So it has come to this.
Once more I am faced with my immortal enemy, the creeping darkness at the heart of Pokémon that threatens to bring down all that we hold dear…
…the Pikachu clones.
I don’t even think I’m allowed to just reflexively dislike these fµ¢&ing things anymore because of that damn Pachirisu that won a world championship; no, I’m actually supposed to have reasons now, whatever that means. Well… here goes nothing.
All right; let’s get a look at you, then… electrical cheek pouches, well, no use even pretending they’re ever going to stop doing those… yellow and grey colour scheme instead of yellow and black, how creative… oh, a lightning bolt-shaped tail; feeling particularly brazen about this one, were we, Game Freak? The spikes give Togedemaru a unique aesthetic twist, I’ll admit; these are made of special fur that can either lie flat or stand rigidly on end, and usually appear as yellow or brown triangular patches on Togedemaru’s body, but can stick out to jab attackers. They also make it clear that Togedemaru’s inspiration is a hedgehog, something Pokémon has dipped into a few times before but never quite committed to (Shaymin, Chespin and Cyndaquil all diverge in some way, and Cyndaquil was arguably an echidna in the first place). Hedgehog spines, like Togedemaru’s spikes, are essentially a highly evolved form of hair. Each is a needle of rigid keratin, the same stuff that our hair and fingernails are made from. Porcupine quills have a spongy interior structure and are designed to break or fall out relatively easily – often sticking in the flesh of would-be predators, who quickly come to regret their mistake. Hedgehog spines, in contrast, are more structurally robust, with several fibrous interior walls, and have a bulbous base that is quite difficult to pull out; they are more likely to bend than break when exposed to force. Some zoologists (Vincent and Owers 1986 is the paper you want) have argued for that reason that, where porcupine quills are clearly optimised as defensive weapons, hedgehog spines might have evolved primarily as armour or shock absorbers. Hedgehogs can survive significant falls, apparently unfazed, by simply curling into a ball and allowing their spines to take most of the impact – although Togedemaru, of course, is thinking in terms of absorbing “shocks” of a rather different kind.
Bulbapedia offers both hedgehogs and porcupines as design influences on Togedemaru, but also wants to keep open the possibility that Togedemaru is based on the endangered spiny rats of the Ryukyu islands (genus Tokudaia), which… I mean, sure, Bulbapedia, you do you. It likes that idea because the Japanese name for the rats is togenezumi, but toge is just the Japanese word for “spine” or “thorn” and is a perfectly normal word to use for a hedgehog’s spines, so I’m not convinced that it means anything more than that. Hedgehogs do exist in Japan, and are quite popular animals. There are even hedgehog cafés, like the cat cafés that have been popping up in other parts of the world (although there’s reason to think that even the best-run of these are not good for the hedgehogs). Togedemaru’s spherical form also points to the hedgehog’s well-known habit of curling into a spiky ball when threatened or stressed. That being the case, I don’t think we need to go looking for a specifically Japanese animal (especially one as obscure as the spiny rat) to have the design make sense. On the other hand, if Togedemaru is a hedgehog rather than a spiny rat, then that means he’s based on something that’s not a rodent (hedgehogs are eulipotyphlans, members of an ancient family of mammals that also contains shrews and moles), which might have just felt too original, too radical a departure from the eternal laws of Pikachu clone design inscribed into hundred-metre-tall gold plates at the heart of Game Freak’s secret fortress-crypt beneath Tokyo. Which I assume is a thing.
