Real talk? I love Kabuto.
She’s got so much going on in such a wee little package. She’s somewhere between a trilobyte (along with ammonite, one of the ur-examples of non-dino fossils) and a horseshoe crab (possibly the absolute longest-lived vertebrate species). She’s got this wonderfully freaky misdirection where she has “decoy eyes” on top of her shell, but her true, lantern-like eyes are implied to be on her underbelly. She’s missing key facial features like a mouth or nose, making her instantly cuter and more stuffed-animal-like.
Kabuto is simultaneously a wonderful faux-scientific curiosity and a delightfully adorable mascot. Full marks.
Kabutops is so very close to being radical. She’s a walking skeleton, an ancient knight made of chitin with spines down her back, sleek and ready to slice you up. Matching Scyther’s edgy and aggressive appeal point for point, Kabutops is sleek and effortlessly intimidating.
The problem is that the two of them share the same crucial problem: those scythe-arms. I’m sorry, but I have a personal vendetta against the certifiably ridiculous use of scythes as an offensive weapon in media. It makes sense for Scyther, at least, since they live among and have to mow down tall grass. Kabutops doesn’t get that pass; I honestly just wish they could’ve given her crushing pincers or something. It’s a shame that I love everything about Kabutops except those darned forearms.
Where Kabutops shares the same common type weaknesses as Omanyte, Kabutops can at least move at a decent speed and strike back with some killer physical attack power. She gets some fun tools that are admittedly less useful in single-player, but she also has enough type resistances that she’s a fantastic attacker to have in your back pocket in the main game, especially with her wide attack options and now that Leech Life gives her a built-in recovery move.
As noted, Kabuto and Kabutops mainly appear as a pairing alongside Omanyte and Omastar. Kabutops does get a leg up on the other two, however, as her shape means that she makes for a very striking skeleton for display in museums, so she gets an extra spotlight in a few places in the anime and games.
As noted above, Kabuto is partially based on the a horseshoe crab, a.k.a. “the living fossil” a.k.a. “headcrabs IRL” a.k.a. “aggressively interesting but under-discussed”. Unfortunately, this blog is about Pokémon and not actual crustaceans, but I encourage you to read up about them for their fascinating keen senses, utility belt of biological features, and the fact that they’ve literally existed unchanged since the Paleozoic era (nearly twice as long ago as the advent of dinosaurs).
Really, the biggest mark I have against the otherwise-fantastic Kabuto is that none exist in the wild in the games. It may break the kiddos’ worldviews a bit, but wouldn’t it be absolutely fascinating to have a Pokémon revived from fossils that could also appear in the wild in the present day? It’s more of a gate to investigating Darwinian, lowercase-e evolution, which the series shies away from for obvious reasons, but even the Pokédex admits that pockets of these things still exist in their native habitat today. Where, then, Game Freak? Show us!
Then there’s trilobytes, which go back even further and exist in this weird state of “about as simple as large vertebrates get”, being a fun stepping-stone between shelled animals and fleshier ones. They admittedly get a lot of their focus because being all-shell means that they fossilized remarkably well, but like ammonite, they were also some of the most diverse multi-celled animal families of their time. Again, this isn’t a zoology column, but it just goes to show how the designers went with the most interesting and historically-appropriate animals for their first-generation fossils, and I’ll give them kudos for it until the sun dies out.
Sorry, Kabutops, but I’ll have to talk people’s ears off about Eurypterids and their delightfully bizarre “crustacean-with-gills” biology elsewhere. You blew it when you turned a perfectly-functional paddling appendage into a self-endangering weapon. Suffice it to say, Kabutops makes a nice encapsulation of “vertebrates adapting to life on land”, being a progression of a sea-dwelling arthropod into a semi-aquatic one.
While other Pokémon have had a stab at “false eyes” – a fun feature that exists in the real world for both diversion and intimidation – Kabuto apparently actually uses those holes in the top of her shell as eyes to look upward as she safely buries into the sand – as well as looking freely out of her soft underbelly. This has the odd implication that her shadowy underbelly is distinctly amorphous, letting her shift her eyes 180° around her main body, with the games flip-flopping on whether her claw-side or shell-side counts as her “backside”.
It may be that this is only normally possible because of the pressures at the deep sea levels where Kabuto are normally found – many ocean-floor-dwelling animals in the real world are somewhat gelatinous and rely on the pressure of their environment to hold them together, collapsing outward when brought up near the surface without specialized containers. Kabuto’s gooey (?) interior makes for a fun window into that – though the games never mention the fact directly, and are definitely not going to touch the logic of how you can send one out to battle on land.
Last note: alongside Oddish, Kabutops is one of the only two Pokémon with a scientific name, what with making a great museum specimen and all. Granted, his is a bit obvious (Kabutops maximus), but at least it translates fairly cleanly from Latin. The series has pretty obviously stopped trying to flirt with any modicum of internal logic since, which is probably to its benefit, but I like the implication that somebody within the games’ setting is at least trying to classify these monsters that can burp laser beams.
Kabuto is another incredibly strong choice for a fossil Pokemon, and while Kabutops has a particular design bugbear of mine, it’s hard to deny that she’s a cool-looking monster. Another one of those Pokémon I’m sad to admit we could probably Reserve and only use in the games occasionally, but I’ll be darned if I’m not excited to see him around.
Any and all appreciation for Kabuto and Kabutops is welcome in the comments!