We’re now squarely in the middle of a run of Pokémon that started out as one-offs, but which got expanded on down the line with baby forms and evolved forms. That seems to make up the back half of most new sets of monsters: single-stage evolutionary lines, or additions to existing ones.
Electabuzz himself is pretty cool-looking. His proportions make him look very physical, his stripes naturally lend themselves to a lightning-bolt pattern, and he’s chock full of “stay outta my territory” energy. You can tell everything you need to know about Electabuzz’s attitude at a glance, which sounds like a solid monster design to me.
For whatever reason, I used to assume that this guy was an electric monkey, specifically a mandrill. Maybe that was just Mega Man leaving associations in my brain, though – this guy is definitely a Japanese oni, functionally their generic “troll”, commonly depicted wearing tiger-pelt loincloths. You’ve even got an angry-troll look and two different head decorations, each of which could be interpreted as “horns” as easily as they could be hair locks and Tesla coils. There’s no real tie between oni and electricity from my limited knowledge, but this design marries them quite well.
Elekid shares a lot of Electabuzz’ traits – the clarity of design and satisfying shape – but with a “rowdy nine-year-old” energy this time. The one new feature, that giant electrical plug on his head, is a delightfully on-the-nose interpretation of horns without turning this thing into a literal plug with eyes. Plus, he feels the least “helpless baby” of the pre-evolutions that Johto gave us. I like this tyke; he makes a good extension of Electabuzz.
Electivire takes those traits of Electabuzz and amps them right up. He’s a big, imposing Sasquatch now, with live wires for tails and big jaggedy stripes to emphasize his girth. Honestly, the stripes on this family’s limbs are so clean that they tend to remind me of gaff tape, which is admittedly still on theme. I do like his tail being re-interpreted into wires to both make him look dangerous and give Electivire some sort of overt “electricity” element, since nothing else about him especially screams lighting-monster. Well, there is a mark on his back that looks like a power socket, but how often do you look at these guys from the back unless they’re on your active team? Between that and Elekid’s plug, it seems like the original Electabuzz is the only member of the family that missed out on the “domestic wiring” theme.
Electivire is pretty great – none of its stats are bad except its physical defense and arguably HP (doesn’t a monster built like that seem like it should be able to take more punches?), and he’s got a ton of great options to use them, from the elemental punches to Earthquake and fighting-type moves. Plus, he absorbs Electric-type moves entirely, making him a great (if situational) option to swap in and turn the tables. His stats and typing mean that he dies almost immediately to Ground-type moves, but otherwise Electivire is a flexible teammate, which is valuable in the single-player of these games.
Electabuzz seems to be one of those second-tier Pokémon in the original generation – you probably saw him on a lot of merchandise in 1998, but not nearly as much as, say, Poliwhirl or Clefairy. He’s been pretty popular on an ongoing basis, with Electivire being used by a few recurring rivals in the show and Elekid being one of the Johto Pokémon given a spotlight noticeably ahead of Gold & Silver‘s release and for a while afterward.
As much as I love to champion when the games work their lore into their mechanics, I feel the need to point out when it misses an obvious step. One of Electabuzz’ main traits is that they fight for high ground during thunderstorms because they act as natural lighting rods, and have been domesticated explicitly for that purpose. This was first brought up in the same games that introduced a passive ability literally named “Lightning Rod” that does exactly what it says on the tin. Guess what one ability they gave to Electabuzz?
I do really dig the portrayal of Electabuzz as a bit of a dumb brute, though. Normally, electricity is associated with speed, so having a monster run in the opposite direction as a lighting-eating thug that spends a solid ten seconds winding up a punch makes for a nice switch. It’s also terribly inefficient, what with constantly leaking – drooling? – electricity after gorging itself on power plants. Maybe half the reason they get domesticated is as a form of pest control.
On that note, what kind of security systems have to be in place in the Pokémon world? You can’t very well keep a pantry rodent-free when your rodents can chew through concrete, and blackouts have to be more common when you have live ogres always trying to get into your generators (though, as at least one game notes, this makes a convenient excuse when a station operator somewhere screws up their job). Maybe Pokémon training is such a big deal because capable security is in such high demand?
One feature of Electabuzz that doesn’t get mentioned often is how, because he leaks electricity, he glows whitish-blue in the dark. Probably a fair basis for his Static ability, but it’s still not as exciting as lightning rod angle. Electabuzz also use this to communicate silently with other each other – apparently they can send and interpret each others’ moods as electrical signals? I bet it makes a neat party trick.
Because anime apparently by law have to have either a hot springs episode, a baseball episode, or a beach episode (or some combination thereof), one of Electabuzz’ more fun appearances was as the mascot of a baseball team. That yellow-with-stripes does look a bit like a baseball uniform shirt. Electabuzz made for a paper-thin stand-in for the real-life Hanshin Tigers, with the competitors being the Starmies / Yokohama Baystars and Magikarp / Toyo Carp; just imagine your team mascot being a Magikarp.
In a reflection of how kids emulate their older seniors, Elekid seems to borrow most of Electabuzz’ traits, but is predictably ineffective at them. Electabuzz, the electric thug, winds up its arms to deliver punches. Elekid, the rascal, likewise winds its arms thinking that this is surely a way to generate electricity, but of course it ends up expending more energy than it generates. Adorable.
Electabuzz’ penchant for flocking to hills during thunderstorms leads to Elekid running out to play in the rain and listen to the thunder (their favorite sound). Delightfully scamp-like and adorable.
Electabuzz’ habit of leeching off of power plants suggests to Elekid that it’s a good idea for them to find electrical outlets to nurse from when their parents are away. An urban nuisance, but still adorable.
The games are very insistent about referring to those things on Elekid’s head as horns, by the way, never as “prongs” or a “plug”. C’mon, guys, you’re not fooling anyone.
Electivire has less going on lore-wise. He’s big, he’s full of enough power to run a neighborhood, and he’s raring to tank a hit just to get in close and shock you with his prehensile tails. He’s part-Electro, part-Rhino, and a dash of Doc Ock, which makes him half of a Sinister Six all by himself. Gotta respect that.
I also have to give a little shout-out to this scrapped monster design for Elekid, since it does away with his arms entirely and in doing so makes him 100% more precious. It doesn’t feed nearly as well into the “ogre” look of his evolutions, but that itty-bitty egg-shaped doodle with a single electric horn is too cute not to point out here.
And before we go: Electabuzz’ Japanese name is Eleboo. Good golly gosh is that a precious little name for something modeled after a demon.
Electabuzz’ line has a surprising amount of fun trivia to him. While he’s not the most inspiring monster at first glance, he’s far from a weak link, and I love seeing Electric types that are both organic-looking and also not Pikachu. Elekid is such an endearing little thing, too. Unfortunately, enough others will show up to fill that niche with time that in the long run we could probably do without the Electabuzz family, though I’d be perfectly pleased to see them pop in and out of the Reserve rotation going forward. Necessary, no. Fun, very yes.
Any and all appreciation for Electabuzz, Elekid, and Electivire is welcome in the comments!