This is part of a planned series of posts analyzing, discussing and generally having fun with Super Paper Mario, my favorite Wii game. If you find it ridiculous that I am performing literary analysis on a very cheesy Mario game, you should probably ignore this.
According to Wikipedia, a foil is “a character who contrasts with another character…in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character. A foil usually either differs drastically or is extremely similar but with a key difference setting them apart.” Following this definition, for each pair of foils, I’ll explain how they contrast or are similar, and then how they emphasize certain qualities in the other.
First of all, you can actually pretty comfortably draw parallels between the five central protagonists and the five main villains:
Tippi/Timpani and Nastasia
Tippi and Nastasia are actually quite similar. Both are close sidekicks; both are in love with Bleck/Blumiere; both are obedient to their leaders despite sometimes feeling uncomfortable with what they’re trying to accomplish – the key difference is that Tippi and Nastasia are on different sides. There’s also an interesting parallel in that Tippi (as Timpani) saved Blumiere (after he had fallen from a cliff) in the very first Blumiere and Timpani scene, near the beginning of the game, while Nastasia saved Bleck (from Dimentio’s blow) at the ending. (Though Bleck also saved Nastasia, if that’s how you interpret the bat story you hear in the Flopside café.)
So what do these similarities accomplish? They serve to emphasize the other important differences between Tippi and Nastasia – Tippi has strong opinions about right and wrong, and is bold to act on them; Nastasia doesn’t have strong morals and is hesitating and unsure about what to do, despite the fact that she does want to keep Bleck from destroying the world (though it may be more from her own desire to save him than from wanting to save everybody else). Tippi is also generally quite cheerful, optimistic and eager to act, while Nastasia is gloomy, wishful and, again, hesitating. Nastasia herself comments on their differences if you speak to her after the ending: “Maybe I’ll learn to smile again and look forward to the future…If I can’t…then I suppose I could never have matched up to Lady Timpani anyway…” This perhaps ties into one of the main themes of SPM – you should never give up hope. Tippi doesn’t, and she succeeds and is happy; Nastasia does – or, at least, she doesn’t do anything to try to accomplish what she hopes for – and she is unhappy in the end. Finally, Tippi’s character, made clearer by the contrast with Nastasia, also indirectly reveals more of Count Bleck/Blumiere’s personality – for instance, he must have been a strong-willed person for her to admire him and follow along with his plans.
Peach and Mimi
Peach and Mimi differ a lot, but in a parallel sort of way: Peach is honest, while Mimi is deceptive; Peach is polite, while Mimi is not; Peach gets lots of attention, to a ridiculous extent (how many times has she been kidnapped for reasons other than Bowser’s?), while Mimi isn’t so much – in fact, according to Carson, she was an unintended creation in the first place. However, they do still share some similarities: both are female, both are rather girly, and both are lower supporting characters for their different sides. In the end, it seems that these contrasts and parallels mostly serve to emphasize Peach’s niceness and Mimi’s nastiness.
(A side note: Within this game, Mimi changes form a lot, while Peach stays the same. However, rather amusingly, if you look outside SPM, Mimi – having only appeared in one game – is always the same, while Peach changes personality and looks a lot. Just look at her version in Super Mario Galaxy, in which she is rather less intelligent than she is in SPM – remember, everyone, if somebody comes along with a bunch of airships and whatnot and is trying to kidnap you, don’t, for heaven’s sakes, stand right outside on a balcony just WAITING to get captured. Go into the basement or something.)
Bowser and O’Chunks
Bowser and O’Chunks are rather similar – strong and perhaps not the most intelligent. That said, Bowser is naturally bad, while O’Chunks, it seems, is naturally good (he thinks a lot about honor and has a great respect for rules) – but they’re on the wrong sides. So what’s the point of these parallels? Perhaps just to further point out the amusing absurdity in this game in having so many people on the wrong sides. Or maybe to underscore their lack of intelligence. Or maybe to say that Mario and Peach were being as bad as Bleck when they manipulated Bowser into joining them, just like Bleck manipulated O’Chunks into joining him…
Luigi and Dimentio
This set of foils is probably the biggest stretch, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with literary analysis that’s a bit of a stretch, right? So, Dimentio is clearly self-centered, happy to betray both sides in order to achieve his own goals. Luigi, on the other hand, is fine with going through great annoyance and pain in order to serve his brother and Princess Peach, even when there’s a good chance he won’t even get acknowledged for his sacrifices at the end. (But he can be sure that he will get acknowledged by multitudes of Luigi fans.) Dimentio is also suave and cool; Luigi…not so much. And Dimentio has huge, far-reaching, multiverse-changing goals, while one does not get the feeling that Luigi does. Take the beginning of the game – Luigi is happy to be having a peaceful day with his brother. He does wish for some kind of “KERBLOOEY!” (to quote him) but then goes on to suggest the rather mundane idea of going to visit Princess Peach.
