Pokémon Sun and Moon are, as the names imply, games that always have one eye on the heavens. A lot of the time this manifests as a day/night theme, but they are interested in other celestial phenomena as well – Cosmog is a nebula that gives birth to a star, one of the games’ prominent locations is an observatory, and of course the Ultra Beasts have a certain sci-fi aesthetic to them and emerge from wormholes. A lot of Alola’s ordinary Pokémon draw on themes related to the real Hawaiian islands (or at least tropical islands in general) but today’s Pokémon is one that cares a lot more about Alola’s relationship with the sky. Meet Minior: the Meteor Pokémon.
Minior is based on shooting stars, or meteors – hunks of rock or metal that fall from space into Earth’s atmosphere, creating a fireball visible from the ground as it heats up from air resistance. The Pokédex repeatedly refers to Minior living in the ozone layer, 20-30 km up and within reach of weather balloons, but when we see shooting stars, we’re normally looking at objects entering the upper mesosphere, 80 km from the Earth’s surface. Because Minior are clearly supposed to be “space Pokémon,” and because the Pokédex has absolutely no sense of scale, I think it makes more sense to imagine them living up here. When you first encounter a Minior, it will look like a lumpy brown rock with spikes around its edge, but this is just a shell that protects Minior’s fragile inner body from harm, and is often weakened or broken altogether when Minior fall to Earth. Beneath their shells, Minior are glowing, spiked orbs that come in all seven colours of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The varied colours supposedly come from their diet; Minior are somehow born from cosmic dust in the upper atmosphere (perhaps influenced, like Grimer, by “X-rays from the moon”) and continue to live and grow by consuming more. Different compositions produce different colours. Minior are said to fall to Earth when their shells grow too heavy, and indeed the bulk of the Pokémon’s 40 kg weight is in the shell – Minior’s core is only 300 g, more than a basketball scaled to the same diameter would weigh, but not by much. Once exposed, the core rapidly degrades, and according to the Pokédex Minior will soon die unless captured in a Pokéball. For some reason they only land in certain specific parts of the world, and Alola is one of those places – doubly odd considering that Alola is apparently tropical and the atmosphere is almost twice as thick at the equator as at the poles. In the real world, meteorite findspots are governed more by preservation conditions than anything else; deserts (of both the sandy and polar varieties) are ideal. It’s at least plausible that Alola’s unusual celestial phenomena – its history with Lunala and Solgaleo, and perhaps Ultra Wormhole activity – are somehow related.
The appearance of Minior’s core probably owes something to a kind of Japanese candy called kompeito: brightly coloured sugar balls made by dripping sugar syrup onto a core, traditionally a poppy seed or sesame seed. The gradual build-up of layers of sugar creates an irregular, lumpy appearance like a rock or perhaps a vague star shape. Their resemblance to stars has been evoked in Nintendo games before, and in the Pokémon anime they are Nebby the Cosmog’s favourite treats; this also provides the link that makes them appropriate elements for Minior’s design. Kompeito were originally a Portuguese delicacy called confeitos, introduced to Japan as diplomatic gifts by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, when sugar was rare and expensive; Oda Nobunaga famously received a jar in 1569. Confeitos is still the modern Portuguese word for several kinds of sugar candies, but the distinctive star shape now seems to be a Japanese signature. You probably didn’t need to know that, but frankly you can say that about almost anything on this blog.
The Pokédex says that Minior “become food for stronger Pokémon” that live in their natural habitat, the upper atmosphere (and fall to earth when they try to escape, which contradicts what we’ve already heard about falling because their shells get too heavy, but whatever). Other Pokémon are, of course, quite few and far between at the edge of space, with one exception: Rayquaza, who is known to feed on meteorites and would therefore be a natural candidate. We might actually see this at the end of the anime episode Showering the World with Love, when Ash and his Alolan classmates witness Rayquaza during a Minior shower, and speculate that it was drawn to Alola by the Minior. Bulbapedia consequently has a line in its article on Minior that Rayquaza is its “natural predator,” and I’ve seen that basic thought repeated elsewhere, but it seems to me like a pretty severe misreading of the scene. All the Minior in that episode have lost their shells after falling to earth, and are disintegrating as they rise back into the upper atmosphere. If Rayquaza is feeding on anything, it’s the shining cosmic dust left behind as they break apart; it’s not really hunting in any meaningful sense of the word. What’s more, although hundreds of Minior are dying before the eyes of Ash and his classmates, including an orange one that they had befriended, Kukui and Molayne don’t seem to regard what’s happening as a tragedy. Kukui acknowledges that it’s sad to lose a friend, but Molayne implies that this is a natural part of Minior’s life cycle. If anything, feeding on Minior “dust” makes Rayquaza seem more like a scavenger.
What we can get out of that episode, though, is a very sad, poignant idea of what Minior’s existence is like. They spend most of their lives drifting at the edge of space – years, decades, maybe centuries, we have no idea how long they live – then crash to earth and have only a couple of days to live among humans and other Pokémon (something that clearly excites their curiosity) before they fade away. Like meteors, they come to the end of a long and pretty monotonous journey, then light up for an instant as shooting stars, perhaps granting the wish of some person far below in their brief time with us. They discover a whole new world and have so little time to explore it – and when you watch them go to their fate, it seems like they think it’s been worth it. And maybe it is, as Molayne says, just the kind of Pokémon they are. When they die, Minior disintegrate back into celestial matter, which apparently returns to the upper atmosphere. Some of it might be scooped up by Rayquaza, sieving the air like a flying whale, but most of it probably ends up circulating in the mesosphere again. Eventually, it may condense back into new Minior, or feed others and allow them to grow. Some of the cosmic dust that form the cores of Minior must come from outer space, from objects breaking up in the atmosphere, but a lot of it could easily be from Minior that have died and returned to the source. So don’t be sad that Minior have to go – in a roundabout way, they really are going home – but be sure to show them an amazing time while they’re here.
