Regional Variant Pokémon: Alolan Sandslash and Ninetales; Galarian Mr. Mime and Darmanitan

Today, for… some reason… I have decided to try to bridge the gap between Alola and Galar by reviewing all four of the Ice-type regional variant Pokémon: Alolan Sandslash, Alolan Ninetales, Galarian Mr. Mime and Galarian Darmanitan.  This obviously took far too much time and the article is far too long, but I’ve written it now, and if I had to write it, then you all have to sit down and read it; that was the deal, that’s how this works.  The Ice type is an interesting choice for regional variations, because real animals also kind of have Ice-type regional forms: as animals move into more extreme latitudes, they have to deal with longer and colder winters, and tend to adapt accordingly.  Cold-adapted animals tend to be bulkier than their relatives living in temperate climates, with more compact limbs, thicker fur or feathers and often a white colour scheme to blend in with snow.  Adaptation to different climates in Pokémon can be a mixed bag as far as realism goes, and we’ll see multiple different takes on that with today’s four Pokémon.  Let’s get started.

Alolan Sandshrew and Sandslash

Alolan Sandshrew.

These versions of Sandshrew and Sandslash are their answer to Alola’s snow-capped sacred volcano, Mount Lanakila.  According to the Pokédex, they ended up living on snowy mountains after fleeing a volcanic eruption.  We’re not explicitly told where this happened; however, Ula‘ula Island, where Alolan Sandshrew are found, is geothermally active, and the real Hawaiian islands are volcanic, so I’d say it’s a good bet that a population of Kantonian Sandshrew were established in Alola before an eruption destroyed their habitat.  Ultra Moon, incidentally, tells us that regular Sandshrew like volcanoes, because they use the heat from geothermal activity to dry themselves out if they ever get wet, which is a nice tie-in to how this breed of Sandshrew could have come to Alola and eventually developed into the Ice-type form (they’re also found near areas of volcanic activity in central Hoenn).  On the other hand, I’m surprised that there aren’t also Ground-type Sandshrew still living in Alola, since the Haina Desert seems like exactly the kind of habitat where we’d normally expect to find them.  I suppose the population might have been wiped out completely and never reintroduced, presumably quite a long time ago.

Once settled in their new mountainous habitat, Alola’s Sandshrew and Sandslash changed quite a bit.  They’re both much heavier than their Kantonian counterparts (40 and 55 kilograms respectively, compared to just 12 and 29.5) because they’ve developed metallic shells, and you can tell just by looking that the Alolan Sandshrew seems to have much thicker armour on its head and back.  Because those steel shells are so rigid, Alolan Sandshrew can’t roll into balls like Kantonian Sandshrew can, which makes it difficult for them to protect their soft bellies (oddly, though, they do still start with Defence Curl).  In place of a Kantonian Sandslash’s sharp leaf-shaped scales, ideal for forming a defensive ball, Alolan Sandslash have their backs protected by massive metal spikes covered in a layer of ice.  Metal armour is a weird choice for an animal that needs to adapt to the cold.  Well… that’s obviously true because real animals don’t have metal armour, but even if they did it would be weird, because metals are very good conductors of heat; their temperature can change very quickly and they aren’t good at holding onto heat in a cold environment.  Pokémon aren’t real animals, though, and they adapt to new environments in strange ways.  Sandshrew and Sandslash have actually developed ice powers, so maybe for them it’s somehow beneficial to have body parts that can gain and lose heat very quickly.

Alolan Sandslash.

Their ice-covered metal shells apparently provide Sandshrew with a mobility advantage too – Let’s Go tells us that “its ice-covered body lets it slide across the ground with bullet-like speed.”  I don’t know if sliding across the ground with bullet-like speed is particularly a good idea when you live on a mountain with lots of sheer drops, but it probably wouldn’t work at all in the sandy terrain their ancestors favoured, so I suppose there’s some logic to it.  Moon has a fantastic line about how there’s an Alolan festival game where the goal is to yeet a Sandshrew across an icy surface as far as you can – basically, it’s curling, but with live Sandshrew instead of polished stones.  Even better, remember once again that Alolan Sandshrew can’t curl into balls, so they’re probably skittering across the ice on their backs with their arms and legs flailing in the air.  Sandslash, of course, can’t do any of this because their shells aren’t smooth anymore, but they’ve also developed new modes of movement for their new environment.  If you look closely, Alolan Sandslash’s claws have hooked tips like the head of an ice axe, while Kantonian Sandslash has smoothly curving claws.  Ultra Moon mentions that Alolan Sandslash can use its claws to scale the sheer icy surface of an iceberg, and the new claw shape must be what allows them to do that.

