…okay, I guess we have to talk about the Gene Simmons badger.
Along with Weezing, the Galarian forms of Zigzagoon and Linoone, with their regional evolution Obstagooon, were some of the first Pokémon of Sword and Shield we ever met. This was when Nintendo confirmed that Galar would have regional forms, just like Alola did – something that we’d all been anticipating for a while, but couldn’t be sure about. Obstagoon was a big deal for another reason: it was the first regional evolution we’d seen. Linoone come in two forms, Hoennese and Galarian, but only the Galarian one can evolve. According to those initial teasers, Zigzagoon are native to Galar, and this “regional variant” is actually the Pokémon’s original form – a loud, belligerent and undeniably fabulous origin for one of Hoenn’s, frankly, duller Pokémon.
If we try – as for some reason I usually do here – to match these Pokémon designs up to real animals, we find that Zigzagoon is… either a raccoon or a tanuki, a Japanese “raccoon dog.” As the name implies, the raccoon dog is basically a dog that looks like a raccoon: raccoons are procyonids, which makes them close cousins to skunks and to mustelids like weasels, otters, minks and wolverines (basically, all the long furry noodle animals, plus Hugh Jackman), while tanuki are canids, part of the same family as foxes, wolves and domestic dogs. Hoennese Linoone is clearly some kind of noodle animal, with the long horizontal stripes of an African striped polecat but a muted brown-and-white colour palette more like that of a tanuki or perhaps a common weasel, while Galarian Zigzagoon and Linoone… are badgers. Or at least, that seems to be what’s meant by their clear, stark black and white colours; they’re certainly not skunks, and Linoone’s stripe patterns in particular look a lot like a badger’s. Although it sounds a bit odd to think of Galarian Zigzagoon as the “original” Zigzagoon, there is some real-world evolutionary history that justifies this, because the “original” mustelids were probably most like modern badgers; small size and noodle shape are later adaptations. Hoennese Linoone could have lost the evolution to Obstagoon because it wasn’t useful in their new environment, just as most modern mustelids have adapted by losing a lot of their bulk and strength in favour of speed and noodleyness. But let’s talk about badgers.
Although the European badger is found all over Europe and in parts of the Middle East, it attracts particularly strong – if somewhat mixed – feelings in England, as one of Great Britain’s largest and most recognisable native animals and a symbol of the South English countryside. Badgers are associated with reclusiveness, but also with bravery and stubbornness because of their fierce defence of their burrows (for which the technical term is a “sett”) – probably the most famous fictional badger in British literature, who displays all these qualities, is Mr. Badger from the English pastoral classic The Wind in the Willows. Also worth noting is the badger crest of House Hufflepuff in Harry Potter, which stands for hard work, determination and honesty – badgers are down-to-earth, no-nonsense characters. Because of their iconic status and their importance as the apex predators of many British woodland ecosystems, badgers are a protected species in the UK, despite not being endangered. However, they are also subject to periodic culls by the British government, because they are thought to spread bovine tuberculosis – a policy that has become more and more controversial over the years, especially since there is no longer a firm scientific consensus that it actually helps to prevent disease. Badgers as mischief-makers, spreaders of disease or a blight on farmers are also a fixture of British literature, like the disreputable and unpleasant Tommy Brock from Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit universe. The badger from Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox arguably fits into both badger archetypes.
(also, fun fact: the name “Brock” is derived from a Proto-Celtic root for “badger,” which gives us the words broc in Scottish Gaelic and Irish, and broch in Welsh – obviously Brock the Kanto gym leader gets his name from his Rock-type specialisation, but that’s why this is a “fun fact” and not a useful piece of commentary)
For Obstagoon, what matters is the association of badgers with endurance and defiance. These Pokémon are raucous, troublemaking badgers, but they’re also extremely determined and territorial. And maybe the best parallel for this set of traits is actually not the European badger at all, or any literary badger, but the infamous African honey badger. The honey badger has reached living meme status because it “don’t care” and “don’t give a $#!t” – this is an animal that has evolved to murder its way into beehives, shrug off snakebites and stare down adult lions. In particular, the honey badger’s tough but freakishly loose skin is almost impossible for insect stings to penetrate, and makes it very difficult for predator animals to get a good grip with their teeth – sort of like having a loose leather jacket that you can twist around inside. Punk musicians, of course, are very good at escaping predators for the much same reason.
