I guess we’re almost at the end now, technically – today’s Pokémon are the last “ordinary” Pokémon of Alola. On the other hand, we’re sort of not near the end at all, because we’ve got not only legendary Pokémon to do after this, but also Ultra Beasts, and I think I promised to write something about the Alolan forms as well, and… oh, let’s just get on with it. Here’s Jangmo-o, Hakamo-o and Kommo-o: the Scaly Pokémon.
The -mo-o ending of the English names of all three of this Pokémon’s stages references the mo‘o, the Hawaiian water dragons we met briefly in my review of Salandit and Salazzle. Distant relatives of the benevolent water dragons of East Asia, mo‘o are black, serpentine shapeshifting creatures, almost always female, who watch over Hawaiian families and bring prosperity, generally in the form of rain… at least, when they’re not transforming into beautiful women in order to seduce and devour men. Obviously, though, the rest of Jangmo-o, Hakamo-o and Kommo-o’s design doesn’t have a whole lot in common with these things, which seem like they were a much bigger interest in Salazzle. The -mo-o suffix also doesn’t turn up in Japanese, or any of the other languages Pokémon is translated into. Instead, there’s a kind of hybrid dinosaur quality to these Pokémon. Bulbapedia suggests ankylosaurs as an influence, I presume because of the scale armour and bludgeoning tails, and I think pachycephalosaurs are probably in there too, because of the prominent round forehead plates, Jangmo-o’s habit of “smacking the scales on its head against rocks” and the bipedal stance of the evolved forms. As big scaly reptiles, albeit wingless ones, they’re really some of the more conventional Dragon-types of recent generations. Everything that makes them really interesting is in the elements of their second type: Fighting.
Although this, too, does not hold across all of Pokémon’s languages, Hakamo-o’s name seems to reference the haka – traditional ceremonial dances of the Māori people of New Zealand, famous today for being performed by our rugby team, the All Blacks, before each of their games. Although the Māori version is today the most famous, the word haka appears in languages throughout Polynesia, including in Hawai‘i, in the cognate form ha‘a. Haka tend to get called “war dances,” and this is probably what Hakamo-o has in mind. Strictly speaking, haka is a generic word for several kinds of ceremonial dance – a war-dance is a haka peruperu, while the All Blacks’ famed performance of ka mate is actually a haka ngeri, loosely a “dance of exhortation,” because it doesn’t involve weapons – but those distinctions are probably lost on most of Pokémon’s international audience (part of the erosion of the dances’ traditional meaning which, of course, is not even slightly controversial in New Zealand). The point of a war dance is both to display warriors’ physical prowess and unity, and to weaken the enemy’s will to fight. Hakamo-o, likewise, performs a dance that creates a rhythmic clashing of scales to frighten its enemies and raise its own blood for a fight. Fighting Pokémon are normally influenced by human warriors or martial artists, so although the specific word haka isn’t found outside of Hakamo-o’s English name, the wider concept of a Polynesian war-dance is important to the type identity of the whole line. They’re interested not just in the attainment of strength, courage and valour, but also in the performance of those martial virtues, and it’s actually their displays that are the source of their warrior reputation. Similarly important is their whole attitude to fighting in general; Fighting-types approach combat as a devotion (there’s a question in my inbox right now that will let me talk about this in more detail), and Jangmo-o, Hakamo-o and Kommo-o are no exception. They are fearless and train constantly, particularly in the middle stage of their lives when Hakamo-o leave their clans to seek out stronger opponents. They also take pride in any damage suffered by their scales, which often fall off during combat and are recycled by traditional Alolan artisans into weapons, armour, and… uh… cooking pots. Y’know, for people who like all their food to have a hint of that unmistakable komodo dragon umami.
Furthering the warrior aesthetic, the elaborate shape of Kommo-o’s tail calls to mind a flanged mace, but together with the ringing sound of his loose scales, and the repeated references to jangling and clanging noises in the Pokédex entries and onomatopoeic Japanese names (Jyarako, Jyarango, Jyararanga) there’s another weapon that could be a more closely applicable reference: the khakkhara staff (shakujō in Japanese). This is a staff with an ornate head bearing a variable number of jingling rings, originally invented in India and used by Buddhist monks throughout East Asia for a range of ceremonial purposes. Traditionally, the jingling of the staff is supposed to let a monk who has taken a vow of silence alert others to his presence – either to request charity or to warn small animals to flee. It’s an instrument of piety, humility and gentleness – an interesting perspective on Kommo-o, who, according to the Sun and Moon website, announces his presence by ringing the scales on his tail just like a shakujō because he “has no desire to battle against weak Pokémon.” As we’ve seen, the clanging sound of the scales is also important to both display and intimidation for Jangmo-o and Hakamo-o. However, the staff can also be used as a versatile defensive weapon, particularly in Japan and China, and is closely associated with the Shaolin in Chinese wuxia fiction. Kommo-o is enlightened, noble, and lives in serene isolation, but again, he’s first and foremost a warrior.
Finally, the Sun and Moon website records an intriguing bit of folklore claiming that “Kommo-o is covered in glittering scales in order to drive away a great darkness covering the world.” Considering the significance of light and darkness as an overall theme in generation VII, particularly with the involvement of the light-devouring Necrozma in the plot of Ultra Sun and Moon, as well as Jangmo-o’s habitat in the Vast Poni Canyon, near the Altar of the Sunne/Moone, it seems likely that we’re meant to read this as implying a special role in the Ultra Beast incursions into Alola. It could reflect some dim folk memory of one or more Kommo-o (who, like most Fighting-types, compulsively seek powerful opponents) fighting alongside the four Tapu against whatever emerged from the Ultra Wormholes in ancient times. It might also be important that Kommo-o serves as the Totem Pokémon of the only Alolan trial without a Captain: the whole Trial system grants wild Pokémon a lot of latitude in shaping the journeys and initiations of young Alolan trainers, but only Kommo-o gets total independence. Some of the Captains mention training their Totem Pokémon, so they’re probably responsible for ensuring that the Totems provide a respectable challenge, and Kommo-o clearly needs no encouragement there, so it’s possible that a Captain would just be superfluous. To me it’s also tempting to speculate, though, that the Scaly Pokémon are trusted to run a Trial with no human involvement at all in recognition of some important part they played (or are believed to have played) in an ancient conflict. It could even be that this was the original Trial, which all the others were established to emulate [EDIT: Hapu actually claims this explicitly]. Kommo-o are honourable, and have proven their allegiance and dedication to Alola itself and its traditions – they’re as qualified as anyone to certify a trainer’s attunement to their Pokémon.
Kommo-o is Alola’s addition to the “pseudo-legendary” pool – Pokémon like Dragonite, Tyranitar and Salamence, so called because of their extremely high base stats, comparable to those of legendary Pokémon. They all have three evolutionary levels and take a long time to evolve, they’re often the signature Pokémon of notable trainers like Champions, most of them are Dragon-types, and none of them have ever really been bad, aside from arguably Goodra. Kommo-o combines middling speed with strong defences and good but not amazing attack stats. He also has a unique type combination: Dragon/Fighting, which marries the strong neutral type coverage of Dragon attacks to the impressive five offensive type advantages of Fighting attacks. Both types also include some very high-power attacks: Close Combat and Outrage. This leaves Kommo-o with a blind spot for Fairy-types, but he can also learn Poison Jab or Iron Head to spring on them. If you take that as the basis of a strategy, there are several ways you can fill the last slot depending on exactly what you want to do with Kommo-o. Choice Band and Choice Scarf sets both make sense, and can be rounded out with Earthquake (or… I guess Aqua Tail or an elemental punch, but Earthquake is the best move and the easiest to get).
Kommo-o also has a selection of setup moves that can give him significant sweeping or tanking potential. Dragon Dance boosts both attack and speed, while Autotomise gives a larger boost to Kommo-o’s weaker speed (and, hilariously, somehow sheds enough of Kommo-o’s heavy scales to reduce his weight to 100 grams). Swords Dance is there if you want even more attack power, but Kommo-o needs the speed. Bulk Up (for bonus attack and defence) is unorthodox, but given his naturally good defences, you could build more of a tanky Kommo-o around it, using Drain Punch for healing. In the same vein, Kommo-o gets a couple of other interesting tank-ish or support-y moves, most notably Stealth Rock – for bonus points, take Dragon Tail to force switches once you have your Stealth Rocks set up. Taunt is in there too, as is Counter (though Kommo-o’s excellent physical defence and somewhat lacklustre HP argue against that). On a Pokémon like Salamence, I’d suggest that spending moveslots and turns on this stuff is a waste of your offensive potential, but honestly Kommo-o’s attack power is really only average for a dragon of his stature; he’s something of an all-rounder, but strongest on defence. Finally, I don’t know if I can in good conscience recommend Belly Drum, since Kommo-o lacks any sort of X-factor to let him exploit its ridiculous power without just dying, but it’s on his movelist and I’d be remiss not to mention it. If nothing else, Belly Drum is a hell of a shock to the opponent if you can pick the right moment to use it unexpectedly.