Ice/Steel is an interesting combination, giving Alolan Sandslash a lot of resistances, but also some extremely nasty weaknesses.  I hesitate to say it’s better than Ground, since Ground is one of the strongest single types, but it’s at least as good.  Alolan Sandslash’s new stat distribution does it a great deal of good, cutting special attack (which it doesn’t care about) for defence and special defence (which it does).  Alolan Sandshrew’s level-up list keeps several of the Kantonian form’s core moves, notably Swords Dance and Rapid Spin, while picking up Mirror Coat, an unusual and dubious choice, but an interesting one.  Rock and Ground attacks are swapped for Steel and Ice ones, notably Icicle Crash, which is still a fairly exclusive move.  Although Earthquake isn’t on the Alolan form’s level-up list, you can still learn it via TM, and probably should, since Ground attacks are a strong complement to Ice attacks.  Stone Edge is gone, and is the only notable thing missing from Alolan Sandslash’s list, but Rock Slide is still an option, and Aqua Tail is available from Ultra SMoon move tutors.  For some reason, Alolan Sandslash can learn Leech Life; it doesn’t add to your coverage, since both forms also get X-Scissor and Bug attacks are rubbish anyway, but the bonus healing is nice.  Amnesia and Curse are both added to Alolan Sandshrew’s egg move list, and are interesting options for taking it in a more tanky direction, but with no healing aside from Leech Life, it’s probably better to stick with Sandslash’s traditional Swords Dance beatdown and Rapid Spin support roles.  Alolan Sandslash’s abilities are one-to-one equivalents of Kantonian Sandslash’s abilities, replacing sandstorm synergies with hail synergies: Sand Veil and Sand Rush are out; Snow Cloak and Slush Rush are in.  Slush Rush is a fairly rare ability, and makes Sandslash one of very few Pokémon who can legitimately claim the niche role of hail sweeper.  Hail is… generally kind of bad, but if you actually want a hail team, Alolan Sandslash is one of the better choices available.

Alolan Vulpix and Ninetales

Alolan Vulpix.

The Sun Pokédex says that the ancient Alolan name for an Ice Vulpix is Keokeo – ke‘oke‘o being a Hawaiian word meaning “white,” “clear,” “shining,” or more rarely “proud.”  The point is, obviously, that Alolan Vulpix are pure white, but I think it’s neat that the word’s other meaning – proud – is also a trait that Vulpix and Ninetales are famous for (and as long as we’re on words and names, I love that the Ultra Moon Pokédex describes a group of Vulpix using the correct collective noun for foxes – a “skulk”).  The ancient Alolans worshipped Ninetales as a deity, an incarnation of the sacred protective spirit of the snow-capped mountains of Alola – a role that seems like a natural fit for this notoriously aloof and capricious Pokémon – but the best part is that Ninetales is so aloof that it doesn’t give a $#!t about any of this and just wants everyone to go away and leave it alone.  It guides lost travellers down from its mountains so it doesn’t have to put up with them any longer, and traditional Alolan religious taboos forbid people from trespassing on Ninetales’ territory.  It’s a personality direction that makes sense for how Ninetales is already portrayed, and it’s easy to see how a Pokémon that favours solitude and isolation would adapt to an environment like a snowy mountaintop.  On the other hand, it’s hinted that Alolan Vulpix and Ninetales are more social with each other than their Fire-type counterparts: the members of a skulk of Vulpix “live together… helping one another” and are led by a Ninetales who will be quick to discipline any human who looks like they might pose a threat.

White, of course, is a camouflage colour for animals that live in snowy environments, used to evade predators or – in the case of, for instance, polar bears – to escape the notice of prey.  Interestingly, though, many of them aren’t always white.  Arctic species of many animals, including hares, weasels, ptarmigans and even hamsters, have distinct winter and summer colouration, turning white in the winter to blend in with snow, but returning to colours more typical of animals from temperate regions in the summer.  Real Arctic foxes are among these; while they sport a distinctive pure white coat in winter, in the summer they are normally grey-brown.  Our two forms of Vulpix – the Kantonian Fire-type and Alolan Ice/Fairy-type – would actually be believable to me as seasonal forms of a single Pokémon, not unlike Deerling and Sawsbuck.  Of course, then you’d need to justify switching between fire powers and ice powers a couple of times a year.  Thanks to the Snow Warning ability, Alolan Ninetales can simply take the ice and snow with it wherever it goes and use its pure white coat for camouflage no matter what the weather is like – much better.

