Nintendo has had its fair share of franchises adapted to other mediums, like the live-action Super Mario Bros. movie, the infamous Legend of Zelda cartoon, the solid Kirby anime, and the upcoming CG Super Mario film from Illumination (or a rumored new Donkey Kong animation). The quality of these adaptations, especially the older ones, has been mixed at best so far, but video game adaptations have been seeing greater success in recent memory. Netflix’s Castlevania is a critical darling, and with more on the way such as Blood Dragon and Cuphead, it reignites wonder of what Nintendo could do in the animated space. As an avid anime fan, I specifically imagined putting Nintendo’s treasured properties in the hands of talented Japanese anime studios. This is what I think Nintendo franchises could look like as anime adaptations.
Splatoon – sports anime
Splatoon fits the mold of a Japanese sports anime to a T with its colorful cityscapes, youthful teen characters, and a unique hook. In this series, the core characters could be placed in a high school environment where they compete in a team sport akin to the typical matches played in the Splatoon games. Since matches are team-based, it would give the anime potential to create a wide cast of characters with unique personalities and room for personal and skill-based growth. To date, an official Splatoon manga with a short anime adaptation already exists, but the Splatoon anime is mostly just the manga panels with music and voice-over added on top.
Popular sports anime like Haikyu!! focus on a single sport and let their central characters develop through progress in matches and tournaments against rival teams and schools. A hypothetical Splatoon anime could follow this template and let viewers follow the progression of an original Inkling protagonist. This character would create friendships and rivalries, learn to become better at the sport, and more. Climatic matches against teams from other schools could cap off heated tournament storylines, culminate in emotional payoffs, and bring tense action scenes to life with fluid animation. Fan-favorite characters from the games could even make cameos. Shopkeepers may play recurring roles in providing our heroes with better equipment, and the Squid Sisters could host concerts to celebrate the team winning a tournament.
The Legend of Zelda – somber adventure anime
Given that Link is a perpetually mute character, an anime studio would need to take a different approach to tell this Nintendo story. It would have to be an anime where actions speak louder than words. Environmental storytelling and the behaviors of Link could carry the plot forward. Dilapidated ruins might provide a sense of history, and Link’s stinginess with using his arrows could infer that he’s concerned about having a lack of rupees. Studio Ghibli would be my ideal pick to take on the job thanks to its often-masterful animated films that are brimming with ambience and delicate character moments. For an idea of how that would look, we already have talented fans to thank:
In a broad sense, this anime could follow Link and Epona as they venture throughout Hyrule and other undiscovered locales. With an episodic format, each episode could showcase a one-off story for the green elf. Episodes could display different sides of Link such as how he handles a difficult social encounter or grows through challenging battles, or they could even just flesh out the lore of the world. Anime in this vein are rare, but they do exist and could serve as valuable inspiration. Kino’s Journey and Girls’ Last Tour for instance are somber and mostly episodic stories that weave narratives around characters with less of a focus on dialogue and much more attention paid to the atmosphere, actions, and environmental storytelling.
Metroid – sci-fi anime
You might think that anime such as Gundam Wing or Legend of the Galactic Heroes could serve as useful shows for a Metroid anime to learn from, but I’m going in a different direction. Instead, I think that a Metroid anime could be better served by taking inspiration from anime classics like Cowboy Bebop. Cowboy Bebop follows a ragtag crew on various adventures in space, without much of an overarching narrative for most of its runtime.
We already have ample games that have explored some of Samus’s most deadly missions. But what is she doing in-between those eventful periods? While some episodes could still focus on battles against Metroids and other threats, this anime series represents a chance to explore uncharted territory for her character. An episodic structure akin to Cowboy Bebop would do wonders in fleshing out both Samus and the wider Metroid universe. That could mean seeing her interact more with the Galactic Federation, going on missions with other bounty hunters, or even seeing how she trains or enjoys some downtime. A Metroid anime is a chance to add great depth to this series, and I’m sure long-time fans would appreciate that.
Super Mario – slice-of-life comedy anime
Mario is a plumber of few words, so you may wonder how an anime adaptation of Nintendo’s signature mascot could work. In practice, the answer is to change the format and turn it into a comedy aimed at all ages (not entirely unlike the old cartoons). Anime such as Nichijou demonstrate how slapstick and off-the-wall humor can work with little spoken dialogue, and Super Mario could be a fit for this style too. Rather than repeated storylines of Mario saving Princess Peach, this anime might work better with one-off stories that have fun with the antics of the Mushroom Kingdom’s main characters.
One episode might focus on a food shortage in Princess Peach’s castle, causing Mario and Luigi to have to go shopping in strange places. Perhaps the duo might encounter old enemies turned into allies such as King Bob-omb or help Rosalina fix her spaceship. Getting really meta, a single episode could even have our core cast playing a board game similar to the Mario Party series. Another storyline might see our characters learning how to drive karts and explain the origins of Luigi’s death stares. A Super Mario anime series would be filled with whimsy and ample opportunities to get creative and self-referential with the franchise.
Kid Icarus – shonen battle anime
Famous Shonen Jump-produced series such as Dragon Ball or My Hero Academia often utilize a familiar formula. A main character tackles increasingly more powerful threats, emerges victorious each time, and grows in strength and character as a result. Pit could easily fill this role in a Kid Icarus anime. With Palutena as his mentor and Dark Pit serving as a reoccurring rival character, a Kid Icarus anime series would be an action-packed adventure with a structure familiar to most anime fans.
Pit could obtain new powers through his struggles against Medusa’s forces and build up a group of allied angels to take the fight back to the underworld. Think of it as the Rebel Alliance versus the Galactic Empire. By introducing new allies to Pit, the anime could even help set up future plot threats for a potential game to come. The Greek mythology-inspired setting of Kid Icarus is also begging to be explored in greater detail. A Kid Icarus anime could be the ideal opportunity to introduce other deities such as Hercules or Hermes. So long as we witness Pit’s growth from zero to hero and get to see more of Nintendo’s fascinating take on Greek mythology, a Kid Icarus anime has a lot of potential.
Which Nintendo IP would you like to see adapted to anime?