In the second instalment of my exploration of regional variant Pokémon, we’re going to deal with two Pokémon whose regional forms are related to Alola’s geology: Alolan Geodude/Graveler/Golem and Alolan Diglett/Dugtrio. Geology, like archaeology and ecology, has always been in the background of Pokémon, but these games have never been the kind of stories that need a whole lot of scientific verisimilitude in those areas – or, to put it another way, who really gives a $#!t whether or not there are actually Cretaceous fossil deposits in the part of western France that corresponds to Ambrette Town? I could tell you that I care, and you’d probably believe me because, frankly, I give off a certain vibe, but the truth is I haven’t looked it up, and I’m not going to. Alola, in my opinion, cares more about the fact that it is Hawai‘i than any of the previous Pokémon regions cared about being each of those places, and at a guess maybe half of Alola’s new Pokémon are in some way influenced by that, but there are still limits – no one cares that there aren’t actually toucans or koalas in Hawai‘i, for instance, because Alola is also just a pastiche tropical paradise that should have whatever Pokémon, locations, characters and rocks seem fun. Today we have one Pokémon that cares a lot about having a specifically Hawaiian inspiration, and another that takes a somewhat more casual approach – let’s talk about that.
Geodude, Graveler and Golem
The Alolan variants of these Pokémon boast the unique Rock/Electric type combination, which is a combination that really make a lot of sense, since magnetic stones… well… are a thing. Their eyebrows and Golem’s, uh… impressive facial hair… are a direct result of this magnetism, as their magnetic bodies attract black iron sand to their faces; there’s even a fun little bit in the Ultra Moon Pokédex about how Alolan Geodude with stronger magnetism can steal the hair and eyebrows of weaker Geodude by headbutting them (Probopass’ moustache is also made of iron filings… hmm… could an Alolan Golem steal a Probopass’ moustache in the same way? And what would the result look like?). And in fact, there is a black sand beach that we can visit on the south coast of Ula’ula Island, quite close to where Alolan Geodude are naturally found – quite close, for that matter, to the location of the real black sand beach of Punalu‘u on the island of Hawai‘i, whose sand is largely composed of black, iron-rich volcanic basalt.
The most famous magnetic material in nature is magnetite, a mineral form of iron(II,III) oxide, which has been known since at least the Greek Classical period for its seemingly magical ability to draw metallic iron to itself. There actually is plenty of magnetite in Hawai‘i, but this is, surprisingly, not the material that gives the Alolan Geodude morph its magnetic powers (at least, not explicitly). Instead, the Pokédex informs us that Alolan Graveler feed on dravite or brown tourmaline, a semi-precious amber-coloured gemstone that is rich in sodium, magnesium and boron. You can pretty clearly see the crystals of dravite that form as a result of its diet all over Graveler’s body and on the inner faces of Golem’s great big horseshoe-magnet “horns.” Tourmalines are pyroelectric – they generate a short-lived electrical charge when the temperature changes – and diamagnetic – they are repelled by external magnetic fields. Conveniently, both the Kantonian and Alolan Graveler can learn a small but potent selection of Fire attacks, as well as the Alolan form’s Electric moves. Neither pyroelectricity nor diamagnetism is unique to tourmaline, but historically it was one of the first materials that brought those properties to the attention of European scientists, earning it the New Latin scientific name lapis electricus (electric stone), so it’s a neat little bridge between the Rock and Electric elements.
I’m not sure there’s any reason dravite in particular (of all the different varieties of tourmaline) was chosen to be referenced in this design. It’s not geographical; dravite is mostly found in Slovenia and Austria. The islands of Hawai‘i in reality are made almost entirely of young basalt, so they’re pretty light on interesting ores and gemstones (with the exception of a few gems like peridot that are volcanic in origin). The designers may just have liked the colour. Other tourmalines are red, blue-green or black, but yellow is the colour traditionally associated with the Electric type in Pokémon. That’s also a good reason to mention tourmaline over magnetite in the Pokédex entries and include a gemstone in the design: the Pokémon are just more visually interesting and more distinct from their Kantonian cousins with the brightly coloured crystals, even if it means we lose a little geological realism. Incidentally, the geological youth of Hawai‘i might be the reason (well, a reason) why there are no new fossil Pokémon in generation VII. Fossil Pokémon tend to have their origins at least 100 million years in the past, but the Big Island (which corresponds to Ula‘ula Island in the games) is less than a million years old, and the oldest island that has a counterpart in Sun and Moon, Kaua‘i (or Poni Island) is still a spring chicken at only five million. Of course, it’s not like any previous Pokémon game would lead us to expect Alola’s geology to map precisely onto that of Hawai‘i. The region may simply be more diverse than its real-world counterpart, or the dravite crystals might exist there due to the actions of other Rock Pokémon that are native to deeper parts of the Earth’s crust, like Carbink and Roggenrola.