Alolan Ninetales.

Sandshrew and Sandslash’s powers aren’t really overtly magical, but Vulpix’s and Ninetales’ are, so here we get an explicit statement of the way environmental adaptation usually works in Pokémon – “after long years in the ever-snowcapped mountains of Alola, this Vulpix has gained power over ice.”  Live in a place for long enough, and you become more like that place, developing powers that imitate its features: we see this particularly with Eevee’s smorgasbord of evolutions, but also with the general principle that Fire Pokémon live in hot places, Ice Pokémon live in cold places, Grass Pokémon live in forests, Water Pokémon live in the ocean, and so on.  Intuitively that makes perfect sense.  It only occurs to me as something weird when we’re specifically talking about adaptation and Darwinian evolution, like we are with Eevee and with regional variations – because evolution is, quite famously, not very intuitive.  If real animals could develop fire or ice powers, I would expect fire powers to be most useful in cold places, where you need heat to survive and your enemies will be adapted to resist cold, not heat.  Conversely, ice powers seem like they’d be a good adaptation for hot, tropical regions.  Of course, that description does apply pretty well to the rest of Alola.  In fact, the Pokédex on Moon Version makes reference to Alolan Vulpix cooling itself off on hot days by conjuring shards of ice and spraying them into the air.  So… there’s weirdly elements of both here.  Vulpix and Ninetales have adapted to live in a hot, tropical region by finding the coldest place in it, absorbing that cold into themselves and taking it with them.  Honestly, that makes as much sense as any other Pokémon ecology ever has.

Like most type combinations that include Ice, Ice/Fairy is decidedly “meh” on defence but solid on offence.  As a Pokémon with primarily aggressively-slanted stats, Ninetales is just fine with this, and also appreciates having a second same-type attack bonus.  Like Sandslash, it also exploits the opportunity for stat redistribution to make itself a little more efficient, giving up physical attack power (which Ninetales doesn’t use anyway) for more speed.  Much as we’ve seen before, Fire attacks are swapped out of its list in exchange for Ice, with Fairy attacks added as a nice bonus, although it’s notable that Alolan Ninetales only gets Moonblast as an egg move.  Most of the other changes to Alolan Ninetales’ movepool are pretty minor, and it keeps useful tricks like Nasty Plot and Hypnosis; the biggest is probably that Energy Ball is gone, but curiously it does still get Solarbeam (not that this does it much good, with all its other sun synergies gone).  Much like Sandslash, Ninetales simply swaps Fire-related abilities for Ice-related ones: Flash Fire for the much less useful Snow Cloak, and Drought for Snow Warning.  Ninetales’ ability to automatically create favourable weather has been its most powerful feature since Black and White, so it’s nice that this translates so neatly for its new type.  Hail is generally a much less powerful weather effect than Sunny Day; it has far fewer synergies and is much more difficult to build a team around.  There is one really big advantage, though: along with a handful of other Ice-types, Alolan Ninetales can learn Aurora Veil, a move which bundles Reflect and Light Screen, offering protection from both physical and special attacks, but is only usable during hail.  For most Pokémon, the weather requirement makes Aurora Veil impractical, but Ninetales can create its own hail without having to devote a turn to it (the only other Pokémon who can do this is Abomasnow, who has a worse type combination and a weaker support movepool). 

Galarian Mr. Mime and Mr. Rime

Galarian Mr. Mime.

