With Part Four of Monster Spotlight’s Pokemon deep dive, we travel to the Unova region, i.e. the first Pokemon land to be inspired by/based on a country that ISN’T Japan! So grab your McDonalds and prepare to buy new pants as your waist expands, because we’re going to the Pokemon world’s equivalent of the USA.
I don’t have a huge preamble for this one. Pokemon Black and White are two of the best games in the franchise, with the best storyline the series has ever produced, some huge improvements on the game mechanics of their predecessors, and most importantly, a massive amount of new and varied pokemon – so many, in fact, that before the postgame there are NO returning pokemon in the region. It’s just the new guys. These games don’t treat the new pokemon as just an added spice – they’re the front and center stars, and the games want you to pay them proper attention. Even infamous recurring pokemon like Zubat and Geodude don’t show up here – instead the region makes its own takes on those archetypes, and honestly that’s rad as hell. I wish every pokemon region was this unique and well developed, especially since so many of these pokemon are high quality designs.
Black and White were so well received that they actually got direct sequels, Black 2 and White 2, which purposely mixed in older pokemon from the beginning to sate the fans who complained about not being able to use old favorites. While those games are fun (and great if you want to catch EVERY pokemon, since a lot of pokemon who are difficult to find and/or evolve are featured prominently in it), I personally feel it wasn’t necessary – though it did give me an excuse to play with some pokemon I had skipped the first time.
The Unova Six
My Little Prince, My Regal Serpent, My Starter: The Serperior Line
Once again the sole reptilian starter is a grass type, and once again the inspiration is pretty clever: the Serperior line is based on the Long Nosed Whip Snake, which is also called the Vine Snake because of its ability to camouflage itself as, well, a vine. The iconic up-turned snoot of the vine snake is beautifully stylized here, and mixed beautiful Celtic markings to give Serperior an appearance that is both plantlike and weirdly regal – the kind of snake who would adorn some European King’s robes. It’s a very different sort of design than the starters that came before, and perfect for the first and so far only snake to make the starter pokemon cut (if that Chinese Zodiac theory is true, though, we should get a Fire Snake starter eventually).
Serperior’s previous stages have nubby little arms and legs because, according to one of the designers, the creators were worried a completely limbless snake might be too “offputting” for a starter pokemon, which makes me sad. Even Serperior still retains those arms, though their size and position makes them an often overlooked detail. It results in a fun design, but man, what cowards the world must be filled with for people to refuse to accept a cute little snake just because it didn’t have arms and legs.
…on the other hand, that technically makes Serperior a lindorm, doesn’t it? Man I have mixed feelings on that design choice. It’s good but unnecessary and cool but done for reasons I dislike. Oh well, at least we still got a rad snake starter in the end.
My Sweetie, My Street Tough, My Garial: The Krookodile Line
Is this the first middle stage I’ve shown since Haunter? I think it is. I generally feel like there’s not much for me to say about middle stages that I wouldn’t also say about either their first or final forms – they tend to feel like a transitional form, turning from one personality to another. And that’s the case here, but, like, I dunno, each stage of this line has its own distinct personality to me – Sandile’s an adorabel cutie, Krokorok is a sort of wise-cracking sidekick, and Krookodile is, like, the big bad villain of a children’s show who really isn’t all that bad but still has a different villainous plot each week that the heroes have to foil. I love them all.
Crocodilians are high on my list of favorite lifeforms on the planet, and while the Feraligatr line was an excellent first take on them, I wanted more. I mean, we have so many fucking dogs in Pokemon, surely there could be room for, say, dozens more crocodiles? We’ve got six as it is – six extremely good crocodiles. But I want more still.
MORE CROCODILES NOW PLEASE.
My Jittery Pal, My Plumed Serpent, My Missing Link: The Archeops Line
God, this is such a perfect archaeopteryx monster. Like, it’s got this glorious retrosaur vibe to it – it feels like old school paleoart of an archaeopteryx, but, like, pokemonified. I love the vacant stare of its first form – the kind of creature that has exactly one brain cell, as the kids like to say. The final form keeps a lot of that wide eyed birdy confusion in its expression, but also adds a heaping helping of snake into the mix, making a monster that reminds me as much of Quetzalcoatl as it does archaeopteryx. Just a rad as hell fossil pokemon – and it had stiff competition this time, too! But the fossils are always a highlight, really, at least for me.
