Alola is a tropical paradise, and what would a tropical paradise be without a brightly-coloured and unforgivably gaudy tropical fish? Fish Pokémon never felt as inevitable as some of the other Pokémon classes, like the generic bird or the off-brand Pikachu, but there’s a lot of weird fish in the world and only so many Pokémon regions to stuff them into. Unfortunately their ranks include some of the most forgettable Pokémon in history, such as Finneon, Basculin and… y’know, the… that one. The other one. Alola’s designated fish, the teeth-gnashing Water/Psychic Pokémon Bruxish, is luckily a good deal less pointless than Finneon, Basculin, or what’s-its-butt. Let’s take a look.
Because of Bruxish’s vivid colours and prominent teeth, it’s a good bet he’s based on the triggerfish (family Balistidae), a group of feisty tropical reef fish that use their powerful teeth to crush the shells of the crustaceans and molluscs they prey on. If we want to follow Alola’s links with the real region of Hawai‘i, we should note that the state fish of Hawai‘i is the reef triggerfish, or humuhumunukunukuapua‘a (not actually as tongue-twisting as it looks; it’s “humu” twice, then “nuku” twice, then apua‘a – Polynesian languages have a lot of reduplication like that). Personally, I don’t think Bruxish looks that much like a reef triggerfish – his spots are reminiscent of a clown triggerfish, and his colours perhaps of a queen triggerfish or titan triggerfish – but it’s possible a designer at Game Freak was just confused by all the different species, or simply didn’t care. His “diamond”-shaped body and the “wavy” appearance of his fins are also perfectly in line with the reef triggerfish’s body plan, and his… shall we say “chromatic exuberance” calls to mind the namesake of the reef triggerfish’s closest relative, the Picasso triggerfish (which goes by the same name in Hawaiian). It’s strange and a little disturbing to see a mouth full of prominent bared teeth like Bruxish’s on a fish, especially in a jaw that projects outwards like Bruxish’s does, and I would have been perfectly willing to say “this is too weird, get rid of it”… but frankly, I looked up what a real triggerfish’s teeth look like, and they’re fµ¢&ing weird, so if Bruxish troubles us, we have only them to blame. And yes, they do in fact also have plump, sensual lips. Because of course they do. Bruxish’s prodigious dental gifts allow him to crush the spines of Mareanie and Toxapex, making him a natural predator to these Pokémon (the Pokédex conspicuously refrains from saying that Bruxish eats the starfish Pokémon themselves, claiming only that he eats their broken spines, but seems fine with talking about Shellder’s shell being “ground to mush”). The real titan triggerfish, likewise, is one of the few species with the gastronomic fortitude and surly disposition necessary to go toe-to-toe with the crown-of-thorns starfish, the prickly pest who inspired Toxapex’s design.
Triggerfish are mean assholes, and will attack anything that enters their territory, up to and including humans. Even the big ones can’t injure a person all that seriously, but by Poseidon’s rigid nipples they’ll give it a go. If you’re very unlucky, titan triggerfish can even poison you quite severely. They’re not really venomous in the technical sense – you’re actually in much greater danger of infection if you, most unwisely, respond by biting the triggerfish. I thought it was worth mentioning, though, since it arguably justifies Bruxish getting Poison Fang as an egg move.
Aside from the crushing teeth, the most important parts of a triggerfish are the “trigger” spines. Triggerfish have sets of retractable dorsal spines that can be used to anchor them inside crevices of rock formations, making them difficult for predators to extract (the first spine, once raised, is locked into place by the second spine, until the second spine is depressed – like a trigger, hence the name). In about the same place as triggerfish have their dorsal spines, Bruxish has a… sort of fleshy bulb on a stalk. From the Pokédex we learn that this is Bruxish’s psychic organ, and in battles you can also see it open out into a flower-like, or perhaps anemone-like, shape when he uses special attacks. This is… deeply weird and I have no idea why it has been inflicted upon us, but I suppose it’s creative, if nothing else. Thematically the anemone shape fits with Bruxish being a tropical reef creature, or if you look at it as a flower then we can see it as part of a vaguely hippie-ish tie-dye aesthetic.
From reading the Pokédex, it seems as though Bruxish is an ambush predator. Real triggerfish are some of the biggest and baddest fish in the particular ecosystems they choose to assault with their presence, and will therefore bully their way around in the open; Bruxish, by contrast, prefers to burrow into the sand. Presumably, either he’s very good at this, or all the other Pokémon on the Alolan reefs are colourblind. He uses his weird psychic bulb organ, which stays unburied, to sense the presence of prey in the area, and I can imagine that it might even act as a lure. We’ve very much left the triggerfish behind now, and are describing a hunting strategy that’s something between a frogfish and a flounder. Don’t worry, though; it gets weirder. Bruxish apparently defeats his enemies by grinding his teeth together and using his psychic bulb to amplify the sound until it becomes a crippling violation of the minds of all who hear it (I’d conjecture there’s a telepathic component here, so that even if you plug your ears, the sound is simply projected into your brain). That… well, I mean, it’s definitely different from other Psychic Pokémon, I’ll give it that; I don’t know if I’d previously considered using psychic power to annoy my enemies to death with the sound of grinding teeth. This is also where Bruxish gets his name. When I first met this Pokémon I assumed it came from “brush,” as in paintbrush, because of his flashy colours, but no: your word for the day, bruxism, is a medical term for compulsive teeth grinding (from the ancient Greek word brukein, to gnash, bite or devour). Together with Bruxish’s psychedelic colouring, you could argue that the teeth-grinding tactic makes him a Pokémon whose unifying theme is sensory overload. Rather than the sophisticated mind-over-matter techniques employed by other Psychic Pokémon, Bruxish aims to assault opponents with sensation, forcing garish colours and grating sounds on them until their minds have to shut down to cope (see also the final move on his level up list: Synchronoise). And then he rips their faces off with his teeth and eats them.