Compared to the three Alolan Pokémon I looked at last time, the Alolan Golem has a very similar movepool to the Kantonian version. Its level up move list swaps out some Ground attacks for Electric ones, but the Alolan one can still learn Earthquake via TM and the Kantonian one can still learn Thunderpunch via move tutor (or TM in Let’s Go) so in practice the differences are actually very small – the only really notable thing I can find is that the Alolan form can’t have Hammer Arm as an egg move (there’s also a couple of very minor moves that only the Alolan form gets, like Screech and Echoed Voice, which are a nice reference to the characteristic booming, thunderous voice mentioned by the Pokédex). The two forms also have identical base stats. Obviously Alolan Golem is a different type, Rock/Electric, and therefore has a different slate of weaknesses and resistances (in particular, swapping out its Grass and Water double-weaknesses for Ground) and stronger Electric attacks but weaker Ground attacks, but the real meat of Alolan Golem is in its differing abilities. Appropriately, it can take Magnet Pull to allow it to trap and eliminate Steel-types, a very useful niche previously open only to Magnezone and Probopass (one of whom is much better at it than the other; I’ll let you guess which one). It also has the unique hidden ability Galvanize, which works along the same lines as Pixilate, Refrigerate and Aerilate: it turns your Normal attacks into more powerful Electric attacks. This makes Alolan Golem one of very few Pokémon with really solid physical Electric attacks, in the form of Return, Double Edge or even Explosion – a nifty little trick, although not quite as unique or powerful as Magnet Pull.
Diglett and Dugtrio
You’d be forgiven for missing that Diglett has an Alolan regional form at all – aside from the colour of the piles of earth and rock around its body (black like Hawaiian basalt) the only difference is the tuft of wispy golden hair on its head (in the official art, Alolan Diglett’s colours are more saturated, but this isn’t the case on the in-game model). Once it evolves into Dugtrio, though, it acquires a luxuriant mane of flowing golden hair – or, uh, three luxuriant manes of flowing golden hair. At first glance, this is a reference to bleached-blond surfer hair – I mean, seriously, you can literally just Google the words “surfer hair” and there it is. That makes sense given the tropical paradise aesthetic of Alola, but why Dugtrio, of all things? It’s a burrowing… uh… mole-potato? Why give surfer hair to something that clearly cannot surf? Well, for one, we’re told that the hair is actually a sensory organ that can allow Dugtrio to find its away around through touch and vibrations while underground, which makes a lot of sense for a creature with a subterranean lifestyle, but there is also another much more interesting reason, linked to the real geology of Hawai‘i.
Alolan Dugtrio’s luscious locks are a dead ringer for a fascinating volcanic material known in Hawai‘i as Pele’s hair (this stuff exists in other volcanic areas around the world under other names, but “Pele’s hair” is the most famous). During an eruption, droplets of lava that are flung into the air can stretch out into long, thin filaments as they fly and then cool and harden into a tangle of strands that look like a pile of golden hair or straw. The name “Pele’s hair” comes from the ancient Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, Pele, one of the most popular of the old gods still venerated today, despite (or maybe because of) her often capricious and wrathful nature. Dugtrio, says the Pokédex, are worshipped in Alola because they are “thought to be feminine deities of the land incarnate,” much like Pele, perhaps because (like all Dugtrio) they can churn soil to improve its fertility and are beloved by farmers. Pele, of course, is the ultimate source of the volcanic soil that provides Hawai‘i with its best agricultural land, while Dugtrio, as we learned in the anime many, many years ago, can work wonders with terrain that would otherwise be barren.
