Jynx, Smoochum

#124 – Jynx

Welp, this one’s a real weirdo. Without opening a whole can of worms yet, Jynx seems to evoke an opera singer of some sort? She’s got the same visible chest as Nidoqueen, the dress and “sleeves” definitely evoke a gown, and that pose we always see her in makes her look like she’s always singing. She’s also very decidedly the most human-looking of any monster so far (arguably at all), which creates a very weird uncanny-valley effect. Sorry Jynx fans, this one’s a big ol’ miss for me.

#238 – Smoochum

Smoochum is a bit better – a sassy little tyke with a visible attitude. Look at her, the living embodiment of Terrible Twos. I’m not convinced that Jynx of all monsters needed an additional infant form, but she’s… fine. Not much against her, but she’s not especially inspiring to me.

Jynx is weak to a lot of types, but she’s got surprisingly good special attack and speed to back it up. It’s a shame that she has the physical defense of a Caterpie and pretty low HP, but she also has a unique move with a 75% of inflicting Sleep (totally disabling most opponents) and some great attack options besides, so she’s not a total wash.

Much like Porygon and Kadabra, Jynx has proven problematic enough that she hasn’t shown up in the anime since 2006, and was edited out of most of her earlier appearances in the show outside Japan. She still shows up a bit in materials like the card game, but she’s probably one of the least-visible monsters of the original 151 now – with Smoochum actually having appeared more than her fully-evolved form.

The elephant in the room here is that Jynx was completely redesigned around the turn of the millennium after some pointed response to her original design, which featured completely black skin and big pink lips. Not a stretch to figure out that she’s reflecting a pretty nasty caricature, which unfortunately isn’t exactly something that Japanese media is known to be above. To that point, Jynx was originally the focus of the show’s Christmas episode, so there’s a non-zero chance that she’s at least partially based on the unflattering Black Peter.

There are semi-charitable readings of Jynx’s original design, like her black skin reflecting frostbite, and her overall appearance matching yokai like the snow-themed Yuki-onna (which would explain the Ice-type that’s otherwise unaccounted for in her design) and Yama-uba (accounting for the lore around her voice). In particular, Yama-uba is also called yamanba, which is also a slang name of a specific subset of ganguro fashion that involves darkening one’s skin and lightening their hair (which feeds back into an uncomfortable “dark-skinned” theme).

Normally the double-entendre in yamanba would feel like a strong indicator as to her inspiration, but there’s a lot of holes in that logic – mostly that the ties between Yama-uba and Jynx seem to be retroactive explanations rather than outright confirmed, and that ganguro hadn’t really caught on yet by the time Red and Blue were developed. Plus, her non-English names and signature move all focus on her lips, which are only an important feature if she’s intended to be a caricature.

Chances are that she really is just a screwed-up design. Even if she wasn’t, just the association is so aggressively bad that nobody will argue against the series’ decision to turn her skin purple and scrub as many references to the original color as possible. Not a perfect solution – a coat of paint doesn’t completely obscure the original look – but it’s a quiet acknowledgement of “we screwed the pooch on this one”, at least. Apparently so is her ongoing treatment, as she failed to get an evolution in Sinnoh where they were being given out like candy to her peers.

A small thing that I only noticed while comparing the two designs directly was that they also changed the color of her forearms from red to white? I guess it suggests the sleeve of a dress a bit more, but the change seems like a superfluous “while we’re at it” move that confuses me for having happened.

The design change has also resulted in some interesting decisions when re-visiting earlier content. The version of Pokémon Yellow on the virtual console, for example, had to add an additional color to Jynx’s pixel art, bringing it up to five (purple, black, red, yellow, white) where only four were normally possible on the Game Boy. The solution there, interestingly, was basically to break her art “sprite” up into a map of tiny “sub-sprites” each with four or fewer colors. At least one episode of the anime was also digitally altered after the fact to change Jynx’s skin color to the “official” purple, but even then those haven’t been re-aired outside of Japan. Under the rug she goes.

At least that’s not the only flavor to Jynx. As far as things that aren’t her skin, most of her descriptions revolve around how she communicates through rhythmic dance that hypnotizes onlookers. This smells an awful lot like a sea-siren to me, but one based around ice rather than water. This marks her thick and stocky build as an body-heat-focused adaptation to the cold, which also makes her look amusingly unlike the sleek, mermaid form of sirens (though her “dress” totally reads as a tailfin that’s been evolved away). The whole concept of a woman in a red dress who lures people to a blizzard-y death is very much the Yuki-onna as mentioned above – and she even got a “baby” in later games to further the association – though the series will have a cleaner expression of that particular yokai coming later.

Another amusing twist on the merwoman “siren” idea is that, while she “sings” and cries out a lot, her voice is completely indecipherable (which is made consistent by the Mystery Dungeon games, where all Jynxes speak entirely in gibberish). That’s granted her some in-universe popularity among hipster musicians, though, who sample her voice into avant-garde music and compose songs designed specifically for Jynx-speak. Add that to the Lore Pile marked “I want to watch that not-yet-extant episode of the show”.

Much like Happiny and Mime Jr., Smoochum validates her own babyish existence by leaning into the “toddler” aspects of her design, notably how young children explore using taste. Smoochum’s lips are super-sensitive (giving that aspect of the line’s design a good purpose), so she uses them as a primary way to identify and categorize her surroundings. She also moistens her lips with tree sap and regularly checks her own reflection for dirt, pointing to focus on play-makeup and vanity early on that makes sense for a monster that revolves around alluring its prey.

Smoochum’s head being so disproportionately big (another Toddler Feature) also makes it so that she constantly wobbles back and forth, looking like she’s always about to kiss someone. D’aww.

Man oh man, if The Original 151 didn’t have their diplomatic immunity, this would be one of the first monsters I’d Retire forever and never look back. While I think she has to realistically stay on the Reserve docket for completeness, I feel like the current strategy of technically having her around but practically burying her with non-exposure is the way to go. A twisted ice-siren is kind of a neat concept, but it’s still best to leave these things behind.

Any and all appreciation for Jynx and Smoochum is welcome in the comments!

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