So, early on Ken Sugimori – lead designer for the Pokémon series and god among men – had trouble designing cute Pocket Monsters by his own admission, so the lads did whatever men do when they can’t do something – they got a woman in to do it for them. Enter Atsuko Nishida, who was put to work creating critters that wouldn’t give kids nightmares, amongst them was a charming little electric chinchilla thing called Pikachu. After Clefairy was deigned to be too ‘girly’ for the series’ mascot, Pikachu was chosen and would go on to make Game Freak and Nintendo approximately all the money.
I know a lot of people are sick of Pikachu, I remember it being particularly bad around Gen 5 when the little fucker was the only old ‘mon in the merchandise and advertising even though it wasn’t even catchable in Black and White - but I’m ok with it, I think I may have just became completely desensitized to it. It’s cute, it’s a good ‘example’ of what Pokémon is – abstracted animals with elemental features, it’s a fairly decent first stage evolution, it’s good in Smash Bros, honestly there’s nothing to dislike about Pikachu other than how popular and omnipresent it’s become. It does however show just how good the design team at Game Freak can be because they someone managed to make something cuter than Pikachu with Pichu, I would have been fine with it just being as cute but no, it’s cute to the power of cute, my god! Oh, there was a Spiky Eared Pikachu once, no-one liked it but one person in Game Freak, we had to suffer it for a while, it’s gone now, I’m not ranking it separately even though it got its own cards and was a fucking Event Pokémon and is listed on the Form page of Bublapedia because I’m petty, let’s go back to forgetting about it.
Then there’s Raichu, a bigger, cooler yet just as cute and friendly looking electric chinchilla thing that is forever the red headed step-child. “But it got an Alolan Form! Game Freak is trying to give it some love, dwitefry” you cry. Look I don’t dislike it’s Alolan Form, it’s a bit ‘round’ for me but then that suits it’s Fairy typing (seriously, look at how ROUND nearly all the Fairy types are) and yes as one of THOSE Pokémon fans that prefers Raichu to Pikachu I was pleased to see it get a special form that tries to make it appeal to the same market as Pikachu so it’ll get more love but, well, the generation before Pikachu got FIVE forms via Cosplay Pikachu and one of them was a mega cool Lucha Libre wrestler! Bonged-out Fairy Surfer Raichu feels somewhat of a let-down after Pikachu Mysterio Jr. Of course Cosplay Pikachu also dressed it as Little Bow Peep and Professor Fink so I guess it kind of levels out – I’m being harsh Pikachu Ph .D is lovably wacky and has the best name of the five, someone in Nintendo’s American branch better have got a cookie for that. Pikachu surprisingly suits the pop star/Idol outfit doesn’t it? Like… to a ‘future FurrAffinity search’ level of suiting, who knew Pikachu could be sexy? (Oh wait, everyone on DeviantArt knew that). Rockstar Pikachu’s eyebrows bug me, they make him look more like a prick than a rock star, oh what am I saying, there’s loads of pricks that are/were rock stars, hell Rod Stewart is back on tour ATM to prove that. I still don’t like the eyebrows though.
Until Gen 6 I would have argued – vehemently – that nothing could be done to improve Sandshrew and Sandslash.
Sandshrew boasts a segmented design that looks designed rather than just having had lines drawn on nit willy nilly, instead it’s palting is made up of carefully placed, consistently placed lines that you can remember and draw, if only the ‘mons from Gen 3 onwards had this precise and designed look to their markings, it’s also hella fucking cute. Sandslash meanwhile is a Pink Fairy Armadillo from hell, but still reatains that highly designed feel with consistently placed plate-spine-tings rather than just randomly drawn spikes, if only the ‘mons from Gen 3 onwards had this precise and designed look to their armour plating.
But then Alola happened, and with it Alolan Sandshrew and Alolan Sandslash or as we shall call them THE PERFECT ALOLAN FORMS. So you have this idea, to take old Pokémon and reinvent them by swapping their Elemental Types, you have a bunch of stupid ideas like Snidely Whiplash Rattata cos lol evil and Wooly Willy Golem cos lol magnetic and then you realise that if you make Sandshew an ice type it can be an igloo and that’s great because Sandlash could be made of icicles and then you realise what good thing you have done. Congrats Game Freak. These are the perfect execution of the Alolan Form idea, Igloo Armadillo, are you shitting me? That’s fantastic! And both look like they could have come straight out Gen 1 design and aesthetic wise, they’re just…yes, mate.
The Nidoran Line is a great gag that was ultimately ruined by good design.
