Back in the day, we had Snorlax, a Pokémon whose sole purpose in life is seemingly to eat (everything) and sleep (for weeks). Snorlax was, for many of us, an aspiration: a promise that, if we worked hard and gained enough weight to tip the scales at 460 kg, we too could spend our days in blissful slumber, waking up only long enough to blunder into a supermarket, scarf down some chips or chocolates or whatever else takes our fancy, crash out through the wall without paying, and then stumble back to bed for another month. Or… maybe that was just me. In any case, Snorlax has now been convincingly one-upped by a Pokémon that is lazier still: the coma koala Pokémon, Komala.
Komala’s inspiration, the koala, is also known as the koala bear, despite clearly not being a bear, and is found along most of Australia’s east coast, making it an unusual choice for our Pacific tropical island region, but not an insane one. Like most native Australian mammals, it’s a marsupial – mammals whose young are born as helpless pink grubs that must stay inside their mothers’ pouches for the first several months of life. Although undeniably adorable, koalas are, in many ways, absolutely rubbish animals. They feed almost exclusively on eucalyptus leaves, which are an incredibly bad food source. For one thing, they’re poisonous, and for another, they’re mostly indigestible fibre. Koalas can digest eucalyptus leaves safely and effectively because they have the longest hindgut (the first segment of the large intestine), proportional to their body size, of any animal in the world, which they can use to ferment the leaves for up to four days. Not exactly a glamorous adaptation, you have to admit, but I suppose it’s at least practical. Unfortunately the eucalyptus leaf steadfastly refuses to be worth the effort, having almost no nutritional value whatsoever. As a consequence of their extremely low-energy diet, koalas cannot sustain large or complex brains, even compared to other marsupials, and are therefore among the stupidest of all mammals. They are, famously, so stupid that if you strip some eucalyptus leaves off a branch, put them on a plate, and present them to a koala, it will not be able to figure out how to get them into its mouth. Not only that, they get so little energy from their food that they have to spend four hours a day eating… and then the remaining twenty hours sleeping. At that point, even being a mammal isn’t worth the effort; you’d almost be more productive evolving into a root vegetable, or maybe some kind of mollusc.
In homage to the koala’s legendary drowsiness, Komala doesn’t bother with waking up to eat, or move, or even to fight. Instead, Komala is just… asleep all the time. We’re told by the Pokédex that Komala are born asleep and die asleep, staying that way because their diet is made up of leaves that have sedative properties (maybe in reference to the poisonous nature of eucalyptus leaves that has directed the evolution of real koalas). Small amounts of the sedative chemicals in the leaves linger in Komala’s saliva, so the Alolans apparently use that saliva for making traditional insomnia treatments. Conversely, Alola’s favourite coffee blend, made from imported beans and available at Pokémon Centre cafés, is known as “Komala coffee” (though the Japanese name for the same beverage references Granbull instead) – presumably the name is a boast that it would be strong enough to wake up even a Komala. Supposedly, everything Komala does is just the result of tossing and turning as she dreams. She moves around by rolling over in her sleep – even her first attack is Rollout. Facial expressions that appear to be responses to events in the environment, or to people talking, are really just Komala reacting to things happening in her dreams, according to the Sun and Moon website.
Having said that, Komala can follow her trainer’s commands in battle, and can apparently grow to like and trust her trainer just as other Pokémon can. She uses the same friendship and affection mechanics as other Pokémon, and you can tell when she likes you because she’ll be willing to cling to your arm. In principle then, something must be getting through to her. That almost has to be the case anyway, when you think about it – after all, if Komala is born asleep and never wakes up in her entire life, what could she possibly be dreaming about? No one knows for sure exactly how dreams work, but they do seem to draw on the experiences and stimuli of the previous waking day, something Komala has never had. Maybe Komala perceives the world around her as if in a dream – a stream of foggy impressions and feelings, a little like when a real sound infiltrates a dream. Her eyes are always closed, but maybe she can hear well enough to build up a vague picture of her surroundings, as if using echolocation, and can distinguish individuals by smell. She doesn’t necessarily know exactly what’s going on at any given moment, but she understands that the world exists and she can take actions that affect it, that she needs food to live, that there are other creatures in the world and she feels more positively about some of them than others – basic stuff like that. She might think that she’s a fearsome predator and the leaves she eats are tiny helpless lizards, she might think that opposing Pokémon are boxes containing delicious candy, she might think that her trainer is a talking credenza, and she might think that if she ever wakes up the sky will eat her, but that’s fine. Unless she ever runs into a Musharna, whose powers can make dreams real, the rest of us don’t need to think too hard about it.
