One of my favourite sequences in the whole of the original Sun and Moon was Lana’s Water trial on Akala Island, which introduces Wishiwashi: a small, very weak and actually rather pathetic-looking fish Pokémon with apparently no special powers. Before you actually enter the trial grounds, Lana leads you through Brooklet Hill to investigate several commotions taking place in the area’s many pools. Each is apparently caused by a group of Wishiwashi, most of which flee at your approach, leaving one behind to take the rap, but if you catch one, you’ll get some hint of what’s going on by reading the text of its Schooling ability. The further you go, the larger the splashes in the pools become, slowly building a sense of menace around whatever it is you’re following, and Lana starts dropping hints about a powerful Pokémon that must be causing everything, even telling you at one point that Kyogre is said to live in Brooklet Hill. Only when you reach the shore does Lana reveal that this has all been the lead up to her trial, and tell you that you’re about to confront something she calls “the lord of the ocean” – a creature that, when it appears, bears a striking similarity to Kyogre’s monstrous whale-like form. It’s a dramatic reveal that introduces Wishiwashi’s powers through the player character’s own process of discovery and ties them in beautifully with the plot, to an extent that is unprecedented for a non-legendary Pokémon. Let’s take a closer look at the origins and capabilities of the Pokémon behind it all.
Wishiwashi’s inspiration could easily have been almost any of the small forage fish in the herring or anchovy families. Like Wishiwashi, individuals of these species are fairly bland and unexciting creatures. They tend to bear the standard open ocean “camouflage” colours of silver-blue on the back, to blend in with the deep sea below, and white on the belly, to blend in with the sunlit sky above. This combination is favoured by a wide variety of pelagic fish, including both small fish like herrings that use it to evade attackers and large predators like sailfish that use it to approach prey unnoticed, as well as appearing on the Pokémon Sharpedo, Gyarados, Wailord, and Wishiwashi himself. Herrings and anchovies look about as generic as a fish can look, they generally have fairly boring diets based on several varieties of microscopic zooplankton, they possess few outstanding special abilities, and they are most important for being eaten by the millions, both by humans and by just about every other larger sea creature, to the point that it seems legitimately puzzling they could ever have become some of the most populous and successful types of fish on Earth. As with Wishiwashi, things start to get interesting when you have a lot of them.
Herrings and anchovies are some of the most social fish, and spend practically all their time in large groups which can, at a moment’s notice, form a school: a mass of fish moving in unison, creating the illusion that they are all part of a larger organism. Fish in schools show an almost supernatural awareness of all the other fish around them, and appear to use a combination of senses that is still not fully understood by scientists to track and follow their neighbours’ movements instantly and precisely. Wishiwashi communicate and coordinate by a method appropriate to their wimpish nature – using the light that shines from their eyes as a distress signal to summon their allies. Some of Wishiwashi’s Pokédex data seems to imply that it’s solely the glistening of their moist, tear-filled eyes that produces this effect. Other sources suggest that they can actually make their eyes glow, possibly taking inspiration from deep sea fishes like the lanternfish, which also communicate by flashing bioluminescent glands around their eyes. Whatever the mechanism, the result is a very large cloud of fish, often in the form of a swirling ball or tornado, that looks eerily like it has a mind of its own, greater than the sum of its parts. Fish in a school are harder for predators to catch, because it’s difficult to focus on just one. They can more effectively search out food sources of their own by working together, and chase off competitors for those food sources from their territory. It’s even been hypothesised that fish somehow use less energy while swimming in a school, like geese flying in a V formation to reduce wind resistance. Of course, real anchovies have never been observed schooling in a formation that mimics the body of a gigantic sea monster to destroy much larger predators, and have certainly never earned a nickname like “demon of the sea” (conceivably a reference to the biblical Leviathan)… but hey, artistic license, right? Pokémon has always loved the idea of small, unassuming creatures that secretly have incredible powers – just look at Magikarp. Wishiwashi takes that theme in a unique new direction by drawing on an awe-inspiring real world phenomenon.
