Ponyta, Rapidash

#077 – Ponyta

A horse with a flaming mane isn’t exactly a new idea – they’ve popped up in mythology for ages and ages – but it certainly makes for a striking, classic-feeling image, and they’ve done it pretty cleanly here. Her ears are kind of a feline shape, but other than that she’s a pretty straight depiction of a foal. Really the only fantasy element here is turning her hair into fire and adding a few dollops of flame on her thighs, but that’s enough to make her look like a proud, determined kid. Plus, there’s a lotta horse fans out there. I’m sure they’re happy that the series’ premier equine representative doesn’t mess with the formula too much.

#078 – Rapidash

Of course a fantasy horse would evolve into a fantasy unicorn. She mostly looks like a more mature Ponyta that grew a unicorn horn (straight out of its flesh, no less) and… that’s it. Either because of or despite how on the nose these two are, we didn’t see another common horse Pokémon for a whole two decades. Honestly, I kind of prefer it to the strategy of creating another redundant two-stage line of domestic cats every few years. If they’re going to have a single, well-conceived horse in the series, Rapidash should definitely be it.

She’s fine by the numbers: wonderful speed (of course – she’s a horse) and great attack, as well. Unfortunately Rapidash is a bit of a one-trick pony, har-dee-har, and most of her attack options either aren’t physical, aren’t Fire-type, or inflict recoil damage. She gets a little bit of type coverage through TMs and can hold her own okay, but in general she’s just not equipped to make the most of her archetype.

Rapidash has certainly made her mark in the roster, at least – she’s featured center-screen in a whole cut of the first television opening and gets slotted in a lot as a Pokémon people will ride around on because – as noted – she’s the only horse they’d have for a long while. Not nearly at the status of the rounder, more plush-sized fellas, but not bad.

Rapidash and especially Ponyta see their red flames turn blue in their alternate “shiny” coloration – it’s a cool tie-in of how especially hot flames burn blue, but it unfortunately doesn’t translate to any fun side-effects like increased special attack or anything.

Aside from featuring another few of the games’ more hyperbolic claims (hooves “ten times harder than diamonds”, or clearing Uluru in a single bound), Ponyta and Rapidash are portrayed as pretty normal for the most part. They’re just horses that love running and got very good at it. After such a parade of weirdos up to this point, it’s almost odder for the games not to have some wild “did you know” factoid to slip us up with. I mean, there’s the idea that Rapidash’s mane sparkles when she runs, because she is a unicorn so of course it does, but given context you can pretty immediately write that off as flickering embers.

…then the anime goes and slips something weird on in there. It is just a little curious that people can ride Ponyta despite her always being portrayed with flames running down her entire spine. So instead of writing it off as some biological process that Ponyta can just stop doing at will, apparently she can just choose to make her flames “not hot”… and even spot-by-spot, since she’s shown burning someone at the same time that she’s being safely ridden? Something fishy’s going on – then again, this comes a dozen episodes after the one and only time Tentacool performed brainwashing, so clearly the first season of the show in particular was playing things real fast and loose, even compared to what the series is now.

Ponyta and Rapidash are some of the most straightforward Pokémon yet, but there’s nothing overtly wrong with that. She’s probably the go-to Pokémon in Reserve whenever they should need to put a horse somewhere.

…and then Galar needed a horse so bad that it made up an entirely new Ponyta and Rapidash. They really are the go-to horses.

#077g – Galarian Ponyta

I’m getting diabetes just looking at this thing. Galarian Ponyta feels like the very ideal of an adorable, pastel-painted unicorn, beyond even a very certain Pony-based title gives us. She’s the most pure pureness ever to grace us with her purity, and… that’s gonna work for some people, which is perfectly great. I do appreciate that her horn is a separate color from her body – Rapidash’s flesh-horn always bugged me out a bit – and embiggening her ears and eyes definitely sells the childlike quality – as does the fact that it looks like she’s been rolling in cotton candy. It’s a very on-brand way of swapping out Ponyta’s fire for something more unicorn-y, so I dig it.

I’ll come back and update this as soon as we have official art of Galarian Rapidash – promise!

Galarian Rapidash is a more majestic form of unicorn, with well-kept hair, a compensatingly-long horn, flowing hoof-manes (?), and even a sort of haughtiness about her default expression. She implicitly looks like royalty, and given that princesses and unicorns make a pretty iconic pair, it definitely suits her. If you’re going to go for a more familiar form of unicorn, this is the way to do it.

In fact, while Galarian Ponyta and Rapidash don’t exactly do it for me, in retrospect they make me appreciate Kantonian Ponyta and Rapidash a heck of a lot more. We have plenty of pretty-pink unicorns in our fiction, but Rapidash re-imagines the animal as a powerful stallion, which feels fresh and inspired, like they’ve re-imagined the unicorn for a different audience. By comparison, Galarian Rapidash is a very well-realized version of something we already have in other media.

Mechanically, I feel like the most unique thing about Galarian Ponyta and Rapidash is that they both scream of the Fairy-type (unicorns, fairy tales, you’ve got the idea), but they’re more Psychic-flavored, with the Fairy-type only coming into play after the evolution into Rapidash. This was almost certainly done so that Sword & Shield could pull a particular bait-and-switch with one of its human characters, but that logic specifically doesn’t gel with me. These monsters stand out and stick with the series way more than the human characters ever do, so going out of their way to mold the Pokémon to specifically fit the trainers feels like putting the cart before the mystical flaming horse to me.

That said, I do like how their abilities tie back into mythology. Galarian Ponyta uses her psychic abilities for empathy and to heal allies – a classic trait of the gentle unicorn – while the text around Galarian Rapidash is all about how a hypothetical horse with a giant spike on her head would absolutely mess you up, which everybody seems to forget about unicorns. Seriously, they are low-key one of the more physically-intimidating creatures in European fairy tales, and we’re lucky that they’re benign.

One of Galarian Rapidash’s neater features is that she stores psychic energy in the fluff around her ankles. She then uses that energy to traverse forests, effortlessly galloping through them by presumably levitating she very feet off the ground. She’s pulling trick that’s simultaneously practical and looks ego-strokingly majestic, which just feeds into that delightfully smug look that she has in her character model.

So a big huzzah for Galarian Ponyta and Rapidash. Not quite my thing, but they’re very good at being what they are and provide the context to make the old Ponyta and Rapidash look even better. I don’t need to see them all the time, but I’m danged happy to have them around.

Any and all appreciation for Ponyta and Rapidash is welcome in the comments!

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