Welcome back to Cheese & Pixels’ ongoing appraisal of all 720 of those adorable little cash cows known as Pokémon. In this installment: birds in the sky, snakes in the grass, and the most famous one of them all.
Best Name: Habitak (German)
We start off the third part of our Pokémon grading odyssey with another bird, Spearow. Already running out of ideas, Game Freak? On the contrary, Spearow and Pidgey could not be more different. Spearow is a much more rough-edged specimen—mangy-looking, even, inasmuch as it’s possible for a bird to look mangy. Those rough edges give Spearow an endearing edge over Pidgey though, and Spearow also has the distinct advantage of not being modeled after a bird frequently nicknamed “the rats of the sky”. Plus, unlike Pidgey, Spearow learns Peck (and later Drill Peck), which is great for picking on hapless Bug Catchers. It’s never nice to say someone had it coming, but I mean, have you fought a Bug Catcher?
Bug Catchers: Still F
Best Name: Onidrill (Japanese)
Fearow was the first Pokémon I was ever irrationally all about to the exclusion of all others. I once traded a rare holographic card for a diamond (uncommon) Fearow and had to spend ten minutes convincing the other party that I was okay with the trade. That is LOVE. It looks like a hybrid between a rooster and a vulture, and instead of looking stupid it actually manages to give it a very high intimidation factor. Plus it’s got Drill Peck, which is what separates the bird-men from the bird-boys. Also, check out its Gen 1 from-behind sprite:
Oh my God, he’s SO UGLY. And yet, I can’t help but adore it. From the moment I’m able to have it in my party, it stays there until I reach the Pokémon League, and sometimes even through that. If I could own only one Pokémon in real life, I’d seriously consider taking Fearow, because at the end of the day I don’t give a crap about time-traveling god-beasts and robot dragons and mind-warping lab experiments. I just want to ride on my Fearow and let the wind whip at my face. Still, after all these years and generations: A+
Best Name: As silly as it is, the English name is nevertheless the most creative.
It is a watershed moment in every child’s education when they realize that “Ekans” is “snake” spelled backwards. The only strike against Ekans—and it’s a pretty major one—is that if you saw a purple and yellow snake in the grass, you would not be scared of it at all. You would think, “Hm. So they figured out how to turn that novelty prank can of beer nuts into an animatronic puppet.” C+
Best Name: That’s its name pretty much around the globe, actually.
Unlike his goofy predecessor, Arbok is the real deal. Even though it’s a poison type, it doesn’t seem like it’d be too much of a stretch for it to have some psychic-type attacks in its moveset—you really feel like it could paralyze someone for ten turns with a well-placed Mega Glare. It made me feel good when Jessie’s Ekans (the Team Rocket lady’s, not mine) evolved into an Arbok in the anime. Those hard-luck Team Rocket rejects need all the victories they can eke out. By the way, check out this ultra-sweet picture (from the Pokémon Adventures manga) of an Arbok getting mad chopped in half by a Charmeleon:
Perhaps I have severely underestimated Charmeleon’s murderizing potential.
Retroactive grade adjustment for Charmeleon: A
Best Name: Everyone calls it Pikachu.
Ahh, Pikachu, the electric mouse Pokémon. What can one say about Pikachu that has not already been said a thousand times? Probably at least a few things, because people who are obsessed with Pokémon generally do not write navel-gazing retrospective thinkpieces about it. Let’s get the cute factor out of the way right at the top. Pikachu was not the first cute anime character by any means, but it is the god-tier example of cute Japanese things. Pikachu is the ne plus ultra of kawaii desu—he of the ruddy cheeks that launched a million otaku. To this day, Pikachu remains, by volume, the cutest thing Japan has ever exported, narrowly edging out Hello Kitty. Not even Pichu out-cuted Pikachu, and it was a BABY FORM of Pikachu. And none of it would mean diddly-squat if it wasn’t also a good Pokémon to use. That’s the thing: Pikachu is cute, but it also has UTILITY. It’s not strictly speaking the best electric type you can carry around, but no one will fault you for doing so. Cute and handy—”the complete package”, as the ladies say. You can’t ask for much more from the face of your franchise than that. Incidentally, Pikachu is also one of my two favorite characters to rock in Super Smash Bros. Melee (Dr. Mario being the other). Pikachu didn’t have to be a legit renaissance ‘mon with street cred out the wazoo, but Game Freak made it happen, and it made all the difference. A
Best Name: As with Pikachu, this is its name all around the world.
Hey there, little Billy! You know those pets you get when they’re “cute” and “little”? Well, there’s something they don’t tell you about those “cute” “little” pets, Billy: they grow up. B-
Best Name: Sabelette (French)
Recently I found myself wondering in which generation the phenomenon of “let’s add a few arbitrary lines and/or ridges to an existing animal and call it a Pokémon” started. As it turns out, it was cropping up as early as the first generation. Sandshrew is the first Pokémon I’ve seen in my National Dex grading travels that evoked this feeling and made me remember that I mostly hate it, so I think—fairly to him or not—I have to knock off at least one letter grade for that. Also, his face looks like a uterus. I know, Sandshrew, you’re trying, but God help you, it’s just not coming together for you. Also, why are you described in the Pokédex as a “Mouse Pokémon”? Rattata and even Pikachu have that biz locked up tighter than you. And your Japanese name is just Sand? Sandshrew, you are secretly a hot mess. You may have just caught me on a nitpicky day, but… D
Best Name: Goji (Korean)
I don’t know how they’re doing it, but your giant claws, mane, and three ears (?) are doing you a world of good in the evolution department. BIG upgrade. Your face still looks like a crude rendering of a woman’s pelvic region, but you don’t look like you’re assembled from pyramid bricks anymore. Good hustle. B
Best Name: The names of the entire Nidoran line are the same globally.
You made me dig through the Character Map to find the ♀ symbol?! No one told me this stupid screw-around project was going to require actual WORK! Pretty cool that they gave the female variant top billing though. Even before most Pokémon were gendered, I didn’t understand why these two got to be special and have separate naughty bits. It’s not like they got a subplot where they got to hook up mid-game or something. Now that all Pokémon have compatible genitals and you can basically breed whichever two you want, the Nidoran family feels like a weird, unfocused relic of a different time. C-
Nidorina looks very haggard. Like she’s constantly nagging Nidorino’s ear off. Sometimes a woman just needs a day of pampering at the Pokémon Center. The Bulbapedia entry says that it chews its food for its young. I’m not judging but Nidorina seems to be a little young to be having babies. (New Pokédex entry: “Nidorina: Teen Mom Pokémon.”) Maybe that’s why the hair on her ears is all out of sorts. Sounds like you need a week at Rancho Relaxo, Nidorina. C+
Next Time: Nidoqueen to Wigglytuff