Today’s Pokémon is the weird spiky loofah that lives behind Kahuna Hala’s toilet-
Today’s bathing accoutrement is the weird spiky Pokémon that-
okay, let me start again
Today’s Pokémon is the weird spiky sex toy that lives behind-
no, that’s even worse
Look, we’re talking about Pyukumuku, okay
On account of its willingness to sit placidly between its trainer and certain death, Pyukumuku… is just barely a Pokémon, despite clearly being more closely related to the exfoliating bath sponge. It is, everyone is pretty much agreed, based on a sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers are soft-bodied echinoderms, distantly related to starfish and sea urchins. They’re essentially long, squishy tubes, with a mouth at one end and a multi-purpose respiratory/reproductive/excretory hole at the other. This is a body setup that makes for a pretty passive lifestyle. Sea cucumbers can squelch along on rows of hydraulic “tube feet,” but in general they display a level of mobility more or less befitting an animal named after a gourd. Pyukumuku, similarly, is tied with Munchlax and Shuckle for the dubious distinction of slowest Pokémon in the game. On top of that, because sea cucumbers don’t really have brains, Pyukumuku are not especially bright. They tend to be what might generously be called “creatures of habit.” “Once a Pyukumuku finds a place it likes,” we are told by the Sun and Moon website, “it won’t budge from it.” Fair enough, you might think, but “if it runs out of food to eat in that spot, it’ll stay there – and starve.” And frankly I have heard of better survival strategies, though I suppose if they reproduce prolifically enough it doesn’t really matter if they don’t know how to look for food. They eat, I presume, the same thing as real sea cucumbers – plankton and detritus sifted out of seafloor sand – so, in fairness, they probably aren’t used to moving a long way for a meal.
The inability of Pyukumuku to take care of themselves is the reason for the Alolan custom of “Pyukumuku chucking,” which you can try for yourself at Hano Beach. It’s… pretty much what it sounds like; you look for Pyukumuku that have wandered up onto the beach and, well, chuck them back into the sea as far as you can. Although the tradition ostensibly exists to help Pyukumuku, the Hano Grand Resort also supports it for the more practical reason of making sure their guests don’t step on Pyukumuku spines. Other than that, Pyukumuku are known mainly for their thick, slimy mucous secretions, which retain water and allow them to stay on land for days at a time without drying out. Alolans covet the mucus and harvest it for use as a moisturiser and topical sunburn treatment. Presumably you can just collect them off the beach and give ‘em a gentle squeeze and a wipe before you chuck them back into the ocean. Real sea cucumbers are used in Southeast Asia for a variety of traditional medicines and cosmetics, and today they are even farmed for the purpose. Unfortunately for the cucumbers, the preparation of these treatments generally involves drying and powdering them to be made into ointments, rather than collecting their natural secretions. Again, these are very passive creatures. However, there is one way they can meaningfully act upon the world…
The most famous ability of the sea cucumber is evisceration: the questionably useful power to violently jettison most of its internal organs through its anus. The sea cucumber’s explanation for why it does this is, frankly, less convincing than you might have hoped. The standard assumption is that evisceration is a defence mechanism, performed in the general direction of a predator in hopes of leaving it confused and dismayed. This is not terribly efficient; although the actual expulsion is fairly quick, the physiological build-up can take several minutes, and regenerating the lost organs takes weeks. Still, against a predator like a starfish, which is itself fairly slow and stupid, and mainly attacks prey by vomiting up its own stomach, there is evidence that evisceration is a pretty good distraction. However, some species of sea cucumber have been shown to spontaneously eviscerate, whether threatened or not, in late autumn every year. Sea cucumbers don’t have very efficient excretory systems; they just… sort of leak waste into the sea. So, one idea is that regular evisceration is actually a way of flushing out a year’s worth of accumulated bodily waste. Echinoderms are so good at regenerating lost organs that it’s actually easier to grow a new set of intestines than keep carrying around all that $#!t.
