Today’s Pokémon is something of a dark horse contender for most adorable Pokémon of generation VII. Sure, it’s so ugly that it turns the old cliché “if looks could kill” into a grim reality, but it just wants to be loved, and the well-meaning adage “be yourself” has led it to one too many tragedies. Horrifying as it is at first glance, it’s hard not to sympathise with it once you learn the trials and tribulations that plague Mimikyu: the Disguise Pokémon.
Just as Mimikyu’s name suggests, its thing is mimicry. Unlike Pokémon’s true master mimic Ditto, Mimikyu isn’t flexible and versatile in its mimicry: it knows how to imitate just one thing, Pikachu, and the proficiency with which it does so is… well, closer to Amoonguss than to Voltorb; let’s put it charitably. It doesn’t have any particular biological or magical facility for imitating the appearance of other Pokémon; it just throws on a Pikachu costume that looks like it was thrown together in about ten minutes by an unnecessarily drunk eight-year-old (but don’t tell Mimikyu I said that – it loves its costume and, if it’s damaged, will work feverishly to repair it). Mimikyu is a Ghost-type and, as Bulbapedia points out, the makeshift nature of the disguise has a lot in common with a basic Halloween ghost costume – a sheet thrown over the head, with some eyeholes and maybe a face drawn on with a marker. The twist is that Mimikyu is an inversion, an actual ghost using a slapdash homemade costume to look like one of the living. There’s also a thunderbolt-shaped Pikachu tail, which I think is supposed to be made of wood, since Mimikyu can learn Wood Hammer. Mimikyu wears all this nonsense because its real form is supposedly horrifying beyond words. Stripping its disguise away and actually seeing what lies beneath will result in, at best, a “mysterious illness” or curse, and potentially straight-up death. In the anime we see Meowth glimpse a Mimikyu’s true appearance, with the result that his heart briefly stops and we actually see his spirit leave his body, and later return. Two separate Pokédex entries (from Sun and Ultra Moon) also tell two clearly different stories about people who have died by accidentally witnessing Mimikyu’s real body, and when the Pokédex is willing to explicitly warn readers of the possibility of death as a result of interactions with a Pokémon, you know it’s serious. Mimikyu’s effort to conceal itself beneath a not-quite-Pikachu-like shroud is a heroic act of mercy… and, apparently, an attempt to reach out.
Mimikyu, we’re told repeatedly by multiple sources, are desperately lonely, and regard their ability to kill anything that sees them as a haunting curse. According to the Sun and Moon website, they started to disguise themselves as Pikachu when Pikachu became a popular motif for toys and decorative trinkets about twenty years prior to the date of Sun and Moon (i.e. not long after the first Pokémon games were released in the real world). Seeing how beloved Pikachu had become with the people of Alola, and of the whole world, the poor lonely Mimikyu decided that if only they could make themselves look like Pikachu, humans would want to be their friends. Considering how beloved Mimikyu has become by a good portion of the internet in the two years since its first appearance, they succeeded. All this is interesting because it’s telling of how thoroughly the Mimikyu have bought into the model of human-Pokémon relations defined by humans. Mimikyu could win any battle by revealing their true selves to their opponents – but they don’t. If Mimikyu didn’t want to become trainers’ Pokémon companions, they could scare away all humans from their territories by just wandering around in their horrifying true form – but they don’t. They consciously buy into the idea of Pokémon battles as fair, non-lethal contests of skill, and (I think) they buy into the idea of battles between trainers and wild Pokémon as voluntary tests of worth. We could perhaps take their attitude as evidence for something I’ve suspected for a while: the wild Pokémon we actually meet in the games are not random individuals, but specifically those who have already decided that they are at least curious about spending time with humans. If a Pokémon is just not interested in the whole training-and-battling “thing,” it’s competent enough, and comfortable enough in its own environment, to just stay out of the way of any typical trainer. This seems to be what we see with Mimikyu. If there are any that don’t value interactions with humans or other Pokémon (and we would be able to tell, because they wouldn’t bother disguising themselves, and seeing them would kill us), we never encounter them. Interacting with humans at all requires conscious decisions and special effort on their part, and they’re willing to jump through those hoops just to meet us without frightening, repulsing, or outright killing us.
