Tradition is tradition is tradition, and tradition dictates that no Pokémon generation is complete without an evolutionary line of exceptionally mundane Normal-type rodent Pokémon. [EDIT: correction for my phylogenic carelessness; rabbits and hares are not rodents but belong to a closely related group of their own, the lagomorphs – for our purposes, though, the distinction is probably academic] As with Talonflame, Game Freak seem to feel that they are in quite an odd position; if the Pokémon they design is not sufficiently banal and inconsequential, it will not fulfil the implicit requirements of Tradition, but if they go too far… well, is there really anyone out there who wants more perfectly generic rodent Pokémon? Pokémon are weird creatures with a penchant for doing the impossible, but they are also a representation of the variability of life in the real world, variability that includes the animals we see all over the place and get, frankly, a little bored with – how should that conflict be handled?
History lesson time.
My difficulty with Raticate is that, although larger-than-life as all Pokémon are, otherwise he is a rat and does rat things: gnawing and chewing and infesting and breeding and surviving everywhere it has no right to be. That’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also just about the only Pokémon I can think of that has no supernatural powers whatsoever – even the ability to gnaw through concrete is something actual rats can do, which I suppose in a way is just testament to what a badass animal the Norwegian rat is. Similarly, Furret’s most significant power, as far as I can make out, is being long and bendy, while Linoone… can run in a straight line, I guess? Bibarel represents an early experiment in the same kind of encouraging dual-typing as we see in both Talonflame and Diggersby, but Water is a type that tends to get splashed around (pun most heinously intended) rather liberally, normally on the grounds that a Pokémon lives in or near water, and I’m shadowed by the question of what it actually adds to Bibarel. Don’t even get me started on those creepy Unovan hell-beasts. Linoone’s Belly Drum shenanigans notwithstanding, none of these are particularly effective Pokémon either, because if there’s no flavour reason for a Pokémon to have useful abilities, it often won’t get them (although it has to be said that many of them make amazing HM whores in generations three and four, particularly Bibarel with his access to water-related abilities). Bland designs make bland strategies; the two can’t be completely separated. With that in mind, let’s go to Bunnelby and Diggersby.
Bunnelby’s thing is his ears. Rabbits’ long ears are of course among their most distinctive characteristics, but they don’t really do a whole lot other than… well, hear things. Presumably help to radiate heat in species that live in hot climates. Pretty standard stuff for ears to do, really. Not so Bunnelby’s ears. They are the largest organ in his body and are also his primary manipulative appendages, with ends almost like paws that he uses to scoop earth and dig the warrens that rabbits are famous for; the anime also portrays him as using his ears for most of his attacks. The tips are brown, as though stained by mud, but a ruff of brown fur around his neck, the same shade, suggests that this is their natural colouring. Diggersby continues to create the same impression with a speckled pattern at the edge of the brown portion; it’s a nice way of bringing his Ground typing into his physical appearance. His mighty ears, even more potent than Bunnelby’s, can pummel through bedrock or lift and carry heavy loads. How they can do this, tethered as they are to his body by the relatively slender and probably hollow parts of his ears responsible for hearing, is something of a mystery; in a real animal it would be difficult to understand how they can even be held up, let alone swung forcefully without simply ripping them off. Then again, many Pokémon are in the habit of doing six impossible things before breakfast, and anatomical plausibility should probably be low on our list of criteria for evaluating them (although, having said that, this is one of the harder ones to overlook since Diggersby doesn’t have a lot of explicit special powers that could be used to justify it). Ground Pokémon are known for being especially solid and stable, so maybe their flesh and bones can take a great deal more weight than we are accustomed to putting on our various appendages? The information about Diggersby presented to us by the Pokédex focuses on their uses in the human world, where like Machoke and Gurdurr they are regularly enlisted as construction workers – like the comedic stereotype of construction workers, they are also lazy and like nothing more than lounging around once their work is done. I’d actually be more interested in how they work ecologically, though; Bunnelby only dig into soil like ordinary rabbits (albeit rabbits with prehensile ears) but Diggersby can go much deeper and presumably can only navigate larger tunnels as well. What might their ‘warrens’ start to look like? The purpose of a burrow is surely defeated if something much larger than a Bunnelby can easily get inside, so the resulting structures could end up looking quite complicated, with the Diggersby-sized entrances protected carefully from smaller predators.
The thing about my relationship with Diggersby is that I can’t help but think he looks a little bit like a mouldy potato. A damning assessment, one might think. I’m pretty sure Diggersby isn’t meant to be a particularly elegant or awe-inspiring Pokémon, though; in fact I’m pretty sure he is meant to look fat and lazy, and he does that remarkably well. He doesn’t exactly look like he could crush bedrock (although he certainly could – see below for the reasons bludgeoning power is at the core of Diggersby’s skill set) and is a little out of place in the traditionally ‘tough’ and ‘badass’ Pokémon crowds; to be honest, I’m not sure who he’s supposed to be appealing to. The unkempt lazy bastard demographic, I suppose (you know, now that I put it like that, I’m really starting to empathise). In a way, strangely, the fact that Diggersby is so shamelessly unappealing is actually what I like about him. Rabbits are cute and cuddly; making a cute and cuddly rabbit like Buneary – or, to an extent, Bunnelby – is just a little bit cliché and predictable. Making a muscular but pudgy rabbit who looks kind of like he needs a shave is much more out of left field, while still tying into a well-known trait of actual rabbits via the construction worker aesthetic: they’re good at digging. This Pokémon has undeniable personality – not exactly an attractive personality, but nonetheless a much clearer one than his normal and Normal rodent predecessors have tended to exhibit… with the possible exception of Watchog, who, again, scares me. Some unorthodox ideas went into this Pokémon, and I think on some level they kind of work.
