In the 1996 Nintendo game Super Mario RPG, a character named Mallow has the ability to read enemies’ thoughts during battle. This ability is called “Whatcha Thinking?” in Japanese and “Psychopath” in English.
These Japanese messages are brimming with Japanese anime, manga, and music references from the 1980s and 1990s – especially from around the time the Japanese game was being developed.
What are all these Japanese references? How did they get handled in translation? And why is happiness hip? Let’s take a look!
|"Yo, I'm Nokohei! Are you watching, Grandpa?!"||"Yo! What's going on?"|
This enemy’s message is a reference to Goku from the Dragon Ball series.
The first half of the quote is from an iconic line that plays at the end of every episode, just with the enemy’s name in place of Goku’s name. The second half is a reference to Goku’s dead grandfather, who Goku originally thinks has turned into a Dragon Ball.
The English Super Mario RPG quote appears to be a basic greeting that’s based on the first half of the Japanese line, but it doesn’t retain the reference or replace it with a different one.
Incidentally, I don’t think it’s possible to see this message via normal gameplay, because you lose access to Bowser’s castle well before you gain the ability to read enemy’s thoughts.
|"My hammer tonight is a little bit different, turtle-turtle."||"I love my hammer!"|
This Japanese enemy message is a play on a phrase that Goemon from the Lupin III series sometimes says: “My Zantetsuken tonight is a little bit different.”
The English version of Super Mario RPG changes this enemy’s line into a basic statement: “I love my hammer!”. The full translation wouldn’t have fit or been easily recognized, of course, but I feel like there was so much missed potential here. Even something as simple as “It’s HAMMER TIME!” might’ve worked.
|"How sexy your side profile is right now..."||"You're a model, right?"|
This Japanese enemy message is a direct quote from Akira Terao’s 1980 song, “Shadow City”. My guess is that someone on the Japanese writing team saw that this enemy’s name was “Shadow” and then just chose the first shadow-related pop culture reference that came to mind.
The English version of Super Mario RPG changes this line to “You’re a model, right?”. It’s clear that the translator understood the Japanese text, but didn’t understand the significance of the line. I don’t recall if the word “sexy” was a problem for Nintendo of America at the time, but if so, that might be why the line changed.
|"Hey, know what? Chūtarō has..."||"Squeek, squeek..."|
This Japanese enemy message is a reference to the opening lyrics to Shin Obake no Q-tarō‘s theme song, just with the enemy’s name, “Chūtarō”, in place of “Q-tarō”.
Without context, this enemy’s Japanese message seems almost meaningless and incomplete. In the end, the translator simply made the enemy go “squeek, squeek”.
|"Mustn't run away... Mustn't run away..."||"You can't run away! Ha!"|
This Japanese enemy message is a quote from Neon Genesis Evangelion, specifically the iconic scene in Episode 1 in which Shinji tells himself over and over that he mustn’t run away:
The Super Mario RPG translator seemed to understand the content of the Japanese line, but not the significance behind it. This is why the translation talks about not running away, but it’s now a comment directed at or about the player: “You can’t run away! Ha!”.
|"This character has no relation to any persons, living or dead. Any resemblance is purely coincidental."||"Don't confuse me with someone else!"|
In Japanese, this Donkey Kong-esque enemy is named ドソキーユング (Dosokī Yungu). The joke is that the name looks like a fake, bootleg version of Donkey Kong’s actual name: ドンキーコング (Donkī Kongu). The enemy’s message continues this joke by featuring a stock legal disclaimer.
The English enemy was changed to “Guerilla” – as opposed to “Gorilla” – as a way to keep the original intent intact. Due to text length limitations, the enemy’s legal disclaimer was dropped and replaced with something that still conveyed the joke.
|"O Lord, please forgive me, for I use neither gimmick nor trick."||"I've failed my King..."|
This Japanese enemy message is a direct quote of the main character’s transformation line in the Saint Tail manga and anime series. Saint Tail premiered in 1995, right during Super Mario RPG‘s development, so this is another example of how the Japanese game serves as a weird little pop culture time capsule from the era.
The Super Mario RPG translator didn’t seem aware of the reference, but understood that the quote was talking about a lord and was asking for forgiveness. The resulting translation became “I’ve failed my King…”.
