Let’s start with some simple, direct Pokédex quotes about Bewear.
“Many trainers,” Moon version tells us, “have left this world after their spines were squashed by its hug.”
Just in case we hadn’t gotten the message, Ultra Sun clarifies that after you’ve been faced with a Bewear intimidation display “life is over for anyone who doesn’t run away as fast as possible.”
The Pokédex, I’ve often suggested, is prone to exaggeration. When it offers numbers to quantify the powers of Pokémon, they tend to be orders of magnitude above not just what real animals can do (after all, Pokémon are supposed to exceed real animals), but what even makes sense. But there is one place where it does not exaggerate, where, if anything, it minimises, and arguably it has strong ideological incentives for doing so: the danger that the wildly disproportionate powers of Pokémon pose to trainers. Plenty of Pokémon demonstrably have the strength to kill humans, based on their other described feats, but the Pokédex only rarely alludes to violence against trainers. That it does so with such insistence here is striking, to say the least, and suggestive of an unusually merciless disposition, or severe prejudice against Bewear. Yet Bewear does appear to have a gentle side. In the Alola series of the Pokémon anime, one of these horrifying Pokémon appears to have, for some reason, adopted the Team Rocket trio. It’s not one of their Pokémon. It doesn’t fight for them. I’m not even sure they particularly like it, at least not at first. But whenever they are defeated, and would traditionally have been flung into the distant sky wailing “Team Rocket’s blasting off again!”, Bewear intervenes, snatching them up and carrying them into the safety of forest at an alarmingly rapid pace. There are some… odd extremes in this Pokémon’s personality. Let’s see where they come from.
Bewear is pretty clearly a stylised bear, of some generic type resembling a black bear. Bewear’s official art seems to show him rearing, as real bears may do when threatened, but his in-game model makes it pretty clear that he’s normally bipedal. Stufful and Bewear’s puffy striped tails, white ears and facial markings, and dark limbs bring to mind (if you substitute pink for orange) the distinctive colouring of the red panda, an animal which is neither red nor a panda. In fact it’s distantly related to weasel family, while the giant panda actually is a weird bear (in fairness, the word “panda” in English referred to the red panda first, so really it’s the giant panda who’s the imposter). Red pandas are known in several of the languages of their native ranges as “bear-cats,” or similar, and share the name “panda” with an actual bear, so they’re apparently close enough to be allowed as influences. But in this case it’s not so much to real animals that we need to look, in order to unravel the design. Stufful and Bewear have an odd aesthetic – even for Pokémon, they aren’t very naturalistic, and they have the rounded limbs, beady eyes and distinctive snout shape of teddy bears, perhaps the most iconic and enduringly popular toys of the entire 20th century. The reference to “stuffing” in Stufful’s name, the “Fluffy” signature ability they get, and Bewear’s disconcerting stillness in battle all point in the same direction. There’s nothing particularly Hawaiian about teddy bears that I can find, nor does Hawai’i have any similar iconic toy that might have inspired specific aspects of Stufful and Bewear’s design. Still, I suppose modern Hawai’i is one of the United States and the teddy bear is distinctively American, and this wouldn’t be the first design we’ve looked at that invokes the importance of American ideas to Hawai’i’s unique cultural fusion (remember Oricorio’s pom-pom style).
The first teddy bears were created in 1903, more or less simultaneously by two toy companies, one in New York and one in southern Germany. Both were famously inspired by the story of a now-legendary hunting trip, the previous November in Mississippi, involving beloved US President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. Roosevelt had reportedly been frustrated at not seeing a bear on the first day of the excursion, so when some of his companions managed to track one down the next afternoon, they beat and subdued the bear before tying it to a tree and waiting for Roosevelt to arrive so he could have the honour of the kill. However, when the President saw the wounded bear, he refused to draw his weapon, offended by his allies’ inhumane treatment of the animal and judging that it would be unsportsmanlike to shoot it. The other hunters relented and killed it with a knife, as cleanly as circumstances allowed. Roosevelt’s act of chivalry quickly became a defining character moment for his public persona, and was commemorated in several political cartoons. The bear, in the most famous of these, is portrayed more emotively as a cub, though in fact it was an aging but still powerful adult, and it often seems to have been quietly forgotten that the bear was eventually killed – such is the making of heroes. Soon the event was honoured by toymakers through the creation of soft, cuddly bear dolls known as “Teddy’s bears.” Teddy’s bears weren’t the first stuffed toy animals, but it was their popularity that made soft toys a viable product for large-scale commercial manufacture, and the teddy bear became an archetype that spawned many beloved characters of 20th century Western children’s literature, most famously Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington Bear.
