Some Pokémon are just… weird. And frankly I kind of have a soft spot for them. Heatmor? Someone jammed a blast furnace through an anteater and thought it would make a cool Pokémon; I love it. Spoink? It’s a spring-loaded pig’s head that can’t ever stop moving or its heart will explode. Perfection. Gligar? I… I mean, I’m gonna be honest; it’s been eighteen years and I still don’t know what Gligar is, but clearly he’s great. Probopass? I… well, …okay, I draw the line at Probopass because that moustache is clearly just a crime against all that is natural; I have limits. But the point is that quirkiness is appealing to me. So, presented with a Pokémon who is apparently an undead clump of seaweed wrapped around a rusty ship’s wheel and anchor that it uses to hunt whales… well, colour me confused but intrigued.
Dhelmise is not what it appears. To look at it, you’d think the Pokémon was the anchor and wheel, and the seaweed was growing on it. The compass on the wheel is even stylised in such a way as to look like Dhelmise’s eye (and it acts like an eye in the anime, squinting suspiciously at Team Rocket through the window of their submarine). But that’s all an act – as evidenced by the testimony of the Pokédex and Dhelmise’s Ghost/Grass (not Steel) typing. Dhelmise is the seaweed. The Moon version Pokédex tells us that Dhelmise are born from “the soul of seaweed adrift in the waves,” so already we have some serious questions to ask here. Does seaweed count as an ensouled being in the Pokémon world? Can plants feel pain?!? What ethical implications does this have for the status of nori as a dietary staple? What about if the seaweed is evil? Dhelmise explicitly feeds on life-force (like fellow marine Ghost-types Frillish and Jellicent), which certainly sounds evil, but then again, maybe it’s just a simple fact of ecology that, in a world where life-force exists, there will be predators who extract it directly, and some of those predators will inevitably take the form of malevolent anchor-wielding kelp.
The other parts of Dhelmise’s body are human-manufactured objects that the Pokémon has… overgrown? Colonised? Assimilated? And the fun part is that this is actually something seaweed does in the real world. Or… well, I mean, not the part where it embodies a sinister supernatural force that seeks to drag unsuspecting victims into the stygian depths, never to be seen again. Just, y’know, the part about growing on things. Sunken ships are interesting in nature because they can actually form the centre of whole new ecosystems within a marine landscape. Coral, barnacles and algae can grow all over the hulls of sunken ships, and small animals (fish, crustaceans, echinoderms, molluscs) can shelter from predators within the covered spaces provided by the wreckage. Today people even sink old ships deliberately in pre-specified locations to form artificial reefs. Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby actually referenced this concept with the Sea Mauville shipwreck: we’re told it was slated for demolition, until a survey discovered it was supporting a unique mangrove ecosystem that didn’t exist anywhere else in Hoenn. Kelp, too, can grow on man-made structures placed in a marine environment (Japanese kelp farming is largely done on artificial supports, though of course they use purpose-built frames rather than random shipwrecks). Dhelmise is, in a way, a sort of beneficiary of this same phenomenon – taking advantage of the unusual and interesting shapes of manufactured objects to grow in creative ways and in places it might not otherwise be able to. And… also wield a massive iron anchor as a bludgeoning weapon for hunting whales.
Oh, yeah, that’s a thing too. Dhelmise is a predator and is known for preying exclusively on the biggest Pokémon in the ocean, like Wailord. That in turn raises more weird questions, like “do larger creatures possess more life force?” because why else would it do that? We’re told that Dhelmise’s seaweed body can stretch out for hundreds of metres, and that sounds like a strategy for catching lots of small Pokémon in a sort of “drift net” or aquatic spider web – plausibly that’s how Dhelmise’s ancestors hunted at an earlier stage of their evolutionary history. But the Dhelmise we know today wield their anchors with great force to subdue much larger prey. Of course, anchors didn’t really exist before humans developed seafaring technology (in the real world, several thousand years ago) and metal anchors are much more recent still. We can imagine that Dhelmise, before humans started smelting metal, might have grown around rocks, maybe preferring oddly-shaped ones that could concentrate the force of a swing into a point, in the same way as an anchor. Maybe there are still “archaic” Dhelmise out there somewhere, in parts of the ocean that don’t see a lot of human maritime traffic, that cling to lumps of rock, use Rock attacks, have a Rock-type version of Dhelmise’s Steelworker ability (regional variant, anyone?), and have a terrible sense of direction on account of lacking a built-in compass. The alternative possibility, to my mind, is that Dhelmise simply didn’t exist before human shipwrecks became commonplace around Alola. That possibility calls us to look into Dhelmise’s other source of inspiration: the “ghost ship” concept.