From the Japanese wording, it’s pretty clear that it’s a religious line in nature, so my guess is that “Lord” was changed to “King” in order to better match the enemy’s jester appearance, or because “Lord” potentially went against Nintendo of America’s content policies in the 1990s. Either way, the English line appears to be a straightforward line and not a reference to anything.
|"Can happiness be obtained without sacrifice?"||"Happiness is hip!"|
This Japanese enemy message is a direct quote taken from Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, which debuted in 1992 and continued until 1998. Dr. Kusama, as he dies, asks his son this deep question. This short quote is probably one of the most iconic lines in the series.
The Super Mario RPG translator likely wasn’t aware of the anime reference, but still understood that the line was about happiness in general. The resulting translation changed the somber, philosophical line into the bouncier “Happiness is hip!”.
|"Can a new era be achieved without tragedy?"||"Peace is just a dream."|
This Japanese enemy message is also a quote from Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. In fact, it’s the very next line that Dr. Kasuma asks his son as he’s dying.
Again, I don’t think the English translator recognized this anime reference, but did understand that the line was about misfortune. The resulting translation became “Peace is just a dream.”.
|"Bullying? Bullying?"||"Ya trying to bug me?!"|
This Japanese enemy message is a reference to the Bonobono manga and anime series – more specifically, the famous catchphrase that Shimarisu-kun says all the time early on in the series.
Bonobono debuted in 1995, which puts it right around the time that Super Mario RPG was being developed, and right around the time the catchphrase took off.
As we can see, the Mukumuku enemy in Super Mario RPG looks a bit like Shimarisu-kun, so it seems the developers played off of that and inserted the reference as a fun gag for players to laugh at.
The English translator didn’t seem to catch the reference, but understood what the text was saying.
The Japanese phrase used here, ijimeru, can mean things like “bullying” or “teasing” or “harassing”. This is why the quote was translated as “Ya trying to bug me?!” in English, but I’d be surprised if more than a handful of English-speaking players understood why this enemy was given this text.
|"Oh, you're just the red one. Where's the green guy?"||"Red? What about Green?"|
This Japanese enemy message is an obvious reference to Luigi. The English translator recognized it and left the reference intact.
I wasn’t going to list this enemy message at first, but given that almost every other reference so far has been missed in translation, it seemed noteworthy to include.
|"Hit me and you will be punished when I go up in smoke!"||"I'm a mini-pulsar."|
This Japanese enemy message is a gameplay tip coupled with a light reference to Sailor Moon’s famous catchphrase, “In the name of the Moon, you will be punished!”.
The Sailor Moon series was fresh and super-popular in the mid-1990s, so this unique catchphrase was naturally parodied and referenced all the time in Japan.
As mentioned, the Japanese enemy message also acts as a gameplay tip: if you hit this enemy in battle, it’ll fly up into the air and explode, causing one party member to instantly die.
The English version of Super Mario RPG drops both the reference and the gameplay tip. The result is the straightforward, not-very-helpful sentence: “I’m a mini-pulsar”.
|"To~re tore pi~chi pichi."||"Look at THIS!"|
This Japanese enemy message is a direct reference to the classic commercial jingle for Kani Dōraku (“Crab Indulgence”), a seafood restaurant chain. The unusual phrase translates roughly into “fresh-caught and lively”, but sounds catchier in Japanese:
The English version of Super Mario RPG changes this line to “Look at THIS!”. My guess is that the English translator didn’t recognize the reference or understand what the Japanese phrase meant by itself.
|"omame kurikuri... kuri! jowa~"||"Me speak soft, BIG STICK!"|
Okay, so this one takes a bit of explanation to understand in Japanese.
First, Goombas are known as kuribō in Japanese. But these ones are mame kuribō – the mame part can mean “pea” or “bean”. Basically, the name indicates that they’re tiny kuribō.
Next, the Japanese word kuri by itself can mean several things, but its usage here suggests it means “rub” or “rubbing” in a circular fashion.
Lastly, the jowa~ part is a little harder to explain and pin down in translation, but it’s usually a sound effect for liquid seeping out of something.
