in The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! that Mario lifers might be interested to know about. In the movie, Mario and Luigi aren’t plumbers, like there are in the American version of the games, or carpenters, like Mario was in Donkey Kong. They’re grocers. That’s… maybe an aspect to Mario’s mystique we could do without.

(Note: There’s also now a part three in this little series, if you’re interested.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lady Toad? The Gender of Everyone’s Favorite Anthropomorphic Mushroom

(Note: This posted ended up spawning two more about the Super Mario anime. Read part two and part three, if you like.)

Earlier this year, I found a great video game website, Clyde Mandelin’s Legends of Localization, that looks at the strange process of adapting video games made in one language for people who speak a different language. The site tends to focus on the little moments — the ones that didn’t necessarily make the game but the ones dedicated players nonetheless remember. For example, how do you save Lucca’s mom in the Japanese version of Chrono Trigger? Does that random scrap of paper make any more sense in the Japanese version of Final Fantasy VI? And what’s with this random Helen Keller joke? It’s always heartening to find someone else who not only cares about the little stuff and the odd stuff in old video games but who also spends time wondering about the decision-making process that led to them.

In one post, Mandelin writes about the strangeness of Toad not necessarily being the singular, distinct character we tend of think of him being. (This is something I wrote about a while back, and this flexible sense of “self-ness” is hardly unique to Toad — it works for Yoshi and Birdo too — or even unique to the Mario games.) Mandelin also brings up something I hadn’t heard before: the idea that Toad (or the Toads) were initially supposed to be female — the princess’s handmaidens, in fact.

He offers as evidence The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!, an anime released theatrically in Japan in 1986. Like The Super Mario Bros. Super Show here in the U.S., it was a loose adaptation of the original, barebones Super Mario Bros. plotline. It added a lot in. It had to. And in place of the Mushroom Retainers (Kinopio, in the orginal Japanese) that Mario rescues at the end of every level are these distinctly feminine mushroom people.

Here’s a scene where Mario and Luigi free them from a spell that had turned them into coins.

They seem a little more human, a little more articulated than the generic Toads you see earlier in the film.

Later, Mario rescues a second Lady Toad. Again, the movie clearly genders her. This is a female mushroom who’s giving Mario a peck on the cheek.

At first, I thought this was a strange call on the parts of the creators of the anime, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. After all, if you happened across this Strawberry Shortcake-looking assemblage of pixels for the first time, would you think this character was wearing a vest? Or would it look more like a skimpy woman’s shirt?

(Confession time: When I was a kid, before I saw official artwork of Toad, I thought it was a bikini top. In my defense, those eight-bit days left a lot of room for interpretation. That’s actually a hot little number by mushroom standards.)

Mandelin addresses whether these female Toads mean anything beyond someone taking creative liberties with the story. A quote:
My first thought was to say, “Whatever, that’s just a cartoon movie, it doesn’t apply to anything.” But then I realized that the American cartoon series was pretty influential for fans. So I guess you can take it however you like, but at the very least it seems that a number of Japanese fans fondly remember Kinopios as being girls and wonder at what point they became guys.
I totally agree. I looked around as best I could and did not find much on whether Toad was at one point female. (Well, I found one message board thread — an ancient artifact, by online standards — that said the characters were ”presumably female” and that some sources call them ”Mushroom Girls.” It probably didn't help that I can’t easily search for Japanese sites.) But if this idea is floating around out there, it’s probably because young Super Mario Bros. fans saw this movie as kids — before the game’s universe expanded and before it was easier to see official Nintendo artwork of these characters — and it crystallized the idea that those guys who are telling you the princess is in another castle are actually gals.

For what it’s worth, the Toads depicted on the box art for the Japanese release of Super Mario Bros. don’t look especially feminine, but then again they also have visible belly buttons and one seems to be missing his eyes.

Nintendo eventually introduced female Toads into the games — in the RPG titles and then in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! as Toad’s female racing partner, Toadette.

Toadette has a similar same color scheme to that of the female characters from the anime, but then again so might any character that you’re trying to code as conspicuously female. There’s only so much you can do to gender a mushroom. In any case, I’d always thought of her as a Smurfette or a Skeeter — a female twist on an existing male character created just to even out the gender ratio. And while Toadette still is that, this possible tie to a much older Mario creation makes me a little more okay with her existence, even if those braids hanging off her head still freak me out. (WHAT ARE THEY? WHAT ARE THEY?!)

There are quite a few concepts introduced in The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! that eventually worked their way into actual Mario games — and a few that could have easily but never did. Tomorrow, I’ll post about them. And I promise I’ll never, ever ponder about Toad’s gender again.

Miscellaneous mushroom bits:
  • The name “Toad” doesn’t show up until the American Super Mario Bros. 2 came out. He’s playable in that game — really, only because the game was based on a previous one that had four characters and because at this point in the franchise’s history there just weren’t any other candidates.
  • The character is noted in the Super Mario Bros. 2 instruction manual as “Mushroom Retainer (Toad),” to tell us that yes, he’s one of those things mentioned in the previous instruction manual, but he has a name now. It always seemed an odd choice, though, because they’d already stuck the princess with the name “Toadstool” and these two names are very similar. The only reason a mushroom would be named Toad is in reference to toadstools. I mean, Nintendo could have named the guy anything. Fungo. Mushy. Mr. Sporesburg. Truffles. Herman the Death Cap Man. The Great Matango. But they’re all “Nah. Toad. Toadstool. They go together. Let’s go get lunch.”
  • Does anyone else remember that article Electronic Gaming Monthly ran in the late ‘90s specifically about whether Toad was a boy or a girl? *cough cough rainbow racket cough cough*
  • Toad’s general design seems to have made animating him…. interesting. I can’t tell if he gave animators more creative freedom or just more work, but the fact that you don’t really know what’s going on with his body means that people making cartoons of him had to be clever. Is that a hat? Or is he growing a mushroom on his head? Is he wearing a diaper? Where are his legs? In the case of the Lady Toads, the animators made them more human-like and have them actual legs. In the case of some concept art previewing the Super Mario Bros. Super Show in a 1989 issue of Nintendo Power, the artist was clearly saying, “Oh, fuck it. It’s just a mushroom or whatever.”

I for one fell in love with this concept art when I first saw it. I wish this specific style carried over more to the actual cartoon than it did. Trip on nostalgic, if you like, and read Nintendo Power’s full write-up on the then-forthcoming series here.