We already got a bit of a taste of this with the Tentacool family, but ocean-dwelling invertebrates are straight-up weird. They’re so drastically unlike mammals or even other land-dwelling invertebrates like insects that they almost feel like another class of life entirely. It makes perfect sense, then, that both aquatic invertebrate Pokémon families so far are distinctly alien-themed.
There’s the obvious star-shape pulling double-duty by making it a starfish analogue and giving it a “starry sky” theme, it looks like it has some sort of chitinous exoskeleton, and it operates on some manner of glowing, red “core”. Not to mention the fact that it spins on its side like a UFO and shoots star-shaped energy when summoned in Super Smash Bros. Definitely smells like a (non-humanoid) alien to me, which is spot-on for a deep-sea creature in my book.
I do like the detail of how its metal-looking “face” is attached with a sort of ring mount around just one of its appendages, underscoring a third theme of “jewelry”. That’s a lot that’s going on for such a relatively uncomplicated design!
Starmie is basically a more complicated Staryu, so everything above applies here. It’s got more limbs for more power, and the smooth face and jewel have solidified into something angular and harder-looking, solidifying the almost artificial look that this line has. Given that regenerating their limbs is probably the starfish’s claim to fame outside of Spongebob, adding more limbs is a really solid way to go here – it gives it a freaky feeling that it keeps coming after you with more and more limbs no matter how many you chop off.
Starmie is great in the games, full stop. It’s got a fairly high stat total, good speed and special attack, okay defenses, a fairly unique typing in Water/Psychic… a lot is set up in its favor. Plus, it gets access to a wide range of special attacks to use, including elemental combinations that no Pokémon in the game can resist, plus Rapid Spin to remove traps and Recover to, well, recover health. Oh, and then there’s its Natural Cure ability, which heals status effects when it switches. Other Pokémon may fit competitive niches better, but for average everyday players, Starmie covers so well for so many different situations that it’s hard not to recommend it.
Staryu and Starmie get quite a lot of attention as Misty’s signature Pokémon, and in general they show up a lot just based on that alone. It kind of surprises me how much, really, especially given that they don’t have a face to animate or express themselves with. I guess the sheer oddity of them is appealing enough on its own to get them into a lot of those scene-establishing ocean shots.
There’s a lot to say about Starmie and Staryu just from a non-visual design perspective: for one, they’ve got strong influences from asterism – the gemstone-based definition, not the astronomical one, though the dual meaning is pretty apropos here. It neatly ties their gems and star-shapes together into another theme aside from the delightful “blinking alien core” look.
Staryu’s gem is smooth, making it a cabochon-cut gem, usually a way that stones are cut to emphasize their internal reflections (the “inner qualities” being very on-theme for a Psychic type). Amusingly, this is a common cut for star-rubies, which couldn’t be more on the nose if they tried. Meanwhile, when a gemstone is cut into eight facets around its center like Starmie’s, those are called “star facets”, which is also such wonderful wordplay. Man, punny names are like half the reason I love this series, I swear.
Speaking of, let’s bounce over to the foreign naming corner. “Starmie” is literally just its Japanese name, coming from “star” and “mi” (meaning gem). While Staryu’s English name is pretty clearly a pun on “me” and “you”, “yu” doesn’t seem to have any relevant meanings in Japanese – and its Japanese name is totally different in the first place (“Starfish-man”, basically). This makes “Staryu” an English-language pun on a Japanese-language name, and a rare instance of cross-language wordplay. How wonderful!
There’s a lot of weird stuff in the games’ flavor text about Starmie and Staryu, too. Notably, its core (which is explicitly referred to as an organ but never a stone) glows in a full rainbow of colors – another for the pile of variants I wish we’d see within the games – and blinks in a heartbeat pattern when it’s resting. The core is also capable of producing radio signals, which is so weird for any non-mechanical monster that it basically defies any attempt to categorize Starmie as an earthly creature. Granted, starfish are pretty weird, too, but not at a “beaming messages to the mothership” level.
Aside from other little bits of folklore Staryu being born from stardust falling into the sea (even more fuel for the argument that Pokémon were originally intended to be extraterrestrial), a lot of the text revolves around its regeneration abilities. Aside from doing the expected starfish-like thing of regrowing limbs, it appears to not feel pain, since it’s mentioned that other aquatic Pokémon will nibble on its limbs, but Starmie regenerates quickly enough that it simply doesn’t care. It’s also mentioned that the regeneration ability is linked specifically to the core, though; in retrospect, it’s a little weird that any creature would keep its most critical organ so exposed, but since that also seems to be the focus point for its attacks, Staryu must just live dangerously.
That organ is also sold in secret as “the gem of the sea”, pointing yet again to the existence of poachers and black-market animal parts in this universe. Grim things to think about, especially considering that’s the one part that Starmie apparently can’t afford to lose.
A nicer line of thought is its locomotion – Starmie and Staryu float around freely near the ocean floor and seasonally around beaches, so they have to swim by definition. Starmie moves around by spinning its rear limbs like a propeller and using its front limbs to steer like a rudder; fine enough. Staryu, on the other hand, has only one row of limbs – spinning should in theory get it nowhere, and while the art implies that its limbs can bend a little, that seems more like wiggling itself in place. So does it just shoot lasers out of its core to push itself with the recoil? I’m not seeing many alternatives, here.
I used to be ambivalent about Staryu and Starmie, but as time goes on, they’ve become some of my favorite monsters in the roster. There’s just so much going on with them from a design standpoint despite their relatively simple appearance – I’d argue they’re the most unique monsters so far – and Starmie is very useful in the games, to boot. It’s important that the series keep some of the stronger and less-traditional-looking designs in heavy rotation, and while I personally would put them in every game, I think the series can do with keeping them as regulars in the Reserve stock.
Any and all appreciation for Staryu and Starmie is welcome in the comments.