So. How ‘bout that new element, huh?
When Nintendo announced that there would be an eighteenth type in Generation VI, I was one of the Pokémon fans who were neither excited and joyful about it nor annoyed and upset (there are, at the last count, seventeen of us in the world, one of whom is quite old and could die any minute). Before X and Y were announced people used to ask me sometimes what new type I would add if I could, expecting that of course I would add one or more if I had the chance, and naturally I was difficult with them because I enjoy being difficult, and I was minimalist because I enjoy being minimalist, and I would say “well, actually, there’s one or two that could stand to be taken out…” and if pressed I would babble a bit about having a ‘Holy’ type or some such, although my heart wasn’t exactly in it. It’s not that I disliked the idea; I just had a different view of how to do the things that a new type would do. A new type means rebalancing the type chart – well, you can fiddle with the relationships of the existing types without adding new ones (though people might feel cheated by that). A new type means new design opportunities – but really, what gaps were there in the existing set? A new type means a new class of Pokémon, linking species that were previously disparate – is that good or bad? In short, having a Fairy-type does all sorts of things that I probably would have chosen to do without it, but they’re done now, and Dragon and Steel no longer rule the universe, and there are probably lots of different new Pokémon that will happen now who wouldn’t have happened before, so let’s see what we can come up with to say about these critters.
Game Freak have rebalanced the type chart before, of course; they added Dark and Steel, way back when, because they wanted to break the stranglehold of the Psychic-types over the world of Red and Blue (apologies if this next part bores you; some of us old f%$#wits, of course, remember what Psychic-types were like in Red and Blue, but not everyone was there, so shut up and let them listen). With their attacks resisted only by other Psychic Pokémon, vulnerable only to the pathetic Leech Life, Pin Missile and Twineedle, immune to Ghost attacks (i.e. Lick – Night Shade worked, but dealt static damage anyway) because of a mistake in the type chart, and thereby dominating over the poor Ghost/Poison Pokémon who were somehow supposed to counter them, Psychic was hands-down the best element in the game. The addition of Pokémon who actually resisted their attacks changed all of that, and Psychic-types are now better known for supporting roles than for the devastating special attacker positions they tended to occupy in the first generation. The fourth and fifth generations had a somewhat different situation going on: there were two types ruling the roost the way Psychic Pokémon once had – Dragon, because they had some of the most powerful attacks that could be relied upon (notably Outrage and Draco Meteor) and could only be resisted by one other element, and Steel, because they were that element (and also because they resisted literally two thirds of the type chart). Thus we have Fairy Pokémon. Fairy Pokémon, as I’m sure you’re all aware by now, are completely immune to Dragon attacks. This spells disaster for Outrage, because it locks the user into using the same move again for two or three turns, it spells disaster for Dragons with Choice items, which have a similar effect and remain among the most popular ways of getting the biggest bang for your buck, and even Dragons who use neither are none too happy. They now find themselves in a similar position to that Psychic Pokémon did in Gold and Silver, though admittedly not quite as serious: their near-perfect neutral coverage is now blemished, forcing them to confront the fact that, actually, their attacks hit for super-effective damage against very little (only other Dragon types, in fact). Lesser Dragon-types like Druddigon and Altaria are going to be feeling that one for a while, but Pokémon like Dragonite and Hydreigon still enjoy the advantage of… y’know, being Dragonite and Hydreigon, with the attendant versatility, power and all-around magnificence, so they can come through just about anything smelling of roses, but now that the most terrifying thing about them can be wished away with the wave of a magic wand, their lives are going to get a lot more… interesting.
An aside on how the other types feel about all this, purely because it’s the only chance I’ll have to talk about that (and throughout all this, it’s also good to remember that the availability of Dazzling Gleam via TM adds a completely new trick to the repertoires of a lot of Pokémon who can now stand up to Dragon-types). Steel-types didn’t come through the changes entirely unscathed – they lost two of their resistances, to Dark and Ghost, which is important because there were so few types that did even neutral damage to Steel before, much less super-effective, that many Pokémon found they were utterly incapable even of learning anything Steel-types didn’t resist, through no fault of their own. Steel also got a huge bonus, though – they’re one of the two elements that can hit hard against Fairy Pokémon (the other being Poison, which desperately needed the boost), a benefit which also comes with another bloody resistance, so honestly I think they probably win as much as they lose here. I just want to point out, at this juncture, that no other type in the game has more than six resistances (the runner up, surprisingly, is Fire; Poison has five, and none of the others exceeds four). Steel has ten, plus Poison immunity. Just saying. Meanwhile, Fighting loses out by being one of the elements resisted by Fairy-types, but I’m pretty sure they can take it; a lot of things resist Fighting attacks, but almost as many are weak against them. For some reason, Game Freak also felt that Bug needed to suffer in the same way, which seems kind of unfair, given how awful an element Bug was already, but maybe they thought that Grass was feeling lonely being the only type resisted by seven others. What I seem to be getting at is that I don’t think the type chart is now ‘fixed’ by any stretch of the imagination and that more aggressive changes would not have hurt, but this isn’t really what I’m supposed to be talking about. Back to Fairies.