There’s just one problem: I’m almost certain it has to be deeply and flagrantly illegal. Pokémon battles are normally supposed to be one-on-one. Well… except doubles, or triples… or trials… or horde battles… but, look, you get the point. Seventy-six-on-one is definitely a significant departure from normal practice. Most trainers, I suspect, would feel justly aggrieved if their current opponent requested a brief time out for their Pidgey to get help from several dozen of its friends to form an unstoppable squawking mass of feathery death. There has to be a story behind how it ever became legal to use an entire school of Wishiwashi at once – maybe it’s okay because all the other Wishiwashi in the school are technically wild Pokémon participating on their own initiative? That sounds like a dubious and easily exploitable loophole, especially in a region like Alola, which is famous for wild Pokémon randomly jumping into each other’s battles just to help out. Maybe it’s rationalised as essentially the same as using a Pokémon like Dugtrio, Magneton or Slowbro that’s made up of two or more smaller Pokémon? Or the Beat Up attack, where all your Pokémon briefly emerge from their Pokéballs and attack together? Ash has had his ridiculous herd of Tauros trample people on occasion but I don’t know if that counts as a “battle.” I think the closest parallel is probably with Vespiquen’s Order techniques, which I think summon a bunch of Combee to do her bidding, but I’m not sure that’s ever been made explicit. Or maybe the Alolans have never thought about it because they’ve never had a Pokémon League before and it’s simply never been anyone’s job to discuss what the actual rules of Pokémon battling should be? I could believe that – but then what happens when we eventually bring Wishiwashi to other regions that aren’t familiar with how this Pokémon works? For that matter, how would the Schooling ability even work in a region with no wild Wishiwashi? None of this is to say that Wishiwashi is a badly designed Pokémon – on the contrary, I think it would have been a shame to throw the design out just because it throws up a bunch of practical difficulties like these, and they actually open some interesting worldbuilding avenues. There are just some weird unanswered questions implied here.
Wishiwashi actually manages, almost impressively in his own way, to beat out Sunkern as the Pokémon with the lowest base stat total in the entire game. But as we’ve seen, Wishiwashi has a secret: the Schooling ability. As soon as any Wishiwashi of at least level 20 enters battle, this ability will immediately summon the school, which has stats worthy of a legendary Pokémon or mega evolution. Its poor HP stays, and its speed actually drops, but its attack, special attack, defence and special defence stats all skyrocket, so that its special stats are nearly as high as Kyogre’s, and its physical stats are comparable to Mega Swampert’s. There’s a catch, though: if its HP drops below 25%, the school will disintegrate, leaving a lone Wishiwashi behind. It’s hard to express quantitatively the impact that this has on Wishiwashi’s tanking potential – you could just count him as having 25% less HP than he actually does, since he basically becomes useless after dropping below that threshold, in which case he’s comparable defensively to Pokémon like Golduck, Lumineon and Phione, hardly classic tanks. That’s not a fair comparison, though, because when those other Pokémon have been knocked out, Wishiwashi can still form a new school if healed above 25% – Leftovers, a Sitrus Berry, Rest, Aqua Ring or an ally’s Wish all come to mind. Because Wishiwashi is too slow for his speed to matter much anyway, you’re also free to invest training in his HP instead. Finally, Water is a reasonably solid defensive type. It all works out to a Pokémon that’s likely to have above-average bulk, regrettable speed, and some incredibly powerful attacks, both physical and special. Remember that, although Wishiwashi will summon the school immediately upon entering battle for the first time, the school will subsequently be dismissed or re-summoned only at the end of a turn – you can’t have an attack be interrupted by dropping below 25% HP, and you can’t heal yourself to put your defences back up in time to absorb an attack the same turn.
