Hawlucha

Hawlucha.

Right; I’m going to leave Carbink for now and do her with Diancie at the end, by which time I’ll hopefully be clearer on how they work, so that leaves only one Pokémon in the Coastal Kalos subregion: Hawlucha, the… lucha libre Pokémon… which is another one stricken from the list of phrases I never thought I would live to say.  Game Freak are responsible for a disconcerting number of those.  Funnily enough, though, Hawlucha’s been making more and more sense the more time I spend on this entry, and may even be one of my favourites of this generation now, which I didn’t really expect.  Let’s have a look.

Fighting Pokémon tend to be based on human martial artists, warriors or athletes: Sawk is a karate master, Throh is judo, Hitmontop is capoeira, Cobalion and friends are the three musketeers, Medicham is some kind of monk, and so on and so forth.  Hawlucha continues the trend, but picks an especially recognisable and outlandish sport – the style of Mexican wrestling known as lucha libre, which is literally Spanish for “free fighting” or “free wrestling.”  Hawlucha’s flight feathers flare out behind her like a cape in some elaborate costume (I, at least, can’t help but recall Jack Black in Nacho Libre), and the green pattern on her head with her eyes outlined in orange recalls the luchador’s trademark face mask; the orange feathers sticking out behind her head might also be meant to suggest the knotted ends of a cloth mask tied at the back of the head (also, YES, Hawlucha’s design parses as feminine to me for some reason; NO, I have no idea why).  Lucha libre is regularly described as exemplifying a “high-flying” style of wrestling that incorporates many leaps, somersaults, and other so-called “aerial” moves – flashy, impressive moves that require great physical agility – hence Hawlucha’s secondary Flying type, birdlike features, and emphasis on speed and acrobatic techniques.  In North American professional wrestling, this kind of style is favoured by smaller wrestlers to leverage their agility against the greater power of their bulkier opponents – just as Hawlucha uses it to compete with the likes of Hariyama and Machamp.  The lucha angle also kind of plays into my personal vague nonsense about Fighting-types, which is that many of them are distinctively preoccupied with the idea of fighting, and often with honour or glory, in a way which most other Pokémon aren’t.  Luchadores have, or claim to have, their own peculiar code of honour in which their masks hold particular significance, and the whole sport is curiously ritualised in a similar manner to North American professional wrestling, with fighters taking on ‘heroic’ or ‘villainous’ personas to give their matches symbolic meaning, but to an even greater extent, helped by the sense of mystery and drama created by the ubiquitous masks.  Overall, it’s… certainly out of left field for a Pokémon design, but it’s undeniably clever, and it’s one of those designs that just manages to be so damn weird I almost can’t help but like it, in spite of my normal aversion to Pokémon based on modern subcultures.  The blending of the Fighting and Flying elements works very nicely, and the fact that many luchadores actually base their ring personas on animals – including hawks, quite often – makes the whole thing even smoother.

 ...sometimes it's really better not to ask.

Some people also link Hawlucha’s raptor-like appearance with the costume of an Aztec eagle warrior, and while I’m not sure there’s any obvious tip-off there it would certainly make sense, since lucha libre and the history of the Aztec empire are linked by both being distinctive parts of Mexican culture.  Jaguars and eagles, both powerful totemic animals in Aztec culture, are for that very reason among the most common animal inspirations for luchador costumes and identities.  There’s another connection in that a lot of people say the luchador mask actually has its roots in Aztec ritual masks; as far as I can tell that’s not actually true (more likely they’re just derived from masked North American professional wrestlers), though the Aztecs certainly did produce a dazzling array of these things from a wide variety of often precious materials, some intended to be worn, others purely ornamental, and – as in many cultures – putting on a mask could be symbolic of taking on a new or changed identity, just as it is for the luchadores.  Even Hawlucha’s red and green colour scheme might conceivably be meant to recall the red and green of the quetzal, a bird held sacred by the Aztecs, who used its feathers to decorate their rulers’ headdresses.  Again, I don’t really think there’s anything about Hawlucha that definitively says “yes, they were looking to the Aztecs as an additional source of inspiration” because everything about the design makes sense without them, but there’s enough that it would hardly surprise me, and it makes for a cool extra dimension.  There’d also be some neat material in that to introduce a Mega Evolution in future generations, if Game Freak were so inclined…

 An Aztec figurine depecting an Eagle Warrior, a member of one of the elite warrior societies that made up a significant chunk of the Aztec upper class.