Bruxish has a signature ability, Dazzling, which we’ve actually mentioned briefly before, because it has the same effect as Tsareena’s Queenly Majesty ability; it shuts down priority attacks (an effect, presumably, of that sensory overload I mentioned earlier; Bruxish is just too luridly coloured for opponents to maintain concentration while attacking him). Priority techniques will not only lose their usual speed priority, they’ll actually fail altogether (note that this only works on moves that target Bruxish; he doesn’t, for instance, bypass Protect). This is a neat little niche ability, but it’s probably not worth your time, because unlike Tsareena, Bruxish has an alternative that is clearly far superior: Strong Jaw, which gives a hefty +50% power bonus to a selection of normally lacklustre biting attacks. This leads us nicely into Bruxish’s signature move: Psychic Fangs, a Psychic-type bite attack. If, like me, you’re wondering exactly what a Psychic-type biting move entails, well, according to the move’s description, Bruxish… uh… “bites the target with its psychic capabilities.” So… eh, I guess physical Psychic moves are going to sound weird no matter what you do with them. Once you account for a potential Strong Jaw bonus, it’s actually a really powerful attack. In fact, if you exclude legendary Pokémon, it’s just about the most powerful physical Psychic attack in the game; with a Life Orb bonus, it narrowly edges out a Zen Headbutt from Mega Metagross with his Tough Claws boost, and comfortably beats the same move from Mega Gallade. It’s also more accurate than Zen Headbutt, and comes with the nice little bonus effect of shattering an opponent’s Reflect or Light Screen protection. These have been less common competitively in the last two generations owing to the increased importance of Defog, which also clears them, but still, it’s cool that Bruxish can do that, and Psychic Fangs is powerful enough that it doesn’t especially need a game-breaking secondary effect.
Bruxish has offensively slanted stats, with mediocre defences, good speed, and excellent physical attack, putting him in a good position to make use of Strong Jaw. Something like a Choice Scarf moveset is plausible, given the power of Psychic Fangs and Bruxish’s good but not amazing speed, but he also gets Swords Dance for some reason, and is just fast enough that I’d be remiss not to suggest giving it a go. Either way, Psychic Fangs is a given (just be cautious of giving opposing Dark-types an opening by locking yourself into a Psychic attack). Liquidation is Bruxish’s preferred Water attack if you have access to the Ultra Sun and Moon move tutors, Waterfall or Aqua Tail if you don’t. Aqua Jet is also available, either in addition to Liquidation or in place of it, to help you circumvent Bruxish’s less-than-stellar speed in a Choice Band or Swords Dance situation. He doesn’t have a lot of other physical attacks to choose from, but Strong Jaw ensures that the ones he does have are actually worth using. Ice Fang is mediocre for most Pokémon, but on Bruxish is really a solid move (but bear in mind that, even super effective, it only does slightly more damage than your neutral Psychic Fangs, and isn’t 100% accurate). Crunch doesn’t get many super effective hits, but like Psychic Fangs it’s extremely powerful, and has the neutral coverage to help you bludgeon through most things that resist Psychic attacks. Poison Fang is technically there, but starting to scrape the barrel; even with Strong Jaw it isn’t a powerful attack, and Bruxish frankly doesn’t have the time to wait around for poison damage to start building up.
Bruxish gets Bulk Up (again for reasons that, frankly, elude me), but since he lacks healing other than Rest or Pain Split and has iffy defences, tanking is just not on the cards for him, and Swords Dance is probably a better idea. Taunt is on his list, so you can in theory use it to screw with support Pokémon, who might try to put a stop to his shenanigans with a well-placed Will’o’Wisp or Thunder Wave. Technically his hidden ability, Wonder Skin, makes him an interesting answer to those kinds of moves, reducing their accuracy to an unfortunate 50%, but by not choosing Strong Jaw you’ve basically given up the best reason to use Bruxish in the first place. There’s not many other moves on Bruxish’s list that strike me as even vaguely plausible. He’s good at the bitey aspects. Why overcomplicate things?
As fish Pokémon go, Bruxish is no Finneon, nor even Basculin or whatever the other one was. He’s based on an interesting real fish, his design runs at right angles to reality and all common sense in some fairly creative ways, and if nothing else his bright colours make him a lot more memorable than what’s-its-name. Bruxish isn’t, frankly, a good Pokémon. If you want an aggressive Pokémon with a powerful physical Psychic attack, well, Gallade’s power may fall a bit short, but he’s in a different league as far as flexibility goes. Honestly though, he’s surprisingly not terrible; the combination of Swords Dance and Aqua Jet goes a long way, and Psychic Fangs with a Strong Jaw bonus really is a strong selling point, just because powerful physical Psychic attacks are so rare. If you can stand his psychedelic palette, take him for a spin – the worst that can happen is you get your face eaten off and then die from an infected bite.