Galarian Zigzagoon, Linoone, and Obstagoon look pretty unescapably like homages to the distinctive visual style of the American rock band Kiss – sometimes said to be an acronym for Knights In Satan’s Service, although the less exciting truth is that it’s probably just a reference to drummer Peter Criss’s previous band, Lips. The members of Kiss perform in personas represented by their unique makeup designs (at different times, they have either created new personas for new members or passed down old ones). Zigzagoon, Linoone and Obstagoon’s black and white markings aren’t an exact one-to-one copy of any particular Kiss persona. That might have gotten Pokémon into trouble, since Kiss holds a copyright on the designs; frankly Game Freak and TPC have probably learned their lesson from their decades-long feud with spoon-bending Israeli psychic Yuri Geller over Kadabra (which only ended a few weeks ago). But the black star mark over each eye, a prominent feature for both Zigzagoon and Linoone, could easily be read as a blend of two Kiss characters – Gene Simmons’ “Demon” and Paul Stanley’s “Starchild.” Spikemuth’s punk musician gym leader, Piers, whose signature Pokémon is an Obstagoon, doesn’t use makeup (although… to be honest he could do with some rouge; the man looks like a corpse) but does have a very elaborate black-and-white hairstyle that adds up to a similar aesthetic. We’re probably supposed to imagine that, within the world of Galar, punk rock styles like Team Yell’s are derived from Obstagoon – that is, the Pokémon’s famous belligerent attitude and distinctive markings and colour scheme inspired musicians who had a bone to pick with Galarian society. Aside from his famous makeup, Gene Simmons is known for flaunting his unusually long tongue during performances. It’s so long that there was once a popular rumour he’d had a cow’s tongue surgically grafted into his mouth – a rumour generally acknowledged as nonsense, although I desperately, desperately want it to be true. And, of course, Galarian Zigzagoon, Linoone and Obstagoon are all normally depicted with their impressive tongues lolling out of their mouths. They get several changes to their movepool compared to Hoennese Zigzagoon and Linoone that have minimal competitive importance, but serve to emphasise their punk music style: the Galarian forms are missing Charm, but can learn Screech, Scary Face… and, of course, Lick.
Kiss is arguably a curious choice of inspiration for a Pokémon that is specifically a regional variant of an existing species, found in a region based on Great Britain, because they’re… well, not British. They’ve always had a pretty substantial UK following, though. More importantly, Kiss didn’t come out of nowhere; they were inspired by earlier musicians, particularly by the early 1970s “glam rock” movement, which was a predominantly UK phenomenon, reaching its apotheosis with the flamboyant performance personas of the immortal star spirit whose human form was known as David Bowie. In fact, I think the bright, contrasting red-and-teal colour scheme of the Galarian Zigzagoon line’s shiny forms – quite different from the more subtle white and orange of a shiny Hoennese Linoone – might even be a deliberate reference to the jagged red-and-teal lightning bolt makeup of David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” character, one of his most distinctive and recognisable looks. In general, glam rock and later glam metal makeup is supposed to be outrageous and attention-grabbing, as well as irreverent and dismissive of convention (and particularly of traditional gender binaries – but, shhh, don’t say that part too loudly; you might scare the Pokémon Company). Everything about Kiss’s performance personas is designed to be confronting and shocking. And Obstagoon… well, it’s practically in the name; its signature move is “Obstruct” and it lives to be an obstacle (both from the Latin prefix ob-, meaning “in front” or “in the way”). It, and its younger forms, trade in threats, taunts, challenges, aggression and mayhem. We’re told that Zigzagoon has a third evolutionary stage in Galar and not elsewhere because of “harsh conditions” compared to other regions and competition within the species – and that didn’t make a lot of sense to me for a long time, because there’s nothing particularly “harsh” about the environment of southern Galar compared to Kalos or Hoenn. But punk and metal are about rebellion, and Galar’s ideology is very different from those other regions: where Hoenn values harmony and Kalos values beauty, Galar values competition and the struggle for greatness. Obstagoon, like Team Yell, is here to bring a little chaos to that competition.