The sea is a source of livelihood for countless people, and has driven countless economies across history – but it’s also a dark, terrible and dangerous thing that is fundamentally hostile to human life. It’s no surprise that sailors are stereotypically known as a superstitious bunch, or that there’s a venerable literary trope – from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner to Pirates of the Caribbean – of ships lost at sea, crewed by the damned souls of those who were lost with them. Sunken ships are also just… well, frankly eerie. They evoke the idea of “nature reclaiming” the ephemeral works of humanity in the same way as terrestrial ruins, but the weightless quality of the underwater environment, along with the unfamiliar behaviour of light and sound, adds another layer of strangeness. Dhelmise – a Ghost-type who aesthetically draws upon the image of a sunken ship overtaken by marine life – is certainly referencing that idea. The notion of seaweed having a soul is just ludicrous enough that I’m willing to believe the Pokédex is talking out of its junk folder. We have seen another Alolan Pokémon who claims to be the soul of something unlikely, though: Palossand, who exists because of a curse on places of historical bloodshed (and also feeds on life force). Each grain of sand has its own will – its own “soul” – not because sand in the Pokémon world is inherently sentient, but because something terrible happened on Hano Beach long ago, and there are still restless spirits out there, looking to exact revenge upon the living. Maybe Dhelmise, similarly, form when seaweed is corrupted by the lingering, resentful souls of shipwrecked sailors. Heck, maybe Dhelmise specifically form from the lost souls of whalers, and that’s why they are so particular about hunting Wailord. After all, whalers wanting vengeance against their quarry is something of a trope in its own right. I can imagine, perhaps, a sort of twisted supernatural symbiosis between a pre-existing “carnivorous” seaweed and the vengeful souls of lost sailors, giving rise to a unique hybrid creature.
As fun as speculation is, though, there’s a more concrete section that this entry needs as well. In the games, Dhelmise is a Ghost/Grass dual-type, a fairly middling combination with nasty weaknesses and useful resistances in equal measure, and shared with Gourgeist, Trevenant and Decidueye. Its unique (and only) ability is Steelworker, which increases the power of its Steel attacks by 50% – effectively giving it a same-type bonus on a third type, in addition to its “natural” Ghost and Grass types. It doesn’t get the most important perk of being a Steel-type, the ridiculous number of resistances, so the main benefit Dhelmise derives from this ability is being able to hit Ice- and Fairy-types really hard (as well as the handful of Rock-types who aren’t weak to Grass anyway, like Aerodactyl and Tyrantrum). Conveniently, Dhelmise also gets a Steel-type signature move: Anchor Shot, an attack of middling power that also traps a non-Ghost-type target in play, like a Mean Look or Shadow Tag effect. Preventing an opponent from switching is a pretty powerful thing to be able to do in Pokémon, because in general “switch to [teammate A, B, C, D or E]” represents about half of your possible options for what to do on any given turn, and narrowing an opponent’s options makes them predictable and exploitable. With a monstrous attack stat to back up that trapping effect, Dhelmise is a pretty scary Pokémon – it can keep you from running, then drag you down into the depths. Anchor Shot is backed up by a terrifying Grass attack in Power Whip. I think this is potentially the strongest Grass-type physical attack in the entire game, since Kartana’s higher attack stat is tempered by the lower power of Leaf Blade, and Mega Abomasnow can’t get an item boost. Dhelmise can back these up with a nasty Earthquake as well, making it a dangerous Pokémon for Fire- or Poison-types to go after. As for a Ghost-type attack… well, Ghost attacks are more complicated.