A nice story, but why should we care about it when we look at Stufful and Bewear? I think it matters because teddy bears represent the transformation of something powerful, dangerous and wild into a comforting companion. The appeal of that balance was not lost on Roosevelt himself, who used the teddy bear as a campaign mascot in his 1904 re-election bid. For children, the teddy bear is a protector animal, strong enough to fight off the monsters under the bed, gentle enough to sleep with. Stufful and Bewear reverse that transformation – instead of turning the visage of a fearsome and mighty animal into an adorable child’s plaything, they take the appearance of a cute, cuddly soft toy and wrap it around one of the deadliest Pokémon in Alola, one that has to be avoided at all costs in the wild and handled with tremendous care even by its own trainers. Stufful hate even to be touched, let alone hugged like a real teddy bear, by any but their most trusted friends, while Bewear’s “bear hug” can kill without even meaning it. Now take a look at Stufful and Bewear’s level-up move list. It’s filled with moves that channel the user’s pain and rage: Bide, Flail, Payback, Take Down, Thrash, Pain Split, Double Edge. A list like that isn’t just calling out that Stufful and Bewear are physically strong. Ursaring and Pangoro are both bear Pokémon whose battle styles favour overwhelming physical strength, but Ursaring’s list makes very different flavour choices with moves like Lick, Sweet Scent, Play Nice, Rest, Snore and Scary Face, while Pangoro’s has a lot of very straightforward power moves like Vital Throw, Body Slam, Crunch and Sky Uppercut, as well as the antagonising Taunt and Parting Shot. More than half the moves that Stufful learns naturally are moves that invite or exploit pain. These are the techniques, could real animals learn them, that Teddy’s bear might have lashed out with when cornered by the hunters and their dogs. These are the techniques through which Stufful and Bewear instinctively relate to the world… until they find something worth caring for, and become teddy bears once again. Even if that something happens to be Jessie, James and Meowth.
For the most part these are not, if you can help it, the techniques through which your Stufful or Bewear should execute your will.
Bewear is the newest of four bear Pokémon, following in the footsteps of Ursaring, Beartic and Pangoro. Despite variation in their types, abilities and movepools, all four have basically the same shaped stat profiles: high HP and physical stats, poor special stats, very poor speed, the stats of a physical tank. Bewear more or less matches them in attack power, but is quite a bit chunkier, with excellent HP. He also shares with them a fairly straightforward fighting style: use Swords Dance, point him at the enemy, and hope like hell that you’ve already paralysed or knocked out everything that can stop him. As with many Pokémon of this class, you can also profitably swap out Swords Dance for a fourth attack and use a Choice Band to make up the power difference, or take a Choice Scarf to catch off guard opponents who are expecting Bewear to be very slow. That is, notably, just about the only way to make Bewear go faster. Ursaring and Beartic both have abilities that can increase their speed with the right set-up (Quick Feet for Ursaring, Swift Swim or Slush Rush for Beartic), while Pangoro can sort of fake it in a pinch with Bullet Punch, but not Bewear. You’re slow, and while Beartic and Ursaring can arguably make a good try of running as sweepers, Bewear is better off using his extra bulk to trade hits with enemy physical attackers. Luckily, he has a fantastic ability of his own to help him do that: Fluffy.