On the competitive scene, Obstagoon is not really comparable to Hoennese Linoone because it doesn’t have the one thing that Linoone always relied on to break into the big leagues: the infamous Belly Drum/Gluttony combo, which uses Belly Drum’s HP sacrifice to your advantage by triggering powerful berries that Pokémon without the Gluttony ability would only use when very close to defeat. Obstagoon can’t learn Belly Drum and doesn’t have Gluttony (it also can’t get Linoone’s best attack, Extremespeed) – and honestly, thank goodness. Obstagoon has superior raw stats, a better physical movepool and two types, Normal and Dark, to get a same-type damage bonus on. A Belly Drum combo would make it downright terrifying. Instead, Obstagoon is a solid but unremarkable all-round physical bruiser. Like many strong physical attackers since Ruby and Sapphire, Obstagoon’s best bet is to build around the Guts passive ability – it gets an attack boost while suffering from an ailment like burn or poison (its other choices, Reckless and Defiant, are interesting but ultimately much less powerful). The Guts playbook is an old one: hold a Flame Orb to burn yourself, then lay into the opponent with devastating boosted physical attacks (and because you’re already suffering from a burn, you’re also immune to more dangerous paralysis and sleep). It’s debateable whether Obstagoon is the best Pokémon at this, but it is the fastest by a significant margin, since Swellow isn’t in Sword and Shield. It also has a better choice of physical attacks than, say, Luxray or Flareon, including strong Fighting attacks like Close Combat, it can double-dip on damage bonuses with Façade (a key move for Guts Pokémon) since it’s a Normal-type, and it has better support moves than Machamp or Heracross. In particular, Obstagoon can use Switcheroo to ditch its Flame Orb after burning itself, steal a more useful item and saddle an enemy with the Orb. Obstagoon’s main failings are that Normal/Dark is a middling offensive type combination with few opportunities for super-effective damage, and that Dark doesn’t have many good direct-damage moves.
Obstagoon’s signature move, Obstruct, is similar to Aegislash’s King’s Shield technique (but without Aegislash’s stance-switching). It blocks incoming attacks like Protect or Detect, but only works against direct damage, not status effects; instead, it sharply cuts the defence of anyone trying to use an attack that makes direct contact with Obstagoon. Obstruct seems to be intended for some sort of utility-tank Obstagoon; the trouble is that Guts is clearly its most powerful ability and stalling with Obstruct makes no sense when you’ve burned or poisoned yourself to activate Guts. Obstagoon does have a number of other moves that would make sense in a role like that, though: Taunt disables moves that can’t be blocked by Obstruct; Bulk Up lets you exploit dithering or indecision by opponents who are frustrated by Obstagoon’s defences; Parting Shot gets another Pokémon into play against a weakened enemy. None of this stands out as obviously strong the way a simple Guts set does, but there are definite possibilities here, and doing something unexpected can count for a lot in Pokémon, so if you want to use Obstagoon, give these moves some thought as well.
This is a pretty cool regional form! Galarian Zigzagoon and Linoone are more interesting and have a clearer “theme” than the original (which is actually not the original) Hoennese forms. Everything about them clearly belongs in the region they represent, and their references to modern culture make sense in the context of cultural movements we actually see in Galar, with Team Yell’s punk themes and mission of rebellion against authority. Hell, Obstagoon even manages to be clearly better than Hoennese Linonne while still leaving Linoone its unique niche – although this was admittedly pretty easy to do in this case, since Linoone was already known for a very unusual competitive strategy that revolves around one specific move. It’s a good one; it’s a keeper; I like it. No notes!
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