Everybody loves Lapras – or they should. He’s such an elegant design; both turtle and plesiosaur, but in such a way that it’s hard to say where one ends and the other begins. I absolutely love these monsters like Lapras and Rhyhorn that feel so believably organic to the point that you could likely convince an eight-year-old that an actual Cretacean animal had Lapras’ exact skeleton.
Those little spiral-ears are pulling a lot of weight for their size, too – not only do they give Lapras the air of a mast-head on a historic ship, but they create a space where sound would reverberate in the creature’s skull, which collectively covers both sides of the lore around Lapras as a species. Everything about this creature is so cleverly thought out; I’ve gotta appreciate a monster well-built.
Lapras makes for a great, tanky anchor on a team, too. He suffers a bit from hedging her bets on Attack and Special Attack and being a bit slow, sure. But his stats are overall so even and he has such a wide movepool that he can fill a ton of niches as you need him to – and for most people’s needs (just fighting NPCs), that’s just grand.
Lapras is really popular within the series, too; he appears regularly on-screen, from the anime specials to a very prominent for a whole season of the main series. Plus, he’s got a role in the story mode in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and in general he seems to be one of the more common characters to find merchandise of. Definitely one of their front-liners.
Even the games seem to favor Lapras, particularly as a shorthand for “water travel”. Way back in Gold & Silver, your character is represented as a Lapras on-screen when using Surf to traverse rivers and seas, and up through the 3DS games he’s the one monster displayed in his full glory when using Surf (whereas every other Pokémon just becomes an indistinct shadow).
Whereas other monsters like Electabuzz and Alolan Muk can illustrate how well Pokémon and humans can benefit each other, Lapras acts as a cautionary tale to that effect. They’re a collectively-gentle species, being altogether willing and enthusiastic to help humans out by ferrying them across straights and bays upon the backs of their shells. They’ll even sing to their passengers along the way if they’re in a good mood! Lapras has a grand old time, and people get where they need to go. All fine and dandy, right?
Tons of people seem to think so. So many, in fact, that Lapras has been extensively captured and put into captivity to work with humans – to the point that they’re actively endangered in the wild. Indeed, for the first eight years of the series, you couldn’t even catch them in the wild, except one unique encounter per week in Gold & Silver. Even now, in the few instances where they are available, it’s in quantities of exactly one or with a spawn rate of 1%.
The games seem to dance around whether this is actually due to poaching or over-domestication, but honestly we already have examples of Pokémon Poaching. Being endangered because of their popularity as a companion and service animal makes for a greyer problem that Pokémon is much better suited to as a series. It’s easy to get behind anti-poaching laws, sure. Anti-taming laws are a harder hill to fight on.
Lapras has a very unique and tough situation. On the one hand, they genuinely enjoy helping people, and there’s nothing inherently self-destructive in the ferrying gig itself. On the other hand, they understand that their over-commitment to doing so is killing off their own species, singing somber songs into the night as they pine for others of their own kind. It’s an awful situation, but one in which nobody means ill of the other. What’s the Loch Ness Pocket Monster to do?
I kind of expected there to be more to Lapras than that, to be honest, but it turns out that he just fills that one niche in the lore, and fills it exceptionally well. And do you know what? I deeply respect that. Lapras is a Pokémon that’s definitely earned her place as a Must-Have in the series.
Any and all appreciation for Lapras is welcome in the comments!