As we move into Minior’s battle traits, the first thing we need to note is that it doesn’t have Levitate. Since it can clearly fly, and it would be strange for Minior to be vulnerable to Ground attacks, Game Freak therefore had to declare it a Rock/Flying dual-type, which initially seems like a bit of a dubious decision from a flavour perspective. Up to generation VII, almost every Flying-type Pokémon has either been a literal bird or had wings, and Lunatone and Solrock also set a pretty clear precedent for Pokémon based on celestial objects not being Flying-types. All the exceptions are associated with wind (yes, even Gyarados, whose physical design is inspired by a dragon kite). Still, I suppose the one other upper atmosphere Pokémon, Rayquaza, helps to justify it, and perhaps you could also cite Shaymin as being associated with the sky itself as an elemental force. Generation VII also gave us Celesteela, a rocket ship Pokémon and another Flying-type (though also, incidentally, another Pokémon that was forced not to have Levitate, because it needed Beast Boost). Minior isn’t a Pokémon from the fathomless void of deep space, like Lunatone and Solrock are supposed to be; it’s born and lives in the uppermost reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, and dies on Earth, and that’s arguably an important enough distinction to support the Flying type.
The reason it’s important for Minior not to have Levitate is because it instead has Shields Down. Shields Down functions exactly like Darmanitan’s Zen Mode ability, except that it also grants Minior immunity to major status effects for as long as its shell is intact. Before the ability activates, Minior is in its meteor form and has high defences. When it activates, Minior’s shell crumbles and it transitions into its core form, which has high attack stats and speed. As for Darmanitan, healing can cause it to switch back, and most things that mess with abilities won’t work on Minior. Now, Zen Mode didn’t really work for Darmanitan. Partly this is because the alternative, Sheer Force, is just obviously better. Partly, though, it’s also because Zen Mode actively hinders Darmanitan’s ability to do his job. Darmanitan wants to be a sweeper or wallbreaker, and suddenly losing most of your speed and attack power because your health dropped too low is very counterproductive in those roles. Zen Darmanitan wants to be a tank, but a tank that always starts with half its health missing, and loses its defences if it heals, is just a bad idea. It doesn’t help that the two forms use different kinds of attacks. Minior has largely gotten around these problems. Neither form has a preference between physical and special attacks, and more importantly, the tank form comes first. Now, having a tanky form doesn’t mean Minior can be a tank. Losing its defences as its health drops just makes that a bad idea. Nor is it really possible to train Minior for a diversity of offensive roles. Minior doesn’t make sense as a wallbreaker or revenge killer, because it can’t have all its attack power on tap right away. Minior is very specialised: it is a set-up sweeper, and nothing else.
Minior gets the rare and powerful set-up move Shell Smash, which is available to eleven different Pokémon and is a defining feature of most of them. When a Pokémon uses Shell Smash, it breaks open its own shell to trade defence for power and agility: specifically, reducing defence and special defence by one stage each (to about 67% of their base values) but increasing attack, special attack and speed by two stages each (to 200%). For most Pokémon with Shell Smash, the best item choice is often a White Herb, a consumable that restores lowered stats – so you get one “free” Shell Smash that leaves your defences intact. In Minior’s case, the White Herb has the additional advantage of leaving it without an item, allowing it to use Acrobatics – its only Flying-type attack – at full power. Once Minior’s shell is broken (uh… in both of the two ways it can be broken), Acrobatics can one-shot offensive Pokémon like Hydreigon, and has some chance of doing the same to bulkier ones like Garchomp; two hits will take down a Mega Swampert. So what’s the catch? Well, aside from having poor defences in its core form, Minior more or less has to have Substitute to ensure that it enters its core form in a controlled manner, rather than just being blasted down from full health by a super effective attack. That only leaves one more attack slot. You probably want either Stone Edge or Earthquake; Stone Edge will be more powerful, since it’s a Rock-type move on a Rock-type Pokémon, but is inaccurate and leaves you very weak to Steel-types. There’s also the sheer comedy gold that is Explosion, which is about half again as powerful as Acrobatics, but does nothing for your type coverage, and, well… returns Minior to the celestial aether.
There aren’t a lot of other things that Minior does well, and frankly most of its other moves detract from its core strengths. It has a couple of useful or at least interesting support moves, most notably Stealth Rock and Gravity, and you could use its decent defences in meteor form to buy time to set up one or both of those, then use Explosion to hopefully kill something once its shields break (basically a generation IV-style suicide lead). It gets Calm Mind, and in principle Shields Down gives it a little bit of bulk to set up before transitioning into its more aggressive core form, but its special movepool (basically Power Gem, Dazzling Gleam and Psychic) doesn’t match up to what it can do with Acrobatics. U-Turn is a great move, but runs counter to Minior’s usual set-up mentality. The Shell Smash moveset works, and I’m not sure there’s any reason to mess with it.
Minior is Jim the Editor’s favourite Pokémon of generation VII, and I’m starting to see why. Although it’s very much a one-trick pony in battle, a Shell Smash blitz is genuinely satisfying to pull off, and although Minior’s ability isn’t really unique, it makes a lot more sense than Zen Mode did on Darmanitan. Minior’s also… cute? I guess? In a weird, swirly-eyed, alien way? And there is something I find legitimately heart-warming about a Pokémon that travels so far to be with us, knowing that it will die in a few days as a result, and loves every minute of it. You do you, Minior. You do you.