Kommo-o’s signature move, Clanging Scales, is a bit of a weird one. It’s a great attack – reliable accuracy at very high power, albeit with a side effect of reducing the user’s defence (the comparisons to Superpower and Close Combat are reasonably favourable). In Ultra Sun and Moon, it’s even associated with a unique Z-move, unlocked by the Kommonium-Z Crystal: Clangorous Soulblaze, which combines the massive power of a Z-move with a boost to all of Kommo-o’s stats, a neat setup for a potential sweep attempt. The trouble is, it’s a special attack. Kommo-o’s special attack stat isn’t bad, or even much lower than his physical stat – it’s the same as Salamence’s, and Salamence used to be a popular Choice Specs user back in the day – but unfortunately Kommo-o’s special movepool is poor. Its highlights are Focus Blast (poor accuracy), Flamethrower (no Fire Blast for you) and Flash Cannon (good for Fairy-types, but otherwise redundant with Fighting attacks). Clanging Scales’ intended function is probably to be the sole special attack, or maybe one of two, on an otherwise physical moveset, providing a workaround against Pokémon with extremely high physical defences and a set-up option via Clangorous Soulblaze. Again, Kommo-o’s physical attack stat, while high, is not in the same league as that of Garchomp, Dragonite or Salamence, so there is some merit to a flexible offensive posture that can target an opponent’s weak points.
Kommo-o has three different abilities, all of which provide very specific sets of immunities: Bulletproof, Soundproof, and the hidden ability Overcoat. Soundproof and Overcoat are both pretty silly, and Bulletproof is also the most interesting because it’s shared with only one other Pokémon (Chesnaught). Bulletproof grants complete immunity to a fairly selective list of bomb-, bullet- and ball-themed moves, not all of them particularly useful or common. Shadow Ball, Focus Blast, Aura Sphere and maybe Sludge Bomb are probably the biggest ones. Energy Ball and Seed Bomb, Kommo-o resists anyway; Bullet Seed, Rock Blast, Electro Ball and Gyro Ball are rarer and, again, Kommo-o resists all of them anyway. Beak Blast can hit Kommo-o hard, but only Toucannon can use it. Bulletproof is a useful ability if you ever get the opportunity to intercept any of these attacks, so making full use of Kommo-o depends in part on looking out for Pokémon that might have them. Soundproof’s immunity is to sonic attacks, and although there are quite a few of these, most (like Confide, Echoed Voice and Snore) are pretty useless. The ones you really want to watch for are Bug Buzz, Hyper Voice (especially Pixilated Hyper Voice from Sylveon and Mega Gardevoir, which otherwise flattens Kommo-o) and Roar. There are also a few sonic moves that are decent, just extremely rare: Parting Shot, Sparkling Aria, Boomburst and your own Clanging Scales. Overcoat, finally, makes Kommo-o immune to weather damage. Even in the heyday of Sandstorm teams this was clearly a rubbish ability, so in generation VI Game Freak kindly added on immunity to “powder” moves, most importantly Stun Spore, Sleep Powder and the dreaded Spore, as well as the Effect Spore ability. This is possibly even more niche than Soundproof, but does make Kommo-o an interesting answer to mushroom Pokémon like Breloom and Amoonguss who trade heavily on their 100%-accurate sleep technique.
All in all, Kommo-o looks a bit overdesigned, a bit heavy on the bling, and I like Jangmo-o and Hakamo-o’s simplicity a bit better, but the flavour behind these Pokémon is interesting and combines some disparate elements into a cohesive and intriguing whole. The fusion of Polynesian and East Asian ideas also fits Alola’s general “melting pot” aesthetic. On the mechanical side… well, it’s not really hard to make a good Pokémon with the huge pile of stats Kommo-o has to work with, and Dragon/Fighting is already a strong start. Clanging Scales adds an interesting mixed physical/special character to his fighting style, though, keeping him from being a generic tank. He’s a cool Pokémon to be a standard bearer of Alola, and guardian against extradimensional threats.