Woof. Magmar is a direct, fiery counterpart to Electabuzz, except she’s not nearly as aesthetically pleasing to me. She feels like a kitchen-sink of ideas: duck face, flaming tail, big dorsal spikes, iron bands, weirdly-circular body parts, and flamenco-dancer arms. Then just throw some hot-rod flames on ‘er, because why not? This is the kind of design work I’d expect from other monster-collecting series that smash two or three ideas together and call it a day; she’s just never come together for me at all.
I’ll grant that the idea behind her works well as a counterpart to Electabuzz’ oni; she’s apparently based on a kakura, a sort of bird-headed humanoid creature with a mostly-tentative connection to fire. It helps contextualize her a little, but not enough to distract from her design being a messy mish-mash.
Plus, her forehead is a butt.
Magby has the distinction of being a baby form that I find to be a step up design-wise compared to her evolved form. She feels much more consistently “baby lizard” now – probably the mythical interpretation of “salamander”. Even that silly little beak feels like something designed for spitting fire or spewing smog as opposed to just being an odd duck-mouth. The solid color palette works in her favor, with her head looking like a smoke-plume and her chest patch evoking a little flame without being as overt about it as the decals on Magmar’s chassis. The collar is a bit much for me personally, but overall she feels way more cohesive despite not really having that many fewer ideas than Magmar. Good job, Magby; you’re an adorable little tooter!
Then Magmortar had to come in and crash the party. She’s got all of Magmar’s problems, but buffer and more obnoxious. Those flame stickers go across her entire body, the flames on her head and shoulders look like a molded plastic, she’s not remotely shaped like a believable natural creature, her lips are just offputting, and I can’t get over whatever’s happening with her arms. Apparently, given other imagery, she has paws that retract – so how does she fire things out of the resulting “cannon”? Also, how completely useless are those paws when recessed inside a rigid, six-inch-wide cuff? Sorry, Magmortar, you’re not doing it for me.
At least she’s got something going for her in the main game, because her special attack is great and she certainly has enough moves to use with it. A little below-average on staying power and she can’t do much except attack directly, but she does a job and does it adequately, so good for her.
Magmar’s in about the same space as her counterpart Electabuzz as far as visibility goes – a second-stringer from Kanto ain’t terrible, and she’s gotten consistent air time since.
One thing that I will grant to Magmar is their ecology – apparently they breed and lay eggs in volcanoes, which makes double-perfect sense as both a Fire-type habitat in general and as a natural incubator. Unfortunately, growing up in that environment leaves them too acclimated to the heat, so they have a habit of making other environments warmer to match. That is to say, they’re natural firebugs in the same way that Electabuzz are natural electrical pests. I’d bet these fellas are plastered over all manner of public service announcements.
They also radiate so much natural heat that they can use it as a defense mechanism, generating a heat mirage to either intimidate opponents or camouflage themselves. Of course, their body runs at some ridiculous and not-attributed-a-feasible-number-by-the-series temperature to achieve this, so you’d have to imagine it ignites nearby foliage just by standing there and warming up.
These things are as much walking fire hazards as Muk are crawling toxin hazards, really. And, in another parallel to its pestilent peer, we get the flavor of Magmortar putting that radiation to a positive use. In domestication, their radiation provides heat for metalworking factories, and I have to imagine that it burns pretty cleanly compared to, say, coal or natural gas. It sounds like their positions as living furnaces are going away over time, though. Maybe Magmortar should collectively learn Sunny Day get into the solar energy industry.
My favorite imagery from this line, though, is that Magby drools embers out of its mouth when it breathes, which is the most monstrously cute thing I can think for it to do. There must be some sort of “fire sac” or natural furnace inside this line’s body, and her not quite having control of that is as dangerous as it is precious. She even coughs up smoke when she’s sickly! Neato!
I’m especially loving the Pokédex entries from Sun and Moon as we sidle through these monsters; Magby’s entry from Moon in particular doesn’t contain any actual ecological information, just a nice anecdote about an old potter who lives with his pet Magby, and how the two work together to produce gently-fired and delicate work. That’s exactly the kind of flavor I need more of in my fantasy settings.
All of the flavor around Magmortar, meanwhile, reads like “Magmar and Magby but more”. It radiates more heat, spits more fire, and lives in volcanoes full-time. They’re very territorial, too, with a single mating pair occupying a given volcano. The thing is, that’s not exactly a common habitat, which would lead one to believe that either Magmortar are exceptionally rare as a naturally-occurring species or the Pokémon setting is just pock-marked with volcanic activity. The Magmar population seems to be just fine, though; maybe they just have trouble evolving without human assistance.
Also, Magmar’s Japanese name is Boober, and she evolves from Buby and into Booburn. I dare you to try and say those out loud without smirking.
The line oddly enough starts strong at Magby and just goes downhill for me as it evolves. I’m sure that Magmar is somebody’s favorite Pokémon out there, and more power to that somebody. We’ll probably see her pop up again in Reserve with all his other compatriots, but it won’t be because I put her in the lineup.
Any and all appreciation for Magmar, Magby, and Magmortar is welcome in the comments!