I’ll explain that shall I? the Nidroan Line is not only the first line to use the concept of genders – most Pokémon fans should know that – but it’s also the first line to feature the concept of evolution. Remember I said that evolution wasn’t a thing early one, well there was an exception: Nidoran. And it was a big of a laugh. The joke was that these cute bunnies turned into the king and queen of Kaiju, which is pretty funny by itself, little things becoming big scarfy things has worked as a joke forever, but it seems it was also a rib of Baragon, the Toho kaiju that was the primar inspiration for (read: ripped off for) Nidoking who, well, looks like a bunny.
The ‘problem’ is that Nidorino and Nidorina are such good mid-points that they make the evolution from cute bunny to big monster seem completely natural and the joke is lost and instead we just get what seemed to be one of the most popular lines in Gen 1 but a line that most people never really understand the orgins of, just accepting them as ‘bunnies’ ‘rhinos’ and ‘monsters’ which says a lot about how easily we get used to ridiculous things, remember nobody things anything odd about the title ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ anymore, and nor do they see the strangeness in bunnies becoming Godzillas. I think popularity, by the way, is because the Nidos appeals to both sexes and most types of person - and ends up with two awesome Pokémon (albeit two awesome Pokémon who were weak to Psychic) because make no mistake, I think the Nidos are fucking great! I personally prefer the male line, just because I like rhinos and kaiju with spikes all over them really, and because I think the bunny gag works better here with Nidoking being more conventionally fearsome and badass, whereas Nidoqueen is still kinda cute in her own way. If I had to pick a favourite it’d be Nidorino, the combination of rabbit, rhino, coolness factor and the damn cool artwork on it’s base set TCG card:
This is a combination that puts you in my good graces for life.
I am trained now to consider Clefairy rare and valuable to catch them no matter how true this is, there was a ‘pink Pokémon event’ on this Valentine’s day in Pokemon Go! and as such Clefairy was everywhere, it was no rarer than Snubbul or Jigglypuff but I still got that ‘rare thing’ buzz every time one popped up and HAD to catch it, Generation 1 has forever effected my brain in small but intense ways.
But enough of my madness, let’s talk about Baby Pokémon – Baby Pokémon were introduced in Gen 2 and can only be achieved by breeding – if you breed two Pikachu you don’t get a Pikachu from the egg, but rather a Pichu. In Gold & Silver this was a great idea (and there were going to be a lot more – Meowth, Doduo and even Ditto were going to get Baby Pokémon) because these were the games that were introducing the breeding mechanic and what better way to get players to try a new mechanic than to make several Pokémon exclusive to it and the choices of Pokémon that got Babies in the final game were mostly sensible choices with popular ‘mons like Jigglypuff, Pikachu, Clefairy and the Hitmons all getting ‘prevos’. I will generally give Gen 2 baby Pokémon a pass because even though they’re still pretty useless overall (Little Cup and other such tournaments aside) they served a purpose in the games they were introduced in and did it well. Cleffa is in fact a great Baby Pokémon from a design point of view, it fits perfectly with the two Pokémon in the line it was being added too (probably because it was designed by the same person) while still being it’s own thing and – with its stubby little fingerless limbs, less defined body and al brown ears, looking like a less evolved Clefairy. Good stuff
Clefairy is even better, it’s an alien fairy from the moon goddammit that alone is class, but it’s otherworldliness is just compounded by its design: it’s a completely original fairy design and a completely original alien design (as far as I know anyway) but acceptable as both and it genuinely does look like nothing on earth. An otherworldliness helped by their signature move been Metronome, which is basically Pokemon magic, and their connection the rare Moon Stone. You could argue that most of those those statements are undermined by the similarities to Jigglypuff but Jiggly and Wiggly are still clearly abstracted animals (cats and rabbits respectively) while Clefairy and Clefable are nothing of the sort. Clefairy is also way cuter and way less terrifying than when Ken Suigmori originally designed it:
In fact it was Sugimori’s inability to make Clefairy anything less than nightmarish that led to bringing in Atsuko Nishida and the creation of such popular mons Pikachu, Raichu, Dratini, Dragonair, Horsea, Jigglypuff, the Fossils (minus Aerodactyl) and the Eeveelutions, as well as a far cuter Clefairy. Clefairy was also going to be the series mascot until Pikachu was chosen in it’s place because Clefairy was a bit too girly. Clefairy is interesting dammit! Look interested!
Oh yeah, Clefable. Clefable’s ok, it’s one of the ‘Just Bigger’ type of evolution designs but one that clearly looks like Celfairy evolved (bigger ears and wings, more toes) rather than just got larger.