Bowser is the villain of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. In previous Mario & Luigi games, Bowser is often co-villain, pairing up with someone else, sometimes against his will. He is possessed by the ghost of the witch Cackletta and becomes Bowletta in Superstar Saga. Bowser is possessed by the Elder Princess Shroob after eating a mushroom in Partners in Time. In Paper Jam, Bowser and Paper Bowser form an uneasy alliance, but I found myself wishing Bowser would pair up with someone else, someone who would make Bowser unstoppable.
That someone is Toadette.
Throughout this game, power-hungry Toadette appears to be taking management tips from Bowser by how she treats her Toad workers.
Toads are the working class of the Mushroom Kingdom. More often than not, Toads are Toads are Toads. Aside from different colored spots on their caps, they are usually indistinguishable. Even the anatomy of a Toad is indeterminable. Is their spotted cap a removable hat, as in the Super Mario Bros. cartoons of the late 80s/early 90s, or is it a part of their body?
There are a few exceptions to the generic Toad, like Toadsworth, the Jafar to Peach’s Princess Jasmine; Toadette, the standard Ms. Male Character first appearing in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!; or Captain Toad, who appears to be your average run-of-the-mill but Toad with a backpack, a headlamp, and a title. Captain Toad is Captain of the Toad Brigade, but the other members of the Toad Brigade have no names. They are known as Yellow Toad, Green Toad, and so on. Blue Toad wears glasses, making him the Brainy Smurf of the group, but without those glasses, he would be a simple Blue Toad.
The Toad Brigade explores the galaxy, but what do other Toads do? Just as it’s difficult to tell where the physical body of a Toad ends and his clothing begins, it’s hard to determine what the role of a Toad is in the Mushroom Kingdom. In the Mario and Luigi game series, the Toads we meet are working in shops, living in similarly sized houses, or just milling about town. They all seem to be of equal class. The Mushroom Kingdom appears to be less of a monarchy than it is a communist or socialist society.
None of the Toads in the Mario and Luigi series seem to have names. The Mushroom Kingdom doesn’t believe in individualism. If these Toad do have names, Mario, Luigi, and Peach never attempt to learn them. Ironically, in the Paper Mario series of games, which features flat “paper” versions of almost every character and creature in the Mushroom Kingdom, the Paper Toads do have names. In the Paper Toad Town, Paper Mario meets Dane T. Tayce T. Russ T. There is a more even mix of genders in Paper Toad Town as well, with both male Toads and female Toads, distinguishable by their toadstool-tipped pigtails. In the “round” Mushroom Kingdom, most Toads appear to be male, aside from Toadette.
Within the reality of the Mushroom Kingdom, if Mario and Luigi is real and Paper Mario is fantasy, who wrote the Paper Mario book? Was it a Toad author who dreamed of a world in which he and his friends had unique identities instead of being commonplace members of a homogenous mass?
If that’s the case, then the world presented in Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam, a cross-over between these two Mario RPG series, is the ultimate dystopia for this poor Toad who dreamed of something more.
When Luigi knocks over the Paper Mario book, all the Paper characters spill out into the “real” world. Paper Mario, Paper Peach, Paper Luigi, Paper Bowser, Paper Bowser Jr., and hundreds of Paper Toads. (Both Toadette and Toadsworth have Paper versions in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for GameCube. Paper Toadette doesn’t appear to be present in Paper Jam, and we haven’t seen Toadsworth in any form since Mario & Luigi: Dream Team in 2013.)
The Paper Toads, which once had identities are now virtually indistinguishable from one another. They are soon subjugated by the round Toads – specifically by Toadette, more on her later – to do manual labor for them under the pretense that they will eventually be returned to their storybook, which is the Flatland of the Mushroom Kingdom.
In Edwin A. Abbot’s 1884 novel Flatland, social class structure is deconstructed by presenting all citizens of this fantasy world as shapes. Simple three-sided triangles are working class. Squares and pentagons are white-collar workers. The more complex polygons are higher classes, with circles, a seemingly infinite number of sides, are the priests in this theocracy. A sphere is imperceptible to beings who can only see in two dimensions.
The Toads of Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam live in a three-dimensional world. They are made of spheres and other complex shapes. Therefore, other more esoteric factors go into a society’s class structure than simply how many sides they have. Why this society was structured the way it was is unknowable, but doesn’t matter. What matters is that Toads are the bottom of the class structure until this seemingly two-dimensional species shows up. However, Toadette is a square in a triangle world. Toadette is already used to being different, being the only female Toad in the Mushroom Kingdom. Because of her uniqueness, she is given a de facto higher rank than an average Toad. She bosses other Toads around, and she takes advantage of the perceived inferiority of the flat Paper Toads in order to staff her workshop.
Mario collects and ships the Paper Toads to Toadette’s workshop via Lakitu, a fluffy cumulus Amistad. The workshop is in Peach’s castle, but we never see inside it. Perhaps the scene within is too horrific for our eyes, like an Apple sweatshop in China, or the children manufacturing Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line in the 1990s.
Across the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser has enslaved “round” Toads to work in his ore mine. If the Mushroom Kingdom is a socialist or communist nation, Bowser is a fascist dictator. He is salvaging ore for the purpose to conducting warfare against Peach. Toadette needs to combat Bowser, but she does so by employing the same tactics he does. She yells at the Paper Toads. She bullies them. Short of incinerating them, she treats them similarly to how Bowser treats her own, round, brethren. She harasses them to get them to build her giant papercraft warriors. (Here’s a grim thought: what if she’s using Paper Toads to make the papercraft? Papercraft Mario is people! It’s people!)
I wonder how the world would be different if the situation were reversed, if “round” Mario and Toads were pulled into the Paper Mario storybook. I can’t picture the story going the same way, with the Paper Toads forcing the round Toads into positions of manual labor. Because of Toadette’s treatment of Paper Toads, she has conditioned me to see the paper characters as hapless and helpess. They do mindless manual labor; therefore, they are mindless manual labor. These Paper Toads, who had homes and names, are cogs in the war machine during conflict with Bowser.
The round characters see the Paper Toads as two-dimensional shapes. From above, they look like line segments. If you look closer, though, you see they are three-dimensional shapes. They move along the same x-, y-, and z-axes everyone else does. They are not constrained by two-dimensions. They are not line segments. They are very slim rectangles, four-sided polygons like everyone else. All squares are also rectangles, but sometimes, they need to be reminded of their true shape.
There is a moment late in the game where Bowser kidnaps Toadette, but he makes the mistake of doing this only to take her out of the action for a while. Instead, he should have persuaded her to join him. Together, they’d be invincible… until Toadette eliminates Bowser and takes over all by herself.