Today’s Pokémon is a bamboo alien, a moon rocket, and an ancient Japanese princess.
…no, I promise it makes sense.
Celesteela’s rocket-booster arms, long flowing hair, steel gown and tiny head make it one of the most bizarre of all the Ultra Beasts, but once you dig through its lore and inspiration… well, you can see where they were coming from. Let’s take a look at the Launch Pokémon.
Although its type isn’t Grass (it’s Steel/Flying), Wicke says that Celesteela’s body has a plantlike structure that absorbs nutrients from soil. We can see that the base of Celesteela’s body and arms have tubular “roots,” and its whole body bears a resemblance to bamboo. Celesteela also learns a variety of Grass attacks, including Leech Seed, which no other non-Grass-type can learn except for Comfey. In short, it’s a basically plant-like Pokémon that is not a Grass-type, because its alien biology is so different from Earth plants: we can contrast Celesteela’s version-exclusive counterpart Kartana, who is not plant-like at all but has Grass Pokémon traits because its body is like paper. Real plants absorb water and minerals from the ground and carbon dioxide from the air, and use the energy of sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates and oxygen. Celesteela seems to be metallic and has no green leaves, so it may get everything it needs from the ground, provided it can settle in an area with the right soil composition (alternatively, its metallic skin may act as a solar panel). What does it do with whatever nutrients it’s collecting? Why, it synthesises rocket fuel so it can fly to other planets, of course! Bamboo rockets won’t get you to the moon, but are a real thing; early Chinese fire lances were essentially bamboo rocket barrels strapped to heavy pikes, and bamboo rockets are still made for traditional Thai rocket festivals. Once Celesteela breaks away from its roots, the stumps act as rocket boosters, blasting out explosive fuel that sends it soaring into the outer atmosphere – in quite destructive fashion; the Pokédex mentions Celesteela burning down entire forests as it blasts off. This could conceivably be a reference to the Tunguska event – a natural disaster that flattened a huge area of forest in eastern Siberia in 1908. The event is understood to have been an explosion some 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, and was probably caused by a meteor, although fiction and conspiracy theories alike have proposed a wide range of “alternative” possibilities.
As with all the other Ultra Beasts we’ve met so far, we have the opportunity to visit Celesteela’s homeworld in Ultra Smoon by traversing an Ultra Wormhole: we emerge in an area titled the “Ultra Crater,” a landscape pock-marked with huge craters. These seem to be where Celesteela sink their roots – we see one blasting off from a crater in the distance when we arrive, and we get a chance to battle and catch one that is still rooted. The rocks and soil of the landscape are reddish (which to me suggests high iron content; Celesteela probably wants that) but the insides of the craters themselves have a greenish tinge that could mean just about anything. Steam vents imply geothermal activity that could be another source of energy for Celesteela, and we can see tubes or pipes poking out of the sides of the crater walls that are likely fragments of root systems that have been left behind by other Celesteela after blasting off. Of course, I call this Celesteela’s “homeworld,” but – do we actually know that? The craters could well be impact sites, where Celesteela have landed after travelling from other planets and subsequently taken root. Given the rocket ship aesthetic, it would make sense if interplanetary travel were a natural part of their life cycle (and Wicke does believe they are capable of space flight). Maybe they scatter their young across the universe like spores, and a few land on planets that happen to have the right soil composition to allow them to grow to full size.
So… why exactly do we have a bamboo rocket ship, anyway?
Bulbapedia reckons (and they’re probably right) that Celesteela is based on the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a 10th century Japanese novel about – and I swear I am not making this up – a magical bamboo princess from the moon. The girl, Kaguya-hime, is found by the titular bamboo cutter as a thumb-sized baby inside a glowing stalk of bamboo. She is raised by the bamboo-cutter, growing up into a normal-sized and incredibly beautiful woman, and is courted by five great princes and the Emperor, refusing them all. Eventually, Kaguya reveals that she was secretly from the moon all along, and must one day return there with the other moon-people, despite her great sadness at leaving behind her earthly friends and family. After she leaves, the lovestruck Emperor (who had become her pen pal) sends his soldiers to the top of Mount Fuji to burn his letters, so that Kaguya will continue to receive them on the moon.
Ancient Japanese prose fiction is wild, guys.
If that doesn’t sound a lot like the Launch Pokémon, watch Celesteela’s episode of the anime: Rise and Shine, Starship! At the beginning of this episode, Sophocles tells his Pokémon the legend of the “Starship Kaguya” (“the Celestial Starship” in English), which is heavily based on the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter and implied to be a garbled version of a true story about a Celesteela falling to Alola in ancient times. The creature in Sophocles’ story fell from the sky and landed in a bamboo grove, looking like a glowing stalk of bamboo with a child’s face. It was “adopted” by an elderly couple who raised it to its full size. Unfortunately, all the nearby plants died because it drained too many nutrients from the soil, enraging the people of their village. After the villagers tried to kill it, it transformed into a starship and flew back to the moon. After recounting the story, Sophocles finds another Celesteela still on Earth, almost completely buried beneath a barren patch in a bamboo grove. He convinces Ash and their classmates to help him dig it out, and performs a soil analysis that suggests the Celesteela has been buried for just over 200 years, which fits with what we’re told in the games about Ultra Beasts appearing in Alola long ago. The Celesteela doesn’t react to any of this, or give any indication that it’s alive at all except to smile whenever it sees the moon. It just sits there until it has enough fuel to blast off – at which point the kids’ Pokémon build up a bulwark of rocks and ice around it, to keep the launch from devastating the forest.
