two more Pokémon
just these two
i can do this
i”m still sañe
bbbbut the vøices;
i cAN? hear! thëm
thththththththeÿ CaLl f0r
I’m fine! I’m fine. I’m fine!
…let’s give a big, warm Pokémaniacal welcome to Meltan, everybody!
A blob of living, liquid metal crowned with a golden-yellow hex nut, with a single ball bearing for an eye and a plastic-coated wire for a tail, Meltan is certainly one of the more unconventional-looking mythical Pokémon, but no less adorable. Meltan has the supernatural ability to absorb iron (and apparently other metals, but iron seems to be its favourite – in-game dialogue mentions magnetite, a type of iron oxide) from all around it; this fuels its natural Electric moves, as well as its Flash Cannon attack. The Pokédex talks about it absorbing “particles” of iron from soil – perhaps metallic iron, but most iron in soil is going to be in the form of assorted iron oxides and silicates, so presumably it has some power that allows it to extract the metal from the ore. In some of the promotional videos associated with Meltan’s introduction, as well as its appearances in the anime, we see Meltan consuming other sources of iron – by which I mean practically any iron or steel object it can get its blobby metallic hands on. Couple that with their natural curiosity, described on the Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee website and liberally displayed in the anime, and these things are quite the little pests, chewing through manhole covers, kitchenware, tools, machine parts and more. Meltan’s hex nut head could be gold, but I suspect a bigger deal would be made of that, so it’s probably just yellow brass, or even iron pyrite (“fool’s gold,” iron sulphide), which has a pale gold colour and forms nice neat angular-looking crystals. In Meltan’s TV appearances, it can communicate with others of its kind over long distances by rapidly spinning its head on its axis, creating a high-pitched, resonant metallic hum. Meltan’s tail… well, its tail just looks like an ordinary copper wire with a red plastic sleeve. Both the hex nut and the ball bearing eye, as we see in the anime, are actually detachable; if Meltan loses its “head,” it has to physically hold onto its eye to keep it from rolling away. It’s a Pokémon made up of a collection of “parts,” and it has to be careful not to lose any of them.
Meltan is the first Pokémon to have been introduced by Pokémon Go, Pokémon’s wildly popular entry into the mobile AR genre, which means it isn’t native to any region of the Pokémon world we’ve previously explored – in fact, you could say it’s the first Pokémon to be native to the real world. The only traditional Pokémon game in which it exists, so far, is Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, and even there it can’t be caught in the wild, but has to be transferred from Pokémon Go (at time of writing, there’s no word on whether it will be present in Galar). The reveal, designed as a tie-in for the upcoming release of Let’s Go, was a bit of a spectacle in itself, some of which you might have missed if you don’t play Pokémon Go. At first, Meltan was revealed indirectly, in the form of Ditto that had transformed into Meltan (wild Ditto in Go normally look like other Pokémon, and show themselves only after being captured). For the first couple of days, this happened with no explanation; even Meltan’s name wasn’t displayed during its first appearances. People just started seeing these things and wondering what they were. In retrospect, I think this might have been an attempt to recapture some of the atmosphere of rumour and wild speculation of Pokémon’s earliest days in the 1990s, when the internet was still mostly run over tin cans connected by string, and all of us were convinced that Mew was hiding under a broken-down truck in a foreclosed trailer park at the edge of a stagnant estuary down the unfashionable end of Vermillion Bay (look, it was a different time, all right?). Nostalgia is, after all, a big part of Go’s appeal for a lot of people. For a few days, no one knew what was going on, or even whether this was “real” – could it somehow have been a mistake, something that Go’s developer Niantic had revealed early by accident?
