Grimer, Muk

#088 – Grimer

Grimer is impressive to me for the sheer amount of character they’ve packed into what is, effectively, a puddle of indistinct industrial sludge. He’s just melty enough that he can’t hold a form that well – look at how oddly his eyes have sunken into his head – but he’s super-happy to be here all the same. Giving Grimer stripey layers is also a great way of breaking up an otherwise-mono-color design and suggesting a texture where he seems to fold over himself. His original look was even more dead-eyed, vacant, and creepy in the past, but that was toeing the line with “haunted” territory – I kind of prefer having this guy as a happy little waste-puddle.

Oozing slime creatures aren’t exactly anything new – the mascot of the brain-bustingly-strong Dragon Quest franchise is literally called a Slime – but it’s always nice to see one done well, and this one has a sort of purity to the idea that I love. Great sludge-bugger, here.

#089 – Muk

Muk! Grimer, but bigger, nastier, and even less contained. He seems “droopier”, too – his eyes are further sunken in and his arm can barely even stay an arm even with him actively working to hold himself together, which makes him look big and heavy even from this one static image. The string of sludge dripping from the roof of his mouth to the bottom is one of those small touches that nonetheless does so much to make him look suitably monstrous, and it’s a little terrifying to notice just how much of his form is taken up by his mouth, giving him a very “I’m going to swallow you whole” feel to him.

#088a – Alolan Grimer

The Alolan vairant here specifies an oil spill as its sludge-puddle – he’s not changed much, but added a little color variation (including an odd vibrant stripe around his chin), and he’s got some trash stuck in his mouth, which results in buck teeth that make him look a sort of dopey-goopey-adorable. Of note is that shiny Grimer are the same color as Alolan Grimer, whereas shiny Alolan Grimer are the same color as Grimer, which is a neat little swap.

#089a – Alolan Muk

Alolan Muk leans even further into Alolan Grimer’s hook – non-specific refuse is poking out all over its body (albeit in rings that match up along his layers), his vibrant colors really evoke the shimmer of oil coming into contact with water, and generally he’s even grouchier than before (which helps distinguish him more from his pre-evolution). He’s pretty sensible as a regional variant, particularly one endemic to Fantasy Hawaii.

Muk is big, chunky, and tanky, which pairs nicely with Poison’s sap-health-over-time mechanic, even if it does mean you’re going to have to be more patient to use him. He gets access to a lot of stat-effecting moves, too, which can make him a useful fallback to stop an opponent’s momentum and stall for time while you heal up, barring type weaknesses.

Alolan Muk is arguably even better considering that his new Dark typing helps counter-act a major Psychic weakness without introducing new ones, and his expanded offensive options mean that he isn’t stuck in a slow-moving role. Good stuff.

Grimer and Muk get a fair bit of screentime as staple natives of urban environments (the subtle commentary is noted), but as you might imagine, “industrial sludge” isn’t the most marketable monster design. Present, but not exactly core to the series’ identity or anything.

The two of them are – we have to remember – objectively gross. They feed on literal waste products, from classic “industrial waste” flavor to various bric-a-brac, and chemically singe plant life that they touch. This kind of works in their favor a little, though – their diet led people to import the species to Alola to work as living garbage disposals (hence Alolan Grimer’s processed-trash “teeth” and Muk’s crystalized-rubbish-rings).

Man, OSHA would have a field day with that one – how do you write safety rules when on-site operators are by definition living health hazards that mix and create entirely new hazardous compounds in proximity to one another? Clearly it wasn’t handled too well, either, since they’ve begun preying on other local species and threatening their populations. It’s one of those non-straightforward mutual interactions between civilization and nature, which is the sort of thing that makes this setting so ding-dang interesting.

It feels a little bit weird that people are relatively okay with having open, sentient puddles of sludge around in the first place, and even occasionally keep them as pets and coworkers, when their stench is so strong that it can literally cause the opponent to lose a turn reeling from it in-game. You have to imagine that this is on a lot of Poké-moms’ short lists of “Timmy, I forbid you to catch or adopt one of these”, which is a shame, because what’s life without a sentient disease vector at your side?

…speaking of, what’s the chance that kids play with Grimer to deliberately get themselves sick and skip school?

A few instances in the show suggest that it has some control over the level of toxicity it radiates, not unlike Ponyta‘s flames, but neither case is portrayed with any level of consistency. Besides, this feels like a cheap way out of an otherwise delightful, trashy conundrum. Everything points to this thing being a potent pest, yet trainers will voluntarily befriend them, which must make for some interesting, inherently-strained relationships.

Its other-language names are also sufficiently gross, with the French effectively reading as “Pile-o-snot” and “Big-Pile-o-snot”, and the Japanese being approximately the word for “Sticky”. In Chinese, it evolves form “Ooze Beast” to “Ooze Freak”. Fun!

It’s also amusing that this is the point where the writers clearly give up on having all of the Pokémon make consistent, biological sense. Officially, Grimer are toxic puddles of sludge that are granted life when exposed from X-Rays… from the moon. Except when they hatch from eggs, or when bits of their bodies fall off and spawn new Grimer. Sure, guys, whatever you say.

However, the in-game text also mentions that the wastewater produced from factories – something Grimer and Muk have been feeding on since the first game – has gotten cleaner in recent years, which is causing their population to decline rapidly and make them the second species threatened with human-caused extinction. Unfortunate for our disgusting little friends, but it’s nice that the Pokémon world is getting their pollution problem under control, at least.

Then there’s the stinger in there of would it be okay if Grimer/Muk went extinct, since as noted they passively destroy any plant life they touch, let off a horrendous odor, and in general seem hostile to the existence of other creatures. One of the solutions to its ongoing extinction is that naturalists created “sludge ponds” as protected and contained environments for these things to live in, in what must be the most rancid wildlife preserve ever devised.

Grimer and Muk are great monster designs in that they’re relatively simple illustrations of a concept rather than being a direct analogue to an animal, which makes them feel like natural fits as “common critters” in an urban-fantasy-ish setting, plus their concept creates some wonderful hooks that inject conflict into the lore. They’re not headliners or anything, but they’re well-made, wonderfully-flavorful, and deserve to be kept in Reserve at minimum for the crossroads of ideas that they represent.

Any and all appreciation for Grimer and Muk is welcome in the comments!

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