The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the latest adaptation of Nintendo’s venerable plumber, with the recent trailer helping to showcase how much fidelity the animated film will have to the games. One interesting aspect here is that Mario is indeed a stranger in the Mushroom Kingdom, making the story analogous to isekai anime. Ironically, it’s not a first for the franchise.
The original Mario movie was an outright isekai anime OVA, plucking the plumber from his world to that of Princess Toadstool’s. The same could even be argued for the infamous live-action Super Mario Bros. movie, which sent Mario to another world of sorts. Here’s how one of the most classic video game characters of all time keeps having his story told via the most ubiquitous anime genre of the modern era.
The First Two Mario Movies Were Isekai – and One Was Even an Anime
One of the earliest Mario adaptations was the anime OVA Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!. This was one of the first anime adaptations of a video game in general, though its plot would completely break the fourth wall in regard to the medium. It opens with Mario seemingly playing his own game on the Famicom (the Japanese equivalent to the Nintendo Entertainment System) before meeting Princess Peach Toadstool. Mario and his brother Luigi later end up traversing through a pipe, ending up in the Mushroom Kingdom in what becomes an adventure to save the princess.
The idea of being sucked into another world is the very definition of isekai, especially nowadays. Most modern isekai anime, manga and light novels even feature a similar concept of characters being brought into video game worlds, though JRPGs are more common than platformers. Of course, this anime wasn’t the only Mario movie to come about, with the much more maligned live-action Super Mario Bros. releasing a few years down the road.
This movie notably had Mario and Luigi traversing from their native home of Brooklyn and being sent to a world in which dinosaurs still roamed and had evolved into a humanoid species of their own. They get to this world by passing through a sort of dimensional doorway, thereafter ending up in “Dinosaur World.” This reality is far different from anything in the Super Mario Bros. games, but it’s still a distinctly different reality that the heroes go to, making it as much an isekai as anything else.
Mario Being an Isekai Has Some Basis in the Game’s Canon
The concept of Mario and Luigi finding themselves in the Mushroom Kingdom isn’t exactly made up. Early game canon established a premise similar to the one used in the Mario anime, wherein plumbers Mario and Luigi get to the Mushroom Kingdom via mysterious pipes. This makes Super Mario Bros. a very literal sequel to the arcade game Mario Bros., which showed the siblings combating Koopa-like enemies in an underground, pipe-filled grotto. Previous games Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Wrecking Crew established a more contemporary setting for Mario’s early adventures, far different from the wacky, Alice in Wonderland-inspired locales of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Later games such as Yoshi’s Island would establish that Mario and Luigi were indeed originally from the Mushroom Kingdom before being taken by a stork to their parents. A magical stork going wherever it wishes is one thing, but it would seem that getting to and from the Mushroom Kingdom involves using its likely transdimensional pipes. Thus, the Super Mario Bros. games are as much isekai as the movies are, laying a foundation for why these adaptations feature Mario as a stranger in a strange land among mushrooms.