Taken all together, this message can be read as something like “Rub the bean, rub the bean, rub, rub… rub! Splosh~“.
Of course, this is also all a play on the mame kuribō name, so it’s up to the player to decide what exactly is being said. Maybe it literally is just talking about rubbing some beans or cooking a juicy dish with beans and chestnuts. Or maybe it’s something less literal. Whatever the case, many Japanese fans are in the latter camp and find the quote both hilarious and shocking. Some reactions I’ve seen include:
How is this still getting a “suitable for all ages” rating?
Maybe someone thought middle schoolers wouldn’t get it.
This isn’t good
ROFLLLL What were they thinking?!
What led them to include text like that?
What’s the big deal? It’s a mame kuribō, so it’s just saying “mame this” and “kuri that”, that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with it.
On top of all this, the enemy’s message, which begins with omame kurikuri, is also a play on the Japanese phrase omeme kurikuri (“big, round eyes”). So there’s all kinds of stuff going on in this little quote.
Anyway, the enemy’s name changed in translation, and none of the original wordplay would’ve worked anyway, so the Super Mario RPG translator went with something totally different: “Me speak soft, BIG STICK!”. This is a reference to an old saying made famous by Theodore Roosevelt in 1900: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”.
So, in a surprising twist, this English line actually adds a cultural reference when the Japanese version doesn’t.
|"My beat keeps the rhythm!"||"Strike the pose!"|
To start off, this enemy’s Japanese name has some wordplay: hachi can mean “eight” but it can also mean “bee”, so the result is a name that means something like “Eight/Bee Beat” or “Eighth/Bee Note Beat”.
The enemy’s message in Japanese plays off of this “beat” theme by referencing a memorable line by Jonathan Joestar in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. I’ve seen it translated multiple ways into English, but here it is in Japanese:
The English translator didn’t keep the original reference intact, but seems to have replaced it with a reference to the Madonna song “Vogue” instead:
While I can see how the Japanese enemy name and the Japanese enemy message connect, I don’t feel the English enemy and the English enemy message connect quite as clearly.
|"I'mmm happiest when I'm sleeping."||"I just...wanna sleep."|
Belome is a boss enemy that appears twice in Super Mario RPG.
Belome’s first Japanese message is a reference to the Hadaka no Taishō Hōrōki television series – in particular, it mimics the kind of thing the show’s main character would say, and how he would say it.
Belome’s second message later in the game continues the reference, but changes it to another phrase that the TV show’s main character might say:
|"I'mmm also happy when I'm eating."||"Gotta yummy in my tummy!"|
The Super Mario RPG translator understood what the the words of these messages but not the significance. It’s understandable, though – it’d be hard to recognize these simple lines as references unless you grew up with classic Japanese television or were familiar with it in some other way.
|"You're ten years too early!"||"You're just a beginner!"|
This enemy is a little different from the others – it’s got a “martial arts battle against a dojo master” theme that spans three separate battles.
In this first battle, the Japanese enemy message is a direct quote from Virtua Fighter, a popular game in Japanese arcades at the time of Super Mario RPG‘s development. It’s one of Akira’s victory quotes, and although it’s not very unique in translation, the Japanese Super Mario RPG line matches Akira’s line 100% exactly in terms of specific wording and phrasing.
Again, this is one of many phrases in Japanese that basically means “you still need lots of experience”. This is why the Super Mario RPG translator went with “You’re just a beginner!” in the English release.
|"Evildoers do not deserve the Buddha's mercy!"||"Sympathy!? Not from me!"|
This Japanese enemy message is another direct quote from Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. It’s a unique phrase that appears on-screen in the middle of an exciting scene:
The Super Mario RPG translator understood that the Japanese line is about mercy or sympathy, so the resulting translation became “Sympathy? Not from me!”. This also strikes me as a straightforward translation and not a reference to anything of its own.
|"I've etched your hot fists into my mind! I'll now call you my rival (friend)!"||"Ooh! I'm gonna hurt ya!"|
This Japanese enemy message is unusual in that it actually spans two text boxes. Part of the line is also a reference to Fist of the North Star.
