This April, The Super Mario Bros. Movie Bullet Billed its way into box-office records and debuted with the biggest opening weekend for an animated film in history. No one was too surprised that the studio behind Minions successfully shepherded one of the biggest, decades-spanning video game franchises to that bar, but considering the past, it was an achievement: It marks the first time Nintendo had successfully tapped the IP’s potential for TV or film since 1993’s Super Mario Bros. Bob-ombed at the box office.
The 20-year Mario drought of non-game storytelling opened the door for off-beat creators to do their own thing. Ken and Kade, known better as DinoGraveyard and Lovebunny on TikTok, walked through that door. Over the last few years, the engaged couple, who run channels as DinoBunny, has carved out their own niche within the Super Mario fandom, one that started as fashion-driven cosplay and has since evolved into a theatrical rewiring of the Mario canon.
“I’d say it’s like Bridgerton in the Mario universe,” says Kade. “We’re making these characters where they’re not necessarily a good guy or a bad guy, but just people making mistakes.”
Over a video call, Kade and Ken sit in an office adorned with anime posters and trinkets slathered with pastel pinks and electric blues. Ken’s gaming chair is straight from Princess Peach’s color palette and has a pair of rosy rabbit ears nestled on its headrest. They’re living and breathing the Mushroom Kingdom — but that wasn’t necessarily the dream.
“We didn’t start off thinking, Oh, I’m going to be a professional YouTuber or TikToker,” adds Ken. “We just thought it might be something fun on the side.”
At first, Ken and Kade started their individual platforms on TikTok, where they simply wanted to experiment with cosplay as avid fans of the art form. Now, across their TikTok accounts and combined YouTube channel, Ken and Kade have a massive 3.7 million followers, as of this writing. Like others in the hobby, the duo dons ornate costumes to embody their favorite franchise’s characters, 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 a bit more provocative than where Nintendo would ever go. First-time visitors on Ken and Kade’s profiles are initially intrigued by the attention-grabbing Waluigi thirst traps, leather-clad Chain Chomp drag, and a highly sought-after bisexual King Boo. The former, having accrued over 3 millions plays on TikTok, is what initially bolstered Ken’s follower count. Ironically, this sexy version of Luigi’s purple nemesis was inspired by Waluigi memes.
“There are a lot of people that joke, Oh, Waluigi is so cute,” Ken explains. “But I was like, What if he actually was? That blew up really really big.”
Despite the goofiness that comes with sexualizing the lanky villain, the pair’s penchant for ascribing humanistic traits to these otherwise sterile characters in the Super Mario universe — in this case, sexuality — implores viewers to imagine what they would act and look like IRL. Sultry memes aside, bringing these characters from their games to the real world in an entertaining and thought-provoking way is the crux of Ken and Kade’s craft.
Beyond 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 of their profiles as well as their joint YouTube account, the couple has built character studies and storylines on the foundation of their Super Mario costuming. 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, backed by audio of “Wait for It” from Hamilton, finds Rosalina corresponding with King Boo after a great plague. Another plotline explores the relationship between Toad and Toadette as well as their inclination to gossip. All of these scenes are acted out in full regalia and are often accompanied by trending TikTok audios that suit the tone of the shorts. The Super Mario Bros. Movie would never.
The jump to complex topics was inspired, at the time, by the slew of Disney villain origin movies such as Maleficent, Descendants, and Cruella, where the love-to-hate characters gain 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 stress about the so-called canon.
However, like all other TikTok users, they are also reliant on the application’s various algorithms to keep followers engaged and attract new ones. They are constantly taking notes after the launch of each individual video, factoring in metrics that help the videos hit “on a very large scale,” says Ken. One variable that the pair consistently considers is the popularity of TikTok sounds and how they can influence the algorithm to expand their overall impressions. Melding themes from their ideas with trending audios is a particular skill of Ken’s, according to Kade, that helps the videos gain traction without sacrificing the characters’ pre-planned arcs.
“[Ken] is really great at seeing the trending audios on TikTok and then thinking of how she could take that and then apply it to her story,” adds Kade.
Although the couple hyper-analyzes ways to enhance viewership of their output, the community they’ve fostered makes their attachment to certain characters and storylines very clear. It’s not uncommon for viewers to question why characters behave, in their minds, antithetically to what they envisioned. In April, fans were particularly averse to a development in Peach and Bowser’s relationship storyline. “I feel so bad for Bowser, Peach is one more person he can’t trust anymore,” commented one follower. “The fact Peach seems barely sorry… The shock in her eyes when he rejects her says it all,” added another user.
The backlash was enough that Ken felt influenced to post a video reemphasizing that “the series isn’t a wholesome love story. […] It’s a sad cycle of wrongdoings and trauma with no black-and-white definitions of right and wrong.”
“Sometimes I’m like, Oh, they’re going to hate this one,” laughs Ken. “We have some videos where people were getting very confused over Princess Peach’s character and it has a lot to do with misogyny and media.”
“[Fans are] allowed to have fan theories and they’re allowed to think their own thing, but we want to kind of nudge them in the right direction when it comes to how these characters are personified,” says Ken. “We really want to make sure that people aren’t being super misunderstood.”
Despite occasionally displeasing followers seeking an element of resolution, Ken and Kade are more concerned with staying true to their vision.
“Getting the big numbers from people who see the trending-type videos that increase the follower count, that’s cool,” says Kade. “But we do both. I always hope that those viewers become viewers that care about the story and care about the characters.”
It’s difficult to imagine a world 20 or 30 years ago where this type of content could have such a devoted following, considering the lack of online platforms as well as the social stigma that sometimes comes with the hobby. Kade credits a portion of cosplay’s foray into the pop culture zeitgeist with the “rise of the nerds” similar to the emergence of the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. Alternatively, Ken hypothesizes that this rise in the popularity of cosplay could be a double-edged sword.
“There’s pros and cons to it, because on one hand, especially with social media and short-form video, you have the opportunity to explore your art in a way that you can reach a mass audience,” explains Ken, referring back to the popularity of superheroes. “The problem with that is all of the people who are very popular for it are gorgeous. They’re conventionally attractive, they’re very straight-size and they’re oftentimes not neurodivergent. When you have people who don’t fall into those categories, it can make it harder for them to exist in those spaces safely.”
Despite this, Ken and Kade aren’t particularly worried about being deemed cool versus cringey. They just want to ensure that the cosplay community remains a safe space for fans to share their love for characters via fandom and creative outlets.
“It’s such a fascinating thing — that idea of cringe. That word is being thrown around a lot,” says Kade. “You need to be able to put that idea of being cool on the shelf. If you ever want to create anything unique or do anything you’re passionate about, being overly self-conscious about seeming cool is so destructive to creativity.”
“We’re very passionate about bullying being cringe. […] We just want to use our art form and our platform to do what we think is fulfilling for us,” Ken concludes. “We want to use it to create and continue a very engaging story. Then, after that, we want to make another story.”
Now that the vacuum of scripted Super Mario content is, presumably, going to be filled with an expanding Super Mario Cinematic Universe, it might seem as though the niche DinoBunny Cosplay has created may be compromised, but Ken and Kade feel that the film arrived at the perfect time.
“It was super inspiring,” says Ken. “People also started searching for Mario-related content a little more.”
Until Nintendo sends Mario and Luigi to explore the more mature themes depicted in the green warp pipe, there is DinoBunny Cosplay. And a sexy Waluigi is only the beginning.