My Tiny Dancer, My Big Ol’ Bug, My Giant Spider: The Galvantula Line
Y’know, I can understand why there aren’t more crocodiles in pokemon. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. But why in the hell did it take them this long to have more than one line of spiders? Why are there still only two? Spiders aren’t just prominent animals in real life, but make up a vast number of our fictional monsters too! This is a critical oversight!
At least the two spider lines we’ve gotten are both extremely good monsters. Tiny little Joltick fully captures the fuzzy, wide-eyed cuteness of jumping spiders, while big, bulky Galvantula embodies the sweet, gentle giant nature of real life tarantulas, who are rather bumbling and shy creatures despite technically being predators. Their electric/bug typing actually makes them more viable than you’d expect, too, and these big ponderous arachnids easily make my top ten list of favorite pokemon lines.
My Bug Eyed Monster, My Alien Invader, My Favorite Martian: The Beheeyem Line
I love that this monster, which is based on the various aliens of both 1950’s/60’s creature features and UFO sightings, debuted in the region based on the United States. Not all the pokemon the premiered in Unova are necessarily meant to represent the real life USA, but I hope that this little martian was, because I like the idea of my country being remembered at least in part for its cheesey bug eyed alien monster movies and UFO conspiracies. As far as US legacies go, that’s one of the better ones.
And what a lovely little alien Beheeyem is! The colored bulbs on its hands resemble the “eyes” of the martian war machines in the 1953 film adaptation of The War of the Worlds, while its huge head and bug eyes tie it to countless film aliens AND real life alien sightings. The shape of its head and body also vaguely resemble a hat and suit-coat, making it a take on the Men in Black as well! So many good nerdy alien designs mixed into one, it’s marvelous!
My Mecha, My Gundam, My Super Robot: The Golurk Line
Golurk’s name and typing make it seem more like a reference to more ancient artificial lifeforms, but its moveset makes it clear that this is agiant robot as much as it is a living statue. Those are complementary monster archetypes, anyway, and they mix really well into one great pokemon. The franchise didn’t really have a solid equivalent of a giant robot yet, which was a shame for a world so inspired by kaiju stories – after four generations full of Godzillas, we were due for a Jet Jaguar.
One of the reason I chose Golurk is because it could learn Fly, and the idea of traveling Unova on the back of a giant ghost robot was too fun to pass up.
The Runners Up:
Unova’s pseudo-legendary is the Hydreigon line, which finally gives us a King Ghidorah to counter Tyrannitar’s Godzilla. It’s first two forms are utterly adorable little dragons with big poofy bangs, while its final form is a badass take on the multi-headed dragon concept. The only reason this wonderful pokemon didn’t make my team was the usual for pseudo-legendaries: you just couldn’t catch it until waaaaaaaay late in the game, and it doesn’t reach its final form until very late (level sixty friggin four!).
We also got a pretty good Mothra analogue in the Volcarona line, a set of big, beefy moths with bug/fire typing. Like Hydreigon, it’s pretty difficult to actually get Volcarona in the game proper, and you don’t get the opportunity to catch it until late in the story, so sadly it didn’t make my team – but it’s still in my list of Unova favorites.
Remember how I said Archeops had good competition? Carracosta is that. Maybe some of you disagree – I mean, Pokemon started off with a marvelous big, blue, water-type turtle monster, and some may argue it didn’t really need a second. But Carracosta isn’t just any turtle – it’s an Archelon, a famous prehistoric sea reptile that was a mainstay of books, cartoons, and even movies about the Mesozoic era for decades, only recently falling into obscurity. I mean, this is a prehistoric reptile that got animated by Ray friggin’ Harryhausen in One Million Years B.C.! It deserves a pokemon!
Plus, looking at those big tusks on its armored face, I also detect hints of Gamera, giving Unova a kaiju headcount to rival the Hoenn region.
Look, maybe big turtles don’t do much for you, and maybe you aren’t as jazzed about references to old paleoart the way I am. But I love this big ol’ turtle, and I’m glad the Pokemon canon of prehistoric monsters includes an archelon (who is maybe also a Gamera).
