At the time of writing this, there exist 807 known species of Pokémon. Many of them have been inspired by real-life creatures. Many others find their origins rooted in Japanese myths, fables, and traditions. Some are even physical manifestations of natural phenomena, like electromagnetism. Below we have compiled a small list of Pokémon, and the fantastic concepts that inspired them.

  1. Paras and Parasect

“No matter how much it eats, the mushrooms growing on its back steal away most of the nutrients it consumes.” – Pokédex entry of Paras in Pokémon Sun

“The mushrooms, known as tochukaso, are controlling the bug. Even if the bug bugs the mushrooms, they tell it to bug off.” – Pokédex entry of Paras in Pokémon Ultra Moon

Possibly the most disturbing entry in this list, Paras is based on a cicada nymph infected by the parasitic fungus Cordyceps, or tochukaso – i.e., the red and yellow mushrooms growing on its back. The fungus not only draws its nutrients from its host, but also exerts some amount of control over the bug’s actions. If you think that’s disturbing, you don’t know the half of it.

It is strongly implied that the evolution of Paras into Parasect represents the fungus taking over total control of the bug’s brain. The bug is little more than a blank-eyed zombie at this point, and many Pokédex entries confirm this.

“The bug is mostly dead, with the mushroom on its back having become the main body. If the mushroom comes off, the bug stops moving.” – Pokédex entry of Parasect in Pokémon Ultra Moon

“When nothing’s left to extract from the bug, the mushrooms on its back leave spores on the bug’s egg.” – Pokédex entry of Parasect in Pokémon Crystal

[Insects with emerging fruiting bodies of Cordyceps]

Some species of Cordyceps do indeed take over their hosts. They take it to an elevated point, make it clamp onto the spot with its mandibles, then kill it. This ensures that, when it emerges, the fruiting body of the fungus would be in an optimal position to release spores to infect more bugs.

 

  1. Grimer and Muk, Koffing and Weezing, Trubbish and Garbodor

These three evolutionary families of Pokémon represent three types of pollution – Grimer and Muk reference water pollution, Koffing and Weezing recall air pollution, and Trubbish and Garbodor are reminiscent of soil pollution. They also provide an example of the ‘Muck Monster’ trope – an organism made entirely of waste, born from an exceedingly polluted environment, and used primarily to hammer home a message of environmentalism.

“It was born when sludge in a dirty stream was exposed to the moon’s X-rays. It appears among filth.” – Pokédex entry of Grimer in Pokémon Platinum

“It lives and grows by absorbing dust, germs, and poison gases that are contained in toxic waste and garbage.” – Pokédex entry of Weezing in Pokémon Yellow

“The combination of garbage bags and industrial waste caused the chemical reaction that created this Pokémon.” – Pokédex entry of Trubbish in Pokémon White.

 

  1. Porygon, Porygon2, and Porygon-Z

“A Pokémon that consists entirely of programming code. It is capable of moving freely in cyberspace.” – Pokédex entry of Porygon in Pokémon Y

Porygon and its evolutions have the infamous distinction of being the only Pokémon to have never appeared in the TV show. Porygon has sharp edges and polygonal features. Porygon2 looks exactly like its pre-evolution, but with its features polished and rounded out, just like the evolution of computer graphics over time. Their duck-like appearance might be a shout-out to the debugging process known as “rubber duck testing.”

Now, Porygon-Z retains Porygon2’s smoothness…but its features are distorted. Even the Pokédex entries admit that there’s something wrong with Porygon-Z.

“Its programming was modified to enable it to travel through alien dimensions. Seems there might have been an error…” – Pokédex entry of Porygon-Z in Pokémon Alpha Sapphire

So what happened? The answer lies within Porygon2.

“AI has been installed in it. It learns various things all on its own, but it even remembers things it doesn’t need to know.” – Pokédex entry of Porygon2 in Pokémon Ultra Sun

There you go. Artificial Intelligence. Upon evolution, Porygon-Z probably developed a mind of its own, which resulted in it showing anomalous behaviour.

The Porygon line had been developed to explore space and other alien dimensions. But…

 

  1. Absol

The story of the sphinx-like Absol begins with the Bai Ze of Chinese mythology. An intelligent white beast with a human head, it knows everything about 11,520 different kinds of supernatural beings – and it told the Yellow Emperor everything it knew. As the creature that armed humanity with the knowledge to repel monsters, images of the Bai Ze were used as good luck charms in ancient times.

A related Japanese legend, however, involves a similar creature called the kutabe. It foresaw a plague in Japan’s Toyama prefecture, and explained to the resident villagers how they could protect themselves. The villagers, of course, were saved. The kutabe in this myth is generally considered to be a variant of the Bai Ze.

Enter Absol.

Absol, known in-universe as the Disaster Pokémon, appears to be a deconstruction of this myth.

