[2012] Super Mario Bros. Z Episode 9, and the Slow, Tortuous Death of Fan Projects

Nerds of a certain age are highly likely to have seen Super Mario Bros. Z. If you liked video games and had internet access between the years of 2006 and 2009, you either watched Super Mario Bros. Z, or at the very least heard about it. There is very little on this Earth that exemplifies the late 00s more than a Newgrounds flash animation crossover of Mario and Sonic filled with anime fight scenes and chugga chugga guitar tracks.

However, this isn’t an 00s Retrospective series; this is about the 10s. And the only relationship with the 10s Super Mario Bros. Z has is that this was the decade wherein the whole project perished, and the world was taught a lesson on the folly of fan fiction passion projects.

Super Mario Bros. Z always faced the problem that its entire existence was owed to one man working for free. Alvin Earthworm, the quite talented series creator, did the writing, the direction, the animation, and even most of the custom spritework all by himself, with no chance of compensation. Solo or near-solo efforts on larger projects can work out well (see Stardew Valley and Undertale, whose creators are multi-millionaires now), but for a fan project? It can be a dicey proposition.

The series, as it grew and grew in popularity, grew just the same in scope and ambition. Each new episode was longer, the plot more “intense” (this is a Newgrounds flash animation so don’t expect Shane Black writing here), and the fights more inventive and dynamic. The first couple episodes were not too much more than your everyday average let’s-animate-a-DBZ-fight-with-Mario-sprites silliness, but once it got onto later episodes, especially everything starting with episode 5, things ramped up into action insanity.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Super Mario Bros. Z has some of the coolest action setpieces in 2D animation, and these are with friggin’ Mario sprites. I mean, LOOK at clips from these episodes:

Start at about 3:00
Start at about 23:00

Whereas the animation in actual Dragon Ball Z is mostly stilted and static aside from brief moments of energy, Super Mario Bros. Z cuts out all the fat and shows only the parts of fight scenes that you will actually care about seeing.

You simply don’t get this in traditional animation, or even much in CGI animation, because of the cost of actually animating all the action going on. When you use sprites taken and edited from video games, obviously things get a lot easier, but I imagine it’s still an incredible undertaking that Alvin Earthworm was able to pull most of this off.

The problem is that these really impressive fights are done in a Mario and Sonic crossover fan fiction, and the amount of effort needed to create each episode was far too much for anyone to consider a worthy use of time. And not saying fan fiction isn’t worth your time–I mean I wrote a 100-chapter Bowsette story—but it was clear the series was too much of a time sink to keep going with just one person at the helm working for free.

You can see a narrative form from the release dates alone:

Episode 5: February 2007

Episode 6: May 2007

Episode 7: October 2008

Episode 8: October 2009

Fan projects rarely succeed, and ones this big, ones with only one guy working at it, are almost universally doomed. And that’s OK. Alvin Earthworm grew in experience and used his impressive talent for ridiculous fight scene choreography to create an entire career out of it, and that’s what matters.

…Oh, uh, wait. No, he didn’t.

You see, I didn’t even know this until several years later, but he didn’t stop with Episode 8. He continued to work on Episode 9 for years, until finally, just to appease clamoring fans, he released “Episode 9 Part 1” in 2012, just an opening scene to what would come next.

The problem was, this was 2012.

I first found the series in like, 2006. I was in elementary school. When this episode came out in 2012, I was an ADULT! This is the case for practically anyone who followed the Super Mario Bros. Z series; we were just a bunch of silly kids, but the updates took so long that some of us already had kids by the time it ended.

Episode 9 didn’t come out, in the end, being canceled in 2013 with Alvin Earthworm citing time commitments and having written himself into a hole with the cliffhanger ending of Episode 8 (???). And that was fine. Sad, but fine.

Until he remade Episode 1 and released it in 2016.

Long, long after the point that anyone could possibly still be waiting for more Super Mario Bros. Z, we get a remake of Episode 1, to coincide with a new Patreon to support this new series. It’s still impressive stuff, I’ll admit, even better than the original series at creating interesting, dynamic fights. But the Patreon was almost immediately shut down by Nintendo because, well, it’s Nintendo.

And so this new series, supposedly filled with promise and hope for Alvin Earthworm, was over from the get-go. With no funding, there was no chance he could keep making new episodes, especially if they were going to all be as long as this new one. And so that was the final end of Super Mario Bros. Z.

…He’s still going, isn’t he?

Alvin Earthworm has essentially wasted an entire decade’s worth of his skills toiling away at a flash animation series that is long past the point of relevance. There is so much he could have done with himself, and he chose to work on Super Mario Bros. Z, almost exclusively, for the entire 10s.

And his folly is sadly not uncommon in the world of fan projects.

A very sad trend with creators of these sorts of niche, free passion projects is that they don’t get canceled abruptly. They fade away into the night like the flame on a candle, only instead of a gust of wind knocking that last bit of light away, it’s a post saying, “Update! I’m still alive!”

I’m singling out Alvin Earthworm because he is one of the most prominent examples, but he is far from the only one.

Take, for example, Tails Gets Trolled, one of the seminal ironic masterpieces of the early 2010s. The creator made a bunch and bunch of content, then slowed down a lot… then hiatuses took over… then the project eventually died and the creator started over brand new with… the same exact series but original characters now…? Then uncanceled years later??

Then there is the infamous Mother 4 fan game. Fan games are already one of the least productive uses of time for fans of any media, but there have been some legitimately incredible fan games (MFGG, lookin’ at you buddy), and Mother 4 genuinely looked like an amazing game. It even had a release target: Winter 2014! …It still isn’t out, and finally rebranded to Oddity and removed all Earthbound references so that it could be sold for actual money.

