Eighty-four Pokémon down… three to go. Today we’re looking at the Thunderclap Pokémon, Zeraora, the third of generation VII’s mythical Pokémon. As with Magearna and Marshadow, Zeraora doesn’t do anything of note in the games, but unlike them, its TV and movie appearances don’t hint at legendary origins or cosmic powers or forbidden ancient secrets or anything like that. It’s really just a powerful and extremely rare Pokémon that kinda gets caught up in some $#!t, like Heatran, or (to some extent) Latias and Latios, or even Lucario in its movie debut. Today we’ll look at how that happens – but first, a few words on Zeraora’s design and inspiration.
Zeraora is one of the handful of Pokémon introduced midway through generation VII, in Ultra Sun and Moon. Like Magearna and Marshadow, it’s not clear whether it actually has very much to do with Alola, as it isn’t involved in any of the games’ stories, cannot be found naturally in Alola (being obtainable only through an event associated with the movie it appears in), and has no background or flavour that is specific to the region. Physically, it looks like an anthropomorphic feline with catlike paws, ears and facial features, maybe based on a large wildcat like a lynx, ocelot or serval (the real Hawai‘i has no native felines, and indeed no native land mammals except for bats). It’s plausible that the second half of its name derives from tora, the Japanese word for tiger, which might be related to the black lightning bolt stripes on Zeraora’s arms and legs (Zeraora’s shiny colour scheme is also white with black stripes, just like a real shiny tiger). The internet has a few different ideas for Japanese or Hawaiian spirits that Zeraora could be very loosely inspired by. Perhaps the most plausible of these is the thunder beast Raiju, also commonly cited as inspiration for Raikou, who is occasionally depicted as a cat (though more typically as a wolf or dog). Honestly though, this is one of those Pokémon that I think may just be an anthropomorphic cat, or at least has no really unambiguous references to anything else, in either its flavour or the storylines it’s involved in.
Zeraora’s Pokédex entries are all about its combat style, emphasise its incredible speed and hint at viciousness and a taste for especially brutal close-quarters fighting, which is certainly appropriate for a wildcat or tiger Pokémon. Unlike most Electric Pokémon, Zeraora doesn’t rely on bolts of lightning or waves of electrical discharge. Appropriately for a catlike Pokémon, it prefers to electrify its claws and then rush in to attack its enemies at close range, hence its signature move, Plasma Fists, and other techniques on its level-up list like Hone Claws, Fury Swipes and Close Combat. Real tigers are ambush hunters, relying on fast, sudden and powerful attacks to knock prey down and go for the throat before it can react. Failing that, they’re not great with endurance and tend to give up quickly in favour of trying again with a new target if something goes wrong; again, this more or less fits Zeraora. The Ultra Smoon website also credits Zeraora with the ability to fly by manipulating electrical fields (and we actually see this a couple of times in its movie appearance). This technique sounds very similar to what some other Electric Pokémon can do using the move Magnet Rise, which Zeraora… [checks]… does not learn, even though there’s a move tutor for it in Ultra Smoon… so, bit of an oversight there. Much like (of all things) Togedemaru, Zeraora is said to be incapable of producing its own electricity the way most Electric-types, and must instead rely on collecting electricity from its environment. Appropriately, it has the Volt Absorb ability (although this is not particularly relevant in its anime or movie appearances).
Unlike Marshadow and Magearna, Zeraora gets a fairly significant role in some regular TV episodes of the Pokémon anime, in addition to its movie appearance. It appears as the partner Pokémon of Dia, the lone survivor that Ash encounters in a post-apocalyptic alternate-universe Melemele Island devastated by Guzzlord (see here). Zeraora is technically not Dia’s Pokémon, and he never actually caught it; they just hang out together because they both want to banish Guzzlord. However, Dia doesn’t seem to have any other Pokémon (he used to, but I half suspect that Guzzlord may have eaten them), and Zeraora certainly acts like it’s his partner, something that neither of them acknowledges until Ash points it out. Zeraora didn’t meet Dia until after Guzzlord’s arrival on Melemele Island, so it’s not absolutely clear where it came from. In principle it could have come to Alola from elsewhere to fight Guzzlord, or pursued it from another world through an Ultra Wormhole, or even appeared from an alternate universe the way Ash did. However, its total commitment to their struggle suggests that, like Dia, it’s from Alola and fighting to save its home. This Zeraora is one of those “intense, brooding, dark hero” types, and seems to find Ash’s optimism and friendliness annoyingly saccharine. It’s initially very standoffish towards him and Pikachu, and makes it quite clear that it has seen some $#!t during its time fighting Guzzlord. Nonetheless, it is honourable, works well with Dia, and is grudgingly impressed with Ash’s determination. In battle, it is blindingly fast – even in comparison to Pikachu – and relies heavily on its powerful Plasma Fists attack. After Guzzlord is defeated, Zeraora is instrumental in getting Ash back home, but this doesn’t seem to be one of Zeraora’s powers specifically. It and Pikachu are able to work together to tear a hole in reality by hurling their strongest Electric attacks at each other, recreating the accident that sent Ash there in the first place during a battle between Pikachu and Tapu Koko. So… I suppose travel between parallel worlds is facilitated by massive electrical discharges in Pokémon physics? Cool, cool.
