What an mangy little monkey, har dee har har. I like that she immediately evokes a monkey with her shaggy fur, lanky limbs with finger-y hands, and long tail – but she’s also firmly in the “fantasy critter” bucket with 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. It sounds slapdash, 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 still has the spirit of her namesake – she definitely looks built for swinging from trees, grabbing improvised tools, and generally acting like a monkey would. Still a little bit weird and abstract for a monkey, but perfectly communicative and endearing.
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 great apes’ 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 as a bridge from monkeys to apes. 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.
( Editor’s note: this post was originally published on August 19th, 2019. See the follow-up addition below for Primeape’s actual evolution. )
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. At least she has a minor claim-to-fame of being the one viable pick to fight Brock with way back in Pokémon Yellow.
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 her more humanlike peers quite a lot.
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. And you can’t talk about that even for a second without bringing up Sun Wukong and 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 dark-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. Granted, they’re almost certainly not the most reliable partners. 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. Just look at those literal shackles they still have on Primeape. Eugh.
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 more at-peace with its own emotion. Now 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 – wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, frog – but unlike the others, she changes between evolutions, from a catch-all martial-arts-based monkey to something of a boxer-ape. 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, but seeing a Mankey actively acquire one in its life-cycle is a very nice touch.
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 self-perpetuating anger that these little blighters will almost unwittingly inflict on themselves. Of course these little Poké-children are ornery if they can never have their favorite snack.
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. There’s 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.
Annihilape isn’t anything I expected from a new evolution, but it is absolutely rad. Just look at that absolutely harrowed glare, the blown-out body, and how the veins on her arms break clean and direct through her wristbands. She’s a literally-spirited ball of incandescent rage, and that gnarly new look is doing her a lot of good.
If I have to have a knock, it’s that Annihilape isn’t nearly as transformative as a change as the evolution from Mankey to Primeape. That’s hardly a problem exclusive to this family, to be sure, but for a family that’s otherwise been stable since 1996, it would’ve been nice to see more changes to the body plan.
The obvious take here is that Primeape’s gone Super Saiyan, an iconogrophy so pervasive that I think it’s been borrowed almost as many times as the lightsaber. Just look at its Pokédex entries, alternately talking about gaining “power that is unfettered by the limits of its physical body” and weaponizing “the power of the rage that it kept hidden in its heart”. That’s some Dragon Ball nonsense if I’ve ever heard it.
And, true to that, it seems more of a transformation of Primeape than a full evolution. But that ultimately ties back into her lore from these many years ago – that Primeape will pitch such an energized fit that they literally rage themselves to death, becoming one with their emotions. And what kind of ghost-type Pokémon might arise from that?
The type you don’t want to meet in a dark alley.
Obviously the games themselves don’t ask you to put your own teammate in the ground to evolve them any more than Snorunt, but that’s almost certainly what’s happening here. There’s even a matching yokai in the onryo, a usually-feminine spirit of wrath formed from the hatred hey held in life as it separates from the body. And considering how spirit-orb-shaped Annihilape is to begin with, I’ll buy it.
But I like Annihilape’s interpretation that the spirit is so inseparable from the body, that re-absorbing and incorporating this emotion rather than expeling and denying it will allow her to grow and evolve. In a productive way? That’s up for debate. In a cool way? Absolutely.
Also, I invite you to look at the Japanese name for Annihilape, Konoyozaru (コノヨザル ); rather than a delightfully-smooth pun like the German Epitaff (using “aff” for “monkey”), it condenses an entire phrase down – “kono yo o saru“, “to leave this world”- and still fits a double-meaning with “saru” as “monkey”. It only gets better when you imagine her inevitable appearance in the anime: a very haunted and very angry ball of monkey, lunging at you and yelling at you to “leave this world”.
Annihilape isn’t especially transformative, but it is an expansion to the line that naturally builds to a very gnarly conclusion that finally sets it apart among its Kantonian peers. I’m a big fan of this evolution, and it brings them up to a solid member of the rotation that I’d love to see out and about more often.
Heck, maybe Ash Ketchum will even finally come back to visit his Primeape after the 1200 episodes he’s left it in training. We can dream.
Any and all appreciation for Mankey, Primeape, and Annihilape is welcome in the comments!