Basically, throughout the Fist of the North Star series, the main character encounters powerful enemies. But in the main character’s dialogue, the Japanese term 強敵 (kyōteki, "powerful enemy") is usually given the alternate reading of tomo (“friend”). We can see this at work in the manga:
Anyway, we can see in the Japanese Super Mario RPG quote that “powerful enemy” is given the alternate reading of “friend” in parentheses. Players familiar with the Japanese Fist of the North Star series would instantly recognize this reference.
I’m not sure if anything else in the Japanese Super Mario RPG quote is a direct reference to Fist of the North Star, but the writing at least fits the same style.
The Super Mario RPG translator cut the long Japanese text down to a single text box and changed the line to “Ooh! I’m gonna hurt ya!”, which I don’t believe is a reference to anything.
This enemy appears during a secret, optional boss battle against Culex, a Final Fantasy-themed enemy who’s surrounded by elemental crystals. In Japanese, the Wind Crystal’s enemy text isn’t an actual message – it’s just a made-up sound effect phrase that evokes the image of wind blowing.
It turns out that this windy phrase is from “Ettō Tsubame”, a popular Japanese song from 1983:
The Super Mario RPG translator seems to have caught on to the wind theme of the line with “Whhhhhhooooo…”, which seems to be a straightforward, windy “woosh” sound.
|"He's just a show-off. He's a small man."||"I tell ya, he's NOTHING!"|
This Japanese boss message – which comes from the floating lady enemy seen above – is actually another reference to Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s almost an exact quote, but one part was cut out, probably so it could all fit inside one text box.
The English version of Super Mario RPG keeps the base meaning of the original text intact with “I tell ya, he’s NOTHING!”, but the connection to Neon Genesis Evangelion is almost unrecognizable. Of course, Neon Genesis Evangelion didn’t get official English releases until a year after Super Mario RPG was released, so not many English-speaking players would’ve gotten the reference anyway.
|"Not yet. I'm not dead yet."||"Hey! We're not done yet!"|
There are two parts to this boss battle: first you battle a big dragon monster, and then it transforms into a skeleton dragon after it falls into the lava below.
The Japanese message for this second form is supposedly a loose reference to a line from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: “Not yet! I’m not done yet!”.
This line appears in the show after one of the main characters has taken tremendous damage, is miraculously still alive, and should really not be fighting anymore. It’s an iconic scene and an iconic line in the series, and it fits this same situation in Super Mario RPG.
The English version of Super Mario RPG keeps the basic meaning of the original line intact with “Hey! We’re not done yet!”.
It’s possible the part about dying was changed during localization to adhere to Nintendo of America’s content policies, but in an interesting twist, this change actually brings the line closer to the original Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam quote.
|"C'mon, just use me from the start..."||"It's a melee!"|
In this unique boss battle, Mario and friends fight and defeat a team of Super Sentai/Power Ranger-like enemies. Once the team members are defeated, they regroup and try to defeat the heroes using their giant axe robot.
The Japanese message for this giant robot isn’t so much a reference as a thought that has probably passed most fans of Super Sentai shows or the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series: why don’t they just use their giant robots first?!
The English version of Super Mario RPG changes this enemy’s message to “It’s a melee!” for some reason, but I’m not sure why.
|"KANI KANI doko KANI."||"I'M NOT A CRAB!!"|
This enemy’s message is a direct reference to a line in the classic Famicom game, Sanma no Meitantei. The game stars the legendary Japanese comedian Sanma Akashiya, who also helped design the game. As you might expect, the game is full of comedy, jokes, and puns.
One example of the silliness in Sanma no Meitantei is the search cursor. Instead of the normal cursor arrow you’d expect in a Famicom detective game, it’s a crab. And every time you use the crab to look for something, the text kani kani doko kani? appears.
It’s hard to translate kani kani doko kani into a single line, but it’s basically wordplay involving the words “crab” and “where”. And since it’s a detective game, this “crab/where” line appears very often – enough to become an in-joke among Japanese gamers at the time.
In the English version of Super Mario RPG, this crab enemy’s message changed to “I’M NOT A CRAB!!”.
