In 1998 Masashi Kishimoto's career had yet to take off. This was a time before Naruto had entered serialisation, a time by which Kishimoto had run into some walls early on in career as any starting manga-ka would trying to get a shōnen manga serialised with Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine. Believe it or not, before his hit manga Naruto took the world by storm, Kishimoto was on the ropes and on the verge of giving up on the shōnen genre altogether and wanted to try his hand at a seinen manga. You guessed it, that series was Mario, an unpublished manga that predates even
Naruto amongst Kishimoto's works.
Mario is a story centred around its namesake character, an ambitious half Sicilian-half Japanese gangster with his own special kind of charm. Like any real gangster Mario is more concerned with making money and making a name for himself more than he is going on dates. Granted, this one-shot is just that, it's a standalone, one off chapter that leaves a lot of room for continuation if Kishimoto would be so inclined but as it stands is a short story which can be summed up in a paragraph or two. I'd rather save you the spoilers and let you read for yourself so I'll comment as little as possible as to what actually transpires.
I have to say, I took a liking to Mario from the get-go and that's saying something considering I really thought a story such as this was way out of Kishimoto's comfort zone and thus would be rather mediocre.
I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one-shot. While undoubtedly there will be critics that will immediately jump on the fact Mario's connection to the mafia is highly unrealistic given his lineage, I found it rather easily to suspend my disbelief and just let the story unfold.
What this one-shot boils down to, more than story is an introduction to the characters Kishimoto has likely locked up in his mind for the past 15 years. In the span of about 50 pages we are introduced to characters that are interesting and charming in their own way, with their individual quirks and way of doing things. I was particularly impressed by Kishimoto's ability to give the characters real personalities with a lot of room for development if Mario were to ever enter serialisation.
One of the things I first noticed and want to talk about a little more is how Mario, while he bears some physical resemblance to Uzumaki Naruto, is in fact closer to his polar opposite than anything else. Mario is a highly ambitious character who we realise after the first scene has the stigma of being halfbreed hanging over his head, thus making him neither a true member of the mafia or the yakuza. He's an odd duck in a the criminal underworld with an odd partner who has her own odd quirks. He doesn't seem to care for doing dirty work so long as there's a nice bundle of cash waiting for him after completion, and while this gives up the impression he's a immoral character, we also learn he's a bit of a momma's boy and has a soft side to him that you wouldn't expect to exists after his first scene. Suffice to say, Mario has sparked my interest in both his story and his character and I wouldn't mind learning more about him or his partner, who appears to look like a cross between Konan and Hinata from Naruto but is far more quiet and surprisingly talented at killing.
This one-shot overall was pretty good. The art was topnotch as always, the story was interesting enough and didn't run out of steam until the end and the characters are interesting in their own right. I sincerely hope Kishimoto tries his hand at another shōnen series when Naruto ends, but if that's not the case, I hope he continues with this.
Story - 7
Art - 10
Character - 8
Enjoyment - 10
Overall - 8
A very stylish, exuberant one-shot which has really left me wanting more. Certainly theirs a world of difference between Mario & Naruto, in terms of artwork, setting, dialogue. Still Kishimoto has shown us his great understanding of western organised crime, and has managed to create an interesting array of characters in the process. Kishimoto has demonstrated his boldness with lots of brash and blood covered pages, which are very delightful to look at. Mario is very well written and Kishimoto has really outdone himself this time. It’s likely that Mario will leave you hoping that Kishimoto makes the transition from one-shot to serialisation.