A string of short videos featuring Professor Oak and Professor Willow (the resident researcher of Pokémon Go) soon explained what was going on, beginning with Willow catching a Ditto that had taken on the form of a Meltan. When Willow contacts him for advice, Oak identifies the mystery Pokémon on the basis of an ancient scroll, which (…I have to assume) he bought in a dingy second-hand bookshop that vanished in a puff of smoke after he left. After some rummaging in his lab, he finds an ancient box, almost certainly looted illegally from an archaeological site, containing a… lump of ancient rust. Nonetheless, his excitement is justified by a chemical analysis that shows the lump of ancient rust has a similar elemental composition to the Meltan form adopted by Ditto. Oak sends the box to Willow, who opens it up and discovers that his wilderness surroundings, which resemble Meltan’s natural habitat much better than Oak’s lab, are enough to stimulate the lump of ancient rust to reanimate into a living(?), breathing(??) Meltan. We, likewise, can only awaken Meltan in Pokémon Go – that is, in the real world with its real wilderness, not the Pokémon world “inside” the Nintendo Switch. The fact that playing Pokémon Go is the most fun in the middle of a busy city, and almost pointless when you’re actually in a remote area like Professor Willow and his Meltan, is… well, frankly just a fundamental disconnect between the game’s structure and fantasy that we’re going to have to overlook in this case. Willow’s first Meltan, with uncanny speed, attracts a lot more. Soon he’s practically swimming in the things, and eventually discovers that when enough of them come together, they can evolve into the colossal Melmetal. This references the way evolution works in Go: you need a large number of “candies” of a flavour particular to each species of Pokémon, and the primary way to amass candies is to catch more Pokémon of the same species. According to Willow in his in-game dialogue associated with the player’s research on Meltan, new Meltan can also split off Melmetal, and he implies that Melmetal was their original state, though he never manages to figure out why Melmetal split itself up.
The actual logic of Meltan’s evolution, while it makes sense in the context of its liquid body and power to absorb metal, and was clearly established by the videos that introduce it, nonetheless doesn’t sit well with me. Meltan is the Hex Nut Pokémon, and… well, what is a hex nut? It’s a type of fastener, something used to make joins and connections. It makes a great deal of thematic sense for that Pokémon to evolve by joining together with others of its own kind; it’s basically the same logic as we see with Klink, whose evolutions are made up of progressively greater numbers of interlocking gears. Only then… Meltan gets given a liquid metal body, so that a group of Meltan all just flow together seamlessly and all the connective parts of Melmetal’s body are floating inside a mass of metal, not connecting anything to anything else. Melmetal’s head and shoulders are one hex nut jammed sideways through another larger one, which (and this is true) is not how those work. There’s a degree of cleverness that it seems like this design ought to have, which it just doesn’t. Maybe Meltan and Melmetal were actually inspired by one of Game Freak’s designers losing a set of IKEA instructions and deciding to just melt huge blobs of solder all over everything until it was enough to hold together a functional desk chair.
The Pokédex claims that Melmetal was “revered” 3000 years ago because of its ability to create iron. 3000 years ago should be familiar as the approximate date of the Kalosian civil war, but in real history it was also – give or take a few hundred years, depending on the region – the beginning of the Iron Age in Eurasia and Africa. Humans had known about iron before then, of course, and bronze didn’t suddenly become unfashionable because the Iron Age had begun. Until the Late Bronze Age, though, humans didn’t have the technology to refine iron ore into usable metal. Iron artefacts, like a famous iron dagger from the tomb of Tutankhamun, were mostly derived from meteoric iron, making them extremely rare and valuable – literal gifts from the heavens. In that kind of context, a Pokémon that could extract pure iron from the rocks and soil would seem… well, godlike. Not only that, the allegiance of such a Pokémon could be used to tremendous economic and perhaps military advantage by a savvy ruler. Professor Willow’s commentary, likewise, seems to credit Melmetal with the advent of the Iron Age, citing historical records that suggest humans used metal “shed” by Melmetal to create tools that would have otherwise been impossible to make. We could also imagine that Melmetal and Meltan went into hibernation after humans learned to smelt iron ore for themselves, and no longer had any reason to worship them. On the other hand, Willow speculates that the ancient box might have been designed to keep Meltan safe after Melmetal’s dissolution, as possibly “the only way for the people to ever meet Melmetal again,” which doesn’t sound like they’d abandoned it. It could be that human activity exhausted the magnetite deposits that they relied upon, and Melmetal – unwilling to start eating iron tools because of its long-standing relationship with the people in its territory – split itself up into smaller forms in order to search for new ore deposits over a wider area. In any case, Meltan presumably evolved and flourished in a world where refined metallic iron was rare, subsisting on iron extracted from the soil. Thousands of years later, it awakens to a world where refined iron and high-quality carbon steels are everywhere. Imagine, if you will, waking up in a distant future where most tools and many kinds of furnishings and construction materials are made entirely of cake. How long, realistically, would you be able to restrain yourself before you started eating doorknobs? For Meltan, the answer seems to be “about four and a half seconds.”
