Sometimes, we all need more spiders in our lives. Spiders kill flies and mosquitos, keep the streets of New York safe from techno-goblins and octopus-physicists, rescue intelligent piglets from the slaughterhouse with their whimsical web messages, and keep you from getting hungry at night by crawling into your mouth while you sleep. Game Freak, bless their hearts, recognise the importance of spiders, and periodically give us more. Thus, today, we come to Dewpider and Araquanid, the alien bubble spiders of doom…
Dewpider and Araquanid take their place alongside two existing species of spider Pokémon, Ariados and Galvantula – in some ways, almost a weirdly small number, considering the vast number and variety of spider species in the real world, and the kind of fun you might have by choosing to start from something like the curiously maternal wolf spiders or the jewel-like spiny orb-weavers. Ariados is mostly just a cartoon spider that doesn’t seem to owe much to any one species in particular (Bulbapedia would have us think she’s this species of ant-mimicking jumping spider, which… I don’t know, I mean, sure, but I don’t think it really sheds light on any aspect of the design… like, at all) and is primarily interesting for her odd trait of spinning silk at both ends of her body, which to my knowledge is not an ability any real spider possesses. Galvantula is clearly meant to represent a tarantula, and is unique for combining the Bug and Electric elements interestingly by spinning electrified webs to catch prey. This is really cool and interesting, except for the fact that tarantulas are notable for never using their webs to catch prey (they’re much more physically powerful than most spiders, to the point that they don’t need to), but because catching things in webs is such an iconic “thing that spiders do” that’s sort of an acceptable break from reality.
Today’s Pokémon take as their design base what is probably the strangest spider so far: they seem to be a sort of weird inversion of the diving bell spider. The diving bell spider is an unusual species that spends most of its life underwater, trapping bubbles of air in the special hairs on its back and legs so that it can breathe while submerged. Dewpider and Araquanid, conversely, are aquatic Bug Pokémon that are able to spend much of their time on land by surrounding their heads in bubbles of water (Araquanid also has bubbles on her leg joints, maybe for protection, or to store extra water, or maybe she even breathes through spiracles on her legs). The result is reminiscent of an astronaut’s helmet, which made Jim the Editor initially want to pronounce Dewpider’s name, not to rhyme with “spider,” but with a short “i” and the emphasis on the first syllable – that is, to rhyme with “Jupiter.” And I like this, because I think it adds a neat extra dimension to the design, but there’s also no similar resonance that I can detect in any of Dewpider’s names in other languages, nor in Araquanid’s, so I am forced to judge that it’s probably not intentional. I feel Dewpider and Araquanid perhaps also missed an opportunity by making no reference to the diving bell spider’s unusual web, for which the species is named – they spin bell-shaped webs that store large bubbles of air, so the spider can replenish its own supply. Even better, as the concentration of oxygen in the web’s bubbles drops, dissolved oxygen in the surrounding water slowly diffuses into them to replace it. The system is efficient enough at extracting oxygen that, even though diving bell spiders breathe air, they almost never need to come to the surface of the water. The obvious question that follows is: what does an Araquanid’s web look like? The answer, if I had my way, would probably be a large inverted bell shape positioned in the treetops to collect rainwater, allowing Araquanid to periodically replenish her water bubble without going down to a river or lake. But it’s probably just a normal spider web.
As the diving bell spider’s bubble lets it survive underwater, Dewpider and Araquanid’s water bubbles allow them to live and fight on land. It has a number of other thematic functions as well, though, particularly for Araquanid. First of all, it protects their heads, and can be used offensively by smashing it into enemies. Araquanid is large enough that she can even engulf smaller prey in her bubble to drown them. We’re also told, though, that Araquanid will often put into her bubble things that she values or wants to protect. This can be prey or other food objects that she wants to save for later, but also “vulnerable, weak Pokémon” – or even a trainer! This is perhaps an allusion to the way many species of spider (including the diving bell) will store prey in their webs or in silk cocoons to save it for later, with an extra protective streak, though unfortunately Araquanid doesn’t seem to understand that humans and most Pokémon need to… y’know… breathe. It makes sense that an adult Araquanid would protect a Dewpider in this way – in fact, it’s a pretty cool image – so instinct probably gets in the way of common sense sometimes, even for Araquanid who’ve been with humans for a while and should theoretically know better. This might be an oblique reference to “bubble” parenting, trying so hard to keep your children safe that you “suffocate” their social development and exploration of the world around them. A spider is a bit of an odd place to find an image like that, since most spiders devote very little energy to protecting and raising their offspring (with the exception of the aforementioned wolf spiders), but the contrast between Araquanid’s fierce, alien appearance and protective, maternal instincts is interesting. It’s also interesting, from time to time, to have Pokémon with good intentions that work fundamentally at odds with the needs of humans; it underscores how important it is in a world of Pokémon to have a class of people who specialise in working with them and mediating their problems, even in a place like Alola where so many non-trainers are used to living and working closely with Pokémon.
