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Episode 41: "The Mark of Zero"

CARTOON SUMMARY

The title is probably a discreet reference to how much the scriptwriter is being paid, as this is one of the most dialogue-deprived eps around. But that's actually a good thing, come to think of it (as the dialogue always gets rubbish after some time). Anyway, Mario and friends have traveled to El Desertland where they're hoping to find the fabled masked hero Zero, in order to enlist him as an ally against Koopa. We must've had this kind of plot set-up about ten times before. Must be the force of habit on behalf of the writers or something (either that or it's lack of imagination). We find the Mario bunch trekking through the desert on an ostrich-driven giant sombrero, with badly-drawn gushes of sweat running down their faces (which ruins their Max Factor make-up). In a shot where the animators embarrassingly forgot to draw the sweatdrops, Luigi complains that this Zero is one hard to find person, after which Toad gravely insults the ostriches. The ostriches are so upset by this that they begin to switch colors (animation gaffe extraordinaire) and then stop dead in their tracks. But the sight of a nearby taco stand sets them back in motion, and they trundle towards the resto at an intermediate pace. However, Koopa is observing them, and muses: "won't they be surprised when I Koopalize them...". Well, anyone'd be surprised if you did something like -that- to them, Koopa.

Mario and co have now arrived at the taco stand, where a girl with a huge ponytail and a rather irritating voice gives them a not so warm welcome. Just when Mario has pronounced his wish to stuff his face big time, Koopa makes his appearance. Nota bene: he's dressed in full admiral's attire, with a groovy hat, fake moustache and a big dose of Tati jewelry, but he has left his feet (and legs for that matter) totally nude. Odd. Anyway, the taco girl is terrified of "El Koopitan", so she rapidly runs away. Koopa's troops then charge at the Mario gang. Against such an onslaught, they can only cower in their wagon and hope that the Troopas kill themselves. It doesn't work, however, as Mouser (who's also wearing a pretty cute costume) begins to lob pieces of a cactus at them, and the never-ending onslaught of Troopas ends up surrounding them and pointing big sticks at them. Everyone is mildly concerned, but then -shock!- a cheesy song begins to play in the background (which concerns everyone intermediately), and the one and only Zero makes his flashy appearance (mask, cape, big hat, it just lacks the rose and the Tuxedo Kamen theme music). Zero immediately starts to give Koopa a taste of his own medicine by eliminating a large part of his troops with a display of nimble whip techniques. He then engages in a one-on-one duel with Mouser. As their badly-drawn rapiers clash, the battle is decided by Zero's superior cactus-chopping skills (it's so boring even Zero yawns, twice). But Koopa then sneakily pins Zero to a cactus with some quickly-hurled projectiles, and while the Marios are cowering from a barrage of cactus-bullets, Zero is tied up in old Dim stockings and taken away by the Koopa posse. Terror all round; Zero's been captured (big deal, why does Koopa never try to actually kill anyone?).

After this, the fearsome El Koopitan begins to terrorize the population of El Desertland; he forces them to hand over their genetically-engineered radishes and collects ludicrous taxes. The only way to stop these horrors is to find Zero, according to Mario. But during a chat with el mayor, it's explained that the people just can't be bothered to help someone as stupid as Mario, and the mere mention of El Koopitan causes them to run off, shrieking in panic. And when Koopa himself appears on the scene, Mario naively counts on the support of the people, only to find that they have long since pushed off. Maz and Lui try to hold off Koopa's troops by hurling radishes at them. A Troopa frightens the princess, whose voice actress bravely tries to emulate a howl of panic (it goes hilariously wrong). Mario kills the offending Troopa and Luigi goes off to fetch the escape wagons, but all to no avail. Luigi is ambushed by some sneaky Troopas, and the others have run out of veggie ammo, which leaves them defenseless and surrounded. And to make things even worse, a natty dubbing error occurs: while the Troopas fondle Luigi's armpits, he protests without moving his lips. Staggering. Que some gloating from Koopa, who thinks the battle's won. He's wrong, however. While all the Troopas just leisurely stand around and do bloody nothing at all, Mario strolls over to a cart full of tortilla pancakes and begins to lob them at the Koopa clan. The Troopas, who were still in the middle of their staring session just stand there and let the flying tortillas gruesomely kill them. Koopa is also knocked off his ostrich by a killer tortilla, which decides the battle; the nasties make a run for it, with a lousy colouring freak-up on Koopa's eyeballs (I said eyeballs). The annoying mayor then explains to Mario that the folks of El Desertland deserted them so cowardly during the last battle because the concept of Zero missing in action freaks them out totally.