The Sun Pokédex notes that collecting and keeping Dugtrio’s golden hair will bring bad luck, probably a reference to “Pele’s curse,” a modern superstition that predicts catastrophic ill fortune for anyone who takes Pele’s treasures – any native rocks, minerals or sand – away from Hawai‘i. Plenty of tourists visiting Hawaiian national parks take “souvenirs” anyway (which, curse or no curse, is actually a federal offence in the US), and Hawaiian post offices regularly receive deliveries of cursed objects from offenders who’ve suffered bad luck, then found out about the curse and tried to appease Pele’s wrath by returning her property. There is also a purely literal sense, though, in which touching Pele’s hair is an extremely bad idea. Because it’s made from lava that has cooled very quickly, it has the physical properties of a glass (like obsidian); it’s extremely brittle and forms very sharp edges and points when it breaks. This means I can now offer you this fully legitimate and potentially useful advice: if you see a pile of blonde hair on the side of a volcano, don’t touch it or you’ll get a fistful of glass splinters. Dugtrio’s hair doesn’t seem to be made of glass, though; the Pokédex repeatedly refers to it as “metallic,” explaining why the Pokémon’s type is Ground/Steel (and, in fact, claims that each of the three heads of hair has a slightly different metallurgical makeup). Personally, I’d be fine with glass being declared part of the domain of the Steel type (and I think we’ve moved even further in that direction in generation VIII, with Duraludon’s Gigantamax form) – chemically silica glass is more like a rock, but it’s also a hard, shiny material that we normally think of as synthetic. Being something of a weird glass nerd, I would rather like to see more glassy Pokémon in future, and this seems like as good an excuse as any.
Although the Pokédex says Alolan Dugtrio are “not very fast,” they’re only a little slower than the lightning speed of Kantonian Dugtrio, trading away a few points for some extra physical defence. In most other respects, the two forms are pretty similar. The Alolan form, of course, is a Ground/Steel dual-type, which comes with a much greater number of resistances, and it learns several Steel attacks to match, most importantly Iron Head, but there aren’t really any other significant differences in their movepools. So Alolan Dugtrio is just regular Dugtrio, only better because of all those resistances, right? Well… no. See, Dugtrio isn’t a particularly impressive Pokémon on its stats alone. People use Dugtrio for its ability, Arena Trap, which makes it impossible for most opponents to switch out while Dugtrio is in play. If the trapped Pokémon doesn’t have good physical defence or resistance to Earthquake, it can’t run away and there’s a good chance Dugtrio can then murder it for you. It’s an extremely powerful ability that has let Dugtrio punch well above its negligible weight since the days of Fire Red and Leaf Green. And Alolan Dugtrio… doesn’t get it. Which sucks for Alolan Dugtrio. Instead it gets its own unique ability, Tangling Hair, which reduces the speed of any Pokémon that hits it at close range, and that’s… kind of nice, I guess, but Dugtrio doesn’t have a lot of need for it, since it’s so fast anyway. There’s a clear balance argument to this, because the Kantonian Dugtrio has always been very good and probably always will be, and the thought of giving it Steel-type resistances is frankly alarming. Besides, Alolan Dugtrio can still take Sand Force and be okay. It’s just a shame for it to be so clearly overshadowed by its cousin because it’s missing the thing that, well, makes Dugtrio Dugtrio.
The point of this pointless exercise is that here we have two Alolan forms – specifically Alolan variations on Pokémon that already existed – one of whom clearly, definitely belongs in Alola because of its unique association with a geological phenomenon that Hawai‘i is famous for, and the other of whom is… fine? I mean, I’ve made quite a song and dance about the fact that the design references this particular crystal that is definitely not found in Hawai‘i, but it’s still a fun new take on the Geodude line with a sensible way of combining Rock and Electric, even if I’m not quite convinced by the iron beard and moustache. I’m mostly just struck by the contrast with Dugtrio – and, for that matter, Raticate and most of the other Alolan and Galarian regional variations, who often have fairly specific links to their regions of origin that add greater depth and realism. To me (given my fairly unusual position here) tracing those links as clues to solve a puzzle is a big part of the fun of a Pokémon design, which maybe gives me a bit of a warped perspective. In the end, though, we can still use the Alolan Graveler and Golem to say something about Alola – perhaps to suggest an older and more complicated geological history than we’d first imagine.