Tangela is one of those one-off Pokémon in the original 151 that, while they weren’t much to write home about, was still delightfully odd. He’s nothing but a mass of vines, which is nicely reflective of him being the only purely Grass-type Pokémon in the first games. And… that’s pretty much it. Just vines that have evolved an adorable set of booties to walk around on, or possibly stolen them from a human or another Pokémon? They kind of look like mushroom-caps; are Tangela a species of horticulture-based cobblers? Are they re-purposing Lady’s Slippers as literal slippers?
More likely, it’s just an extension of whatever unseemly creature actually lives inside that mass of vines. We never see the body attached to that adorable set of wide, beady eyes, so we’re left to imagine that it looks like some perfectly-round Kirby character. The fact that his vines are blue rather than the natural brown or green (suggesting that he’s carnivorous rather than chlorophyll-fed) just adds to his delightful oddness, making him feel like something of an alien plant. Between him, Clefairy, and Tentacruel, the early games were really going for that extraterrestrial vibe, huh?
Then we have Tangrowth, who decidedly does not need to be here. I’m sorry, Tangela was kind of dead weight mechanically, Tangrowth doesn’t do anything functionally different and and loses all Tangela’s charm. That wormy matte of hair he’s made out of his vines is fun in a gross-out sort of way, and it’s cool that he’s managed to form his vines into a more permanent appendage. The Tangrowth evolution does make a bit more sense when you consider that the line’s Japanese names are basically “scruffmonster” and “big’n’shaggy”, so they’re more explicitly playing off a “hairy” vibe, but that’s not enough to save it for me.
We can even see more of the body underneath now, which somewhat rules out the chances of Tangela’s True Form secretly being some form eldritch horror. Boo. It’s always a bit disappointing for me to see a monster go from a more unique shape to a flavor of humanoid. Shaggy orangutan is just inherently less interesting than a mystery identity to me, I’m afraid.
Tangrowth is fine mechanically as things go – physically-bulky, with some good attack stats, but Grass isn’t exactly the most exciting type physically. He’s potent in the sun thanks to his passive abilities, but the regeneration-based one that might really make him shine is a bit tough to get in most cases. He does get a few good move options to make him a solid standby, but he’s always been a bit bleh to me.
Oddly enough, Tangela and Tangrowth don’t show up a whole lot in the series despite being in the original 151 and (for my money) hitting the venn diagram of “cute” and “weird monster” square in the middle. Shame, because it ultimately makes him a bit obscure as far as the original roster goes. We’ll call him an underdog.
Tangela’s vines being described as its hair links up with its in-development name being “Meduza”, after the snake-haired Greek gorgon. Distressingly, though, Tangela never learns the paralyzing Glare – the only way that it can paralyze opponents is with a very plant-like Stun Spore – so the whole flavor there is kind of lost, especially after localization.
Most of the English Pokédex entries actually distance Tangela from its tentacle-vines, noting that they snap off quickly and painlessly in case a quick getaway is necessary. But the vines are also notably prehensile, between its constricting moves, its hunting habits, and that its favorite defensive tactic is to, apparently, wiggle its entire vine-coat around just to weird its opponents out and get them to back away. Using your inherent weirdness as a defensive mechanism? Full marks.
Tangela is another member of the “we don’t know what it really looks like” club, right after Cloyster, and to be frank I still don’t quite buy that explanation. Surely somebody has dissected one at some point, assuming that Tangela don’t rot away instantaneously when they die. But honestly? I’m kind of okay with that. Pokémon has always had this wide-eyed curiosity and sense of discovery around it, and what better emblem of that than a creature whose very shape is unknown?
I like Tangela a lot – his design hits all the right notes – but he’s not terribly exciting as a party member and Tangrowth is so aggressively blah to me. Being in the original 151 gives him some level of immunity that keeps him on Reserve for use in future games, but he’s one of the ones I’d likely Retire from the series if making no-holds-barred cuts.
Any and all appreciation for Tangela and Tangrowth is welcome in the comments!