Zeraora features again in the 21st Pokémon movie, The Power of Us, and I want to pause here to warn of spoilers ahead. Although it has its flaws, The Power of Us is, in my considered opinion, the best animated Pokémon movie (by a fairly significant margin). If you’re reading this article, I want you to watch it. However, Zeraora itself is much less central to the story than other featured legendary Pokémon are to their movies, and its importance is not tied to any of its special abilities – it’s just a heroic Pokémon that has history in the city where the movie is set – so the good news is that the following section will be shorter and… well, less spoiler-heavy than the corresponding part of the Marshadow article.
In The Power of Us, Zeraora lives in the hill forests outside of Fula City, a medium-sized modern town in an unspecified region. Fula City was until quite recently a largely undeveloped coastal plain, but has rapidly grown into a thriving town as a result of its special relationship with Lugia, who controls the winds that provide the city with all of its electricity. That rapid change has forced difficult adjustments for the wild Pokémon, who are informally led by Zeraora, “master of the land, beloved by Pokémon.” Fifty years ago, when humans first started to develop the area, they accidentally caused a terrible forest fire that was only stopped by the intervention of Lugia. Zeraora has regarded humans with suspicion or outright hostility ever since. Its attitude wasn’t improved by the numerous trainers and poachers who flooded its territory in the years that followed, drawn by tales of an extremely rare Pokémon. Eventually, Fula City’s government decided to preserve the wilderness by putting out a story that Zeraora had vanished and placed a curse on its territory, which would bring terrible misfortune to the entire city if anyone trespassed on its mountain. By the time Ash visits, the people of the city consider it common knowledge that Zeraora is long gone. However, not everyone pays attention to the taboo. Shortly before the events of The Power of Us, the mayor’s young daughter Margo was playing with wild Pokémon in the forest when she got careless and was nearly killed in a sudden rockslide. Zeraora saved her at the last minute, but was injured – so she begins sneaking extra food out of the house to feed it while it recovers. Zeraora is standoffish even with Margo, but seems to understand that she’s grateful and trying to be friendly. Later, when she is attacked by poachers while lying to protect Zeraora, it shields her with its body. It’s much slower to trust other humans, and the events of the film’s climax, which feature another environmental disaster, don’t help matters. Nonetheless, it is eventually won over by Ash’s selflessness and the sight of the people of Fula City working alongside the Pokémon to save the forest. By the end of the movie, the mayor has reversed the city’s long-standing policy on Zeraora, publicly acknowledging its existence and officially making peace with it.
The Zeraora in The Power of Us seems to be a unique Pokémon, the only one of its kind in the territory of Fula City; the one from the Guzzlord episodes with Dia likewise seems to be the only one in Alola. However, although they’re unusually strong and the one in the movie acts as a protector to other wild Pokémon, they don’t have the kind of fated positions as keystones of the natural order that we see for legendary Pokémon in a lot of the other movies. In a way this works to Zeraora’s detriment, because it makes it harder to see what the point of it is, next to mythical Pokémon who take centre stage for much of their own movies’ plots, like Victini, Manaphy and Keldeo. The trouble is that this is also part of the reason why The Power of Us actually manages to be a good film: it was obligated to feature a specific new Pokémon, like every other Pokémon movie before it, but it doesn’t obsess over keeping that Pokémon and its flashy attacks in the limelight for its entire runtime. Zeraora gets to show off, but doesn’t hog the entire plot, so there’s room for all the other characters to have satisfying arcs and sensible reasons for being there. However, there are at least elements of this Zeraora’s characterisation that it shares with the one from the TV show, and from which we can try to say something more general about what Zeraora is supposed to be.