Based on personal experience, my guess is the translator saw the Japanese line, didn’t recognize the reference, and went for a straightforward translation. One plain interpretation would’ve been along the lines of “In what way am I a crab?!” or “I’m not a crab!”.
|"Tsun tsuku tsuku tsuku tsu~~n."||"Shikashikashika~~!"|
This Japanese enemy message is a reference to a classic comedy routine parodying a famous Japanese piece of music, combined with the sound effect of something being poked.
First, here’s “Haru no Umi”, a piece of music that’s famous in Japan and gets played all the time, especially during the New Year’s holiday season. The opening is especially well-known and iconic:
In the 1970s, the Japanese comedians Shirō Itō and Masao Komatsu performed comedy routines that featured this iconic intro. Part of the routine involved recreating “Haru no Umi” with nonsense words like “tsun tsuku tsuku tsuku tsun”:
So here we have Japanese Super Mario RPG enemies reciting these joke lyrics… but why? In Japanese, tsun tsun and tsuku tsun also evoke the image of poking, jabbing, or stabbing something. These enemies carry giant forks around, so it’s a logical fit.
The English version of Super Mario RPG changes this line to “Shikashikashika~~!”. I’m not sure if this is a reference to anything specific, but it does make me think of something getting skewered over and over.
|"Kiii ukiii! You're that baby from that one time!?"||"That's...my child?"|
This Japanese enemy message is a reference to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, in which this Magikoopa foe kidnaps Mario and Luigi when they’re babies. The Magikoopa accidentally drops baby Mario and struggles throughout the game to recapture him.
In the English version of Super Mario RPG, the connection to Yoshi’s Island is somewhat broken: “That’s…my child?”. My guess is that the translator wasn’t aware of the Yoshi’s Island connection and didn’t have sufficient context for the line.
|"There is nothing more to be said."||"It's all over now..."|
In Japanese, this boss enemy’s message is a direct quote from Mobile Suit Gundam 0083. Specifically, it’s during a memorable battle scene between two skilled pilots, Anavel Gato and Kou Uraki.
The Japanese phrasing is a bit unique and sounds like something you’d hear from a stoic, experienced warrior or samurai-like character. It sounds both cool and memorable, so it’s no surprise that the Super Mario RPG writers thought of it when designing this samurai-themed boss.
The English version of Super Mario RPG goes with “It’s all over now…”, which I remember confused me when I recently replayed the game. It almost makes it sound like the boss is giving up, although I see how it could be interpreted differently. In any case, I don’t get the feeling that the English version is a reference to anything.
|"I don't know what kind of face to make at a time like this."||"Get outta my face."|
This enemy’s Japanese message is another direct quote from Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’m not really sure why this quote was chosen for this enemy, except maybe its vague resemblance to Rei or maybe because the enemy is amoeba-like and is mostly featureless.
The English version of Super Mario RPG drops the reference and changes the line entirely. It looks like the translator understood that the line was about faces, but created a new line rather than a translation of the original.
|"Nin nin nin nin nin nintomo kantomo."||"Wooo HOOO! I'm a FOO!"|
This Japanese enemy message is a reference to the classic Ninja Hattori-kun manga and anime series. The reference comes in two parts.
First, it’s common for ninjas in lighthearted Japanese entertainment to say nin-nin when sneaking around. It’s not a real word or anything – it’s just the nin in ninja and gives off the general idea of “stealthiness”. It goes without saying that Hattori-kun says it all the time. In fact, he makes non-stop nin-based puns throughout the series.
Next, one of Hattori-kun’s unique phrases is nintomo kantomo, which is a nin-ified version of nantomo kantomo (“can’t really put into words”).
The connection between this Super Mario RPG enemy and Hattori-kun is pretty clear – not only are they ninjas, but the Japanese enemy name is literally “Ninja-kun”.
The English version of Super Mario RPG changes this ninja enemy’s line completely to “Wooo HOOO! I’m a FOO!”. I don’t know if there’s any significance behind this new line, but I feel like the rhyming words were inspired by the repetitiveness of the Japanese line and the way that nintomo and kantomo feel rhyme-like too.
|"I'm not piloting it by choice either..."||"This is a drag..."|
Here we have another Japanese enemy message that’s a direct quote from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Throughout the series, Shinji has to pilot a giant mech even though he doesn’t want to. It seems the Super Mario RPG enemy is forced to ride on a giant hippo monster against its will too.