Wishiwashi’s offensive movepool isn’t great on either the physical or the special side, and you’d be hard pressed to put together a moveset that focused completely on one or the other. The good news is that you don’t need to, because Wishiwashi’s attack and special attack are easily high enough to pull off a mixed set, using a Water attack, Ice Beam, and Earthquake. Your fourth move is… a little bit more open, largely because of the aforementioned shallow offensive movepool. U-Turn is nice for flexibility, though it’s a little bit wasted on a slow and powerful Pokémon like Wishiwashi; this is a shame, as access to U-Turn is fairly unusual for a Water-type and might be the most interesting thing about his movepool. Hidden Power could be useful if you can think of a specific Pokémon with a double-weakness that you want to hit (Fire for Scizor, Ferrothorn and Forretress is probably the best pick). Other than that, there’s… I guess Iron Tail and Double Edge? I almost have to mention Beat Up because it’s quite a rare move and thematically a great fit for Wishiwashi, but it’s so bad I can’t sincerely recommend it. Beat Up essentially works by having every Pokémon in your party make a weak attack – which means you basically have to run a team full of Pokémon with high base attack, the move becomes weaker as your other Pokémon faint or suffer status conditions, and it’s downright useless in any format where you don’t have a full team of six… but if you can deal with all that, you can give Wishiwashi a decent physical Dark-type attack. Yay. For your main Water attack, you have a couple of choices depending on exactly what you’re after: Hydro Pump for maximum power, Surf for balance, Scald for a chance to burn and win Wishiwashi some extra durability against physical attackers, or Aqua Tail for a physical option. This is probably what Wishiwashi is best at (and it should go without saying that he’s much better at it on a Trick Room team, perhaps to the point of being able to pull off a sweep), but notwithstanding some minor variation in your fourth move and which Water attack you pick, it’s pretty predictable, purely because there are so few other options.
Although his stats don’t support a tanking or stalling approach so well, Wishiwashi does have a few techniques that can help him move in that direction. Aqua Ring gives you a trickle of healing every turn; combined with Leftovers in place of the Life Orb or Choice Specs that you might use on a purely offensive set, it will help Wishiwashi stay healthy for a while longer and maybe even give him chances to come back from the brink by re-summoning his school after being injured. There’s actually an argument for equipping a Shell Bell over Leftovers, because Wishiwashi’s low base HP and very high damage output mean that he’ll often get a better deal out of healing for 1/8 of the damage he does rather than a flat 1/16 of his HP, but there is a lot to be said for the consistency of Leftovers. A Rest/Sleep Talk move set is plausible, I suppose, although the only thing Wishiwashi really has to recommend him over other Water-types for that strategy is an extremely high special attack score that doesn’t require any boosts from Calm Mind or the like to be useful. Whirlpool, Toxic and perhaps Dive or Aqua Ring could go into a stalling moveset, though to be honest I have trouble seeing a Pokémon of Wishiwashi’s merely average constitution as the next great stall Pokémon, and Toxic with a trapping move is not exactly such an exclusive combination that it would be hard to find someone better at it than Wishiwashi.
It’s really kind of a shame that a Pokémon as cool and awe-inspiring as Wishiwashi (well, in school form, anyway) ends up being a bit inflexible. There’s really only one thing Wishiwashi is good at – namely, unceremoniously dropping most of the Pacific onto your enemies’ unsuspecting heads. He looks like he ought to be a better support tank than he is, but I’m honestly just not seeing the movepool to justify it, and for a Pokémon who seems so hard-core dedicated to offence, he’s painfully slow and doesn’t have a lot of choice there either (in fairness, Water/Ground/Ice is a solid enough combination of attacks that you don’t really need a whole lot else). Having said all that, I find it impossible not to love Wishiwashi for his design and flavour, the way he personifies the Alolan ideal of wild Pokémon helping each other in battle, and the evocative integration of his introduction into the games’ story. Now if only we could give him a couple more attacks…