In both of its major appearances, Zeraora is involved in a storyline about human mismanagement of the environment – because (again, more here) Dia implies that his people’s present situation is, at least indirectly, their own fault, and Guzzlord is in general a Pokémon that symbolises human rapaciousness towards the environment. In both cases, these experiences have rather soured Zeraora on the whole idea of contact with humans, thus the “brooding dark hero” personality that both portrayals have; again in both cases, Zeraora is eventually brought around, not just by the kindness of humans, but by their willingness to fight the good fight, putting their own safety on the line in the process. The Power of Us makes Zeraora a guardian of the land (albeit an informal one, respected by local Pokémon, rather than mythologised for thousands of years or supernaturally tied to the life force of the forest) and alludes to a sort of guerrilla campaign that it once waged against intruders and despoilers. This is, in a roundabout way, exactly what Dia’s Zeraora is also involved with. If it’s native to Alola, we can easily imagine the movie’s description of it – “master of the land, beloved by Pokémon” – as applying to its relationship with Melemele Island as well, which would supply an obvious motive for its actions in the Guzzlord storyline. We could even suggest that it’s a natural Pokémon to earn the favour of Melemele’s guardian, Tapu Koko, since it’s an Electric-type with an inclination for fierce blood-pumping melee fights, but this is starting to venture a little further from direct evidence than I usually like.
And quickly now, let’s finish with a short assessment of Zeraora’s battle capabilities. Magearna and Marshadow, the last two Pokémon we looked at, both supplement the high stats that are a mythical Pokémon’s due with very powerful type combinations, dangerous signature moves and, in Magearna’s case, a top-notch ability. Zeraora has a lot going for it too; it’s ludicrously fast and has powerful attacks, particularly on the physical side, and its defences are passable. It’s a pure Electric-type, which is not amazing, but certainly fine; you only have one weakness, and its Volt Absorb ability can net you some free switch-ins and incidental healing, so Zeraora isn’t punishingly difficult to get into play, and can do a lot of damage once it’s there. Like Marshadow, the main benefit Zeraora gets from its signature move, Plasma Fists, is that it’s a very effective physical attack in a type that doesn’t normally get one (unless you’re lucky enough to be named Zekrom). It has a secondary effect: changing all Normal-type moves used by any Pokémon for the rest of the turn into Electric-type moves, which of course heal Zeraora thanks to Volt Absorb. Normal attacks are rare in competitive multiplayer, though, and any opponent who knows what’s up will easily avoid using them against Zeraora, so this will probably only happen in battles against the AI, or in some convoluted doubles strategy that involves changing the type of your partner’s attacks. Zeraora’s downfall next to its mythical compatriots (aside from a slightly less efficient stat distribution) is that it doesn’t have a particularly dazzling offensive movepool. Close Combat is a fantastic secondary attack, and Zeraora can combine its fantastic speed and these two powerful moves with stat boosts from Bulk Up to present a terrifying offensive force. But after that there’s… well, Fire Punch, Knock Off and I guess Acrobatics, none of which are inspiring choices. Despite its respectable special attack stat, that side of its movepool doesn’t have much to offer either. Grass Knot is great, since it hits heavy Pokémon very hard, and a lot of the Ground-types who can ignore Plasma Fists are a little on the hefty side. Volt Switch is also helpful, because the free switch gives Zeraora a lot of flexibility. That’s about it, though, leaving Zeraora with relatively little room to capitalise on a solid special attack stat.
Honestly, nothing about Zeraora’s described capabilities is particularly interesting in isolation. It’s an Electric Pokémon with great speed, powerful electrical attacks, something that sounds like Magnet Rise and the ability to absorb electricity. Mostly it stands out because Electric Pokémon are rarely up-close-and-personal brawlers (though not never – compare Luxray and Electivire; Zebstrika is another physical-slanted Electric-type but has quite a different style in flavour), but that seems a little bit thin for a mythical Pokémon. In its appearances in the anime, the same applies; it’s a strong Pokémon that just… happened to be there, and it doesn’t do anything that other Pokémon can’t. In fact, that’s kind of the point, because the movie is about individual contributions to collective achievements; everyone is a hero because everyone’s skills and passions are needed to save the day. I tend to judge legendary Pokémon on their contributions to worldbuilding, storytelling and atmosphere, and the best you can say about Zeraora’s is that it… well, gets out of the way and allows its movie’s story and the other characters to speak for themselves. I love the result, but wonder if Zeraora itself was actually necessary to bring it about.