Slowpoke, Slowbro, Slowking

#080 – Slowpoke

Lookit this dopey little loser. Isn’t he great? Slowpoke is another one of those nothing-in-particular monsters; there’s some hippopotamus in there maybe, a bit of otter, even a touch of sloth or salamander? He’s kind of his own amphibious mammal, making him probably the most distinct of the “nothing-in-particular” monster designs yet.

He also gives off “moron” vibes from half a mile away; his face is permanently stuck in that dumb, vacant look, mouth hanging open, and there’s a better-than-average chance that in any given depiction he’s too lazy to bother standing up. Slowpoke takes the very concept of laziness and manifests it as a monster, and it’s both adorable and instantly relatable. I feel you, Slowpoke.

It’d be really easy to forget that this guy is part-Psychic, but there’s a nice subtext here between meditating – that is, emptying your mind of thoughts – and the enlightenment that some claim comes from that. Granted, meditating is a very charitable read of Slowpoke’s idleness, but it certainly gives him a redeemable character.

It also helps to feed the series’ strong variety – even within these first few Psychic- and Psychic-inspired Pokémon families, we’ve seen three different takes on the idea, from performative psychokinesis to a zen-like envisioning to the powers being something of a curse. These less-obvious elemental types can cover a lot of ground very quickly.

#081 – Slowbro

Slowpoke’s being too dim-witted to instantly recognize that it’s in pain has actually paid off (as opposed to, y’know, making him an obvious pink meal). With something constantly biting into his tail, Slowbro is now alert all the time and generally just looks like a more capable version of a Slowpoke. He’s more-or-less shaped like one giant hermit crab who’s at odds with his own “shell”, which is a fun notion to noodle about, though Slowbro is a bit too… well, slow to make much of it, even fully awake. It’ follows perfectly well from Slowpoke, so points for originality and continuity.

#199 – Slowking

Now this is different. In an alternate evolutionary route, Slowpoke gets bitten on its head, which jump-starts its otherwise vacant mind into Professor Mode. If Slowbro looked more solid and capable, Slowking has effectively turned into a sage, which is a wild notion to play against Slowpoke’s image of Designated Dummy. I love how it works, though – he’s got a sort of savant-syndrome idea to him, and the ruff about his neck and the deliciously literal envisioning of a “thinking cap” is just goofy enough that it still feels like the same monster in a way. He’s pretty silly, but not in a way that visually undercuts him any more.

These guys are both… well, slow – and that’s not going to feel great to play with. Slowbro is stupidly defensive, though, between its high stats, type resistances, recovery moves, buffs, status moves… if you take the time to set him up, he’s basically a big pink wall, but ain’t nobody got time for that. Slowking keeps a lot of those properties, but he also gets a great boost to his special attack, so he turns into an attacker with some solid staying power and a wide kit of special moves, instead. Both are great technically; I’d just argue that Slowking is much more fun.

Slowpoke is yet another of those Pokémon that you’d see all over the place in the early years, so he’s definitely got a lot of name recognition. The marketers clearly knew that “dopey” was a sure path to “endearing”, and that’s carried him though to be a fan-favorite for decades so far. Slowking also played a (voiced!) role in the second theatrical movie before his game debut, which is a much more prominent position than non-Legendary monsters will usually get in these things.

Aside from certain comparisons to a bag of rocks, Slowpoke’s other traits are all designed to make you feel a bit sorry for it. He’s so lazy that he only gets food by the world’s worst version of noodling: laying down and letting his sweet, tasty tail into the water’s edge, hoping that a fish will bite. He doesn’t mind – it takes him at least five seconds to notice that anything’s happening or that he’s in pain, but even then he clearly hasn’t got much of a self-preservation instinct. At least, in a worst-case scenario, its tail will regrow lizard-style so he’s not set too far back. He’s also adorably never once shown using an attack in the anime, always keeping to himself and, if anything, needing a bit of help to sustain himself. Poor guy.

This combination of tastiness, self-regeneration, and lack of self-defense also means that he’s one of the series’ premier targets of poaching, with people severing their tails and making off before the Slowpoke can think to do anything about it. You’re even offered to buy them off shady buyers throughout the games (though you can never afford it).