Both forms of Mr. Mime are references to performers, but where standard Mr. Mime are (…obviously) mimes, focusing on the use of hand gestures to manipulate reality, Galarian Mr. Mime lack their cousins’ comically oversized hands and dextrous fingers and instead use their feet to focus and direct their powers: by tap-dancing.  A Galarian Mr. Mime’s feet “radiate chilliness” and freeze the ground or floor beneath, and the wooden or metal soles of a real tap dancer’s shoes are replaced with “shoes” of ice.  Where Kantonian (or… Kalosian?  They’re not native to Kanto, and they are French mimes) Mr. Mime create barriers of psychic power, Galarian Mr. Mime can create sheets of ice beneath their feet and then kick them up to stand vertically as shields.  Unlike the other three Pokémon we’re looking at today, Mr. Mime evolves from a Pokémon that doesn’t have differentiated regional forms: Mime Jr.  Like Cubone, Pikachu and Exeggcute in Alola, there is no Galarian Mime Jr.; instead, Mime. Jr. in Galar evolve one way and Mime Jr. elsewhere evolve another way.  Mime Jr. are habitual mimics, and we’re told by the Pokédex that, in Galar, they seek out and observe Mr. Rime in order to learn the steps of their intricate dances.  Since Mr. Mime are performers, it makes sense that the different regional forms come from, essentially, cultural factors; you evolve into the Mr. Mime form that suits the performance tradition you were exposed to (not unlike Alolan Raichu and Marowak, who are also closely related to aspects of Alolan culture).

A tap dancing Mr. Mime is a slightly odd choice for a region based on Great Britain.  Modern tap dancing has uncertain origins, but people seem to agree it has roots in both Irish and African-American dance traditions, and I think it’s probably most famous as a mainstay of American vaudeville.  There are also, however, traditions of clog dancing in England and Wales that probably go back to the sturdy wooden-soled shoes worn by factory workers during the industrial revolution.  I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or relieved that Galarian Mr. Mime’s designers didn’t decide to base it on English Morris dancers instead – a Morris dancer’s bells would have been a distinctive visual addition to the design and drawn an even stronger contrast with the silence of mime (not to mention potentially justifying the addition of Heal Bell to Mr. Mime’s movepool).  The references all condense more clearly when Mr. Mime evolves into Mr. Rime.  Mr. Rime seems to be based on the famous early 20th century comedian and silent film star Charlie Chaplin, who was English and started out as a clog dancer while still a child, but spent most of his showbusiness career in America and became famous performing in a vaudeville troupe.  Mr. Rime specifically references his most famous recurring silent film character, “the Tramp” – a gentlemanly vagrant with a bowler hat, suit jacket, cane, toothbrush moustache and oversized shoes, whose comedy comes mainly from the contrast between his dapper personal style and his diminished circumstances.  Mr. Rime displays all of those physical features prominently, except for having a different style of moustache (Chaplin’s career was at its height from the late 1910s to the 1930s, and since then the toothbrush moustache has acquired, ah… slightly different connotations).  Within the context of the game world… I suppose we just have to imagine that bowler hats are a reference to Mr. Rime?  The Pokédex does tell us that Mr. Rime is popular for its performance skills, so I suppose it’s not crazy that there might be traditional Galarian styles of dress designed to imitate it.

Mr. Rime.

It feels a bit ludicrous to talk about ways that Galarian Mr. Mime is cold-adapted, but… well… it does swap those big long-fingered hands for mitten-shaped paws; those more compact extremities would serve it well in a cold environment.  The same goes for its feet, which don’t have those curly clown-shoe toes that original-recipe Mr. Mime have.  Mr. Rime’s “hat” and “coat” are presumably not actual clothing (…Pokémon that look like they have clothes are weird and I find them kind of disturbing) but they could easily be insulating layers of blubber or something.  Conveniently, there happens to be an entire family of real-world cold-adapted animals that famously look like they’re wearing suit jackets: penguins (in their case, it’s probably nothing to do with the cold; it’s a phenomenon called countershading that makes them harder to see underwater… but we’ll take our victories where we can get them).  Although they’re only slightly heavier than Kalosian Mr. Mime, both Galarian Mr. Mime and Mr. Rime also seem bulkier and more rotund in both their official art and their in-game models, which is plausible as an adaptation to a cold climate, reducing their surface area-to-volume ratios so they lose body heat more slowly.