It’s not clear what, if anything, Mimikyu disguised themselves as before the surge in Pikachu’s popularity. They could have fixated on some other cute Pokémon that was considered highly appealing at the time; they could again in future, if Pikachu’s popularity ever wanes (of course, if that ever happens in the real world, it will probably coincide with Pokémon’s final demise, so we’ll never know how Mimikyu would react). They could have worn plain white sheets and not tried to look like anything in particular. Maybe until they started using Pikachu costumes they’d never been seen by humans at all, and just hid away from the world in dark and secret places, to avoid facing rejection or accidentally harming others. Considering their preference for staying out of sunlight, and the fate of people who see one without its disguise, it’s plausible that no one knew about them until recently. Then again, we’re told that Mimikyu adopted Pikachu cosplay because of their chronic loneliness and desire to make friends with humans, and Pokémon training has a millennia-long history. Unless something’s changed in the last 20 years to make life with humans radically more appealing, I’d suspect that Mimikyu living in earlier times appeared to humans using other disguises. There could be populations in other parts of the world that still do. Pikachu is a natural choice because Mimikyu, like many Ghost Pokémon, can learn Thunderbolt (as its song notes), but really any Electric Pokémon would make as much sense. On the other hand, here’s a more worrying take on Mimikyu’s choices. Jessie’s Mimikyu in the anime, for reasons that remain obscure, seems to want Ash’s Pikachu dead (but apparently hasn’t tried just revealing its true form to him). According to Meowth, it wears a Pikachu costume because Pikachu is the thing it hates most. Maybe it yearns to destroy Pikachu and steal his identity? And… Ash’s love? It’s not clear whether the anime claims that this is the attitude of all Mimikyu, or just this particularly psychotic one. Strictly speaking, nothing in the games contradicts it, and one line of the Pokédex suggests a sinister side to Mimikyu – it will “mercilessly seek revenge” on anyone that damages its costume – but it seems at odds with the rest of the flavour text. Regardless of the truth of this supposition, Mimikyu certainly has the power to back it up…
The unique twist in Mimikyu’s particular fighting style is the Disguise ability, which represents the protection (flimsy though it may be) afforded by its incredibly convincing Pikachu costume. The first direct attack on Mimikyu in any battle will always mistakenly target its Pikachu head, which is just (I assume) a ball of papier-mâché and lint covered in a dirty bedsheet. Any attack will break the disguise, revealing the location of Mimikyu’s true form at the base of the “Pikachu” body (though not actually revealing its appearance, because that would kill the attacker and probably, y’know, cause lots of awkward questions to be raised with representatives of the Pokémon League). Subsequent attacks affect you normally. This protects Mimikyu from ever being one-shot by any attack, no matter how strong, and unlike other similar protections (the Focus Sash item, the Sturdy ability) it will still work even if Mimikyu takes passive damage from effects like Spikes or poison. Like those other methods, though, it will be foiled by multi-strike attacks like Rock Blast or Bullet Seed: the first hit is blocked, and all the rest get through. Again, any attack, no matter how weak or how strong, will break the disguise and be completely absorbed in the process (but beware Mould Breaker Pokémon like Rampardos, who just barge straight through). In that sense it’s a little bit like an auto-Substitute, allowing Mimikyu to switch into almost any direct attack safely, and on top of that, Mimikyu’s Ghost/Fairy type affords it three immunities (to Normal, Fighting and Dragon attacks). All this makes it one of the easiest Pokémon in the game to get into play. Since Mimikyu has a pretty good base speed stat and can learn both Swords Dance and a decent priority attack, Shadow Sneak, this makes it extremely dangerous. Mimikyu can jump straight into play and start setting up, while avoiding a potentially sizeable chunk of incidental damage that would hit any other Pokémon trying to do the same thing.