Fluffy saddles Bewear with an extra weakness to Fire attacks on account of his flammable cotton innards, but at the same time provides a somewhat more useful and much wider-ranging resistance: resistance to all contact attacks. Contact attacks are almost, but not quite, the same as physical attacks; they’re a classification created in generation III, when physical and special attacks were still divided according to type, and they interact with a dozen or so abilities and a handful of attacks and items. Most of them are physical attacks, and most physical attacks are contact attacks, but the correlation isn’t perfect either way. For the most part, though, Fluffy makes Bewear extremely effective at soaking physical damage, even from the types that he’s weak to – all the worthwhile physical attacks from Fairy, Flying, Fighting and Fire make contact with the target, except for Toucannon’s Beak Blast. This is basically why you use Bewear (he has other ability choices, of course, but they are silly). Between Fluffy and his huge HP pool, he can, all other things being equal, take physical attacks even better than some classic physical walls like Skarmory. Of course, all other things aren’t equal: Bewear doesn’t have Skarmory’s absurd slate of resistances, for one thing, but Fluffy also has two particular vulnerabilities of its own. First is that Earthquake, one of the best and most popular physical attacks in the game, does not make contact and therefore bypasses Fluffy (the same is true of Stone Edge, but Bewear resists that anyway). Be careful around Ground-types or other Pokémon that you know are likely to carry this move. Second is that Pokémon with the Mould Breaker ability, like Haxorus and Mega Gyarados, can ignore abilities while attacking and will shred Bewear’s protective fluff (the same is true of Reshiram’s Turboblaze and Zekrom’s Teravolt, but this is, to put it as politely as possible, not the most important reason to avoid pitting Bewear against the Yin and Yang twins). Avoid these at all costs.
So, compared to real primo physically defensive Pokémon, Bewear has few resistances, some specific nasty vulnerabilities, and almost no support movepool to speak of, with lacklustre healing options. What does he have? Some seriously hard-hitting attacks. Bewear’s go-to Fighting attacks are Hammer Arm and Superpower. Superpower is the stronger of the two, but weakens the user’s attack and defence, both of which Bewear needs to do his job, while Hammer Arm only cuts your speed, which in Bewear’s case is poor anyway. If you want a tankier, somewhat unconventional Bewear, you could try using Drain Punch instead (Bewear can use Pain Split for healing, but its mechanics favour Pokémon with few hit points and a lot of defence; Bewear is the opposite). Return is generally the best all-purpose Normal-type physical attack, but Bewear does also get Double Edge, if you don’t mind trading a bit of health – he has plenty – for more power. Earthquake is so good it’s hard to put anything else in the third slot. Normal and Fighting make a surprisingly strong offensive combination, since few types resist Normal attacks, and of those that do, Rock or Steel Pokémon will both be hit hard by Fighting attacks. However, you are left with a serious blind spot for Ghost Pokémon, who are immune to both. Ones that aren’t bothered by Earthquake (Drifblim, Mismagius, all the Ghost/Grass-types, disembodied Rotom… I guess Shedinja, technically… and it hardly seems fair to mention Origin Giratina…) will wreck you if you don’t take Shadow Claw or Payback. Payback is only good against Pokémon that are faster than Bewear, while Shadow Claw is lacklustre but consistent. Both hit Ghost- and Psychic-types hard, but Shadow Claw arguably meshes better since it will be countered by Normal- and Dark-types, both of whom are deathly afraid of Bewear’s Fighting attacks. Bewear does have a surprisingly large number of other options, including Dragon Claw, Ice Punch, Thunderpunch, Zen Headbutt and Iron Head. None of those moves are particularly strong, though, so think carefully about which specific Pokémon you might want to hit with them. In particular, Ice Punch hits a lot of those Ghost-types and could let you forego Shadow Claw.
I like these Pokémon. Well, no, that’s not true at all. I’m terrified of these Pokémon, and now, by extension, of all soft toys ever made. It doesn’t even matter that real soft toys are clearly motionless, because when you watch it in battle, so is Bewear. He just wants you to think he’s inanimate, right up to the moment he “hugs” you and snaps your pathetic monkey spine like a stale breadstick. The fact that Bewear’s hidden ability is Unnerve tells us that this is exactly what Game Freak intended, so they earn ten points for succeeding, and minus several million for the fact that they apparently continue making these games specifically to mess with me. Sure, I can beat Bewear with any competent special attacker or incompetent Ghost-type, as long as they’re faster than a flowering cactus. But Bewear doesn’t have to beat me in a battle to come to life in the dead of night and murder me. And, y’know, Fluffy does make him a unique sort of tank, although it would be nice if there were a little more separation between “contact” attacks and “physical” attacks. Success on design, partial success on mechanics: well played, Game Freak; I’ll see you in hell with the thing you just spawned.