In almost all of these cases, the creators restarted their projects, with so much time having passed that they decided to go back and “do it right this time.” But their fanbases had already close to disappeared by then; did they really think anyone would care if they were starting from scratch all these years later?

It’s sunk cost fallacy meeting passion projects in a sad collision that ends up wasting more of the time these creators could have spent making something new and maybe even getting money out of it someday.

I’m certainly not above any of this. I know full well that I will one day return to Sandswept: The Squiddle Session, spending months and thousands of dollars on a project to a franchise so far past its popularity that its official sequel has to be funded via Patreon. Sandswept means so much to me that I couldn’t leave it unfinished forever. Maybe it’s a bit of a different story considering this comic has literally hundreds of pages of scripts, storyboards, and not-yet-used art assets, including multiple fully-designed walkaround minigames. But even so, any time I spent continuing Sandswept will have been time spent on a project nobody else will ever care about but its creators, and even knowing that I will surely do it anyway.

Therefore, I am not condemning any fan who tirelessly works on a project far past its point of relevancy out of sheer love for it. But when I see it from the outside, it always breaks my heart.

One day, perhaps, Alvin Earthworm will make something that is wholly original, and it’ll suddenly revive the whole sprite-animation-battle genre into the big craze hit of the 20s. I really hope that does happen because I am always in the mood for ridiculous anime fight scenes. But the fact we didn’t get that in the 10s is a small tragedy.

[2012-2013] Super Mario Dance Bros., Irony, and My First Semester of College

This is not a 2010s video. In fact, everything about it reeks 00s—All-American Rejects, Windows Movie Maker, 3D modelling and animation done by a teen in the pre-Gmod, pre-Blender era, and that overall since that a video like this could only ever have been created while George W. Bush presided over the U.S.

But Super Mario Dance Bros., one of the all-time greatest videos on Youtube, is part of the 2010s Retrospectives Series not because its own creation because of what it created in me.

Watch the video for yourself and watch what happens to the rest of your life:

Continue reading “[2012-2013] Super Mario Dance Bros., Irony, and My First Semester of College”

[2019] The Day Box Office Mojo Died

Nobody likes website redesigns. Even when the redesigns are pretty damn good and add some sorely needed features, like most of Youtube’s, there will always be a ton of complaints for a short time afterwards from people who aren’t yet used to the changes.

And it can get annoying when websites (namely those run by Google) are constantly updating, changing around visual design and icon placement and destroying your muscle memory a couple times a year for the sake of theoretically improving its layouts.

But there is one instance where a website redesign was done with malicious intent and ended up destroying an entire internet hobby, and that’s Box Office Mojo.

Continue reading “[2019] The Day Box Office Mojo Died”

[2013-2018] The Auralnauts Jedi Party Saga

2013 was the beginning of a renaissance for the Star Wars fandom. With the waning days of the post-Episode III Expanded Universe and the recent sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, things were about to change dramatically for the franchise and its massive fanbase. But in 2013, things were still simmering.

And with that simmering came the Auralnauts Jedi Party Saga…

Continue reading “[2013-2018] The Auralnauts Jedi Party Saga”

[2015] Almost Getting Into Steven Universe

I adore Steven Universe now; I think it’s one of the best TV shows of the 2010s. However, I only got into it in the Summer of 2018, when I was a NEET with far too much free time on my hands and lacking a TV show to eat breakfast to. The show started way back in 2013, so what the crap was the issue?

My roommates were the issue. In 2015, I very nearly got into Steven Universe thanks to them. And then I put it off for three more years, also thanks to them. Here’s the tale:

Continue reading “[2015] Almost Getting Into Steven Universe”

[2017] Sean Spicer vs. The Dots

Sean Spicer, one of the first goons of the current White House administration to get sacked for publicity and ratings reasons, has a strange animosity towards Dippin’ Dots, that bad ice cream you sometimes buy at water parks. Just to know that this tweet exists, and that this guy went on to be on Dancing with the Stars somehow, brings a bright LED light to my cold, robotic heart.

[2016] The Street Sharks Lie

This is barely an article, because it’s mostly just a link to another, amazing article with minimum reflection involved. But I wanted you to be very aware that this does exist: How I used lies about a cartoon to prove history is meaningless on the internet

A bored teenager used the power of bad wiki editing practices to cause the entire internet to become infected with a stupid lie that stayed pervasive for so many years that it took an entire article exposing it to get it to go away. It’s as scary as it is awesome, and it couldn’t have happened to anything dumber than friggin’ Street Sharks.

While Roxie the female Street Shark never existed, we can at least take solace in the show’s totally radical toy commericals.

[2016] Comfort With Jontron (And Betrayal, Naturally)

The only time in my life I can say I had anything resembling clinical depression was in Summer 2016. My semester at university had ended, my little baby brother had graduated high school, and I was free for three months to do whatever the hell I wanted until I went off to Nagoya, Japan to study there for a year.

But due to massive compounding anxiety and heartbreak as a result of being cheated on and emotionally toyed with as I struggled poorly to handle myself, I fell into a pretty dark place.

Continue reading “[2016] Comfort With Jontron (And Betrayal, Naturally)”

[2016] The Great Clown Panic of 2016 (lol)

I was studying in Japan for its entire duration, so I had absolutely no first-hand impact. But I remember vividly the laughably absurd mania that infected the entire United States for a couple months over friggin’ clowns.

What the hell was up with that?

Continue reading “[2016] The Great Clown Panic of 2016 (lol)”