Eevee is a crowd favorite, especially in recent years. Conversely, she’s also one of the more plain monsters so far; no elemental type, no unexpected twist on the animal design, and not even a particularly strong animal inspiration – just some manner of generalized mammal. That’s not even conjecture; Eevee is one of the Pokémon we have explicit word-of-mouth for about their inspiration, and she turns out to be some unidentified forest animal that the designer was vaguely recalling from memory.
Fox is the strongest ingredient here, but there’s influences from all sorts of domesticated animals, namely dogs and cast and even rabbits. She’s just kind of a mish-mash of fuzzy animal ideas, with the only central pillars being “mammal” and “adorable”. And do you know what? Much like Ditto, that blank-slate design is 100% on purpose, and 100% working out for her. Great little appealing design; especially knowing what comes next for her, I could totally see an alternate history where Eevee was the series’ charming, headline mascot character.
Vaporeon is the first of many Eeveelutions, each representing a different elemental type, and I feel like she’s one of the stronger ones conceptually. A “water fox” could end up looking really odd considering that mammals generally aren’t native to underwater habitats, but Vaporeon pulls it off splendidly with her finny neck-ruff and ears, sleek tail, and trident-like crest. Interpretations of a mermaid are nothing new to fantasy biology, but they’re almost universally crossed with humans or, at best, horses. But a mermaid-fox? That’s straight-up inspired. And possibly based on very primitive whale ancestors? Who’s to say!
I think the graceful tail is what pulls it off here; fish are generally shaped with one continuous body, whereas mammals’s tails are almost more like fifth limbs. Vaporeon’s tail extends extremely naturally from her body, however, giving her the air of a truly amphibious creature like an alligator or even a newt. High marks to this elegant little critter.
Jolteon makes a nice contrast to Vaporeon – where the water-Eeveelution is smooth and sleek, the electric-Eeveelution is sharp and aggressive. Even just standing there, she looks like she’s got a natural electric energy to her, ready to zip around and nip at your heels. As a result, Jolteon definitely feels the most “dog-like” of any of its siblings, which probably isn’t helped by how she’s drawn. She always seems ready at attention, or poised and ready to strike, or looking up at her trainer obediently. Fun, spunky, and just as well-conceived as Vaporeon in her own way – another strong design. Granted, she definitely looks the least cuddly of the lot, so that’s potentially some points off depending on how you like your fantasy pets.
Flareon, on the other-other hand, is probably the most cuddly of any of the Eeveelutions. Just look at that mane and tail – they’re so pillowy that I could just bury my face in there and fall asleep. The fire-type probably makes her nice and toasty-warm, to boot. She shares the same general body shape with Eevee, with their matching “fluffy tail, furry collar, rounded and short-haired body” build. It kind of makes her feel a bit boring as a result, like they could have done something more to make Flareon stand out. In fairness, the most obvious choice here seems to be to make the tips of her hair and tail smoldering a bit or even flaming, but unfortunately two other Pokémon already took that trait.
Espeon is the first of many regular expansions to the Eevee line of monsters, with most focusing on a newly-introduced game mechanic. Even not knowing that, she stands quite strongly as a design in her own right; her hairy whisker-tufts are delightful in how they’re both cat-like and imply a sagely, wise air in the same way that Alakazam‘s rad mustache does, clearly marking her as a Psychic-type. She’s also got all sorts of other features that are just odd enough to make you take a second look without being loud and off-putting: the split-tip Nekomata tail, the upturned ears, her glowing eyes, and how her feet appear to end in unnatural, digit-less stubs.
The one thing I’m more split on here is the gem on her forehead. The charitable interpretation is that she’s supposed to be something of a Carbuncle, a Latin-American cryptid with a gemstone in its forehead, made most popular as a recurring creature in Final Fantasy. The other one is that it’s supposed to represent a bindi – and unlike Persian using it to play off a geographical region, in this case it seems used more to evoke an old-world mysticism. In this case (and especially because Persian already exists), I’m happy to buy the Carbuncle idea, especially since it adds a nice flavor of one juggernaut JRPG series paying light tribute to another.
