Let's talk about Birdo. And the Satellaview.
Let's watch this video first.
This is a Japanese commercial for Super Mario USA, a delayed Japanese release of the American Super Mario Bros 2., which began its life as a Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic.
Whatever you call it, the most popular character to come out of this game is Catherine, known in the US as Birdo. Birdo is a very persistent miniboss who you find yourself fighting constantly. Portrayed first as a pink dinosaur or dragon, Birdo shoots eggs and fireballs out of his/her mouth and guards the sphere you need to progress to the next level.
Mislabeling the character as "Ostro," the instruction booklet read as follows:
‘He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called Birdetta.’
When brought back for more recent Mario games, Birdo's gender identity remained a point of humor or confusion.
“She appears to be Yoshi’s girlfriend — but is she really his boyfriend?!”
The 2003 Mario Kart bio for Catherine not only admits that Yoshi and Birdo are dating, but is the first time they call Birdo Yoshi’s “boyfriend.”
The idea is that Catherine/Birdo was born male, but identifies as female. The character has become more feminine in appearance over the years. Early Doki Doki Panic artwork depicts a fairly masculine orange lizard with a small bow. The bow is also small in the original game itself. It was enlarged on the SNES and GBA. Birdo is usually depicted as pink, but had several other colors in the original game.
This is a case of mild "adult" humor on Nintendo's part. Birdo's gender identity has always been treated as a joke. I'll post this link again:
In this Super Mario USA ad, Birdo is portrayed as essentially a drag queen, lounging on a fainting couch with cigarette holder and feather boa. In artwork and ads for the SNES Super Mario Collection [All-Stars in the US] the feather boa continues to be evident. She is Wart's date here ...
Much later, in Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Birdo appears with a drag queen style act.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=pl ... COzUBhcYQU
In Japan, the Famicom [Family Computer] systems, which were the NES and SNES here, were not portrayed as exclusively for children. Expansions for the Famicom allowed you to use it as a computer and program BASIC. Although Nintendo has always kept its systems and games as kid-friendly as possible, some material in the Japanese versions has wound up censored in the US.
Nintendo also helped set the standard in the US, that games should be kid-friendly. Ash, an offensive "Village Person" gay boss, was removed from Final Fight, and there's been some discussion about Poison, a Streets of Rage villain intended to be a transsexual. A DS game starring The Legend of Zelda's Tingle was not released in the US. Nor was Captain Rainbow, a Japanese game filled with offensive humor and profanity directed at lesser-known Nintendo characters. Catherine/Birdo is in this game [with a male voice] and is the butt of many jokes about her gender identity. She even swears.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=pl ... nlOYrf0PD0
Vivian, from Paper Mario, is also a character born male who identifies as female. Vivian is much less of a joke, but is considered female in the American version. Gracie, from Animal Crossing, is also considered female in the United States, but is a gay male celebrity fashion designer everywhere else.
But let's get back to Catherine/Birdo. Click here:
BS Super Mario USA is a very rare game only available in 1996 on the Satellaview, an add-on for the Japanese Super Famicom [SNES]. A coproduction with the St. Giga satellite radio station, the Satellaview, or BS-X, broadcast videogames via satellite, as well as magazines about Japanese stars and pop culture, and original radio programming which went along with the games. Most of the games broadcast were original in some way. There were Legend of Zelda games which didn't appear anywhere else- the first being a sort of SNES remake of the original Legend of Zelda, with different maps, and another, "Ancient Stone Tablets," being a sort of sequel to Link to the Past.
Obscure, sometimes independent games were broadcast on the BS station, including Radical Dreamers, a text adventure set in the Chrono Trigger series [which has been preserved and translated]. Games sold at retail might get unusual versions for the Satellaview. This being a CD-quality digital radio station, some broadcasts were hosted by Japanese personalities who might interact with Mario, Wario and pals. There were mini-magazines. There was a remake of Excitebike starring Mario characters.
Some of these games have been retained through people who saved their games at the time, and people clever enough to hack the roms to work on today's emulators. Many are lost. One hacker has brought the Satellaview's own built-in game back to some sort of life ...
The system had its own mascots, and you could select either a boy or girl character and walk around a town, which would lead you to the day's games.
Looking for games which begin with "BS" at Coolroms turns up plenty of results, and the Zelda games have been hacked and translated, with music added. Radical Dreamers has also been translated.
One game was made as something of a joke- a spaceship shooter using the Satellaview mascots, satellite imagery and in-jokes. It was made using Dezaemon, part of a fairly popular series of Japanese games which asked players to design their own shooter games.
A lot of effort was clearly put into the channel by Nintendo at the time. This blog is doing a nice job of finding and preserving what still exists in fan hands ....
Toad hosted a live voice-acted quiz show ...
http://superfamicom.org/blog/2009/06/sa ... /#more-515
... and Kirby made a few appearances.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=pl ... ZBJp7UFI_g
There's also the matter of the Mega Man-like Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman Zero.
I was always disappointed that the telephone-like expansion plugs on the US NES and SNES were never used for anything. Even in Japan they never got the long-rumored SNES-CD, but they did get this service, just as the internet was starting to replace the need for it. Online play was attempted for systems as early as Intellivision and the Atari 2600 in the early 80s, but was a bit too ahead of its time. There was no online play with the BS-X, but it certainly turned the SNES into its own TV station, and was popular at the time. I can see why ... it featured tons of original content. Sega Channel was nothing compared to this [although that had some rare original content too, such as a Mega Man remake, The Wily Wars].
