The Pokémon series has no shortage of disturbing creatures, but no design has ever been as immediately disconcerting as Pokémon Sword and Shield’s Galarian Corsola. Like Pokémon Shield’s Galarian Ponyta, Galarian Corsola is a Galar region-variant of an old Pokémon design.
Despite being a franchise aimed largely at children, some Pokémon designs include references to killing, possession, kidnapping and apocalypse. These aren’t just dark Pokémon fan theories - many Pokémon’s Pokédex entries could terrify children who read them. Yamask - another Pokémon that received a Galarian form - for example, is said to be a spirit that “carries a mask that used to be its face when it was human.”
Galarian Corsola is different. You don’t need to read Pokédex entry to see why this Pokémon is just as disturbing as the rest. Corsola’s normal form, introduced in Pokémon Gold and Silver, is a bright pink creature made of ocean coral, but the Ghost-type Galarian variant is stark white, with sad eyes and ghostly branches that appear in battle. Anyone even remotely familiar with the real-world effects of climate change will recognize this as a nod to coral bleaching, when coral polyps expel the algae that gives them their bright colors as global water temperatures rise.
While many Dark- and Ghost-type Pokémon have generally spooky designs, none other than Galarian Corsola tells the story of how they came to be a ghost through their visuals alone. Even Banette, a discarded doll possessed by hatred for its previous owner, looks mostly like any other creepy creature until you read about its origins. Galarian Corsola’s Pokédex entry backs up its design, of course, as its Pokémon Shield entry says it is an ancient kind of Corsola wiped out by sudden climate change.
When Weezing’s Galar form was announced, it seemed like Sword and Shield were on a path to whitewashing climate change. Galarian Weezing is said to eat air pollution and expel clean air, so it looked liked the games would create a sort of utopian fiction where Pokémon had magically solved humanity’s pollution problems. Galarian Corsola shows Game Freak is willing to at least partially address the issue of climate change head on, however. Despite its Pokédex entry implying it was actually wiped out by some ancient form of climate disaster - probably not caused by humans - it does show the long-lasting effects of climate change, creating a potential springboard for talking about climate change with kids. (SPOILER: Additionally, Pokémon Sword and Shield’s main antagonist is a man who brings disaster to the world as a result of a misguided search for a renewable energy source, all in the name of preserving Galar's prosperity. END OF SPOILER.)
In fact, the saddest thing about Galarian Corsola is a possible reference to those lasting effects. Pokémon like Eevee, Gloom and Rockruff have set a precedent of being able to evolve into multiple different Pokémon depending on the environment, time of day, or level of friendship with their trainer at the time of evolution, but evolving Galarian Corsola has only one outcome: Cursola. A grotesque mass of spectral coral branches that sway as if pushed by remembered ocean currents, Cursola sprouts out of the broken husk of Galarian Corsola’s body, hobbling around with the dead legs of its former self and protecting - according to the Pokédex - its soul in life-force-draining ectoplasm. Unlike Gloom and the other Pokémon with branching evolution paths, there’s nothing any one trainer can do to change Cursola’s fate.
Pokémon Sword and Shield released on the Nintendo Switch on November 15th, 2019.