They made Waluigi sexy, but the future is Mushroom Kingdom drama

this april, The Super Mario Bros. movie Bullet Bill has made its way to the box office and debuted with the biggest opening weekend for an animated feature film in history. No one was surprised that the studio behind Minions successfully pushed one of the biggest video game franchises of decades to that bar, but given the past, it was an achievement: it’s the first time Nintendo has successfully exploited the IP potential for TV or film since 1993. Super Mario Bros. Bob-ombed at the checkout.

The 20-year Mario drought of non-game stories opened the door for unusual creators to do their own thing. Ken and Kade, better known as Dino Cemetery And Love bunny on TikTok, walked through that door. Over the past few years, the engaged couple, who run channels like DinoBunny, have carved out their own niche within the Super Mario fandom, one that began as fashion-driven cosplay and has since evolved into a theatrical rewiring of the Mario canon.

‘I would say it is Bridgerton in the Mario universe,” says Kade. “We make these characters where they’re not necessarily a good guy or a bad guy, just people who make mistakes.”

During a video call, Kade and Ken sit in an office decorated with anime posters and trinkets slathered in pastel pink and electric blue. Ken’s gaming chair is straight from Princess Peach’s color palette and features a pair of pink bunny ears nestled on the headrest. They live and breathe the Mushroom Kingdom – but that wasn’t necessarily the dream.

“We didn’t start thinking, Oh, I’m going to be a professional YouTuber or TikTokerKen adds. “We just thought it might be something fun.”

At first, Ken and Kade started their individual platforms on TikTok where they just wanted to experiment with cosplay as ardent fans of the art form. Now, on their TikTok accounts and combined YouTube channel, Ken and Kade have a whopping 3.7 million followers at the time of writing. Like others in the hobby, the duo don ornate costumes to embody the characters of their favorite franchise, including but not limited to the aforementioned pink-laden damsel in distress and the anthropomorphic fire-breathing turtle Bowser.

But as Ken describes, Mario characters are more of a blank slate, and the pair have been able to transform the crew into something more provocative than anywhere Nintendo would ever go. Visitors who come across Ken and Kade’s profiles for the first time are initially intrigued by the attention grabbing Waluigi thirsty, leather-covered Chain Chomp trainand a highly sought after bisexual King Boo. The first, which has been played more than 3 million times on TikTok, initially boosted Ken’s follower count. Ironically, this sexy version of Luigi’s purple nemesis was inspired by Waluigi memes.

“There are many people who joke, Oh, Waluigi is so cuteKen explains. “But I was like, What if he really was? That really exploded.

Despite the weirdness involved in sexualizing the lanky villain, the pair’s penchant for attributing humanistic traits to these otherwise sterile characters in the Super Mario universe – in this case, sexuality – begs viewers to imagine how they would act and look like IRL. Sultry memes aside, bringing these characters from their games into the real world in an entertaining and thought-provoking way is the core of Ken and Kade’s craft.

Besides the dazzling costumes, the oft-overlooked second half of the “cosplay” portmanteau is largely responsible for why fans come back to Ken and Kade’s channels after being drawn to the sexy reimaginings. On both their profiles and their joint YouTube account, the pair have built character studies and storylines based on their Super Mario costumes. Dubbed “#MarioLore”, the plots expand beyond the usual “Let’s-a go!” and “Wahoo!” dialogue that certain Nintendo characters famously exclaim.

One of the #MarioLore storylines, supported by audio from “Wait for It” from Hamilton, finds Rosalina corresponding to King Boo after a great plague. Another storyline explores Toad and Toadette’s relationship, as well as their tendency to gossip. All of these scenes are played in full regalia and are often accompanied by trending TikTok audio to match the tone of the shorts. The Super Mario Bros. movie would never.

The jump to complex subject matter was inspired by the many villain-origin Disney films at the time, such as malicious, DescendantsAnd Cruella, where the love-to-hate characters take on three-dimensional personalities that help us understand why they become the way they are. Ken says they aim to treat the Mario universe as “very human and very morally gray”. They live for the drama and don’t worry about the so-called canon.

