When it comes to designing new creatures for the latest Pokémon title, series developer Game Freak may have the easiest job in the video game industry. All they need to do is take an animal or object from real life, slap a pair of anime eyes on it, give it a pun for a name and boom – brand new Pokémon.
With over 700 Pokémon (and counting) in existence, it stands to reason that Game Freak may be running short on ideas. With a franchise that is now over 20 years old, the vast majority of fans may not be aware that a lot of Pokémon designs come from animals, plants and myths which are a lot more terrifying than a yellow mouse.
From terrors that live beneath the sea, poisonous plants that reside in jungles to monsters from Japanese mythology, here are 15 Pokémon with horrifying origin stories.
In Game – Vileplume is an adorable little mushroom man that looks like it could be a distant relative of Toad from the Mario series. It is a Grass/Poison type that has been kicking around since Pokémon Red & Blue, that relies on powerful scents released from its head to bewitch its foes.
In Reality – The distinctive red petals on the top of Vileplume’s head are based upon the Rafflesia arnoldii mushroom that is native to the rainforests of Sumatra.The mushroom is known as the “corpse flower” and with good reason; the scent given off by the plant is said to resemble that of decaying flesh. It is due to this smell that the plant is facing extinction at the hands of human beings. The mushroom is parasitic, meaning it drains the nutrients from another plant in order to feed itself, killing the host in the process.
In Game – Stunfisk is a Ground/Electric type first introduced in Pokémon Black & White. It is best known for its unique type combination, and for its ability to hammer the enemy with a barrage of status attacks, followed up with some powerful Electric moves. What most fans don’t realise is that these abilities are more realistic than they might think.
In Reality – True to the Pokémon aesthetic, Stunfisk is a cute looking creature. It is based off a real life fish known as a stargazer, which is so called because its face is on the top of its body, always looking up. One thing both Stunfisk and the stargazer have in common is that they possess the ability to discharge electricity (similar to the electric eel), with some breeds able to fire it from their eyes. They also possess a powerful toxin in their spines. Stargazer’s hunt their prey by burying themselves in the dirt, with only their eyes showing. When their target comes into view then it’s down to the Stargazer on how to take it down – a surprise attack, a poison strike or electric bolts from the eyes!
In Game – Mawile is a Fairy/Steel type Pokémon introduced in Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire. It's hard to tell what Mawile is just by looking at it. It seems to be a person, with a massive black mouth growing out of its hair. Those familiar with Japanese mythology may recognize the creature...
In Reality – Mawile is based upon the legend of the Futakuchi-Onna, which loosely translates into “Two-Mouthed Woman”. The Futakuchi-Onna is literally a woman who has a second mouth at the back of their head which is meant to be hidden by their hair. This other mouth is said to be ravenously hungry and will devour any food within the area.The exact nature of these creatures is unclear; some are thought to be shape shifting demons, whilst others are simply women who are cursed. Some legends state that the second mouth will grow on a woman who has allowed another to die of starvation, leading to her suffering a similar fate as the second mouth devours all of her food.
In Game – Victreebel is a Grass/Poison type Pokémon from the first generation of games. Despite being in a cutesy series like Pokémon, Victreebel is already a freaky looking creature, with its mean eyes and sharp fangs.Despite never being that great in the games, Victreebel had a long running stint in the anime as one of Team Rocket’s Pokémon; occasionally bursting out of its Pokéball to try and eat James.
In Reality – Victreebel is based on the pitcher plant, one of the very rare kinds of plant life that is carnivorous. Pitcher plants resemble a green stocking that you would hang over your fireplace for Santa. You won’t find presents inside this creature, however; only a slow, painful death. The plant emits a sweet odour that lures insects inside, luring them to a sticky doom. The liquid inside the plant goes on to slowly dissolve the creature living, breaking down the skin and organs into the nutrients that it needs to survive. It’s not just insects that should be afraid however; larger breeds of the plant have been known to feed on snakes, frogs and even birds.
In Game – Frostless is an Ice/Ghost type Pokémon that debuted in Pokémon Diamond & Pearl. They resemble ghostly women that float above the ground. According to some of the Pokédex entries, Froslass is the ghost of a human being that died in a snowy climate. In the anime, they are shown to be able to create illusions and use them to lure unwary travellers into a trap. So why do these details matter?
