One of the most recognisable symbols of Hawaiian culture is the lei – a garland of flowers, worn around the neck on special occasions. If you’ve ever been to Hawai‘i, you might have been presented with one of these at some point; tourists love receiving lei, and Hawai‘i loves tourists. You can also see them in the stereotypical image of a traditional Hawaiian hula dancer. Lei are so well known as a distinctive element of Hawaiian ceremony and celebration that, really, it would be almost impossible for our Hawai‘i-inspired Pokémon region not to have a Pokémon that referenced them somehow. Enter: Comfey, the Posy Picker Pokémon.
Although she looks like she should be, Comfey is not a Grass-type but a Fairy-type, and the flowers she carries aren’t a part of her body. According to the Pokédex, Comfey collects dry, dead flowers and attaches them to the sticky “vine” that trails from the back of her head. The vine, which is said to be “highly nutritious,” then restores the flowers to life, and special oils enhance their scent. The result – a fragrant garland of brightly-coloured flowers – is exactly the image of a Hawaiian lei. Lei are traditionally symbols of celebration, and are given as gifts at significant events in a person’s life, like graduation or marriage, though in principle you can wear one for almost any occasion, or even no occasion at all. Visitors to Hawai‘i often receive them as a symbol of welcoming, and the honour due to a guest; if you fly into Honolulu Airport, you can pay to have someone greet you with a lei when you arrive. We’re told by the Sun and Moon website that Comfey will often give its rings of flowers to people or Pokémon that it likes, as a gesture of affection – Ash receives one when he first arrives in Alola. Presumably the “vine” must detach from time to time, leaving Comfey “bare” for a little while (as we see in the anime) until it grows back and she can collect more flowers to create another garland. This must happen fairly quickly, because the Pokédex claims that Comfey hates having no flowers – probably because so many of her powers are flower-based, like Petal Dance and her signature move Floral Healing, so losing her garland will leave her defenceless for a while. The soothing scents that Comfey’s lei produces have medicinal properties that neither Comfey herself nor the flowers she collects will display on their own, and the Alolans make use of these properties by putting Comfey to work in Pokémon Centres and hospitals. In the anime, we see Comfey working in this capacity alongside Blissey and the Nurses Joy. She’s a benevolent Pokémon whose interactions with others are defined by gentleness and compassion – which makes sense given the traditional meanings of lei.
Lei come in many forms, and are not exclusive to Hawai‘i. The tradition came to Hawai‘i with Polynesian settlers, probably from Tahiti or Samoa, when the islands were first settled (as for exactly when this happened… eh… credible estimates range AD 800 or so to AD 1250, depending on what kind of evidence you use; it was a while ago, is the point). Lei made from the polished nuts of the kukui tree (hi, Professor!) were once badges of royalty, like crowns in European cultures, while lei made of maile leaves and vines were supposedly given at the conclusion of peace agreements between warring tribes. Feathers, bones, teeth and shells are also common traditional materials. At Auckland University, where I did my undergraduate degree, many Polynesian students wear lei made of brightly wrapped chocolates and candies to their graduation ceremonies – a little modern twist on the ancient tradition. And I think if I have a major complaint about Comfey, it’s that we don’t see that variety. Being a Fairy-type rather than a Grass-type means you could have forms of Comfey from different parts of Alola (or, in the future, even from other regions) that collect other items, like shells or feathers or, yes, even candy, and all have different ways of expressing the gratitude and affection that a lei signifies, and perhaps different sets of moves that go along with the themes of their garlands. Or perhaps individual Comfey could switch between forms by giving away old lei and weaving new ones. For that matter, why do the games never show Comfey giving away their lei? The whole basis of the design is these garlands that are traditionally given to people on important occasions as a gesture of caring, and we know that Comfey sometimes do give them away, in spite of their aversion to being without flowers. It would have been really neat to have a way for Comfey to produce garlands that other Pokémon could hold for some kind of benefit – a Shed Skin-type effect that randomly cures status ailments, for instance.
In modern Hawai‘i, the first of May is a public holiday devoted to making and wearing lei (“May Day is Lei Day!”), and generally celebrating traditional Hawaiian culture. Among the cultural practices on display at the festival are lei made from the signature materials of each of the eight main islands of the archipelago, which correspond to their emblem colours. The names of the four islands of Alola – Melemele, Akala, Ula‘ula, Poni – are inspired by the Hawaiian words for the colours of the corresponding real islands, and the four forms of Oricorio match those colours. O‘ahu has golden ‘ilima flowers (hi, Ilima!), Maui has pink lokelani roses, the “Big Island” of Hawai‘i has red lehua flowers (for any fellow New Zealanders reading this, these are close cousins of our pōhutukawa and rātā trees), and Kaua‘i has purple mokihana berries (although in fact the berries are also commonly used for lei while still unripe and green). So it would be really nice if Comfey were shown in the game and official art with yellow, pink, red and purple flowers – or maybe purple berries for a bit of variety? – to symbolise all four islands. Sadly, someone missed a trick on that one, and Comfey’s flowers are red, yellow, pink(ish purple?) and white. White is the colour of remote Ni‘ihau, but Ni‘ihau’s white lei are made from seashells, not flowers. Shiny Comfey have blue bodies instead of green, but the same flowers (which does sort of make sense). And I’m nitpicking about all sorts of things here, I suppose, but a) that basically comes with the territory; I didn’t become the crazed overly analytical Pokémon guru I am today by letting the details slide, and b) with most Alolan Pokémon, the more research I do, the more things I find to read into the design, and I often end up really surprised at how far you can take the correspondences to real cultural or biological phenomena, and with Comfey that just… isn’t there? Like, she’s based on a fairly superficial tourist-level understanding of what lei are and what they’re for, and maybe that’s fine, but… I guess I expected something cleverer?