“It appears from deep in the mountains to warn people about upcoming disasters it has sensed with its horn.” – Pokédex entry of Absol in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2

“It appears when it senses an impending natural disaster. As a result, it was mistaken as a doom bringer.” – Pokédex entry of Absol in Pokémon Y

“Long ago, superstitions were spread about it, saying it brought disaster. This fed a hatred of it, and it was driven deep into the mountains.” – Pokédex entry of Absol in Pokémon Sun

Nobody likes bad news. It’s very easy – in fact, it’s in human nature – to blame the messenger for it. Absol is shunned for doing exactly that which led the Bai Ze to be celebrated. The Disaster Pokémon serves as a grim reminder that good intentions do not always translate into a positive reception.

 

  1. Lopunny

Lopunny is first Pokémon on this list whose inspirations will not require me to quote the Pokédex. This is because Lopunny, apart from being based on the Holland lop rabbit, has its origins in American adult media, some of which is still popular among Japanese audiences.

Long story short, Lopunny is literally a Playboy bunny – at least, its feminine posture and weirdly specific fur patterns resemble a fashion model with fur or faux-fur cuffed gloves and boots. Mega Lopunny even has fur patterns of pantyhose.

[For the Sailor Moon fans, there’s a theory that Lopunny is based on Sailor Moon herself. Sailor Moon’s name is Usagi, and ‘usagi’ in Japanese means rabbit. Usagi is known for her clumsiness, and Lopunny’s ability is named Klutz.]

 

  1. Sigilyph

Ever heard of Thomas Romain? No? Well, ever seen an article titled something like “Dad Turns His Sons’ Doodles Into Anime Characters”? Yes?

Sigilyph is the result of something exactly like that.

Though, of course, the “dad” in this case happens to be the designers at Game Freak, and the “son’s doodles” happen to be the Nazca lines of Peru – specifically, the Nazca hummingbird.

[The Nazca hummingbird]

The Nazca lines are a set of large artistic geoglyphs drawn into the sands of the Nazca desert in southern Peru. They mostly depict lines and geometric shapes, but some represent animals and plants. Their true purpose is still a mystery, for the actual designs can only be seen from high places like the surrounding foothills. Perhaps this mysterious air surrounding the designs is why Sigilyph is part Psychic-type.

  1. Gumshoos

Gumshoos is a mongoose that’s also a private investigator.

AND.

NOTHING.

ELSE.

  1. Mimikyu

“A lonely Pokémon, it conceals its terrifying appearance beneath an old rag so it can get closer to people and other Pokémon.” – Pokédex entry of Mimikyu in Pokémon Moon

Mimikyu is a Pokémon that is equally sad and horrifying. It’s sad because it hides beneath a roughly made Pikachu disguise – all because it wants to be loved like Pikachu. It’s horrifying because its true form is a Ghost-type Pokémon which…well, I should let the Pokédex do the talking.

“Its actual appearance is unknown. A scholar who saw what was under its rag was overwhelmed by terror and died from the shock.” – Pokédex entry of Mimikyu in Pokémon Sun

“A gust of wind revealed what hides under this Pokémon’s rag to a passing Trainer, who went home and died painfully that very night.” – Pokédex entry of Mimikyu in Pokémon Ultra Moon

[gulps]

  1. Salazzle

Salazzle, a lizard Pokémon that can only be female, draws inspiration from whiptail lizards. Certain whiptails are indeed exclusively female.

[The New Mexico whiptail lizard]

The New Mexico whiptail lizard, to name an example, can be bred via hybridization of the little striped whiptail with the western whiptail. This process prevents the formation of healthy males, even if males do exist in the parent species. As a result, not only do the females reproduce asexually, they actually do it in a way that protects the species from the expected genetic monotony and vulnerability to diseases.

Oh, a female-only species? Were you, perchance, looking for the f-word?

  1. Celesteela

Celesteela is an Ultra Beast, an extra-dimensional Pokémon from the Ultra Space. To the untrained eye, Celesteela is merely a giant spaceship. But if you are, for example, the narrator of The Little Prince, you would notice that it is actually a princess with hime-cut hair, wearing a kimono. The “arms” of this Pokémon look extraordinarily like cut bamboo shoots, and it reportedly has a plant-like body that can absorb nutrients from the soil. Without a doubt, this Pokémon has been inspired by the tale of the Bamboo Cutter.

In the story, a bamboo cutter finds a tiny baby girl in a bamboo shoot he was cutting. He takes her to his wife, and they name her Kaguya and raise her as their own daughter. It is later revealed that she is a princess who had been exiled to the earth from the moon. The story ends with Princess Kaguya returning to the moon after tearfully bidding farewell to her foster parents.

While this explains Celesteela’s “kimono,” “hime-cut,” and plant-like body structure, there is still no reason for this Pokémon to be a gigantic spaceship, of all things! That is, of course, if you aren’t aware that the Japanese spacecraft SELENE, which orbited the moon between 2007 and 2009, is nicknamed Kaguya.

[Spacecraft SELENE, or Kaguya]

Of course, the entire design might just be an elaborate visual pun on bamboo rockets, and we would be none the wiser.

What’s your favourite Pokémon ‘origin story’? Let us know in the comments!

Illustration by Sugata Mitra


Conceptualized and written by Sayar Banerjee

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