I think I’m just about through the Pokémon that are genuinely bad now. A lot of what’s left is, for want of a better term, so-so – like the female counterparts to Rufflet and Braviary, the vulture Pokémon Vullaby and Mandibuzz. I see some initial sensible choices here. Vultures are a nice choice for a starting point; their associations are specific and evocative, and Dark/Flying makes sense and isn’t overdone; there’s only one other Pokémon of that type, Honchkrow, who’s sufficiently different from Mandibuzz that it doesn’t bother me. Honchkrow is into plots and schemes, while Mandibuzz is a far more straightforward opportunistic predator. She also has a macabre fashion sense: Vullaby and Mandibuzz ornament themselves with bones and even build their nests out of bones. This was Cubone and Marowak’s thing, of course, but that’s not such a problem; they wore skulls as (I think) some kind of creepy honour thing, whereas for Vullaby and Mandibuzz it’s mostly about protection and decoration. No, the thing that bothers me about Vullaby and Mandibuzz is how silly their bones make them look. Vullaby is known as the “diapered” Pokémon, so yes, that eggshell-shape around her lower body (which is actually made of plates of bone) is indeed meant to look like a nappy. I don’t know whether Mandibuzz is supposed to look like she’s wearing an apron but that’s certainly what I think of, and the domestic imagery of Vullaby’s nappy makes me think this is exactly what’s meant to be conveyed here. Perhaps it’s just me, but this sounds incredibly ridiculous when applied to Dark-type Pokémon who, in keeping with the usual stereotypes of that element, habitually pursue injured and vulnerable prey (not carcasses as real vultures do, incidentally) and use the bones of their victims as armour and building material. There are ways this could make sense. “Pokémon that seem savage to us, but that’s just how nature works; actually they have a caring and maternal streak” is a concept I could really get behind if Vullaby and Mandibuzz were actually portrayed that way. The Pokédex just dwells on the things I’ve mentioned already: Vullaby and Mandibuzz like bones and prefer to fight weaker opponents. This way, if you take out the annoying parts, they’re really just stereotypical cartoonish portrayals of vultures, which isn’t very interesting.
Finally, I usually prefer not to talk about names, but Mandibuzz, while it does have an appealing sound to it, doesn’t work with the rest of the design. -buzz obviously comes from the buzzard, a bird of prey, but a common complaint about Mandibuzz is that it sounds like it comes from mandible and buzz-saw, and ought to be the name of some dreadfully vicious Bug-type, or at least something very aggressive (which, as we’ll see, Mandibuzz isn’t). The internet suggests that Mandi- comes from mandil, the Spanish word for apron, which I’m beginning to think is what they had in mind, but who would think of that first? Maybe this is a New Zealand thing and mandil is a really common word in parts of the US that have a lot of Spanish speakers. Again, I don’t like complaining about names, but I don’t think it’s sensible to pick a name with such an obscure meaning when it also has a far more obvious meaning that doesn’t fit the design at all.
Thanks to her bony mantle, Mandibuzz has very good protection against most direct attacks – she’s comparable to Skarmory, one of the best defensive Flying-types in the game, in her ability to endure physical attacks, which is no mean feat, and she’s almost as effective against special attacks (where Skarmory fails miserably). She’s also a little faster than Skarmory. What, you might well ask, is the catch? Skarmory is a Steel-type, and is therefore resistant to more than half of the attack types in the game, while Mandibuzz is a Dark-type and is decidedly less impressive: her three resistances (Ghost, Dark and Grass) are reasonably useful ones, but far less significant than her three weaknesses (Rock, Ice and Electric). Neither is affected by Ground attacks, although Mandibuzz probably benefits more from her immunity to Psychic attacks than Skarmory does from his immunity to Poison attacks, and her Overcoat ability protects her from Sandstorm and Hail damage (Skarmory’s immune to Sandstorm damage too, but hey, take what you can get). Skarmory is a lot more effective – but that’s not exactly surprising; Steel Pokémon make effective tanks because it’s what they’re made for. Mandibuzz stacks up reasonably well against other defensive Flying Pokémon like Drifblim, Altaria and Mantine – and once again, Honchkrow, the other Dark/Flying dual-type, has a very different style to Mandibuzz, being a high-powered mixed attacker. The other really good news is that, unlike poor Braviary, Mandibuzz can inherit Roost from a father of the appropriate species and use it to heal herself, so – again, unlike poor Braviary – she can use her remarkable bulk to its maximum potential. Mandibuzz does also have one major edge over Skarmory besides her impressive special defence: U-Turn. By letting Mandibuzz switch out after attacking, U-Turn can give her trainer a major tactical advantage, and if you’re choosing to use Mandibuzz over Skarmory, you should definitely consider it.
Now for the bad news. Very few Pokémon can match Mandibuzz in both toughness and speed (she’s not exactly quick, but for a tank she’s quite light on her feet… or rather, her wings – an advantage for using both U-Turn and Roost). However, she’s managed to do all this by sacrificing heavily on the offensive side of things. Mandibuzz requires extremely powerful attacks to inflict significant harm on her opponents, and the only one available to her that’s strong enough is Brave Bird, which deals recoil damage and compromises her toughness. She has enough hit points that she can take recoil damage fairly comfortably but has no other reliable attacks that are even remotely strong enough to make up for her awful attack and worse special attack stats. This being the case, Mandibuzz basically has two ways of actually harming things. The first is Toxic, which anything can learn, although Mandibuzz is admittedly rather good at stalling Pokémon out. The second is Whirlwind, which will blow Pokémon out of battle and bring new ones in. This will only hurt anything if one of Mandibuzz’s teammates has prepared Spikes, Toxic Spikes, or Stealth Rock for her, so some kind of support is pretty much mandatory here, and even then it’s a fairly roundabout way of killing things. Any Steel-type can more or less ignore Mandibuzz completely, and Poison-types with good resistance to physical attacks like Drapion are fairly safe too, because unless you’ve taught her Bone Rush (an unreliable attack, to say the least) she’s likely not to hurt them at all, ever. One expects trickery from a Dark-type, and Mandibuzz is not without options there, but they aren’t spectacular; Punishment and Payback are very situational, Mean Look is amusing but there’s not a whole lot Mandibuzz can do with a trapped Pokémon other than just blow it away again, and Mirror Move is just asking for trouble. She’s fast enough to make reasonable use of Taunt, at least, and tough enough that she’s likely to be fairly happy with opponents who are only allowed to use direct attacks against her; defensive Pokémon already hate Mandibuzz because her main source of damage is Toxic, so Taunt is certainly a logical choice if you can spare the move slot.
For what she is, Mandibuzz is fairly solid; her main flaw is that Skarmory’s best strategies are more or less the same as hers and Skarmory has nine resistances and can set up Spikes for himself. If we accept that it’s not Mandibuzz’s fault Game Freak were so absurdly nice to Steel-types to begin with, she’s not really too bad. If you like Dark-types or want a versatile tank that can block special attacks as well as physical ones, there are worse choices than Mandibuzz, and I can’t think of any other Pokémon that fights quite like she does. I cannot get over the utter silliness of her design, however. I cannot, try as I may, bring myself to call Vullaby and Mandibuzz clever or interesting and I don’t think that the elements of their design support each other. This really is a shame because we need more well-done bird Pokémon; so many of them have terrible flavour and terrible abilities, and I’m tempted to let Mandibuzz pass on her strengths alone, but I’m just not happy with the overall impression.
I hereby deny this Pokémon’s right to exist! Let its bones be ground to make our bread!