This gives Mario an idea, so the situation has just gotten worse. Koopa, meanwhile has decided to launch another attack on the boring town, and orders a Troopa to "give Mouser the signal". The Troopa in question rips a traffic light from the ground and throws it off in the distance, where Mouser catches it. That traffic light thing is supposed to be a joke. Hoo-hargh. Anyway, when Koopa's forces are once again menacing that population of El Desertland, -suddenly!- Mario and Luigi pop up wearing Scapa hats and stocking over their eyes. Everyone somehow thinks that Mario is Zero, and Luigi is his sidekick "Zero plus one" (I haven't laughed so much since my appendix operation). After launching a whole cartful of radishes at the meanies, Mario then begins to massively kill the Troopas by painting O's on their shirts with his whip (don't ask, I didn't write this garbage). It helps that none of the Troopas actually move. Luigi also murders his fair share of Troopas, only he writes "O + 1" on their garments. Like, totally hysterical. The mayor and a few bystanders then begin to run around and recite a boring monologue. Since all their forces are being killed by this intensely cretinous strategy, Mouser reasons it might be better to retreat, and in his limitless moronity, he blatantly reveals the location of Koopa's no-longer secret fort. An annoyed Koopa slaps Mouser with his handbag and calls him names while they run away en masse. Everyone is dead chuffed that they've whipped the arses of the Koopa clan, and Mario and the gang now know where Koopa's quarters are, so they can go and free the real Zero and soundly kick Koopa in the castagnettes.

Only, it won't be so easy, as a thick cactus wall surrounds Koopa's place. No problem, Mario and Luigi just fly over it. Yup, they fly. See, they're wearing these capes as part of their "costume", so they can....uhm, somehow, they can just fly. I dunno, the writer was probably so doped on crack, he thought anything could fly (or he was an esper who could see into the future and have visions of the cape from Super Mario World). Never mind if the plot makes no sense, Maz and Lui are in the fortress now. Mario: "Here they come, Luigi!". Nothing happens. The Mario bros are then caught in a spotlight, and they begin to dance a marshmallow patchouli for no reason at all. A gang of Troopas then storms at them, but Mario quickly kills them with his whip, and Luigi causes a few of them to kill themselves. To finish off the remaining ones, Mario chops down a part of the wall which crushes the hapless turtles. So, since when can you chop down cactus walls with a whip? And if they could just destroy the wall, why did they need to fly over it? And just what in hell has the writer been sniffing? Finally, Koopa and Mouser are killed off with an ingenious trip-wire, which causes them to hurtle nose-first into stingy cactus plants. They run off in horror, and the real Zero is freed in as little as 2, 35 seconds time.

Now that all is well with the world again, the Mario gang head back to the taco stand for a mondo hacienda, and to their surprise, they discover that Zero's true identity is none other than the irksomely-voiced girl who runs said taco stand (just another cross-dresser in the SMBSS cast). They agree to keep her transvestite tendencies a secret in return for tons of food, which they find simply hilarious. They're easily amused.

WHAT'S GOOD?
  • Loadsa groovy costumes; Koopa, of course, in funky duds, with Mouser and the Troopas clad similarly, plus Mario and Luigi's Zero-impersonating routine.
  • Neat enough plot twist at the end, with Zero's real identity. Okay, we all saw it coming, and cross-dressing characters are hardly a novelty anymore, but still....
  • Lots of action, running around and smashing things up, with Maz and Lui working as a team in the later battles.
  • The Mexican flavor is quite nice.
WHAT'S BAD?
  • Some irritating animation and voicing goofs.
  • Quite a few parts of the plot make absolutely no sense, no matter how you look at it. The scenario is about as solid as a sheet of toilet paper in a tidal wave.
  • Every attempt at humour falls flat on it's face so hard it must break it's nose.
  • The character's are drawn rather poorly in some shots.
  • The timing is just hopeless, with the notorious stand-there-and-stare syndrome plaguing the Troopas; why the heck do they just stand around and simply let Mario kill them, without moving a muscle?
  • The taco-girl's voice gets terribly grating.
OVERALL
Well, it's not so bad, really. There are good points to enjoy, but also bad points to hate. Basically, it's neither absolute brilliance nor total horridness. The terribly poor scripting, so-so animation and hopelessly clumsy witticism are counterbalanced by the nice costumes, mucho action scenes and amusing ending. Nice enough to warrant a look, but nothing outstanding.

EPISODE RATING: 2.5/5.0

LIVE-ACTION SEGMENT
Panic all round; the notorious inspector Clean from the board of sanitation is coming round for an inspection on the Mario's place. If it's their sanity he wants to check, he's wasting his time. But actually, it's a hygiene inspection, so the building needs to be in squeaky clean condition for them pass. But due to Mario's bumbling, the place ends up in anything but a squeaky clean state. Plus, a monster is on the loose; it's a wad of carrot salad with two slices of lime for eyes, and it's called Claude. No, really. Inspector Clean then pops by, and he's a hysterical girly with sadist tendencies, who gets major kicks from the concept of evicting the Mario Bros on account of their rubbish building. While Cleansy is prancing around, the Rattigator pops up and eats his wig (yes, he wears a wig as he's really bald as a coot). Things are looking grim, as at that moment, the monster Claude decides to install himself on the poncy inspector's egghead. What to do now? Luigi rescues the wig from Rattigator's jaws, and they plan to put it back in it's right place, but it all goes gruesomely wrong, which angers the inspector so much that he wants to evict the bros sito presto. However, they are saved by a tremendously imbecile plot twist; the effect of Claude the carrot-monster sitting on the inspector's head has somehow caused his real hair to grow back. How? No clue. But anyway, Clean's dead chuffed to no longer have a head like a deo-roller, so in a good mood, he decides that the Mario brothers pass the inspection after all, and flutters away. Phew.