In reference to the koala’s total dependence on the eucalyptus, Komala is always shown clinging tightly to a log, a gift that all Komala receive from their parents at birth. Those parents presumably mated, produced a child, raised it, and found a new log for it, all while asleep. This is, I have always assumed, how real Australians raise children also. This log is precious to Komala and vital to her comfort, but she will sometimes accept temporary substitutes, like the arm of a trusted human. Because of Komala’s… let’s say “lack of initiative,” she’s the subject of one of those wild speculations that the internet generously calls “theories”: namely, Komala is actually the log. The koala that we think is Komala is just a koala. The log puts it to sleep and drags it around, for… reasons that I don’t think anyone has made clear. The main line of evidence is that a shiny Komala looks exactly like a regular Komala; only the log changes colour, from brown to pink and white, suggesting (to some people, anyway; I think we have every reason to believe that shininess is basically meaningless) that the log is actually the Pokémon. Supplementary to that are some walking and running animations for Komala that have been extracted from Sun and Moon (it seems like there was once a plan to have Pokémon walk around with the player like in Heart Gold and Soul Silver), which appear to show the log wobbling or rolling along the ground as the koala just… hangs on. Now, frankly, I can believe that between the koala and the eucalyptus tree, the eucalyptus is secretly the brains of the operation. We also do have sentient or possessed wood in the Pokémon universe, because Phantump and Trevenant exist, although it would be strange for such a Pokémon to be a Normal-type and not Grass. Obviously the Pokédex is pretty clearly using the name “Komala” to refer to the animal holding onto the log, but the Pokédex doesn’t necessarily know everything, and it’s possible that the log is really calling the shots and Alolan scientists, in-universe, just haven’t figured it out. The counterargument to all this is, of course, that it’s completely insane, but hey, that’s never stopped Pokémon fans before.
Mechanically Komala’s eternal sleep is shown through the ability Comatose, which causes Komala to be constantly affected by the “drowsy” status condition inflicted by the move Yawn. Although she can use moves normally, the game counts her as being asleep for most purposes, including allowing her to use Snore and Sleep Talk (if for some reason you want that), and making her immune to all major status conditions: burn, paralysis, poison, freezing and actual honest sleep. This is a pretty powerful immunity, and although Komala does pay for it by having some of the vulnerabilities of a sleeping Pokémon, these are mostly pretty narrow: she takes double damage from Wake-Up Slap and Hex (but, as a Normal-type, would first have to be deprived of her immunity to Hex via Foresight), is a valid target for Dream Eater and Nightmare, and will suffer from the effects of Darkrai’s Bad Dreams aura. Nothing can wake Komala up; effects that alter abilities do nothing to Comatose, and she sleeps right through effects that normally awaken sleeping Pokémon, like Electric Terrain and Uproar. She’s also one of only a small handful of Pokémon who can’t learn Rest – sleeping to restore health doesn’t make much sense when sleeping is just your default state of existence. All in all, Comatose grants a pretty powerful set of immunities for relatively few drawbacks.
Comatose is, unfortunately, just about Komala’s only major selling point. With the exception of attack and special defence, her stats are all below average. She can hit hard with her physical attacks, but as an offensive Pokémon there just isn’t much that’s special about her; she’s slow, doesn’t have a strong type, and has an offensive movepool that is decent but not outstanding. She doesn’t even have any particularly interesting Normal attacks, though Return is perfectly fine. She gets Earthquake, so she isn’t an easy switch-in to Rock- or Steel-types, and Sucker Punch or Knock Off can keep her from being bait for Ghost-types. Wood Hammer is an option and packs a lot of power, but is mostly redundant with Earthquake, and Rock Slide theoretically gets you some nice type coverage but is such a low-power move that Return usually does more damage even with a type advantage in play. You can breed a Komala with Play Rough, which won’t let her actually beat most Fighting-types but might make her a less appetising switch-in, and you can pick up Superpower for a few more super-effective hits. There’s enough in here for a Choice Band set, and Komala would pack quite a punch with a boost like that, but other than Comatose there isn’t really anything to recommend her in that role over, say, Bouffalant or Ursaring. Finally, for some reason she can learn Acrobatics – presumably she just has a dream about joining Cirque du Soleil or something – and although that would clearly be hilarious I don’t know if I can think of a consumable item that’s good enough on Komala to justify it.
Probably the most interesting thing in Komala’s movepool is Rapid Spin, which means she can take a spot as your team’s entry hazard clean-up. Thanks to Comatose she can’t be affected by Toxic Spikes, which is a nice perk for that particular job description, although she’s not unique in that respect (Forretress and Tentacruel are both excellent Rapid Spinners who sport the same distinction). She’s too fragile and has too few resistances to actually play support full-time, but she does also have Yawn as a way of forcing her counters to retreat, and U-Turn to extricate herself from danger – for a Pokémon who spends all her time asleep and has such poor speed, she can be surprisingly difficult to pin down. In principle you could try to make Komala a tank, using Bulk Up or Stockpile and three attacks, but her base HP and defence scores are so poor that they really put me off that whole idea, and since she can’t even use Rest she’s stuck with either Swallow or Wish for healing. Swords Dance, similarly, sounds hilarious but is clearly not a good idea.
Komala is, someone has to say it, a pretty gimmicky Pokémon. The Comatose ability and constant lifelong sleep are interesting on the face of it, but she’s arguably only four hours of wakefulness a day from being just an ordinary koala with a special log. Like, yes Komala is an adorable Pokémon, but it’s not a lot of work to make a koala adorable, and Pokémon games don’t really have a lot of ways to explore what it would mean to have a creature that is always asleep – in most ways Komala acts like a normal Pokémon, other than a few quirks of how she battles, as detailed above. There’s no space for something like different friendship mechanics that would make the concept meaningful. And then, of course, she just fights like a Spinda with more punch and status immunity. Playing with Komala doesn’t feel like playing with a sleeping Pokémon, because the defining characteristic of sleep – it prevents you from using moves – doesn’t apply to her. It might have been more interesting, say, to give her really high stats and actual sleep, forcing her to use Sleep Talk. Better? Probably not, but at the moment Komala’s main flavour premise just doesn’t translate into mechanics in a satisfying way, and that’s my takeaway from this Pokémon.