Mr. Mime has always struggled with finding its strategic role; it’s outclassed in speed and power by Alakazam, Espeon and Starmie, and its good support movepool is let down by miserable HP and physical defence.  The Galarian form and its evolution seem like they aim to remedy that, and they… sort of succeed.  Mr. Rime of course has significantly higher base stats than Mr. Mime, but that doesn’t translate into greater effectiveness as simply as you might hope, since it “spends” a lot of points on enhancing Mr. Mime’s abysmal physical attack stat (y’know, so it can kick things).  It’s also slower and has weaker special defence, but is much bulkier overall with dramatically more HP, making it much better suited to play tank or support.  Ice is a much worse defensive type than Fairy, with more weaknesses, fewer resistances and no immunities, but it’s arguably stronger offensively, especially since the Kalosian Mr. Mime doesn’t get Moonblast and the Galarian one does get Ice Beam.  So far, it’s a mixed bag (and there’s a decent argument in that for just using Galarian Mr. Mime unevolved with an Eviolite, since Mr. Rime doesn’t have a huge edge in power).  Galarian Mr. Mime’s movepool is pretty much a straight upgrade.  Everything missing from its ordinary level-up list is available from move reminders (which are free to use at every Pokémon Centre in Sword and Shield), courtesy of its evolution from Mime Jr.  The only significant TM or TR it loses is Mystical Fire.  In return, Galarian Mr. Mime picks up not just Ice attacks but several support moves, notably Rapid Spin, Hypnosis and Misty Terrain.  After evolving into Mr. Rime it can even learn Slack Off, giving it a strong option for self-healing.  All of that gives it a lot more utility than a baseline Mr. Mime, and it really feels like a proper support tank now.  Kalosian Mr. Mime has a couple of quite good abilities that it’s in no position to use well, while Mr. Rime’s are lacklustre all around: Ice Body provides a little healing but only works on a Hail team, while Tangled Feet is just bad.  Its signature ability, Screen Cleaner, wipes away Light Screens, Reflects and Aurora Veils from both sides of the battlefield when it enters play, which… ehhhh, I guess it’s kind of useful, and it’s thematically cool, but Light Screen and Reflect just aren’t that powerful in a world where Defog (which dispels them) is commonly used for clearing Spikes, Stealth Rock, etc.  Still, it’s a nice complement to Rapid Spin.

Galarian Darumaka and Darmanitan

Galarian Darumaka.

In their native Unova, the Fire-type Darumaka and Darmanitan are desert Pokémon, and desert Pokémon aren’t usually Fire-types, but there is a kind of Fire-Pokémon-in-hot-places logic to that, just like we were talking about with Ninetales.  In Galar, they live in the frigid subarctic wasteland of Somerset Circhester; here they have traded in their red-and-yellow colour schemes for white-and-blue and their fire powers for ice.  According to the Pokédex, they’ve become Ice-types because their internal fire sacs (an organ most Fire Pokémon seem to possess) have “cooled off and atrophied” as a result of living in cold environments.  That makes Pokémon type logic a bit more understandable: fire powers might well be useful in a cold environment, but are simply too energetically expensive to maintain there, so evolution has stripped Darumaka and Darmanitan of those abilities and replaced them with ice powers.  As always, though, real world logic only goes so far: Galarian Darumaka are apparently “more energetic” when it’s colder.  Animals who live in hot places often are more energetic in cooler weather, because it’s easier for them to shed the excess heat generated by physical activity, but this is Pokémon, so in Darumaka’s case it could just be that the cold itself gives it energy.  Real world physics understands cold as just the absence of heat, but I wonder sometimes whether Pokémon physics might assume that there is such a thing as “cold energy” or “anti-heat” that can radiate from cold objects and drive physical processes or reactions in the same way as heat can.

Fiery Unovan Darmanitan are based on some kind of large primate – the English name and bright red colour suggest an orang-utan, the Japanese Hihidaruma suggests a baboon (狒々, hihi), it probably doesn’t matter exactly.  Darumaka is also a fun reference to daruma dolls, figurines that symbolise perseverance in Japanese Buddhism – although these are traditionally red, the colour of good fortune in most of East Asia, modern ones do come in a variety of colours, including white and blue (so… future yellow, green and pink Electric-, Grass- and Fairy-type Darumaka regional forms?  A bit much?  Yeah, a bit much).  The icy Galarian Darmanitan, then, could be a reference to a cold-adapted great ape.  There are no cold-adapted great apes (humans are arguably the closest).  However, there are persistent myths, rumours and conspiracy theories about gigantic “wild men” living in mountains around the world – the Himalayan yeti, the North American sasquatch – which are sometimes speculated to be survivors of the extinct genus Gigantopithecus, a relative of the orang-utan and probably the largest primate ever.  Galarian Darmanitan doesn’t have a lot of obvious cold adaptations – it kind of looks poofier, like it has a thicker coat of fur or maybe some blubber, and it’s significantly heavier than Unovan Darmanitan, although some of that weight could be the huge ball of snow it apparently carries around on its head.  It can freeze the snowball hard for a more powerful headbutt, or use it to store food, which… well… I guess would effectively refrigerate it and keep it fresh longer, but how important is that, when you live in a snowy environment anyway?  Maybe it’s just easier than carrying things.

