Machop! She’s a little blue tyke, and a very humanoid one, which feels… very odd? Even where Pokémon up to this point have been taking cues from humans, they’ve just been attributing certain traits to some more abstract creature. Here we have a very recognizable person, with roughly-correct anatomy aside from her tail and head. She’ll make more sense as the line evolves into a more concrete idea, but at a base level it’s a little weird and unsettling to have an ever-so-slightly off-looking reptile-person in the mix.
Machoke, Machoke man ~ ♪
Or woman, as it may be, since there’s a fair enough chance that this hyper-muscular reptile-being with its chest exposed will be a female. She’s very clearly based on a bodybuilder or a professional wrestler now, up to the championship belt and the marks on her arms meant to evoke bulging veins, or possibly her skin ripping open under the strain of her muscle mass. Her proportions and wide stance seem to put her a bit more in the high-school wrestling world than anything else, and I can totally see her grabbing things three times her size and throwing them around a ring. Her head having a visible snout and fangs now somehow cements its look as more firmly reptilian than Machop’s tail did, which helps the design at least be more readable. I see why most other Pokémon don’t go with a full set of five digits on their hands and feet – they look more than a little awkward here to me.
Here comes the big one, the towering force, the absolute unit. Taking into account that she seems to be wearing the same belt as she was in Machoke form, she’s clearly grown way more than the Pokédex insists (4’11 to 5’3). Her feet work a lot better for being two-toed rather than a whole human foot, and her hands come across better now that we’re shown each of them doing something unique – speaking of which, I appreciate that the solution to having two sets of arms is to basically give her two torsos – the views you see from behind in the games show her having two sets of shoulder blades, one on top of the other, so presumably she’s got a whole second set of pectoral muscles piggybacked on top to support her upper arms. No wonder she’s put on about a hundred pounds during evolution!
I’ve given up figuring out what’s going on with her face, though – she’s got massive yellow lips of some sort? Or a maybe a beard or something? Those ridges don’t make as much sense now that we’ve dropped the other reptilian elements, either, but her main body is so mutated from human anatomy now that it matters less. She’s just over the line into “weird and delightful” territory, this one, though it took some doing to arrive here.
Pound-for-pound, Machamp is every bit as good a physical powerhouse as Alakazam is a special one, with great attack and some bulk to her, but unfortunately less-than-great speed (which in turn means that it’s less bothered using strong-but-slow moves like Focus Punch and Vital Throw). She’s just a great, beefy Pokémon – she even gets access to the three elemental punches, which give her fantastic type coverage, too!
Machamp has been pretty popular over the years – she’s shown up in the live-action movie (as a traffic director – clever use of her four arms), as a playable fighter in the Tekken-like fighting game, she regularly shows up in spin-offs like Conquest, and generally makes a great go-to when they need a big, muscular Pokémon in a scene to evoke the idea of physical power. One of the standards.
Given the strong theme here, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise that professional wrestling is every bit as much of a thing in Japan as it is in the United States and Mexico – though whereas the Western interpretation is focused on showmanship, the Eastern interpretation imagines it more as a martial-art-like combat sport involving full-contact moves, hence why Machamp has developed four arms with which to deliver the maximum amount of punches and chops. That isn’t to say that she doesn’t do a lot of holds and throws, though – she’s even got named maneuvers, like grabbing an opponent with all four arms, then twisting each set in a different direction to wring them out. Yikes.
As much as Machop looks like a little weirdo, it’s actually kind of nice that the first evolution here is very under-developed, with everything pointing to her and Machoke loving to exercise as much as possible in hopes of growing up into a Machamp, from curling heavy Rock-type Pokémon like barbells to taking up construction work to seeking out a high-nutrition diet for building muscle. Good for her, putting in the work day in and day out! Willingly taking on physical labor as part of their training is also one of the more direct mutually-beneficial ways that we see Pokémon interacting with normal, everyday society, which makes them fantastic for public relations purposes.
It’s one of the many ways in which the Machop line is a pretty clear parallel to the Abra line – little buggers that evolve into a physical and special powerhouse respectively, each requiring a trade to reach their final form (and each carrying a tool to regulate their abilities, to boot). It’s actually a little bit weird in-universe why some Pokémon need to be traded to evolve; I guess Kadabra and Machoke need to get experience under different players to become more worldly and widely-practiced? That’s not going to hold up as an argument nearly as well for other lines that we’ll see, but it does make a nice gameplay gimmick that encourages social, collaborative play (or buying multiple games, if you’re feeling skeptical).
The games go back and forth a bit on whether Machoke and Machamp can remove their belt, but the more recent entries seem to point to “yes”, with the belt acting to hold back its True Power all anime-like. There’s no mention to where it actually comes from, though, with the implication that it’s just created wholesale from whatever process causes it to evolve. Eventually tool-using Pokémon will start to make more sense, but early on in the series there’s a lot of hand-waving and retroactive explanations to where this stuff comes from, which leaves us some nice holes to prod at.
This whole line being humanoid is a much more interesting footnote when given the context the Pokémon are possibly very recent additions to the natural world, as Clefairy suggests that they all came from outer space and presumably adapted to the human world afterward to varying degrees. So some proto-Pokémon was really impressed with human chutzpah and dedicated itself to becoming an idealized version of the human form? It’s not actually backed up by any of the lore anywhere, but it’s a fascinating thing to think about when you extrapolate the very few clues we’re given!
Machamp is just a really cool Pokémon – it’s the living embodiment of muscle! As interesting an idea as it is to have an explicitly human-based Pokémon, Machop and Machoke still feel somewhat “off” as far as their designs go. It all comes out in the wash, though, and this guy could probably comfortably fall into the Reserve camp… though I wouldn’t hesitate to Retire this confused line if we got a stronger interpretation of the “four-armed fighter” idea down the line.
Any and all appreciation for Machop, Machoke, and Machamp is welcome in the comments!