However, like all other TikTok users, they also rely on the application’s various algorithms to keep followers engaged and attract new ones. They’re constantly taking notes after the launch of each individual video, taking into account metrics that help the videos score “on a very large scale,” says Ken. One variable the pair consistently consider is the popularity of TikTok sounds and how they can influence the algorithm to expand their overall impressions. Fusing themes from their ideas with trending audio is a particular skill of Ken, according to Kade, helping the videos gain traction without sacrificing the characters’ pre-planned arcs.

“[Ken] is really great at seeing the trending audio on TikTok and then figuring out how she could take that and then apply it to her story,” Kade adds.

While the pair hyperanalyze ways to increase the viewership of their output, the community they’ve nurtured makes their attachment to certain characters and storylines very clear. It’s not uncommon for viewers to wonder why characters behave in the opposite way in their minds of what they envisioned. In April, fans were particularly averse to a development in the storyline of Peach and Bowser’s relationship. “I’m so sorry for Bowser, Peach is just another person he can’t trust anymore,” said one follower. “The fact that Peach hardly seems to have any regrets… The shock in her eyes when he rejects her says it all,” another user added.

The backlash was enough that Ken felt influenced post a video emphasizing again that “the series is not a healthy love story. […] It is a sad cycle of misconduct and trauma with no black and white definitions of right and wrong.”

“Sometimes I’m like, Oh, they’re gonna hate this one”, Koen laughs. “We have some videos where people got very confused about the Princess Peach character and it has a lot to do with misogyny and media.”

“[Fans are] are allowed to have fan theories and they are allowed to think their own thing, but we want to give them a nudge in the right direction when it comes to how these characters are personified,” says Ken. “We really want to make sure people aren’t super misunderstood.”

Lovebunny and DinoGraveyard as Peach and Bowser, but make it fashion

Photos: DinoBunny cosplay

Despite the occasional disgruntled followers looking for a solution, Ken and Kade are more concerned with staying true to their vision.

“Getting the big numbers of people seeing the trending-type videos that increase follower count, that’s cool,” says Kade. “But we do both. I always hope those viewers become viewers who care about the story and the characters.”

It’s hard to imagine a world 20 or 30 years ago where this kind of content could have such a devoted following, given the lack of online platforms and the social stigma sometimes associated with the hobby. Kade attributes part of cosplay’s foray into the pop culture zeitgeist to the “rise of the nerds”, similar to the rise of the Marvel and DC movie universes. Alternatively, Ken hypothesizes that this surge in cosplay’s popularity could be a double-edged sword.

“There are pros and cons to this because on the one hand, especially with social media and short videos, you have the opportunity to explore your art in a way that you can reach a large audience,” explains Ken, referring to the popularity of superheroes. “The problem with that is that all the people who are very popular for it are beautiful. They are conventionally attractive, they are very straight in stature, and they are often not neurodivergent. If you have people who don’t fall into those categories, it can make it harder for them to live safely in those spaces.”

Despite this, Ken and Kade aren’t really concerned about being considered cool or cringey. They just want to make sure the cosplay community remains a safe place for fans to share their love for characters through fandom and creative outlets.

“It’s so fascinating, that idea of ​​cringing. That word is thrown around a lot,” says Kade. “You have to be able to put that idea of ​​being cool on the shelf. If you ever want to create something unique or do something you’re passionate about, being overly self-conscious about appearing cool is so destructive to creativity.

“We are very passionate about bullying as cringe. […] We just want to use our art form and platform to do what we think gives us satisfaction,” concludes Ken. “We want to use it to create and continue a very compelling story. Then we want to make another story.”

With the vacuum of scripted Super Mario content presumably filling with an expanding Super Mario Cinematic Universe, it may seem like the niche that DinoBunny Cosplay has created is under threat, but Ken and Kade feel the film is arrived at the perfect time.

“It was super inspiring,” says Ken. “People also started looking for more Mario-related content.”

Until Nintendo sends Mario and Luigi to explore the more mature themes depicted in the green warp pipe, there’s DinoBunny Cosplay. And a sexy Waluigi is just the beginning.