In a curious variation on the theme, Pyukumuku has viscera shaped like a fist. When you attack it, it punches you with its intestines. This is the theme of its signature ability, Innards Out, as well as its use of the moves Bide and Counter. In the interests of remaining child-friendly, Pyukumuku eviscerates through what I’m charitably going to assume is its mouth (some real sea cucumbers do this too). In the anime, Pyukumuku’s viscera can even make gestures – when Ash first arrives in Alola and takes a riding Sharpedo out for a spin, a Pyukumuku flashes a peace sign at him, followed by a cheerful wave as he turns to leave. It’s a cute, creative twist on the idea, and makes the idea of vomiting out your own intestines a bit more compatible with Pokémon’s general aesthetics. Some species of sea cucumber practise a less drastic form of evisceration that is more finely adapted for defence, where they expel only their Cuvierian tubules, a tangle of fine tubes from what are essentially their lungs. The tubules, when released into the water, secrete a sort of glue that turns them into a horrible sticky net, capable of entangling most of a sea cucumber’s predators. Alas, it does not appear to have occurred to Game Freak to use the Cuvierian tubules as an excuse for Pyukumuku to learn moves like Sticky Web. As we’re about to see, Pyukumuku could use all the help it can get.
I’ve already mentioned how slow Pyukumuku is, but that is not, by a long way, the weirdest thing about it in the game. Pyukumuku cannot learn any attacks. It’s not quite as inflexible as Wobbuffet, but every move it gets is defensive, supportive, or at most retaliatory; arguably the most aggressive thing in its entire arsenal is Counter. This makes it uniquely vulnerable to certain types of disruption. If you put up a Substitute, Pyukumuku basically can’t do anything to harm you. If you hit it with Taunt, it basically can’t do anything at all (Mental Herb is worth considering as Pyukumuku’s item choice for this reason). Thankfully, Pyukumuku does have a decent defensive type – Water only has two weaknesses – and very high defence and special defence. It’s not Shuckle-like by any means, but it’s solid. Because Pyukumuku doesn’t learn any attacks, its main source of damage is Counter – after being hit by a physical attack, it can use Counter to retaliate with double damage. Here the contrast with Wobbuffet is telling – Wobbuffet has poor defences, but a massive HP score, so it can take a lot of damage and still be standing to bounce it back. Pyukumuku has the opposite stat spread: excellent defences, but relatively little HP. What’s more, unlike Wobbuffet it doesn’t get Mirror Coat, so it’s extremely vulnerable to special attackers. Counter is pretty much compulsory for Pyukumuku, and so is Toxic, since that’s its only other meaningful source of damage (technically it can learn Hail, but at that point we’re just mocking the poor thing). This unfortunately leaves you with nothing against Poison- and Steel-type special attackers, who almost can’t lose to Pyukumuku at this point.
The good news is that Pyukumuku has solid healing. It gets Recover! Yay! It also has the option of Pain Split. Pain Split gives you another, slightly quirky, way of damaging opponents, which Pyukumuku sorely needs. However, because Pyukumuku likes to wear enemies down with Toxic, you risk being stuck without any healing at all against Pokémon that are close to beaten, and losing Pyukumuku in a situation where Recover might have saved it. Call it a high-risk, high-reward option, on a Pokémon who is fairly risk-averse. On the disruptive side, Pyukumuku can learn Taunt itself, making it harder for support Pokémon to abuse its low-threat tactics, although its abysmal speed is an issue. You can trap targets with Block, buying time for Toxic; for the same reason, Protect makes as much sense on Pyukumuku as on anyone else. Confusing opponents with Swagger gives Pyukumuku another way to whittle them down, and it can safely ignore Swagger’s attack buff, thanks to its Unaware ability. Venom Drench reduces the attack, special attack and speed of a poisoned target, and I’m normally hesitant to recommend this for any Pokémon, but if anyone’s going to find a use for it, it’s Pyukumuku, who needs poison anyway and appreciates the attack drops. Another attack I’d hesitate to suggest anywhere else, Soak, changes the target’s type to Water. Normally this is most useful for denying Pokémon their same-type attack bonus (STAB), which is admittedly useful, but not generally worth the moveslot. For this Pokémon in particular, though, being able to strip Poison- and Steel-types of their immunity to Toxic is actually quite important. On the support side… Pyukumuku learns Reflect and Light Screen, which are… fine? It has Baton Pass, and can use it to pass Curse, but Pyukumuku is profoundly unlike any decent Baton Passer I can think of, and gets relatively little benefit out of Curse itself (because of the whole “no attacks” thing), so that seems questionable at best.
