So, after I had such great fun last week with the unconventional Fighting-types Mienfoo and Mienshao, Game Freak now greets me with a rather spectacular return to normal by presenting these two: Sawk and Throh. These two aren’t an evolutionary family; in fact, they aren’t related at all, but they seem to be intended to be taken as a pair – they have similar designs and similar Japanese names (Dageki and Nageki), and are found in the same places, with Sawk being more common on Black and Throh on White – so that’s how I’m going to look at them. These two represent two different styles of combat: Throh practices judo, focussing on grappling and, well, throws, while Sawk practices karate, focussing mainly on strikes. Hmm. An opposed pair of Fighting-type Pokémon that dedicate their lives to two different types of martial art… I swear I’ve seen this before but I can’t for the life of me remember where. Oh well. I’m sure it will come to me. Though they wear the clothing of human martial artists, right down to the black belts, Sawk and Throh look to be based on Oni, Japanese… ogre-demon… things… that are normally either red or blue. As demonic creatures, Oni are traditionally seen as bringers of bad luck, although Wikipedia assures me that in modern times they can also be protective in nature, and there are ceremonies and trinkets for enlisting the things in warding off evil. Not that this is really important, since Throh and Sawk don’t have any of the traits of Oni other than a vague physical resemblance. This is a pity because elements from either portrayal of Oni would have made them a great deal more interesting. Instead they’re just stereotypical Fighting-type Pokémon who spend all their time training and knocking the stuffing out of anything that bothers them. The only really unique thing about these designs is the rather amusing fact that they physically get stronger when they tighten their belts, which seems a little bit flat to me.
I will say this for Throh and Sawk: although their designs are a bit bland, their in-game abilities do a pretty good job of holding up the idea that they’re supposed to be opposites; much better anyway than Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee (oh right, Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee! I knew I’d seen this concept somewhere before!). See, in theory, Hitmonchan, whose shtick is punching things, is defensive, while Hitmonlee, whose shtick is kicking things, is aggressive, but in practice they’re both aggressive and Hitmonchan is just a bit less skewed in that direction. Gold and Silver added a third brother who is actually fairly balanced between offense and defence, Hitmontop, whose shtick is… doing a headstand and spinning like a top, then flipping out and beating the hell out of everything with whichever limb is closest? Yeah, I’ve… I’ve got nothing on Hitmontop. Incidentally, if Game Freak decide to add another hundred-and-something Pokémon in four years (and hey, why stop now?) watch this space for a third, green (or perhaps yellow) counterpart to Throh and Sawk with a fighting style that encompasses cartwheels, escape artistry and Morris dancing. For now, though, we shall content ourselves with these two, who, as I’ve said, form a much neater pair: Throh is beefy and Sawk is angry. I’ll look at Throh first. In mechanical terms, Sawk is a dead ringer for Hitmonlee but Throh is a lot more like the newer Fighting Pokémon Hariyama. He may well be the toughest Fighting-type currently in existence, outside of legendary Pokémon, and although he moves with all the grace of a beached whale he does also pack a reasonable punch, so he’s got a nice niche there. Game Freak has also kindly given him two signature moves to emphasise his fighting style – Storm Throw, which has a low base damage but always scores critical hits, and the less exclusive but still rare Circle Throw, which does some damage and knocks a Pokémon back into its Pokéball, causing another to come out in its place (Sawk, notably, gets no such love – this does not seem fair). Throh also has the standard spread of attacks a Fighting-type can expect: Earthquake, Rock Slide or Stone Edge, and a selection of Fighting-type attacks, though notably the best one he gets is Superpower, which is dubious for him because its side effect weakens his defences against physical attacks. Really he’d be better off with Cross Chop or maybe Focus Punch, but he doesn’t learn them – presumably because they’re in Sawk’s territory. And on that note…
Just as Throh is possibly the toughest of Fighting Pokémon, Sawk is among the most powerful, but unfortunately for him he has some very respectable rivals in his chosen role: Machamp and Breloom are much slower but slightly stronger, Infernape is much weaker but also much faster and more versatile, Medicham is slightly slower and far more powerful, and Heracross draws even with him in both respects. All of these Pokémon also have better movepools than Sawk, and he has no techniques that make me think of any exciting new strategies. Sawk does have one lovely, unique advantage, though: the ability Sturdy. Prior to Black and White this was a tremendously silly ability that simply granted immunity to one-hit KO moves (Horn Drill, Fissure, and so on), techniques which aren’t really used in serious play, ever, because they are so very reliant on luck. The new games upgraded this ability to make it actually useful by changing it to grant immunity to being knocked out in one hit by anything – provided Sawk hasn’t taken any damage yet, any single attack, no matter how powerful, will leave him standing (though perhaps just barely). Other Pokémon can get this kind of protection too by using an item called a Focus Sash, but it’s nice to be able to hold a different item to give your attacks more power, and Sawk is the only Fighting-type who can have both at once (Infernape in particular would kill for this ability and it wouldn’t hurt Hitmonlee either). One especially nice thing about Sturdy is its wonderful synergy with Counter, which smacks a Pokémon that just used a physical attack on you with double the damage it just did – provided you’re still standing, of course, which Sawk usually will be if it’s the first attack he’s taken. The trouble with this is that it’s such a good idea in theory that everyone will expect it, and Counter works best when it comes completely out of the blue, so you’re probably better off teaching it to something really weird like Meganium or Quagsire.
Sawk and Throh are a lot harder to make a decision on than I thought they would be because they are actually pretty well put together on a mechanical level. They’re both strong examples of Fighting Pokémon and they even have something special to offer in Throh’s Circle Throw and Sawk’s Sturdiness. When it comes right down to it, though… they aren’t really what I’d call unique. There are other Fighting-types that can do what they do. I would probably be happy with these two if they’d taken more than just superficial inspiration from the Oni legends, actually; I’m sure there’s something in a musty Japanese scroll somewhere that would have made their design something other than “Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee 2.0” and their powers more interesting than what Hitmonlee and Hariyama can already do.
I hereby deny this Pokémon’s right to exist! Let them be banished from this world, never to return!