Umbreon is a direct counterpart to Espeon, with the two being introduced and treated thereafter as a matching set. Unfortunately, Umbreon doesn’t work as well for me, though I admit that all of her individual components make great choices. The glow-in-the-dark markings play nicely off her position as the Dark-type of the group, as does her ominous “black cat” theme. There’s a few other mythological ideas in there, too, with her rabbity ears playing off moon-related Chinese folklore, her markings and color giving her a little linage to Bastet, and even an element of an Aztec jaguar deity with night-sky connections.
On principle, Umbreon is a great mixing pot of a bunch of ideas. In practice, she doesn’t have nearly as strong a silhouette as her siblings, which leaves her looking a bit plain to my taste. She seems to be one of the more popular Eeveelutions on the whole, though, so who am I to judge?
Leafeon is right up there with Vaporeon as one of my favorite of the bunch. I love the use of foliage to give her the same general profile as her siblings, but in a way that feels uniquely tied to her own grassy element. Then there’s all the sprouts that are growing out of her mane, legs, and head-hair – it would be easy for all those to feel gross and parasitic, but here they all feel like natural extensions of her body. Really, it’s impressive how this entire family feels like thematic animals rather than animals with tertiary design elements slapped on, which is one of those things I love most about Pokémon design.
My favorite little touch on Leafeon’s look has to be the point coloration on her brown paws. They look just like normal point coloration in mammals, sure, but they also look like Leafeon spends all her time digging in the dirt, or like little stumps that she’s standing on. Perfect for a plant-based Pokémon.
Glaceon is one cool critter, with a strong visual “diamond” theme to tie into her elemental “ice” theme. It’s repeated in her tail, her ears, the pattern on her back, her hair, and even in her paw-fur and eyes to lesser extents. I love how the repeated geometry makes her feel cohesive without dominating her look – she’s not diamond-shaped herself, just strongly diamond-patterned.
That said, aside from the wonderfully alliterative diamond dust linking her design to snow, she doesn’t exactly scream “ice-type” in the same way that some other Eeveelutions really embody their respective elements. The most we get is how Glaceon’s otherwise-awkward-looking bangs resemble the ear-flaps of a winter hat, but even that feels a bit tentative. Good show, Glaceon, strong appeal; just not quite as on-theme as we might like.
The last of Eevee’s evolutions, and I have to admit I’m a bit less fond of Sylveon. She’s so bright and pastel-colored and innocently-sweet that I feel like I’m contracting diabetes just looking at this thing. She just swings a bit too hard into “generically cute” territory for my taste, and as a result loses most of her identity for me to the point that I can only see a “we have to a show off the new Fairy-type” design. I’m sure somebody loves Sylveon, but I’m not that person.
Plus, those ribbons are the exact same color tones as her fur, which implies one horrible thing. Sylveon is adorned with a pair of soft, fleshy bows and streamers, which is about the furthest thing from a pleasant thought. They’re even called out in the game as “ribbonlike feelers”. That’s right – Sylveon is a secret tentacle monster. Euch.
It would be crazymaking to additionally go over how all eight of Eevee’s possible evolutions could fit into one’s team, but suffice it to say: that flexibility is a strong suit. No matter the gap in your team – for a specific elemental type, or for a hard-hitter, or a tank, or status-inducer, or what have you – some form of Eevee will have you covered.
Eevee is incredibly popular in the series, especially nowadays. She’s had continued attention in the form of new evolutions added over the years, she’s been in the hands of countless main characters, and she’s relentlessly present in the series’ marketing – and oodles and oodles of merchandise, up to and including multiple runs as a Build-a-Bear. Then there’s the small matter of having an entire game centered around her recently, plus her being a starting Pokémon in a half-dozen of the series’ campaign-based games. Really, she’s effectively the second mascot of the series behind that darn rat at this point.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that Eevee probably should be the series’ mascot. Aside from being objectively precious, she just makes so much more sense mechanically; start the player off with a neutral Normal-type, then give them ways to evolve the series’ mascot into one of a buffet of elemental types to suit their own tastes. It makes a whole lot more sense than picking an arbitrary electric-type, and I can guarantee you that more people would choose to use the series’ mascot of their own volition.