Araquanid’s bubble-helmet comes with a unique ability, Water Bubble, and it has three effects. First, it grants immunity to burns – nice, especially since she mainly uses physical attacks, but not huge. Second, it halves the damage the Pokémon takes from Fire attacks, a helpful extra resistance. Third, and this is the big one, it doubles the damage the Pokémon deals with Water attacks. Yes, you read that right: doubles. And that’s on top of the 50% bonus to Water damage that Araquanid already gets just for being a Water Pokémon; this is like Adaptability on steroids. Araquanid’s attack stat is decidedly on the “meh” side, but this bonus is enough for her to seriously maim some of the most powerful defensive Pokémon in the game, like Aegislash and Mega Metagross – and Arceus help you if you’re weak to Water attacks. Araquanid does also have a hidden ability, Water Absorb, which negates incoming Water attacks to heal the Pokémon instead, and is normally a really good ability, but Water Bubble is so much better that Water Absorb pretty much isn’t even worth considering by comparison. Other than her unique ability, Araquanid’s most outstanding feature is her excellent special defence – it’s slightly undercut by poor HP, but enough to make her, at the very least, passable as a special wall, and Bug/Water turns out to have relatively few weaknesses and a slate of nice resistances.
Like most very powerful abilities, Water Bubble closely dictates how to use the Pokémon that gets it. Araquanid’s attack stat is lacklustre and her special attack is worse, so only Water-type attacks boosted by Water Bubble are really worth using. She does have other attack choices, like Leech Life, Poison Jab and Ice Beam, but her Water attacks are so much more powerful that, even against Pokémon that resist Water, they’ll still be her best option a lot of the time. You might as well give her a single Water attack, not bother with coverage attacks, and then load her up with support techniques. You’ll run into trouble against Pokémon that have flat-out immunity to Water attacks thanks to Water Absorb, Storm Drain or Dry Skin (also Desolate Land, but frankly if you’re throwing Araquanid into the ring against Primal Groudon you deserve everything that’s coming to you). Most of these are Water-types, so you could take Giga Drain from the Ultra Sun/Moon tutors, but Araquanid’s special attack score is so poor that it won’t be all that punishing; Toxic will work against everything except Toxicroak, but there are a lot of Water-type tanks that like to use Rest, making poison nearly irrelevant against them. As for your Water attack, there’s not really any argument here: you’re taking Liquidation. Araquanid learns it naturally, it does more damage than Waterfall, and it has a chance to weaken its target’s defence. Now that that’s out of the way, we can spend the rest of this entry picking a bunch of the weirdest support moves the game will let Araquanid get her hands on.
The most unique one available to her is Sticky Web. This move is available to a small selection of mostly spider-like Bug Pokémon, as well as Slurpuff; Araquanid can get it as an egg move. Like Stealth Rock, it lays a trap that hits Pokémon as they switch in, but Sticky Web doesn’t do damage; instead it slows them, potentially leaving them easy prey for any of Alola’s slow but powerful aggressive Pokémon, including Araquanid herself. Continuing the web theme, Spider Web traps an opponent in play, allowing Araquanid to either crush them outright if they don’t resist Water attacks, wear them down with Toxic if they do, or just get a turn to switch comfortably. Araquanid’s stats make her a special wall, and opponents will probably try to use hefty physical attacks to pop her bubble, so packing Reflect to hinder physical attackers or Scald to burn them couldn’t hurt (Araquanid’s special attack stat is really bad, but thanks to Water Bubble, Scald’s damage output shouldn’t be embarrassingly low). Aqua Ring is her only source of healing outside of Rest and Leech Life, and is generally fairly pitiful, but I think it’s worth mentioning here if only because Araquanid can trap things with Spider Web to set up stall wars. Araquanid isn’t an ideal Pokémon to use Mirror Coat, since that move favours high HP and low special defence that will allow you to take a lot of special damage and survive it, whereas Araquanid has just the opposite. Moreover, opponents are not likely to go after her with special attacks at all, if they can help it. On the other hand, good special defence makes Mirror Coat relatively risk-free for Araquanid. Power Split (available as an egg move from Shuckle) is gimmicky, but interesting, because it’s fairly exclusive, and because Araquanid is a Pokémon who can make powerful attacks without having a high attack stat. She can benefit from Power Split, and weaken her opponents with it, without being completely dependent on it to do damage herself. Finally, I’d like to give a moment to Entrainment, which copies the user’s ability onto the target. In doubles, you could use this to bestow Araquanid’s absurd Water Bubble ability on an ally Pokémon with a strong Water attack. Is it the best set-up combo you can pull off in doubles? Not by a long shot, but it is hilarious.
You know what? This is a cool Pokémon. She’s not great, what with the inflexible attack options, lacklustre physical defence, and limited healing, and there’s ways the design could have been more interesting and quirky. On the other hand, we needed a fully evolved Bug/Water Pokémon, we needed weirder spiders, we definitely needed more Pokémon that have interesting relationships with their humans, and I can’t fault the uniqueness of Araquanid’s particular battle style, even if it’s a bit too easy to back her into a corner. She has a niche, both as a support Pokémon with a sting in the tail, and as a freaky spider with a clever inversion of the traits of a real freaky spider.