One of Japan’s biggest exports is their popular culture.
And that’s easy to understand.
Japan has blessed us with many fictional icons
比如龙猫 哥斯拉 凯蒂猫 和皮卡丘
from Totoro, Godzilla, Hello Kitty and Pikachu.
But of course Japan’s most famous son
is the face of Nintendo,
and pretty much the face of all video games, Super Mario,
whose full name is actually Mario Mario,
like his creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s actually confirmed that himself.
There’s many things interesting about Mario.
However, I’m sure you can guess what we are here to look at:
that name of Mario.
What’s interesting is how despite being one of those
popular characters come out of Japan,
he has a severely un-Japanese name,
a name associated with Italian.
And though it’s also present within Spanish and Portuguese.
The name is believed to come from the Latin Marius,
which is believed to be linked to the god of war himself, Mars.
Luckily, creators of Mario are not one and the same.
Previous names I mentioned all have roots in Japanese,
or Western adaptations of their Japanese names.
Wherever you go around the world, however,
whether it be in Japan or an English-speaking country,
Mario is always called Mario.
So why does such a Japanese icon lack a Japanese name?
Mario may be the star of his own series,
but his first appearance wasn’t in a Mario game.
实际上 我们第一次见到他时 他甚至还不叫马里奥
In fact, he wasn’t even called Mario when we first met him.
We have to go all the way back to 1977
when Shigeru Miyamoto was first employed by Nintendo.
This was during the boom of the arcade cabinet business.
Nintendo’s games were doing well in their native Japan
but struggling in America.
One game in particular was Radar Scope,
which bombed stateside and left Nintendo with many unused cabinets.
Instead of leaving them to waste, it was decided that
Nintendo would just program a new game into them.
And that job was left to Miyamoto.
They knew they wanted something that
will appeal to the Western audiences.
To start with, Nintendo tried to
get the rights to make a Popeye game.
However, that fell through.
So Nintendo got to work on
making their own characters for the game,
which led to the creation of Donkey Kong.
And while on the subject of Donkey Kong,
let’s talk about that name.
小时候 别人告诉我说这是Monkey Kong打错了字
When I was a kid, I was told it was a typo of Monkey Kong.
But apparently, it always meant to be Donkey Kong,
with the Donkey name meant to provoke the idea of
being stubborn like a donkey, anyway.
In this game, we were introduced to not only DK himself,
but Pauline, the damsel in distress.
and a dungaree-clad mustachioed carpenter,
named, at the time, Jumpman.
Well, one of the things he did most was jump.
The game was a huge success and led to
the creation of the platform game as we know it today.
Originally however he was known as Mr.Video
as he was the star of a video game.
A key reason behind Mario’s name is due to his design.
Why would you make a hero of a videogame a short guy in dungarees?
Definitely not the most conventional looking hero.
Well, if you look at early videogame characters,
you’ll notice they aren’t the most dynamic bunch.
Pac-Man is basically just the circle.
These designs were made more of necessity
than for making a character look good.
A great example of this is Crash Bandicoot.
Real bandicoot aren’t bright orange.
But Crash was made orange，
so he’d stand out more against the dark colored backgrounds.
Video game character design works in conjunction with level design.
And of course what tech you have at your disposal at the time.
When Mario was first created,
games didn’t look how they look now.
Creators were working with 8-bit computers,
meaning they had to find ways to make characters look unique
and not just a pile of pixels.
Mario’s creator Miyamoto has explained
why Mario looks the way he does.
The mustache and big nose were added to help define his face,
and the hat was added as his hair was hard to create in 8-bit.
Miyamoto’s other big creation is a keen hat wearer too,
maybe more on him and his princess another time.
And the dungarees were added so Mario’s arms
and body didn’t mesh into one big lump of pixels.
The creativity that had to be used due to
the lack of technology seems to be the key.
Mario’s design was a means to an end
so players could completely understand what Mario was doing on the screen.
All of this led to Mario looking rather Italian.
I don’t know if that stereotype of Italians existed before Mario,
or if Mario pioneered it.
But if you google “Italian stereotype”,
mustaches are abound.
In fact it doesn’t take long for Mario himself to appear
in Google Images when searching “Italian stereotype”.
This might seem like a good enough reason
as to why he has that name.
He looks Italian and is meant to be Italian.
So an Italian name like Mario would work.
Have we also have a much more concrete art to this too?
In fact, we have a real Mario,
the Super Mario is named after.
That being Mario Segale.
Like I said earlier,
Nintendo wanted Donkey Kong to be a huge hit in the US,
which it certainly was.
And in the fallout of all this
Nintendo set up an American HQ in Seattle, Washington,
renting a warehouse owned by Mario Segale.
The story goes that one day
Segale stormed into the building demanding overdue rent.
It was here the Nintendo employees realized
how much Segale looked like their Jumpman.
He had the mustache too.
It was thanks to the irate rant of the landlord
that Jumpman became Mario,
the name we all know him by today.
So why doesn’t Mario have a Japanese name?
It seems to be an amalgamation of a lot of things.
Of course Mario’s design and name seems to be very intertwined.
It makes sense for a stereotypically looking Italian character
to have an Italian name.
And the fact that someone barges their offices
with an Italian name seem like a blessing in disguise.
However I think there is another key reason Mario is named what he is.
Despite being a Japanese character and beloved in Japan,
he wasn’t made with Japan in mind.
Nintendo wanted to take off in the West via Donkey Kong and Jumpman.
And to do this they have to look into Western design.
Miyamoto has even stated that he enjoys Western comics.
It’s not hard to see that in Mario’s design.
It’s not a stretch to see the similarities
between the likes of Mario and Asterix.
Or even Captain Haddock.
Mario doesn’t fit the conventions of traditional Japanese pop culture.
He’s not very anime-looking in layman’s terms.
Like I said, initially Donkey Kong was to be a Popeye game.
And in some of Jumpman’s earliest designs
you can still see that Popeye inspiration.
With the West in mind, a Western design was created,
with a Western name needing to replace Jumpman.
And with thanks to their landlord Mario Segale,
the name Mario was cemented.
And it’s that Italian name that belongs to a Japanese character
now known throughout the entire world.
Now if only their landlord was called Luigi instead.
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