Eevee is probably the Pokémon that’s had the most done to her over the ages to keep her relevant, and it seems like a working strategy. Having her in newer games to tie back to the original 151 likely helps a lot of returning players bridge the gap into new territory, especially since her new and exciting evolutions tend to be linked into the Hot New Concept of the Year, be it the Fairy type or location-based evolution or, most recently, becoming a literal kaiju. Also, all of her later-designed evolutions were created by the same artist who originally made Vaporeon – Atsuko Nishida – which helps them feel more cohesive than many of the evolutionary lines that were revisited and appended-to in later years.
My favorite implementation of this has to come from Espeon and Umberon; with Gold & Silver being the series’ first foray onto exclusively newer hardware, the series got more ambitious, adding features like a real-time day-and-night cycle (a hot idea in 1999!), friendship mechanics to reward players for embodying the series’ “pets, not captives” ethos, and plus split evolutions for monsters besides Eevee, who’d previously held a monopoly on the idea. Not to be outdone, Eevee added two new family members, with evolution into Umberon and Espeon both being time-of-day-dependent and requiring a certain level of friendship-ly affection – and Umbreon embodies an elemental type newly added as of her debut game. These suckers leverage three new mechanics; take that!
That said, plenty of games have retconned their way around these new mechanics when they become impractical. Notably, in Sword & Shield, the games drop all pretense of bending over to write an icy and a mossy boulder into one of the games’ environments; now Leafeon and Glaceon can just be evolved by a Leaf Stone and Icy Rock items, as would make sense to any normal player walking in today. Plus, there’s no more race condition on what happens when you simultaneously meet the criteria for evolving into Espeon, Glaceon, and Sylveon all at the same time. (You get a Glaceon, by the by.) Now if only other evolutionary lines could follow in their footsteps so that we don’t have a dozen assorted one-off items that each serve exactly one function for exactly one species.
All of these evolutions are collectively referred to as “Eeveelutions”, which originally started as a portmanteau used by fans. The series loves its wordplay, though, and the term was officially adopted into the series’ lore as early as a few years in, making it a distinguished promotion of fan lingo into proper lore.
Pokémon oddly resisted doing this to another term for decades, waffling between “Alternate Color”, “Rare Coloration”, or (unfortunately) “Color Pokémon” for the elusive 1-in-8000+ occurrence of an off-color specimen. The fans settled on “Shiny Pokémon” almost immediately due to how they’d sparkle when entering battle, but the actual series wouldn’t start using that version of the term until 2011. Eeveelution is just such a catchy word by comparison, though; it’s not hard to see why it was embraced straight away.
Eevee is pegged as something of a type chameleon by the Pokédex, supposedly altering its very cell structure to adapt to its environment. In practice, this only works one way, with Eevee having to evolve permanently as its form of adaptation. The games get kind of close with how your starting Eevee in Let’s Go can learn about a dozen different exclusive elemental moves, but that feels more like a consolation to the fact that you can’t evolve your starter Eevee in that game – you know, the defining feature of that Pokémon.
They do note that Eevee’s face tends to change over time to mimic that of its trainer; again, not something we see, but a fun idea, and one supported by Let’s Go where your Eevee can be dolled up such that the two of you make a matching set. D’aww – it makes for such a sweet and literal expression of that old adage that pets take after their owners.
Eevee’s adaptability comes most strikingly into play with Vaporeon, whose biology mimics water so much that it can “melt away” and hide itself in bodies of the stuff. In reality, this feels more like it being incredibly adept at camouflage, but I’m not about to argue the makeup of a mammal that spontaneously grew gills and fins.
Vaporeon is one of those monsters whose design changed between the early games and literally her very next appearance in promotional art; her ear-fins were originally black, with her ruff sitting much lower and that head-fin extending fully down her back like the dorsal ridge of a dinosaur. I’m glad they made the changes they did; Modern Vaporeon feels like a much happier marriage of “swimmer” and “walker” than the original, which feels more like a reptilian wading animal.
