Snorlax is probably one of the top-five, even-your-mom-recognizes-them Pokémon, and that’s for good reason – she’s probably one of the stronger monster designs in the whole first generation. She draws from so many inspirations – giant pandas, hibernating bears, the general idea of a food coma, and there’s even a dash of My Neighbor Totoro in this fella. And when your inspirations for an idea can be traced to that many sources, it usually means that you’re hitting on a very deep and universal vein.
Namely: an absolutely colossal mood.
Even strip away her name, and you can tell what Snorlax is all about just at a glance. She’s big and full-bellied, slouched and with eyes closed shut. Clearly this monster is all about eating and sleeping and doing little else with her life, and comes across as very clearly docile despite her large size. She’s well-meaning but irredeemably lazy and absolutely the kind of creature that you’ll have to figure out how to wake up just to progress in the game.
She’s not referencing any specific real-world animal to justify herself in the roster, but serving an concept – pure, unadulterated laziness. That’s the kind of monster design I love to see. I’m so happy that one of the absolute best-conceived one-off monsters in the original 151 is also the last in its roster.
Unfortunately, Munchlax doesn’t work quite as well for me, but I think that might be out of the natural impulse is to compare her to Snorlax. Snorlax is so relatively simple in executing on “sleepy eater”, but Munchlax kind of… complicates things?
She hits all the right notes for “chubby child” – I even like that her belly-fur forms the image of a little bib, and that she looks like she’s romping around in a XXXL-sized shirt. But her fur pattern has been rearranged to form a sort of bandit-mask, which as far as I can tell doesn’t really play into how she’s portrayed at all. Plus, those wide-open eyes feel like a step backward regarding the “lax” part of her name.
I suppose if you work backwards, you can see that Munchlax is roving around and looking for more food to gobble up, then evolves and goes into a post-dinner nap for the rest of her life. But that leads her into the problem of a lot of the pre-evolutions introduced after their base forms, in that she only seems to exist as an extension of the original – and she’s not half as cute as the perfectly–round Johto baby Pokémon, to boot. I get it if people like Munchlax – she’s basically a Winnie-the-Pooh in Pokémon form, which is hard to hate on too much.
As noted, Snorlax is basically one of the most visible Pokémon in the entire series, appearing in every Smash Bros. game, the live-action movie, very regularly in the various manga of the series, all over the place in the anime… needless to say, she’s borderline-iconic, and a strong part of the series’ identity at this point.
Within the games, Snorlax is a fearsome monster with a crazy amount of health and staying power (albeit not quite the unfair level that Chansey and Blissey have) – plus a free resistance to Fire and Ice types, or poison immunity, depending on her passive ability! And she packs a mighty (physical) wallop, to boot! Aside from her atrocious speed, there’s a lot of ways to abuse Snorlax’s bulk, especially if she can bolster her otherwise-middling physical defense. Even just in the single-player campaign, she’s plenty powerful enough to hammer through NPCs and shrug off anything coming her way.
Literally everything we know about Snorlax revolves around her eating and sleeping habits. She eats up to 88% of her 1000-lb body weight each day (which seems terribly unsustainable). She’s capable of consuming rotted and poisoned food without consequence, even perceiving Muk‘s toxins as a mere spice (reflected in the game’s mechanics via the aforementioned immunity to poison). It’s so docile and sleeps so soundly that it’s used as a makeshift trampoline by cavalier kids. Apparently most recordings of its wild cry get mixed up with its belly rumblings or its snores. The list goes on.
Luckily, despite Snorlax being most infamous as a perpetual, literal roadblock to players, it does seem to have its upsides. That cushy belly and docile nature seem to make it great as a portable park feature or a massive bed you can bring with you. Just from a practical standpoint, ignoring its crazy nutrition requirements, I can imagine it being a popular choice with traveling trainers. Upgrade from a sleeping bag on the cold, hard ground to a warm, soft bed you can take with you and pal around with? Don’t mind if I do!
Amusingly, Snorlax’ original Japanese name (Kabigon) is supposedly based in part off of the nickname of Nishino Kōji, one of the designers who’s been working on the Pokémon games ever since the start in 1996 (and one of the few staff members to be given a cameo as an NPC trainer). In a way, his caricature as a good-natured, binge-eating, very round sloth is more world-famous than he is; luckily, Nishino seems to have a much better sense of humor about the whole situation than one Uri Geller.
Judging by interviews, Nishino also seems pretty particular about cuteness, being the one to blame for pushing Pikachu’s redesign again and again until it became the adorable, spotlight-stealing rat that it is today. Mostly, though, he’s credited with “planning” – the sort of balancing and statistical work that goes into determining minutiae like encounter tables, growth curves, monsters’ movesets, and enemy trainers’ teams that all give the games such a satisfying sense of progression. Not an easy task to manage, but also not the kind of job that tends to make a loving parody of you world-famous – just in this case, it seems.
Snorlax is absolutely fantastic on her own, and the franchise as a whole has capitalized on her in a powerful way. That one-two punch makes her nearly impossible for the series to leave behind; despite Munchlax being a bit humdrum, the two of them are an absolute Must-Have going forward.
Any and all appreciation for Snorlax and Munchlax is welcome in the comments!