In Reality – Froslass is based upon the Japanese legend of the Yuki Onna (meaning “Snow Woman”), a winter-themed version of the Siren from Greek mythology. Yuki Onna was a kind of demon that resembles a beautiful woman who would entice men that were trapped in a snowstorm. Once their prey was too weak to escape, they would drain their life force with a kiss.
They also have the traits of a vampire – along with drinking people’s life away, the Yuki Onna is forbidden from entering homes unless they are invited. If they are invited inside, however; they will murder everyone within the home.
In Game – Swalot is one of the most bizarre looking Pokémon in the series. It is a Poison type that was introduced in Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire and its appearance is… odd. Swalot is a big purple blob, patterned with black diamonds around its body, has two yellow strands coming from its face that resemble whiskers, and its lips are puckered as if it is waiting to be kissed. So what on earth is this Pokémon supposed to be?
In Reality – Swalot’s official description is “Poison Bag Pokémon”. According to its Pokédex entries, Swalot uses its toxic attacks to weaken its enemies so it can swallow them whole. The Pokémon Heart Gold & Soul Silver Pokédex goes on to state that it can dissolve anything with its special enzymes.
So what exactly is Swalot? It is a mixture between a poison gland and a stomach. It is literally just a bunch of poison that devours its foes.
In Game – Qwilfish is a Poison/Water type Pokémon that was introduced in Pokémon Gold & Silver. What it lacks in swimming ability (due to its spherical shape) it more than makes up for with its ferocity in battle. It utilizes a mixture of poisonous arena traps (such as Spikes) with powerful Water type moves to finish off its foes.
In Reality – Qwilfish is based upon the pufferfish that dwell in warm climates. They are known for inflating their bodies to make them impossible for predators to eat, and for the spiked quills all over their bodies.
So what makes these creatures so deadly? The toxin inside this fish is 1200 more potent than cyanide. One prick of the quills of this fish and you are dead - no antidote has ever been discovered (and likely never will due to the sheer strength of the poison).
The pufferfish is actually a delicacy in Japan where it is known as fugu; chefs have to train for years before they are able to prepare the fish for public consumption. If the chef makes one wrong move, the customer will die.
In Game – Banette is a Ghost Pokémon that was introduced in Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire. Its Pokédex entries describe it as doll that was thrown away and is now searching the world in order to take revenge on the child that abandoned it.
While the yellow appendage on its back is meant to be its tail, it also resembles a nail stuck into Banette’s back, making it look like a voodoo doll.
In Reality – Along with the obvious voodoo doll parallels, Banette’s backstory resembles that of the myth of the Tsukumogami. The Tsukumogami are items that, after remaining in use for 100 years, will develop a sentience of their own, along with the capacity to move around freely. What happens next depends on the item’s former owners. If the owner was nice then the Tsukumogami will become a friendly to the people who used it so efficiently. If the owner was nasty, the spirits will band together to take revenge on the unsuspecting human.
In Game – Croagunk is a Poison/Fighting type Pokémon that was introduced in Pokémon Diamond & Pearl. Its unique typing makes it a powerful option in battle, with it alone having access to some of the best moves in the game.
In Reality – Croagunk is based on the poison dart frog that inhabits tropical rainforests. That isn’t just a cute nickname – the skin of the frog is one of the most potent poisons on earth. The Emberá people of Colombia have been known to apply the poison onto darts in use for hunting animals and killing enemies. Despite their dangerous reputation (which is admittedly well-earned), the poison dart frog is known for having some of the most lustrous and beautiful skin coloration in the animal kingdom. This is an intentional design on behalf of Mother Nature, as the bright colour is meant to deter predators. Even if the hunter manages to catch the frog; it will soon be killed by the toxins inside its meal.
In Game – Lanturn is a Water/Electric type that was introduced in Pokémon Gold & Silver. Like the majority of its Pokémon brethren, Lanturn has a cute character design that is completely appropriate for a kids TV show. You only need to take one look at a Lanturn to guess what it is based on – it is clearly meant to be an anglerfish right?
In Reality – This is what an anglerfish actually looks like.
The anglerfish happen to be one of the most terrifying looking animals in the world. The purpose of the light above their head is to attract prey so that they come towards the light and into the giant mouth of the fish. Due to the elasticity of the Anglerfish’s body, it can devour a fish twice its size. Most anglerfish that you will see are female, this is due to the males of the species having evolved into a parasitic life form that attaches itself to the female and slowly fuses with it. The male’s body will become one with the female, allowing for it to produce offspring.