Many Satellaview games are nearly impossible to emulate as originally broadcast due to "Soundlink" technology. These games could only be played at a specific time of day, and original voice acting and music would be broadcast over the radio station in sync with the game. In the Legend of Zelda games, the Old Man would talk to you at the beginning, and you would be carefully timed to complete the game objectives in about 50 minutes. Certain events would occur at specific times on the timer, and be accompanied by voice acting.
The audio for these broadcasts has sometimes survived on VHS tapes recorded at the time, however, the exception of one RPG game it is not "clean" and has game sound effects all over it.
BS Super Mario USA was a version of Super Mario Bros. 2 USA in which the goal was to retrieve gold statues of Mario. During each week's hour of gameplay, you'd hear voice acting by Mario, Luigi, Peach, Wart, Mouser, Clawgrip, Triclyde, FryGuy ... essentially a radio show which went along with the gameplay, accompanied by onscreen talking images of the characters. Apparently Peach gets more and more angry and eventually has to be bleeped out.
We learn a little more about Subcon. The King and Commander of Subcon appear here, two characters who only appear in this obscure game, and have speaking roles. The fairy-like Subcons themselves are also featured, drawn more clearly than I've ever seen them.
And then there's Birdo. So much Birdo. Birdo is all over the cutscene art. I count about nine new, big drawings of Birdo done specifically for this game.
The game was broadcast in four weekly episodes, and the title of the first episode specifically refers to the "Super Catherines." That is, there are three "Super Catherines" - Birdos - Red Catherine, Green Catherine, and the familiar Pink Catherine.
All three have male voices, although photos of the performers appear in the end credits and all three are dressed as and identify as female. The latter two seem to be onstage as drag queens. I don't know much about these voice actors.
Catherine Pink is Jun Donna, "slightly mischievous." Catherine Red is Rika, "whose household finances are always in the red." Catherine Green is Akemi, who "always acts cultured and affluent, with a strong personality."
Although I can't speak Japanese, the effect is of three comedic gay voices mocking the player, with a final countdown as the game ends. Green Catherine seems to have a very deep voice compared to the other two, as a further joke. Apparently it's also somewhat hard to understand what they're saying.
A beat-up Red Catherine [with the King, Commander and Subcons in a thought bubble] is shown over the credits.
Here's a video:
Mario: *pant pant*
Luigi: Bro, we did it.
Peach: You two were awesome there!
Mario: Thanks, guy! But I couldn't have done it without your help.
King: Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach. As a reward, I have prepared a splendid game for all of you.
Commander: I hope you'll all have fun.
Announcer: Welcome to the King's Casino. Listen to the following instructions well in order to play the slot machine well and enhance your enjoyment. If the first symbol you'll get is a cherry, then you'll win two coins. If the second symbol is a cherry as well, that gets you four coins. If all three symbols are cherries, you will win you six coins. Three of any other kind is four coins, and a triple 7 is 20 coins. You can play the game until time runs out as long as you don't run out of coins. There are other winning combinations as well.
Mario: "Our job in this dreamworld is over. You have all done a good job. I'm grateful! Until next time, farewell."
Announcer: "As the power of the star was restored, Subcon slowly vanished into thin air. Nobody knew what became of the King and the Commander. Even people who suffered there like Super Catherine (Birdo), still enjoyed their time in that place. But it's alright. As long people remember the King and the Commander, they will come back someday. They will always welcome Mario and his friends. Catherine and her friends will be treated better next time. We promise."
Mario: "We guaranteed it."
"I am Tōru Furuya, voice actor for Super Mario. I hope you enjoyed the game. Go go Mario!"
"I am Ichirōta Miyakawa, voice actor for Luigi. Did any of you get a triple 7 on the slot? It's not easy, isn't it?"
"I am the King, Chikao Otsuka. I may be small, but I'm truly a King where it counts."
And so on. It's a shame the entire broadcast hasn't yet been translated. It was probably comedic in nature throughout. Certainly Birdo and her gender identity is treated as a joke, in a not-for-kids way. Today, many transgender people would probably be offended - as with Captain Rainbow as well.
However, even though Catherine and gender confusion is treated as a joke, this version of the game has also clearly promoted her to a starring role. She's heavily featured in nearly all the cutscene art, more than any other character. And that's the thing about Birdo in general. Although treated, a bit cruelly, as a joke character, Birdo has always been a "star" nonetheless- the most popular character to come out of SMB2/USA, who kids and gamers loved then and still love now. And we knew back in the 80s that he identified as a she. And shot eggs.
The idea of three Catherines was actually resurrected, very subtly, for the Game Boy Advance remake of SMB2, Super Mario Advance. All three Birdos use a female voice, but the pink voice is higher and the green voice is deeper.
http://www.suppermariobroth.com/post/37 ... dvance-the
A Robo-Birdo was also present in this remake. Additional art of Birdo appears here, as it did in Super Mario Bros. Allstars [Collection].
In later games, Nintendo of America tried to promote the idea that Birdo is a she, and always was a she. This has only led to further confusion. In Mario Tennis, Birdo is given a female voice, and has been romantically linked to Yoshi. This hasn't stopped Nintendo of Japan from calling Catherine Yoshi's "boyfriend." It's fair to assume at this point that the American Birdo had an operation and has become more feminine with time. Previously something of a cruel punchline, Birdo remains a popular character, for the right reasons as well. The little jokes and digs about her gender identification aren't going to stop, but then neither is Birdo, who seems to be here to stay.
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http://www.suppermariobroth.com/post/38 ... the-london
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