Endless Pokémon Most Beautiful
“…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” – Charles Darwin on Pokémon
With the number of Pokémon growing from 151 the last time I actively followed it to 649 at the time of writing, “endless forms” seems apt.
With all the Pokémon evolutions available and the specific conditions surrounding them all, combined with the incredible popularity of the games, Pokémon fans tend to generate amazing amounts of urban legend and baseless conjecture so virulently that I’m surprised Discovery networks hasn’t offered them their own show.
I don’t care that I already used this joke a few articles ago. I really hate that show.
Today on this Stuff-Michael-Ridgaway-Already-Knew edition of “Power Gloves & Tinfoil Hats” we’ll look at two fan theories relating to Pokémon evolutions.
Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Venomous Moth
Say hello to Caterpie and Venonat.
They evolve into Butterfree and Venomoth respectively.
And that’s the problem. Venonat and Butterfree seem to have more than a passing resemblance to each other. Enough that many people are calling shenanigans and believe that they were related at one point in Pokémon‘s development. Also, although the resemblance is less obvious, Caterpie and Venomoth are also thought to have been related at one point.
The theory rationalizes this for one of three reasons:
1. In the anime Nintendo decided last minute after Ash catches a Caterpie that Butterfree is a cuter and, therefore, more marketable Pokémon and they change the evolution to Butterfree from Venonat.
2. It was decided that Butterfree is cuter than Venonat and should be the Pokémon that evolves from the cute li’l caterpillar.
3. Due to a programming error in Red/Blue/Yellow Butterfree and Venonat’s sprites were switched, to cover up the error the names stuck.
Analyzing the Pokedex
First, let’s get rid of rationale #1 for this theory. The games came before the anime. Case closed.
As for rationale #2—maintaining cuteness through evolutions doesn’t seem to be a Pokémon priority. For example, the reasonably cute Bulbasaur, evolves into a morbidly obese toad. Squirtle, a cute squirrel/turtle combo eventually evolves into a combination of a tortoise and an M1A Abrams. With evolutions like those it’s a small miracle Pikachu doesn’t evolve into a plague rat with herpes. Also, and this is completely subjective, but it doesn’t seem to me that, in the world of Pokémon, Caterpie is that outrageously cute. Also, Butterfree doesn’t really send my heart a-flutter (see what I did there) with a bad case of the d’awws a whole lot more than Venomoth does, really.
This leaves us with the possibility that Game Freak made a programming error and accidentally swapped sprites.
Unfortunately, even this seems unlikely. Here’s why—the player of Pokémon has their Pokedex, which presents all Pokémon in numerical order. That numbering isn’t the whole story. The Pokémon are also numbered in a specific way readable to the game’s code. For example, Rhydon is Pokémon #111 based on the Pokedex, but based on internal code Rhydon is #1 because it was the first Pokémon created. Internally Caterpie, Metapod, and Butterfree are 123, 124, and 125, respectively. Considering the fact that a lot of groupings aren’t even bothered to be kept together in this internal system (Koffing is 55 and Weezing is 143), it seems that the Caterpie/Metapod/Butterfree evolutionary tree has been locked in for quite some time.
So, it appears that this was done deliberately, and not due to looks or marketability.
As for the resemblance between Butterfree and Venonat—there’s definitely something there.
Both are about the same shade of purple. Both have red, oversized, compound eyes. Both have the same nose-with-two-fangs mouth thing. Both have big clown-shoe feet and little armless hands. Both have the same antennae.
The similarities don’t stop at appearances; There’s some similarity between move sets, too. According to Bulbapedia, Venonat’s ability is Compoundeyes, an ability it shares with Butterfree. Also, Caterpie’s ability is Shield Dust. Want to guess what other Pokémon has that ability?
It’s Venomoth, if that wasn’t clear. Venomoth.
I’d be tempted to maybe, MAYBE, chalk it up to lazy art direction and the artist having a certain look stuck in his head, not realizing he made two unrelated Pokémon look nearly identical. But these generation 1 sprites in which Butterfree and Venonat, two seemingly unrelated Pokémon, are posing in nearly identical positions seems pretty suspicious.