Most of the ways Fairy Pokémon interact with the other types make some sort of thematic sense. The overpowering advantage against Dragon-types is controversial, but, well, what do dragons do in fairytales? “Get slain,” seems to be the pattern. Rarely does one find a terrible fire-breathing damsel who must be slain in order to rescue the pure and virtuous dragon, though I’m sure it would make a good story. The posture of abject surrender which they adopt when facing Steel-types, likewise, makes sense – it is well-attested in European folklore that creatures of the Fey are repelled by cold iron (often any metal will do, but cold iron – iron forged by pure bludgeoning force, without the application of heat – seems to get the most consistent results). Fire, similarly, is universally known for its ability to repel magical threats, while Fighting-types stand little chance against Fairies for much the same reason as they are defeated by Ghost- and Psychic-types; all the martial skill in the world just doesn’t help much against magic. The remainder are trickier. Fairies beat Dark-types, I suspect, by virtue of being associated with goodness and purity, where Dark Pokémon are connected with treachery and outright evil. Weakness to Poison was obviously necessary for balance reasons but thematically, as far as I can tell, it’s probably something about purity and corruption, perhaps mixed with the idea that Fairies, being otherworldly and having their origins in a place without sickness or disease, are particularly vulnerable to these earthly difficulties. I’m afraid on Bug they’ve lost me, which is doubly infuriating because resistance to Bug is probably the one thing about the Fairy-type that makes me wonder, from a purely mechanical perspective, just what on earth they were thinking. Maybe because traditional fairies often have the ability to control insects, as mounts and the like…? I’m not sure I buy it. Honestly, the reverse, much more kindly to the poor Bug-types, could have been easily justified: fairies react to bugs with a girlish shriek in the tradition of Misty. While I’m on the subject of unfairness, I also think this would have been a wonderful opportunity to give the downtrodden Normal-types some love by making them strong against Fairy Pokémon, on the grounds that they are normal, firmly rooted in the real world, and don’t care so much about magic (which I think is the same reason they’re immune to Ghost attacks) – but no; no-one cares about Normal-types. Anyway, the sense we get here, overall, is that the type relationships of Fairy Pokémon mark them out as being representative of fairytale goodness in general, and all things bright and beautiful – although their relationships with Steel- and Fire-types might hint at a connection to older folklore in which fairies, elves and the like, while enchanting and beautiful, are also dangerous.
Before the Victorian authors (and to a lesser extent Shakespeare, most notably in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) got to them, fairies in European folklore were a curious mix of old Celtic nature gods and Christian ideas about demons. Even more recent characters like J.M. Barrie’s Tinkerbell, who can be jealous, spiteful and possessive, don’t entirely leave this behind. They’re not necessarily malevolent, but they come from a place where humans really don’t belong and can easily get lost. They play tricks, they lie, cheat and steal, they dispense good luck and bad on a whim. They steal children and raise them as fey, leaving stunted, dumb Changelings in their place. They’re known to kidnap adults too at times, which can be great until they quite innocently forget that humans need to eat, or just don’t realize that we age. Terry Pratchett said it best:
“Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder. Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels. Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies. Elves are glamorous. They project glamour. Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment. Elves are terrific. They beget terror. The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning. No one ever said elves are nice. Elves are bad.”
The kinds of Pokémon who have been awarded the Fairy-type so far seem to bear out a more standard ‘fairytale’ interpretation – I mean, really, how much more saccharine can you get than a literal sentient ball of candyfloss? Like Puck or Tinkerbell, there are some mischievous ones in the bunch, like the famously unpredictable Clefairy or the cheeky Whimsicott, but mixed in with sweetness-and-light Togekiss, and loyal, pure Gardevoir. Perhaps the only one who hints at the really dark side of the fey is Mawile, based on a treacherous Japanese monster. In fairness, though, when we start getting further into that style of fairy, there’d be a lot of overlap with Dark in terms of what the type means… which brings me to the next question: does the Fairy type blaze such new ground that we needed it to accommodate new designs?