There are two big similarities. The first: both Dimentio and Luigi tend to be fearful in some ways, but manage to deal with their fears one way or another. Dimentio, you could say, is fearful of a direct confrontation with Count Bleck or the heroes – he relies on the heroes to put Count Bleck out of commission and then on his…creation?…Super Dimentio, fueled by the Chaos Heart, to deal with them afterwards. Luigi, now, is timid, but he still tries his best (arguably…) to save Princess Peach in the beginning and do whatever else he can to help the heroes. The second (and biggest) similarity is that both somehow betrayed their sides. Dimentio certainly did; Luigi did without meaning to as Mr. L after Nastasia brainwashed him. And then Dimentio, the great betrayer, was the one who “killed” Mr. L in order to return him to his proper Luigi form, ending that betrayal. Interesting.
Again, these contrasts and similarities underscore the traits of Luigi and Dimentio that they bring into parallel. They also lead to a bit of a theme going on about how it’s bad to be clever and scheming (like Dimentio), rather, there’s nothing wrong with being a bit fearful and awkward (like Luigi). Perhaps they also say that there is while nothing wrong with being fearful, there are right and wrong ways to deal with those fears. Dimentio uses schemery; Luigi just tries to be brave and faces them.
Mario and Count Bleck
These two are naturally foils to each other as the main protagonist and antagonist, though in the end, Bleck doesn’t provide the climactic struggle (Dimentio does), and Mario doesn’t win this climactic struggle on his own (since without the regenerated Pure Hearts provided by Tippi and Bleck and co., he couldn’t have won). Besides this curious business about them not really being the final hero or villain, there’s another similarity: both originally act out of love of some sort (Mario started the adventure by trying to save Peach; Bleck decided to destroy the multiverse mostly because of his foiled love for Timpani) but in the end act mostly because of destiny (Mario fights because he’s the only one who’s destined to be able to stop the destruction; Bleck continues with his plan because he thinks it’s his destiny, not because he really wants it to come through).
But these characters mostly contrast. Mario has no secrets or depth – he probably has the least depth of any of the main characters – while Bleck is one of the most secretive and complicated characters in the game. Mario is also lighthearted, even goofy (no worry or anger even when Sammer’s Kingdom is destroyed, for instance), while Bleck is often rather dark and gloomy. Curiously, though, Mario never laughs (even though he does say “Hi!” and “No no!” and “Me?” and so on) while Bleck is going “BLEH-HEH-HEH!” all the time.
As always, these contrasts underscore the relevant traits of each character, but perhaps the silliness of Mario in comparison to Bleck is one more way SPM pokes fun at its own seriousness. Then there are the interesting similarities in how they are motivated by destiny yet did not actually accomplish those final goals themselves. SPM already has a bit of a theme going on how prophecies and the like aren’t final and don’t actually determine what will happen in the end. So maybe through this similarity between Mario and Count Bleck, the game communicates that the point of prophecies, then, is to encourage the people they talk about to try for those things, as the Light Prognosticus encouraged Mario to try to stop Bleck, and the Dark Prognosticus encouraged Bleck to try to destroy the universe. So then SPM’s saying that prophecies aren’t actually true – they’re just meant to motivate people to try to follow them. Hmm. Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into this.
At any rate, there you have the five central foils of Super Paper Mario. They work out pretty well, don’t they? Besides those, there are a few more that I found. Yes, MORE!
Private Koopa and the manipulative goombas
Remember those scenes in Castle Bleck way at the beginning of the game where you play Peach and then Luigi trying to escape? Peach is accompanied by a very nice koopa called Private Koopa who even tries to defend her once Nastasia and co. find her, and who then is tragically brainwashed. (He was my favorite character from SPM for a while for no particularly good reason.) Luigi, on the other hand, is accompanied by two goombas who manipulate him into helping them and then promptly desert him once Nastasia finds them. Foils, wouldn’t you say? I, being a Private Koopa fan, as I said, say that the traitorousness of the goombas serve to further emphasize the goodness and self-sacrifice of poor Private Koopa, who I probably unwittingly and callously stomped on or fire-breathed for a few measly experience points and coins while going through Castle Bleck in Chapter 8. Sob.
Luigi and Mr. L
(By the way, this foil still applies even if you insist that Mr. L is not Luigi and is, say, Merlon instead – MeRLon, right? And they never appear at the same time! Anyhow, this is because the game does set up Mr. L and Luigi as being the same person – the truth aside – and so they can serve as foils.)
Mr. L, being a sort of alternate personality of Luigi, is naturally a foil to him. Luigi tends to be a bit nervous and insecure; Mr. L, now, is overconfident and absolutely sure that he and his Brobot can defeat the heroes once and for all. (Because Brobot, of course, “shoots missiles. Missiles!”) Luigi seems unimportant, at least at first, while Mr. L seems more important, if that’s mostly because he likes to talk about his own significance. So here we get an interesting exploration of what would happen if Luigi got over his weaknesses too much – they would turn into flaws themselves. Again, as I said under the bit about Luigi and Dimentio being foils, it is perhaps saying that there’s nothing wrong with being a bit fearful and awkward – the greater problem is not being fearful and awkward to too great an extent.
And there you have it – the foils of Super Paper Mario and all the incredible meaning contained within them!