Checking several other Pokémon to see if they have similar mannerisms I found that they do not. Pokémon poses seem random among versions. On one hand this seems to show that there is possibly an artistic link between Butterfree and Venonat. On the other hand, it shows that even Pokémon that are unmistakably evolutionarily linked (Pikachu and Raichu) do not share poses and this information does not mean a whole lot as far as relation goes.
Ugly Duckling = Swan?
Some say that Venomoth’s design was originally intended to be the Butterfly and Butterfree was going to be the moth. Looking outside the game and into the real world, many Pokémon are based on real animals. Sometimes based on broad concepts of animals (a bat, a bird, etc), and others based on more specific species—in the case of Caterpie, the Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar.
Oh sweet Christ, that’s creepy. I hate the outdoors.
That species bears a great resemblance to Caterpie, right down to the osmeterium, that orange forked thing on Caterpie’s head (not pictured, it only comes out when it’s angry, like a stinky, rageful, face-boner). But, of course, that’s where the resemblance ends. I mean, it’s not like it evolves into Metapod or something.
Oh. Well I’ll be damned. That’s a Metapod.
OK, maybe it does. But that still only really shows that Caterpie evolves into Metapod; that was never questioned. Unless that IRL Metapod turns into something resembling a Venomoth, this theory isn’t looking too promising.
Well that’s that. It doesn’t look a whole lot like a Butterfree, but it’s not much like a Venomoth, either, save for those little, lower wing nubs. The design otherwise is nothing like a Venomoth. Look at those yellow markings—Venomoth doesn’t have those.
In an early drawing of Venomoth done by Ken Sugimori, Pokémon‘s lead artist, it is shown with yellow markings, much like the butterfly shown above.
One final point on the Venomoth-is-a-butterfly thing—Venomoth’s name in Japanese is Morphon, the root word seeming to be “Morpho.” And what is a Morpho, you ask?
Though it’s hard to say for sure, the similarities between Butterfree and Venonat seem incredibly striking for just lazy art design. There’s even real-world similarities that seem to indicate that a Caterpie-Metapod-Venomoth evolutionary line was supposed to exist at one point. Even so, it still isn’t clear why but the change seems to have been deliberate and planned in advance. When asked, a Nintendo of America representative said the following about this case.
“Some answers might be revealed in future games; however, many details about our games remain mysteries, left to the active imaginations of our players. “ – Travis from Nintendo of America
So, since Nintendo leaves details about their game storylines to the players, I hereby am stating that all Beedrill are Nazi sympathizers, Golbat are tax cheats, and Sandshrew planned 9/11. IT’S CANON NOW, AND IT’S ALL BECAUSE YOU EVADED MY QUESTIONS, TRAVIS!
But wait, faithful readers, we’re not done here. We’ve got another fan theory in a similar vein to explore.
The Lonesome Son
Caterpie and Venonat aren’t the only ones with their parentage being questioned.
The mighty Kangaskhan evolves from, well, nothing and evolves into nothing.
What if it wasn’t always that way? A popular fan theory suggests that could be the case.
The theory is that a baby Kangaskhan could originally go two routes: if its mother died it starts wearing her skull and wielding her bones as a Cubone, or it can go on to become a Kangaskhan if his life doesn’t take a detour in Dead Mom City, like some kind of Disney protagonist.
The Missingno Link
An extension of this theory is that there was an evolution between Cubone and Kangaskhan, something akin to Marowak without the skull-helmet. It’s thought that the first generation Pokémon games even still have the Pokémon in the game…kind of.
The infamous glitch Pokémon, Missingno or, more specifically, an alternate version of Missingno called ‘M.
‘M is thought to be the leftover trash resulting from deleting a Pokémon from the original Pokedex, so if this is correct, it makes sense that any Pokémon scrapped during development would end up in glitch limbo. Glitch Pokémon generally don’t evolve, but if you feed some a Rare Candy it will force an evolution. What happens when you force an evolution in ‘M?