In Rise and Shine, Wicke claims that Celesteela emerged from an Ultra Wormhole 200 years ago, but it doesn’t return to one – it flies off towards the moon, just like the one from Sophocles’ story. This might be a good time to talk a bit about what Ultra Space actually is, only I’ve got a question coming up that’s a good excuse to do that (Jim the Editor tells me this is called a “teaser”). What matters to Celesteela is that its whole schtick is that it’s a spacefaring creature, and the anime kind of implies that, like Princess Kaguya, Celesteela came from the moon (rather than from the mysterious planet where we see the Ultra Crater landscape). This is interesting, considering the association between the Ultra Wormholes and Cosmog, whose evolved forms are related to the sun and moon. Maybe there are even permanent wormholes on the moon? Or, an even weirder possibility: maybe Celesteela are originally from Earth’s moon and travelled to the Ultra Crater world only later?
At some point this is going to break down into incoherent mass-guessing (arguably, it already has), so let’s talk for a bit about Celesteela’s fighting style and then we can all go home.
Unlike most of its Ultra Beast compatriots, Celesteela sports very well-rounded stats, aside from below-average speed, making it ideal as a tank. This also means it has the most flexibility in using the Beast Boost ability, which raises whichever of your stats is already highest whenever you knock out another Pokémon – you can reasonably configure Celesteela’s training regime to have Beast Boost trigger on any of its stats except for speed. It can use special and physical attacks almost equally well, and has powerful moves on both sides, so feel free to mix it up. Because of its Steel typing and one-tonne weight, which makes it one of the two heaviest Pokémon in existence alongside Cosmoem, Celesteela’s best attack is Heavy Slam. Heavy Slam’s highest power bracket requires the user to be five times heavier than the target, which in Celesteela’s case will be true for any Pokémon below 200 kg. 78 Pokémon weigh more than 200 kg, and even of those, only 23 will take less damage from Celesteela’s Heavy Slam than from Iron Head. Basically, this should be your go-to move against almost anything that doesn’t resist Steel attacks. If you really want to go all special with Celesteela, it gets Flash Cannon too, but really Heavy Slam is one of the best reasons to use Celesteela in the first place.
On the other hand, since it’s such an unconventional Flying-type, Celesteela learns almost no Flying attacks – only Air Slash (a bit on the weak side), Acrobatics (which is only good if you don’t carry an item) and Fly (no). Luckily, there are other options. Courtesy of its rocket-booster arms, Celesteela can learn Flamethrower or Fire Blast, depending on your preference for power vs. accuracy; either will be great for torching rival Steel-types. Earthquake, Stone Edge and Superpower are all on its list as well, and all of them (but particularly Earthquake) are capable of doing horrible things to many of the Pokémon that resist Heavy Slam. As we saw earlier, Celesteela also learns a variety of Grass attacks, but Grass is a weak offensive type, so these are generally less useful. Grass Knot (which does more damage to heavier targets) is interesting as an answer to extremely heavy Ground or Water Pokémon who don’t take much damage from Heavy Slam, like Golurk, Wailord, Mudsdale or Groudon; Giga Drain might be nice for the healing; and Solar Beam is a very niche choice, but considering that Celesteela also learns Fire attacks it’s not the worst Pokémon to put on a sun team.
Celesteela shares with Ferrothorn the rare ability to combine the great durability of Leech Seed’s constant healing with the frankly absurd resistance profile of the Steel type, making it quite difficult to wear down if it can plant a seed. Unlike most Flying-types, Celesteela doesn’t get Roost, so its tanking ability is reasonably dependent on its ability to steal health with Leech Seed or Giga Drain. Plant seeds at every opportunity, and be wary of enemy Grass-types, who are immune to Leech Seed (another good reason to take a Fire attack). Protect is great to stall for more healing in combination with Leech Seed (or you could even use Block to trap a Pokémon who isn’t capable of wearing Celesteela down). Once you have both of those, you could theoretically throw in Toxic as well for even more damage-over-time potential, but to me this is a bit of a waste of Celesteela’s decent offensive power, and risks painting you into a corner against other Steel-types since you won’t have a moveslot for Flamethrower. Autotomise is an interesting possible choice, allowing Celesteela to boost its speed to respectable levels (and once an Ultra Beast is fast enough, it can snowball its attack power with Beast Boost), but Celesteela has a fairly unique problem with that move, since it drops a significant portion of the user’s weight, drastically weakening Heavy Slam. A more offensively-slanted Celesteela might then have to replace Heavy Slam with Flash Cannon or Iron Head. Finally, although it is clearly a terrible idea, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Celesteela can learn Explosion, transforming it into a literal living warhead. Your Pokémon would certainly be in contravention of multiple international arms limitation treaties, but frankly there is such a thing as style.
Celesteela’s a bit different from the other Ultra Beasts. It has the same alien-ness in its aesthetic, the same artificiality as Xurkitree, and the same curves and lines as a lot of artificial Pokémon, and although it’s not as faceless as something like Nihlego, its face is pretty tiny and very stylised, so you get some of the same impersonality in the overall impression. But where the other Ultra Beasts are natives of alien planets that have, quite by accident, found themselves in environments they aren’t properly adapted to, Celesteela knows exactly what it’s doing: interplanetary travel is what it’s built for, maybe even a standard part of its life cycle (heck, travelling through Ultra Wormholes might be normal for this species). It’s just a little unfortunate that Alola isn’t quite prepared for a visitor as… forceful as a 9-metre-tall living rocket. I like that this gives us a different view on the Ultra Beast concept, but it’s a shame that being just one of a fairly large cast of Ultra Beasts makes it impossible for Celesteela to properly explore that perspective.