I knew it was coming. When Game Freak put together Black and White, they decided to abandon all existing Pokémon in favour of new ones, which meant it was once again time to get out their sheets of formulae on how to design standard, comfortable everyday Pokémon, and one of these old standards is the caterpillar Pokémon. So it is that we come to meet the obligatory caterpillar, Sewaddle, the obligatory cocoon, Swadloon, and the obligatory butterfly, Leava-
Wait. That’s not a butterfly. That’s a leaf insect.
Praise the gods, they did something different!
It’s another caterpillar, sure, and it evolves into another cocoon, sure, but from what I can see Game Freak actually put some thought into this one (certainly a hell of a lot more than they put into Wurmple and its evolved forms in Ruby and Sapphire). The theme of this family is nurturing; Sewaddle are given their leafy wrappings at birth by Leavanny, who stitch them together from leaves and silk, using their bladed arms to cut the leaves into shape. In fact, Leavanny are just so nice that they make clothes for any other small Pokémon they come across too, which I think is a cute little bit of flavour. Maybe it’s my academic background, but I’m also interested to hear about the degree of effort that a Pokémon puts into its offspring, since that’s so important for many real world species (including humans). The Pokédex entries also fit Swadloon into her ecosystem by noting that she improves soil fertility by composting fallen leaves, which Leavanny in turn uses to keep her eggs warm. Details like this help us think about Pokémon as part of a world, not just isolated species that we can capture and train. They give us context, which is something a lot of Pokémon could use more of. I’m not sure why Swadloon looks so grumpy when Sewaddle and Leavanny are clearly going for the cute angle, but thanks to a Pokédex entry noting that Swadloon move around a lot (in contrast to, say, Metapod) I have this wonderful mental image of Swadloon shuffling around the forest floor, eyes fixed on the ground, grumbling to herself constantly and trying to avoid having to talk to anyone else, which has a strange appeal of its own for me (but, as they say, there’s no accounting for taste).
I think Leavanny is nicely designed, but unfortunately there aren’t really any type combinations she could be given that would fit that design better than Bug/Grass, which is what she’s got. Bug/Grass is horrible. It was horrible when Parasect did it in Red and Blue, it was still horrible when Game Freak tried again with Wormadam in Diamond and Pearl and it will continue to be horrible no matter what you do with it. Defensively Bug/Grass is pretty bad because, although it comes with five resistances, most of them to strong attacking types, it also has six weaknesses, two of which are double-weaknesses. Most Pokémon would count themselves unlucky to be cursed with just one; two (especially when one of them is Fire) is very difficult to live with. Offensively the combination is somehow even worse; Bug and Grass are two of the worst attacking types in the game, resisted by six and seven other elements, respectively. What’s more, they have no synergy at all because they have four of those elements in common (Fire, Flying, Poison and Steel). A Bug/Grass Pokémon needs something really special to make it do anything other than suck. Parasect had Spore, the only 100% accurate sleep-inducing technique in the game, and was still just barely usable. Wormadam had nothing of any real interest and was therefore absolutely terrible. Leavanny is going to need either awesome stats or a really cool movepool to succeed, so let’s see… She’s pretty fast and has very strong physical attacks, and her defences are okay for a sweeper-type, which is what Leavanny seems to be, but certainly not good. Nothing spectacular, but a Pokémon can succeed with worse. What does she have to back up that attack stat? Well… very little. Leaf Blade and X-Scissor are good, solid options to represent her own types, but as mentioned Bug/Grass is a horrible combination and she needs more. Poison Jab is practically redundant with X-Scissor in terms of type coverage, Aerial Ace is depressingly weak but might be the best option, Shadow Claw is, again, a bit weak but would let her hit a few things that resist her primary attacks and hurt Ghost-types, and I guess there’s also Slash, but when you’re seriously considering a Normal-type attack on anything other than a Normal or Water Pokémon, you’re in trouble, trust me. It’s great that Leavanny gets Swords Dance, but all the attack boosts in the world won’t change the fact that many Steel-types resist every last attack she learns, and Fire-, Flying- and Poison-types resist both her primary attacks.
If you ask me, actually trying to fight should really be Leavanny’s last resort. It’s possible to breed Baton Pass onto a Sewaddle, as well as Agility, and we’ve seen she gets Swords Dance. Since Leavanny can’t go two turns without meeting something that resists half of her movepool, it might be a better use of her time to try passing one or the other of those boosts to something that can really make use of it. There are probably Pokémon who would do a better job of this than Leavanny, but she’s not as obviously incompetent at it as she is at sweeping. While she’s at it, she can set up Reflect or Light Screen for you to protect the rest of your team from physical or special attacks, respectively, if that’s what you need. If you really want to confuse people, she even learns Calm Mind, so she could use that to pass special attack and special defence boosts. In fact, now that I think about it, Leavanny has a wonderful movepool for Baton Passing; it’s just a shame her defences are so mediocre or she might actually have a niche there. As she is, you have better options.
I am of the school of thought that believes Grass-types need more love, and Bug/Grass in particular could do with a stronger representative. Leavanny isn’t there yet; she doesn’t have anything game-changing enough to make up for the fact that she just has a horrendous type combination. One of the merits of this latest generation of Pokémon, however, is that few, if any, of them are truly unusable. Leavanny’s bad, yes, but she’s still a huge improvement. Unfortunately, she also suggests to me that after all this time Game Freak still don’t quite get that some elements need more help than others. As a Pokémon Trainer, I’m on the fence about Leavanny, but as a Pokémaniac, I’m going to have to let her pass. I actually think Parasect’s design is more interesting but Leavanny is well done, makes sense, and isn’t derivative, which makes her okay in my book.
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!