Gosh, what a cutie. Vulpix is something of a fan-favorite, and I’m not exactly inclined to disagree with that. While it’s enough that it’s kind of just a precious little adolescent mammal on its own, there’s an organicness to how it adds brings in the fire theme and incorporates folktale elements like the many-tailed fox that’s really slick and makes Vulpix and incredibly satisfying design. It’s really hard to keep a fantasy monster feel simple and elegant without sacrificing the fantastical elements of its design, and this feels right on the sweet spot.
Ninetales is very popular with certain elements of the fanbase, and it’s not hard to see why. Again, there’s a fantastic balancing act between having this looking like a natural creature – he’s svelte, with a functional body and head – and including the fantasy element of the nine-tailed fox. Plus, the mono-color, narrow almond eyes (which Vulpix kind of shares in) give it the look of something that haunts the woods rather than being a monster made to look appealing. He’s streamlined and elegant and it’s hard not to love this as a design, even if canines and foxes aren’t so much your cup of tea.
Alolan Vulpix doesn’t have any huge surprises to it – basically a powdered-snow version of the original Vulpix’s fire flavor. He does look a little fluffier and therefore cuddlier, and the shape of the eyes make him look a titch more like he needs those cuddles.
Alolan Ninetales has more of a wispy look about him – it looks like the kind of fantasy creature that would appear to you if you’re stranded in a snowstorm and perhaps hallucinating a bit. Of the four of these designs, it’s the one that most hints at this line’s non-functional affiliation with the Ghost-type.
Ninetales’ stats may not be fantastic, but it’s got a huge range of moves at its disposal, from Fire to Grass to Ghost, Dark, Psychic, and even strong status-inducing choices like Confuse Ray and Will-o-Wisp. He’s a fantastic choice for the main game, and that’s before you consider the added capability of Alolan Ninetales (which is double-typed to destroy the game’s more potent dragons). Great ‘mon.
Vulpix itself is pretty visible for being on Brock’s team for a long time in the early seasons of the show, and Ninetales hasn’t exactly been a slouch with its presence, either. Maybe not as much now that the series has a wider roster to pull from, but this line is still plenty visible.
This whole line is based off the particularly famous Japanese folktale of the nine-tailed fox spirit, which come in both benevolent and trickster varieties. They’re not exactly ghosts, but they do have a strong affiliation with the the spiritual nonetheless, which is reflected in how Vulpix and Ninetales are often found in graveyards in the games and gain access to a wealth of Ghost-type and ghost-flavored abilities. Plus, there’s the flavor text in the Pokédex of them living supernaturally long lives, being of human (or above human) intelligence, and laying vengeful curses on those who grab their tails. It’s pretty one-to-one on translating the kitsune into Pokémon form, but done in some clever ways, including using a Will-o-the-Wisp move to emulate fox-fire as it sometimes does in tales.
In fact, it’s a little surprising that Ninetales and Vulpix aren’t Ghost-type considering their strong ties to the supernatural and the occult, but in the end it feels a bit more interesting to have a monster that’s ghost-adjacent while still being its own separate creature. Maybe it’s a hint that its powers are more to do with superstition than any actual power that Ninetales have to curse humans, which would be a novel idea that totally checks out in a world where these critters seem capable of just about anything.
I’ll never get over the fantastic aesthetic sense put into creating Ninetales; this honestly feels like the gold standard that other animal-based Pokémon should be held up to, and it’s hard not to put that under the Must-Have banner for me.
Any and all appreciation for Vulpix and Ninetales is welcome in the comments!