The People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is expressing outrage over Mario's Tanooki Suit. That outrage is not only misplaced, but shows PETA's complete lack of cultural understanding—traditional or contemporary.
"Tanuki are associated with shape-shifting tricksters in folklore, and are also seen as symbols of good luck in Japanese culture," Yokai Attack author and game localizer Matt Alt told Kotaku. Tanuki in Japanese folklore are yokai, able to metamorphosize their shape, so it only makes sense that Mario could change into one.
In Japan, the tanuki is a real animal, but it's also a popular traditional character. Ceramic tanuki with their oversized testicles, often found outside businesses and homes, are the Japanese equivalent of garden gnomes or pink flamingos. It is against this background that Nintendo inserted the Tanooki Suit into Mario.
Yet, PETA isn't looking at this point of view. PETA is looking at this from animal cruelty—and also a way to drum up some free publicity. "I understand why they're trying to raise visibility of tanuki in general," said Alt. "But linking it to Mario is an epic culture misunderstanding."
Baby tanuki (evil?) in Shiga Prefecture, Japan. (Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku)
PETA launched a Mario Killes Tanooki, a bloody, skinned tanuki chases Mario. "Tanukis are real-life raccoon dogs who are beaten and, as PETA's undercover exposés show, often skinned alive for their fur," says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman.
Never mind that Mario is a video game and no animals were hurt whatsoever, PETA lacks any sort of consideration or sensitivity and simply lumps Nintendo in with animal cruelty, something that is mean, spiteful and cruel in itself.
By PETA's logic, the ceramic tanuki dressed in baby clothes swiped these outfits from infants, meaning that they should be reported for theft and perhaps even child abuse.
Nintendo, like many Japanese creators, often draws from traditional folklore representation of animals. Take StarFox—as Q-Games' Dylan Cuthbert recounted, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto wanted a fox hero because of the animal's representation in Japanese culture.
The Tanooki Suit, however, doesn't only play on traditional Japanese folklore, but modern popculture. As Alt told Kotaku, it's kigurumi, or a type of cosplay in which people dress up in animal or character suits.
"If PETA really wants to get mad," added Alt, "get mad about Monster Hunter." Because in those Capcom games, players hunt and roast monsters. Won't somebody think of the monsters?
(Top photo: Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku)