Last time on Pokémaniacal, we met Buzzwole, a horrendously jacked space mosquito who can drink an entire Snorlax in under a minute, and one of two Bug/Fighting-type Ultra Beasts. The second is our subject for today: Pheromosa, who almost couldn’t be more different, and seems like it might be meant as a high-feminine counterpart to the arch-masculine Buzzwole (which would make sense given their status as version-exclusive Pokémon for Moon and Sun, respectively). Let’s take a look.
Pheremosa is an insectoid Pokémon of some description – most likely, as we can tell by its names in Japanese, French, German and other languages, a cockroach. Bulbapedia suggests that its translucent white body is specifically a reference to the appearance of a recently moulted cockroach. The long antennae and the “hair” in the shape of a cockroach’s folded wings are also consistent with this interpretation. But where we normally think of cockroaches as disgusting, ugly things, Pheromosa is clearly designed to appear elegant, pure (again, translucent white, with gold highlights), even beautiful in an alien sort of way – and it turns the tables by being disgusted by us. According to the Pokédex, Pheromosa shuns all physical contact in Alola, possibly because it “senses some uncleanness in this world.” This is an interesting take, because cockroaches, although we associate them with dirtiness and filth, are happy to raid fairly clean homes if there’s even a little bit of food around, and are actually quite fastidious animals. Because their antennae and the hairs on their legs are important sensory organs, and can easily have their function impaired by miscellaneous gunk, cockroaches clean them obsessively. It’s even an oft-repeated factoid that cockroaches are actually disgusted by humans, because they frantically clean themselves off after contact with our skin oils – and, well, cockroaches’ tiny brains probably can’t process emotions as complex as “disgust” in the way humans understand it, but it’s still a useful comparison. Moreover, I think there’s a fairly good chance that someone at Game Freak is aware of this, and that Pheromosa’s “sense of uncleanness” is a deliberate reference.
Wicke reports that Pokémon who fight Pheromosa become stupefied, apparently by its ethereal beauty, but more likely, she thinks, by exposure to some kind of powerful pheromone (hence the name). Of course cockroaches do communicate with pheromones – signalling chemicals whose smells trigger some instinctive reaction in other members of the same species – but that isn’t particularly something special about them. A wide range of species use pheromones to mark territory, warn others of threats, attract mates, or send any number of other messages. Even humans seem to have pheromones that influence how sexually attractive we are to each other, but exactly how important they are is difficult to measure. Cockroaches are quite social insects that like to be around other cockroaches, and so they primarily use pheromones to find each other. Once one cockroach finds a plentiful food source, more will quickly follow, and once a large group forms, individuals can easily find mates. Pheromones don’t, pretty much by definition, influence the behaviour of members of other species. Humans can hijack other animals’ pheromone-based communication by, for instance, baiting traps with artificial versions of the chemicals used by cockroaches, but I’m not aware of any animal that does this naturally to attract prey or ward off predators. Junk science or not, though, Pheromosa’s “universal allure” chemical is an example of a venerable (albeit, frankly, kinda sexist) sci-fi/fantasy trope, perhaps most famously invoked by Batman villain Poison Ivy, but also appearing in Sun and Moon with Salazzle: a particular form of femme fatale, often a female-presenting alien or supernatural being, whose abilities allow her to control males by manipulating their sexual desires. Pheromosa is clearly female-presenting – “hourglass” torso shape, feet resembling high-heels, prominent eyelashes, long “hair.” Of course, Pheromosa, like all Ultra Beasts, is genderless by Pokémon standards, and its pheromones apparently affect everyone, so exactly how close we stay to the origins of the trope is, I think, something that would depend on how particular portrayals of Pheromosa (who hasn’t yet appeared in the anime) chose to play it.
Pheromosa’s other most notable trait is being really fast – Wicke has apparently clocked it at 120 miles per hour (193 km/h) – which… well, if you’ve ever picked something up or turned on a light only to see a cockroach scurrying for cover, you know the bloody things are quick little buggers, but you may not have realised that they’re record holders. For several years during the 1990s following an experiment at UC Berkeley (Full and Tu 1991 in the Journal of Experimental Biology), American cockroaches were the fastest ground insects on record – granted, they didn’t have a whole lot of competition, since no one had ever really bothered to measure the running speed of insects before then. They lost their title in 1996 to the Australian tiger beetle, which – and I swear this is true – runs so fast that it momentarily goes blind because its eyes can’t collect photons quickly enough to keep up, and has to stop every second or so to see where it’s going. Now, that’s only 9 km/h (5.6 mi/h) for the tiger beetle, and the cockroaches can only manage 5.4 km/h (3.4 mi/h), which is at best a brisk walking pace for a human, but in fairness, we have much longer legs. 5.4 km/h for a cockroach is fifty times its body length per second: the equivalent for an adult male human – or for a human-sized Pokémon like Pheromosa, is about 330 km/h (205 mi/h), around a quarter of the speed of sound, which makes Wicke’s figures seem positively tame. And in fact, at their top speeds cockroaches actually do lift the fronts of their bodies off the ground and, like Pheromosa, run on two legs.
As in the case of most of the other Ultra Beasts, Ultra Smoon give us the chance to visit Pheromosa’s homeworld by travelling through an Ultra Wormhole. This particular world is known to us as the “Ultra Desert”: a sandy world, punctuated by interesting rock formations and large turquoise-coloured crystals (the sand is also streaked with the same turquoise colour). In the distance, squat pyramid-shaped sand dunes line the horizon. This isn’t quite a sterile expanse – we see a few green plants, so Pheromosa isn’t the only life in the Ultra Desert – but it looks dry and, although visually striking, fairly barren. This could be intended to tell us something about Pheromosa’s apparent disgust with Earth. If its natural habitat is an endless, dry and relatively sterile desert, then all the moistness and bacteria-laden sludginess of Earth could make our world seem to Pheromosa like a gross, mould-covered cesspool (it may be conscious of, and anxious to avoid, the possibility of a War of the Worlds-style catastrophic immunity failure). Having said that, though, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that real sandy deserts are home to a wide range of both generalist and specially-adapted microorganisms, so just because we can’t see a lot of clingy, slimy life in the Ultra Desert doesn’t mean it’s not there.
This didn’t really occur to me when talking about Buzzwole, because Buzzwole’s homeworld is a lot like Alola anyway, and Buzzwole doesn’t display any particular discomfort about being on Earth, but there’s definitely a… problematic dimension to the way we interact with Ultra Beasts like Pheromosa in Ultra Smoon. In the first pair of generation VII games, we deal with confused and stressed Ultra Beasts let into the world by Lusamine largely at random. In Ultra Smoon, however, we primarily encounter Ultra Beasts when we go looking for them. After resolving the Necrozma crisis, we’re given the opportunity to travel with Lunala or Solgaleo through Ultra Wormholes and explore alien worlds. There, we encounter the Ultra Beasts – and we kidnap them and take them home so we can learn more about them. We are the alien abductors in this situation (we’re also the ones responsible for potentially introducing invasive species to Alola’s fragile ecosystem). Pheromosa’s visible discomfort with even touching things in Alola makes it a particularly acute case. Normally this is where I’d invoke the arguments I like to make about how wild Pokémon actually do offer their agreement in some implicit form when they are battled and captured, so we have to assume some curiosity on the part of the Ultra Beasts at the prospect of exploring Earth. The problem is that my whole take on the ethics of Pokémon training is pretty heavily reliant on evidence from the anime, and the anime conspicuously diverges here. Not only do Ash and his friends not routinely travel through Ultra Space, they don’t even keep the Ultra Beasts they catch in Alola; they scrupulously return them to their respective Ultra Wormholes. So… this is at best a grey area, as far as the ethics of Pokémon training is concerned, and Pheromosa in particular is one Pokémon we might want to think about leaving where it is.
Right; that doesn’t leave us with a whole lot of space to talk about Pheromosa’s gameplay traits, but I think between me, my regular readers and Jim the Editor, we’re coming to something of a consensus that this is not the most interesting part of my reviews anyway, so let’s just see where this goes. Point one about Pheromosa is that it is ludicrously fast – in fact, the third-fastest Pokémon in the entire game, and behind only Ninjask and Deoxys’ Speed form. Now, Wicke did call Pheromosa the fastest living creature ever discovered, but in fairness to her the relationship between Pokémon stats and specific measurable physical qualities is pretty fuzzy and we could easily suggest that Ninjask has a higher speed stat because, say, its reaction times are slightly better (or perhaps Pheromosa briefly goes blind when it hits its top speed…). In another break with cockroach stereotypes, it has defences like a wilted lettuce. Even moderately strong attacks have some chance to one-shot Pheromosa if it doesn’t resist them. The good news is that the rest of Pheromosa’s stat points go into making it one of the most dangerous glass cannons in the entire game, with an attack stat higher than Dragonite’s and special attack to match. Pheromosa’s Beast Boost will normally raise its speed, which… well, it’s faster than practically everything else in the game anyway, so that’s not really useful, but if you take a (special) attack-positive nature it’s possible to Beast Boost one of those stats instead, making Pheromosa even more dangerous for every knockout it scores. It can even learn Quiver Dance to gain even more power, but good luck finding a safe turn to use it.
The centrepiece of Pheromosa’s offensive capabilities is High Jump Kick, which can maim even the tankiest Pokémon with its ridiculous power rating of 130. Yeah, you occasionally miss and fling yourself foot-first off a cliff, but what’s life without risk? Like its twin Buzzwole, Pheromosa doesn’t have a super-strong Bug attack like Heracross’ Megahorn, but it does get U-Turn, which makes up for low power with the flexibility it offers you in free switches. Its physical movepool isn’t fantastic beyond that; the main highlights are Poison Jab, Drill Run and, I guess, Throat Chop (the latter two from the Ultra Smoon tutors). Poison Jab is good for Fairy-types, Drill Run for Poison-types, and Throat Chop for Ghost-types, but none of them are particularly inspiring – although, really, you can kinda lean on Pheromosa’s base stats to do most of the work; even uninspiring moves are still pretty deadly. There’s actually a decent argument for taking Ice Beam in place of one of your physical attacks; it’ll be weaker if you don’t split your training, but Pheromosa’s base special attack is good enough to make up for that, and Ice combines extremely well with Fighting. There is also just enough material for a full special set using Bug Buzz, Focus Blast, Ice Beam and Quiver Dance (or perhaps with High Jump Kick over Quiver Dance or Focus Blast to keep your opponent’s special walls guessing). Pheromosa also gets Me First (an unusual technique that copies the attack a slower opponent is about to use, at increased power), which is generally a terrible idea, but amusing here because Pheromosa is, by a fair margin, the fastest Pokémon that learns it and can use both physical and special attacks effectively. Pretty much anything else is just a waste of Pheromosa’s time; like, it has non-damaging moves but I’m not even going to mention them because frankly, it isn’t here to waste turns doing anything other than ram those stiletto heels straight down the throat of
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I was honestly not that fond of Pheromosa when I started this entry, but its determined subversion of every quality we associate with its base animal, the cockroach, combined with what seem to me like some clever allusions to real cockroach facts. Compared to the other Ultra Beasts it seems almost weirdly conventional – clearly humanoid, with an easily recognisable face and no artificial-looking features – but it’s also such a strange direction to take the idea of “cockroach Pokémon” that you’re sort of forced to give it credit for that. And… also you do have to respect a High Jump Kick with that kind of speed and power behind it; if I’m going to die, I would rather not go by being kicked in the head by a cockroach.