Kangaskhan

#115 – Kangaskhan

Kangaskhan is another one of those very “Pocket Monster” designs. She’s clearly inspired by a kangaroo – it’s in her name, her child-rearing pouch, and her general body shape. But she’s also distinctly heftier than a kangaroo (closer in build to an oversized wallaby), looking almost like she’s partially armored in rock, and including elements that make her look like something of a kaiju or lizard-monster. The sauropod aesthetic was really their go-to mixer early on, huh? The newer designs kind of dropped that through-line, which is either good or bad depending on how you feel about design consistency in your fantasy critters. Anyway, she’s kind of a mish-mash of different parts that all work together without detracting too much from the appealing marsupial-pouch feature, which points to a well-balanced design.

It’s hard to talk about Kangaskhan’s effectiveness much on her own nowadays, but suffice to say, she’s got a lot of bulk to her and a surprising range of attacks to throw her weight around with – the only thing she’s really bad at is special attack, which she never uses, anyway. She’s kinda one-speed – just physically attack things and take whatever comes in on the chin – but more often that not that’s what you need as a normal player, anyway. Good ol’ dependable mom-monster.

Kangaskhan doesn’t show up a ton in the show or marketing, but she’s definitely one of the recognizable faces of the first generation, which counts for something. The few times she does show up, it’s pretty notable – like that one time where they raised a clearly Tarzan-inspired human child, and that a herd of them adopted Ash Ketchum’s Pikachu when it was a young Pichu. Their adoptive-familial bond was even strong enough to fulfill the “must be this friendly to evolve” requirement for Pichu to change into Pikachu, which retroactively explains why Pokémon like Pikachu, Marill, and Clefairy can naturally occur in the wild without bonding with a trainer to evolve. Neat little bit of lore patching, there!

Kangaskhan is also one of the handful of Pokémon in the original generation to still not have a full and proper evolution, largely because she already looks (and hits) like a fully-evolved monster. The one time they did try and give her something of an evolution, she ended up being so brazenly overpowered that she was nearly banned from normal play – but we’re not going to talk about that here. Mega Evolutions are their own can of weirdness.

Its lack of evolution is a bit odd in and of itself, seeing as Kangaskhan is pretty clearly two creatures always seen together in a pair. Supposedly the “joey” grows up and leaves the pouch, but we never see any form of adolescent Kangaskhan nor a mother without a baby, even in the more flexible anime and manga. That’s easy to write off under 1996 Gameboy constraints – they only ever appear as caught on a safari – but it gets weirder the longer the series goes on without explicitly introducing other variants of Kangaskhan, especially since as of writing the species hatches fully-formed with a baby already on board. On the other hand, it feels like we’re in too deep to change things now – there’s a certain charm to the bizzarro logic of an organism that, from birth to death, only exists as a mother-and-child set.

I guess that’s why we’ve never seen a “Kangaskid” monster, despite people pointing at ‘khan’s belly for ages and going “it’s right there!”. The two are never much apart (and the mother is so viciously protective that it sleeps standing up with its child in the pouch), so it wouldn’t make much thematic or logistic sense as its own evolution. Then again, going strictly by the lore, Cubone should be an inherently declining and unsustainable population, so it’s not like the lifestyle of a given Pokémon species is hard science are anything. Regardless, most folks bemoan adding baby forms to the roster when they so rarely add any gameplay value, so not having a Kangaskid doesn’t feel like a huge loss to me.

That also beings up a point about how Pokémon growth works in-universe – namely, that evolution isn’t inherently tied to age with most species, so you could in theory have an adolescent Raichu next to an elderly Pikachu. But what we don’t usually see is Pokémon undergoing significant physical changes outside of evolution – a baby of one species generally looks the exact same as a senior citizen of the same species, give or take some wear and tear. Kangaskhan, on the other hand, seems to progress more like a real-world mammal, with the Kangaskid transitioning cleanly into a Kangasmom if we’re going by the text. Then again, maybe that evolution does exist seeing as it never happens on-screen.

One way they might introduce this – which has some precedent – is to introduce a nesting mechanic, where Kangaskhan could “produce” an adolescent kangaroo/dino member of its family into a free party slot after some amount of real-world time, leaving an empty pouch (and possibly change Kangaskhan to a different, joey-free form). Then, after a while (or by some other trigger), it could regain its joey and begin the child-raising phase again. There are other ways that you could work the mother-and-joey theme into the gameplay – any of them welcome, as far as I’m concerned – but it would also involve substantially reworking an existing monster. Retooling existing monsters isn’t totally foreign to the series, but there’s a lot you’d have to do mechanically to cover for the logical holes that got poked in Kangaskhan’s existence the instant that eggs and breeding were introduced.

So while the “Kanga” part of “Kangaskhan” is more obvious, the “Khan” – pretty clearly from “Genghis Khan” – lets you draw your own interesting connections. It could just be a way of dragging in a powerful name and imagery to make “Kangaskhan” sound more authoritative (and more likely, as the original Japanese generically refers to “ruler” in the name). As if there’s anything more authoritative than a mother over her baby, anyway.

Even if it’s not the original intent, I like the idea of “Khan” not only referring to its imposing armor-plated appearance, but also the commonly-quoted and commonly-misquoted “factoid” that 10% 8% 0.5% of people are almost certainly possibly descended from Gengis Khan. It marries nicely with the parental theme of a Pokémon that carries her baby with her everywhere.

Kangaskhan is great. On one hand, she’s not going to set the world on fire, and introduces a lot of weird questions about growth cycles. But I love the subtle twisting of Genghis Khan into something not as expected of the name, and she just has a great, monstery feel to her. A better-than-fair addition, in the solid upper tiers of the Reserve corps.

Any and all appreciation for Kangaskhan is welcome in the comments!

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