Jolteon, meanwhile, seems to take cues form porcupines, with her fur standing up like quills that she can throw at her opponents as a paralytic defense. It does make some sort of sense – static will make your hair stand up in that same way, and quills and electricity both feel sharp to the touch. Not a direct connection, sure, but ideologically they make for something of an inspired match.
Flareon (and to a lesser extent Jolteon) has an odd hook to her biology in that she has an internal “flame pouch”, presumably the same kind of organ as real snakes or bees use to store their venom. Presumably (almost) all Pokémon must have some similar organ that enables them to build up and expel their various energy beams, though how their bodies generate and hold this without consuming thousands upon thousands of calories in a day is an exercise best left to imaginative eight-year-old minds.
Espeon, meanwhile, has no actual biological link to ESP. Rather, she just has super-sensitive hair, “reading” changes in the atmosphere and airflows to predict others’ movements and discern their general thoughts. I’d love to see a farce where this trickery is undone by, say, a stiff breeze, or getting her fur wet. Hyper-aware? Not so much after a quick dunk in the river. One line of the Pokédex entries claims that this was originally true, but over time Espeon collectively developed actual psychic ability as a self-defense mechanism. Gotta love that in-universe dissent; much like in real life, the long-term emergence of species is a whole lot of educated conjecture and evidence-based puzzling.
Where Umbreon comes off at first glance as a “black cat = bad luck” idea, it’s a bit more complicated that that. Much like Mr. Mime‘s unfortunate mis-interpretation, Umbreon was probably designed more charitably than she’s been taken, as black cats are interpreted as good luck in Japan. I have to imagine that Nishida was aware of the mythology around black cats, since dark omens fit so much better with the “Dark”/”Evil”-type idea; if nothing else, there’s a common ground in there based on black cats being common familiars to witches.
Apparently she sweats poison, too, but that just confuses her to me – the name of the monster isn’t Toxeon. If it’s all the same, I’d just as soon like to strike that bit of flavor text from the record in favor of a full embracing of Umbreon’s “moon” theme.
Leafeon, on the other hand, is so pure thanks to its photosynthetic diet that it basically doesn’t engage in confrontation in the wild. That must make her a lovely house-pet – all the joys of owning a cat or dog, but with the clean, fresh air that comes from having plants around the house. It does give her a distinct aroma, too, with senior Leafeon having the delectable scent of autumn leaves – and that aroma makes the species a commodity for the perfume industry, for their trouble.
Glaceon is also used for industry, but in what seems to be a healthier way; her utter lack of body temperature makes her great at spontaneously turning damp air around her into a powdery snow. Entire ski resorts get by with using them as their snow generators, with the Glaceon themselves having to do nothing but stand around and look cute for the tourists. Love these mutually beneficial working relationships.
Then there’s Sylveon, the last of the Eeveelutions. With fresh new relatives previously popping up in even-numbered generations, that trend has been broken with Sword & Shield, proving that expanding the family is less an obligation and more a showcase for new types and evolutionary methods. The fact that we haven’t had a new one since X & Y could be interpreted however you like – is the series running out of new ideas, or finally getting wise to the fact that scope creep is more a turn-off for new players than anything?
Unlike the fun “-eon” naming scheme we see in English, Eevee’s original evolutionary names are remarkably flat loan-words in Japanese – Showers, Thunders, and Booster. The later generations fare better, but they still don’t have that tasty “themed set” thing going on like in English, French, (-li), German (-a), or Chinese (not going to even attempt the Mandarin/Cantonese suffixes).
It’s easy to point to all of Eevee’s evolutions and declare that she’s just a pain in the patoot to implement – four different ways to evolve her, and a total of nine monsters that you have to add in if you include only one of them in most cases. On the other hand, all of those evolutions make her a shining example of one the series’ core ideas and mechanics – plus, she’s a hyper-popular little thing, to boot. Eevee is well deserving of the attention she’s found, and I expect her family will be a Must-Have staple of the series forever.
Any and all appreciation for Eevee, Vaporeon, Jolteon, Flareon, Espeon, Umbreon, Leafeon, Glaceon, and Sylveon is welcome in the comments!