The English version of Super Mario RPG changes the line and drops the reference. The new line is now “This is a drag…”, which appears to be a straightforward translation of the original line, rephrased and condensed down to fit within a limited amount of memory.
|"Mario! I have returned!!"||"Mario! I'm BAAAAAAAACK!"|
Late in the game, previous boss enemies show up again as mass-produced standard enemies.
In Japanese, this mass-produced enemy’s message is another reference to Mobile Suit Gundam 0083 quote. Like before, this quote is said by Anavel Gato during an important battle scene. It does sound pretty generic in translation, but the minute details in the Japanese quote are indeed preserved in the Super Mario RPG line.
The English version of Super Mario RPG translates the line in a straightforward way: “Mario! I’m BAAAAAAAACK!”. I originally thought this might be a reference to an American movie or something too, but couldn’t quite place it. Then some readers reminded me of the famous “they’re baaaaack” line from Poltergeist II: The Other Side:
I remember that this quote was everywhere around the time Poltergeist II came out, but I never expected to see it in a Nintendo game!
In Japanese, this boss enemy’s message is a reference to the 1981 film Sailor Suit and Machine Gun.
The quote in question occurs during the climax of the movie. After the main character blasts her rivals away with a machine gun, she says kaikan (“a wonderful/pleasurable feeling”) with an enraptured voice. I’m not sure why this Super Mario RPG enemy was given this line, though.
In the English version of Super Mario RPG, this line changed to “Sh…sho…shocked!”. Without context, the sound effect part at the start of the Japanese line could instead be interpreted as a zapping, electrical shock sound. I believe that’s where “Sh…sho…shocked!” comes from. The rest of the text was dropped, as we can see.
|"AI WA KATSU."||"Love conquers ALL."|
This enemy’s Japanese message takes a bit of work to explain.
First, the enemy’s name is “Kan”. In Japanese, kan is a sound effect word for something that’s loudly clanking or banging. And since this enemy is a living hammer, the name fits.
There’s also a Japanese musician named “KAN” who was incredibly popular in the early 1990s for his song, “Ai wa Katsu”, which means “Love Will Win”. The song was a huge success, sold millions of albums, and became one of the representative songs of the early 1990s.
So, because the enemy’s name is so close to the musician’s name, the game’s writers inserted some extra humor by referencing KAN’s “Ai wa Katsu” song.
The English version of Super Mario RPG keeps the basic meaning of the original line intact with “Love conquers ALL.”, but the significance of the line is lost in translation.
I’ve worked on lots of translations filled with Japanese pop culture references, and I can honestly say they were some of the hardest challenges I’ve ever faced. As a translator, sometimes you’ll get notes and info about pop culture references, but – at least in my experience – a lot of the time it falls entirely on you to recognize them all.
Then, even if you do recognize a reference, there’s still the problem of how to handle it: keep it as-is, try to find an equivalent reference in English, write around the reference, or write something else entirely? That’s an entirely separate challenge that I’ve given a dedicated article of its own.
Anyway, this is all to say that the Super Mario RPG translator faced one of the toughest challenges in the trade, had to work with tight deadlines and limitations, and didn’t have modern Internet access to research any of these pop culture references. Even now, with Google and YouTube and Wikipedia and all that, it took me weeks to track down everything in this article.
Looking back, I can definitely see that Internet growth has changed the translation industry. I can almost hear pre-Internet entertainment translators grumbling things like “in my day, we used to translate uphill both ways”. I guess this is all a good example of why entertainment translators need to study more than just language – they need to study entertainment too, both new and old.
We’ve only focused on enemy messages in this article, but I’m sure the game’s main script is filled with little references here and there too. It’s also possible that other enemies have subtler references that aren’t as well known. If so, I’d like to cover them someday, but for now I’m just happy I was able to learn so much and discover how wild the Japanese developers got. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this pop culture bonanza too!
If you enjoyed this article, check out some of my other Super Mario RPG articles here. You might also like my look at how Bubsy was localized into Japanese - it's sort of the reverse of what happened in this article. And then there are all the secret pop culture references hidden in the Japanese version of Zero Wing!