Today, anime based on video games are quite common, with Cyberpunk: Edge Runners being one of the most recent examples. Many franchises like Pokemon and Final Fantasy have built a strong fan base across multiple media. However, few casual anime fans know about the first video game to inspire an anime adaptation.
Interestingly, the first two animated films based on video games were released on the same day: July 20, 1986. Super Mario Brothers: Grand Mission to Save Princess Peach was based on the then recent and already increasingly popular version, Super Mario Bros. launched by Nintendo the previous year. Running Boy: Star Soldier no Himitsu was based on Star Soldier, a first-person shooter. Since that day, the fates of these franchises have continued to diverge. It should be noted that neither film was ever released in the United States and both are only available in archival form.
Success and continued popularity of Super Mario Brothers
Super Mario Brothers: Grand Mission to Save Princess Peach begins with Mario playing on his NES when Princess Peach jumps off the TV screen, screaming for help. The evil King Koopa follows her, capturing her and taking her with him on television. Although Mario initially fails to save her, he and Luigi follow her in the game console to the Mushroom Kingdom to save her from King Koopa.
The film was not a critical success, with an unoriginal damsel-in-distress plot and an obnoxious amount of product placement. However, it was a moderate success at the box office, further boosting the growing popularity of the game. It is also notable that it was the first example of an isekai anime where the protagonist enters the world of a video game – a trope that has become very popular over the past decade.
Today, Super Mario Bros. is considered one of the greatest video games of all time, having sold over 50 million units. Mario has become one of the most successful media brands, being the best-selling video game franchise and having spawned several animated series, a live action movie (which was a total failure) and a wide range of merchandise. Another anime adaptation of the games, The movie Super Mario Bros., should be released in 2023.
Running Boy Plunges Into Darkness
Running Boy: Star Soldier no Himitsu depicts the story of Genta, a boy who wants to become a video game developer. He gets the chance to meet his favorite game designer and together they develop the new Star Soldier game. However, his rival steals the idea for the game and publishes it himself, whereupon Genta challenges him to a battle in the VR version of Star Soldier. The film failed at the cinema.
the original Star Soldier the game had only been released a month earlier and therefore failed to build momentum when the film hit theaters; the rationale was for the film to build hype around the game. While it is considered by some to be an important game of its time, Star Soldier did not generate significant interest among Western audiences. The franchise was considered largely mediocre at the time and fell into obscurity thereafter, with its last launch being in 2014.