Togedemaru’s “thing,” Togedemaru’s special schtick, the unique behaviour he’s been given in what I can only assume is an attempt to have him stand out, is that his metallic spines act as lightning rods, drawing in electrical discharges. Which in principle is great, and although it’s a pun that probably doesn’t work except in English, I would still love for this to somehow be a play on the putative “shock absorber” function of hedgehog spines. The reason I’m not, ultimately, all that impressed by it is that several Electric Pokémon, including Pikachu, have had some kind of lightning rod-like behaviour since at least generation II, without needing metal spikes. Essentially it’s just a sprinkle of hedgehoggish flavour on a fairly generic and common Electric-type ability. There is a related idea, though, which appears in the Ultra Moon Pokédex, that Togedemaru actually relies on absorbing electricity from outside sources, like lightning storms or other Electric Pokémon, because his own capacity to generate electricity is limited compared to other Electric-types (this gets played up with Sophocles’ Togedemaru partner in the anime). I sort of like the idea that this is reflected in Togedemaru’s weak special attack stat, which can be increased by absorbing Electric attacks with his Lightning Rod ability; it’s the kind of correspondence between a Pokémon’s flavour and mechanics that tends to make me happy. On the other hand, I think that, if that was the intention, the execution was flubbed, because Togedemaru’s special attack and special movepool are both so terrible that Lightning Rod frankly cannot save them. For all of that, though… like, sure, Togedemaru’s another goddamn “electric rodent” (“rodent” this time in an honorary sense), and sure, he hits all the standard aesthetic notes, and sure, he’s as pointless as the rest, but he’s got his own look too with the spines, and there’s at least an attempt at creativity in the lightning rod theme (in principle it’s an excellent way of linking the Electric and Steel elements; it’s just a shame that several pure Electric Pokémon are already well-established as having similar abilities). He certainly has a much better reason for his secondary type than Dedenne does, and a more interesting design with a more independent aesthetic. I remain implacably committed against Pikachu clones as a concept, but I’m happy to call Togedemaru one of the less offensive ones, along with Emolga.
In battle too, Togedemaru has a lot going for him that previous sequels to Pikachu didn’t. He’s a Steel-type, which is a powerful thing to be; with three weaknesses balanced by twelve resistances, the only real drawback is the double weakness to Ground attacks (and even that can, in theory at least, be eliminated by Magnet Rise). He has the highest base stat total of the group, though he only narrowly beats Dedenne and Emolga. He also has the strongest physical attacks of the lot, speed to match, and lacklustre defences mitigated by that slew of resistances. He’s far from top-tier, but he can use physical attacks competently, and isn’t a bad Pokémon to slap a Choice Band or Choice Scarf on. Turning next to his abilities, some silly person decided that because Togedemaru’s flavour text references literal lightning rods, he should have the Lightning Rod ability rather than, say, Volt Absorb. Both abilities grant immunity to Electric attacks, but where Volt Absorb converts incoming Electric attacks into healing, Lightning Rod converts them into special attack boosts, which (as mentioned above) is not useful. This probably isn’t just about the literal meaning of the ability name; Alola likes Pokémon that are stronger in double battles, and in doubles Lightning Rod also allows Togedemaru to protect an ally by drawing in Electric attacks (doing something similar with Follow Me and Volt Absorb to protect Gyarados and Talonflame was exactly how that famous Pachirisu managed to make itself useful). In singles, though, you can give Lightning Rod a miss and go with Iron Barbs, which does retaliatory damage against contact attacks. This is much more powerful on its original user Ferrothorn, but the incremental damage is still nice, given that Togedemaru’s actual attack damage isn’t that high.
