Today’s Pokémon are the expert martial artists Mienfoo and Mienshao. They- um. Wait, are we sure these Pokémon are even related? I mean… I know the names make it seem obvious, and I guess they both have features like a weasel or a mink, but I get the feeling that we’ve missed a second stage in the middle somehow; the evolution just seems like such a dramatic change, which isn’t normally something that happens without a reason (use of an evolutionary stone, or a Magikarp-to-Gyarados-style apotheosis). Between the two, I actually much prefer Mienfoo; she looks cute but determined, while Mienshao strikes me as arrogant and smug. It’s also undeniably weird that the Pokédex claims she fights by using the long fur on her arms like whips, which must be one of the most bizarre attack types ever, even by Pokémon’s standards (and remember that this is the franchise that gave us Lickitung, who licks things to death). Moreover, Mienshao learns few, if any, attacks that are related to these weird arm-whip things; her strongest techniques are typical Fighting-type stuff like Drain Punch and Hi Jump Kick. I guess you could interpret maybe Fake Out and Knock Off that way, but I just don’t think it adds to the design at all. I certainly don’t understand why Game Freak felt it was so important that it had to be mentioned in the Pokédex entries for both Black and White. Mienfoo is a cool little Pokémon who, frankly, deserved a better-designed evolution, and it’s sheer good fortune that the whips aren’t exaggerated enough to wreck Mienshao. All that said, though, I don’t dislike her; smug she may be but she also looks dangerously clever (and that’s borne out by her combat skills). This, when it comes right down to it, is what’s good about Mienfoo and Mienshao. We’ve seen plenty of Fighting Pokémon that are portrayed as stoic, resilient and bulging with muscle: Machamp, Poliwrath, Hitmonchan, Heracross and Hariyama are probably the best examples. These two, however, are the first real examples I’ve ever seen of Fighting-types that rely on grace, speed and the kind of fluid ease of movement that we associate with real-life masters of kung-fu or taekwondo (Infernape is similar, but as a starter Pokémon Infernape is necessarily more dominated by his Fire element). To me, this feels like the designers putting some thought into what the Fighting element actually means, and coming up with a different answer to what we’ve seen in the past, which is exactly the kind of thing I want out of a new Pokémon. Unlike some other types like Grass and Bug, which tend to really take over a Pokémon’s design, Fighting doesn’t really have any features that come through strongly in a dual-type. You can identify a unifying feature that runs through almost all of them, though – with the notable exception of Heracross, who just has ludicrous abs, these are all Pokémon that take combat very seriously, often viewing it the way a human athlete or martial artist would (or, in the case of Gallade or Lucario, a knight). Although most Fighting Pokémon are extraordinarily muscled, there’s no reason the type needs to imply this, and there are a couple of dual-types in particular that I think have made Game Freak realise this: Infernape and Medicham.
Medicham is a Psychic/Fighting Pokémon introduced in Ruby and Sapphire who, as the name implies, is big on meditation. Medicham is another Fighting Pokémon with very human elements, but not ones directly related to combat; he gains his psychic powers through meditation and fasting, obviously drawing inspiration from monks who engage in similar practices (and may or may not gain psychic powers). The result is an introspective Fighting-type who doesn’t really do a whole lot of actual fighting (although he is extremely good at it when he has to), and essentially the first Fighting Pokémon (again, besides Heracross) who is, by and large, quite peaceful. By way of contrast Infernape, the Fire-type starter of Diamond and Pearl, is nuts. Awesome, undeniably so, but completely nuts. Infernape fights by leaping around with superhuman agility, jumping off of walls and ceilings, and beating the living daylights out of his opponents with all of his available limbs at once, while on fire. His combat style is frenetic, acrobatic, and quite unlike those used by typical older Fighting-types, relying not so much on overwhelming strength but on being in so many places at once that defenders just give up in despair. Medicham’s contemplative attitude and Infernape’s reliance on speed are characteristics drawn from their Psychic and Fire elements, respectively, but I think these Pokémon made Game Freak realise that actually, it’s okay for Fighting-types to have traits like that too. Hence, we come to Mienshao, who looks to be just about the weakest Fighting Pokémon in existence, physically, but manages a truly absurd damage output anyway by hitting the right spot at the right moment. She illustrates, I think, just how much we don’t need Pokémon like Unfezant and Watchog that are just old ideas rehashed and given a new coat of paint: there is plenty of room for stuff that’s actually new and Game Freak are indeed still capable of creating that if they put their minds to it.
Enough of praising Mienshao’s design; I need to talk now about how she fights. I like a Pokémon’s skills and abilities to fit its flavour; an ideal Pokémon, if you ask me, should do the kinds of things that you would imagine it doing and be awesome at it. Mienshao is definitely fast and powerful enough to break heads with admirable efficiency using attacks like Hi Jump Kick and Acrobatics, but that’s not really what she’s best at; what’s attractive about Mienshao from a tactical perspective is that (similarly to Gallade, actually) she can make use of dangerous disruptive and supporting attacks while still having the ability to break heads, potentially leaving her enemies uncertain as to which she’s going to try to do on any given turn. Mienshao is fast enough to make effective use of Taunt, which locks down support Pokémon by forcing them to use directly aggressive techniques, and can use Knock Off to swat away her opponents’ items if desired, which can potentially ruin strategies. The Bug-type attack U-Turn allows Mienshao to damage her foes as she switches out and is an excellent technique in its own right, making it rather difficult to actually land a blow on her, but also has wonderful synergy with her Regenerator trait, which grants a burst of healing every time she switches out of battle. If you’re particularly brave and good at anticipating attacks, you can even give Me First a try, which attempts to cut in ahead of your opponent – Mienshao’s fast enough to do this fairly reliably to many Pokémon – and use its own attack against it, at significantly increased power. But wait, there’s more! Mienshao even gets Baton Pass to let her give her own buffs to other Pokémon on your team, and has two very good ones to choose from: Swords Dance (attack) and Calm Mind (special attack and special defence). She has a good amount of raw power, but in gameplay as well as design Mienshao’s real advantages lie in finesse. This is not a Pokémon to be used solely for murdering all that stand in your way – although she can certainly do that too in a tight spot!
Mienfoo and Mienshao are, all things considered, among my favourite new Pokémon. I think that the designers should have realised upon sober reflection that the whole fur-whip thing was dumb and killed it with fire, and I furthermore think that the transition from the one to the other is a little bit jarring and could’ve used an intermediate, but I don’t really think there’s anything horribly wrong here. What’s more, there are some major elements that are oh so right. I wholeheartedly recommend Mienfoo and Mienshao to anyone who’s tired of Machamp and Hitmonchan.
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!