Oct. 2, 1950, the first Peanuts comic strip ran in seven newspapers. Since then, Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang have become cultural icons, as synonymous with American culture as baseball, apple pie and the paintings of Norman Rockwell. Charlie Brown’s animated exploits are now an indelible part of our holidays, and rarely does a Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween go by without the likes of Linus, Snoopy and Peppermint Patty performing their yearly rituals on our television screens. Even before passing away from the complications of colon cancer in February of 2000, Charles Schulz, creator of Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang, was an American legend.
However, it seems that the unlucky kid in the yellow shirt and his precocious beagle have been an inspiration to more than just the people of the United States.
According to Phil Sandhop, head of the unreleased English translation of Mother, Itoi’s game was designed to have a Peanuts “feel” in both the graphics and gameplay. Apparently, it was the programmers’ intent to make Mother seem more authentically American by alluding to one of the United States most cherished creations. After all, what could be more American than good ol’ Charlie Brown?
“I don’t believe that [Mother] was meant to directly copy Peanuts,” Sandhop explained in an interview with the retro-gaming website The Lost Levels, “but that’s what the designers knew the typical Japanese game player would perceive to be a typical American boy growing up outside a small town.”
But the similarities aren’t limited to just Ninten and the game’s landscape: One look at some of the other inhabitants of the world of Mother conjures memories of Chuck and the gang as well. One female character Ninten encounters during his journey wears glasses and has short, black hair, just like Peppermint Patty’s yes-woman, Marcie. Another character is surrounded by a perpetual cloud of dust and has a mass of unkempt, “naturally curly” locks. He (or possibly she) is a cross between Fredia, a girl who appears briefly in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Pigpen, a chronically filthy yet perpetually polite young man of the Peanuts universe.
In Earth Bound, the Marcie look-alike sports pigtails instead of her old, Schulz-inspired hairdo, and the Pigpen-like character has cleaned up his act, losing the dust cloud completely. As Sandhop said in his Lost Levels interview, the revisions were probably made during the translation process to “make the game Peanut-less,” for fear that a Schulz lawsuit might spring up otherwise. Yet, in a seemingly counterproductive move, Ninten was reworked to receive a very Charlie Brownesque stripe on his shirt. (Good grief, Nintendo! Make up your minds!)
One of the hallmarks of Schultz’s comic is the fact that the youngsters often act like the adults, revealing deep thoughts and saying poignant words, yet they still display the qualities inherent in all children. While kids in the Peanuts world drag around security blankets, play football, and worry about homework, they also ponder the true meaning of life in very mature ways.
Once again, Itoi takes a page out of Charlie Brown’s book with the children of Mother. While they are saddled with the gargantuan task of defeating an evil alien presence, just like the Peanuts gang, Ninten and his friends still find time to interact with other kids their own age, enjoy a home cooked meal, go to school and develop their first crushes.
Part II: “I don’t believe in pain.”
Itoi has definitely applied this philosophy to his own life. Through much of the 90s, Itoi put his heart and soul into crafting Mother 3, even moving it to the lesser Nintendo 64 platform when the company abandoned the N64 Disk Drive. But as the end of the N64’s life span drew near, however, the humble Itoi knew it was time to put his baby on ice. The cancellation came as a huge shock to Mother fans, but the project was becoming increasingly unfeasible and was causing Itoi much hardship and pain. It hurt him greatly that he was disappointing his fans, but it would have hurt much more to rush the project thought to completion and deliver a substandard product.
Part III: Itoi’s Charlie Brown Nation?
Does this mean Itoi views America as a carefree world akin to Charlie Brown’s? Put simply, no. However lightheartedly they do so, Mother games often delve into human nature – and the results are less than flattering to mankind. The series is rife with humanity acting badly, from miserly band managers and power mad policemen to self-serving politicians and gangs of wayward teens. Itoi may be a dreamer, but he’s far too intelligent to think that the innocence of a Charlie Brown lifestyle could exist fulltime on a planet full of hate, war and money.
