This guy looks like a total dork, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That could just be chalked up to the fact that we don’t see tapirs that often in fiction or in, say, zoo billboarda. They just aren’t photogenic animals. On the other hand, that does give Drowzee a bit uniqueness to his character, so he gets more of a pass where you might be a bit less satisfied with, say, a pretty direct translation of a seal or a rat. It is pretty neat that they’ve inverted the dark and light fur pattern of an actual species of tapir (the Malayan tapir, it seems) to emphasize the idea that this animal wallows about in mud. There’s also that odd look in and creases around his eye that make him look just a little wigged-out or short on sleep, which ties nicely into the Psychic type and dream-eating themes. He’s not terribly complex, but he’s still got a fair bit going on, which makes him a good monster concept in my book.
Hypno is a lot harder to place. The beaky nose, ears, and coloration keep him looking like a proper evolution of Drowzee, but he’s definitely less animal and more humanoid now – I’d peg him as a goblin, if anything. Dunno where that frill is coming from, though – I guess it’s there to keep him from being just a solid yellow body? It’s kind of a shame that it doesn’t add anything thematically; maybe his collar could’ve been more cloud-like to play into the “sleep” theme of the line? It’d be more interesting than giving him a tool in order to make the connection clear, which is a design decision that I’ve never been fond of in my monster designs. He’s an indistinct creeper, and there’s nothing too offensive about him; he just doesn’t work for me.
On top of that, he’s pretty slow, and his only stat better than “slightly-below-average” is special defense, which isn’t exactly thrilling. He’s got some pretty neat support and status-inducing moves, but those just aren’t fun to rip through the game with, and so he’s hard to recommend to most players, really.
He’s made a handful of cameo appearances in the show, and gets some base level of attention from being part of the Original 151 that the marketing loves oh-so-much, but honestly I feel like Hypno is just one of the less-visible members of the series’ first generation.
It can even feel like the dubbing departments kind of gave these two a miss, just relying on corruptions of sleep-flavored words: Sleep/Sleepy (Japanese), Drowsy/Hypnosis (English), Soporific (French)… a big part of the joy of these Pokémon is in the cheeky portmanteaus of their names, and this line just doesn’t have that going on.
Drowzee is another spin on a folktale creature – the baku was originally more of a chimera-like, “made of spare parts” monster that would eat your dreams, but it’s conceptualized as a tapir-like creature nowadays, which makes a nice visual connection for the original audience that doesn’t quite translate for most international players/viewers. It still has a nice bit of visual continuity, though, where you can imagine him using that trunk to sniff out and vacuum up dream-clouds like an elephant drinking up water.
While it’s not clear how dream eating works in this context – some elements of this world are just straight-up supernatural – I love the note that not all dreams taste alike. Drowzee prefers the nice, fun dreams, but can potentially get dream food poisoning from eating bad dreams, which is a delightful bit of texture that’s reflected in the move Nightmare causing subsequent uses of the move Dream Eater against the same target to backfire. It invites you to wonder how the content of a dream affects its flavor – do dreams where you’re flying through the clouds taste like marshmallows, or like cotton candy?
Dreams’ individualized flavor also means that Drowzee tend to hang out around recreational zones and day cares so that they can prey on children, who tend to have sweeter dreams than adults. It’s even been reported to kidnap a child just to feed on their dreams, which blasts it right back from “cute dream-muncher” to “unsettling pest”. That seems like a poorly-thought-out plan, though; surely prey under distress would produce foul-tasting nightmares.
While the word “nourishing” is used to describe dream consumption, it doesn’t seem like Drowzee are really sustaining themselves on a diet of dreams, or at least they aren’t “digesting” them (for what little sense that would even make). Rather, they retain them in some form and can even show them to you if you sleep nearby a friendly one. Honestly, that sounds like a lucrative business model: raise a staff of Drowzee or Hypno and have them induce pleasant dreams in people who are otherwise having trouble sleeping well. The most recent games mention that this is even done for medical purposes in-universe, but we haven’t actually seen it in practice yet, so I’m jumping all over this start-up opportunity. Fictional financiers, call me.
There’s also some key signs given in the Pokédex for how to know if you’ve had your dreams eaten by a Drowzee – for example, waking up with an itchy nose (since apparently that’s where it sucks your dreams out, all mummification-style), or remembering that you had a nice dream without being able to recall any details about it (which is just broad enough to make you suspicious of your own situation). It’s nice that the Pokédex takes these occasional detours from hyperbolic claims and zoo-plaque facts to act as something of a field survival guide.
Hypno, meanwhile, is characterized as less of a colorful animal and more of a nightmare-monster. It’s very precise and practiced with its pendulum, which it uses to deliberately put prey to sleep before consuming their dreams, which makes it a distinctly predatory take on what Drowzee already does. There are a few Pokémon who are near-permanently asleep in the first place, but Hypno is only mentioned as preying on one of them. It’s a little disappointing that we’ve never gotten more interplay between the dream-eating Pokémon and the famously always-snoozing Snorlax; I love the visual idea of a Hypno or Drowzee sneaking up on and stealing the dreams of a monster more than five times its size.
Hypno is notably one of the few Pokémon primarily shown wielding a tool that isn’t a natural part of its body – it’s just Farfetch’d, Abra‘s evolutions, and the Cubone family in the first generation, and then the practice becomes notably rare almost immediately after the original games. To hazard a guess, the concept of equipping Pokémon with “held” items was introduced in the very next games, which kind of conflicts with them already holding weapons. They even retroactively invented items that specifically benefit those other three, but Hypno just got passed over for whatever reason.
It’s also the third evolutionary line in the first generation where hypnosis-induced sleep is a core element of its design, and we’ve only gotten another three in all six of the following generations combined. Again making speculation here, it’s possible that the fuss about Kadabra and Uri Geller made Game Freak gun-shy on including direct references to stage magic in the designs themselves, but it also could just be because the Hynosis corner is already a little full. Either way, it’s fun to look at what concepts fall in and out of style with the team over the years!
Drowzee starts out a neat concept, but Hypno drops the ball a bit and the series never gave them their time to shine, which sounds a lot like a design that can be Retired. Realistically, though, the most we’ll ever see for a first-generation Pokémon is them being relegated to the Reserve roster.
Any and all appreciation for Drowzee and Hypno is welcome in the comments!