We got a lot of good ghost types this generation too, including one that’s also a classic monster of American cinema: a mummy! I’m on the record of having, well, extremely mixed feelings on mummys as monsters, but Cofagrigus is so damn cool I can’t help loving it. It even has an ability that turns other pokemon into mummies, making it sort of a dual mummy/zombie homage – two monster archetypes with one stone! With a Frankenstein and Wolfman homage in Gen 7, we’re just a Dracula and a Gill Man short of having the full set of classic Universal Monsters in Pokemon!
We got some really excellent dragons this generation, too. The axe-faced Haxorus line has that wonderful Ultraman Kaiju vibe that I love, while the spike encrusted Druddigon comes joins Salamence, Dragonite, and Charizard in the ranks of “boring” dragon designs that I absolutely adore. It’s so very dragony! I love it!
More Unova Favorites
I’m abandoning organizational structure from here on out. There are just too many pokemon in Unova that I love, so we’re going to tackle the rest in an even less coherent ramble.
The Braviary and Mandibuzz lines are version exclusives in Unova, so let’s pair them up here. Both are based on big birds of prey – Braviary is a bald eagle, the most American of animals and thus an essential inclusion for the USA-inspired Unova region, while Mandibuzz is a new-world vulture/buzzard, and animal that isn’t quite as synonymous with the USA as a whole but is a classic symbol of the American Southwest. Both rank among my favorite bird monsters produced by Gamefreak – Braviary includes all the essential features of an eagle while still looking fantastical and strange, and Mandibuzz is a gloriously scuzzy scavenger who wears bones as clothing. They’re just good birds, Brent.
Remember how I said they made replacements for the Geodude line this gen? Yeah, this is the third form of that line: Gigalith, a big collection of living boulders that might be the coolest take on the “living rock” concept I think I’ve ever seen? Not my favorite rock type pokemon, no, but of the pokemon that are literally just living rocks, this might be my favorite. It’s got a really unique body layout, and that head is full of personality for what is essentially just a weird geode. A lot of people overlook this guy as just the Unovan equivalent of Geodude, but honestly, I kinda like it more. It’s the better Geodude.
Unova also went out of its way to try and rehabilitate the bug type, as up till this point almost all bug pokemon were very hard to utilize. They still are, sadly, but at least now there’s a lot more variety – we have a milipede horse in the Scolipede line, the long overdue take on an ant with Durant, and a rock-wearing hermit crab with the Crustle line. Bug never shined this brightly before, and I’m glad that these lovely creepy crawlies have maintained a level of popularity since their debut.
Of course, the greatest thing to happen to the Bug type is the addition of the first every LEGENDARY bug type pokemon, Genesect! And holy shit is it a cool legendary, with a slick armored body, a big creepy grin on its buggy face, and giant cannon sticking out of its back. It took too long for Bug type to get its due, but at least their first legendary is a rad as hell one.
We also got some really sweet little plant type pokemon in Unova. Liligant is an adorable little mandrake, Leavany is a cross between a leaf insect and a stick insect (i.e. bugs that resemble leaves or sticks for camouflage), and Maractus is, well, a cactus person. They’re all just really sweet, friendly designs that, I dunno, I just like. They seem really nice and sweet, like they’d always have a cup of tea waiting for you when you get home. Just pleasant little plant pals.
Throh and Sawk add to the pantheon of humanoid pokemon, bringing a cool red/blue oni vibe with them while looking cool as hell in their matching martial arts gi. It’s kind of strange to me that they debuted in Unova, though – are these pokemon actual martial artists, or do they merely practice mall karate? Either way, I think they’re really swell – not the kind of pokemon I’d use on my team, but the kind I’m always happy to see when they pop up.
Finally, some “I Just Think They’re Neat” favorites. Seismitoad is another excellent amphibian in a franchise full of ’em, with a wonderful muppety smile and some lovely warts dotting its body. Eelektross is a delightfully creepy lamprey monster, while Audino is a sweet little pal in the vein of Clefairy or Jigglypuff (or, well, Chansey, who it was explicitly made to replace). Liepard is one of the best cats Pokemon ever produced, and Garbodor is an excellent take on the trash-monster concept, complete with a luchador mask made from a torn garbage bag.
All in all, one of the strongest generations of Pokemon ever created. It may not have as many lizards as Kanto, but for general audiences, I honestly think Unova may have the most things to appeal to the widest number of people.