More likely, the Peanuts-like world of Mother is the way Itoi wishes America – and for that matter, life itself – were. How wonderful it would be if the only woes we ever faced were simplistic, childlike difficulties, and the answers to our problems always lied within ourselves!
How wonderful indeed – especially for a man like Shigesato Itoi, who has plenty of problems and questions he can’t answer on his own. When Itoi was young, his parents were divorced. Later, Itoi rallied against Japanese tradition and left his school, Hosei University, in his late teens. Branded an outcast by society, Itoi was left with nowhere to go but the streets. Most people would have turned to their family for help – but, with the divorce, Itoi's family had been shattered; besides, he had quit University. How could he ever go home now?
It was kind of like Trick-or-Treating all night and coming home with a bag full of rocks.
|"I got a rock."|
Through playing his games and examining his other works, it’s easy to see what an introspective man Itoi is. It should come as no surprise, then, that Mother is just another part of Itoi’s endless search for answers; or at the very least, comfort. His hunt for fulfillment and his desire for the “normal” family he missed out on in his younger years led Itoi to create an alternate childhood, a better one, for himself – and anyone else who was looking for one as well. Ninten's got everything one could ask for – a sister, a loving mother, and a father who works hard to support his family – and now, so could Itoi.
A person’s mother is supposed to be the one who will always love them no matter what. Fittingly, Mother was Itoi’s labor of love; unlike most other video games of the time (and current games, for that matter), Mother wasn’t a generic piece of crap slammed together in six months for the sole purpose of generating profits. Itoi's opus was a gift to anyone who never had someone to call mom or dad, or those who came from a broken family. In fact, it was surrogate mother for everyone who needed one, regardless of why. Like the exploits of Charlie Brown, Mother presented players with a kinder view of life they could escape into whenever they choose.
Part IV: A Boy Named Shigesato Itoi
The first animated Peanuts special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, originally aired on CBS in the winter of 1965, when Itoi was about 17 years old. Near the end of this now-classic holiday tale, Charlie Brown is asked to bring back “a great big shiny aluminum Christmas tree” to be placed on stage during the children’s Christmas play. But good ol’ Charlie Brown goes with his heart, and instead of purchasing a more commercial product, he returns with a sickly, yet natural Christmas tree. At first, everyone is appalled with his choice. “I told you he’d goof it up. He’s not the kind you can depend on to do anything right,” says one little girl. “You’re hopeless, Charlie Brown,” adds another.
However, the Peanuts gang soon gives the little tree a second chance. “It’s not bad at all, really. It just needs a little love,” says Linus. They gather around and decorate it, and the once pathetic little tree stands beautiful and mighty.
In 1965, Itoi was a lot like that sad little tree. He was drifting through life aimlessly, with little hope. But, like that Charlie Brown tree, all he needed was “a little love” to blossom into something beautiful. By quitting University, Itoi had failed as far as conventional wisdom went; but after attending night school, putting in a lot of hard work, and a little help from his friends, he blossomed into one of the most sought-after copywriters in Japan. Soon, the kid who had dropped out of school was on televisions across Japan, reporting, hosting game shows, and more. And eventually, he would take the helm of the Mother series, a set of games that would inspire not only the people of Japan, but also fans in America. Against all odds, Itoi had become a Japanese cultural icon.
You know something? For a kid who couldn't do anything right, Shigesato Itoi sure knows how to capture the hearts of a nation.
AAUGH! RATS! WORKS CITED!
Charlie Brown Christmas, A. 1965. Paramount.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. 1966. Paramount.
Offical Peanuts Website, The. (2005) Retrieved 12 Apr 2006.
Starmen.net. Retrieved 12 Apr 2006.
Whipple, Charles T. “Words of Wisdom.” Retrieved 12 Apr 2006.
Wirth, Jonathan. “Spotlight Earthbound.” (2003) Retrieved 12 Apr 2006.