If you want to use Diggersby, you’re going to want one with the hidden ability, no ifs, no buts. As truly entrancing as Diggersby’s Cheek Pouch bull$#!t is (I mean, who doesn’t want to get bonus health back for eating any kind of berry? That thing is gold, am I right?), there is simply no passing up the ridiculousness that is Huge Power. To make clear how big a deal this ability is, I should clear up a common misconception about it – a lot of people seem to think Huge Power doubles the abstract ‘base attack’ score generic to a Pokémon’s species, which would effectively move Diggersby from an abysmal 56 to a fairly convincing 112. In fact, it doesn’t; what it doubles is the Pokémon’s actual concrete attack stat with training, level, nature and individual variation factored in – for a level 100 Diggersby, this is likely to be somewhere in the low 200’s if he’s been trained for physical attacks (which he should be!) and will double to about 440-460 – equivalent to a base attack score around 160, approaching the likes of Slaking and Rampardos. This Pokémon is a blunt instrument of epic proportions. Earthquake is, of course, the key move here, backing up Huge Power with similarly dramatic bludgeoning force. Either Stone Edge or Wild Charge is practically mandatory to punish Flying-types who seek to take advantage of their Ground immunity. Normal attacks are, as always, mainly useful for being able to do neutral damage to most things, which isn’t that great an asset on a Pokémon like Diggersby, who has a fairly solid array of offensive types to choose from, but since he is a Normal-type, Return is probably worth checking out. Hammer Arm and Power-Up Punch add Fighting-type options to round out the spread of dangers Diggersby can present. Power-Up Punch is probably the smarter option unless you’re looking at a Choice Band set, since Diggersby can’t really afford to lose speed using Hammer Arm, and the power you sacrifice on your Fighting attack (which isn’t going to be your main one anyway) is relatively easy to justify when you can get a boost for your other attacks by using Power-Up Punch. Always worth consideration, especially in conjunction with Choice items, is U-Turn; with Diggersby’s doubled attack stat, even this relatively weak move will leave quite a sting as he flees the scene.
The bad news for Diggersby is practically everything else about him: his defences are reasonable, but nothing to write home about, and he’s not the fastest thing on two legs. The former, he mostly just has to deal with; the latter, on the other hand, can be at least partially alleviated by his access to Agility and Quick Attack – you probably should use one or the other, since, again, Diggersby is great at dishing out hits but not so good at taking them. Being a Normal-type with such a colossal attack stat actually makes Quick Attack reasonably solid – after all, Aqua Jet always worked for Azumarill, who functions on the same basic principles. As an alternative to Agility, Diggersby also gets Swords Dance (you know, just in case that 460 attack stat starts to bore you); you definitely want Quick Attack available if you pick that option. He can also learn Flail, and a Focus Sash set with Flail and Agility might be sufficiently amusing and destructive to be worth a shot if you can keep him from taking any passive damage that would break the sash – it helps that Diggersby is immune to Sandstorm damage, but with entry hazards as popular as they are it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth (still… as Epic Flails go, Diggersby’s would be pretty impressive… maybe the AI trainers in the Battle Maison would fall for it…). There aren’t really any other compelling options for this guy, which is sort of a weakness – he’s fairly predictable. Almost nothing can absorb his attacks with impunity, but he’s naturally slow, not all that tough, has only a passable defensive type combination, and is very likely to be carrying a Choice item that will restrict his tactical options further. Reliance on Normal and Ground attacks is also a big welcoming invitation to any of the many Levitating Ghost-types out there. Diggersby is a sledgehammer – use him as such, but remember to bring your chisels along as well.
The bottom line for me is that you can pretty much explain Raticate, or Furret, or Bibarel, by saying “it’s a rat Pokémon” “it’s a ferret Pokémon” or “it’s a derpy beaver Pokémon.” Saying of Diggersby “it’s a rabbit Pokémon,” while certainly correct, would clearly be missing the point. There should be rodent Pokémon in the game, there should be Normal Pokémon in the game, and there should be common Pokémon based on common animals in the game – indeed, some of these categories deserve, if anything, more attention! Bunnelby and Diggersby are a step in the right direction; they take something generic and everyday, and they twist it. It doesn’t necessarily make total sense, but it’s interesting, and it immediately suggests a battle role based on overwhelming physical force, giving this Pokémon something cool to do. Diggersby is far from my favourite Kalos design, but for once that’s mostly because of my own taste in Pokémon and not because the template has led to a half-assed creation.