Friday, January 18, 2013

There Will Be Brawl, Episode Five: Monsters


There Will Be Brawl is a web series that creates--and then exposes--the seedy underbelly of well-known Nintendo characters with exceptional dedication and insane unpredictability. It's the entire internet in ten minutes. Minus the furries.

Nintendo's stable of recognizable characters and the staggering number of titles in which they interact makes a universe that is complex and contradictory enough that the editorial staff at DC would be hard-pressed to reconcile it, even if they released nothing but crisis comics for the next thirty years without resorting to Nintendo's time-tested strategy of never discussing it. "There Will Be Brawl" is notable in that it would sit as an equal with any end result from that kind of reconciliation; it makes a good universe.

This is due in no small part to the series' willingness to add dimension to the characters, even if that dimension is the typical and unimaginative dark and gritty variety. Five episodes in, it's hard to tell whether "There Will Be Brawl" is on the slowest of slow boils, or is so caked in filth and reverberating with shock that no event can be seen as the breakout moment when everything truly begins crashing down. Most stories at least try to establish a floor of events; maybe things are bad, but the protagonists have created their own homeostasis, however humble. "There Will Be Brawl" doesn't waste any time shaving off bloody chunks of Mario and Luigi's lives, so even when a major player in The Mushroom Kingdom is brutally murdered and things spiral yet further downward for the Mario Brothers, you really can't tell whether the storm is breaking or if you've simply taken another step on the filthy spiral staircase of this dark version of the Nintendo Shared Universe.

That's not an insult. Not exactly, anyway. Dark and gritty exists for a reason, especially whenever it serves as a common baseline for universes that don't typically dwell in that area. For example, if the series took place in a dream version of the Nintendo Shared Universe (NSU), the writers' ability would be limited because Kirby, Link and Mario have had whole games based there. It isn't that it's been done before, it's that those characters in that context are already defined.

If there is greatness to "There Will Be Brawl," it's the exploration of the characters past their roots in flat, oft-repeated, treadmill-like conflicts of their native environments. Make no mistake; Mario is not Mario without a sun overhead, a princess to save, and a psychedelic, incongruous array of allies and enemies. It's the universe he lives in, and must necessarily exist in to be Mario. The strength of derivative works is their ability to explore the potential of these characters in ways that canon creations never could, and "There Will Be Brawl" is one of—if not the—best.

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