Kangaskhan happens. Proponents of this fan theory believe this is the deal-breaker that proves Kangaskhan had preevolutions and lends a lot of credence to the overall Cubone-Kangaskhan theory.
A Tenuous Taxonomy
Let’s first take a look at the side-theory, that ‘M is a scrapped pre-Kangaskhan. There’s no doubt that a Rare Candy transforms ‘M’s jumbled, glitchy form into a Kangaskhan—but that’s only under level 128. If it’s over level 128 it turns into a Clefairy. Should I take this to mean that Cubone, Kangaskhan, and Clefairy are related?
Also, most of the other Missingno variants evolve into Rhydon. Does this mean Rhydon actually had about 40 pre-evolutions? Doubtful. Shigeru Miyamoto himself said Pokémon was originally going to be released with 190 Pokémon in it and, with all the glitch Pokémon included the total Pokémon index comes out to exactly 190, which shows that Missingno and all variants almost certainly are the remnants of deleted Pokémon, but unfortunately that has nothing to do with why ‘M evolves into Kangaskhan.
The real reason comes back to the game’s internal Pokémon index that I mentioned above. Most Missingno evolve into Rhydon, simply because the glitches have nowhere to go and default at Pokémon #001. If, in some rare cases, a glitch Pokémon can’t evolve to Pokémon #001, then it will try #002. And who is #002? Kangaskhan.
This may exclude Missingno from the theory, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Cubone was never intended to be a baby Kangaskhan.
In the picture above there’s a whole lot of similarities between that baby Kangaskhan and Cubone. In fact, if you overlay one over the other you’ll see they’re both exactly the same sprite except for the skull and the one hand holding the bone.
On one hand, this can be written off as the practice of a 1990s programmer with limited disk space and time. Repurposing a pre-existing asset is a good way to save time. On the other hand, using Cubone’s sprite to make a baby kangaskhan does carry with it the tacit implication that Cubone is the one Pokémon that the designers thought would most be like a baby Kangaskhan—otherwise they could have picked a Charmander—so this still lends a lot of credence to the theory in the end.
Outside of Cubone’s similarities, there are also some minor (but worth mentioning) similarities between Marowak and Kangaskhan. Though not as striking as the Butterfree/Venonat similarities, Kangaskhan and Marowak do have similar eyes, noses, horns, feet and a nub on their tail.
Kangaskhan is a species of Pokémon that raises a lot of questions, even outside of this fan theory. It’s easy to look at the enigmatic baby Kangaskhan that a regular Kangaskhan carries around and get wrapped up in trying to fit Pokémon reproductive biology into real life biology. But in real life birds don’t shoot fireballs, you can’t cram a tapir into something the size of a croquet ball, and a muskrat doesn’t turn into a aardvark because you fed it a starlight mint, so you’re probably better off divorcing Pokémon from reality whenever possible.
Despite the theory making a lot of sense, storywise, and the fact that a connection between Kangaskhan, the motherly Pokémon, and Cubone, the momma’s boy, seems not only right but downright obvious, there just isn’t enough hard evidence to unequivocally call this one fact.
I do, however, have a bit of a theory of my own. I think it’s a possibility that Cubone was originally going to be some kind of grave-robber, who stole the skulls of Charizards (look at that skull; it’s a Charizard skull) as armor, as he evolved the skull became more and more a part of him. Still completely like a Charizard when he’s a Cubone, the skull grows smoother as a Marowak, conforming to his head and eyes and then, finally, he would have evolved into a Kangaskhan, the skull completely becoming a part of him, making up that hard plate on the top of Kangaskhan’s head.
People are pattern recognition machines—we’re awesome at it. When you have a beloved videogame with over 600 characters all drawn by the same art team and designers and written by the same group of writers, you’re bound to come across similarities between some Pokémon and storylines, and with millions of people playing and scrutinizing it people are going to start filling in gaps that were not only not intended to be filled in, but weren’t even perceived by the creators. That doesn’t necessarily mean that these fan theories wouldn’t make a better story—they often would—just that it’s unintended. It’s easy to sit around and play the George Lucas home game, retconning everything you love into oblivion; it’s just not always correct.