One lunatic's love-hate relationship with the Pokémon franchise, and his addled musings on its rights, wrongs, ins and outs. Come one, come all, and indulge my delusions of grandeur as I inflict my opinions on anyone within shouting distance.
Stunfisk was… a Pokémon I had very mixed feelings about in 2011, then promptly forgot about for most of the next 8 years. But now it’s back with a shiny new Galarian regional form, and I suppose I just have to deal with that. Original recipe Stunfisk’s angle was that it’s a flatfish that hangs out on beaches and mud flats and zaps you if you step on it. It’s like a flounder or plaice mixed with an electric eel – or like a stonefish, that kills you with horrifically painful venom if you step on it – or like a stargazer, which is a fat ugly fish with eyes on the top of its head that isn’t flat like Stunfisk but does bury itself in sand and can produce electric shocks – or like a torpedo ray, which is flat and lives on the sea floor and can zap you but doesn’t really look like a fish-fish – or like a mudskipper that can survive on land because it can breathe air through its skin. It’s a rich tapestry of derpy fish that all come together to produce one supremely derpy derpfish, is the point.
New Stunfisk… is also still a fish, but in addition to being a fish, is a bear trap. So, I guess, let’s talk about bear traps.
…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.
Back when Fairy Pokémon were first introduced in X and Y and several existing Pokémon had their types retconned to Fairy or part-Fairy, one of the things we talked about a little bit here was which Pokémon weren’t changed to Fairy-types although they justifiably could have been – and one of the Pokémon on that list was Rapidash. Rapidash is a unicorn – a fairytale creature if ever there was one, full of mystery and magic. But Rapidash itself is… weirdly not very unicorn-ish; all of its powers are related to either fire or speed, and all of its lore (not just in the games, but in other continuities like the anime) is pretty heavily focused on its legendary speed and competitiveness. It’s not really a unicorn in the sense of Mediaeval European mythology – more of a horse that just happens to have a pretty vicious horn. And is on fire. But Galar has now given us an enchanted, divine Psychic-type Ponyta and Psychic/Fairy-type Rapidash, all pure white and sky blue and candy pink like a My Little Pony character, sweetness and light from head to hooves. And we’re gonna dig into it and figure out what makes a unicorn unicorn-ish, because that is apparently the path I have chosen.
I’ve been doing the regional variant Pokémon up until now as blocks of two or three, but I don’t think that’s going to work for the rest of them – I’ve been stuck for weeks trying to do another set, and I’m not sure there are useful themes I can use to tie them together. There’s also just… a lot more to say about the Galarian forms than the Alolan ones, partly because some Galarian forms evolve into totally new Pokémon, partly because the design changes are more radical. So let’s not do that – let’s just talk about Galarian Weezing, the steampunk capitalist keeping Galar’s air fresh and clean!
Let’s do some more Galarian forms! Today I want to look at the two “warrior” regional variant Pokémon of Galar: Galarian Meowth and Farfetch’d, and their evolved forms Perrserker and Sirfetch’d. Like many of the Alolan forms we’ve already talked about, these forms are to some extent less about “adaptation” and more about regional culture, history and folklore. Let’s get into how they use those things…
Meowth and Perrserker
This is Meowth’s second regional alternate form, and where Alolan Meowth is refined, elegant, royal, accustomed to luxuries, Galarian Meowth is… not that. It and its evolved form, Perrserker, are shaggy and wild with prominent teeth, claws and horns. Kantonian and Alolan Meowth and Persian are associated with gold, coins, gems, wealth and good fortune in finance, because of their links to Japan’s lucky “beckoning cat” figurines, or maneki-neko. Galarian Meowth and Perserker are Steel-types, and their coins aren’t gold, but black iron – transformed by “living with a savage, seafaring people.” A savage, seafaring people, in a region based on England, can only be a reference to the Vikings – the Scandinavian raiders who plagued the coast of Great Britain throughout the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, and even ruled most of northern and eastern England for a while under a regime known as the Danelaw. They’re particularly famed for their elite warriors known as berserkers (hence Perr-serker) – literally “bear-shirts,” perhaps because they wore bearskins into battle. It’s a little unclear exactly what these guys’ deal was; they may have had something to do with some ancient Germanic animal cult and channelled animal spirits in battle to fight more effectively, and also they may have used some kind of psychoactive mushroom or herb to “enhance” their abilities. Animalistic and more than a little crazy, is the general vibe.