Ghost attacks are useful because they’re difficult to resist, but good physical ones are unusual; most Pokémon have to make do with Shadow Claw. Dhelmise also gets Phantom Force, a rare sixth-generation Ghost attack that acts like a diminutive version of Giratina’s Shadow Force. It doesn’t get used much, because it’s a two-turn move like Fly: one turn, the user vanishes and becomes invulnerable; the next turn, it reappears and strikes. Phantom Force therefore gives the opponent effectively a free turn to answer it – potentially by switching in a counter to your Ghost Pokémon, which could be the moment you start to lose control of the battle. Of course, Dhelmise has an unusual advantage: because of Anchor Shot, switching may not be an option. In addition, unlike most two-turn moves, Phantom Force goes straight through Protect, which makes it a lot less abusable. It’s not totally safe, because even a Pokémon trapped by Anchor Shot can exploit Dhelmise’s off-turns with set-up or recovery moves. Also, if you fail to get off an Anchor Shot first, you fall prey to all the usual pitfalls. Still, it’s fair to say that Phantom Force is a less bad idea for Dhelmise than similar moves are for most Pokémon – and good physical Ghost attacks are an unusual strength. Further on the subject of moves that are interesting from a certain angle but broadly dubious, we have Heavy Slam, the Steel attack whose power increases according to how much the user outweighs the target. Tipping the scales at 210 kg, Dhelmise is heavy, but not ridiculously heavy like, say, Mudsdale. For Heavy Slam to do more damage than Anchor Shot, Dhelmise’s target has to weigh no more than 52.5 kg – roughly midweight by Pokémon standards. A lot of Fairy and Ice Pokémon are on the lightweight side – think Clefable, Togekiss, Weavile, Gardevoir, Sylveon and Alolan Ninetales – while the heaviest weight classes tend to be dominated by Rock and Ground Pokémon who take more damage from Power Whip anyway. On the other hand, using Heavy Slam means sacrificing the disruptive power of Anchor Shot, as well as probably a fair bit of incidental damage against heavier Pokémon switching into Dhelmise’s attacks.
Of course, not everything is rosy for Dhelmise: a massive attack stat and solid defences are balanced by very poor speed, making it an extremely vulnerable target if it isn’t able to use Anchor Shot to secure the matchups it wants. In particular, Normal/Flying Pokémon are immune to two of Dhelmise’s four go-to attack types, resistant to a third, and fully capable of flattening it with Flying attacks like Brave Bird and Drill Peck. For a highly offence-focused Pokémon, it also isn’t great at scoring super-effective hits: Grass, Ground and Steel have a lot of redundancy in their type coverage, and Ghost is mostly just good at hitting things for neutral damage. Turning to less straightforward options, then: given a moment’s peace and a little bit of foresight, Dhelmise can heal itself with Synthesis to wring some more value out of those defences. Anchor Shot and Synthesis can combine with Toxic to create a defensive, attrition-style Dhelmise that traps opponents in play and then waits for them to die, healing with Synthesis and potentially also using Phantom Force to reduce its exposure to attacks. Personally this seems to me like a bit of a waste of Dhelmise’s sheer bludgeoning force, though. It can also clear opposing entry hazards with Rapid Spin, a rare and eternally valuable niche skill, even for a Pokémon that doesn’t seem like a natural support player. Its support and utility movepool is otherwise, frankly, pretty thin (Knock Off is nice, since denying an opponent the use of an item is always useful, but its type coverage is very redundant with Phantom Force). Finally, Dhelmise does get Swords Dance, but with poor speed and a baseline attack stat that already pushes absurdity, that isn’t necessarily what this particular Pokémon needs.
Dhelmise is yet another Alolan Pokémon with poor speed, decent defences and very powerful attacks, and its ability, while unique, isn’t all that interesting. Anchor Shot gives it a nice point of difference, though (one that provides a much-needed distinction from the fighting styles of Gourgeist and Trevenant, also slow but tough Ghost/Grass physical attackers). The synergy between Anchor Shot and Phantom Force is also interesting, and gives Dhelmise a chance to operate as a genuine Ghost-type physical attacker. As for the design, well… it’s bizarre, I’m not sure all of the details are totally self-consistent or even sane, and frankly I still don’t think I understand everything that’s going on here, but it’s certainly creative and evocative. It’s a cool Pokémon, and I’m glad to have it around.