What an mangy little Mankey, har dee har. I like that she immediately evokes a monkey with her shaggy fur, lanky limbs with finger-y hands, and long tail. Oddly, she’s a lot like Golduck in that she has a grab bag of other features – a round puffball body, pointed ears that don’t belong on a primate, a pig-snout nose, and even three-toed feet that look almost like bird talons, but unlike Golduck, I think it really works for her. Maybe it’s because she’s got a rough-and-tumble cuteness to her, and maybe it’s because she gives a much better impression of the animal her name is calling out – she definitely looks built for swinging from trees, grabbing improvised tools, and generally acting like a monkey would. She’s a little bit weird and abstract for a monkey, but she really works for me as a simple monkey design.
Primeape is another one for the “if it ain’t broke” school of Pokémon evolution. Her limbs are a bit more distinct now; her feet are formed like monkeys’ feet and her punchy hands have joined into something like boxing mitts now. She’s even lost her tail, which to be fair would probably be a liability in a sparring situation. Otherwise, she’s mostly a bigger, angrier Mankey, and that totally works. She’s even got one of those anime blood vessels drawn… on top of her fur? …let’s not logic that one out. But she’s even got little training weights around her wrists and ankles now! Better look forward to someday getting a super-anime version of Primeape where she takes off her weights and her fur turns gold and even spikier.
She’s pretty fast and even stronger, and has a solid routine of very straightforward moves, which makes Primeape great for tearing through enemy teams in the games’ main campaign. She’s a bit of a one-trick pony, but hey, that one trick is what you’ll want the majority of the time, so it’s hard to knock her, even if her defenses are kinda so-so.
Primeape is one of those simple, looks-good-on-a-poster designs, but so are the three more popular fighting Pokémon in the first generation, unfortunately. She’s a lead Pokémon in one of the Johto Gyms, and the main character in the show had a Primeape for all of five episodes, I guess? She’s cool and all, she just gets upstaged by the more humanlike fighting-types.
Mankey and Primeape being loosely based on monkeys – baboons and gibbons in particular, it seems – plays strongly into an association between monkeys (those from the mountains in particular) and martial arts in Japan and China, exemplified most strongly by Sun Wukong in Journey of the West. It’s kind of cool that they turned that whole fictional stereotype into a monster concept, kind of in the same vein of making a ghost-type “black cat” Pokémon that inflicts bad luck on its opponents.
Those raised limbs and wide, angled poses totally scream “martial arts”, too – I could even buy into some crazy monastery of monks training in martial arts against wild packs of Mankey if they didn’t look so perpetually cranky. Almost every mention of them notes them having a hair-trigger temper – usually riling up others in their troop, as well – then chasing their targets before the target can even flee. One of the novelizations points at containing these little suckers and the evolved Primape as the explicit reason why Pokéballs were invented, and I can believe it.
At least there’s a nice little aesop in there about how Mankey supposedly live for an exceptionally long time because they immediately release their stress and anger rather than holding it in, and that the regularly-expressed anger strengthens their bloodflow. Of course, on the flip-side, there’s at least one mention of Primeape becoming so enraged that it essentially angers itself to death… though it does die with a peaceful expression. If that isn’t just the most aggressive form of “zen” you’ve ever heard.
Primeape starts an interesting trend in the first-generation fighting types where all of them take after a specific form of organized fighting – but unlike the others, she changes between evolutions, from a catch-all martial-arts-based monkey to something of a boxer-monkey. Most Fighting-type Pokémon have some form of discipline built into their like that to keep the type from just being a lineup of punchy, thuggish Pokémon.
Another thing is that, while the show goes the obvious route of having Mankey really like bananas, the Mystery Dungeon games have a much more interesting conundrum where they prefer chestnuts. The problem with that being: chestnuts are a really awkward nut to try and peel, and Mankey don’t quite have the natural dexterity to get into their favorite snack. Their natural response is agitation leading into straight rage, and so you get a kinda-nasty and kinda-hilarious curse that these little blighters will almost unwittingly inflict on themselves.
Mankey is a nice little distillation of the fighting type, but unfortunately that leaves her feeling a bit plain compared to the more distinct fighting-types we’ll see, and even compared to the multiple other fighting-type monkey lines yet to come. Nothing wrong with her, but with the other options available Mankey ends up on the short list of Fighting-types that can be Retired if we’re willing to axe things from the 151, and into the Reserve cooler if not.
Any and all appreciation for Mankey and Primeape is welcome in the comments!