Today’s Galarian variant Pokémon, Yamask and Corsola, are both Ghost-types, and they have some pretty different ideas about what that means. One is an ancient curse, supposedly the twisted remnants of a long-dead human corrupted by mysterious dark magic; the other is older still, the revenant of a prehistoric extinction event whose lasting effects on the Galar region we can only begin to trace. This piece might feel a little different from the others in this series, because it’s difficult to talk about Pokémon “adapting to the environment” of a new region when those Pokémon are dead and the environment is literally magic. But Ghost Pokémon consistently have really interesting lore, and there’s some cool stuff to dig into as we investigate the inspirations of these Pokémon. Let’s take a look.
Yamask and Runerigus
Unovan Yamask are tragic Pokémon, with some of the saddest backstories in the Pokédex. Yamask are supposedly the spirits of dead humans, and each one carries a clay mask which is said to represent its human face. They retain memories from their human lives and weep for their loss, their masks a constant reminder of their eternal sorrow. Which is, as the expression goes, a bummer. Once it evolves, Cofagrigus has a pretty different attitude, becoming a spiteful tomb guardian who devours grave robbers with a crazed grin on its face. Although its mask is still there, set into Cofagrigus’ forehead, according to its new Pokédex entry in Sword Version, “people say it no longer remembers that it was once human” – as if its curse has overtaken it completely. Now, Galarian Yamask… don’t have masks. Instead, a Galarian Yamask’s tail is embedded in a chunk of what looks like carved stone but might in fact be clay, since its Pokédex entry makes reference to “a clay slab with cursed engravings [that] took possession of a Yamask” (this mention of clay is the only reason I can find for Galarian Yamask to be Ground/Ghost rather than Rock/Ghost, since from every other angle these Pokémon appear to be rocky). In the case of the evolved form, Runerigus, we get a troubling line about “absorbing the spirit of a Yamask” to animate the painting on the surface of its body. Just like Unovan Yamask eventually succumb to the curse that strips away the last of their remembered humanity and transforms them into Cofagrigus, something has taken over this Yamask spirit and is gradually turning it into a malevolent force… but what?
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.
The regional variant Pokémon we’re looking at today all evolve from Pokémon that do not have regional variant forms of their own – a Pikachu, Cubone or Exeggcute caught or hatched in Alola will look much the same as a Pikachu, Cubone or Exeggcute caught or hatched anywhere else. In fact, they don’t just look the same, they are the same; an Alolan Pikachu that is sent to Galar will evolve into a standard Raichu (even though Sword and Shield do know what an Alolan Raichu is, and Pokémon games do track each individual Pokémon’s region of origin), while a Pikachu that arrives in Alola from anywhere else will evolve into an Alolan Raichu. That’s weird, because other regional forms don’t work this way (with the exception of two Galarian forms, Weezing and Mr. Mime); you can take an Alolan Rattata to any region of the world and keep it there for as long as you like, it’ll still evolve into an Alolan Raticate. Let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on here.
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.
I think we should talk about regional variants, don’t you? I was going to do the Alolan forms at the end of generation VII, and the timing got so tight at the end, but now that we’ve got a bunch of Galarian forms as well, it seems like something we could do all at once. So here’s the plan: Alolan forms first, Galarian forms after that, and I dunno if I have all that much to say about each one individually but I could certainly take ‘em three at a time, trying as far as possible to put them into groups that are in some way thematic. Sound good? Okay. We’re going to begin with the Alolan Rattata and Raticate, Meowth and Persian, and Grimer and Muk – not because they are all Dark-types, which is a reason, but not a very good one; we’re putting them together because all three forms exist in Alola as the result of human intervention. Let’s discuss.