Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mario's Tanuki Suit

(This post is by Philip, who knows all about online game emulators. Thanks Philip!)

As a child, my parents always told me, “Mario eats his mushrooms and look how big he grows! Philip eat your mushrooms if you want to grow up into a big strong boy.” In Super Mario Bros. 3, if Mario ate leaves, he became a flying “racoon”. I figured that if mushrooms will make me big, then leaves could make me fly. I ate leaves and was not able to fly. Therefore, I decided that I would no longer eat mushrooms. Now that I have a bit more knowledge, I can better understand why Mario is so powerful and why his “racoon” suit made him even stronger.

Since my grandma used to say “Mama Mia,” and my Judo teacher had a big moustache, I always assumed that one day I could become a super-hero just like Mario. Mario was just like me except stronger and more Italian. Nevertheless, Mario would clearly be a manifestation of the other for his Japanese creators. The idea that power is to be found in the others is also confirmed by the Ebisu cults. The Japanese word ebisu means stranger or foreigner (Yoshida, 91). Ebisu is basically a foreign god who brings good luck and can be manifested as strangers who are also the source of good luck (Yoshida, 91). Thus, part of Mario's power comes purely because he is Italian and not Japanese. In addition, a similarity can be seen between Mario and the heroes of traditional and popular stories involving master-less samurai (rōnin-mono), or migratory strangers (watari-mono) (Yoshida, 91). The samurai and strangers are Japanese strangers who wander from town to town doing good deeds such as eliminating oppressors. Mario wanders around jumping on Koopa's to save the kingdom's princess. This basically amounts to the same thing, a unknown hero comes to save people from their tormentors. Yet, this does not explain why a leaf permits Mario to become a flying racoon-looking killing machine.

What I used to believe was a racoon-suit is actually a tanuki suit. A tanuki is usually considered to be either a badger or a racoon-dog in English (Casal, 49). In Japanese folklore tales, the tanuki can often fly, transform into different shapes, and a diverse range of other powers (Harada, 2). This would explain why Mario is able to fly, but it doesn't really tell us if why the leaf is the catalyst to this whole metamorphosis. In folk tales about tanuki, the animal's tricks usually revolve around leaves. A tanuki might appear as a human and buy goods with money which suddenly transforms into leaves (Casal, 52). Yet, tanuki are also known to wear lotus-leaves as hats (Casal, 54). Therefore, the leaf is an appropriate symbol for Mario's tanuki transformation.

Briefly, Mario derives power from his outsider status. The tanuki suit is inspired by actual tanuki folklore not just because the animal is cool. The leaf and the transformation it causes reflects these tales as well.

~guest blogger, Philip Tomlinson