It’s amazing how marketing giants are made. Mickey Mouse was built from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s dessicated corpse. Popeye started out as a one-shot side character. And Mario? Well, he was Popeye. Sort of. Nintendo had the license for a Popeye game, but it got pulled before they could finish. So they shunted the project over to this Shigeru Miyamoto guy, who changed rescuing Olive Oyl from Bluto into a pseudo-King Kong spoof. For the hero, Miyamoto chose to design him based on graphical constraints of the time. A moustache would be more visible than a mouth. A hat would show up better against a black background than hair. Overalls made the arms easier to see. Gloves were better for his hands. And then, Mario!
Mario’s popularity grew expentially with Super Mario Brothers, and although he was fairly often off-model, he ended up becoming essentially the Mickey Mouse of video games. An innocuous cartoon character whose every single inch or pixel was governed by a style guide, and who could be the flagship character for anything. But he never got a good toy. Back in the classic NES days, he had a few small PVC figures, and since then there have been occasional vinyl toys or similar things. Even recently there has been an attempt to produce a “World of Nintendo” toy line, which seems like a decent remedy. And then there was S. H. FiguArts.
The FiguArts line by Tamashii is essentially the same as the MonsterArts line, only focused on non-Kaiju. These high-end collectibles are designed for play – excellent sculpting, massive articulation, tons of accessories, a high price tag… and they produced a Mario. Interestingly, Mario costs less than most others, but you can also buy bonus accessory packs to give him some set dressing. I stumbled across all three packages and picked them up, so it’s as good a time as any to have a look. Fun fact: Magic mushrooms were legal in Japan until 1992. Suddenly, the surrealism of Mario makes perfect sense. Fun Fact #2: Nintendo did eventually produce a Popeye game, and it was terrible.
Mario comes in a box set that shows him off as well as some of his gear. It protects the figure, and contains a set of instructions.
The first accessory set puts the pipe up front and center as it should be. It does not show off any transparent connector pieces.
The second accessory set shows off the blocks and goomba, but none of the posts or platforms.
As I said before, Mario’s look is pretty much set in stone now. Sure, back in the days of Donkey Kong, Mario Brothers, and the first two Super games, it could vary quite a lot, but ever since 3, Mario has been Mario. And particularly since he first went 3D in Super Mario 64 (and when Charles Martinet voiced him), Mario became a lot like Mickey Mouse. And this figure is absolutely on-model. It looks like something that could have graced the pages of an old Nintendo Power. Even with the cuts for articulation, he is… perfect.
Mario doesn’t have that much surface detail, but what is there is appropriate – his denim overalls lack stitching, but have seam lines. His proprtions are also exact – good for a cartoon, hilariously deformed for a real-life human. But it’s Mario! Perfect Mario! What more can we say?
Mario’s paint is fantastic. The thing is, Mario as a character does not have a complex paint job – crisp, simple lines with an easy-to-remember color scheme (even though a lot of early games and Nintendo Power issues totally reversed the red and blue). But that presents its own problem. If his painted lines are uneven, he looks like a mess. Marios paint is crisp and precise, all the right shades, and his eyes have an appropriately Mickey Mouse cartoon design on them. I did notive that his shirt (on his torso) is a brighter red than his hat or sleeves, but it is not immediately apparent.
Mario has ball-jointed head, shoulders, and feet, hinged elbows and knees, swivel wrists, and hips that are a combination between hinges, swivels, and ball-joints. FiguArts figures are known for their extensive articulation, but on paper this does not look like much.
The thing is, the articulation is lacking in a few ways – he really needed bicep swivels, and his head has a limited range, for eample. But for what there is, Mario is great! He can take the most important poses – running, jumping, jumping with one fist in the air, holding a shell – so while he isn’t as articulated as may FiguArts figures, he is pretty sufficient. Just not as awesomem as he could have been.
Mario himself, without any accessory packs, comes with a magic mushroo (no seriously. They are based on Amanita Muscaria, which is highly poisonous… and recreational ‘shrooms were legal in Japan until 1992, remember?), a coin, a tiny transparent stand for the coin, and a question block.
The first accessory set comes with a pipe, two possible tops for the pipe, a shell, a new set of Mario hands, transparent connectors for the shell and hands, a goomba, a coin, and a stand for the coin.
The second accessory set comes with two brick blocks, one question block, one goomba, one coin, coin stands (low and high), a green base, a jointed stand for Mario, a two-part stand for the blocks, and a new packpiece for Mario that contains a socket for the invisible stand.
So all told, that’s one pipe, one mushroom, three coins, two goombas, two brick blocks, two question blocks, a ton of stands, a shell, and a green base. The shell has tiny little pegs that plug into its holes and then into Mario’s open hands so he can hold it, with different pegs designed depending on whether he wants to hold the shell sideways or facing forward. The two pipe tops let him either stand on the surface or half-sink down. The stand for the blocks can be modified so one block is hither than the others, as if Mario is punching it. This is kind of amazing, really. The play value for those props is almost more than Mario himself, and at least it doubles his fun factor. About the only things missing are some more powerups, or a fireball for his open hands, or a piranha plant which could have easily replaced a Goomba. The pegs are tiny and fragile, but not too bad, and all peg holes are disguised except for the ones on Mario’s open hands. You can also swap out his back pieces with ease,and his special jointed stand uses metal joints to keep it sturdy, so it is unlikely to start wilting with time. There was a lot of effort put into this, and it shows.
Other FiguArts figures cost $60. This one only costs $20! And each accessory pack also costs $20. Hey, wait a second… $20+$20+$20… I SEE WUT U DID THAR.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Everything about this figure is made of hard, stiff plastic. I would be careful not to break any of the connectors or posts, and not to, say, crush Mario or anything like that. You don’t necessarily have to treat the whole thing with kid gloves, just be a little careful.
WHERE TO BUY:
These things are in hobby and comic shops. I bought mine at Barnes & Noble – BARNES & NOBLE! With a 20% discount, too!
I wish I were a little kid receiving this for my birthday. It’s just that good. This is everything I could have wanted in a Mario figure. And yet, it took Nintendo nearly thirty years to license something like it. It’s got so much play value that it boggles my grownup mind, it is perfectly true to his appearance, and the only nitpicks I can find are minor. Get this figure if you can! And grab the accessory packs, too – if the price seems rough, you can always space them out. It’s just too bad that he does not have a proper Piranha Plant. I guess I can substitute something else from my collection…
The squamous, undulating mass that emerged from the pipe was no piranha plant, but rather a cyclopaean horror from out of time. It writhed in undulating rhythms of madness, its trilling shrieks piercing through the veil of sanity as the barriers of Mario’s mind irevocably shattered. He ran from there, and from the Princess, and from the Mushroom Kingdom, his cries of “Tekeli-Li!” only understood by some.
Soon, Luigi would follow.