Jim the Editor is adamant that there are no Pokémon in X and Y or anywhere else that actually need a new type in order to express what they can do, and that there is no reason any hypothetical Fairy Pokémon you care to come up with would not be equally well served by some combination of Normal, Psychic, Dark and possibly Grass. Ultimately there aren’t that many to account for because, of course, most of the Fairy-types that exist now are Pokémon who already had types or type combinations that served them well enough. All we’re left to deal with are Flabébé and co. (Grass or Grass/Psychic), Aromatisse, Slurpuff and their associated spawn (and honestly, Normal has so much in it already that stuffing in perfume and candyfloss as well would hardly hurt it), Dedenne (who is just Pikachu again for the fifth time; face it), Carbink and Diancie, whatever their relationship is (pure Rock would work, actually, since Power Gem has established that gems and crystals fall under Rock, but Rock/Psychic would surely be fine too), Klefki (Steel/Psychic), Xerneas (why not Psychic, really?), and Sylveon, who was the first hint anyone got that there would be a new type – but be honest, if not for the fact that a Normal-type Eevee evolution would have been weird, is there anything about Sylveon that would have said to you “no; can’t be a Normal Pokémon”? If all those other Pokémon had been part of the pre-release hype and Sylveon had been kept hidden, would you really have thought to yourself “gotta be a new type there”? Perhaps the existence of the Fairy-type will stimulate the creation of more folklore-based Pokémon, who are often among my favourites. On the other, perhaps it will only give us more pink fuzzballs. I am uncertain.
The other question I’m left with is why certain other Pokémon are not Fairy-types, because I’ve always found that an equally useful way of thinking about what a type means and where its unity comes from. Why isn’t Chansey a Fairy-type (aside from the fact that no-one wants Blissey running around with Dragon immunity)? What do Wigglytuff and Azumarill have that she doesn’t? Why should Gallade have remained Psychic/Fighting rather than switching to Fairy/Fighting? Doesn’t his ‘chivalry’ thing fit right in with the fairytale theme, and isn’t it arguably more important than “I have MIND SWORDS”? Personally, I also would have loved to see Snorunt and Glalie become Ice/Fairy, because they’re straight out of Japanese folklore just like Mawile, and because I’m fond of malevolent fairies. Jim the Editor wants Tangela to be Grass/Fairy, because of its deceptive and tricky nature, Milotic to be Water/Fairy, because of her aura of serenity (and what’s more ‘fairytale’ than a magical lake with a beautiful fairy guardian?), and Rapidash to be Fire/Fairy, because… y’know, unicorn (although admittedly Rapidash lacks the purity-and-magic ideas associated with the unicorns of folklore and is more about fire and horsiness). This might be a good place to return to Dragon-types, because Dragon is an element that is similarly difficult to pin down, for similar reasons – both are subsets of “Pokémon inspired by folklore,” and both represent a particular kind of creature with representatives of one sort or another in multiple cultures, ensuring that the names evoke a wide range of different ideas in the real world, and as a result, both have lines that are very difficult to draw. I’m not sure anyone knows what a Dragon-type is anymore, living as we are in a world where Altaria and Dragalge are Dragons while Gyarados and Charizard are not. The fact that there are Dragon and Fairy breeding groups, which overlap with their namesake types, but not exactly, makes life even more confusing. Probably the best we can hope for is some vague thematic statement: both are magical creatures (more magical than most Pokémon, that is) with powers that place them above mere mortal concerns, Dragons being generally monstrous in nature, Fairies generally sweet and kind (or at least appearing to be), and superficially more human-like.
Fairy is hardly the only type with blurred edges – I’ve long contended that Ground melts into Normal on one side and Rock on the other, and I think everyone has one or two retypes they want to see happen. It also isn’t going to create a neat balance between the types, though it’s certainly a valiant effort. It mostly makes sense, but in some ways is very weird. I don’t think it really needed to exist, but since ‘fairy’ Pokémon have been a legitimate classification for a long time now, it sort of makes sense, in a way, that we now finally have Fairy-with-a-capital-F Pokémon. I guess ultimately that puts me right back where I started: it’s not good or bad; it’s just new. One way or another, the game will never be the same again – which is exactly what we really want out of a new generation, isn’t it?