Galarian Darmanitan.

The interesting thing about Galarian Darmanitan is that it reverses the dynamic of the Unovan Darmanitan’s Zen Mode – the Darmanitan we know is energetic and crazy in its “default” form, but becomes calm, collected and stoic in Zen Mode as its psychic powers activate.  Galarian Darmanitan are typically calm and gentle despite their great strength, but when they get into a serious fight, they tap into the anger that they’ve mostly left behind, go berserk, and use their rage to reignite their lost fire powers.  Fire and ice aren’t just about habitat or literal powers here; they’re also symbols of the Pokémon’s temperament – wild or calm.  The crazed version of Galarian Darmanitan looks like a snowman, with its real head and body as the snowman’s body, and a snowman “head” on top with a jet of flame in place of a carrot “nose.”  There’s even a reason for this slightly absurd design that ties into Darumaka’s original inspiration, because a snowman in Japanese is a yukidaruma (雪だるま), a “snow daruma.”  Following some of my earlier logic, retaining some fire powers makes a lot of sense for a cold-adapted creature: Galarian Darmanitan live in areas that are inhabited overwhelmingly by other Ice-types, so being able to use Fire attacks is a distinct advantage (at least, for the ones with the Zen Mode hidden ability).  Darmanitan actually gives us another reason for ditching fire most of the time, though: not only is it difficult to maintain fire powers in a cold place, using fire actually begins to melt Darmanitan’s body if it stays in “Zen” Mode for too long.  Try not to think about that one in too much detail…

On a purely mechanical level, Zen Mode makes a lot more sense for Galarian Darmanitan than it does for Unovan Darmanitan.  Part of the problem with the original Darmanitan is that the Zen form wants to be a tank but inherently starts with half its HP missing, which is simply not very useful.  It’s also really hard to EV-train a Zen Mode Unovan Darmanitan, because the normal form wants to focus on physical attacks and the Zen form wants to focus on special attacks.  Galarian Darmanitan’s Zen Mode doesn’t try to flip its playstyle completely: it just turns it up to eleven, further boosting Darmanitan’s already ludicrous attack stat and solid speed.  Ice/Fire is also probably a bit better than Fire/Psychic as an attack combination.

Of course, it just wouldn’t be Darmanitan if its other ability choice weren’t flat-out better than Zen Mode anyway.

Galarian Darmanitan in Zen Mode.

Galarian Darmanitan’s signature ability is Gorilla Tactics (…booooo), which is Choice Band: it locks you into just one attack, but increases your physical power by 50%.  And it stacks with a real Choice Band.  For the record, years ago I considered an ability design that was similar to this just to make a point and rejected it as “obviously impossible” because “all hell would break loose” if you could stack it with a real Choice Band.  Yet here we are, and Galarian Darmanitan is pretty solidly one of the best new Pokémon in Sword and Shield.  Galarian Darmanitan’s Icicle Crash, boosted by Gorilla Tactics and a Choice Band, is one of the most truly appalling things one Pokémon can do to another, reliably hitting ludicrously defensive Pokémon like Ferrothorn and Shuckle for more than half of their health.  If this thing has an attack that’s super-effective against you (and it also gets Flare Blitz and Earthquake, so it probably does), then I don’t care what your defence stat is; it’s not high enough.  The bastard thing even gets U-Turn, same as original recipe Darmanitan, which gives it huge utility value and helps alleviate the restrictive nature of its ability.  Its main disadvantage compared to Unovan Darmanitan is the generally terrible defensive type matchups that come with being an Ice-type.  It’s also missing a couple of Fighting and Psychic attacks, but not all of them, and it has enough good ones to make a point.