The series seems to go back and forth on whether these count as contraband, though – police are shown staking out a supposed Slowpoke tail deal, and all of Team Rocket’s buying and selling of them sure has a black-market flavor to it, yet they’re seen featured in perfectly-normal dishes in restaurants and home cooking throughout all the 3DS games. Maybe some farms are in the business of sustainable, free-range Slowpoke where harvesting is legal under regulation? Or do Slowpoke tails have some properties that make them banned under some regional laws, but perfectly fine in others?

Playing off that fishing bent, Slowpoke’s evolution explicitly happens when, as he’s fishing, a Shellder grabs on to the tail and refuses to let go. This apparently forces Slowpoke to voluntarily evolve so that he can get up and go hunt for food, since he can’t use his tail to fish any more. Still as spacey as ever, though. Interestingly, this also causes the Shellder to apparently evolve into a conch-shaped form along with Slowbro, although we never see conical Shellder/Cloyster on its own. Maybe it’s become a totally dependent parasite at that point?

The games also don’t require a Shellder to be present for this to happen, which would have been a cool bit of symbiosis but probably wasn’t super-feasible with the original Gameboy’s capabilities. I’d bet you a nickel that if Slowpoke was introduced today, though, evolving him would require you to have a Shellder in your party or go Shellder Cave to evolve him or some similar hook.

Conversely, when Shellder bites Slowpoke’s head (maybe while Slowpoke is trying to dig up the King’s Rock required for the process?), Shellder gets angry at having not found a meaty bite and releases a venom that inadvertently feeds Slowking’s brain. The Shellder’s eyes aren’t even present any more, pushing the idea that the Shellder has inadvertently gotten itself fully assimilated, which is an amusing-if-horrible comeuppance for underestimating poor Slowpoke. It also makes Slowking better-emulate the Sazae-oni, a mythological mollusk that’s grown a turban-like shell in old age, but the similarities between it and Slowking are pretty tenuous and surface-level.

While the ability to evolve into one of multiple species of Pokémon was exclusively Eevee‘s trick in the beginning (and still continues to be that Pokémon’s defining trait), the second generation would start shopping the idea around to other first-generation Pokémon to revisit their designs from alternate perspectives. While we’ve seen it with Bellossom and Politoed already, Slowking definitely ties it back to the Pokémon’s lore the best. Taking the existing premise of Slowpoke’s evolution and literally turning it on its head is very illustrative of the idea of how the series regularly approaches split evolutions beyond the second generation.

Slowbro is also oddly one of the only places where evolving back into an earlier stage is ever mentioned, in the case that a Slowbro’s tail is ever cut off or the Shellder detaches itself from Slowbro or Slowking’s body. It’s another one of those ideas that got floated early on that hasn’t really been explored much or with any degree of consistency since.

Reverting to an earlier evolution also never manifests in a significant way in the games or show (the series’ two most visible facets), so it wouldn’t be difficult to write that one off as a thought experiment rather than something that actually happens. Pokémon evolution was always more of a stage-of-life thing, anyway, building off the series’ bug-collecting roots, and the larva-pupa-maturity wheel only spins one way. No need to complicate the already-strenuous relationship with logic you have attaching insectoid life-cycles to a hippo.

Perhaps more confusingly, the Shellder semi-evolution that becomes Slowking’s turban (and possibly Slowbro’s tail) is represented as its own Pokémon in the noted Gold & Silver beta. Perhaps there really was some scrapped plan to have the two evolve in a unique symbiotic way, but as cool as the thought is, it didn’t come to pass and seems too late to circle back around to all these years later. Ah, well.

As to the naming corner… I feel like the original Japanese name for Slowpoke is a short-sighted choice, since Yadon is a play on “hermit crab” and a term for a parasite’s host, which kind of spoils the evolutionary surprise before it ever happens. Not that it’s exactly a secret, but it still surely took the bite out of that reveal for at least some young players along the way.

Slowpoke is next to iconic, and while Slowbro isn’t terribly inspiring, Slowking is a great take on the idea, and he makes for one of the better practical examples of a split evolution. Being both so unique and so recognizable puts him pretty close to Must-Have status, but with his absence in Sword & Shield and an abundance of water-types on the whole, apparently Reserve might be a more appropriate category.

#079g – Galarian Slowpoke

…sure enough, the actual designers landed on a similar judgment, letting him go from the Sword & Shield roster at first before coming back around on everybody’s favorite lazypants.

They didn’t really do much with the base form, though. Galarian Slowpoke is mostly just a sunburned Original Slowpoke. Not exactly revolutionary, though I do like that “sunburnt” is a feature of a monster who evolves via both an island expansion and a tundra expansion. Remember, kids, white snow reflects a lot of sun, and you can absolutely get burnt in winter this way.