That’s not to say everything is rosy for Mimikyu. Blocking one attack is a fantastic ability for a setup sweeper, but the longer you plan to leave Mimikyu exposed to attacks, the less noticeable Disguise’s effect becomes. The greater the impact you can make with that one turn of protection, the better Mimikyu will be. If you want to make it, say, a supporter or even a tank, well, Disguise helps, sure; it’s going to be a useful ability almost no matter what you do with Mimikyu. Having a free turn to toss out a Will’o’Wisp or Thunder Wave is great; you might cripple one of Mimikyu’s counters, and your opponent probably won’t expect it. It’s less likely to swing an entire battle, though, the way you could if you were using that free turn for a Swords Dance. The exception is in doubles, where people have had some success finding a support-oriented use for that brief period of protection: setting up Trick Room, which, for a doubles team built to exploit it, can be every bit as game changing as the threat of a Swords Dance sweep. There’s also no reason you couldn’t give Mimikyu a Choice Band; that’s just arguably not a very good use of its particular talents. In further bad news, Mimikyu’s primary physical attacks are subpar. Mimikyu is a Ghost/Fairy dual-type, and both of those types simply lack top-quality physical moves: Play Rough is decent, but not perfectly accurate, while Shadow Claw has the benefit of a high critical hit rate, but is severely lacking in power. Great type coverage, admittedly; I’m pretty sure the only Pokémon that resists both Fairy and Ghost attacks is Pyroar, who isn’t exactly a common or particularly meta-worthy opponent. Still, you shouldn’t expect Mimikyu to be able to ruin entire teams without help. It can prepare for a sweep attempt at relatively low risk to itself compared to most other Pokémon, but the rewards of a successful setup are correspondingly lower as well. Before our adorable abomination can do its thing, another team member will need to brush aside high-powered physical walls or Pokémon with resistance to Fairy attacks (for these, it’s worth considering a Ghost-type Z-crystal to overcome Shadow Claw’s low power and give Mimikyu a chance to punch through for itself).
Mimikyu has other attack options, most importantly Leech Life, Wood Hammer and, from the Ultra Sun and Moon move tutors, Drain Punch. Losing Shadow Sneak for any of these is inadvisable, since Mimikyu is fast but not that fast, and can’t increase its own speed. You could drop Shadow Claw, though, since it’s a bit of a “meh” attack anyway and one of the other options would give you more super-effective hits, as well as potentially some nice healing from Drain Punch or Leech Life (Wood Hammer is also stronger than Shadow Claw, even after Shadow Claw’s same-type bonus). If you take a healing option, you could even try using Bulk Up instead of Swords Dance; as with Swords Dance, Disguise gives you a bit of cover as you set up. Mimikyu has a very poor HP stat, but decent physical defence, good speed, and excellent special defence, so a meatier bruiser-style Mimikyu using Bulk Up might be plausible as an alternative to the standard form. Again, it may not produce the greatest possible impact from Disguise, but it strikes me as an interesting thing to try.
Mimikyu is a really hard Pokémon to fault. It’s weird to imagine an entire species with its particular set of neuroses existing in the wild as part of an ecosystem, but from a character standpoint it’s extremely compelling – and, well, clearly it’s worked. Mimikyu wants nothing more than to escape the curse of its lethally horrifying appearance and win the love of humans, and the Pokémon community has responded enthusiastically, making Mimikyu one of the most beloved Pokémon of the generation, maybe even of all time (albeit not quite matching its inspiration, Pikachu). On the mechanics side, Disguise is a pretty unique ability that heavily informs Mimikyu’s particular battle style and makes it a pretty solid sweeper despite the natural disadvantages of a Pokémon with its type combination. Well played, Game Freak; well played.