Whether or not a Pokémon’s elemental abilities are a good fit for its environment isn’t normally a major point of concern for me.  Ecological plausibility has never been a high priority for Pokémon – arguably with good reason – and we don’t expect the wild Pokémon in an area to form a realistic web of predator-prey relationships that’s reinforced by their type advantages against one another.  If a Pokémon shares its territory with a bunch of other species, all of the same type, I’m not going to judge it for not evolving into a type that makes it strong against its neighbours; I don’t know what its evolutionary history looks like over the last ten million years, and I don’t know what’s biologically possible for it.  It’s only when we meet a Pokémon like Eevee, or like these regional variations, and we’re specifically told “this Pokémon developed ice powers to survive in cold regions” that I start to think “…hang on a minute.”  Then, ten days later, I wake up in a puddle of ice water with pages of a stupidly long article scattered all around me, the sound of police sirens in the distance and a dead catfish on my head (look, it’s just been that kind of June, okay?).  All these new Ice-types do have some kind of logical cold adaptation, though, and for some of them it’s even possible to see how ice powers actually are a good fit for their new environments, which is honestly more than I expected.  I think the last few generations of Pokémon have been steadily putting more and more effort into feeling like a real, living world, partly just because the games have to make use of the advancing graphical capabilities of Nintendo’s consoles, but it’s visible too in things like flavour text and the increasing presence of Pokémon in the lives of NPCs.  For the particular kind of nerd that I seem to be, this is exactly the kind of depth that keeps me coming back to this dumb anime world year after year.

Special thanks to my sinister Patreon supporters for their support of my dumb bull$#!t, and today I’d like to give an extra special shoutout to Miame Irohara and Intonyeon, who have both recently joined the Dark Council that masterminds my dastardly schemes from the shadows! I am, as always, deeply grateful to everyone who thinks my writing here is worth any monetary support at all – but even if you aren’t able to help pay the bills, thank you anyway for reading; your time on this earth is the most valuable thing you can give!

8 thoughts on “Regional Variant Pokémon: Alolan Sandslash and Ninetales; Galarian Mr. Mime and Darmanitan

  1. To be fair, they started doing this all the way back in Black and White when they made an anteater that hits the local ant for 4x damage. That’s a thing that happened.

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  2. You know Mr. Rime’s face is actually on their torso, right? The face on their head doesn’t change expression, while the “button” eyes will.

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    1. The face on the head… *does* also change expression, though? The Pokédex calls the face on its belly a “hypnotic pattern,” so my read would be that its movements are an illusion.

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  3. Aight, I’m finally off of the The Last of Us Part II train. So, back to all this nonsense now!

    The whole ‘Ice-type regional form’ thing highlights a core problem with Ice-types in general, I think: Game Freak seems to be unable to remove Ice-types Pokémon from snowy/icy environments, which leads to a worldbuilding issue where GF feels the need to always include said environments no matter how appropriate or inappropriate. The most striking example is Shoal Cave in otherwise-tropical Hoenn, which exists for no reason other than to be Spheal and Snorunt’s habitat. The other side of this coin is that GF can barely design interesting Ice-types because they are almost always designed to fit in the snowy/icy environments they’ve built, which they did so that they had an excuse to include new Ice-types in the first place, rinse and repeat. It’s a design problem, and limits the creativity of Ice-type designs because, well, if by principle you can never have an Ice Pokémon in the forest, you never get a clever Ice/Grass design; if you can never have an Ice Pokémon in the desert, you never get a clever Ice/Ground design, etc. For me, this is why Ice Pokémon stopped being interesting long ago (with the sole exception of Crabominable, who is hilarious). What do you think?

    Nothing to say about A-Sandslash, but you brought up an interesting point with regards to Mime Jr. mimicking Mr. Rime to become G-Mr. Mime. So if it’s canonical that adopting a dance from another culture can change a Pokémon’s type, do you think other dance-based Pokémon can do it too? I’m reminded of course of Oricorio; were one to bring a young Oricorio under the tutelage of a kindly Mr. Rime, would a tap-dancing Ice-type Oricorio emerge?

    …okay, so maybe we need some of that sweet nectar juice too, but I’m sure Milo has a healthy stash of skunkweed hidden around his farm!