This drying-out also entirely evaporates the original Slowpoke’s Water-type, which gives way for some more interesting type combinations when he evolves into:

#080g – Galarian Slowbro

Clearly Slowbro got the better end of the parasitism deal once again; this time, Shellder only gets hold of the one arm, leaving our slow friend fairly unaffected but in possession of a rare visible weapon.

That makes this the only Slowpoke evolution to wield its attached mollusc as opposed to just absorbing the venom internally in a sort of bizarro “unlock your inner potential” move. It also specifically underscores cone snails as the reference of choice here, once again turning an animal’s venomous sting into Poison-type pea-shooter. In this case, though, a Metroid-like arm cannon at least makes some anatomical sort of sense with how these two must be put together.

Good on you, Slowking, for giving the series’ most symbiosis-based family a form that actually a bit of logical sense. Well, about as sensical as the series tends to get, anyway.

#199g – Galarian Slowking

If Slowking is a Wizard, his Galarian Form is a Warlock. Shrouding himself in a longer cape and “hood” with a rougher “turban”, he largely just reads as a darker version of Slowking who has allowed Shellder to almost completely devour his head in the interest of more power. The shell has even morphed downward around Slowking’s noggin to leave its gem as a “third eye” betwixt the two “real” eyes.

Real is in some heavy quotations there, as those peepers are part of the shell – has Slowking turned over even his own sense of sight to its powers? The Pokédex says yes, with the evolution having instead injected Shellder with a sudden surge of intelligence and power and putting it in the driver’s seat in a Parasect-esque situation.

On the surface, he strikes the same silhouette as Slowking; read deeper, and this evolution becomes something of “playing-with-powerful-forces” aesop. And what makes this so?

Man-made evolution.

For whatever reason, Sword and Shield got very keen on explaining why Galarian variants came to be at all, which I’m totally stoked about. However, this time we get it less from the flavor text, and more from the gameplay itself.

The original methods for evolving Slowpoke are fairly benign, and I think we can explain them away by lack of imagination or capacity for complex programming at the time. In Galar, though, you evolve these two by bestowing upon them a wreath of twigs and flowers, to be worn about Slowpoke’s wrist or head. Cute!

It also implicitly tempts Shellder to bite on those specific spots of the body; since Slowpoke is anticipating this, it can take advantage of its would-be parasite in ways that Kantonian Slowpoke kind of bumbled into. In one case, this results in something akin to tool-usage or arming oneself. In the other, the Slowpoke bites off more than he can chew, and… well, gets his head chewed – and apparently he’s a more traditional tool-user, too, brewing “potions” from his own poison. Grody.

It’s not clear that this happens in the wild, though, especially since Pokémon don’t (generally) accessorize in nature – especially not Slowpoke. So Galarian Slowpoke and Slowking are implicitly the result of a trainer deliberately forcing nature into abnormal situations to meet their own ends, which will mark yet a third Galarian form – after a few other regional variants – to directly tackle man’s often-negative influence on nature.

The Slow-family is in an especially weird spot here as they make something of a meal out of animal conditioning, which is totally part of the series’ core gameplay, but normally sanitized with a “self-improvement” flavor. Here you’re implicitly taking a Shellder from the wild and removing its agency for total subservience to Slowpoke, which I can’t tell if it’s worse or just par for the course. Can’t have it both ways, guys – though the games also don’t really do much to condemn this behavior.

On another note, I do like how the games have circled way back around to SlowPoke’s delectable tail, which apparently varies in flavor by region now. It’s a neat idea, but the regional flavor the game gives it is “spicy”, which isn’t exactly the taste that comes to mind for English cuisine. Maybe that’s to tie in with Galar’s apparent obsession with curry? It is the “secret sauce” that brings out the Poison-type in the Galarian evolutions, and poison being directly related to spice certainly reflects how a weak constitution can reduce your capacity for both. Yay for tenuous connections between concepts!

Also, Slowking’s new moniker is “The Hexpert Pokémon”, which is exactly the kind of cheeky portmanteau that I love these series for.

The Galarian evolutions don’t really move the needle one way or the other for me, and kind of introduce some weird “don’t-think-about-the-implications” logic. Still, they’re fun, so ultimately they’re kind of a neutral addition for me.

Any and all appreciation for Slowpoke, Slowbro, and Slowking is welcome in the comments!

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