Lastly, there’s the signature move, Purify. This only works in doubles; it clears a status condition from a targeted ally and, if it succeeds, also restores 50% of Pyukumuku’s HP. The trouble is, this makes Pyukumuku’s ability to heal itself dependent on having an ally with a status condition around, unless you take both Purify and Recover. Strictly speaking Purify is better than Aromatherapy or Heal Bell in most situations, but it falls short of being a strong argument for using Pyukumuku as a doubles supporter. Purify is notable for having one of the most ludicrous Z-move counterparts of any status move, and will raise all of Pyukumuku’s stats (like Ancientpower or Silver Wind) if powered up with a Poisonium-Z. Of course, Pyukumuku can’t use its attack or special attack, and it’s still going to be horrendously slow anyway, and you’ve given up the possibility of using a Z-move that will really swing the battle in your favour… but… I guess you can Baton Pass it?
Another bit of good news is Pyukumuku’s ability – one of them, anyway. Its signature ability, Innards Out, is sadly little more than amusing. When Pyukumuku is knocked out by an attack, it will retaliate with damage equal to the amount of HP it had before that final attack landed. Because of Pyukumuku’s very high defences, it’s usually not going to get knocked out in one hit or even two, so Innards Out will generally not match up to the damage of a good Counter. What’s more, Pyukumuku is so passive that you can kind of afford to whittle it down a bit before the final blow. It’s far from impossible for Innards Out to score a solid hit from time to time, and you may even surprise an overconfident attacker for a kill, but it’s not really as broadly useful as Pyukumuku’s hidden ability: Unaware. This makes Pyukumuku ignore an opponent’s stat changes. Swords Dance, Dragon Dance, Calm Mind, Nasty Plot, Quiver Dance, none of them count for anything against Pyukumuku, which makes it very good at stopping powerful set-up sweepers. Pyukumuku’s not the only Pokémon with this ability, but it’s one of the best at using it; Clefable would much rather pick Magic Guard than Unaware, while Bibarel and Swoobat don’t really have the defences to exploit it. Quagsire arguably does do it better, with a stronger defensive type combination and (obviously) much better options for proactive play; Pyukumuku has to use Toxic and wait, while Quagsire has actual attacks. Pyukumuku definitely is harder to kill though, especially for special attackers, which may sometimes be what you need.
After all that… I’m almost left wanting to just call Pyukumuku a bad Pokémon, but maybe “specialised” is a better description. All right, let’s be honest, “overspecialised.” Some Pokémon aren’t good at doing anything outside their core skill set, but it’s rare to find one literally incapable of it. The thing is, though, I’m not sure how Pyukumuku could be better, given the concept of a strictly “pacifist” Pokémon. Yes, you could give it a better HP stat, or a type combination with more resistances, or Oblivious as an ability choice to escape Taunt, or a wider range of disruption moves (I mentioned Sticky Web as faintly justifiable; maybe add Yawn, or Spikes, or, hell, even Healing Wish?), but these are incremental changes. Maybe Purify could be reworked into something more consistently useful for both singles and doubles – would it be too much to just straight-up combine Aromatherapy and Recover? Maybe it could evolve into something radically different, so that it could use an Eviolite? I have to admit, though, as weird and gimmicky as the total passivity constraint is, it fits; Pyukumuku is a dumb sea cucumber who is most renowned for staying in one place, doing nothing, and being really hard to get rid of, and… yep! What’s more, as Wobbuffet taught us once upon a time, when a Pokémon like this is actually good, it can become oppressive and frustrating. Pyukumuku is a very hard Pokémon to balance, and I suspect there’s an argument the game is just better off without it, but at the same time it’s kinda cute, and funny, and has some creative twists in its design, and it would hurt me to throw it out. Of course, if I actually did, the fµ¢&ing thing would just crawl right back to the same spot again… and again… and again…