In Game – Misdreavus is a Ghost type Pokémon that was introduced in Pokémon Gold & Silver. It resembles a floating head that is wrapped in a grey cloth, with appendages that resemble flowing hair. According to the Pokédex, their hobbies include flying around and scaring people.
In Reality - Misdreavus is based upon the demon known as the Nukekubi; the best way to describe these creatures is to imagine a vampire head that can fly around on its own and drink your blood. Anyone has the potential to become a Nukekubi, as it manifests itself as a curse; even if you had the condition you may not even be aware of its existence as it wouldn’t activate until you were asleep. One night you would just go to bed and your head would detach and start flying around whilst trying to drink your family’s blood. The most common recipient of this curse was young women who had been shamed publicly; the curse would offer them an opportunity to get revenge at the cost of their very soul.
In Game – Lombre is a Water/Grass type Pokémon that was introduced in Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire. It’s a small reptile that carries a large plant on its head that is meant to collect water.Lombre’s main hobby (according to the Pokédex) is to mess around with fishermen; Lombre loves pulling on fishing lines just to screw with the people trying desperately to catch a Feebas (which was only catchable in six spots throughout the entire third generation games).
In Reality – Lombre is based upon the Kappa of Japanese lore. The Kappa is recorded as being a river dwelling monster that resembled a human-sized turtle. They have large indentations in their head which need to be full of water at all times; if their head runs dry then the Kappa will lose its supernatural powers and possibly even die.
What makes the Kappa so horrifying is the danger they present to humans. Kappa were said to kidnap women and children so that they could be eaten; after all, the Kappa's favorite food was human entrails.
In Game – Drowzee are Psychic type Pokémon that have existed since the first generation of games. Their physical appearance is based upon the Tapir; a kind of long-snouted mammal that is native to South America. According to the Pokédex, Drowzee are sustained by feasting on the dreams of both humans and Pokémon alike.
In Reality – According to the Pokédex entry from Pokémon Stadium, Drowzee are outright based upon the legendary creature known as the Baku.vThe Baku is a spirit that is often seen as a champion for good – they are known for protecting young children from nightmares. They do this by literally devouring the evil spirits responsible.
The dark side of the Baku is their hunger; it is said that if you repeatedly ask for the Baku’s help in fighting off your nightmares then it will get a taste for your dreams. One day the Baku will show up and devour your nightmares… but it won’t stop there. It will keep feasting on your mind until there is nothing left. They have the power to rip your soul from your body.
In Game – Whiscash are Water/Ground type Pokémon that first appeared in Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire. They are a large blue catfish with long fleshy whiskers and a big yellow “W” on their forehead. According to their Pokédex entries, Whiscash love to both predict and cause earthquakes (this is represented in-game through it learning the powerful “Earthquake” move).
In Reality – Whiscash is based upon the Namazu – a breed of mystical catfish that are said to cause earthquakes. It is said that the Namazu were a punishment for mankind’s greed and the only thing stopping them from destroying all of Japan was the presence of the Shinto god Kashima.
There is an unaired episode of the anime, focused on Whiscash, called “Shaking Island Battle! Dojoach vs Namazun!!” It was originally due to be broadcast in October of 2004; this was around the time of the Chūetsu earthquakes in Japan, in which 68 people were killed. Out of sensitivity, this episode has never been broadcast anywhere.
In Game – Parasect is a Bug/Grass type Pokémon that has been around since the start of the series. If you take a look at the differences between Parasect and his original form, Paras, you might notice that Paras still has pupils in its eyes. When it evolves, those pupils disappear. What's causing this, you ask?
In Reality – Parasect is based upon one of the most disturbing organisms in all of the nature – the cordyceps.
Cordyceps are a form of parasitic mushroom. Unlike the previously mentioned mushroom that Vileplume is based upon, which kills other plants to feed itself, the Cordyceps takes over the bodies of living insects in order to breed. When an ant comes into contact with the spores of the Cordyceps, the plant quickly infects the ant’s body and mind, turning it into a thrall for its own use. The ant then grows large mushrooms out of its body. After draining all the nutrients from the host body it can, the mushroom uses the ant’s body to climb to the highest point it can and release all of the spores as it can, continuing the horrifying cycle. As previously mentioned, Parasect is one of the original 151 Pokémon. When you consider all of the different animals who did not get used until later generations (Bears, Owls, Sheep, etc...) why on earth did the cordyceps skip to the front of the list? It seems that back in the '90s, Satoshi Tajiri felt that a nightmarish zombie mushroom/ant combo was just the thing his new video game needed.