Like a luchador, Hawlucha is agile, relying on her incredible speed to outmanoeuvre and destroy her enemies.  There’s precious little that can outrun her, and with the Unburden ability she can further raise her speed to ridiculous levels by using a consumable item – like, say, a Liechi Berry to make her attacks stronger as well.  Throw in Swords Dance, and you’ve got a damn threatening physical attacker in there, with a lethal Hi Jump Kick.  Probably Hawlucha’s most obvious flaw is that she lacks any powerful Flying attacks aside from Acrobatics, which is weak when used by a Pokémon holding an item but very powerful otherwise and therefore requires Hawlucha to be played in a certain way – fortunately, the potential of mixing this move with Unburden is obvious.  When and if elemental gems become a thing in generation VI, a Flying Gem/Acrobatics/Unburden combo is something of a foregone (and devastating) conclusion.  For now, though, the options are to have no item at all (suboptimal, but straightforward), use a Power Herb with Sky Attack (gives Hawlucha one extremely powerful shot, but basically leaves you with a dead moveslot thereafter), try to ensure that her item gets used up somehow, probably a Substitute/Liechi Berry combo (a bit awkward since she really needs the Swords Dance boost – a Liechi Berry just isn’t enough since her attack stat is good but not brilliant), or do what Game Freak was probably intending and use her signature move, Flying Press.  Flying Press… isn’t actually a Flying attack at all, but it kind of acts like one – it’s the first and currently only dual-type attack, which functions as a Fighting move for all intents and purposes (gets a damage bonus from a Black Belt but not from a Sharp Beak, only gets a single STAB from Hawlucha’s Fighting type, etc) except for calculating type effectiveness, where it acts as both a Fighting attack and a Flying attack.  Weaknesses and resistances stack – in theory, this means it can get a x4 or x¼ damage multiplier against a single-type Pokémon, though in practice the only time this is likely to happen is when Hawlucha is hit by Electrify and it becomes a Flying/Electric attack, since Fighting and Flying don’t actually share any offensive strengths or weaknesses.  In case there are more moves like this in future, I’m pretty sure the damage formula doesn’t allow for the weakness/resistance multiplier to stack any higher or lower than that, so we don’t have to worry about, say, Parasect getting hit by a x16 damage Fire/Flying attack in generation VII (…wait, actually that sounds awesome).  To be honest, Flying Press isn’t really a great move – by its very nature you’re going to get coverage that’s redundant with Hi Jump Kick and its power is only decent, but it does behave in some ways like a Flying attack, it’s just weird enough to potentially confuse a few people, and hey, it’s Hawlucha’s signature move, so what the hell.

 The resplendant quetzal, one of the holiest animals in Aztec culture, and... maybe the inspiration for Hawlucha's colour scheme?  I think?

Fighting/Flying is actually damn good on its own, but potential coverage moves of note that Hawlucha can learn are Stone Edge, X-Scissor and Poison Jab.  Rock-type coverage is generally good, but not particularly useful on Hawlucha; Bug and Poison are generally poor but get super-effective hits against Psychic- and Fairy-types, respectively.  Pick your poison.  Um.  But not literally.  Unless you want to.  Uh… anyway.  Hawlucha gets U-Turn as well, but despite having a good stat profile for it, her reliance on boosts, and particularly the volatile nature of Unburden, make her less than ideal since there will often be times she just doesn’t want to switch out.  Of course, you could just not use Unburden: her hidden ability, Mold Breaker has plenty of universal utility for circumventing defensive powers like Sturdy, Unaware, Solid Rock, or Dragonite’s Multiscale.  Hawlucha doesn’t benefit from it as much as some of its other users do, since she doesn’t use Ground attacks, or really anything else for which there’s a common ability that grants immunity, and some kind of Unburden combo is probably going to be the better pick most of the time, but if you want Hawlucha to use a Choice Band or something, or just don’t like any of the ways of triggering Unburden, it certainly isn’t a bad ability.  Taunt or Encore could see some use for keeping heavy defensive stuff like Hippowdon from healing, and Baton Pass is in there too if you want something else to make use of Hawlucha’s boosts, although she’s really pretty good at doing that for herself anyway and there are better Baton Passers out there.

All up, this is a very neat Pokémon, and I think one of the better ones of the generation – clever, offbeat design, fitting and unique abilities, and fairly strong too, whatever you’re trying to do with her, if not absolutely top-tier.  To be honest, I don’t really think there’s anything I’d want to change in either the mechanics or the design, other than maybe reworking Flying Press a little since it doesn’t really replace either Acrobatics or Hi Jump Kick – maybe allow it to function as either Fighting or Flying, whichever is better at the time, but reduce the power a little.  Not a significant criticism though; this one’s a keeper in my book – good place to finish Coastal Kalos!

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