Shadow Mario and Vivian in Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door
(Nintendo)

The ‘Paper Mario’ Remake Is Correcting the Biggest Mistake From the Original

The Thousand-Year Door, which originally released in 2004 on the GameCube, is commonly cited as the best entry in the Paper Mario series.

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When you revisit your favorite pieces of media from childhood, you often learn something new about them—that they haven’t aged well, that they’ve aged immaculately, or apparently, that your region’s version completely cut LGBTQ+ identities out of the game.

My personal history as a gamer can be separated widely into two periods: my pre-high school gaming adventures, and my post-college ones. (High school and college? The Dark Ages.) If you were to ask me what my favorite game was in that first era, as I was growing up, I’d say without hesitation that it was Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.

And for the uninitiated, Paper Mario is the turn-based RPG sub-iteration of Nintendo’s beloved mascot that arose after the partnership between Nintendo and (the current) Square Enix fizzled following Super Mario RPG. Compared to the mainline games, Paper Mario games also tend to have better, more emotional stories, a delightfully weird sense of humor, and richer characters.

In other words, Paper Mario is where Nintendo lets their hair hang down, so to speak. There will be events and lines of dialogue inside Paper Mario games where you’re like, “Wait … Nintendo did that? In a Mario game?!” For example, vague spoilers, but a playable character dies in 2020’s The Origami King. In a Mario game!

And as it turns out, The Thousand-Year Door had a transgender party member, but if you played the original 2004 English translation of the game, you’d never know it.

The truth behind Vivian that English speakers never saw

In Chapter 4 of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, you meet Vivian, an incredibly cute and girly ghost with pink swoops of hair. In the original 2004 English translation, Vivian is only presented as a mini-boss who informs Mario that she’s bullied. Eventually, she becomes an ally and party member.

In 2004, I thought that was all there was to the story here—cute girl ghost, end of story. But it turns out I was wrong. The English version cut out something incredibly important about Vivian’s identity: She’s transgender.

In the 2004 version of the game, the Japanese original and several European versions either explicitly say or heavily insinuate that Vivian is transgender.

The context comes from Vivian’s sisters’ bullying in the Japanese original. In the Japanese and most European versions, Vivian’s sisters are bullying her because Vivian is trying to affirm her gender. The 2004 Japanese reads, “Where are these ‘three sisters’?! You’re a man!!!” It’s harsh and potentially triggering. It’s also, sadly, not untrue to some peoples’ experience.

The less-than-ideal presentation comes from the fact that Vivian is not later given the opportunity to reaffirm her identity on her own terms. This is how the audience finds out, and that’s that.

In some European versions, Vivian’s transgender identity was revealed by other characters, such as Goombella. The Italian version is the most direct, with Vivian telling her sisters during their argument, “I am a woman now too, and I’m proud to have turned into a woman!”

But the English and German localizations edited Vivian’s trans identity out entirely, transforming the character into a cisgender woman. In English, Vivian’s sisters simply bully Vivian over her appearance.

Unpacking Vivian’s various 2004 representations

I will be honest: even as someone who absolutely loved Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door as a child, I had no idea that Vivian was a trans woman until the 2024 remake reopened the topic. I guess I’m not surprised that the English localization in 2004 would be so conservative and simply write off a character’s trans identity, but it still feels shocking to find out.

Meanwhile, given that LGBTQ+ rights are still largely being fought for in Japan, the average Westerner might be surprised that Nintendo included a transgender character in a freaking Mario game twenty years ago, even if the ways that identity was expressed or presented in 2004 weren’t ideal.

But Vivian didn’t exist in a vacuum. In 2000, four years before Thousand-Year Door’s release, the ever-popular One Piece introduced Bon Clay, who was canonically both male and female. On one hand, Bon Clay’s physical appearance is not flattering. On the other, they became a highly sympathetic and beloved character. A little later, in 2003, Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers included Hana, a transgender woman, among its protagonists.

Of course, this is also not the only time an English translation of a Japanese work erased LGBTQ+ context. The most famous example is from Sailor Moon, where the English versions completely erased Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune’s relationship after their characters’ first appearances in 1994. Legions of fans were shocked to learn, decades later, that Uranus and Neptune were canonically lesbians and actively dating over the course of the series.

In any case, thank god the various translations of the 2024 remake gave Vivian more agency in her identity and announced that identity loud and clear.

Vivian’s transgender identity fully restored in 2024

Vivian speaks her truth in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
(Nintendo)

The world is a very different place in 2024 than it was in 2004. Mainstream discussions around and awareness of transgender identities has skyrocketed, especially in the U.S. So when Nintendo decided to remake of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door in 2024, it was high time for Vivian’s trans identity to be celebrated.

Not only is Vivian’s trans identity now finally included in the English version of the game, but in the English version of the 2024 remake, Vivian tells Mario directly, “Truth is, it took me a while to realize that I was their sister … not their brother.”

In the Japanese dialogue, Vivian uses a common turn of phrase describing for transgender identity in Japanese: “Truth is, my body is male, but my heart is a cute woman.”

What’s more, Nintendo has dialed back the severity of Vivian’s sister’s transphobia. In the Japanese version, Beldam still asserts that they’re the Shadow Trio, not the Shadow Sisters—but does so without berating Vivian by screaming that she’s a man. There’s still the undercurrent, which is furthered by Vivian herself, that her sisters aren’t honoring her gender, but it’s less triggering.

There’s unfortunately not many examples of transgender characters in gaming—especially in mainstream games, and especially in games for audiences that include children. Even with Thousand-Year Door’s less-than-perfect 2004 presentation, Vivian was still an important example of a sympathetic transgender hero. The fact that the 2004 English version of the game deprived players of such a character is a shocking, grave error.

But it makes it that much more important that Vivian’s identity has been restored now. What’s more, she’s given the opportunity to speak her truth for herself. It’s one more reason that Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is still a phenomenal game.


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Author
Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.