“Something cleverer” is, fortunately, much how you might describe Comfey from a mechanics perspective. She looks very much as though she ought to be a support Pokémon; fast, with decent defences and a very nice movepool, but lacklustre offensive stats. And she is… up to a point. Comfey has a few things that are unique to her, or else very exclusive, that point her towards a support role and are most effective in doubles. She shares with Sunflora, Cherrim and Florges the move Flower Shield, which raises the defence of all Grass Pokémon in battle, and it’s bad on her for the same reason as it’s bad on Florges: she’s not a Grass-type. Florges could at least claim to use Flower Shield almost effectively in triples with two Grass-type allies, but triple battles no longer seem to exist in generation VII. Like Flower Shield, the ability Flower Veil was pioneered by Florges in X and Y, and it’s bad for the same reasons: it protects all allied Grass-types from having their stats lowered, and neither Comfey nor Florges is a Grass-type (and no, it doesn’t work on Leaf Storm recoil). Even in doubles, the effect isn’t strong enough to be a reason to use Comfey on its own. Next is a move that is completely exclusive to Comfey, Floral Healing. This is a Heal Pulse-like move that restores half the HP of an injured ally; the twist is that Grassy Terrain will increase its healing to two thirds of the target’s HP. It’s not by any means amazing, but it makes Comfey a pretty good doubles healer, especially in combination with her signature ability, Triage. This is where Comfey gets interesting.
Triage grants speed priority to all of Comfey’s healing moves. This sounds as though it should be most useful in multiple battles, where it can make sure that effects like Floral Healing will reach their targets before it’s too late. And… well, yes, Triage does make Comfey better at doing that. It also gives Comfey herself a little more survivability with priority Synthesis. But here’s the thing: Triage also works on draining attacks, because they heal Comfey. Which means that, regardless of her opponent’s speed, Comfey will almost always get to attack first when using Giga Drain or Draining Kiss. She is therefore, weirdly, a decent revenge-killer – a Pokémon whose job is to come in after a teammate has just lost a scuffle and finish off the weakened opponent at minimal cost to herself. Don’t quite break out the Choice Specs (…except maybe for a Trick moveset… hmm…), because outside of those two attacks Comfey’s special movepool is cr@p, and her special attack stat is merely average, but don’t make the mistake of assuming she’s nothing but a passive, harmless support fairy either. She even learns Calm Mind, and can deliver a nasty sting if allowed to set up, though Grass and Fairy make for such a poor offensive combination that your opponents should usually be able to find a Pokémon that can force her out.
Oh, and her hidden ability is Natural Cure, which… eh, I mean, it’s not a bad ability, but she gets Aromatherapy anyway, and Triage is more interesting.
Unless you want to consider Hidden Power, Giga Drain and Draining Kiss are basically the whole of Comfey’s offensive movepool. You can choose more powerful moves like Energy Ball and Dazzling Gleam, but you’ll be missing out on the priority effect of Triage, which is honestly the best reason to use Comfey in the first place. There is also U-Turn, but Comfey’s physical attack stat is so poor it almost doesn’t count as an attack at all. So now we need to look at her support moves, and there are some good choices. Aromatherapy is there, and is perennially useful as one of the only ways to cure another Pokémon’s status ailment mid-battle. Grassy Terrain is fairly niche, and honestly if you’re building a team around it then it’s probably better to use Tapu Bulu’s Grassy Surge ability if you’re allowed it, but the constant healing and bonus to Grass damage are certainly helpful to Comfey’s playstyle. Synthesis gives her more direct self-healing. Light Screen is nice, but special defence is already Comfey’s best stat, so the extra protection is a little bit wasted on her.
At this point we probably need to find something more aggressive or disruptive for Comfey to do, since her priority Draining Kiss and Giga Drain are useful for cleaning up but don’t pose a huge threat to a healthy Pokémon, especially one that has decent special defence itself. The real gem here is Taunt. I have no idea why Comfey gets this, since it doesn’t really fit her flavour and isn’t a common move for Fairy or Grass Pokémon, but on a Pokémon as fast as she is, it’s pretty fantastic, and it prevents defensive or supporter Pokémon from abusing her limited offensive presence to find time for setup moves. For some reason she also gets Pain Split (from the Ultra Sun and Moon move tutors), just in case you were worried she doesn’t have enough different forms of healing, and it can give her another way of dealing damage that isn’t confounded by the numerous offensive weaknesses of the Fairy and Grass types. I briefly mentioned Trick earlier, which she also gets from a tutor, and although I’m not convinced Comfey is a great Pokémon to use it, I can imagine using Choice Specs early in a battle to give her lacklustre special attacks a bit of punch, and then later swapping them away to cripple an opposing supporter or physical attacker. Finally, Leech Seed is really useful in single-player because the AI doesn’t switch Pokémon nearly enough, and Comfey is just the sort of Pokémon who can potentially make good use of it because her Draining Kiss and Giga Drain will be healing her as well, but for a human opponent it’s too easy to just ditch the Leech Seed by switching out. If you want to stop them from doing that, well, you need to teach Comfey Wrap, and I’m not convinced that extra Leech Seed damage is worth having to do that.
Comfey is… frankly not a good Pokémon, despite her unique and at times interesting strengths, and I keep thinking ways the design could have been more clever. As it is, she kind of stands in the shadow of Florges, both as a peaceful, healing flower fairy who stands as a cultural emblem of her region, and in most of the roles she can conceivably fill aside from her unlikely talent as a revenge-killer (Florges admittedly lacks Taunt, but enemies who take her for setup bait do so at their own peril due to her powerful Moonblast). There aren’t a lot of Pokémon in the last two generations that I feel really strongly “eh” about, but… alas, this is one of them.