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King Dedede furiously recalls Kirby dashing around an inhaling all the picnic food last year. “Last year’s picnic was a disaster thanks to Kirby,” he mutters, in Kirby Manga Mania Vol. 1 (2021).

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The Kirby manga was doing Kirby memes 25 years ago

Kirby contains multitudes

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In the first chapter in Kirby Manga Mania, Vol. 1, Kirby drinks a bottle of alcohol (translated as “loopy juice”) and proceeds to drunkenly destroy King Dedede’s relaxing sakura viewing party. He gives addled life advice to Dedede, flips a table in anger after failing karaoke, and falls asleep on a sushi advertisement. He also swallows his friend Chirby, who looks like a tiny Kirby with an ice cream cone on his head. All the while, Kirby punctuates his sentences with his catchphrase “pepoh.”

That right there, that feeling you have right now, is the whiplash you will experience when you begin to read Kirby Manga Mania or the series the chapters are sourced from, Hoshi no Kirby: Dedede de Pupupu na Monogatari. It is unlike any official portrayal of Kirby you are used to. Manga Kirby doesn’t fit with his portrayals in the games, where he gently and dependably defeats a cosmic horror or two. He doesn’t fit with the anime, where he is baby. Manga Kirby isn’t even the determined, pugilistic, angry-eyebrowed manlet seen in American advertising for so long.

Yet, the shock soon fades and you start to see what’s going on with the goofiness, the ephemerality, the playfulness of it all: The Kirby of Kirby of the Stars: Dedede de Pupupu na Monogatari, published from 1995 to 2006 in CoroCoroComic, is more or less the Kirby of the internet, today.

As the volume continues, it settles into a familiar rhythm. This Kirby is a mischievous elementary schooler, like the ones who read his stories while they were being published. He thinks he knows what’s going on. He thinks he knows what to do. He really knows neither. Kirby uses his immense power and endless copy abilities to act upon his desires until everything is destroyed or restored and the poyo boyo reveals himself to be the goodhearted innocent we all know him to be. King Dedede is pulverized to oblivion throughout. Repeat.

This pattern doesn’t mean that the manga isn’t enjoyable; it’s an opportunity to feed the universal need for cute and silly Kirby scenarios. It doesn’t have the light serenity of other portrayals, but that is because it is, after all, a gag manga made for children. After reading it, the thing that might puzzle you most is that it is being released now. Why didn’t it happen earlier?

Kirby is very good at tennis, and very excited to be good at tennis, inspiring the fury of his opponent, King Dedede in Kirby Manga Mania (2021).

A US release of Hoshi no Kirby: Dedede de Pupupu na Monogatari was announced in 2009 to be released in the US in 2010. The date was pushed back, and then VIZ Media cancelled the release altogether. June marked the release of Kirby Manga Mania Vol. 1, a selection of manga chapters curated by author Hikawa Hirokazu. They span the 25 volumes of Kirby’s manga from 1992 to 2006 with a special chapter drawn by Hikawa from 2017. Another volume will be released in September with more (presumably) to come. (According to an interview with Hikawa, Hikawa relied far too heavily on his assistant to complete many years of the manga, leading to its abrupt ending in 2006. Hikawa has completed several chapters on his own since the special in 2017. It is unclear how much the assistant or even Hikawa benefit from this release.)

Though the proprietary legacy of the manga may have something to do with why its release was delayed, a different perspective emerges when we compare Kirby Manga Mania to Super Mario Manga Mania, released in December 2020. That collection is drawn from Super Mario-kun, which has been published consistently in CoroCoro since 1991. This is not the manga that showed Mario’s penis to the world, but it might as well have been.

Where Kirby Manga Mania works with today’s conception of Kirby, Super Mario Manga Mania does not. It’s as if a Mad Magazine version of the Peanuts gang was sanctioned by Charles Schulz for decades. Super Mario-kun is scatological and zany to the point that, reading it, you might suppose that there are pages missing from your copy that explain the abundant non-sequiturs about Mario pooping or getting mutilated. Super Mario-kun is a loud mockery of its source material that clashes only more as time goes on.

As it stands, the distance between game Mario and manga Mario is just too wide to be properly understood without several footnotes. How do you get people to listen to a careful explanation of the history of media properties, outlets, and audiences, why two opposites exist in harmony, while you’re trying to build a theme park? Despite having twice as large a catalog, Super Mario Manga Mania is a standalone volume while Kirby gets at least three. It is not damaging to the brand as it might have been in a less culturally-aware age. A host of fan artists have done their horny worst on that account, and Mario remains an unsullied, static mascot.

Kirby gorges himself on a spread of food, mouth stretched wide with all the completely intact food items visible inside. “This isn’t enough to make ME sick,” he crows happily in Kirby Manga Mania (2021).

Mario and the internet have diverged where Kirby and his fans have converged in recent years. The fun of messing with Mario is the incongruence of the parody and the icon whose only updates to the times seem to be the detail of the hair on his smooth, vacant face. He is the butt of the joke. Just this past week, Kirby got thrown into a volcano in a Smash Bros trailer, fans returned the favor by turning the tables, and this all feels consistent with the overall concept of the Kirby. You don’t need any further rebuttal or explanation. Kirby contains multitudes even when he isn’t absorbing enemies’ abilities. Even if Kirby Manga Mania wasn’t recently released because of this effect, one can see why it works now in a way that it wouldn’t have in 2010.

Though there is still a bit of a clash between the open, writerly, Apollonian Kirby of the games and the bombastic, readerly, Dionysian Kirby of the manga, it is manageable because of what the internet has made with Kirby. The pink orb is clay in its hands. Single images evoke whole worlds. Even devoid of context, he evokes a gentle possibility that only good things will happen to him and his friends, the details of which are almost all up to you and your daydreams.

Kirby’s very origin is one of malleability. When developing Kirby’s Dream Land, Iwata Satoru liked the fact that anyone could draw Kirby, and Sakurai Masahiro wanted to make a game that anyone could play. He can take on any hat, knife, or thiccness and retain his essence as a jolly fellow. Kirby even began life as a prototype sprite, one that Sakurai grew fond of enough to make the center of his creative life. If that doesn’t characterize his very essence, I don’t know what does.

Kirby was made for everyone, and everyone made him for themselves. It’s only now that we can see that panoply of private Kirby worlds and recognize that they are as real as our own. There might be more detail, volume, and prestige than average in the Kirby Manga Mania version, but he plays well with the others.