In the Pokémon anime, Ash and his friends first encounter Meltan after a large group of them stow away on their boat as they return home from Poni Island, but that doesn’t seem to be where they originally came from. At the very end of a slightly earlier episode, out of sight of all the other characters, we see them emerge from a mysterious ancient box, just like the one that allows us to catch Meltan in the games, apparently brought to the island by the ocean currents. Before that, who knows? The Rotomdex has no idea what Meltan is, and to my knowledge there’s been no indication so far that anyone in Alola, ancient or modern, has ever seen one before. The real Hawaiian archipelago, like most of the islands of the Pacific, is made up primarily of young volcanic basalt, with few significant ore deposits, in spite of a few very striking beaches with iron-rich black, red or even green sand. Iron is pretty hard to come by (there’s a reason Polynesia never experienced an Iron Age, and it’s nothing to do with any lack of ingenuity on the part of its native peoples). I don’t think it’s out of the question to suggest that Alola might be relatively short on natural ore deposits as well. In fact, there’s even circumstantial evidence for this in the games themselves: all of the Steel-types introduced in generation VII are Pokémon that we know came to Alola from other regions or worlds, with the exception of one (Togedemaru). To me, this seems… at least plausibly consistent with Alola being a region that, in ancient times, would not have been particularly hospitable to Meltan. Modern Alola, of course, has plenty of human-made objects made of iron – and, as previously mentioned, the Meltan eat everything when they show up, until they are eventually tamed by (of all people) Lusamine’s Clefable, who enlists them in cleaning and maintenance work. One of the Meltan joins Ash’s team, and its story is still being told: an upcoming episode has been teased as the anime debut of Melmetal, so there’s still more to learn about these Pokémon yet.
Because Melmetal wasn’t in Ultra Smoon, it sort of exists at the fringes of the competitive battle scene. Let’s Go is quite a different environment from what all the other generation VII Pokémon exist in – not only are there far fewer available Pokémon (only generation I Pokémon, their evolutions, their Alolan forms and Melmetal itself), but there are also no abilities, fewer TMs, much fewer strange utility moves, none of the Ultra Smoon move tutors and no breeding, and all Pokémon have much shorter level-up move lists than they’ve had since generation III or so. Into the middle of this heavily pared-down competitive environment, we thrust Melmetal: a Steel-type with colossal HP, attack and defence stats, a decent physical movepool, and a powerful signature move. This would probably stand out as pretty decent even amongst the more varied options available in Ultra Smoon; Melmetal is painfully slow and pretty vulnerable to special attacks, but its legendary physical stats make it a lot more dangerous than the many other seventh-generation Pokémon in this mould. In Let’s Go, it’s positively lethal.
The most distinctive feature of Meltan’s movepool is its signature move, Double Iron Bash, which strikes twice for a total damage output which is the strongest of any Steel attack available in Let’s Go. Each hit also has an independently calculated 30% chance to cause the opponent to flinch, which works out to a 51% chance for the move as a whole. This would be pretty frightening, but since Melmetal is so slow, there are very few Pokémon vulnerable to flinching against it anyway; what’s more, no Pokémon can learn Trick Room in Let’s Go, so you can’t subvert its rock-bottom speed like you can with slow Pokémon in other games. Still, that’ll be something to watch out for if Melmetal turns up in Sword and Shield. Its main ancillary moves are Earthquake and Superpower, which between them can do absolutely brutal damage to almost every Pokémon in Let’s Go. Thunderpunch and Ice Punch are available too, and add even more flexibility; Let’s Go doesn’t have abilities, but according to data-miners its ability would have been Iron Fist, so those attacks could be even more powerful in future games. There aren’t a lot of other options to cover for Melmetal, but honestly that’s par for the course in Let’s Go – all Pokémon have much shorter movelists than we’ve gotten used to, and a huge number of utility moves just straight up aren’t in the game. Melmetal can learn Thunder Wave and in principle should benefit from the paralysis effect because it’s so slow, but its physical attacks do so much damage that stopping to paralyse something before beating it into a pulp frankly seems unnecessarily complicated.
All things considered, Meltan and Melmetal are certainly an interesting aesthetic departure from the typical looks of most mythical Pokémon, and despite some odd design choices I can’t claim to understand, I have to admit they’re kinda cute. They’re missing the deep ties to Hawaiian nature and culture that I find so fascinating in most of generation VII’s Pokémon, but they’re still a good deal more unique and interesting than Zeraora. There is something about the Pokémon Go tie-in that I have to admit feels a bit crassly commercial to me, but I suppose Go is free-to-play and it doesn’t take a lot of work to pick up a Meltan for your Let’s Go game. And, y’know, this is Pokémaniacal, and here we really like to finish each generation on a solid “myyehhnnhh?”