The Hitmon family feels like the real first-generation face of the Fighting type to many – which I promise I’m not saying just to turn around and joke that Hitmonlee’s whole body is explicitly a (partial) face, which it totally is. I love that it gives him a more focused, monstrous look – this guy is clearly built to do one thing, and that is to kick you in the face. And Hitmon family members are always “this guy” – it feels a bit weird that they’re gender-locked when Alakazam and its giant moustache aren’t, but internal consistency ain’t the series’ strong suit.
My favorite feature on ‘lee is that his legs are kind of accordion-folded like the bend in a straw – it’s a very quick shorthand that he’s good and limber, and that his legs can spring out for extra power and speed. It even pairs nicely with the martial-arts-y wrappings on his forearms. Hitmonlee makes a really sleek design overall – it feels like they’ve pared this fighter down to his core essentials, which has a great appeal to it. Plus, you’ve gotta love a Pocket Monster that looks just a bit fantastical, what with the bizarre, cryptid-inspired biology of his torso-head.
Then on the other side of the ring we have this fella, who looks much more like a traditional fighter. He’s even got a something of a martial-arts uniform and boxing gloves to complete the look. It’s definitely a robe/gi, by the way – he’s even got a black-belt there – but that doesn’t stop people from jumping to “he’s wearing a skirt”. Arguably, that only makes him more impressive – anything in a skirt that can punch your teeth out has a real powerful aura about it.
Hitmonchan is definitely more straightforward in his build than spring-leg Hitmonlee (and is also one of the few Pokémon who wears or mocks clothing) and is probably the least muscular of the first-generation Fighting types, which gives the correct impression that Hitmonchan is the more technique-oriented choice as opposed to Hitmonlee and his heavier focus on attack-attack-attack. Even what we have to interpret as organic shoulder pads feed into his more defensive look. The two make a pretty good pairing, though Hitmonchan feels a bit further off the “monster” brand.
Then Generation II came around, and we got Tyrogue, a spunky little sport who retroactively makes Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan part of the same evolutionary family. To cut the difference between the kick-focused ‘lee and the punch-focused ‘chan, Tyrogue is instead focused on the more full-bodied, school-sport form of wrestling. I appreciate how his look pulls in scaled-back elements from all his evolutions while also not looking like a mess – he’s got clothes like Hitmonchan, wraps like Hitmonlee, and grunge-y head-spikes that could either recede or fan out depending on which way he evolves. Then he’s got those grooves on his head to mock wrestlers’ ear protection, which helps clarifies his inspiration even though the games stubbornly refuse to show him in a wrestling pose like we see here. A lot of the pre-evolutions in Generation II were mostly littler, cuter blob-forms of their evolved forms, but there’s a lot of thought put into Tyrogue.
Then there’s Hitmontop, who is just weird. He spins around on the point on his head to throw his limbs around, which feels pretty far off the rest of the family’s more grounded fighting motifs and not even in the same category as “punch” and “kick”. It’s not entirely without base – he follows after Capoeira, which involves a lot of high kicks and balancing off one’s hands, so using both extremities – but this feels like a cartoony expression of it by comparison. Surely there was a more straightforward, full-body combat sport or internal martial art that they could represent as a third evolution, but having the one oddball in the group might make the Hitmons a bit more interesting in the end than if they’d just added a sumo-focused Hitmondo or even a tai-chi-flavored Hitmonkai.
Also, his “v-neck painted on a marble torso” look is pretty dumb.
There’s lots of reasons to love the Hitmon family and keep one on your team. Hitmonlee is a straightforward glass cannon (especially with his crazy-strong, 10%-backfiring signature move), Hitmonchan has fantastic coverage of both various situations and almost all elemental types, and Hitmontop can take a hit the best of the three while maintaining a good offense. All solid choices, and probably the most distinct choices of the Fighting-types so far.
These guys get around an awful lot, especially ‘lee and ‘chan, probably because Hitmonchan in particular is so evocative of boxing and the two make for such great counterparts. Tyrogue and Hitmontop feel like they’re along for the ride by comparison.
Speaking of, I love how Pokémon will make two creatures a “pair” without necessarily making them part of the same evolutionary family. The Nido families are blatant counterparts, the bull-like Tauros and dairy-cow Miltank get paired up constantly, Seviper and Zangoose exist almost entirely to be rivals… it almost feels like a shame to retroactively make the Hitmons explicitly related.
I say “almost”, because Tyrogue has one of the most natural split evolutions in the whole series. He doesn’t evolve differently based on what arbitrary item you use on him, but rather based on stat progression. He starts out in a more basic sport you only see in secondary schools, then specializes based on whether he has a higher attack stat or defense stat (or perfectly balanced stats) when he evolves – influenced naturally, but still within the player’s control. It requires the player to plan ahead and think about how they’re raising their Pokémon to get the right result, which is such a more active and involved choice than the typical “use rock on creature” – and it ties into the whole idea of adapting your training regimen to meet your goals, which is a very physical-fitness / “fighter” thing to do. Mechanically engaging and on-theme. *chef kiss*
If you look at the Hitmon family’s names across the board, they leaned heavily into real-world fighters for the first generation, with different localizers using different touchpoints in different regions. The Japanese names reference a Japanese boxer and kickboxer, the Korean names use Korean athletes of the same sports, and Hitmonchan’s French name borrows Mike Tyson’s. It’s just the English names that seem a bit off – Jackie Chan isn’t exactly known for boxing, and Bruce Lee was more of a well-rounded guy (if anything, he’s famous for a “one-inch punch”).
Then, with Tyrogue and Hitmontop, they backed off of using real names entirely, unless you take the “Ty-” to be a sneaky use of “Mike Tyson” rather than the frankly more likely “tyke”. A bit of an odd choice to break the name scheme, considering that the otherwise-most-obvious reason – a lawsuit from one Uri Geller over a different Pokémon’s name – wouldn’t come for another year after they were introduced (see Kadabra). Maybe he’d already filed his complaints before then?
One of the more nuanced ways in which Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan are made counterparts is how Hitmonlee apparently can harden the sole of its foot to add extra crushing power to its kick, whereas Hitmonchan is always wearing boxing gloves (which implicitly soften its blows), playing nicely into the whole offensive-vs-defensive dichotomy they have going on. Hitmontop, meanwhile, has the slickest movement of the three, and acts as something of a trickster to throw the opponent off their rhythm. Two rivals and an oddball, to be sure.
The rest of their actual Pokédex entries aren’t super-exciting (boiling down to “yup, they sure are good at fighting things”), the Hitmons are intrinsically interesting for how obviously they’re related to humans rather than nature. It’s in a less “tenuous symbiosis” way than with Grimer, but possibly even an odder situation. Where Grimer and Muk adapted to live in the spaces that humans made, the Hitmons are mimicking a very specific human behavior, which implies that some proto-Hitmons hung around dojos for so long and liked their martial arts so much that they explicitly grew springy legs and top-shaped heads just so they could better pull off some sick moves. Now that’s dedication – and also borderline nonsensical, if Pokémon species are all born out of adaptation.
It feels interesting to me that, over the whole series, Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan are still unique in that we have next to no other monsters who revolve around “I fight with punches” or “I fight with kicks”, despite those feeling like fairly basic design directions. It speaks pretty strongly to how well those two work as counterparts, and Tyrogue makes a great addition to tie them together. Hitmontop is there, too! They feel like the closest to a Must-Have of any Fighting-types that aren’t also starter Pokémon.
Any and all appreciation for Hitmonlee, Hitmonchan, Tyrogue, and Hitmontop is welcome in the comments!