    Finally, A-Ninetales and G-Darmanitan. I don’t get why Vulpix/Ninetales would need to adapt to Alolan climate by finding the coldest place around? They were perfectly content hanging around Mt. Pyre in the similarly-tropical Hoenn and never had the need to hit up Shoal Cave, so what’s different about Alola? It feels very retcon-y from a Doylist perspective. And they already had fire powers; surely when they got cold hanging around Mt. Lanakila they would’ve just lit up a fire? “Mystical powers woo” is a flimsy and lazy justification, if you ask me. I like G-Darmanitan’s reasoning a little bit more since it at least tries to make it physiological, but I don’t get why a fire sac would atrophy in cold weather?! Doesn’t that kind of… defeat the purpose of it being a fire sac in the first place? And if it atrophied then shouldn’t it have turned Darumaka/Darmanitan NORMAL-types more than anything? Losing fire powers does not equal gaining ice powers surely, in a world where “cold energy” is assumed to be a thing. Unless Galar’s climate is so freaking cold that it actually turned their fire sacs to ice sacs instead? In which case, it didn’t really atrophy; it MUTATED.

    Hmmm…

    I’m beginning to warm up (pun half-intended) to your idea that cold energy is an actual thing in the Pokémon world. It’d neatly tie up both Ninetales and Darmanitan’s regional forms, though for the former we’d have to add the addendum that Vulpix and Ninetales – more so than most other Fire Pokémon – are supernaturally attuned to thermodynamics; not hard to justify considering their weather Abilities in either form. Maybe it’s the result of Unova’s original dragon splitting into two, creating a metaphysical void from which cold energy spills out? Who knows. I’m not quite sure what that would imply about, say, Glaceon or even Castform, but it’s the best explanation I’ve heard yet as to why creatures who can produce and manipulate heat would ever succumb to a lack of it.

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    1. Definitely agree re: the need for Ice-type environments being limiting. Ice has always been such a rare type, and it was the last one aside from Flying to appear on a single-typed Pokémon, so it’s really hard to nail down exactly what its identity is supposed to be, and everything it does overlaps with Water. On the other hand, it is kind of nice to have varied environments in every region, even if it does wind up straining ecological plausibility a little bit…

      I am ABSOLUTELY here for tap-dancing Ice-type Galarian Oricorio; that sounds FANTASTIC. Just need a blue Galarian flower for it to drink nectar from…

      On Vulpix’s habitat – I actually do think that Mount Pyre is probably one of the colder places in Hoenn, which is otherwise supposed to be quite a hot region. It’s foggy, it’s dark all the time, it’s probably quite damp… I dunno if Vulpix’s appearances across all the games really bear this out, but I think Mount Pyre does hold up under the assumption that Vulpix prefer to seek out cooler habitats within hotter regions? There *is* the Shoal Cave, but that *is* also in the middle of the ocean…

      I think on some level Game Freak and the writers of the Pokémon anime probably have a background assumption that each type is associated with some distinct kind of “energy,” some magical source of power. They probably wouldn’t *say* that unless you really pressed them on it, I don’t think they’re deeply invested in it as a foundational principle of their worldbuilding, and I don’t even really *like* it because it feels inelegant and doesn’t really explain anything so much as dodge a lot of questions – but I think if you just started talking to them about what Pokémon types are and how they work, their answers would probably coalesce around some principle of that general *shape*. I don’t know where to go from here, because I don’t think that’s a very interesting model for how the Pokémon world works, or that there’s a whole lot of room to directly build on it, but just ignoring it and throwing out any official material I don’t like in pursuit of my own worldbuilding ideas doesn’t seem all that productive either. So… rrrrmmm.

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      1. I’m glad you agree with the point on Ice-types and the environment. While we’re on the topic, would it be interesting if they flipped their design philosophy on this and actually put Ice-types in HOT places instead? Maybe work in a bit of flavor where they provide cooling to the local Pokémon who would otherwise not survive without Ice powers. I dunno, just something other than the “Ice Pokémon = icy environments” paradigm they’ve been working with since Gen III.

        Okay, fine, I take your point on Mt. Pyre! But I do not concede my wider argument!

        And yes, I would largely agree with you on the whole “energy” thing, though I would say that Normal would perhaps be a *lack* of such fundamental force in the Pokémon world’s physics. There’s a larger issue at hand in that the types all do different things: some describe powers over aspects of nature (Fire, Electric, Ice) or mental/emotional states (Psychic, Fairy), others describe material composition (Rock, Steel, some of Poison) or physiology (Bug, Dragon, half of Flying and Water), some others describe habitat (Ground, the other half of Flying and Water), yet others describe mindset/philosophy (Fighting, Dark), and don’t even get started on Ghost. So to assume an elegant underlying principle that can explain all 18 types in an equally-satisfactory way may be rather futile because the types are, in effect, all very different things. There might not be a Theory of Everything for the Pokémon World.

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