Togedemaru gets a signature move, Zing Zap, which is… fine. It’s fine. I mean, it’s a decent physical Electric attack, and those are hard to come by; it’s weaker than Wild Charge, but not by a lot, and it doesn’t come with recoil damage; it can make opponents flinch, which makes sense given Togedamaru’s relatively fast speed. It’s fine. It’s not in itself a reason to use Togedemaru, but it ensures that he doesn’t get completely screwed over by trying to be a physical Electric-type. If you’re a truly evil person, you can leverage the flinch chance, along with Nuzzle for paralysis and potentially even Encore, into a frustrating harasser moveset that will relieve Togedemaru of the pressure of having to kill your opponent by making them want to do it themselves. And… you might have to do that, because unfortunately, other than Zing Zap, Togedemaru is quite short of good physical attacks. In the original Sun and Moon he didn’t even have a decent Steel attack; luckily the Ultra sequels have an Iron Head move tutor. U-Turn makes Togedemaru a good pick for Choice items, because you can hit something with your boosted attack or speed and then vanish without suffering from the item’s penalty. Unlike a lot of Alolan Pokémon who get U-Turn, Togedemaru is relatively easy to get into play because he has so many resistances, so bouncing him out doesn’t weaken his position as much. Poison Jab is there, but you already hit Fairy-types with your Steel attack and Grass-types with U-Turn, so the list of Pokémon it helps you against is pretty specific (though there are a few, including Turtonator, toaster Rotom and Tapu Koko). Zen Headbutt makes him a bit less vulnerable to some Fighting-types, but its power and accuracy are less than inspiring. Finally, there’s Reversal. Reversal is generally bad, but I think it’s worth mentioning because Togedemaru’s hidden ability is Sturdy, which allows him to survive attacks that would one-shot him with a single hit point remaining. In theory, this provides a reliable (…ish) way of getting Reversal to its maximum power rating of 200. In practice it probably just leads to Togedemaru getting killed by Spikes or Stealth Rock the next time he has to switch in, but hey, you can’t win ‘em all.
Togedemaru’s stats don’t make him seem like a defensive Pokémon, but with the Steel type and the Iron Barbs ability (potentially stackable with a Rocky Helmet), he can be deceptively un-terrible, and the aforementioned combination of Zing Zap with a paralysing attack makes some amount of sense as the offensive element of a support load-out. Together with those, you can put together some combination of Encore, Wish, Spiky Shield and U-Turn. Spiky Shield, Chesnaught’s signature version of Protect, adds another layer of frustration to the paralysis/flinch strategy, and its retributive damage effect is on-theme with Iron Barbs (unfortunately they don’t stack, because Iron Barbs only triggers if the attack actually connects). Together with Wish, it can provide Togedemaru with reliable healing; just bear in mind that if you do this more than once or twice your opponent will figure out what’s up and use the shield turn to switch. Alternatively, Wish with U-Turn makes Togedemaru a healer for your team (though a Pokémon with more HP could do the same job better, since Wish always heals based on the user’s HP). Togedemaru is also one of only ten different Pokémon that can learn Electric Terrain, which… well, okay, Tapu Koko is obviously better at this, but Togedemaru can do it. Last and… frankly very much least, if you really want to go for the memes, give Togedemaru Fell Stinger. This is a rare Bug-type attack, which has a low base power, but grants a massive attack boost if it ever scores a knockout. With a Fell Stinger boost and Togedemaru’s decent speed, a sweep is actually not unthinkable. I want to make clear that I am not recommending this for general use, and it will almost never work; because of Fell Stinger’s low power it’s very difficult to deal a finishing blow with it. However, it will be hilarious.
I will grudgingly admit that Togedemaru is not bad, for what he is. If ancient law decrees that Pikachu must be born anew with each turn of the heavens, lest the stars fall to earth and all descend into wretched darkness, then I suppose Togedemaru is all right, as a fulfilment of that particular dread prophecy. In ancient times, the lyricist Archilochus once wrote that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one great thing.” Archilochus was probably drunk when he wrote that (he was a notorious and self-confessed alcoholic), but what he likely meant was that a fox is cunning and has a lot of tricks it can deploy to solve many problems, while a hedgehog knows only one trick – rolling into a ball – but it’s such a good one that the hedgehog doesn’t need anything else. You can think about Pokémon in the same way – some are flexible foxes, like Passimian, while others are focused hedgehogs like Minior. Togedemaru… knows a few things, but if his “one great thing” is Zing Zap, then maybe he could do with a few lessons from a good fox.