This is Seel, who is named Seel because she is a seal, do you see(l)?
Really, though, Seel is pretty much just a cutesied-up version of a seal – specifically the furry arctic variety that is the harp seal, with the addition of a doglike snout and waggy tongue to play on the idea that seals make barking noises. She’s also got this fun little visual hook where her upturned tail looks like a water spout, which is nice, but taken as a whole unit she doesn’t stray far from the base animal or draw in a second concept. Well, there is that narwhal-like horn – like Nidoran and Rapidash, one apparently made right out of the monster’s flesh – but the narwhal is such a different animal that the inclusion of the horn feels a little like it’s just there to break Seel’s design up a bit and keep her from looking too round.
Dewgong – a homonym for the exact thing she is, the dugong (also known as the manatee). She falls yet again into the “why mess with a good thing?” evolutionary camp – take Seel’s design, make her childish flippers more elegant now and trim her down to a sleeker shape overall.
There’s some reading you could do into how Seel’s rounder flippers hint at how manatees may be related to elephants or how its tusks reference extinct, large-fanged manatee ancestors (then again, who didn’t have sabreteeth around Quaternary times?), but I’ll be honest: Seel and Dewgong can be characterized for me charitably as “safe and appealing” or skeptically as “one-note”.
Given their simple names on top of their simple designs compared to the delightfully interesting likes of Diglett and Tentacool, this line is a back-pocket response to the idea that Pokémon designs have gotten less creative lately. They’re not bad monsters, but they show that there have always been Plain Janes in the lineup. I can understand why people would like her general form; she just doesn’t have that same sense of vivid imagination that the Pokémon around her have on display.
Just like her design, Dewgong isn’t much to write home about gameplay-wise, though she’s not a horrible pick or anything. Around-average stats, a pretty straightforward type combo, and a pretty shallow range of moves with just a few interesting picks. Perfectly… adequate.
She and Dewgong turn up a fair bit overall due to the luck of being part of the super-marketable Original 151, but not really in a way that sticks them above their peers.
The one thing that I will grant them is that the horn is dreadfully sensible addition for an aquatic arctic Pokémon, with Seel and Dugong using it as a pick-like tool to break through ice floes. I do love it when Pokémon plays around with what features would add sensible benefit to a real-world animal. It is a little odd that this is referenced a bunch in Seel’s Pokédex entries despite her not gaining the Ice-type until her evolves, but those entries also characterize her with “light blue fur”, so apparently Seel is as inconsistent as she is simplistic.
Those entries have also changed over time, previously characterizing its preferred habitat as water around -40F, but nowadays using the same wording to describe a “frigid climate” of 14F. Mind you, that’s still crazy-cold water, but it illustrates ow the series has gotten less hyperbolic and tuned its internal logic a bit over time to something more believably-fantastical.
That’s the rundown on Seel and Dewgong. We’ll see other Pokémon tackle the “seal” specifically and sea-mammals as a whole in more interesting ways later in the series, which can make these two feel redundant and ripe for the Retirement block. Still, there is some diplomatic immunity they gain as Gen-One Pokémon that boots them up to something kept in Reserve for old times’ sake.
Any and all appreciation for Seel and Dewgong is welcome in the comments!