More than anything else we’ve seen so far, Abra is truly its own creature. It’s kinda humanoid but very alien, and looks like it perhaps takes some visual inspiration from foxes? But look at the sockets between its legs and pelvis – this thing looks like it has some sort of exoskeleton? Very weird!
Everything else about it is hard to place, from the odd claw-like feet to the tail and shoulder pads. He does have a disproportionately large head, which clues you into his burgeoning psychic power, as well as closed eyes that make it look like he’s perpetually either meditating or concentrating. Presumably it’s the former, since I can’t recall that the games ever show him standing up; he’s always either sitting around or – even better – levitating in the air. All sorts of off-kilter ideas being thrown in here, which does help feed the image an odd child playing with telekinesis.
Boy oh boy does Abra ever grow up fast. He’s still really lanky and boney, which feeds into how a lot of fictional ESPers or supernaturally-gifted monks get portrayed as gangly and thin as a “mind over body” visual. Other than that, his torso and head are the proper proportions now (if a bit warped), his head is sharper and has grown a mustache, and he’s even got a spoon for that infamous spoon-bending demonstration that’s either proof of the paranormal or just a stage trick depending on where you stand. The big tail suggests that he’s mostly showy, but everything else screams bona-fide Psychic.
Alakazam is first and foremost a refinement of the Kadabra concept. His body is simpler and more streamlined overall, his head is a slick variation of a star-shape, his mustache is more regal and wise-looking, and most importantly of all, he has two spoons! I always appreciate it when a Pokémon actually gets less complicated as it evolves, which in this case helps Kadabra really focus in on the core idea of the line as an astracted monstrous take on a monk or ascetic with supernatural power.
While Abra is hilariously not-useful (only ever naturally learning Teleport, a variation of the “Run” command), Alakazam was hilariously overly-useful in the first game (as were most Psychic-types), and while he’s gotten taken down a peg since, he’s still fantastic. He’s fast, he’s incredibly powerful, and he’s got enough attack options to make things work. Not super-bulky or with a huge repertoire, but that’s fine for the main game when you mostly just need to hit things hard and fast, which he does in spades.
Abra is cute, but Alakazam was the example of a Psychic Pokémon for a while, and in certain respects he still is. You won’t see Kadabra much these days – more on that in a bit – but Alakazam is still a very popular Pokémon for a lot of reasons.
Abra only learning Teleport is absolutely its signature gimmick, and it’s probably the earliest way that Pokémon married its mechanics to its “lore” – it spends 18 hours a day sleeping and the other 6 training its psychic abilities, so its ability to Teleport emerged as a defense mechanism to automatically escape danger while asleep. Sneaky – it’d be cool to see it uniquely immune to the Sleep status as an additional tie-in, but for what the original Gameboy could do, it results in a very unique monster that everybody distinctly remembers as a pain to try and catch.
We’re dropping by the name corner a bit early today; while “Abracadabra, Alakazam!” are stock “magic words” used in stage performance (and Abra and Kadabra’s beta names, “Hocus” and “Pocus”, follow the trend), the original names are all based on Western magicians with significant claims at being the real deal: Casey (Edgar Cayce), Yungerer (Uri Geller), and Houdin (either Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin or possibly just Harry Houdini). The mistake there was using a name of somebody still alive.
Uri Geller got pretty annoyed that Kadabra was apparently a very loose parody of him, claiming that use of his likeness was unauthorized. Which really isn’t how parody works, and Uri Geller never really had a mustache, anyway. You’d think that if you were making a caricature, you wouldn’t emphasize a facial feature that the subject doesn’t have? But to be at least a little fair, they do have the bending-spoons shtick going, which Geller did popularize.
Part of the lawsuit he placed was claiming that the star and wave images on its forehead and torso were anti-Semitic images, which is also a bit of a reach considering that they’re plainly pulled from the images on Zener cards, a set of cards commonly used to “test” for clairvoyance and ESP. Kind of wish they’d completed that set on Kadabra’s body somewhere to make the real connection crystal-clear.
Anyway, nobody ever reached an agreement on that one, so Kadabra hasn’t been in the card game, show, or any promotional materials for over ten years – conspicuously even missing from certain side games – because just ignoring the issue was easier than dealing with cross-national law suits. The card game even made changes to Abra cards so that they could evolve straight to Alakazam and avoid using Kadabra entirely… after which Abra and Alakazam just didn’t appear in the TCG. So now nobody gets to play with him outside the video games, I guess.
Kadabra and Alakazam having heads shaped like upside-down stars has also been seen as something, since that mirrors the image of the pentagram – commonly used in everything from Wicca to various forms of the occult, which does line up quite a bit with their supernatural bent. It isn’t exactly a core or even emphasized feature of the design, though, so that’s easy enough to just wave away as a coincidence, especially considering that the in-game text doesn’t exactly focus on its religion or anything. Not that it’s going to stop people from decrying Satanism just based on scrutinizing its physical appearance while ignoring the context.
Rather, the Pokédex just goes on and on about how smart it is – even claiming that it has impossibly-high IQs like 5000 (why are we even measuring this thing on human scales?) or can outperform a supercomputer (which isn’t exactly a one-to-one comparison). Its brain keeps physically growing throughout its life like a few comic book villains I could name, too, which has the amusing side-effect of elderly Alakazam apparently having a disproportionately huge bobble-heads that they have to use telekinesis just to hold up properly. We don’t really see many – or any – examples of this in practice, but it’s a fun thought.
The spoons that Kadabra and Alakazam have are apparently created wholesale through their psychic abilities to in turn be used as tools in amplifying their abilities, and are claimed to be completely unique. Aside from being used in his signature move (the very-lame Kinesis), they can apparently be given as gifts to the truly-trusted, and have the delightfully-odd effect of making anything you eat with them taste delicious. Totally worth having one around on the team just for that, I’d wager.
There’s almost as much to talk about this line in a meta sense as there is in a direct way – I wonder how much of that is the visibility boost it got from being present in the first games? Anyway, they’re very distinctive Psychic monsters, and while Alakazam is a big heavy-hitter for the type and Abra has an immediately-memorable trait to him, which put them close to Must-Have territory, the Kadabra situation throws a wrench into things. It might be way simpler to just keep the line on Reserve or even to Retire them and be done with this mess. I’m torn on this guy, really – he’s all over the place.
Any and all appreciation for Abra, Kadabra, and Alakazam is welcome in the comments!