Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Cuddly Pokemon and the Demons That Spawned Them

Robert Rath | 1 Nov 2012 16:00
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Other Pokémon with checkered pasts have also benefitted from a PR facelift. Espeon is depicted as a powerful psychic that's extremely loyal to its trainer, but with its feline shape and split tail, Espeon is clearly based on the nekomata, a sorcerous housecat that walked on its hind legs and was known for poltergeist-style hauntings, starting mysterious fires, and the ability to raise and puppeteer the dead. Sneasel and Weavile are nerfed versions of kamaitachi, sickle-clawed weasels that rode in a whirlwind and carved people up so fast that their injuries only became apparent later. Mawile, the cute little Poké with a pair of steel jaws coming out of the back of her head, took inspiration from the futakuchi-onna, a cursed woman whose skull split in the back to reveal a gluttonous second mouth that would scream when it wasn't fed. And that's not all: Electrabuzz derives from the man-eating oni, Shiftry's long nose and single-tooth geta mark him as a tengu, and various Pokémon fit the description of tsukumogami -- household items that have become animate after a century of use. Even Drowzee, with his pot belly and stoner stare, is based on a far more terrifying creature: the Baku, an enormous chimera that, when a frightened dreamer called for aid, would bound into the sleeper's room and devour their nightmare -- or if the dreamer was unlucky, all their dreams, leaving them an empty husk. (Personally, I find Drowzee pretty horrifying on his own, since according to the Pokédex he's known to sneak into children's bedrooms and suck the dreams out of their noses.)

On the other hand, there are some Pokémon that avoided this treatment due to their iconic status, or simply because their legends were less graphic. Raikou is essentially similar to his mythical counterpart, Raijū, the thunder beast that accompanies the Shinto thunder god Raijin. Both are beasts made out of electricity that operate on a godlike level, and both seem drawn to thunderstorms. (The folkloric Raijū leaps from tree to tree during storms in a sort of hyperactive fit. In old Japan, burn marks on the bark of trees were attributed to Raijū's claws.) Ninetails also proved to be a fairly straightforward telling of the kitsune legend, showing the Poké as a hyper-intelligent fox given to ruses and illusions. One episode of the anime even alluded to the more sexualized kitsune-wife tales, when a Ninetails projected the image of a beautiful young woman in order to seduce Brock into becoming its new master -- even offering to marry him. Finally, Froslass exhibits all the hallmarks of the ghostly yuki-onna, or "snow woman," an ethereal beauty who floats through the frosty passes and forests of Japan, freezing travelers with her breath. Froslass too is said to stalk lost humans in snowstorms, and some Pokédex entries specifically state that she is the spirit of a woman who perished in the snow. Even Froslass's design speaks of the legend, since her hollow body and flared arms resemble the white kimono of the yuki-onna, with a red stripe on her midsection reminiscent of an obi.

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